More than 1,300 Bluejays convened for Creighton’s Reunion Weekend, enjoying live music, class parties, catching up with old friends and revisiting the haunts of their formative years.
“I haven’t been here in more than 50 years,” says Joseph O’Neill, MD’59, at the Golden Jays reception ahead of the alumni dinner presentation by Creighton President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, PhD. “I didn’t get to make it for my 50th, but I made it back here eventually. I’ve always had a warm spot for the University. Creighton made my life possible.”
T.J. Twit, BSBA’99, CEO and President of OMNE Partners in Omaha, says he’s remained very close to Creighton over the past 20 years, and Reunion Weekend gives him the chance to catch up. He went to class parties, saw Father Hendrickson speak, brought his family to Saturday’s Hilltop Jam and took part in the Yoga and Mimosas event led by his wife, Katie Sutko-Twit, BA’99.
“Creighton is such a big part of Omaha,” T.J. says. “Things that are happening at the University are important to the future of the city.”
On a more personal note, the University has and will continue to be a big part of his own life. Events like Reunion Weekend keep the Creighton connection strong.
What follows are eight scenes from Reunion Weekend, including a wedding, a softball team reunion, a few parties and a surprise 50 years in the making.
Saturday night at their class dinner, the School of Dentistry Class of ’69 floored Frank Dowd, DDS’69, a former Creighton faculty member, when they revealed they’d raised $34,000 to name an exam room in the dental building’s Collaborative Care Suite after him: The Frank J. Dowd, DDS’69, PhD Exam Room.
School of Dentistry Dean Mark Latta broke the news.
“Frank, your classmates are proud of you,” Latta said in a presentation. “They are thankful that you are one of them. They forgive you for all the grading curves you wrecked when they were dental students. They could think of no more appropriate way to demonstrate their appreciation for your accomplishments.”
Frank Ayers, DDS’69, called Dowd the “conscience of their class.” John Parrish, DDS’69, said Dowd was “our anchor. We knew if we were going to honor anybody, it had to be Frank Dowd. No one was more worthy.”
Dowd himself was touched that they’d named a room in his honor.
“I appreciate your generosity; it blows my mind,” he said after a brief bout of speechlessness. “To have my name attached to this beautiful facility is incredible.”
In addition to preserving a place in history for Dowd, the Class of ’69 made a notable discovery at their 50th reunion: Their class ended up having the most future Creighton faculty members of any in the School of Dentistry’s history — five faculty members, including Dowd, Ayers, Gary Westerman, former School of Dentistry Dean Gerald Brundo and Roger Gerstner, all DDS’69.
“We did alright,” Parrish said.
“We did alright,” Parrish said.
Jon Ermer, BS’15, MD’19, and Sarah Seifert, BSN’14, DNP’18, booked their wedding at St. John’s well before they knew it would overlap with Reunion Weekend.
“But it ended up working out well,” Ermer says. “Many of the wedding attendees got to meet up with their old classmates. Between our two families, we do have a lot of Creighton alumni. It’s a bit crazy.”
Creighton alums in Jon’s family include his mother, sister, aunt and uncle. Another of his sisters will graduate next year.
Sarah’s family is even Creighton-er. Alumni include: her mother, father, brother, grandfather, five uncles, two aunts and a handful of cousins — many of them at Saturday’s wedding.
Sarah and Jon’s mothers — Michele Seifert, BSOT’87, and Julie Ermer, BSOT’89 — knew each other as students at Creighton but lost touch over the years. Then their children started dating. They’ve since rekindled their friendship, as they now have a University and a family in common.
The softball team
The Class of ’99 started their freshman year with 21 student-athletes on the softball team. By senior year, only five remained, and their team went on to win their conference regular season and conference tournament.
Those five — Renee Rice, BA’99; Valerie Cathey, BA’99; Jamie Polk, BS’99, DPT’02; Shannon Hoos-Thompson, BS’99; MD’03; and Heidi Geier Woodard, BA’99 — made sure to make it back for their 20th reunion.
They also made sure to meet with their old coach, Brent Vigness, who was just getting started at Creighton when the Class of ’99 joined his team.
For a laugh, Shannon wore her college jersey and practice shorts to their meeting with the coach.
“It was pretty entertaining,” Woodard says. “This was just a really special weekend for us. Life passes a little too quickly if you’re not paying attention. We just had to carve out the time to get here, and Creighton did the rest.”
One way or another, Margie Emanuel, BSPHA’79, was going to not only attend her 40th-reunion class party but help plan it. It wasn’t easy.
More than four years ago, Margie was diagnosed with colon cancer. The cancer responded to treatment but has since spread throughout her body. She undergoes chemotherapy every other week, and she scheduled it so that Reunion Weekend would fall on her off-week. She wanted to make sure that she was clear-headed and in good spirits to catch up with old friends, 15 of whom came to their class party.
“I keep going, I keep tickin’,” she says. “And I wasn’t going to miss my reunion. Before I came to Creighton, my father always told me that your lifelong friends will be the ones you make in college. He was right.”
Dennis Klemmer, BSPHA’78, co-organized the class reunion with Margie. He and his wife drove from Seattle in a Volkswagen Jetta with more than 320,000 miles on it. They pulled along a motorcycle camper and set up camp in Neola for the week.
“Creighton means a lot to us,” Klemmer says. “There’s nothing that compares to a Jesuit education. And we loved the small class size. You were like a family. We had to come to relive that. Who knows when we’ll all be able to get together again, if at all.”
The dentist who became the doctor
Wisconsin native Steven Evelhoch found it hard to let go of Creighton. Just look at his degrees: BS’80, DDS’84, MD’99. At this year’s Reunion Weekend, he was celebrating his 20th, 35th and 39th reunions.
Long story short: “After 12 years as a dentist, I was a little bored,” Evelhoch says, “so I decided to go back to Creighton for medical school. Best decision I’ve made by far. Even if 77 percent of my time on Earth has been in training or education.”
Now Evelhoch is a maxillofacial reconstructive surgeon in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Back in Omaha for the weekend, he made sure to tour both the new School of Dentistry building and the School of Medicine CHI Health Academic Medical Center. Things look a bit different on campus since he was last here — obviously. But the University he knew and loved remains the same in many ways.
“I’ll always look back fondly on my time here,” he says. “The Jesuit values, you can’t beat ’em. We were always told we’re not here to serve ourselves. We’re here to serve others.” Over three Creighton degrees, that was a lesson that really sunk in for him.
Mary Wolpert DeFilippes, BSPHA’63, and Stephen Wolpert, BA’75, DDS’81, come from an Onawa, Iowa, family that’s about as Creighton as it gets. They’re two of nine siblings who all went to Creighton, the majority going to the medical or nursing schools. All told, a few dozen members of the extended Wolpert family are Creighton alumni. The tradition started with their father, Paul Wolpert, BS’34, MD’36.
“Dad wanted us to go to Creighton,” Mary says. “For me, it was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I loved the Jesuit education. I loved being challenged in my philosophy classes. It was a new way of thinking.”
Reunion Weekend marked the first time in years that Mary had been to campus.
“I can’t recognize anything but the church and the administration building,” she says. “But it’s still Creighton. I’ve enjoyed walking around, sharing memories.”
“It’s a total shock to come back,” says Joseph Matthews, MD’69, standing along Skinner Mall and seeing campus for the first time in 50 years. “This used to be a main street with a trolley running down it. Creighton was about three blocks when we were here.”
Joseph and his old college roommate, Thomas Collins, MD’69, were part of a group touring campus on Friday, taking in the University and all the ways it had changed.
“We’ve come here to celebrate life and what we’ve done,” Thomas says. “We’re happy to be able to get here 50 years later with some of our infirmities. (Laughs) We’ve had a few!”
Joseph and Thomas said each was a wonderful roommate during their time at Creighton.
“Wait,” says their classmate Michael Kelly, MD’69. “You guys were roommates? That explains a lot.”
The yoga and mimosas
Saturday morning, Katie Sutko-Twit, BA’99, led Creighton alumni through a yoga class in the KFC gym. At the end of the hour, students were sweaty, zen and ready for a cold drink.
Fortunately, mimosas were readily available.
“I’m so happy Creighton has something like this for Reunion Weekend,” says Diane Barry Carlson, BSN’79.
Diane and Jane Meany, BSN’79, did just about everything Reunion Weekend offered, short of going to class parties that weren’t theirs. And they did everything together.
More than anything, Diane says, they just wanted to walk around campus and touch the walls of old buildings.
Diane and Meany used to be extremely close but had lost touch over the years. They hadn’t even spoken in well over a decade when Diane called her up: “Jane! Reunion’s coming up. We need to go to this!”
“It’s just good to come back,” Diane says. “It’s good for your soul. We went through so much together here. We were family. Life gets busy, but it’s important to come back and reconnect. Creighton … it’s just a piece of my life.”