by Cori Hilsgen
The Benedictine sisters passed the torch to College of St. Benedict alumnae during the centennial reunion kickoff ceremony held June 29. The Sisters passed their light to Bennie alumnae and each Bennie passed her light to the next woman, by an electronic votive candle, until the entire Benedicta Arts Center auditorium was filled with light.
Class of 1989 graduate Kim Motes, vice president of institutional advancement at the college, said the passing of the light is symbolic of the alums taking up the torch and accepting the responsibility to light the path for future generations of Bennies. The college motto is “So let your light shine,” and the passing of the torch symbolized the sisters passing the torch to the alumnae to be strong leaders for the next century, Motes said.
“We need to become the sisters of the next century,” Motes said. “It is up to us to carry the legacy forward.”
Before the passing of the torch, alumnae lined up and proceeded into the BAC by decades. Women walked or danced their way up the BAC steps to decade-themed music and were greeted by the CSB dance team, president MaryAnn Baenninger and others.
Motes talked about the Benedictine sisters’ foresight and courage to build and establish the college during a time period when women did not have the rights they have today – including the right to vote.
When the college was started, someone with a doctorate degree was required to be on the college staff, so Sister Magna Werth earned a degree from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She was the first woman to graduate with a doctorate in physics from the U of M.
Motes led the BAC auditorium in singing “Happy Birthday” to St. Benedict; 1939 graduate Josephine Zahnle Terwey, 97, gave the invocation; and U.S. Sen. Al Franken presented an American flag to Baenninger in honor of the 100-year anniversary.
“This flag was flown over the United States capital for the college of St. Benedict in honor of their centennial celebration in memory of their dedication in educating women since 1913,” Franken said.
1975 graduate Denise DeVaan, who has worked to increase financial stability among Minnesota’s low-wage earners, spoke about the transformation that occurs when attending CSB – a transformation that continues throughout a lifetime.
“It’s time to say thank you to the Benedictine sisters who have never lacked vision or dedication but now lack numbers,” DeVaan said.
DeVaan said the bells will continue to ring over the college in the hands of strong leaders for many years to come – leaders who are clear, centered, bright, funny and competent.
Prioress Michaela Hedican presented a stained-glass window from the original chapel. The Sisters then passed the light to the auditorium of alumnae.
Almost 1,500 CSB “Bennies” gathered in St. Joseph for the reunion, which took place June 28-30. Alumnae from at least seven countries and 38 states came home to celebrate “A Century of Connection,” the theme for the college’s year-long celebration of events showcasing what the college has provided to women for the last century. Women travelled from Australia, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Canada and other areas to celebrate 74 years of graduating 21,000 alumnae.
“It was so fabulous,” Motes said. “There was a lot of energy and buzz on campus all weekend.”
Motes said CSB received emails stating how moving the passing of the torch experience was for many alumnae.
“The biggest surprise of the reunion was how many alums came home for the reunion,” Motes said. “They seemed to understand how important this event was for the college.”
Motes said everything was seamless and went off without a glitch, including the completion of CR 2 road construction so the road could open before the reunion.
“I have not seen an event go this well in my experience,” Motes said.
A new “CSB Connect” free mobile app for iPhones and iPads and approved by Android and Apple was launched in honor of the centennial year. The app allows alumnae from all over the world to connect through photos, some of which are posted on the CSB gallery. The app was designed in partnership with Yamamoto CEO alum Shelly Regan and the college’s information technology department. The app is available in both the Apple Store and on Google Play.
Other weekend events honoring CSB graduates for their many contributions included a “Blazer Hall of Fame” dinner and a “Gala Awards” dinner.
The Blazer Hall of Fame dinner inducted the 1990 soccer team, No. 1 sports fan Sister Lois Wedl ’53 and six athletes, Lisa Grefe ’00 (soccer), Heather Schmitt Johnson ’00 (golf), Tina Kampa ’95 (basketball/volleyball), Laura Wendorff Meyer ’00 (basketball), Danielle Guse Schlomann ’95 (basketball) and Missy Petersen Trenz ’98 (cross country/track and field).
The Gala Awards dinner celebrated 21,000 CSB alumnae and their impact around the world. Awards given at the dinner included the Sister Emmanuel Renner Service Award to Barbara Torborg Melsen ’78, a Benedictine Service Award to Kenzie Kraemer ’08, a Decade Award to Laura Hauff ’03 and a Distinguished Alumna Award to Kari Erpelding Bunkers ’83.
Centennial presidential awards – one honoring each college president – were given to Betty Schneider ’39, Mary Kay Braus Hunt ’56, S. Mara Faulkner ’62, Joan Strom Riebel ’64, Judge Elizabeth Hayden ’68, Diana Lam ’69, Mary Dombovy ’77, Judy Forstner Poferl ’82, Karin Remington ’85, Irma Mayorga ’88, Shari Lamecker Rogalski ’89, Colette Peters ’93, Glennis Werner Roseboom ’93 and Krista Cleary Carroll ’00.
Circle of Sisters awards for women who have done something remarkable together or have stayed together were given to Maria Hunt O’Phelen, Molly McGlynn Varley and their 1978 classmates and to the Bahaman Alumnae.
A Legacy Award was given to the Welle family because they have had generations of alumni attend CSB.
Additional centennial events included a class conversation and golden anniversary dinner for the class of 1963, bonfires, 5k walk-run, picnic, live music performed by “Orange Whip,” back-to-class opportunities, campus tours, prayers and a closing Mass with the Sisters at the Sacred Heart Chapel, and other activities.
Local CSB graduate Peggy Roske attended the reunion. Roske was a 1977 graduate who earned her degree in English and humanities and was also in the last class of 30 students to graduate from St. Ben’s High School in 1973. She currently works at CSB as the archivist and has worked for the CSB/SJU libraries for 33 years, starting two years before the libraries were joined.
Roske said her favorite part of the reunion was listening to Dr. Annette Atkins talk about the history of CSB, stories of the Benedictines, and the important events and societal changes that affected the college.
“The Gala Awards dinner on Saturday evening highlighted some of the alumnae who have accomplished amazing things, but in conversations there and at other times, I was struck by how many alums – probably most of them – are also helping to change our world for the better in other important, though less heralded, ways as well,” Roske said. “The Benedictine values such as respect, service, stewardship and care for the common good are being carried forward by thousands of Bennies.”
Many St. Joseph businesses benefited from the increased number of people who were in town for the reunion. Bo Diddley’s manager Trina Faber said they had increased business all weekend.
“On Saturday the line went all the way out the door down to Gary’s Pizza,” Faber said. “It was a never-ending line that just kept coming. They were all very patient and kind.”
Bello Cucina manager Mary Kuebelbeck estimated the restaurant saw a 20-percent increase in business because of the CSB reunion.
“We take reservations and they booked ahead,” Kuebelbeck said. “We saw a lot of large parties and patio business.”
Local Blend owner Jeff Engholm said his place is a newer business and therefore didn’t see as much increased business as some of the older more-established businesses.
“We saw a lot of young, recent graduates and people who know we serve vegan and vegetarian items,” Engholm said. “During finals week we offer 4 a.m. waffles and several people came in discussing our waffles.”
Kacey Volkers from Gary’s Pizza said his place saw a 40-50 percent increase in business.
“We had a lot more fun here,” Volkers said.
Dale Schneider from Sal’s Bar said both Friday and Saturday night were busy, and he saw a 40-50 percent increase in sales.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.