The centenarian and the 20-something. These women—two strangers from opposite ends of the generations—connect because they both claim Central College as their alma mater. Edna Boot Van Zee ’31 is a product of the Greatest Generation. Monica Powers ’18 is from the generation pundits call GenZ. They are, respectively, Central’s oldest known and youngest known living alumnae. Seconds after they meet in the retirement home in Newton, Iowa, where Van Zee lives, they embrace. The hug spans a lifetime. By the calendar, 85 years separate them. While their worlds are as different as telegrams and Instagram, there is much that melds their moments. In the warmth of a shared love of Central, nothing divides them. Despite the 85-year difference, they share Central DNA.
Profound changes have occurred in demographics and attitudes about social issues in the eight-plus decades since Van Zee was a student, says Lori Witt, associate professor of history.
Van Zee was a child during World War I and lived through the Great Depression. She has seen radical social and technological changes over her lifetime. For Powers, the nation’s first African- American president is more a fact of life than a historic event. Her generation enjoys freedoms Van Zee could not have imagined.
Powers’ generation—the newest—has faced global tension, school violence and the mortgage crisis. She was just 4 years old when 9-11 occurred. She always has lived in a world with the Internet and, as a result, is a digital native. She has never lived in a time before TV existed like Van Zee did.
Yet, despite their differences, the two have more in common than might be expected. Both grew up in turbulent and changing times, in a world marked with hardships, global conflict and economic adversity. Of course, they are both women, too.
“In the 1930s, Edna was a bit ahead of her time as a woman in college. For both Monica and Edna, college provided them options they otherwise would never have. Today it is much more common to have women get college degrees,” says Witt, who will be spending the 2018-19 academic year on sabbatical writing a book-length history of Central College.
While it is true every generation has unique expectations, history and lifestyles, it is also true a Central experience transcends time. Whether it is 1931 or 2018, memories are made here and Central delivers on its inspiring proposition of helping students discover and develop their greatest potentials. Read on as these remarkable alumnae talk about their years at Central College.
EDNA BOOT VAN ZEE ’31—THE GREATEST GENERATION
Hometown: Mitchellville, Iowa
Family: Van Zee was the daughter of a farmer. She and her twin sister, Ellen Boot Donaldson ’31, came to Central together. Donaldson died when the twins were 98. The Boot family sent most of their six children to Central.
MONICA POWERS ’18—GEN Z
Hometown: Creston, Iowa
Family: Powers’ father is a funeral home director. Her mother is a superintendent at a Christian school. She has three sisters, all of whom are attending college.
Major: Communication Studies and Sociology
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE CENTRAL COLLEGE?
EDNA: “I love Central.”
MONICA: “I love it here. I always knew I would be at Central. I like the small-town community feeling and it was close but not too close to home.”
WHAT WERE YOUR PROFESSORS LIKE?
EDNA: “We went to Professor Liggett’s house and he taught us how to make chocolate candy and play the piano.”
MONICA: “In the communication studies department, we went on an annual cookout with the faculty. My advisor, Shelley-Jean Bradfield, has been one of the most influential people to me.”
WHAT DORM(S) DID YOU LIVE IN AND WHAT STANDS OUT ABOUT IT?
EDNA: “We lived in Graham Hall. The boys all roomed in houses because Cotton Hall had burned. Central had strict standards for dress and conduct. Chapel attendance was required at 9:30 a.m. every day. If you did not attend, a report went to your parents. Dancing was not allowed. It was a sin. We would serve as the lookout for friends who would dance in the parlor. We had to be in bed at 10 p.m. A hall monitor would check our rooms. We would stuff paper by the door so it would look dark.”
MONICA: “I lived in every single female dorm: Scholte, Gaass and Graham. Gaass was my favorite. I met some of my best friends in the dorms.”
HOW DID YOU PAY FOR YOUR TUITION?
EDNA: “We were just fortunate our father could send us. Central was different then. We were there in hard times. My dad was wealthy enough he could send twin daughters.”
MONICA: “My dad is helping me pay for college. I also received an academic scholarship.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY THAT OCCURRED WHILE AT CENTRAL?
EDNA: “My sister, Ellen, and I came back to campus from a weekend at home. We parked in our garage, which was about a block away from our dorm. We saw two boys we were crazy about. They were waiting for us and asked us to go for a ride. We stopped in Oskaloosa and got ice cream. That was so much fun.”
MONICA: “During my first year here, I celebrated my birthday in September. Twenty of my friends threw a surprise party and gave me a scooter to get around campus. Then they carried me to the pond and threw me in.”
WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE FOODS IN PELLA?
EDNA: “We had the best food. On Tuesday mornings the cook made graham muffins. She also made pies and they were just incredible. We’d have cherry pie and snow pie, whose ingredients were sugar, boiling water and egg whites all whipped together. We also had roasts, chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy. Everything was good. Sometimes we would go to a restaurant on the east side. I remember going there for dinner and having bologna and bread.”
MONICA: “I usually ate at Central Market. The food was pretty good. I love dessert and they have these curly fries I really like. I also loved going to El Charro and my friends and I enjoyed half-priced appetizers at Applebee’s.”
DID YOU HAVE A JOB WHILE YOU WERE A STUDENT?
EDNA: “No. Ellen and I envied the kids who would go down and wash the dishes. They got 10 cents an hour.”
MONICA: “I worked in the café in the library making coffee for $9 an hour. I also worked in the admissions department.”
WHAT ACTIVITIES KEPT YOU BUSY?
EDNA: “My twin sister and I tried out for Glee Club, but neither of us could sing well enough. We belonged to Delphi Society and we always had a program after supper.”
MONICA: “I was active in Campus Ministries, InterVarsity, Students Against Human Trafficking and Dance Marathon. I also volunteered at Third Church and led a bible study for sixth-grade girls.”
TALK ABOUT CENTRAL’S HOMECOMING DURING YOUR STUDENT DAYS.
EDNA: “We would go to the football games, but we didn’t have homecoming then.”
MONICA: “Every year I participated in the Lemming Race. My friends and I dressed up and jumped in the pond. We also had a barbecue outside with alumni. It was a lot of fun.”
WHAT DID YOU DO FOR FUN AS A STUDENT?
EDNA: “In the spring, we would all clean up the college yard and we would play tug of war. We would also go to ball games and other happenings at the college.”
MONICA: “I loved to go on walks at Red Rock. I’m a people person so I liked hanging out with my friends. Sometimes we would swing at the wooden park.”
DID YOU HAVE A CAR?
EDNA: “My sister and I had a Chevy. We called it Scatterbolts. We would drive home on Fridays. Dad wanted us to come home so we could play the piano at church on Sundays. The other girls envied us going home on weekends because the kids that stayed vied for washing machines.”
MONICA: “I loved having a car here. It gave me different options. I liked driving to Red Rock and making a trip to Des Moines was always fun.”
WHAT WERE YOUR CAREER PLANS WHILE YOU ATTENDED CENTRAL?
EDNA: “My first salary was $85 per month at a country school in Prairie City. Life shifted to domestic pursuits after marrying Bill Van Zee, a Prairie City farmer, and having two children.”
MONICA: “I’m exploring my options. I didn’t go abroad while I was a student, so I have applied for a nanny position in Italy. I’ve also considered working in hospital communications.”
YOUR REACTION ABOUT BEING THE OLDEST AND YOUNGEST CENTRAL COLLEGE ALUMNAE?
EDNA: “I still can’t believe that I’m 106. You know, I still color my hair.”
MONICA: “I can’t believe it.”