by Cheryl Reindl-Johnson ’78
Front: Cathy Cassner, Mary Grace Bernardin, Lisa Dowd, Erin Hicks, Heather Paschall, Kimberly Reindl
2nd Row: Catherine LaRuffa, Brenda Huesman, Cheryl Reindl, Sylvia Alonzo, Ann Cooley, Sylvia Valiente
Back Row: Virginia Starzl, Stephanie Emery, Astri Bush, Bonnie Bates, Natalie Jones
Front: Cathy Cassner, Cinder Heitzman Beuerlein, Stephanie Emery Bull
2nd Row: Brenda Huesman Pierre, Bonnie Bates Roberts, Natalie Jones, Catherine LaRuffa, Kimberly Reindl McFarland
Back Row: Cheryl Reindl-Johnson, Astri Bush Tadlock
I remember how upset I was when my father informed my sister Kim and me that we would be going to an all-girl, Catholic high school. Although I had attended Catholic school for most of my life, it had not been all girls and it was not located way out in the “boonies.” It was particularly disturbing to find out that many of the girls lived on campus—that brought about visions of quiet “Nun-patrolled” hallways, girls in starched, buttoned-up uniforms, and daily processionals to Mass so that these Nuns could try to convince us to join the Convent. What I found instead was a beautiful campus full of history that was enjoyed (sometimes loudly) by students and Sisters. We did attend Mass regularly, but there were not fire and brimstone sermons, but rather uplifting and encouraging sermons celebrated in song by a beautiful chorus of voices accompanied by various students and teachers on guitar.
Who would have thought that the little school out “in the sticks” with fewer than 100 students, would be so rich in diversity, culture, and empowerment. I think I spent much of the first week with my mouth hanging open – trying to learn where everything was located. Instead of room numbers there were locations like Sunnyside, Playhall, Keller, and Cherry Loop. Within a week I had it figured out and had carefully mapped my way from the “butt bench” for a cigarette to each of my classes. I had to be careful of my language and behavior outside of class though, because I was not used to Nuns out of their habits, wearing “normal” clothes or even blue jeans and who could then sneak up on me! I was amazed that between classes students were free to roam around campus, lie across the various couches and seats in Sunnyside and read, chat, or listen to records.
The Ursuline Sisters built a school that nurtured and empowered girls and helped them grow into women. The curriculum was rigorous and challenging, and peppered with classes that helped us grow culturally, politically, and socially. We were taken out into the community to interact with people we would otherwise probably never have acknowledged – we took food to families living in shacks in Appalachia and we sang Christmas carols in nursing homes. The six-week mini- courses they offered one year allowed us to explore many different subjects, and in some cases allowed students to teach. I remember learning to speak a little German in a class taught by classmate Sylvia Alonzo, I made a shirt for my boyfriend in a six-week sewing class, and I learned horseback riding from two younger students.
During my senior year at BCU, juniors and seniors were allowed to take college classes at Chatfield College if they had earned a certain grade point average and could fit it into their schedules. I took beginning Italian from Sr. Marie DiMercurio who was assisted by Joan LaRuffa. I got through it and I learned a lot once I got past my initial concern when attendance was called the first day and I realized that I might be at a bit of a disadvantage. The four students in this class were: Catarina LaRuffa, Stefana LaRuffa, Innuccia Milleti, and me, Cheryl Reindl!
Those kinds of opportunities were enriching, but it was really my classmates that made my experience at Brown County life altering. The class of 1978 formed a bond immediately. Although we were all very different – rich and poor, local and international, brains, partiers and jocks – sometimes the same person having multiple personas—we accepted each other. Instead of being put off by our differences, we explored them. Many of us learned how to swear perfectly in Spanish from our classmates from Mexico and South America. Wealthy classmates with lots of clothes lent them out to those of us without as much (although if you looked closely you might find that underneath the trendy designer pants that I borrowed from Sylvia, my knee socks were held up with rubber bands). Natalie Jones, our only black classmate, who was beautiful, intelligent, and articulate, defied the stereotype we saw on TV. She was also very proud of her ethnicity and she educated us about black culture and society.
We enjoyed hearing Cathy Cassner’s heavy Kentucky-accented pronunciation of “dialogues” in Spanish class. We equally enjoyed Gloria Ortiz’s heavily accented English exclamation that “somebody sheeted! somebody sheeted!” during the count of 21 votes (from a class of 20) for freshman class president. There was camaraderie and loyalty that grew over our four years and that has lasted for 30 years.
It is amazing how much people change, and how much they stay the same. We watched Cathy Cassner grow from an awkward country girl from Kentucky into a successful businesswoman and philanthropist. Astri Bush Vaske grew from a major party girl into the director of a large Montessori school in Alabama. Rini LaRuffa was always driven—serving as student body president, musician and vocalist, actor, and part-time college student. It is not surprising that she is now a successful family physician and a community leader. Sylvia Alonzo Rineair lived her high school dream: became a registered nurse, married her high school sweetheart, and had her desired two children who have grown into fine young men. Lisa Dowd Lee, who came to Brown County as a naive young girl, is now employed in a medical office and the mother of a wonderful 26 year-old son named Michael and wife to Bill.
Brenda Huesman Pierre, once she stopped crying herself to sleep every night in the freshman dorm, became the class mother and nurturer. She is now an Officer in a federal bank and unofficial mother to all those around her. Bonnie Bates Roberts, local girl who grew up on a farm, is an insurance executive who lives on the East Coast. Cinder Heitzman Beuerlein is still the hilarious, happy “instigator” she was in high school, but she also owns a successful business and raised a track star and artist. A review of Stephanie Emery Bull’s wardrobe and hair styles throughout our four years of high school may have foretold that she would grow up to be an artist, but she is also married and has raised two children (one who spent 6 months in Africa on a mission trip). And my sister, Kim Reindl McFarland who came to BCU with me in 1975, is a successful cosmetologist, wife, and mother of two.
My education and experiences at BCU was life-changing, and instilled in me a strong sense of acceptance and empowerment. This empowerment has helped me often in the years since I graduated. I took risks and tried things that I might have otherwise been afraid to try. I met many fascinating people that I might never have approached or to whom I might not have responded. I faced exclusion with a determination to break down barriers I might otherwise have assumed were unbreakable. And, I have maintained friendships for more than 30 years with a group of very diverse and interesting women who have enriched my life immeasurably.