Saint Mary's brings reunion to 97-year-old grad

By John Boone of the Leader
Posted 8/25/15

Barbara Clayton climbs to her feet and walks to the front door with a steady, sure, stride. On her way a broad smile spreads across her face, and the years seem to drop from her shoulders.

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Saint Mary's brings reunion to 97-year-old grad

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Barbara Clayton climbs to her feet and walks to the front door with a steady, sure, stride. On her way a broad smile spreads across her face, and the years seem to drop from her shoulders.

By the time she meets her guests, she stands as tall as she is able, her shoulders square, and her white teeth flash in an infectious smile.

Any observer would put her age several decades south of her 97 years. This day is the celebration of her 80th high school reunion. She graduated from the Saint Mary’s Academy, a women’s boarding school in Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1935. (The academy later became what is today the University of Saint Mary.)

Clayton’s five guests might not share her age, but they do share an alma mater. All graduated from Saint Mary’s between 1983 and 1997. They’ve traveled from Seattle, Tacoma, and as far away as Kansas to celebrate with Clayton.

“I’ve never met these women before,” Clayton said. “This should be interesting and fun.”

COMING TO PORT TOWNSEND

Clayton spent most of her life in Missouri. She married her second husband, a newspaper editor, in 1957. She worked as the managing editor of Ragtown News, reporting on a suburb of Kansas City.

She graduated from the University of Missouri in 1975, with a humanities degree.

Clayton has lived in Washington state for five years, since June 2010, at the Seaport Landing assisted living community in Port Townsend.

“I’m interested in Port Townsend,” Clayton said. “It’s like a museum, or an art mecca.”

While Clayton was comfortable in her previous home, where she’d lived for 30 years, she moved to Port Townsend to be closer to her son – a retired naval captain.

The decision to move was finally made after Clayton survived several health scares, which prompted her son to go to Missouri and take care of her. Rather than having him come to her, she decided to move herself to him.

“My son and I have a whole new relationship,” Clayton said. “Now he gets to look after me.”

A REUNION

All her life, Clayton donated small amounts to Saint Mary’s, and subscribed to the academy’s alumnae newsletter. In the newsletter she read of a group of Seattle alumnae who were planning a regional reunion this summer.

Clayton reached out to that group, introducing herself as a class of '35 alumna, wished them a happy reunion, and said she wished she could join – but the trip from Port Townsend to Seattle was simply too far for her to travel.

For Olivia Robinson, the Seattle-area alumna Clayton contacted, the decision was simple.

“I thought, let’s see if we can go over and have the reunion with her.”

And that is exactly what they did.

Traveling with the Seattle-Tacoma group was Jane Liebert, Saint Mary’s alumnae officer. Liebert traveled from Kansas for the chance to meet one of Saint Mary’s oldest alumna.

Liebert figures Clayton is Saint Mary’s oldest alumna in the Pacific Northwest.

PRICELESS OPPORTUNITY

The six Saint Mary’s graduates sat for lunch Aug. 9 at Seaport Landing to swap stories and memories.

“Our lunch was fantastic,” Liebert said later. “It was a chance to share a lot of memories, and it was great to listen to everyone’s stories.”

One thing that struck Robinson was how – despite the age gap – they were able to find common memories of Saint Mary’s. Like the spiral staircase inside one of the buildings on campus, or an English professor who taught many of graduates – and who Clayton was with on a trip to England.

They also enjoyed hearing about Clayton’s experiences at Saint Mary’s. Particularly memorable was the story about how one night she snuck out of her dormitory, climbed out a window and climbed up onto the roof to stargaze.

“It was a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get to know someone like Barb and share her stories,” Robinson said.

Everyone gained something. For Clayton, a chance to celebrate her 80th reunion in style and share memories of her time at Saint Mary’s. For the other women, it was a chance to meet one of their school's oldest alumna, and connect with the living history of their alma mater.

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