Lesley's Class of 1961 poses for their official Commencement photo on June 11, 1961.
Organizing a college reunion during a global pandemic can be a challenge even for the most devoted classmates, but for Lesley’s Class of 1961, their 60th reunion was a milestone too important to miss.
Over 20 classmates gathered on Zoom on the 60th anniversary of their Commencement, June 11, to reconnect, laugh, and reminisce about their formative years as undergraduates at what was then Lesley College. The festive event was a testament to the Class of 1961 reunion committee, a stalwart group of longtime friends who rallied their classmates to celebrate the occasion and to show support for their alma mater. At a recent Zoom gathering, the group was modest about their efforts.
“Are we so different from other reunion classes?” Rosalind “Roz” Schwartz Hill wondered aloud.
“We’re old, we’re alive, and we still see each other!” quipped Gerri Milhender Bloomberg.
Friendships that began in Cambridge in the fall of 1957 have endured and strengthened over the years, bolstered by class reunions, group travel, and more casual get-togethers, most recently over Zoom. The Class of ’61 has been among Lesley’s involved and generous classes, supporting the Fund for Lesley and other high priority projects at the university. Through the years, members of the class have enjoyed making celebratory gifts to the university during their milestone reunions, and the 60th was no exception.
Many in the group attribute their close ties to the bonds they formed during their first year when they lived together in a dormitory building on Concord Avenue, a 20-minute walk from what is now the Doble campus.
“It was a big old house with large rooms, very homey,” Joyce Marshall Serwitz recalls.
“We spent most of our time doing things with each other,” Roz Hill remembers. “We had 11 o’clock curfews, so we couldn’t even go into the city much. We really became each other’s best buddies and entertainment and I think that had a lot to do with it. We still all of us remember those days, our freshman year and that’s what really cemented us.”
“I think there was something special about Lesley,” says Joan Sorkin Shulman. “Even though we were a small girls’ school, we were in Harvard Square, and that was a happening place! There was a lot going on there—we weren’t isolated on some little campus off on the North Shore. It had an energy about it and it was a lot of fun.”
They seldom went into Boston, but several recall a notable exception on the evening of November 7, 1960. Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy wrapped up his whirlwind campaign tour of New England with an appearance at Boston Garden where he spoke to a cheering crowd of over 22,000. Several of the then Lesley seniors, enthusiastic Kennedy supporters, went to the rally and got special permission to stay out late.
“They had a lot of entertainment before and then he was the last person to arrive,” recalls Shirley Spiegelman Horvitz. “It was a Tuesday night and our curfew was 10:30 and they said, ‘You can stay until he appears and then come right back.’ I think we didn't get into probably about midnight.”
A strong foundation in education
The group acknowledges that Lesley was a very different place when they arrived in the late 1950s. It was a small, all-women’s college, dedicated exclusively to training teachers in an era when there were fewer career choices open to women. But at Lesley they found a place to blossom.
“At Lesley, so many of us really did become leaders and I’m not sure we would have had the same path if we had been at a coed school,” observes Gerri Bloomberg. “Everybody supported us and respected us and I don’t think that we felt that we had any limits.”
Though most of the women became teachers after graduating, many went on to very different professions – and they often attribute their success to what they learned at Lesley.
“I think most of us started out as teachers,” recalls Senior Class President Ellen Green Bloch, still referred to affectionately as “Greenie” by her classmates. “I taught for only a couple of years and then I became pregnant, but I did a lot of substitute teaching and later on I ran a program for refugees and immigrants, and I did a lot of teaching with them. I think it all came in handy.”
Golda Siegel Doyle taught elementary school in New York City before later teaching college. She credits Lesley with her ability to connect with her students. She is currently planning a get-together with four of her former third graders, now in their early 60s. “One of them asked me ‘may I call you Golda?’” she says, laughing.
Joan Shulman taught second grade in Newton, Mass. for two years before having children.
“For me, outside of the friendships, which are irreplaceable and the best thing about Lesley, were the student teaching opportunities that it gave us in those days, a relationship with public and private schools that were the best in the state,” she says. “We weren’t just used as an extra body in the classroom—we were taught and evaluated and mentored by the teacher that was in the classroom and that made a huge difference.”
After several years at home raising her family, Joan went to work at Northeastern University doing counseling for undergraduates and job placement.
“I still do career coaching with all age groups and a lot of recent college graduates, so I still have young people in my life who I’m mentoring and coaching.”
Gerri Bloomberg started teaching after graduation but realized quickly that she was more interested in psychology.
“I probably knew right off the bat that I was much more interested in the behavioral aspects of my students and helping them with their issues,” she says.
A master’s degree in counseling from the University of Vermont led to a long and varied career in counseling, including starting her own business creating employee assistance programs and providing organizational development to businesses and non-profits.
“It may not seem like it’s related to Lesley, but it was. The basics of teaching and the humanity and the values that we learned at Lesley were tremendous,” she says. “If you look at all of us, I think we all model that, no matter what we ended up doing. Lesley was a wonderful place where you could be very creative because it was a very creative institution.”
“For all of us, teaching was the foundation.” Joyce Serwitz explains. “That’s where we all started, and we all segued into different places for different reasons, but the whole method of teaching and of communication is what each of us has used, regardless of which path we’ve taken.”
“Lesley has its own culture and that’s the culture that that we have embodied into the work that we’ve each chosen to do,” Joyce adds.
Friends for life
“It’s interesting the way we have continued to stay together,” Gerri Bloomberg ponders.
“The advent of the Internet really got us much more connected,” she says. “All of a sudden, we were really able to communicate more and very easily, and then we started getting together in different places.”
“Five of us would get together every summer,” recalls Shirley Horvitz. “I was in the Northeast for a while and then I married a Texan and so that’s how I ended up here. Six of us from the class went on a trip to the Amazon River, which was incredible. We’ve just kind of stuck together.”
“When it came time to making calls for the 60th,” Ellen Bloch recalls, “I think it was six of us on the Committee, and each of us had at least two or three friends that we could convince to come, so I think our friendship really makes it so that these reunions are successful.”
Keeping connections to Lesley strong
Many members of the class of ’61 have stayed involved with Lesley over the years, serving as Trustees, Corporators, and Alumni Council members and supporting new initiatives at the university including the Urban Scholars Initiative and Lesley’s College of Art and Design. Having watched Lesley’s transformation in their lifetime from a small teacher’s college to a full-fledged university, they are delighted by many of the changes they see, including a notably more diverse student body.
“I was most impressed just with the diversity of the school and the energy—I was really proud of Lesley just to see what it’s become,” says Ellen Bloch.
“They were such interesting, vibrant people and I loved being around them,” Joan Shulman says of the Lesley students she met on her last visit. “I saw so much diversity, but I also saw a curiosity and an energy that was refreshing and speaks a lot to what this school has become over the years and who it’s attracting. I was very excited to see that.”
Several reunion organizers wish openly that they could continue their Lesley studies.
“If I were free and could live in Boston for a while, I would go and get an art degree,” muses Gerri Bloomberg, an accomplished painter.
The group is looking forward to the time when they can meet in person, but in the meantime, they’ve enjoyed the vital connections with each other that they’ve nurtured online. And they also look forward to seeing Lesley continue to grow and evolve, even as it maintains its roots to the college that they knew and loved.
“We weren’t as esoteric as some of the other universities,” says Roz Hill, “but there was a practicality and common sense, and humanity and creativity. It was terrific.”