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Destined for St. Norbert College Since the Early 1890s

Until Bonnie McVey ’82 (Computer Science) stepped up as the faculty speaker at this year’s Academic Awards Banquet, few realized how deep her qualifications were for the task. McVey’s journey to St. Norbert marches with her family history in the area, with connections to the campus traced back to the late 19th century – to the years, in fact, before even Abbot Bernard Pennings himself conceived of a college on the De Pere site. Here’s McVey, addressing this year’s honorees:

Graduation is just less than three weeks away and before embarking on a new journey, it is often wise to look back to see how you got to where you are now. I can’t do that for you, but I can briefly share mine as a means to encourage you to do the same.

My journey to SNC began in the 1890s. Yes, you heard right, … not 1980s but 1890s. So now you must be thinking, “Wow, she looks great for her age” … and to that I say, “Thank you!”

Peter John Aerts, my great-grandfather from Holland, and his brothers were masons who worked on several area churches, including Old St. Joe’s, in 1890. Whenever I am in the church, I scan the walls, wondering which bricks he placed.  

My grandmother Frances was the oldest child of Henry Verheyen and his wife, Mary. Grandma was born in 1901 and spoke often of the “White Fathers” she knew. According to Grandma, her family lived near Old St. Joe’s and her father cleaned the church and cared for the horses. (This would have been even before the long tenure of Al Zelten). At the age of 10 or 12, Grandma’s family moved to a nearby farm but, always a letter-writer, she maintained a correspondence with Abbot Bernard Pennings, O.Praem.
The first in my family tree to graduate from SNC was Grandma’s younger brother, Leo Verheyen, Class of 1919. I owe a thank you to Brooke Kazik at the alumni house for his correct year of graduation and this photo that appeared in the 1917 edition of Des Peres, the college yearbook. I know little of Great Uncle Leo except that he was a successful banker who seemed serious all the time. 

Shortly after Leo graduated, my grandfather Clarence McVey attended St. Norbert with the Class of 1925 or so – although it was only for a short time due to his mother’s illness. I have almost 80 pages of his journal from that time. It includes literary works he was to copy, his parish’s history, rules for maintaining a ledger, results of sporting events, a school cheer, and the names of many of his classmates, including Mr. A. Sromovsky ’24 (later the Rev. Robert A. Sromovsky, O.Praem.) and Mr. Mike Killeen ’27 (later Abbot Sylvester M. Killeen, O.Praem.) One of my favorite entries begins: “Nov. 18, 1921, a very unlucky day for me … I got my first penance in the history of my schooling at St. Norbert’s College. ... We were soaking the punching bag … when Father Millay caught us.” Always the prankster ... even then.  

Almost 60 years later, after I enrolled at SNC, Grandpa and I would visit. He would wistfully share stories and class discussions from that time, a side of him I had never seen before. I still have the graduation card from Grandma andGrandpa McVey that includes a note as to how proud they were of their McVey family’s first college and SNC graduate. I wished it could have been Grandpa, but then again, if he had become a Norbertine as many of his classmates did, I wouldn’t be here!

I grew up on Michigan Street just three streets across the river. St. Norbert snow sculptures and Homecoming parades were part of my youth. So were some excellent grade-school and high-school teachers who encouraged me to go to SNC. I truly didn’t consider anywhere else. 

I guess I rekindled a family tradition when I graduated from St. Norbert in 1982, because my brother John ’84, my sister Beth ’86 and my sister Brenda McVey ’87 would follow. 

And, my nephew Ben McVey ’10, one of the hardest-working students I have ever known, was the most recent McVey to graduate from St. Norbert.  

As McVey laid out her own journey to St. Norbert for the award-winning students and their professors, she concluded: “Your journey to St. Norbert, and your SNC experience, are unique to you.”  

June 7, 2016