Report to Class Council: October 26, 2018

Report to Class Council
Re: Class Support Network and Widows’ Group Oct 26, 2018

By Robert Hammond

The overall theme for the Yale Alumni Assembly John Pinney and I attended last November revolved around the concept of “Creating Community at Yale.” In line with this objective, the two subjects under consideration this afternoon represent efforts to create and improve community within our class and with Yale.

In January, Lee Lundy wrote on the listserv:
“My wife, Nancy (widow of Peter Godfrey, Y’63) brought to my attention that Y’63 has a class Support Network consisting of volunteers (class members, spouses, widows, etc.) to put those who are encountering health, financial, or other problems, if they wish, in touch, on a confidential basis, with classmates and family members who are experiencing or have experienced problems such as illnesses, grief and loss, restrictions on life activities, or straitened financial circumstances and are willing to talk about it in a supportive manner. […] I am so far out of the loop that I do not know whether Y’65 has considered this.”

In subsequent correspondence with Nancy Lundy about the support group Nancy wrote that after attending 1963’s 50th reunion she was impressed by the number of widows in attendance.

Nancy and Lee’s suggestions stimulated discussion on the listserv and within our widows’ group.

John Pinney suggested I find out more about the activities of ‘63 in these areas.

My quest led to a lengthy phone call and several email chats with 1963’s class secretary Guy Struve. Guy was graciously generous in sharing his time, information, and experience regarding his initiatives on behalf of 1963.

First of all, Guy’s concept underpinning all his activities is that everyone associated with the class, including spouses and widows, be considered part of the “1963 class family,” which he uses as his greeting in all correspondence.

The support network ‘63 created is called “Classmates on Call.” It is a confidential service.

Over a series of mailings, Guy recruited a panel of classmates, spouses, and widows who indicated subject areas they would be willing to discuss with other members of the class family seeking advice, support, and consolation. Additional panel members are periodically recruited in response to repeated requests in the class notes in YAM, email notifications, and mentions in other class mailings. The list of panel members, their contact information, and the subject areas they feel comfortable talking about is maintained under password protection linked to their class web site. Class members interested in looking at the support panel email the class secretary, who provides them with the password. All communications between participants are conducted confidentially using their individual personal platforms – phone, email, etc. No records are maintained of either contacts or the content of their discussions .

The class has no idea as to how often panel members are contacted, nor the identities of the class members who utilize the service.

In the recent special Sept/Oct edition of class notes from YAM, in Guy’s column there is a reminder about the Classmates On Call program and how it functions. You might want take a look at that.

Guy told me that they have no way of evaluating the program. Panel members have agreed not to discuss contacts or content. The feedback Guy receives has all been positive, and the feeling is that even if no one has ever contacted a panel member the existence of the program generates a warm feeling in the class and increases the sense of a caring community.

With regard to widows’ involvement in the class of 1963 this is a devoted one-person operation. When Guy is notified of the passing of a classmate he personally, after a decent interval, writes to each recently widowed member of the class community, asking if they wish to remain involved, continue to receive class communications and participate in class activities. At present he is in contact with 75 widows.

Guy told me he welcomes widows, spouses, partners, and children of class members to contribute to YAM class notes and share news with the class community. Additionally, letters, emails, and other information from disabled classmates often come through “family” members.

Widows are an increasing demographic in our class community.

Thanks to the efforts of Dorothy Armstrong (whose husband Forrest passed away in 2000), 1965 has a small but strong and organized widows’ group with members in communication with each other.

From what I have learned in my inquiries, 1965 is unique among Yale classes in this regard. I corresponded with Susan Holahan, a 1963 widow who attended their 50th reunion, referenced by Nancy Lundy. Mrs. Holahan informed me that the class of 1963 does not have their own functioning group and attributed the widows’ involvement in their reunion as being entirely based on class secretary Guy Struve’s continued vigorous efforts at inclusion. Her exact words describing Guy were “the heart behind.”

1965’s widows’ group held their own get-together in the grill room this afternoon prior to the class dinner. I don’t have the exact number, but at least 7 widows will be attending the class dinner this evening.

As evidence of the importance of class activities to our class widows, consider that in order to attend this evening’s dinner, Nancy Fischer came from Oregon and Suzanne Haaland, upon learning that her AMTRAK train from Richmond, VA was cancelled, immediately boarded a Greyhound bus early this morning in order to get here.

Dorothy Armstrong is here as spokesperson for the widows’ group, to share her thoughts with you about efforts under consideration to improve recognition of widows by our class and by Yale, expand the widows’ group, encourage widows’ participation in class activities, and other concerns

Robert Hammond ‘65
AYA class delegate for 2018