Catching up with the inaugural class of female Concordians
Though it’s difficult to imagine today, there was a time when there were no female students at Concordia University-Portland. But time marches on – and women marched onto campus in 1954. In 1955, Louise (Rodgers) Leslie, who transferred for her sophomore year from Concordia Oakland, become the first female to graduate from Concordia College (as it was known then). And the first Concordia College class of two-year coeds got their degrees in 1956. That first graduating class of women, 14 students in all, changed the college forever when they took up residence.
Understandably, there was a period of adjustment for both genders when the female students arrived at this historically all-male school. The college president himself, Dr. Thomas Coates, had his own struggles with the new campus reality after the decision was made to admit co-eds to alleviate the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s acute teacher shortage. This also meant hiring a single, female dean of women and adding new student-interest clubs for both male and female inclusion. New situations, like couples holding hands in chapel and female students visiting males in the infirmary, kept Dr. Coates busy reminding students about proper conduct.
Housing was also an issue to be sorted out. Since Elizabeth Hall, the first all-women residence, was not completed until 1958, the female students were initially housed in the former Sylwester House, which they renamed “The Annex” during their freshman year. In their second year, some of the ladies lived in Guild Hall, located past the infirmary.
The advantages of campus life
The Concordia experience was as educational as it was eye-opening for this first cohort of females. Besides being the new gals on campus, college life brought many new opportunities. They had family-style meals back then, complete with assigned seating – two girls and four boys per table. While they waited outside the Guild Hall lounge for the dining room doors to open at 5:30 pm, they watched the Mickey Mouse show on TV. For many of the students, this was a very novel experience as so few of them had a television set at home. With the sudden influx of new students, many new clubs cropped up, including the Happy Blisters Hiking and Exploration Society Club.
Keeping your friends close and your cohort closer
Though this first-ever group of Concordia College coeds has never had an official Portland reunion since they graduated, they have continually kept in touch either via mail or email since 1956. One of the ways they stay current is through their own newsletter! Over the years, different classmates have served as its editor, with Eileen (Helm) Frerichs currently filling that role. The May 2016 newsletter, delivered via email by Eileen, contains updates from 12 classmates or their spouse or family representative: Sharon (Brandt) Willweber, Pat (Lierman) Venzke (with husband Rodger updating), Marvelle (Dudansky) Krenz, Rosemarie (Bolland) Jacobsen, Nancy (Mayer) Rodgers, Ruth (Wendling) Ilten, Arlo (Akkerman) Vess, Helen (Schroeder) Heck, and Beverly (Wagener) Deffner. Leon Gogl updates on behalf of Lois (Schmidt) Gogl, who passed away last year, and Wayne Rodgers has been sending updates for his sister Louise (Rodgers) Leslie, the first female Concordia graduate, who just passed away this June. Most are now 80, six have passed away, and some are more mobile than others. Through joy and heartache, this group of Concordia-Portland coeds who met in 1954 have kept the Concordia spirit going for 60 years – and counting.