Rounding Out the Years
The story of nine women and 62 years of friendship
By Emily Clemenson
The year is 1946. World War II just ended, veterans are going to college and enrollment at Concordia has risen from 600 to more than 1,100 students in one year. Dr. J.N. Brown is president, Jake Christiansen is coaching football, and the mission statement won’t be written for 16 more years.
Nine women enter Concordia as freshmen. A web of connections brings them together as roommates and classmates who form a friendship that has lasted longer than any of the bright-eyed students ever imagined.
All of the women majored in music, English or education. Many were in band or choir. A few wrote for or edited The Concordian. Most of them lived in Fjelstad Hall. All had strong faith and simply enjoyed each other’s company. So when graduation rolled around, they didn’t want to lose touch.
“We made good friendships at Concordia, and we wanted to not let that go,” says Clarice (Undhjem) Walters ’50. “So when we all went our separate ways after graduation, we started a round robin.”
And now, 62 years later, the round robin is still in circulation.
A round robin is a single envelope with a bunch of letters inside. The robin always contains one letter from each participant and travels in the same order. When the recipient receives the robin, she reads everyone’s letter, takes out her old letter and puts in a new one. In addition to a letter, someone might include other things, such as a photograph of her family or a newspaper clipping about the college.
“You have no idea how neat it is to keep in touch,” says June (Lindemann) Schur ’49, “especially since some of us are so spread out.”
The women, who now live in five different states, have fond memories of their college years, including the strict lights-out curfew and the ways they got around it.
Walters remembers watching the men’s dorm curfew relax (and eventually get discarded) while the women’s lights-out curfew remained at 11 p.m. every night except Saturdays. She recalls marching through Fjelstad, protesting the injustice.
“We didn’t break anything, but I remember hitting the walls with my hand,” she says. And then her way of protesting further: “I had a battery-powered railroad lantern that I would clip to the iron in the ironing board room and study by it.”
Another member of the robin, Lillian (Hill) Olson ’50, learned how to do mundane tasks in the dark, like putting up her hair in curlers.
“We’d put rugs under the door so we could have flashlights and play cards,” Olson says. “Cards were not allowed, and dancing wasn’t allowed either.”
Helen (Hokenson) Watkins ’50 lived with Schur their first year. Because of the influx of veterans, there was not enough space for everybody in the dorms. Watkins and Schur lived in a bedroom above choir director Dr. Paul J. Christiansen’s piano studio.
“He and Cy Running (art faculty) often got most creative on the piano in the late night hours,” Watkins remembers. Watkins earned her room and board by helping the Christiansen family with cooking, cleaning, ironing and babysitting.
Today, the letters consist of daily happenings in these women’s lives: whose kids are coming to visit soon, what they did on the Fourth of July or where they went for an evening.
“Everyone went on to become a strong person in their own right,” says Helen (Narveson) Rudie ’50.
So what has motivated these women to keep in touch for 62 years and counting?
“I’m sure it’s love,” Walters says. “I know it is love.”
Olson agrees and says that although they’ve aged and changed throughout the years, they’re still the same group of best friends.
“It’s kind of neat to know we’re all going about the same thing,” Olson says. “We’re all in our 80s, ladies with gray hair. But still in our bodies, we feel young.“
Photos: Sheldon Green/Submitted
Nine women have participated in the round robin letter that has been circulating for more than 60 years: Clarice (Undhjem) Walters ’50, Naomi (Graepp) Vining ’50, Darlene (Gronseth) Olson ’50, Lillian (Hill) Olson ’50, Marianne (Kulstad) Hilleren ’50, Helen (Hokenson) Watkins ’50, June (Lindemann) Schur ’49, Helen (Narveson) Rudie ’50 and the late Marilyn (Olson) Barge ’50.
This story is in memory of Marilyn (Olson) Barge ’50, who was in the round robin until she passed away from cancer June 28, 2012.