By Scott Brown
|Headline of the student newspaper, The
Santa Clara, announcing coeducation on
Mar. 22, 1961. Photo from the SCU Archives.
They made headlines in 1961. “Tradition Shattered,” the student paper claimed. The coeds had arrived: female invaders of a campus that had been all-male for 110 years.
The first women students were a hardy band. They had to be. Gracie (Byrnes) Mulcrevy ’65 remembers being driven for her first look at the campus—only to find a bunch of football players sitting on the dorm steps chanting, “Coeds, go home!”
They endured the taunting and the teasing that first year. And by June they realized how very close they had become as a group.
In the 25 years since then, the women have gone through marriage, child bearing, career changes, and celebrated their 40th birthdays together. (They met for “40s” luncheons when they reached that milestone.) They have shared their successes and their failures.
And they are an impressive group: bank presidents, homemakers, corporate executives, social workers, educators, volunteers, real estate agents, department heads, artists, actresses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, ranchers, contractors, and flight attendants, to name a few.
Most still call themselves “coeds” when they speak of Santa Clara. But there have been many dramatic changes in their lives since they donned coordinated sweaters and pleated skirts, teased their hair into the latest 1960s styles, and braved the all-male campus in September 1961.
Some of those changes were evident when 60 of them gathered for their twenty-fifth reunion October 25 in Benson Center. Also attending were two mainstays from that first year: Helen Reedy, who had been pressed into service as acting dean of women, and Jean Williman, who with her husband became houseparents for the first women at Villa Maria.
Memories of Santa Clara came pouring out that sunny Saturday afternoon: about the Villa (where many of them lived) and classmate Joe Tinney, the “prince of coed haters,” (who got what he deserved, the women agreed: three daughters).
No memory was more poignant, or as universal, than the time they were “campused” for a solid month after attending an “innocent by today’s standards” motel party some of the fellows threw one Saturday night. “Unforgettable,” they recalled, was the letter the University sent to their homes. It began, “Our campus is in the shadow of disgrace...”
During their confinement, “we threw darts at pictures of people we taped to a dart board,” said Margaret Taylor, who sat with former roommates Mary Kay Graves Fry and Juanita Pavelka O’Connor at the reunion. “It was the only thing we could do!”
Many cringed at memories of walking into the Bronco Corral—then a Quonset hut near the Mission—and enduring hoots and catcalls.
Between bites of turkey and avocado croissant sandwiches, with a backdrop of oversized yearbook photos and table decorations of red and white carnations, the women conjured up myriad images of campus life. “Remember the gym was so hot during dances,” recalled Lelia (Ganey) Lanctot ’65. “Or was that just our nerves?”another answered with a chuckle.
Wearing raincoats over Bermuda shorts to class—a definite violation of the “no shorts, no jeans” campus dress code—was a secret rebellion for many. That was only one of many strict rules for women, especially for those who lived in the Villa, the off-campus apartment complex the University purchased for them—because “they didn’t know what to do with us,” one woman joked.
There were other rules: studying in their rooms from 7 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and no phone calls during those days from 7 to 9 p.m. or after 10 p.m. If they left campus for a weekend, they had to fill out a postcard with the address and phone number of their destination. The postcard was filled out Thursday and sent to their parents. As Pat (Pepin) Dougherty ’65 commented: “I guess you prayed for a slow mailman if you were going somewhere other than home.”
The reunion also sparked at least one confession. Jan (Dunn) Rhodes ’65 said that it was her brother’s Stanford fraternity that stole the “Maria” sign from the Villa Maria. Why didn’t she admit it before? “Are you kidding? I would have been kicked out of school,” she replied. There were even discussions of the word coed. Le Anne (Karnes) Cooley ’65, now a teacher in the San Jose Unified School District, said one of her student asked her, “What’s a coed?’’ Cooley’s classmates gasped in disbelief.
At times the luncheon conversation grew serious. Laughter stopped and the tone grew hushed when Carol (Kraemer) Ordemann ’65 recalled the November day John F. Kennedy was shot. She even remembered when the announcement was made in her religion class. “We had been studying leaders as God’s representatives on Earth.” It was a pivotal event for her, she said, “my first turn toward adulthood.”
“I still feel personally attached to Jackie,” said another, in agreement. A third chime in, “And John, Jr. Isn’t he a doll?”
Just as quickly, the conversation turned to aging. “Do you feel old? I don’t feel old,” one said when the question was posed. “Well, now I know I can’t run a marathon or climb Mt. Everest,’’ Lelia Lanctot replied, with a sigh.
But most have conquered some equal challenge in the quarter of a century since they left the mission campus. A list of their career paths reads like a Who’s Who. A few examples: Mary Somers Edmunds ‘62, a psychology major, transferred to SCU in 1961 as a senior and was the first woman to graduate from Santa Clara. It was a distinction that put her in the eye of the media quite frequently, but she handled the attention with aplomb—even when her mate classmates offered her $1 each (an enticing sum of $250) if she would not walk through graduation ceremonies with them. “I said ‘I worked too hard for this,’’’ she recalled. “I didn’t realize the significance of being the first woman graduate until later.” After college, she taught elementary school in Greece and in Mann County, and then married, had a daughter, and moved to Los Gatos. Several years ago, she went to work in the loan funding department of a mortgage banking firm. Today she works as processing officer for The Money Store Investment Corporation in San Jose.
Margaret Taylor ’65 liked Santa Clara so much, she kept coming back. After her B.A. in history, she received a master’s degree in counseling psychology in 1976, and an MBA in 1986. There were several firsts in her life: she was in the first class at her grammar school and at Holy Cross High School in Mountain View, the first SCU coed class; and now is the first woman to head the health services department— make that any department—in San Mateo County. As health services director, she supervises the largest county office, with a $100 million annual budget and 1,100 employees. The department oversees the county hospital, public health clinics, long-term care facilities, locked facilities for mentally ill patients, and convalescent hospitals. She lives in Atherton with her husband, Floyd Gonella. She said she plans to add more firsts to her list “but I don’t know what yet. Right now, I’m contemplating a degree for the 1990s,” she said with a chuckle.
Diane Raddatz ’65 started working part-time in a savings and loan bank while teaching English in Chicago. Eventually she became a full-time teller. The promotions continued over the years and today she is the first woman president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of East-side Savings & Loan in Chicago. She also is the only woman on the board of the Illinois League of Savings Institutions. She received an MBA from the University of Chicago. She grew up in a family with no boys and parents who were both professionals. “I’ve always had to fight a little harder,” she said.
Brenna Bolger ’64, a history graduate, was one of the first women in the University’s Honors Program. She worked part-time during college at G. Coakley and Co., an advertising agency. She planned to join the Peace Corps after graduation, but instead took a full-time job at the agency to pay some college debts. A decade later, she left the firm and branched out on her own, founding PRX, Inc., a Cupertino public relations agency, which started out serving mostly hospitals, but expanded to include financial, sports, and high-tech business clients. Her agency, which now has 25 employees, won the 1986 Silver Anvil
“Being one of the first coeds made me very comfortable with competition.”
Award, the Public Relations Society of America’s highest award for marketing communication. She is also on the SCU’s Board of Fellows, and boards of de Saisset Museum, Hope Rehabilitation Services, and Opera San Jose. “One thing being one of the first coeds did for me was to make me very comfortable with competition,” she said. “I thrive on being busy.”
Susan (Daly) Commins ’65 received a degree in English and then went on to earn a J.D. degree from Hastings law school in San Francisco. She started in private law practice and joined the San Francisco city attorney’s office in 1980, where she is a deputy city attorney in charge of workers’ compensation. Her English degree, she said, helped her career because “having read literature from A to Z gave me more of an analytical approach.”
Marilou (Figone) Cristina ’64 married Barry Cristina ’62 and raised four daughters. During that time, she did volunteer work—experience that eventually led to a paid position as director of the Independent Aging Program of Catholic Social Services of Santa Clara County. Her first experience with senior citizens was a part-time job with the San Jose Recreation Department working with senior citizens’ clubs while she was attending Santa Clara. In 1977, she helped organize the Independent Aging Program’s volunteer component and started as an unpaid director of volunteers. Today she supervises a volunteer staff of 220, working with about 400 active clients. She helped develop the programs intergenerational project for high school students that now involves 120 students in ten local high schools. The project was showcased at a March conference of the American Society on Aging. This year she introduced the project at the university level, starting with Santa Clara students. She also is active on the state’s Aging Committee for Catholic Charities.
Kathleen ‘Muffy” (Regan) Bui ’65 left after two years at Santa Clara to marry Doug Bui ’62. She found time while raising four children to volunteer in her parish and in her children’s schools and now is contemplating “getting a real job” to help put them through college. She is well known among Santa Clara alumni for her active role in the Alumni Association— serving as national president from 1979 to 1980, and in the alumni-student recruitment program, and the undergraduate Admissions Office’s new “Ten City Plan.” She also is active in St. Raymond’s Parish in Menlo Park, where she organized a thirteen-member folk group (she plays guitar), and has taught Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes. She started the church’s Sunday School program and, when her children attended grammar, school, was president of the Mothers’ Club. When her children progressed to St. Francis High School in Mountain View, she was active as president of the Women’s Club. She also does some behind-the-scenes politics—walking precincts and making phone calls.
“I cancelled riding in the Grand Nationals to be here today.”
Teresa (Chaparro) Sol ’65 put her Spanish degree to work during the twelve years she and her husband owned a 750-acre cotton plantation and dairy in El Salvador. She and her husband lost their farm to the government during the country’s agrarian reform and they returned to the Bay Area in 1980. “1 looked at myself and tried to decide what I could do,” she said, and decided on real estate. Today she is an associate Realtor for Century 21 in Daly City. Something immediately evident on her return to the United States, she said, was “even though I have been out of the country for a long time, I still had good friends (from Santa Clara).”
Ann (Mahoney) Pullman ’65 bought a gourmet food shop and delicatessen in 1985 and is learning how to run a business. She and her husband were self-sufficient for two years on their two-acre organic farm in Ojai. They planted fruit trees and grew vegetables, and raised rabbits, goats for cheese, and chickens for eggs. But the gourmet shop has taken time away from home and has meant having to sell some of the animals. She still uses homegrown produce in her Southern California shop, Good Taste. The greatest lessons she learned at Santa Clara, she said, were in business ethics and morality.
Toni (Doyle) Jepson ’64 taught kindergarten before taking an opportunity to work at the Stanford Court Hotel, a five-star hotel in San Francisco. She remained in sales and marketing for hotels for eleven years. In March 1986, she put that knowledge to work in her own enterprise, Resort II Me, a Monterey firm that matches clients to hotels for meetings, conventions, or pleasure trips. She and her partner work with 130 hotels, motels, and inns in the Monterey and Carmel area. Although she said she didn’t find it difficult to launch her own business, “I think you have to be ready for it.”
Carolyn (Corwin) Casey ’64 taught for twelve years and then ‘‘realized there are other things women can do besides teaching.” She bought two Diet Center franchises and also started raising Arabian horses. “I canceled riding in the Grand Nationals to be here today,” she told her classmates at the reunion.
Yes, it is an impressive list. But many of the women said they would expect no less— because there was something unique about the coeds who forged the way at Santa Clara.
“We all had the willingness to stand out and be different,” Brenna Bolger said. “I think a lot of it was that we were going through a very unusual experience.”
Even though life has pulled them in different directions, the women said they have a bond that will never be broken.
“We all just sort of landed here (at SCU) like stars,” said Gracie Mulcrevy, as the reunion came to an end. “It was something really special.” This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 Santa Clara Magazine.