Chance Meeting

College roommates reunite after 70 years
Monday, October 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:08 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

In the summer of 1934, two college women, Alice Prey and Pearl Snavely became roommates. Aspiring teachers at Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg, they soon became best friends. After graduation, however, they drifted apart.

Almost 70 years went by, and neither woman expected to see the other ever again — until a twist of fate caused their paths to cross once more. Just as they were brought together by chance in the 1930s, the women have found themselves again living together at the Terrace Retirement Community in Columbia.

At first, the women didn’t recognize each other. Prey, now 87, has lived at Terrace for two years. She saw an announcement on the elevator that someone new was moving in, but thought nothing of it.

“I came down to dinner, and I thought she was new,” Prey said. “I walked over and asked her, ‘Are you Pearl?’ and she said ‘yes,’ but we didn’t know each other.”

Both women had married and changed their last names. They might never have discovered their shared past if Snavely, now 89, had not spoken with a woman from Boonville who knew Prey. Snavely remembered that her college roommate was from Boonville and suspected that she was the same Alice.

After her conversation, Snavely hurried to the door, knocked and asked Prey if she was Alice Torbeck. The moment Snavely said Prey’s maiden name, they each realized who the other was.

“I found someone I knew going into an entirely new situation, when I didn’t think I knew anybody,” said Snavely, who moved to Terrace in November.

At first, they spent hours reminiscing about college. The summer when they first met had been especially full of memories. Prey had finished freshman year and Snavely was a sophomore. Both took several classes together, including a swimming class. Neither had learned to swim before.

“We had a swimming party at night with flashlights. Oh it was wonderful,” Prey said. They learned lifeguarding together and entered a diving exhibition.

“We’d ride to the pool together,” Prey said. “Some of the college kids had this car stripped down, and they would come to pick us up and bring us home.”

That summer, they also learned to ride a bicycle for the first time so Snavely could show off for the neighborhood boys. They became better friends as the summer wore on, and even visited Prey’s home in Boonville.

“It was hot that summer, and we slept out in the yard one night with all the girls in my family,” Prey said.

After college, life pulled the best friends in different directions. Prey taught elementary school for three years and then went to business school. She has lived in Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Japan and California, where she stayed for 50 years before moving back to Missouri to be near family.

Snavely taught in three different rural Missouri schools for 34 years. She married and had two daughters. She later moved with her family to Kansas City.

The two tried only once to contact each other when Prey was on a business trip in Kansas City, but plans fell through. Neither can remember why.

“We were close, but distance kept us apart,” Snavely said.

The women were surprised to find their friendship as strong as ever.

“Our interests have changed, but we’re just as silly as then,” Snavely said. Every day they eat breakfast together. They take walks, and in the evenings they watch television and talk.

“We yak-yak so much we don’t hear what’s on the television,” Prey said. “It’s so wonderful being together.” She said being able to share memories from college with Snavely makes their friendship special.

Beyond sharing fun times, the women also support each other. When Snavely had heart-bypass surgery last fall, Prey visited the hospital and stayed by Snavely’s side. Snavely makes frequent trips to doctors, and Prey is always there to cheer her up. Even their families have become close.

“I’ve gotten to know Pearl’s daughters really well,” Prey said. Prey has no children and she said she considers Snavely’s two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren like her own.

Both women agree that finding each other again was a wonderful surprise, and they said their friendship is in many ways like it was in the 1930s.

“This is more of a continuation; it’s never changed,” Prey said.

Snavely agrees. “It got started just where we left off.”

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