A few weeks after graduating from Ursuline Academy in 1949, Lois Knopp invited her classmates over for lunch, and they’ve been getting together ever since.
They recently celebrated their 65th year of monthly gatherings.
“We always had so much fun together that I didn’t want to see it end,” said Knopp of Affton, whose married name is Missel.
Over the years, classmates have dropped out of the Ursuline group because of illness or a move out of town, but there’s always been another classmate who filled the spot.
The number has remained at about 10 of the 48 members of the class from the Catholic girls school in Oakland, said Marian Koetting of St. Charles.
“We don’t keep track of attendance because that would remind us too much of school,” she said. “It’s kind of fun, really. No pressure.”
The women, who are in their early 80s now, used to take turns meeting at each other’s homes for dessert. Now they meet for lunch at various restaurants.
At a recent gathering at Patrick’s Restaurant & Sports Bar at West Port Plaza, the women reminisced about their time at the school. They groaned when they remembered the dark blue bloomers they wore for P.E. and laughed at the trouble they got into, although by today’s standards, they admitted it was pretty mild.
Some of the girls used to torment the nuns by making animal noises during study hall. Others cut class or sneaked down to the lake on campus and hid in the bushes to smoke a cigarette.
“The principal would see smoke rising, get out a pair of binoculars and try to see who it was,” said Rosemary Tully of Affton. “I smoked, but I never did it at school because I was terrified I’d get expelled.”
Some of the women, like Joan Fitzsimmons Metro, were athletes and played on the varsity basketball team. Others, like Missel, lettered in ukulele.
Missel said she wrote cheers to the only two tunes she knew — “On Top of Old Smoky” and “Oh My Darling Clementine” — and apparently it got the attention of the administration.
“My family gets a big kick out of the fact that I lettered in ukulele,” she said. “I think it’s kind of special because the letter is a big ‘U,’ but that’s for Ursuline, not ukulele.”
Pat Flowers Kosmal was the class president as a freshman and the May Queen her senior year. Like many of the women in the group, she’s a widow. Her husband was ill with Alzheimer’s for 15 years, and she dropped out of the group for a while to care for him.
Kosmal of Ferguson was able to provide support when her husband got Alzheimer’s too.
“It’s good having a group of women you can confide in and talk things over with,” Kosmal said.
Even though they are of a generation when many women didn’t work outside the home, all the women attended college, and some went on to have careers in nursing and education in addition to being mothers.
Marilyn Heckwolf Hohner of St. Louis and her husband lived in Alaska, teaching in small villages with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Metro of Affton was a Maryknoll sister who taught in Africa for 12 years before she left religious life and got married.
Maryanna McMullan Coad was a nurse with the health department in St. Louis and St. Louis County.
Coad of Chesterfield said she thinks there’s something special about going to an all-girls school.
“You don’t have any competition for boys, and you don’t have to get all dressed up with makeup,” she said. “You can be yourself, and you get a chance to be a leader.”
Katie Kempf, who works in the alumni relations office at Ursuline, said the Class of ’49 is the oldest of about eight classes that get together regularly.
“It reflects the spirit of sisterhood we have here at Ursuline,” she said.