By: Linda Kelly Graves ’72
Seventy-nine years ago, a class of young women left their homes and loved ones to enroll at Colby Junior College. It was the fall of 1942. World War II had drawn in the participation of the United States with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. These were uncertain times: siblings and friends had volunteered to serve in the military, gas rationing was in place, no one knew what the future would bring. Yet, despite the uncertainty, the women who came to the New London campus that year were encouraged and determined to be prepared for whatever the future might bring by furthering their education at Colby Junior College. For a subset of this incoming class of 1944, the friendships forged in their time at Colby Junior became the source of lifelong friendships and for four of them, this friendship is still very much alive today.
The original group of eight friends – Jane MacCabe Kelly, Elizabeth VanGorder Minkler, Jeanne Losey Bole, Ann Tilton Carpenter, Jean Bush Gabriel, Millicent “Bimby” Swaffield, Mary Jane Niedner and Barbara Janson Green – stayed in touch through the years. Of the original eight, four, Jane MacCabe Kelly, Elizabeth “Betsy” Minkler, Jeanne “Penny” Losey Bole and Ann “Tillie” Tilton Carpenter, remain alive and well and still in touch with each other at 96 years young! These friendships are to be celebrated. They are a testament to the power of the Colby Junior / Colby-Sawyer experience that impact our lives, not only through the friendships established, but also in concert with the quality of the educational experience there.
This past summer, as I watched and listened to my mother, Jane MacCabe Kelly, call and speak on the phone with her four Colby friends, it occurred to me just how valuable these friendships are to these ladies. My mother, at 96, is widowed, and many of her numerous friends through the years have died. She misses them all but reflects on the fact that this group of Colby Junior friends are among the most precious friends she has left. Several times a year she will talk to any one of them via phone, and the joy she has when the call is completed lasts her for weeks. I suspect they all feel the same way.
So, with encouragement from the Colby-Sawyer Alumni Office, I called them all to collect their memories of their time at Colby Junior between 1942 and 1944 and their lifelong friendships.
Both my mother and Betsy Minkler speak of their first meeting as being put together as roommates, housed in Colgate, after each of their initial roommate assignments did not work out. Theirs was a perfect match. My mother says that “you got to know other girls on campus just by being on campus; the classes were not as large as they are today. Most of the girls were active on campus by joining clubs or through the dorms and attending class together. Colby was such a small school; you made the effort to get to know others. It was a time of gas rationing. Cars were not allowed on campus. Our idea of a big day was to take a walk into town and get a hot fudge sundae (still a favorite at 96 years) at the New London drugstore.” As far as activities, my mother said, “Hopefully, there was a dance.” She states that men would come down from Dartmouth or other colleges and might stay over at Proctor Academy. She recalls ski trips to Vermont and staying at the Woodstock Inn. Jane has kept in touch with her Colby friends through the years via calls and letters, and, if possible, visits in the summer either in New London or meeting for lunch at someone’s home in the Concord, Lake Winnipesaukee and New London areas. Betsy has lived in Berkeley, California, for many years, yet she and Jane, between calls/letters, have managed to visit when my parents’ travels took them to the San Francisco area or, as recently as 2018, when my mother traveled to the area to see her great grandchildren there AND to catch up with Betsy. Seeing Betsy has always been high on my mother’s priority list when out west.
Elizabeth “Betsy” Minkler recalls great times going to Dartmouth with Jane via train to White River Junction. Though no serious boyfriends resulted from those trips, “it was fun looking.” Betsy also found the trips to the New London drugstore “for a snack” a great source of entertainment. Her favorite snack was a grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “I know that sounds awful, but it was so good! I’d have one a day and I would pay by check. It cost 15 cents. I did this for a while until my father asked why I was paying for a 15-cent sandwich with a check! He advised me that the cost of the check was greater than the cost of the sandwich and to stop the check writing.” Betsy remembers a very special reunion a few years back when the eight friends stayed at Jean Bush Gabriel’s home in New London for the weekend. They had a marvelous time catching up and reliving Colby memories. Betsy notes that it was an election year and that while they had differing opinions on who should be president, they managed to keep the political talk at bay and just enjoyed each other’s company.
Ann “Tillie” Carpenter wrote that her years at Colby Junior were wonderful and she loved having Dr. Sawyer as the president. She reports, “There were no men around – only once a year did we have a dance. We all met at Colby; I think we all lived in Burpee dorm, at least for our second year there. Our rooms were close to each other and we all became great friends.” Ann’s closest friends were Mary Jane Neidner and Jean Bush Gabriel. She recalls playing tennis on campus and going camping near the end of Lake Sunapee, as well as helping at a maple sugaring farm nearby. Ann’s family lived close to Concord and she remembers some weekends visiting there with friends and biking into Concord for the day and then having her father drive them back to campus. Ann marvels at how much the campus has changed through the years and how beautiful it remains. Ann notes that there have been three members of her family that have attended Colby-Sawyer.
Jeanne “Penny” Losey Bole, along with Ann Carpenter, were in the Medical Technologist 3-year program at the time. Penny tells me that they stayed on campus one summer as part of their program (an accelerated program) in order to graduate in two years. Jeanne writes, “We all were quite isolated as our country was in the midst of a war, and I remember having meals so filled with carbohydrates that we ALL gained weight and would look forward to those Saturday night suppers of beans, brown bread, etc!! Friendships evolved and there were groups who remained close those two years. I recall during the spring months, when the snow of cold, cold winters passed, we would climb out on the roof of Colgate and have on bathing suits and try to get rid of some of the winter whiteness. Jane and Betsy were part of the “summers” as I recall.
“We also enjoyed biking down to Little Sunapee (no transportation for students at the time, I recall) and found a beach that we frequented often. The only store in town was the drugstore and we all frequented it often!! Oh, there was The College Shop for clothing with Colby monograms, but we all craved sweets. Chocolate floats, I remember, were #1, and again, we ALL added to our waistlines!! No grocery store, nothing, but The Inn – and that was not our choice. Food is what we wanted. I remember once waiting for dinner (dining was done in Colgate as there was no separate dining facility). We were lined up and there was a room just before the dining area that was like a living room. There were obviously some ‘older graduates’’ visiting who were all decked out in ‘grownup clothes’ and they had white hair! They looked really old to us! We kind of laughed and said to ourselves, ‘That will never happen to us!’ Surprise,surprise – the white hair came too rapidly. Wintertime brought very cold days and I recall classes being called off at one time and we had to remain in our dorms. No classes! Whoopie! The streets of New London were never plowed down to the road; tons of hard packed snow was always the way it was. We had become friendly with the custodian on campus who drove the beach wagon to get people around (old day golf cart approach?). I remember three of us getting on skis and tying long ropes to the rear of that beach wagon and the custodian pulled us behind the car down Main Street in town. Great fun! During our med tech summer session, we were able to go to Tillie’s parents’ cottage on Lake Sunapee one weekend. We went swimming and skinny dipping at night. The moon was full; it was gorgeous. We had the best time!”
Oh, the memories! I loved hearing about them and reading the letters sent to me. I felt so touched and honored to be able to share their memories. These women all were thrilled to be asked to share their memories and in addition to talking to me, they reached out to each other again to reminisce. I know what my friends from Colby-Sawyer have meant to me through the fifty years since we first met, and I plan to continue to cherish those friends and the memories we created. I just hope I can recollect them as well when I am 96! Colby-Sawyer has brought much to the lives of those who have attended: a fine education, a newer level of self-confidence, and deep friendships. Let us continue to celebrate the gift of our Colby-Sawyer experience and like the women highlighted here, continue to cherish the friendships that were born of our desire to prepare ourselves for what life might bring.