On June 7, a 75th birthday celebration was held for women of the Sacred Heart Academy (now Newman University) class of 1964. The “Still Cruising 75 at 75” themed party included a luncheon, birthday cake, class photos from the university archives and even newly made Sacred Heart Academy (SHA) keychains as party favors.
The 75-year-old classmates traveled both near and far for this year’s celebration — some even journeyed from cities in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Idaho. The luncheon was originally scheduled for two hours in the Mabee Dining Center on campus. By the time photos were taken, the cake was indulged in and wine glasses were decorated as takeaway souvenirs, the ladies had been partying well into the afternoon.
“It is so great to welcome back any alumni and I had a fantastic time working with the Sacred Heart Class of 1964,” said Laura Hartley, director of alumni and campus events. “They are a lovely group of women who have stayed in touch through all these years and stayed connected to their alma mater.”
The class of 1964
Karen (Chippeaux) Flanigan, Susan (Bakel) Cohn and Diane (Murphy) Smith all helped organize the 75th birthday party reunion to enjoy with their fellow classmates. Smith helped select the menu for the luncheon and worked with Cohn to provide wine glasses for the women to decorate. Cohn provided wine from her son’s winery, as well as balloons and decorations. She even made “Speed Limit 75” signs to continue the theme of the party on each decorated table.
Both Flanigan and Smith agreed that their experiences at Sacred Heart Academy gave them the knowledge and ability to grow into happy, intelligent, successful and caring adults.
“Every time we are together, the experience reinforces how very lucky we were and still are to have had the chance to grow not just in knowledge, but also in our Catholic faith, creating friendships that would last a lifetime,” Smith added.
Two years ago, Flanigan created a bound booklet featuring 55 of the SHA women from the class of 1964. Her goal was to come up with a tangible way to keep everyone connected with the lives of their former classmates, to share contact information with the group and to continuously pray for their class as a form of “collective caring,” she said.
The cover of the booklet is adorned with a photo of Sacred Heart Hall and reads: “All for the Glory of God.” Each page features a different SHA graduate along with a few photos, a description about her family, education, career, hobbies or volunteer work, social activities and plans for the future.
“I love finding out about people, what they’ve done and what they’re doing,” Flanigan said. “I went and did research, reached out to anyone and everyone I could get a hold of, and once it was ready Newman did all the printing for me.”
Smith said that her entire class from SHA is “blessed and thankful” for the support they’ve received over the years from Newman.
“The very special people of Newman have helped make every gathering a true blessing,” Smith said.
A memorable meal
The class of 1964 makes it a priority to meet every year that they can for a group birthday celebration.
“This was our first celebration since COVID,” Flanigan said. “Seeing everyone arrive was just so exciting, we couldn’t help but get excited, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, there they are!’ We were all just so glad to be here.”
Flanigan said she and her classmates were particularly impressed by the efforts of Newman staff in regards to their event. From the “beautiful” catering by Great Western Dining to the “Newman swag” and SHA keychains that were specially made for them, the class was truly in awe, she said.
“Our old high school newspaper was called ‘The Echoes,’ and Sue Koenig (director of archives) looked through every one of the names of attendees that I had given her,” Flanigan said. “She found where their names were and printed out those sheets for us. We got to see our names in articles from our younger years, so that was a great hit.”
Side by side at the dining tables, the 23 classmates shared their experiences during “the year of COVID.” Some spoke of staying home and practicing their hobbies, watching grandchildren and going on minimal errands to the grocery store or doctor’s office. Others shared personal experiences with contracting COVID, becoming sick and surviving the struggle — a conversation that many were touched by.
“We have all known and loved each other as ‘sisters’ for over 57 years,” Smith said. “There were so many memorable moments at this year’s celebration, but those that mean the most to me are getting caught up with each other’s lives, sharing family news, news about other SHA friends and, of course, honoring those that have left us.”
One of the classmates in attendance can still be seen around the Newman campus to this day. Sister Janet Ruth Rowley, ASC, graduated from Sacred Heart College with a degree in elementary education, and is a religious sister of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ in Wichita.
Following the birthday celebration, Sister Janet collected comments, stories and updates from other classmates to take back to two sisters who were unable to attend the luncheon: Sister Marita Rother, ASC, and Sister Carmelita Blick, ASC. Both Sister Marita and Sister Carmelita were teachers of the young women at SHA in 1964, and were just two of the religious sisters who played a prominent role in life at the academy.
“Sister Janet Rowley wrote down our messages to take to two of our favorite teachers from SHA,” Cohn said. “Everyone remembered how they influenced our lives in such a positive way.”
“I honestly don’t know of many other high school relationships that have stood the test of time that ours has,” Smith added. “We are so very blessed, and thankful to Newman University for pulling us all together this year.”
Flanigan added, “Moreover, the celebration was such a huge success with a great turnout of classmates but I just have to recognize our out-of-state classmates who attended: Judi Uhrich from New Mexico; Judy (Sims) Alexander from Idaho; Diane (Murphy) Smith from Texas; and Suzanne (Toelle) Bryson and Teresa (Siebold) Hoehner from Oklahoma. Again, thanks to all our classmates as well as the staff at Newman University for a wonderful day!”