Where readers go first

Author: Josh Stowe '01

When opening the latest issue of Notre Dame Magazine, many alumni flip immediately to the class columns, eager to read news about their classmates. 

That’s a testament to the hard work of the class secretaries, volunteers who work tirelessly to collect and share the latest happenings for their fellow Domers.

John F. Manion is one of those volunteers. For more than 60 years, he has faithfully filed quarterly columns for the Class of ’56, chronicling updates and get-togethers. His consistency, year after year, is impressive. And in each column, he provides a richly detailed summary of what’s happening, carefully culled from phone calls and emails. Readers can feel that his passion for sharing his classmates’ news has not waned.

Manion is not alone. Jim Gillis, class secretary for ’51, is another longtime volunteer who continually shares interesting tidbits. One of the kindest human beings one could hope to meet, Jim is a natural storyteller. In each issue, he shares a short bio of a classmate — what he’s done since graduating, where he’s lived and what he’s up to these days.

Others are known for their colorful touches. Joseph P. (Pat) Kelly ends each column for the Class of 1961 with a hospitable invite, reminding classmates that his wife, Abbie, is at the front door “with the latchstring out just waiting for you to drop in on your way through South Texas.” Virginia McGowan Bishop ’77 (she goes by Ginger) works a pop song from yesteryear into each column title — think “Summer Breeze” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Because of their graduation years, brothers James Champlin ’09, ’12J.D. and Chris Champlin ’13 have adjacent columns — and both take good-natured digs at each other from time to time (and rib classmates as well).

Class secretaries like Jim Keegan ’59 (ably assisted by former class secretary Joe Mulligan ’59), Joseph F. Jansen ’60 and Raymond Raedy ’62 are ever faithful. Their columns arrive reliably issue after issue. They know the importance of keeping in touch, and their classmates know they can count on them to communicate the latest news.

For a number of older classes, a younger volunteer ends up taking over the column at some point, whether it’s because of a family connection or just their willingness to help. Meg Julian ’03, ’06J.D. produces columns for the classes of ’38 and ’41, Seth O’Donnell ’04 writes the Class of 1939 column, Rebecca (Antas) Smith ’08 takes care of 1940, and Eileen Z. Surprenant ’09, ’15MNA pens the ’47 and ’48 columns.

Sometimes, the loss of a secretary means the torch is passed to the next generation. When John Norton ’36 passed away a couple of years ago, his daughter, Maureen McGinn, filed the next column. And she hasn’t stopped. She continues to chronicle the adventures of centenarians like Joe Newman, who not too long ago bought a red sports car, and Shelby Romere. After her father, Bob Erkins ’45, passed away, Melissa Erkins Rackish ’77 reached out with a poignant memorial. The class secretary at the time, who was navigating health issues, was so impressed that he offered her the opportunity to take over the column, and she readily accepted.

Columns continue to evolve with technology, thanks to attentive secretaries. For years, a healthy number have welcomed updates via text. Mary Ellen Woods now closes each Class of 1980 column with a link to the class’ Facebook group, and Michael Anselmi frequently points fellow ’01 grads to the class Instagram.

Because secretaries are often the glue that holds their classes together, their columns evolve over time to reflect life’s changing seasons. Bridget Doyle peppers the Class of 2016’s updates with engagements, weddings and births, plus updates on marathons and the occasional triathlon. Jill-Beth (JB) Hayes ’92, ’96MBA writes about her ’92 classmates, some of whom now have children in college. And Ron Zier ’52 acknowledges time’s inevitable march with a dry sense of humor. “At the risk of being maudlin, we must point out that 75 percent of our 902 classmates have gone before us,” Zier wrote in a column last year. “That makes this the final quarter. Gentlemen, tighten your chin straps.”

Josh Stowe is alumni editor of this magazine.