KST Cover
Gertrude Carmichael '36 and Sinéad O'Mahony '11 photo

What Do Gertrude Carmichael '36
and Sinéad O'Mahony '11
Have in Common?

Some things are constant, including Keene State's sense of community.

by Mark Reynolds

As a member of the Marketing and Communications staff, I hear a lot of talk about "the KSC community." I talk a lot about it myself. But it's more than just talk; it's a value that people here on campus take seriously.

Reunion photo I've been in several campus-wide meetings where people stood up and offered to sacrifice their time or money to help others in need. I recently sat in on a campus meeting to organize relief aid for tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri.

And I've seen how people on campus are committed to helping our students and each other, making sure that everyone's time at Keene State College is positive and worthwhile.

These reminders of community especially came home as I talked to alums of every era at Reunion 2011. The weather was beautiful, which made for many happy attendees, and all readily shared their strong feelings of connection and community.

Minot Parker '56, now living in California, combined his return to campus with a visit with local family members. An educator for 40 years, he appreciates what Keene has given him.

"I like coming back," he said, "I'm one who really values public education, and Keene State did so much for me; it let me have a pretty good life… I really believe that this school still follows the principle engraved on the Appian Gateway: 'Enter to learn, go forth to serve.' So many colleges have lost sight of what their real mission is – particularly the big ones, where they have a football team, and that's it. That's what keeps me connected."

Back to join many of his classmates for their 25th-year reunion, David Coe '86 remembered that "the thing that brought me to Keene to begin with is the sense of community and family, and that hasn't changed at all. Even though the campus has changed, the camaraderie among the people, among the classes, is still strong. The people who come to Keene are people who really care about community. A lot of times you go to colleges and the interest is in getting an education to go out and make tons of money. But when I was here – and even the students I talk to now – people really cared about the community and people, and that hasn't changed."

A Sense of Place

Reunion photoA lot of the sense of community comes from Keene State's picturesque campus. Every alum who's been gone for even 10 years remarked about the changes they saw on campus, and everyone thought the changes were for the better. As Minot Parker pointed out, "I like what I see. Obviously, someone put a lot of thought into how they wanted the campus to evolve."

Here with the class of 1961 to celebrate their 50th-year reunion (and take their place in the Golden Circle), George and Nancy Cote were pleased with how well the new buildings and other physical changes kept with the look and feel of the original campus. They hadn't been back since they graduated, so there were lots of changes to see. "The changes are wonderful," they said. "It has really improved."

As the oldest alum at Reunion, Trudy Carmichael '36 said she felt like she was "Queen for a Day," due to all the attention she received during her visit. Obviously, the campus had changed dramatically since her days at Keene Normal School. "It's a beautiful, beautiful place!" she exclaimed. "I went to Fiske today, where I used to live and work. I waited on tables in the dining room downstairs to help pay my expenses. Oh my gosh, has that changed – Fiske! It's a beautiful building."

I ran into class of 1986 alums Derrick Demarche, Christopher Gray (also an adjunct professor in technology, design, and safety), and Deb MacPhee Brown as they readied for their class gathering on Oya Hill on Saturday. They all agreed that campus had changed dramatically since they were students, including the spot where they were standing. However, they also agreed, as Christopher noted, that "KSC has preserved some of that small-college atmosphere. Having toured multiple colleges with my own children, there aren't many like Keene State."

Norma Walker Reunion photo I just had to ask: "What's the difference?" Deb responded, "It's a sense of community," and Christopher observed, "Once you come off Winchester Street, or you come off Main Street, you're on campus – it's all right here." The campus is well integrated; it's not sprinkled around other parts of town, and it's easy to get from one campus building to another.

"That's what I liked about it," Derrick noted. "You're kind of confined, but it doesn't feel confined. You can just walk downtown whenever you need to.… And they've done a nice job of improving the buildings and adding new dorms."

The Facebook Connection

Andrew Jennings '01 and Bill Williams '02 were partying with several of their classmates on the Quad when I strolled over to watch the fun. When I asked them what drew them back for Reunion, Bill replied, "I think it's Facebook. We're all friends [on FB], and we post that we're going up for Reunion, and people just show up."

"I loved my time at KSC," Andrew said. "I started out at UNH and transferred to Keene, and I love the smaller school. UNH is big classes, big everything, but here you see everybody pretty much every day, which is nice because you get to know everyone. When I got here in the late '90s, the College started to grow. At that point, it became very popular to go to Keene, and then the campus started doing a lot of renovations and building. The changes are great – the gym is amazing, and the new dorms are awesome."

Reunion photo

Family Ties

John Barry '71, son of the College's first alumni director, Fred Barry '36, has deep roots at KSC. "I've got a special connection, because my father was here for years, but this is a great place. The 'tell' is at the awards luncheon, where there are a lot of really dedicated people who are still volunteering years after they've left."

John is another alum who's been around longer than most and seen lots of changes to the campus. "The College has done an amazing job of integrating the architecture," he said. "They haven't just thrown up glass boxes. And the trees and landscaping really make a great impression."

Pam Sanderson '79 and Martha LaFleur '67 were Reunion volunteers I met in the Student Center. "I am a legacy student," Pam said. "My mom was in the class of '43, so I used to go to some alumni events with her." Pam started coming back for Reunion four years ago and decided to get involved with alumni activities.

Martha, who now serves on the Alumni Board of Directors, grew up in town and followed in the footsteps of two older sisters who graduated from Keene. "So I've been a part of the College community, and I continued that involvement after I graduated. I did some teaching here for a while. This is a place that's been dear to my heart for a long, long time. It's a good feeling; certainly the College has changed tremendously, and it's all for the better. It's really nice to see the deep connections between people. Witnessing that is quite joyful."

A final testimony of family and community connection came from newly minted alum Sinéad O'Mahony '11. Born in the United States, she moved with her parents to their native Ireland when she was an infant and spent her early life in Cork City. Eventually, she made it to KSC and, after being in this one spot for four years, has put down some roots. "I would consider Keene my home," she said. "I've made a lot of connections here, and I can't walk down the street without meeting someone I know. I've really felt like Keene State is more of a family than it is a school where you walk across campus and you're just a number. The president will say 'hello' to me when she sees me."

She told a story about a day she was walking down Appian Way, feeling low for having not done so well on a test. She remembered how Dr. Hank Knight from the Cohen Center pulled on her backpack to straighten her up and said, "What are you doing? It's a beautiful day; you should start smiling." It was just another example, she said, of how "people here notice you and care about you."

"As a freshman, I was definitely a lot quieter, very reserved, more soft spoken," she recalled. She was shy and trying to fly under everyone's radar. "Four years later, I'm a very different person: I've been Hootie the Owl, the school's mascot, a number of times. I've led campus tours. Everywhere I've gone on campus, I've felt that people are interested in me and want to know who I am. A lot of schools talk about community, but Keene really does embrace that work, and redefine it," she said.

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