Lasting Bonds

When Smith women meet up, the years simply fall away. Throughout both Reunion weekends, you’ll see them, laughing and sharing stories as they gather in dining rooms or class headquarters, on Ivy Day morning, or walking arm in arm across Chapin lawn. No matter their ages now, it’s as if they graduated yesterday. Reunion may be a capital-R event on campus, but it’s the personal, lowercase-r reunions among old friends that make those two weekends in May such a joyous time. This year, the SAQ listened as a few of those old friends talked about what makes their Smith friendships so enduring.

Katherine Rood ’07 & Neil Rodrigo-Kelley Morrison ’07
 
Edith Parsons Gengras ’67 & Susan Bernat Rosenbaum ’67
 
Constance Bergfors ’52 & Doris Collins Munoz ’52
Dorothy Birmingham Gordon ’37 & Katharine Tilson Murray ’37
 
Winnifred Gilmore ’82 & Liz Tiley ’82
Margaret Bownes Johnson ’87, Jane Lewin ’87 & Laura Torbeck Walters ’87
 
Ilana Alazzeh ’11 & Thuy Le ’09
 
‘Always in each other’s rooms’Lasting Bonds
Neil Rodrigo-Kelly Morrison ’07
House: Chapin
Major: German
Hometown: Charlottesville, Virginia
Career: Chef, intern with The Martha Stewart Show
 
Katherine Rood ’07
House: Chapin
Major: Government
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Career: Senior content director, Evanta
 
Kate: We met as first-years in Chapin, on move-in day.
 
Neil: We were lugging our stuff way up to the third floor.
 
Kate: I was feeling homesick, especially since my birthday is September 13, and having just arrived on campus, I wasn’t expecting anyone would know about it or celebrate. Neil spearheaded a group of people; they had figured out gifts, and took me out to Noho to dinner. They had even gone to the trouble of figuring out that I really like ginger and had gotten some ginger-scented perfume. It made me feel so special.
 
Neil: We were always in each other’s rooms, sitting on each other’s beds.
 
Kate: Oregon was too far to go for Thanksgiving, so Neil invited me to her house in Saratoga Springs [New York] our sophomore year.
 
Neil: My family bonded with her, too. Kate is one of my aunt’s favorite people.
 
Kate: We also both came to college with boyfriends from high school, so we gave each other advice.
 
Neil: Then we both ended up breaking up with them within a few months of each other the summer before senior year. The experience of going through that heartbreak together made us even closer. I was in Germany for JYA, and we kept in touch via email. What you have to know about Kate is that she’s the most amazing card writer. She writes cards not just on special occasions, but for anything.
 
Kate: Then after graduation, we were both on the East Coast for a couple of years. I made this big road trip down from New York City to Charlottesville.
 
Neil: Now, being on opposite ends of the country, Reunion is doubly special for us, because it gives us a time to visit in person.
 
Kate: I’m an admission counselor for Smith in Oregon, and I always tell applicants, “Your Smith friendships will be special. Smith women have a certain charisma. They do interesting things and they will make your own life more meaningful.” The incredible energy at Reunion really proves that. 
‘In the company of bright women’Bright women
Susan Bernat Rosenbaum ’67
House: Talbot
Major: Government
Hometown: Bethesda, Maryland
Career: School administrator
 
Edith Parsons Gengras ’67
House: Talbot
Major: Mathematics
Hometown: Bloomfield, Connecticut
Career: Teacher, fundraising consultant
 
Susie: We met in Talbot House as first-years.
 
Edie: You were just so interesting, unlike anyone I’d ever come in contact with before. You had that big hair and outgoing personality.
 
Susie: Teased and back-combed, she means. Well, coming from Dallas, you know, everything was supersized.
 
Edie: You created Oscar night. You rented an old black-and-white TV and got it into the house and got together a party. We all got dressed up. That’s really when I got to know you.
 
Susie: We ended up rooming together junior year. Edie came from a world that was completely foreign to me: Miss Porter’s School, the whole East Coast thing. What appealed to me was that she was such a good listener and accepting of differences.
 
Edie: We didn’t actually do that much together. I had a serious boyfriend.
 
Susie: Boys were a big factor in my life at the time. Smith was amazing to me in that I’d never been in the exclusive company of women. You were more serious, more scholarly.
 
Edie: We did play golf together.
 
Susie: You were in my wedding.
 
Edie: Oh god, those awful bridesmaid dresses. Yellow with green trim.
 
Susie: The wonderful thing about Reunion is that you just pick up where you left off. The friendships are exactly the same. You’re just older, and maybe your hair is a different color.
 
Edie: Susie is as funny and as outspoken as she ever was.
 
Susie: And you are as caring and thoughtful as you always were. I always admired that quality in you.
 
Edie: There’s a comfort in being the same age, sharing the same experiences. And it’s always a pleasure to be in the company of bright women.
 
Susie: Who have opinions, who are inspired by what they do.
‘Concentric circles of closeness’Closeness
Constance Bergfors ’52
House: Cushing
Major: Biology
Hometown: Cabin John, Maryland
Career: Cancer researcher; sculptor/ woodcarver
 
Doris Collins Munoz ’52
House: Cushing
Major: Latin American studies
Hometown: Pensacola, Florida
Career: Business owner, Munoz Enterprises Unlimited
 
Connie: We were in the same house, Cushing.
 
Doris: Connie was an athlete. She played hockey, lacrosse, basketball. We all went to her games to cheer her on. I wasn’t the athletic type. I was one of the girls who stayed up all night solving the problems of the world.
 
Connie: I slept through those discussions. I was a Smiffenpoof, and a house rep. I had to get them all organized.
 
Doris: Both of us got married right out of college. We were both in the Washington, DC, area, so we kept in touch.
 
Connie: Yes, my husband was a member of the US Foreign Service in Italy and Africa.
 
Doris: All of us in Cushing House keep in touch regularly through phone calls, visits, Reunion. We have concentric circles of closeness.
 
Connie: Later, we went through our divorces together. I was single, with two kids. We visited a lot during that time. Doris was a great support.
 
Doris: Then I came to your second wedding.
 
Connie: And I attended your second. We’ve never been out of touch for long.
 
Doris: Connie recently came down to Florida and gave the African American Heritage Society of Pensacola a sculpture, Memories of Africa.It’s a great piece, and the AAHS is so proud to have it.
 
Doris: We often talk as a class about what wonderful friendships were created at Smith.
 
Connie: We all grew up in such different circumstances, but the Smith housing system brought us together. It promoted deep, close friendships.
 
Doris: And created lasting bonds.

‘Best friends all our lives’best friends
Dorothy Birmingham Gordon ’37
House: Morrow
Major: French
Hometown: New London, New Hampshire
Career: Volunteer
 
Katharine Tilson Murray ’37
House: Morrow
Major: Chemistry
Hometown: New London, New Hampshire
Career: Medicine
 
Dot: We met at Smith in 1933, and we’ve known each other ever since.
 
Kay: Best friends all our lives. I introduced her to her husband. He was an old family friend of mine and was rooming with my brother at Yale Law School.
 
Dot: We met at Morrow House. He had come to drive Kay’s sister (class of ’34) home for Thanksgiving. She told him he had to take her little sister and me, too, along with my goldfish, which I kept on the windowsill of my room. He glared at me in the rearview mirror all the way home. But then I married him in 1941. Kay was my maid of honor. Our children are each other’s best friends, too.
 
Kay: Our grandchildren are also best friends. My grandson was best man in her grandson’s wedding. We see each other at least twice a week because we retired to the same town on Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. We see each other for cocktails. We have a long-standing engagement on Sundays for a glass of sherry after church. What do I like about her? Well, she’s feisty. And we’ve always done things together: canoeing, sailing, skiing, hiking, and camping. We’ve played a lot of tennis, too, over the years, up until only a few years ago. Dot has a wicked serve.
 
Dot: I appreciate Kay because she’ll still come over and have a drink with me.
 
Kay: The Smith connection in my family runs deep. My mother was the class of 1905, my sister Peg was ’34, and my daughter Kiki is class of ’73.
 
Dot: I came because my high school principal chose the brightest students to send to Smith. I was one of two in my class to come here. [Aside:] Maybe it was a dumb class that year.
 
Kay: What did she say? She’s always whispering. And now when we come back to Reunion, we make new friends, too.
 
Dot: Our friendship has grown over time, but it started right here at Smith.

‘When we’re old we’ll travel together’Liz and Winn
Liz Tiley ’82
House: Tenney
Major: Government
Hometown: Northampton
Career: Owner, Williamsburg Blacksmiths
 
Winnifred Gilmore ’82
House: Tenney
Major: Afro-American studies
Hometown: Niagara Falls, New York
Career: Owner, Hot Stuff Southern Café
 
Liz: We both lived at Tenney senior year. It was a co-op, very small, just twelve people.
 
Winn: We cooked our own meals, and did our own shopping and chores.
 
Liz: We were mostly vegetarian. The Moosewood Cookbook was our bible.
 
Winn: I remember a lot of local veggies, tofu. We discovered pretty early on that we were both musicians. Liz played the vibes.
 
Liz: And Winn plays the tenor sax and piano. We’d play in the living room. Other musicians would come in. We’d have jam sessions.
 
Winn: We played a lot of jazz. Steely Dan, Joan Armatrading, Weather Report. . . . Remember that gig we had at the boathouse?
 
Liz: The house was so there for me. My mother died the summer before college, and then in junior year, my father died. I remember coming back from the funeral. The whole house came and sat with me in my room. They were my family.
 
Winn: The summer after graduation we lived together in Northampton. We had an apartment. We felt really cool. The instruments would be lying around the living room. We had parties. This is my first Reunion. I thought, if I go, who do I really want to see? Liz, of course. So I called her, and she said she’d come, too.
 
Liz: And when you saw me, you just came running over with your arms out. You hugged all my children, too, even though they hadn’t met you. That’s what I love about you.
 
Winn: Liz is incredible. She has this really quirky sense of humor, but this incredible tenderness, too. She’s one of the sweetest souls I’ve ever met.
 
Liz: It doesn’t seem as if any time had passed.
 
Winn: It’s like picking up where we left off, like we had just been in different rooms.
 
Liz: We’re looking forward to our next Reunion.
 
Winn: We’ll bring our instruments and play together. I will have published the great American novel, if not several, by then.
 
Liz: My kids will be grown up.
 
Winn: When we’re old, we’ll go traveling together and play music.

‘It all started at Wilson’it all started at wilson
Laura Torbeck Walters ’87
House: Wilson
Major: Computer science, mathematics
Hometown: Glen Arm, Maryland
Career: Computer specialist, US Department of Defense
 
Margaret Bownes Johnson ’87
House: Wilson
Major: Computer science, mathematics
Hometown: Plainville, Massachusetts
Career: Product service manager, Cognex Corp.
 
Jane Lewin ’87
House: Wilson
Major: Economics; minor in music
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Career: Owner, Lewin & Associates, auditors
 
Maggie: Even before classes started, I remember walking to an event somewhere from the quad with Laura and thinking, “This girl from Baltimore is really funny, a one-woman comedy show.”
 
Laura: Because I actually say what everybody else is just thinking. We bonded because we were computer science and math majors, which was unheard of at the time.
 
Jane: I was more of a hanger-on. I knew it was going to be fun. They taught me how to knit.
 
Laura: Yeah, and did we start with something easy like scarves? No. We went straight to Icelandic sweaters. We knitted at tea, we knitted after class. And it was a snowy winter and, of course, there were no boys, so we knitted through snowstorms.
 
Maggie: I had moved around a lot as a kid. I didn’t even want to go abroad junior year; it would have meant leaving them.
 
Jane: I grew up in Cincinnati, a very conservative place. I arrived at Smith with seven matching monogrammed suitcases and a footlocker. My roommate was wearing trashy jeans and had a couple of ratty backpacks. She had just come from backpacking around the country. I was fascinated.
 
Laura: I came from the thriving suburbs of Carney [Maryland], which was kind of a Monopoly board of cookie-cutter houses, very middle class, very Catholic, not very diverse. Smith really opened our eyes.
 
Jane: It was a very politically aware place, then as now, of course. There was a weeklong sit-in at College Hall.
 
Laura: It was the time of [calls for] divestiture from South Africa. There were groups on campus protesting Smith’s investments with global companies with racist policies. This sparked a lot of debate.
 
Jane: I protested wearing a navy blue blazer and pearls.
 
Maggie: We had such great discussions.
 
Jane: Being friends for twenty-five years, we’ve forged really deep connections.
 
Maggie: We went to each other’s weddings.
 
Laura: Maggie is the godmother of my oldest daughter, Sarah. I think the house system fosters deep friendships. It all started at Wilson. We were all very close. We sat for hours together talking, making popcorn, making tea, talking some more.
 
Maggie: In the halls, over dinner. And when we meet again, we just pick up where we left off. Smith forges very deep, strong roots. We just feel very comfortable together.
 
Laura: Now we look forward to being crotchety old ladies together.
 
Jane: Going on all those trips to exotic places they advertise in the Quarterly.
 
Maggie: Probably without our husbands.
 
Laura: Someone has to stay home and do laundry.
 

‘Priceless relationships’priceless relationships
Ilana Alazzeh ’11
House: Park
Major: Government and international relations
Hometown: Washington, DC
Career: Communication specialist
 
Thuy Le ’09
House: Chapin
Major: American studies
Hometown: Onset, Massachusetts
Career: Intern, international labor group
 
Ilana: We got to know each other through the Five College Pan Asian Network (5PAN). We had meetings once a week.
 
Thuy: 5PAN advocates for Asian Americans, facilitates communication between the five colleges, and promote awareness of Asian Pacific American issues within the greater Pioneer Valley community.
 
Ilana: Thuy was a senior and had already been involved in 5PAN for a couple of years. She knew a lot about the issues. She became a kind of mentor for me.
 
Thuy: Ilana’s energy and enthusiasm were refreshing. Her passion for issues of social justice really helped me get reenergized.
 
Ilana: Well, and of course I love to talk, and you’re a really good listener. What I love about Thuy is that she’s the kind of person who always comes through for you.
 
Thuy: After I graduated, we’ve kept in touch through emails and mutual friends. I stayed in Northampton and just graduated from UMass Amherst last week with a master’s in labor studies. In July, I will be interning in Nyon, Switzerland for six months with the UNI Global Union, an organization that represents workers in every region of the world. 
 
Ilana: I’m in DC. I just graduated this spring from the Kennedy School on Leadership, Organizing, and Action. I was recently hired as a campaign communication specialist with SEIU [Service Employees International Union] in DC. I interview, film, edit, and create literature and fliers for union campaigns across the country.
 
Thuy: Reunion gives us a chance to meet in person. The relationships you form here at Smith and with Smithies going into the future are priceless. With Ilana, it feels like our interest in activism and social justice and our desire to make the world a better place will most likely bring us into contact in the future.

 

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