Alpha Phi reunites decades of sisters for centennial weekend

Sunday, October 3, 2010 | 5:33 p.m. CDT; updated 6:03 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 4, 2010

COLUMBIA — Huddled around her gabby Alpha Phi sorority sisters, Jeanne (Foster) Shepard took in a cool Columbia morning for the third time in 55 years.

Shepard, of O'Fallon, Ill., returned to MU last weekend to take part in the Omicron chapter’s 100th anniversary of being at the school. Shepard is not a sports fan and has spent an enviable chunk of her life on world cruises, so she hasn't traveled back to Columbia.

Shepard found few reasons to visit her alma mater during the past decades, she said. This weekend, though, was an exception.

“One hundred years is special,” she said, grinning in her Versace bifocals. “Especially when I’ve been around for 50 of them.”

She and roughly 400 other sisters joined the current Alpha Phis on campus over the weekend. The sorority celebrated its centennial with several events, including a new-member initiation, plaque dedication and a proclamation by Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid.

The reunion was a culmination of five years of committee planning and plotting out how to squeeze several hundred women into different Columbia venues, Alpha Phi International Vice President Val Lawlor said.

“It’s a lifetime membership,” Lawlor said. “Everyone who comes back gives so much encouragement to these young women. (The reunion is) rekindling that notion of what you did in college.”

The sorority also celebrated personal milestones, awarding pins to 10-, 25-, and 50-year members along with one 75-year member. Ninety-two-year-old Isabelle Napier Clark was not able to make it, so her daughter, Ann Clark Gafke, accepted the 75-year pin.

A small group of women initiated in 1947 enjoyed a mini-reunion at the chapter house, Lawlor said.

Claire Weaver Cox, Marilyn Weber Griesedieck and Reba Nelson Cassin — some of the longest standing members to attend — said their birthdays were in April, May and June, but Lawlor said she didn't "think they’re telling anyone who’s the oldest."

Though Shepard was the only member from her year to attend, she recognized faces from pledge classes before and after hers. As she arranges her next international cruise — the 35-day “Voyage of the Vikings” — Shepard said she wouldn’t have missed the road trip back to campus.

“Back then, we were a small chapter, so we were all very close,” Shepard said. “I try to stay in touch with as many of us who are left.”

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