WAUWATOSA — Memories seven decades old were shared one afternoon as members of the 1939 St. Michael gathered for a reunion.
Maybe the memories didn’t exactly come flooding back – sometimes it was a trickle – but many of the graduates of the St. Michael Grade School at their 70th reunion still laughed about a passed note intercepted by a teacher or even felt a bit of a sting from being rapped on the back of the hand for an infraction.
The reunion was held at the Wauwatosa Washington Highlands home of graduate Emily (McNulty) Gago with some 30 in attendance, including Corinne (Gifford) Cabella from California and Rose Marie (Polchert) Haugen from Florida who came with her husband, Dick.
Jesuit Fr. Tom Caldwell, who taught theology at Marquette for many years, remembered Sr. Medulpha.
“We thought she was seven feet tall,” he laughed. “She was special. She convinced every boy that he was her favorite.”
While the memories varied, one thing on which they agreed was that the School Sisters of Notre Dame were good teachers.
“We could all diagram a sentence,” said Fr. Caldwell, who became very good at it, adding that his teacher “spent three months trying to find a sentence I couldn’t diagram.”
Doris (Matoushek) Britton said of her teachers at St. Michael, “They were very strict. You listened and minded.”
Marge (Kukanich) Koch and Helen (Frankovic) Guftason recalled Sr. Eustace.
“She was sweet. She had a lovely face,” said Koch.
“She was the sweetest thing,” Guftason added. “But I think we gave her a nervous breakdown.”
Guftason recalled that she and her friend Shirley had a crush on some of the handsome movie stars of the time and would pass notes reflecting their feelings. One such note, however, was intercepted by the nun who wasn’t aware that the “boy” mentioned in the correspondence was a movie star.
“She announced to the whole class, ‘Who is this that you’re running around with?’” said Guftason.
Many of the women at the reunion, including Franciscan Sr. Ronald (formerly Dolores Held) of Manitowoc, remembered how each girl had to make her own graduation dress.
“There were nuns for every field,” she said. “When I got to the convent, they said, ‘You can tell you were taught by Notre Dame (nuns),’” she said, remarking on the excellent language and other skills she learned at St. Michael.
Shirely (Seefeld) Falbo and Helga (Hartenberger) Salfer, who was from the Class of 1944 (she drove Falbo and Britton to the reunion), also remembered making their graduation dresses.
“They came down to the ankles,” said Salfer.
Gladys (Griffin) Roesler, co-chairperson for the reunion, not only remembered Sr. Leone’s sewing class but many activities held after school.
“It was the Depression. The school was the social center; there was dancing, football, baseball, basketball,” she said.
Frank Hillus of the Class of 1936, now a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Milwaukee, remembered the “makeshift” gym and all the fun CYO sports they’d play, as well as cards.
“Everybody was a friend,” he said.
William Degenhardt had a painful memory.
“I got hit on the back of my hands, but I can’t remember for what,” he said.
On this day, he laughed at the thought. Degenhardt, who went on to become chief engineer for A.O. Smith, also had a sweet memory.
“I liked the candy store across the street,” he said.
Guftason also remembered the bags of crushed potato chips – leftovers from a nearby potato chip factory – that the kids could buy for a nickel.
Ruth (Lohnies) McKillip, who graduated in February of 1939 (there were graduations in February and June), has a long family history at St. Michael.
“My grandparents helped build St. Michael. My dad and mother went there,” she said.
St. Michael was primarily a German parish when the class of 1939 attended school. Today, the parish, which no longer has a school, has a large Hmong population. Several people expressed kind words for St. Michael’s current pastor, Fr. Dennis Lewis.
This is the ninth time the St. Michael class of 1939 has had a reunion, the last one being 10 years ago at the Wisconsin Club.
St. Michael alumni also put out a newsletter a few times a year and every May there is a Mass and luncheon at St. Michael for the alumni.
Gago, the event’s hostess, credited the late Chuck Vogel, who graduated from St. Michael a few years earlier than her, for being “the driving force” behind the school’s active alumni group.
And the close-knit group hopes to celebrate together for many more years.
“Who else has a reunion after all these years?” Salfer asked.
Tom Jozwik contributed to this article.