Friends since 1958, Miami TriDelt sisters share laughs, memories and thanks during weekly Zoom meeting
BY DONNA BOEN ’83, MTSC ’96, MIAMIAN EDITOR
[Cleo] You all look fabulous, and I’m impressed with what everybody says and what you’re doing. I think it’s wonderful.
[Dana] My daughter asked, “How long have you know them?” 62 years.
[Cleo] Isn’t that just wild?
[Susan] With about a 50-year hole in the middle.
[Cleo] I don’t know about the rest of you, but when someone asks you how old you are, I say, “Uh … uh … uh … uh.” I can’t get it out. It’s hard to say that you’re 80.
[Dana] I’m real proud. I say it right out. I got called the beast twice yesterday because I was up on the roof cutting down this tree.
Cleo is Cleo Mengos Eshelman of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Dana Murray Kelley is from Narberth, Pennsylvania. And Susan is Susan Rogers Petty, who lives in Ventura, California.
All three are Tri Delta sorority sisters who graduated from Miami in 1962. They are part of a larger group of 19 TriDelts who’ve been meeting via Zoom every Wednesday since July.
So far, they’ve discussed their favorite travel snacks, books and movies they’d recommend, what’s left on their bucket list, their relationship with their mothers and how that changed through the years, and how they and their families are handling COVID.
One of their go-to topics is favorite memories of Miami, which brought them together in 1958.
Thankful for campus closeness
[Diane Dailey Baer, Los Angeles] Remember we talked about the dining hall? (Lots of chuckling among the group.) We talked about people who worked in the dining hall and how we were grateful for that as opposed to kids now who do a lot of … um … snack …
[Karen Waite Carey, Frankfort, Kentucky] Fast food …
[Diane] They don’t eat with white tablecloths like we did.
[Sue King Davies, Oakland, California] We really valued our sit-down dinners. Yes, we valued that. We valued the dorm experience that we had, and we valued the closeness of the campus with no cars. That really made for a very unifying experience, I think.
[Joel Currie Dawson, Tallahassee, Florida] I think not having sorority houses so that we interacted with a lot of other people more …
[Karen] That was a really good thing. Yeah.
Along with the tablecloths came the rules, such as proper dress. During at least one meal, Cleo was told to put a rain coat on over her Bermuda shorts and knee-highs because her knees were showing.
They also were required to have their parents’ written permission to ride in the few cars around on the no-car campus, had to wear dresses if heading Uptown and lived with a strict 9:30 p.m. curfew during the week. The curfew was pushed back an hour during the weekend.
To get in by curfew, they usually had to walk through couples kissing near the front door, well, except for those who were in the bushes. If they got caught coming in late, they risked being “campused,” which meant being grounded inside the dorm for an allotted number of weekends.
Zooming back together
Sue was the one who set out this past July to get her TriDelt sisters together every week, a chat that they are finding uplifting during the pandemic. Some have maintained their ties through their 62-year friendship. Others haven’t talked since they graduated. Two they can’t find, and they feel blessed that only two have passed away.
[Sue] Here we are now starting our 80th year, and we’ve had all different life experiences. We’ve had tragedy, no doubt, of the first order. We’ve had health issues. … We’re at a reflection point of the joys and challenges we’ve had. Anybody else want to chip in there?
[Susan] It’s also really nice to see that we’ve all lived productive lives. (Lots of head nods and uh-huhs.) We haven’t just faded into the background. I think from what I’m hearing from a lot of us, we still are involved. (Right. Uh-huh.) Very much, in life and our community and the world.
[Dana] That’s because 80 is the new 60.
[Sue] Oh, I wish.
[Karen] People have traveled a lot of places and seen different parts of the world. And that’s been really interesting to learn about.
[Dana] Everybody seems to be continually growing. Learning. And how liberal most of us, I would say the vast majority of us, are.
Of course, modern technology offers its challenges during these meetings. Then again, technology has always presented challenges.
Calling home as undergrads too expensive
[Joel] We were really, really pre-cell phones, and it was very expensive to make long-distance calls. Even though I lived only 30 miles away in Cincinnati … the only time I talked to them on the phone was when I needed something or they needed to tell me something, and after about a minute, my dad would say, “Is that all? Are you finished?”
[Gail Smith Carns, Phoenix, Arizona] I was from Chicago, and my mother said, “No phone calls. At all. It’s too expensive, so you will write letters.”
[Lois Ewalt Pauls, Milwaukee, Wisconsin] And we did.
[Group chorus] Uh-huh. Right.
[Joel] We only had one or two phones. Maybe one phone on each level of the dorm. You had to stand in line if you were going to make a call.
[Dana] My mother only called with emergencies, and she had an egg timer by the phone. Three minutes and that was it. I’d been (at Miami) for a month, and I didn’t call home or anything. I didn’t write or anything, so I got a call, and I thought, uh-oh, something’s happened. And it was like, “Remember those people at home who are paying for your college?” But I was having so much fun. I was just enjoying it so much, meeting these people from all over and talking and talking and talking, that I didn’t miss home at all.
Thankful for visiting artists and lecturers
[Sue] John Kennedy, I remember him walking across the football field. Hair blowing a little bit in the wind. Oh, boy. He had my vote before he walked …
[Voice in the background] … before his feet hit the ground.
[Cleo] I remember that, too, just that way.
[Dana] That was full wasn’t it. The whole place was full. At the stadium.
U.S. Sen. John Kennedy came to campus Sept. 17, 1959, as the 1960 Democratic presidential nominee. He was the keynote speaker for that fall’s convocation. It was moved from Benton Hall (Hall Auditorium) because of the large crowd. Some 6,000 packed into Miami Field, where Pearson Hall stands today.
[Sue] And Robert Frost came.
[Martha Tawney May, San Ramon, California] He was very fragile as I recall. And we were asked not to approach the stage at all.
[Sue] And Louis Armstrong came.
[Martha] Didn’t we get a lecture by Linus Pauling?
[Karen] Oh, yes. That was good.
[Martha] That was very good.
[Susan] They had some great programs for us.
That comment generates a chorus of yeahs, uh-huhs and yeps, led by Patsy Gregg Hoag of Lake Wales, Florida.
Thankful for easy ways to make friends
[Lois] Roommates. We had roommates who were either not in sororities or in different sororities but friends.
[Cleo] Don’t you remember how we visited back and forth with the sororities, leaving our doors open to our suites?
[Martha] Yes, yes.
[Cleo] Having doughnuts or playing cards or doing something with the other sorority girls.
[Karen] We’d just run back and forth across the hall.
[Cleo] They were a great group of girls, and you got to know so many well, too.
[Karen] What Lois said I think was important. Just the size of the population. I remember you could just walk along Slant Walk or wherever you were going to class, and you could say hi to people.
[Karen] And even if you didn’t know their names, you knew their faces because you saw them every day at 10 ’til 10 or whatever. And after a while, you got to know them, and it was just nice to have …
[Joel] Once I was at a dinner, and Dr. Millett was sitting next to me, and he assured me that the college would never get to be more than 10,000 students.
‘Owning’ the sundial
Miami’s iconic Delta Delta Delta Sundial is within sight of Hamilton Hall, where their sorority suite was located and many of these “sisters” lived their senior year. It was dedicated in 1962 to commemorate the founding of Miami’s Delta Beta Chapter.
Supporting the sundial are turtles, emblems of eternity. Students, especially those on their way to take a test, like to rub the turtles’ heads for good luck, a cherished tradition established sometime after this group graduated.
[Diane] We were proud of the TriDelt sculpture. That came with our class.
[Gail] We did that.
[Sue] Our class, with the alumni, raised the money for the sundial. And who knew that it was going to become this (“Iconic,” three background voices say nearly in unison.) iconic, yeah, landmark on campus. And had even some traditions that we didn’t know about, like rubbing the turtle’s head for good luck.
[Dana] On finals, right.
[Karen] We all had such good luck we didn’t even need it.
At that, more laughter erupts.
Thankful for lifelong friends
[Lois] I’m thankful for the sense of humor that still exists.
[Lois] All the chuckling and laughing. It’s great.
[Cleo] It’s good for the soul.
[Diane] Cleo, you said things have changed so much, but in this group, I find so many of us recognizable. … The same kind of approach to life in general is still evident after all these years. It’s made me think that maybe by the time we were there at Miami, we were sort of formed. God knows, a million things have happened to everybody. However, there’s kind of a general approach or something that’s very recognizable.
[Dana] Meeting people from New York, Chicago, big cities, coming from a small town …
[Susan] It was a four-year shared experience. A very profound experience.
[Cleo] Very profound.