Dear Nancy Pat,
"... You're a darling girl and let's never forget our good times at Lawrence High School. Remember the ice skating and bobsledding and swimming and our slumber parties after the games."
- Judy Denton, from the 1963 Lawrence High School Red and Black yearbook
That's what life's all about.
There's a misconception that the person who dies with the most toys wins. Ever see a hearse pulling a U-Haul?
The real winners are the lucky stiffs who spend their lives making memories and being able to remember them. They're life's stories filed away in your head, in your soul. Like remembering your first kiss or the name of the movie that was playing the first time you held hands in a theater. Or, it might be your first shot at smoking a cigarette, you, puffing away like you enjoyed it.
Sometimes we rewrite our histories, reshuffle the deck.
Late this summer, eight women, all 1963 graduates of Lawrence High School, met in rural Jefferson County for a long-awaited two-day reunion. It had been in the works for three years.
They arrived at the Circle S Ranch, 13 miles north of Lawrence on a Friday. Their luggage was minimal but they brought lots of memories and, oh my, the stories.
On Saturday morning they held court on a shady verandah overlooking a rolling pasture. They were sharing their lives, sometimes in unison, and they laughed a lot.
"We talked nonstop last night, till 2 a.m., and we barely scratched the surface," said Carol Eller McCaffrey, leaning forward in her chair. "But in some cases it was like, 'Wow, it's so good to see you. : Tell me, what have you been doing for the past 40 years?'"
Over time they've gotten together for lunch in twos and threes, but 2005 was the first time all eight had gathered since high school.
The women at the Circle S Ranch:
¢ Marian Allen, Orland, Maine.
¢ Carole Hadl, Lawrence.
¢ Carol Eller McCaffrey, Lawrence.
¢ Debby Allen Nelson, Lawrence.
¢ Nancy Maloney Rich, Denver, Colo.
¢ Nancy Pat Sanders, rural Lawrence.
¢ Carol Sullivan Wohlford, Wichita.
¢ Judy Denton Tudor, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Some walked to grade school together. Most knew one another's parents; some still do. Slumber parties were rampant as was piling into cars in search of Cokes, burgers and boys at Allen's Drive-In or the Dine-A-Mite. It was "Leave it to Beaver" time, "American Graffiti."
"Life was simpler then," said Nancy Maloney Rich, drawing nods from her classmates.
It was a time when girls wore skirts, sweaters or blouses and white bobby socks to school. Boys sported jeans and shirts from J.C. Penney or Sears. A wrist watch or a birthstone on a chain were typical graduation gifts.
In this group, some are married, one hasn't and a few are divorced. One is recently widowed and some have significant others. One faces terminal lung cancer.
They'll all turn 60 this year. That and a mutual fondness for one another is about all they have in common these days. It's likely that if this group had not met during their school years their paths as adults would never have crossed.
But, they've influenced one another's lives greatly.
"Had no idea we'd talk and share as much as we did. I wouldn't hesitate sharing anything with that group. There was some heavy stuff." Carol Sullivan Wohlford, Wichita:
We lived at 1600 Rhode Island. I went to the old McAllister Grade School with Judy Tudor and Carole Hadl. Judy and I were like sisters, even in grade school. We were crazy about horses. Every Friday afternoon we'd go to Gale Mott's Stables to ride. It cost $1.25. Mr. Mott would pick us up in a beat-up step-van with only boxes to sit on. You couldn't carry on a conversation because the van made so much noise.
Mother was a political science statistician at KU and dad was a regional director for Encyclopedia Britannica.
Nancy Pat Sanders and I became good friends in junior high. In high school we went to the same parties. Honestly, there was not much drinking, but we all pretended we were smokers.
We had lots of slumber parties. Sometimes we'd sneak out, get in someone's car and go meet boys, but we were actually pretty tame. Lawrence has some amazing qualities and we were awfully lucky to grow up there.
This group became close because of summers we spent together in Maine in places like Ogunquit and Bar Harbor. As waitresses we earned just enough money to survive. Debbie and I rode up the first year with Marian in her VW bug with three guitars.
Judy, Carole Hadl and Marian and I shared an apartment when we went to KU.
Even though I was a French major I was very interested in getting an advanced degree in library sciences, as was Nancy Pat. We both enrolled in the library program at Denver University.
After my first semester Bill Wohlford asked me to marry him. He was very bright and played football at KU for coach Jack Mitchell. Both Judy and I used to baby-sit for the Mitchells.
Bill was in law school when we got married in 1968. I was 22. Marian's father, a Baptist minister, performed the ceremony at the Presbyterian Church in Lawrence. I think I was the first of this group to marry and maybe the first to have children.
Bill was drafted into the Army and sent to Japan. Our son Trevor was 3 months old. It took us nine months to save enough money to join him in Hokido. We lived simply and I taught English to Japan Airlines employees. It might have been the best year of my life.
(Trevor is now an attorney living in Lawrence. Carole Hadl is his godmother.)
We moved to Washington, D.C., where Sen. Bob Dole hired Bill as his administrative assistant. I worked at the Smithsonian's Slavic Library. We had three children in D.C.
Nancy Pat and Carole Hadl came to see us, as did Maloney. When I'd go back to Lawrence I'd see Carole more than anybody. Carole was and is a silent leader.
In 1978, we moved to Wichita. We wanted our kids to know their grandparents and cousins.
When Bill died a year ago, Dole gave the eulogy at his funeral.
My favorite part about the Circle S? Had no idea we'd talk and share as much as we did. I wouldn't hesitate sharing anything with that group. There was some heavy stuff. Bill had just died. Nancy Pat is very ill. : If we could all only be as brave as Nancy Pat.
It surprised me. We talked a lot about Maine. Talked about death : my mother's suicide : and we didn't talk about our ailments. We talked about a lot of hopeful things, trips to take, our kids, real uplifting time for me and I do feel there was a lot unsaid because of time.
I left on Sunday afternoon. I took Judy to her dad's house (Francis, 99 years old) and gave him a kiss and a hug.
"What's special with this group is that we can go for long periods without seeing one another and when we get together we pick up where we left off." Carol Eller McCaffrey, Lawrence:
I went to Cordley Grade School with Nancy Pat. I've known this forever but it just dawned on me the other day that Nancy Pat is the most classically beautiful woman I have ever known. I said, "Carol for crying out loud, tell her not only is she beautiful physically but now in her dilemma she's strong as well."
We lived at 2028 New Hampshire just down the street from Nancy Pat's family. My dad, Leo, was the business manager at the Journal-World. I remember visiting him at the J-W on Massachusetts Street and loving it when he'd take me to the basement where the big black press sat.
This group? They were the brains. They were the A people. I was there for leaders club, cheerleading, student council, Y-Teens ... don't know how I got included.
My first love in grade school was David Hatfield. In high school I dated Gary Ray, a running back, Assembly of God person and a teetotaler. So much for drinking in high school.
Our trip to Maine. Here I am, 21 years old and it's my first time away from home. My parents delivered me and I can still see them smiling and waving goodbye from our old Plymouth Valiant. Now, being a parent, I know that there was terror behind those smiles.
Marian, Sullivan, Debbie and I were waitresses in the Ogunquit Club, very exclusive. We got two meals a day, either swordfish or lamb, and made $7 a week. We lived in a garage under the club.
Marian was impossible to wake up in the morning. The hostess would come down to get her out of bed. I don't know why they didn't just fire all of us.
Our landlord was a very large, red-headed alcoholic woman who was adamant about not having boys in the garage. One evening two boys we worked with dropped by. The landlord was soon pounding on the garage door with a hammer demanding to be let in. One boy jumped into a cardboard box and the other hid behind a folding screen. I was on a cot, hair in curlers, wearing a raincoat and she came in, very drunk, and sat down on me demanding to know where the boys were. She also had a big white dog. Finally we all jumped up, ran out of the garage and into Marian's Volkswagen, dog barking and the landlord yelling. It was like a Keystone Cops chase movie. Oh, the things we remember.
Debbie and I went to Emporia State. I really didn't want to go to school, I wanted to be a mommy and a wife. I left after three semesters.
I worked at Raney Hillcrest drugstore, clerking. I got into a huge depression because my friends were getting married and I was going nowhere.
Got a job at Maupintour that saved my mental life. I was a travel agent ... did some familiarization trips with groups of travel agents. That's when I realized I don't fly well ... actually flying terrifies me. Quit my job and drove out to California with Marian. We managed to hook up with Debbie who was working in San Francisco for a patent attorney.
I ended up working for the Mattel Toy Co. Wonderful job, working with a lot of nutty, creative people. It was just like Tom Hanks in the movie "Big." Wish I could have brought the job back to Lawrence.
In 1976 I married Mike McCaffrey, a Lawrence Police Department detective. Three years later our son Michael was born. He's a very talented human being who I like a whole lot. He's now 26 and a portrait artist working at the Spencer.
Lost my dad in '82 and that was huge. A month later I fell off a borrowed ladder while painting our house and just ruined my whole left side. Actually I could use a left side replacement.
Our marriage ended in 1988.
I took a leave from my job at KLWN to take care of my mom who was at Brandon Woods. One Friday night I was feeding my mother Dorothy in the dining room and across the room is my friend Carole Hadl who was feeding her mother.
"Eller," she says, "big Friday night, huh?"
I've been with a significant other for 18 years.
When I got home from the Circle S, my stomach hurt from laughing and I was hoarse from talking, marathon talking.
"We were on the edge of being a little outrageous : nothing criminal : it was the '60s and we sort of liked getting reactions from people." Marian Allen, Orland, Maine:
I'm in Handcock County on the coast about 35 miles from Bar Harbor.
My folks moved to Lawrence in 1957 from South Carolina. My dad was a minister at the First Baptist Church in the 800 block of Kentucky. We lived at 808 Tennessee St.
Went to Pickney Grade School one year. I think I met Nancy Pat in seventh grade. Her friend Jackie Nichols introduced me and I soon met Nancy Maloney and Carol Sullivan in chorus.
Slumber parties were a big deal. I remember sneaking out of an eighth-grade slumber party with Maloney. We met two seniors, Dick Long and Johnny Mall, in a drug store, probably had a crush on them. We went riding. The car blew a transmission or something and it took us a long time to walk home. Close call.
My father, Marion C. Allen, most called him Sam, died 10 years ago. He wasn't your typical minister. He had a great sense of humor that I must have inherited. He switched over to the Congregational Church.
Life was simpler then in high school. I didn't hear of marijuana until I was a senior at KU. I do remember friends who got pregnant in high school and were whisked away and I remember a friend whose parents took her out of town for an abortion. She had told me she was pregnant and all of a sudden she was not in school, but she soon came back.
Lots of us smoked in high school. Some of the steady dating crowd drank a little more than others. I remember the first time I drank, double dating on Christmas Eve. After the midnight service one of the boys produced some rum and some Coke. I'd never drank before and got so sick I had to go home. I've never had another rum and Coke.
Got a degree in English at KU in 1967 and later picked up a second major in child development.
I moved to Maine. I chose to become a hippie and live off the land. The first few years I was living in makeshift housing, sometimes a tent. I think that's when Debbie Allen drove up to see me. In 1972, I lived in a commune in Bucksport where I met my husband. That didn't work out either. We divorced in 1980. But I have a daughter, Heather, now 32, and a 16-month-old granddaughter. My son, Jonas, was born in 1975.
I've always had a job. I've worked with battered women. I remember being on call one night, talking to a woman whose husband had systematically broken every finger on both hands. There is so much to do helping others that I've never felt I was giving enough of myself, to my children or my job.
I'm now a mediator for the state of Maine.
I paint. I fell in love with sailing 20 years ago, I write and go visit my kids a lot. I can see the water from my house and in the winter I go to the Florida Keys to paint with a friend. And, right now, I have a very nice man in my life. Life is good.
My mother, Eleanor Allen, just turned 90. She started the Suzuki violin program in Lawrence 40 years ago and is still at it.
The Circle S was nice in so many ways. Nancy Pat, with her long history of diabetes, wasn't supposed to have a child and I felt so lucky to meet her daughter at the Circle S.
I'm still learning. My kids have taught me I'm not in control of anything.
"I went to Maine to visit Marian and ended up living in New Hampshire for 11 years." Debbie Allen Nelson, Lawrence:
I grew up on North Michigan Street. My folks, George and Betty Allen, moved there in 1949 when I was 4. They still live there in that big old house next to the turnpike. I used to ride horses all through that area before the highway was built.
Funny what we remember.
A Mexican family's car broke down near our house one night and the man knocked on our door asking if he could use our phone. Turns out the car, full of their belongings and a couple of children, was unrepairable. They were moving to Minnesota. Dad gave them an old car - just gave it to them. Later I remember the family sent my folks a tablecloth from Niagara Falls.
In school I was friends with Marian Allen and Carol Eller. Marian knew everybody.
I went to college in Emporia to get out of town. I lasted a year. Came back to Lawrence and got an English degree at KU. I saw Marian a lot.
I returned to KU to study early childhood from Montrose Wolfe who helped found Achievement Place in Lawrence.
I took a break, went to Maine to stay with Marian for a while. She's something. I think she was living in a tent at the time. On the way to Maine I stopped in New Hampshire - never been there before - and wound up getting a job at a home for delinquent boys.
So Marian is living in a tent in Maine and I'm in New Hampshire, in the woods near Franklin, living in an 8-by-10-foot chicken coop. I cooked over an open fire. I actually built a house on my 10 acres and in the process carried nails, bags of cement and boards, up a path a quarter of a mile from the nearest road. No water, no electricity, but it was a neat house.
In 1973, when I was 28, my neighbor introduced me to her brother, Tom Nelson, who was visiting. The son of missionaries, he'd lived in China and Japan. We got married the next year. I worked in a day-care center and Tom worked in a factory where he learned to be a machinist.
Both our sons were born there. Jesse, 29, lives in Lawrence and Jared, 27, lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Tom delivered Jared after our midwife didn't show up.
We moved to Lawrence in 1982 and Tom started a machine shop out on Haskell Avenue.
My Circle S experience was absolutely wonderful. ... A weekend of fun group therapy. Intelligent women who've done interesting things and have led interesting lives. They're easy to like, not mean-spirited or overly proud of themselves.
"This was not a gang of eight. All of us getting together at one time is brand new. By Saturday afternoon we've just hit the high points so by tonight we'll probably get to the good stuff." Carole Hadl, Lawrence:
My dad, Jess Willard Hadl, ran a garage behind our house with his brothers at 417 Forrest Ave. between Barker and Leonard. My mom worked for Dr. Wempe (a veterinarian) over by Ninth and New Hampshire Street.
Jack Mitchell, the KU football coach, got to know my dad when he was recruiting my brother John. He knew dad liked horses so every now and then he'd ride over from his house at 15th and Leonard with an extra horse so the two could go riding. I think my dad asked Mitchell if he had a job for me. Jack asked me if I knew how to type.
No, I didn't.
"Well, rent a typewriter and practice on it," he told me.
I was 20, and always obedient so I went downtown and rented an old Royal. I was born with one arm and had never known anything different so pretty soon I could type.
At first, when I was in sixth grade at McAllister School there was me with one arm and one girl who was black. We were the two different ones. We spent a lot of time together but it didn't take long and we were accepted like everybody else.
Anyway, I did learn to type, and worked for Mitchell a few months before he was fired. I've been in the KU football office for 41 years. When I first started I was in a room with all the assistant coaches. It did wonders for my vocabulary. Not like today's corporate-type offices.
I went to practice for years, sat with "Deaner" (legendary KU athletic trainer Dean Naismith) but stayed out of the way. It really paid off and made it easier to decipher the coaches' bad handwriting. The coaches would come out of a meeting, hand you the schedule and want it ready when they came back from lunch. Electric typewriters made my life a lot easier.
I've worked for Jack Mitchell, Pepper Rogers, Don Fambrough, Bud Moore, Don Fambrough (again), Mike Gottfried, Bob Valesente, Glen Mason, Terry Allen, Tom Hayes and Mark Mangino, by far the most organized.
Over the years there's the usual sequence, a coach gets fired, then the athletic director gets fired, usually followed by the chancellor. That's why I don't get into politics. It's been a great place to work, sitting here in my hometown meeting people from all over the country.
I couldn't wait to get to high school. Brother John was five years older and he was so successful in sports and got so much attention it was something I looked forward to. And our parents lived for both of us.
Being a late bloomer, I really didn't date much. I was president of the pep club and a great spectator. Carol, Judy and I ran around together and played tennis on weekends.
Most of these women here today were A students in school. I was very average, but my contribution was common sense. They would argue points, and I'd take the boring middle of the road.
I've had a thing for Walt Disney since grade school. After school I watched the Mouseketeers a lot. They would give reports about building Disneyland in California and Walt would get on there talking about the wonders of Disneyland. I just knew I'd never have the chance to go, but it was my dream.
I got my Disneyland chance when John signed to play for the San Diego Chargers. I'd visit almost every summer staying with John's family while he was in training camp. I've been there over 20 times.
I left the Circle S feeling nourished. The conversations reaffirmed what good friends we are. Nobody dominated the conversations, and we're all good listeners, no matter who is talking.
"I'd forgotten the story about Carole Hadl taking the train to Chicago in her pajamas." Nancy Pat Sanders, rural Lawrence:
Having had Type 1 diabetes since I was 13, I didn't expect to live forever. So, I figure every day I've survived since I turned 55 is gravy. But, last February, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, it took me by surprise. Bad news coming from another direction. It's really been much worse for my daughter, Katherine, my sister Kathryn and my husband, Bill, who has been a wonderful rock.
People ask me about my coughing, so, being a nonsmoker, it is a surprise when they discovered the source.
Turns out the treatment can be worse than the disease. Basically, I've got one operational lung.
Amazing how your perspective changes during one of these little episodes. Many things have lost their grand importance. Other things that would have been irritants in the past are now seen as human foibles. Human actions that I'd find horrible or ridiculous I now think of as things people do that go with their personality. It's amusing.
Family takes first place. We've shared lots of memories. We're living on grandmother Sanders' farm and she was such a force for all of us.
I think often how lucky we all were to grow up in Lawrence. The education we had access to, and I think of what I learned in Stan Roth's Lawrence High biology classes. He taught us that building curiosity was more important than the facts you learn.
In high school our group didn't do much "serious" dating. I think I actually liked horses instead of boys.
My dad, "Tag" (Raymond) Sanders, owned the Lincoln-Mercury-Studebaker dealership at Ninth and Mississippi. So, I'd just go to the used car lot and pick a car. We called it "test" driving.
In 1967 I graduated from KU with a degree in Spanish. In those days a woman's choice was nursing or teaching. I wanted to work in the library field, as did Carol Sullivan, so we both enrolled at Denver University. Carol left after a semester when Bill came out and asked her to marry him. I remember her saying she wanted to have 12 children, but she did have five.
I got my master's in library science in 1968.
I worked at Florida Atlantic's University Library for two years, then to Arizona State. By 1974 I still had my eye on being a library director so I went to Indiana University in Bloomington to work on a Ph.D. That's where I met Bill Crowe (Nancy Pat's husband to be).
Although I liked him a lot, I refused to date him because I thought it inappropriate to date someone where I worked. I finally caved in when he announced he was leaving for the University of Michigan.
Our first date was to see a university production of "Our Town."
In 1978 we married in the Beck Chapel on the IU campus. We incorporated a piece of "Our Town" in the ceremony.
Finally, in 1981, after seven years and the birth of our daughter, Katherine, I got my Ph.D. We both got jobs at Ohio State.
Bill was offered the job to be director of libraries at KU in 1990, so I got to come home. Kansas was new to Bill, but he loves being here.
We live in the old family house in the country with 14 cats, three dogs. We're down to our last horse, but that's plenty.
The sense of being back home is sometimes overwhelming. My daughter has graduated from KU, the third generation to do so and she's a fifth generation Douglas County resident. And, surprise of surprises, she's at work on a master's degree in librarianship through Emporia State.
I wasn't able to spend that much time at the Circle S, but the time I did spend was delightful. This group has had so many common experiences over the years, and, on the other hand, they've all been different. It was great to be able to talk about them.
It reminded us that the fact that someone dated a football star in high school means absolutely nothing today.
"The Circle S group couldn't compare to a high school reunion where everybody is examining you. : Suddenly you're back in high school again having to prove yourself. : Those are too weird." Judy Denton Tudor:
I've been in Steamboat Springs, Colo., since 1969. During college I worked in Estes Park, fell in love with the mountains and knew some day I'd be back.
Then, after I graduated from KU in 1967, Marian Allen, Nancy Maloney Rich and I went to Winter Park, Colo., in my yellow convertible. We went to this roadhouse in our dyed-to-match sweater and skirt outfits. Since you asked, mine was cranberry. Nancy and Marian met two ski instructors, Steve and Don. They hit it off immediately. I didn't meet anyone.
But Marian went back to Kansas. Nancy married Steve, and I ended up marrying Don.
In Steamboat we started a construction business. I did the books. We have two daughters, Jessica and Audrey.
In 2000, Don and I divorced after 30 years. I really hate the loss of the family unit. Relationships are hard.
For the past five years I've been a bookkeeper at Off The Beaten Path. It's got a great atmosphere and I work with a lot of my best friends.
I've joined a ladies meditation group and some of us actually took a trip to Nepal. We meet every week and meditate and gossip together. Strangely, it's easier to meditate as a group.
So, I've developed a new set of friends, have a full-time job, I see my daughters and I do something almost every night.
My old friends in this group really haven't changed all that much. Everybody's personality is pretty much intact. I had not really known Carol Eller and Debbie Allen all that well, but I feel I know them now.
"Getting eight women to agree on anything is not easy. We thought the Lawrence women might only come for one evening. We made them swear 'horses honor,' that they'd stay for entire weekend." Nancy Maloney Rich:
My dad still lives in Lawrence at Presbyterian Manor. He's an amazing man. He's 90 and he worked on the Manhattan Project. Knows Nobel laureates. I'm so proud of him.
I discovered in this group that when people get older they become more of what they always were. The voice of reason is more, the person who was bossy is more bossy, the person who was out in left field is still out in left field.
Debbie always brings us back to earth. Marian takes us on flights of fancy. Carol Hadl sits and takes it all in and is still the voice of reason.
I was involved in the Columbine tragedy for two years. I'm a disaster counselor. I worked in the school with counselors and social workers. Once you hear what went on in the library you understand. Worked with a paramedic who could not go out of the house for four days after Columbine. There were so many people affected.
I've been single since 1975. I guess what I could say about my five-year marriage is that I'm not sure I ever should have done it. The night of my marriage I remember thinking "What have I done - I just said 'FOREVER.'" I think it was downhill after that. He was a really nice guy; it was me that was not cut out for it.
The night you were at the Circle S we had an incredible lightning storm, sat downstairs in the dark telling stories, the phone went dead, the inmates in charge of the asylum : talk about a slumber party.
When we were kids, It was a great time to be in Lawrence where people were honest, not mean, just honest. It was a different place.
These are some of my favorite people in the world and I would never have met them otherwise. I don't go to football offices, and would never have met Carole Hadl, or Nancy Pat the farmer, and Carol, librarian and salt of the earth. Carol is Kansas.
Oh, by the way, did you ask Nancy Pat about Marian living behind her couch for a while?
Post script: Nancy Pat Sanders, 60, died Wednesday, Sept. 14, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. A celebration of her life will be announced at a later date.