1956 alumnae use letters and reunions to maintain a special bond.
It’s no surprise college leads to lifelong friendships. But the strength and longevity of some Central alumni bonds are truly amazing. For a group of 1956 alumnae, it’s been more than 60 years since they lived together in the same wing of Graham Hall, but their relationships remain intact.
Starting shortly after graduation, the group of 15 women began exchanging round robin letters. Each month, one or two of them sent the entire group a letter, then the next month another member would respond. They have kept the letters circulating ever since, bringing them into email format in recent years.
The original group members were Jan (Vermeer) Beals, Lorraine (Wubbena) Butler, Doris (Meerdink) Carlson, Barbara (Ebbers) Denniston, Marlys (Korver) De Wild, Leone (Berkenpas) Eidsmoe, Nella (De Jong) Elliott, Ruth (Howard) Howard, Delores (Wassink) Lundy, Peggy (Kuyper) Pierson, Vera (Gosselink) Refnes, Elaine (Buteyn) Tanis, Arlys (Van Zee) Verdoorn, Carolin (Missall) Vermeer and Darlene (Van Zomeren) Wallinga. Spouses have become unofficial “robins” over the years, especially since eight of the group married Central grads. Delores Lundy and Jan Beals have passed away, as have a number of spouses.
After many members of the group retired, they decided to start hosting in-person reunions as well. The first took place in 1992, and groups of “robins” have been meeting consistently since then, traveling the United States and jumping back into the friendships formed so many years ago.
The letters have kept them up-to-date on each other’s lives, chronicling new jobs, the births of children, moves across the country and holiday travels. They also shared one another’s trials and sorrows, documenting illness and loss while offering prayers and support as only old friends could. Their bond is something special and they’ve lived out the ideal of friendship over 60 years. A lot may have changed in that time, but they’re still the girls from second-floor Graham.
1992 – Pella
“Our first reunion was back in Pella in 1992. It was great to be back on campus after 36 years! We enjoyed the hospitality of the De Wilds and Piersons as well as a special evening at Strawtown Inn. Yes, Pella had changed; the campus had changed. But even though we, too, had gotten older and changed, the talking and laughing seemed as always! It was a great weekend, and we decided to try again in three years.”
— Darlene (Van Zomeren) Wallinga
1995 – Orange City, Iowa
The robins gathered at the Wallinga home in Orange City for a reunion that included golfing, shopping and conversation. An Abraham Lincoln impersonator even made an appearance during a show at the Sioux County Courthouse.
1998 – Lake Tahoe
The familiar “Welcome Robins” sign was unfurled in Lake Tahoe at the Refnes’ lake house.
2000 – Battle Lake, Minnesota
Nearly all the robin couples made it to Minnesota for a fall weekend at the Beals’ home.
“The best part of exchanging letters is maintaining friendships and staying in touch for so many years. Also, learning about everyone’s families, jobs, sharing successes, sadness, hardships, etc. My advice to recent grads would be to get a group of friends together who are interested in a round robin letter, appoint one to be in charge of organizing and starting the letter. Set a time of year to meet for a reunion. Persevere through the years to keep it going. You will have a lifetime of rewards!”
— Arlys (Van Zee) Verdoorn
2002 – Camp Warwick, New York
Ten years after their first reunion, the robins journeyed to New York. A Reformed Church in America camp provided accommodations, and Barb Denniston hosted. An unforgettable bus trip into the city included touring Ground Zero, dinner on the wharf and seeing “The Lion King” on Broadway.
2004 – Holland, Michigan
The Tanises hosted the robins at Camp Geneva and their home in Holland. Boat rides, golfing, worship and a bonfire kept the group busy.
“The letters have been a constant means of contact with my very best life-long friends. Ours was a bond of friendship created on the second floor of Graham Hall. Our rooms were right above the apartment of our house mother, Harriet Prins, which proved to be an occasional problem. We often gathered to celebrate each other’s birthdays after curfew and the noise level invariably traveled down. During one such celebration, Mrs. Prins came up to remind us of the rules and when told we were celebrating a birthday, she asked, ‘Whose birthday?’ Well, the birthday girl was hiding under the desk, so as not to get into trouble!”
— Vera (Gosselink) Refnes
2006 – Pella (50th reunion year)
The robins met in Pella to celebrate their 50th class reunion. Pella robins hosted a progressive dinner and group members shared memorabilia. President David Roe presented all 50-year alums with a gold medallion during homecoming festivities.
2008 – Chicago
The Howards hosted the group at their Hoffman Estates home for meals and storytelling on the deck. Trips into Chicago included Millennium Park and Navy Pier.
2011 – Pella
Returning to Pella once again, the robins met at the Verdoorns’, and also attended a memorial concert for former music professor Larry Grooters at Second Reformed Church.
2016 – Pella
Most recently, the group celebrated their 60th class reunion in Pella during homecoming.