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Bob Neja ’56 greets Cathy (Schmitz) Jacobs ’56. Looking on, left, is Barbara Kons, wife of Michael Kons ’56.

Reunion 60 Years in the Making

An opportunity to recognize those who graduated 60 years ago and to share common connections also gives us a chance to look deep into the college’s history.

The 1950s alums who gathered for the Class of 1956 Reunion were at St. Norbert at a unique point in its history: as Abbot Bernard Pennings, O.Praem., college founder, still presided over the college, the first women undergraduates were beginning their studies.

“Some of my best recollections of school here are what a fine bunch of faculty members we had,” says Mike Hauser ’57. “The Norbertines were such a force at that time, I never really sat down to figure it out, what percentage of the faculty was Norbertine, but I’m sure it was like 60 percent or more.”

Abbot Pennings wasn’t very visible on campus by this time; most students only knew of him by reputation. Cathy (Schmitz) Jacobs ’56 says, “I can remember one time, it must have been my sophomore year, for his birthday, he was at the priory and he gave us the day off.”

“I knew nothing of him,” says Hauser, “other than he was a real pioneer, a real trailblazer. A guy that comes over from another country and starts something like this [St. Norbert College] – fantastic!

“There were a number of Norbertine priests that got out of Hungary when the communists were in control … . Those men were remarkable. They literally came to this country with the clothes on their back and what they had in their brains. Tremendous people.” And what was the climate like when women arrived on campus? “The boys were ecstatic,” chuckles Maggie (Hess) Hauser ’59, Mike’s wife. “Most of the priests were nice. I think there were only two who voted against women being on campus.”

For Jacobs, who was part of that very first class of women, it was a bit harder. “Frightening” is her word for it. “There were some [faculty] that appreciated you, that thought you were enlightening, and some that definitely didn’t want you to be there, and some that were indifferent. Some gave us a pretty difficult time.” Jacobs and several other women had studied together at St. Joseph academy, so they stuck together and sheltered each other. Maggie says dresses were required for women students and the food wasn’t very good. “I can remember eating a lot of peanut butter, because the stuff was inedible.” But she met her husband, Mike, there – both played in the band.

Guests from the Class of 1956, joined by alums from other classes of the 1950s, were delighted to meet up, and Todd Danen ’77 (Alumni & Parent Relations) enjoyed reconnecting with them. “We had 33 who registered for the event and maybe six who didn’t make it. They ranged in class year from ’53 to ’59, and they really enjoyed just sharing stories. After lunch I talked a little bit about the 1950s decade and I introduced each one. We ended the evening with Father De Peaux singing a few songs from the ’50s.”

June 27, 2016