The Lucky Ones: Alumni have shared life’s joys and pains for 50 years

People sitting in a restaurant eating and talkingIf it’s Wednesday, you can bet that a reunion of sorts will be taking place over lunch at Mt. Chalet in Royal Oak.

It’s where a close-knit group of alumni, many of whom met while attending University of Detroit and Mercy College of Detroit at the end of the 1960s and early ’70s, routinely meet.

Lunch is just one of the many activities that this group, which consists of 27 alumni and 13 couples, has participated in together over the past five decades. They’ve shared life’s joys, pains, milestones and experiences, from going to college and raising children to enjoying retirement and traveling the world.

“We’re a family,” said Anne (Haaser) O’Karma ’72. “It’s not just fun, fun, fun. We also have each other’s backs.”

“What are the odds of this group staying together through 50-plus years?” Dan O’Karma ’70 said. “It’s really unique.”

On this particular Wednesday afternoon in late March, 15 people from the group — which has no name but uses the “Titans” moniker while traveling together — gathered at Mt. Chalet to reminisce about their college days. Their longtime waiter, Donovan, made his way from person to person while a grandchild, visiting from Chicago, scurried between grandparents.

People sitting in a restaurant eating and talking“Somebody said to me recently, ‘how do you find stuff to talk about every week?’ It’s not hard at all,” said Karen (Geraghty) Hannan ’72. “The guys talk sports; the girls talk life.”

Greek life was a big part of the group’s college experience, as all the U-D alumni were in fraternities or sororities. It not only made for a lively campus, they said, it helped create a sense of home for everyone. Deborah (Pardy) Schneble ’75 remembers her Mercy College classmates visiting U-D for these social gatherings and basketball games.

“So many of this group are from out of state,” said Dan O’Karma. “I think being on campus and in the dorms kind of solidified a lot of that. We would hang out a lot. I think that was key.”

Having a big friend group was especially important for Ann (Denver) Madden ’72, who came to U-D from Massachusetts.

“I went home twice a year, Christmas and the end of the school year, so I relied on a lot of the people I met in the dorms,” she said. “U-D was great because some people liked euchre, some people liked other things. You would just find a table, sit down and before you even knew it, you were part of a group.

“Just because you graduated doesn’t mean you still can’t be friends.”

The friends include Gary Drainville ’72, ’79; Chris (Lilly) Drainville ’72; Tom Empric ’72; Dana (Gineitis) Empric ’72; John Fernandez ’72; Donna (Pellerito) Fernandez ’71; Don Goergen ’72; Cathy (Elliott) Goergen ’72; John Griffin ’72; Denise (Wissman) Griffin ’72; Ed Hannah ’72; Joe Loibl ’69, ’74; Tom Madden ’73; John Madden ’72; Jay Reynolds ’72; Dan Schneble ’72, ’75; William Wales ’72,’73; Sue (Dion) Wales ’72, Rudy Wilson ’72; and Kathy (Hill) Wilson ’72. Suzie (O’Connor) Loibl ’75 was part of the group until her death in 2018.

Despite the ebb and flow of life, Hannan said, the alumni have prioritized these regular get-togethers over the years. There have been New Year’s Eve parties, weddings, bowling nights, annual golf trips, vacations at summer homes and abroad, and many milestone events involving their children.

People sitting in a restaurant eating and talking“We made a pact long ago that when our kids got married, we would be at their wedding, no matter where it was at,” said Kathy Wilson. “We’ve pretty much done that.”

They also stay connected to University of Detroit Mercy with season tickets to basketball, attendance at annual events and by serving on alumni and other boards.

Lunch outings started to become a regular thing about 20 years ago, when the women took knitting lessons in Birmingham.

“We’d go to lunch after,” said Wilson, “and then as the guys started retiring, they joined us.”

“We’ve outlasted restaurants,” added Anne O’Karma, noting that the group has called Mt. Chalet home after their previous spot, Max and Erma’s, closed.

What’s the secret to keeping the group together for so long? It depends on who you ask.

For the men, it’s a simple Detroit style combination of Buddy’s Pizza and Titans basketball.

“Almost all of us have been season ticket holders since we left U-D,” said Dan Schneble. “And that’s been the real glue that’s held the guys together.”

The women, on the other hand, remember bringing their children along when they were young. The group became an extended family for them, as well.

“It started when our kids were babies,” said Anne O’Karma. “We got together for lunch on Fridays, and every single one of us would take a turn. The houses were beautiful when everyone showed up, and they were chaos by the time everyone left. We let the kids have fun.”

After more than 50 years together, the alumni are thankful that U-D and Mercy College brought them together to form a group that has withstood the test of time.

“I think we just consider ourselves lucky,” said Hannan. “We’re just such a lucky group of people.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: