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Class Book provides conversation piece at 50-year reunion

By Amy Cockerham

The living room of Ginny (Grahn) and Iver ’54 Haugen’s home on American Lake, near Tacoma, buzzed with excited conversation during a reception for the Class of 1956 during its homecoming reunion weekend in October.

Kathy (Gulhaugen) Clave discusses an entry in the 1956 class book with Marlys (Solterback) Pfimmer. Both were part of the “Fifth Floor Gang.”

Much of the focus at the party was on a book carefully compiled by classmates Thelma (Nygaard) Schwarz and Norita (Miller) Stewart. The 1956 Class Book, compiled in honor of the class’ 50th reunion, was compiled and produced by Schwarz and Stewart and featured memories of 50 years of life and recollections of Pacific Lutheran College, as it was known when the Class of ’56 started school in 1952.

Standing in the Haugen’s living room, Stewart and Schwarz handed copies to each attendee at the reception. Most immediately opened the book and began reading the lovingly prepared biographies and memories.

Class books are fairly standard reunion fare, but Stewart and Schwarz went beyond the ordinary approach to capture the voices of their class members. Books are typically compiled based on class members’ responses to a fill-in-the-blank form. Both Stewart and Schwarz Miller, wanting to do something extra special for the 50th reunion, decided to go beyond that by asking class members to simply write one page about their lives over the last 50 years and their fondest memories of PLC.

The results are at times moving, and often inspiring.

The Class of 1956 has traveled the entire globe, with several class members noting they have traveled to all 50 states and most of the continents. The class is also marked by service and volunteerism. Many attended seminary and had careers in the church. Photos, both current and old, added depth to the written memories.

Former psychology professor Kristen Solberg, who taught from 1953-1964, attended the Class of 1956 reunion to catch up with some of his former students.

The entries are inconsistent in format and voice, but what they lack in formality they make up for in personality. By allowing each person to simply submit one page rather than respond to predetermined questions, a richer picture of a generation emerged.

“I wanted a free-form, out-of-the-box approach,” said Stewart.

For Gordon Strom, the book provided an opportunity to memorialize his first wife, Nancy Helland Strom ’56, who died in 1994. The book contained two sections, one for the living and the other for tributes to those who have passed. Strom was attending his first class reunion. He pointed with pride to the photo of his wife included in the book.

Schwarz was responsible for the section of the book dedicated to the deceased, and said that the children and spouses of dead classmates were even more eager to submit memories than some of the living classmates.

“There are just beautiful stories written by some of the children,” Schwarz said. “It gives you pause, to be honest. You stop and think, ‘What will my children write about me?’ But the values at PLU – and perhaps even more so at the time we were students – the goals we were encouraged to set for our lives obviously made an impact on people. Many made so many humanitarian contributions over and above their careers.”

Nearby, three women seated on a couch in the Haugen’s living room recalled their freshman year, moving in to the fifth floor of Harstad Hall. Converted from a dusty attic the year before, the space was divided into six rooms, and the young women who lived together there in 1956 are still friends today.

The stories of the “Fifth Floor Gang” spanned both sections of the book.

“PLU is very special to us and always has been,” said Marlys (Solterbeck) Pfimmer. The Long Beach, Calif., resident participates in regular reunions of the “gang” in locations all over the West Coast, although she hadn’t been back to campus in five years.

Stewart, too, is part of the “gang,” and while she’s been intimately involved with her classmates and activities with the Office of Alumni, she said it was fun to read up on the exploits of classmates whom she hadn’t seen in years.

“It was fun to put together,” Stewart said.



LuteLink connects alumni to career advice

Become a Career Mentor today! LuteLink continues to be the best way for current students and recent grads to get timely advice about real-world career experience from alumni around the globe. Any PLU alumnus can now register online, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the PLU Alumni Online Community.

For more information and to share your particular expertise with students and alumni, go to and register under Online Community.

Cyrus Khemalaap '95, working for the US Navy says, “I've been a career counselor serving navy reservists for four years, so I saw no reason not to be an online mentor, especially those considering joining or leaving the military.”

Dave Bartholomew ’78, a management consultant in Woodinville, Wash., has had many experiences mentoring PLU students. “Cleary, I have benefited from the mentoring I received while I was a PLU student, and since. It is natural and even easy to do the same with current PLU students. I have met with literally dozens of PLU students through the mentorship program. I like to think that the students got something out off it. I know I did.”

Shana Larsen ’99 has special skills as an entrepreneur in the food service industry. “I hope to be able to share the knowledge I have and I know that someone else is benefiting from that experience. I do believe the journey is part of the process, but a little help in the process isn't bad either.”

Greg Thorwald ’88 has a doctorate in engineering and works with Structural Reliability Technology, Inc. in Boulder, Colo. “I signed up as an online mentor because I'd be glad to share my work experiences with PLU students, hopefully to encourage their studies for an interesting career. I would have liked to have a similar resource to find out what being an engineer is like when I was a student.”

ELIZABETH Galbraith ’05: "I am excited about the mentoring program and having my information posted, because in this business of entertainment in Hollywood it is all about who you know! I hope that in the future, through this network, I will be able to connect current students and fellow alumni with jobs and internships."

Nicole Pedersen ’00 lives in Maryland and works for a PR firm. Her current posted expertise is in fashion, lifestyle and consumer products and branding. She started as a mentee in the Lutelink program and is now a mentor. “I secured my undergraduate internship through LuteLink, which helped me kick-start my career. I am happy to do what I can to strengthen the PLU alumni network."

Naomi Welborn ‘95 works as a special education consultant for school districts in and around where she lives in Troy, Mich. She wishes she had known more about the mentor program when she was a student at PLU. “I signed up to be a mentor because I remember how overwhelmed I felt in college trying to determine what exactly I wanted to be. As it turned out, it took me many years and a return trip to school to find exactly what interested me. At the time I thought that was a bad thing. Now, I realize it's a process and the timeline is different for everyone.”


Pencil Us In

Upcoming events

January 3
Tacoma Night @ Lute Basketball, PLU

January 19-21
Winter Alumni Board Meeting, PLU

January 20
Alumni Basketball Night, PLU

February 10
Puyallup, Orting, Sumner Night @ Lute Basketball, PLU

February 25
Minnesota Connection Event

February 25-27
Montana Connection Events

March 4
Hawaii Connection Event, Honolulu

March (TBD)
Denver Connection Event

March (TBD)
Boise Connection Event

April 15
Spring Parents Council Meeting, PLU

For more information: or call 800-ALUM-PLU.


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© Scene 2006  •  Pacific Lutheran University  •  Winter 2006

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