Alverno’s Own Traveling Sisterhood

The letter chain started in 1968 with Mary Jane (Janie Walsh) Powers, who had entered the Peace Corps in Jamaica. It was a way for her and 13 of her newly graduated Alverno friends from the Class of 1967 to stay in touch.

Instead of writing to each friend separately, Powers wrote one letter. The recipient then added her own update and sent both letters to the next person on the list, each friend adding her letter to the package. As the package circulated back, each woman replaced her old letter with a new update.

“It was always in a manila envelope, an inch and a half thick with letters,” says Nancy (Urbanus) Fredrickson. “It was lost at times. Then someone would call with news, and we’d start looking for the letters and get them going again.”

After 24 years of swapping letters, the alumnae living in the Chicago area got together in person in 1992 for the first time since graduation. Two years later, six of them gathered at Mary Kay (Uhen) Holmes’shouse in Galena, Ill., for a weekend getaway. They enjoyed it so much they did it again the following year. Now it’s an annual tradition. Some years it’s a smaller group. Many years it includes all 14. In April, many of them returned to Alverno for the second time since graduation, celebrating their 50-year class reunion and induction into the Golden Guild during Alum Teach & Learn Weekend.

Fredrickson is the keeper of two photo albums that include pictures from graduation and get-togethers. The books note memories from the trips.

“I look at the early pictures, and everyone looks so young,” she says. “We had no idea what was ahead of us. It’s a women’s story of joys and sorrows. We’ve had wonderful adventures together and separately.”

In the 1990s, the group primarily met in Galena. In 2002, they expanded their travel area, heading to Maine, near where Mary Anne (Sforza) Spartos lives. They’ve since been to Door County, Wis.; Mackinac Island, Mich.; Kentucky; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Oshkosh, Wis.; New Jersey; Milwaukee and Chicago.

Fredrickson remembers a dinner one year in Chicago. Nearly everyone attended, so the group was a bit loud. Ten younger women were sitting at the next table over. “They asked us who we were, and we said, ‘We’re you in 30 years,’” she says with a laugh.

Most of the friends rarely see or even talk to each other outside the annual gatherings, but when they get together, it’s as if no time has passed, thanks to the unique connection they formed in the residence halls all those years ago.

“There is no traveling letter anymore. Mary Ellen (Siffermann) Pearsall keeps our info updated and sends flowers when needed. It’s an interesting bond, and I’m sure we’ll keep it forever,” Fredrickson says. “We aren’t day-to-day friends, but we are sisters we could call for anything.”


This article originally appeared in the summer 2017 issue of Alverno Magazine.

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