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Coming back to Curtis

A Q&A with the alumnae behind the Curtis House 50-year reunion

Campus and Community |

By Lisa Pendergast

Memorial’s campus has changed significantly over the past 50 years, but the camaraderie and sense of community remain the same.

Curtis House opened in September 1967, part of the expansion of the Memorial University Paton College residence cluster. That year, the house welcomed its first group of young women from across the province, eager to start their university careers.

Curtis House Class of 1968-69.
Photo: Submitted

In the year leading up to the 50-year anniversary of this event, several former residents voiced a desire to celebrate. A planning committee of eight women was formed.

They identified nearly 230 former residents and four proctors from the first four years of Curtis House (1967-1971). Connections were made with 145 people; of these, 67 came to the reunion from Sept. 22-24, 2017. The event schedule included a reunion mixer in R. Gushue Hall, a Curtis House Hootenanny and Tour, a Spirit of N.L. dinner and show at the Masonic Temple and a brunch in the Main Dining Hall.

The women agreed that all of the events were enjoyable and that it was “wonderful” to be back on campus.

The real highlight, overall, though? Catching up with old friends.

Lifelong friends

As the women laughed, hugged and caught up on each other’s lives, it wasn’t difficult to picture them as 16- and 17-year-olds who became the best of friends during their residency.

Through their enthusiastic conversation below, we go back 50 years to 1967 — the year the Avalon Mall opened, students came to Memorial on the train and the Winter Carnival was the event of the year.

Follow along with reunion committee members Linda Harnett (LH), Ferne Hallett (FH), Elaine King (EK), Faith Stratton (FS), Suzanne Howell (SH) and Bea Courtney (BC) as they trip down Memorial memory lane.

LP: How did you all first decide to come to Memorial as a student?

EK: It was the logical thing to do. I mean, Memorial is our university. And anyone I knew who had attended previously had nothing but great things to say about it.

SH: If you went further afield, it was usually because programs weren’t offered here.

LH: There was a lot of pride in attending Memorial. A lot of us had parents or grandparents who had attended and the university was highly regarded.

LP: What is your favourite memory about being a student in residence at Memorial?

First place float for Curtis House in the Winter Carnival.
Photo: Submitted

FS: Not having to cook or do dishes!

EK: I lived in Portugal Cove and I could have easily driven back and forth, but my parents had the idea that if you were coming to university, you had to experience the whole thing.

BC:  I remember the dynamic of 100 girls coming together — most not knowing each other’s backgrounds — we were all equals.

EK: It didn’t hurt that there were a couple thousand boys right here, too!

SH: I remember one night, Kentucky Fried had 2-for-1 at $0.99. My husband now, he was my boyfriend then, had a car and he went down and bought 100 boxes! He had orders from Curtis House and his residence, Blackall. He said when he went in and placed the order, there were people behind him who offered to pay $2 a box if he would sell it to them.

LH: But life for us was different from other people going to Memorial. For example, Winter Carnival. We partnered up with one of the boys’ houses and spent night after night together in a building at Pleasantville building paper maché floats.

SH: Curtis House was involved in all aspects of Winter Carnival, including sports. If we could get a team together for any activity, we did. When we came back in January, that was our focus. Not the classroom, it was Winter Carnival.

LP: There was a weekend full of activities planned for this reunion. What was the highlight of the reunion weekend?

LH: Fifty years had passed and I hadn’t seen the majority of these people, but they have always been there, in your heart. When you make those kinds of relationships, the connections stay with you.

BC: It was special to have most of the events at Paton College — like coming home.

LH: Another highlight was meeting the current residents during our Curtis House tour and hootenanny. They got caught up in the euphoria of the day, if I can call it that.

FS: We had a brunch in the dining hall on Sunday morning with the current residents. To a full house, we sang “Those Were the Days” and the “Curtis House Song” and got a standing ovation!

LH: The support from Memorial staff really helped make the reunion a success. Chris Hounsell, alumni affairs, who we named our Mr. Curtis 2017 for all his help. Lori Lynn Rowsell, student residences, and staff from Aramark were also amazing.

Curtis House 50th reunion group photo.
Photo: Submitted

LP: How has Memorial changed over the past 50 years? How is it the same?

SH: The rules were different. We had a curfew! We had two late passes per term and one of those was for your house dance. Other than that, you had to be back at residence by 11 p.m.

SH: We had an open house once a term and boys were allowed to come and visit, but you had to have your door open and the boys had to sign in, you couldn’t just walk in.

BC: The mixed genders in residence now is certainly different — a different vibe.

FH: Still, I would think the students are basically the same as we were. They probably have the same goals and want to graduate, have a good life and Memorial is the vehicle for that.

If you are interested in helping to plan a reunion for your house or class, please contact Chris Hounsell, alumni affairs officer, reunions.

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