Several '78ers gather to reflect on 40 years of friendship

By Judi Krieger Rogers '78, P'17

From left: Joan Lawder Paul, Marty Stengel Ryan,
Gail Ackley, Kathy Gormley, Kristin Rickard Spak,
Judi Krieger Rogers

I've acquired a few new laugh lines, and that's fine by me. I earned them this past weekend, "reunioning" with my closest Bucknell friends in Maine. I may not recall all of the topics we discussed, but I do know it felt amazing to laugh with such abandon. We may or may not have had a glass or two of wine, but that's almost immaterial — we're punchy together stone sober. Over the course of three days together, we laughed about memories, mishaps, our kids, turning 60, the pros and cons of social media, politics, dream trips, Bucknell car magnets and a few hundred other topics.

And sometimes we cried. Between the seven of us in this cozy group of Bucknell '78 grads someone long ago dubbed "the Kats," we've had more than our fair share of heartache. We didn't avoid any of those topics either — long-ago divorces, legal struggles, cancer, surgeries, the loss of a husband, our parents and, most devastating, the deaths of two children. So we shared, grieved, cried, hugged and supported.

The Kats have been friends for 40 years — bonded as fellow transfers to Bucknell in fall 1976. Some of us were provided housing that fall, on the second floor of a dying local fraternity, and the peculiar living situation no doubt cemented our friendship.

From left: Marty Stengel Ryan, Judi Krieger Rogers, Kristin Rickard Spak, Gail Ackley Kurylak, Joan Lawder Paul, Lori Bollman Robertson
From left: Marty Stengel Ryan, Judi Krieger Rogers,
Kristin Rickard Spak, Gail Ackley Kurylak, Joan Lawder
Paul, Lori Bollman Robertson

We never had the "freshman experience" at Bucknell, but nevertheless managed to meet fascinating people, write esoteric papers, go to Dr. James Turnure's Art in the Dark class, get involved, sing " 'ray, Bucknell" at games, venture down to Market Street for new Skyr turtlenecks, go on runs to the Beer Barn, visit friends in the mods, attend frat parties and more. We had seven different majors. Two of us joined sororities, one became an RA, one student-taught in a local school, one volunteered at Danville State Hospital, a few did intramurals, and one of us even sold homemade Kahlua.

Our career paths were quite varied — from national security, owning a gift and gourmet shop, running a famous colonial inn, teaching math, doing technical writing, counseling vets to working with museums.

The soundtrack of our college years played in the background at our Maine reunion —think Todd Rundgren, Steely Dan, Boston, Joni Mitchell, Doobie Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Bruce. In my mind, I was sitting in my dorm room, tapping away on my electric typewriter, talking about my boyfriend, dancing in SPE's basement, sitting in the stands outside DU for a house-party band. Those memories come flooding back, with very little prompting.

We Kats talked about our kids proudly — most are in their 20s, and one is still in high school. Three of us are (or have been) Bucknell parents, and that is a whole different experience. If you haven't visited the campus in years, seeing a building where "Swartz Beach" used to be is a bit jarring. And the current frat row — well, it's a bit of an adjustment for those of us who remember the '70s. The campus looks beautiful, though — stunning, really. Adding those new letters and numbers to our nametags gives us a new status and a new connection back to a special place.

The root of our Bucknell bond, though, resides in the kinship of this group of witty, supportive, smart and resilient women who've known and trusted one another for 40 years. These Kats are special, and Lord knows, they make me laugh.

Judi Krieger Rogers '78, P'17 is executive director of the Parkway Council, which enhances and promotes the Parkways Museums District in Philadelphia.