Oakland Pioneers come back for the 50th Charter Class Reunion

Patti Koenig, Charter Class Graduate of 1963, points to a photo of herself in the yearbook. 

The 50th Charter Class Reunion brought together Oakland University alumni from around the country.

Theresa Sams Kelly and her husband James Kelly, made the drive from Florida. Theresa received her graduate and undergraduate from Oakland and went on to be a remedial-class teacher for years. She is 86 years old. 

“I’m probably one of the oldest alumni,” Kelly said. “I had children by the time I went to school. There were a few other women that I ate with when I first started here and they were married and had children, too.”

The class of 1963 was the first graduating class from Oakland. At the Sept. 13-14 reunion the pioneers, Oakland’s original mascot, got the opportunity to tour campus, mingle with old colleagues and staff members and even got to explore Meadow Brook mansion, which held many memories for them.

“I knew Mrs. Wilson, when she was alive. We spent a lot of time at Meadow Brook and she got to know us all by first name,” said 1964 graduating class alumnus and Oakland University Foundation board member, Gary Laidlaw,. “Meadow Brook Hall is kind of the heart of this university.”

On the tours of Meadow Brook, Charter Class members were informed about some of the history of Meadow Brook.

“I had seen pieces of it as an undergraduate here and had worked in there when I was putting together parties but I never got a feeling for the whole building and what it represented,” Elaine Garwood Henshon, Charter Class member said. 

Matilda’s Charter Class 

Many students recalled their memories of Meadow Brook and Matilda Wilson, founder of Oakland University.

Gloria Jean Brischke, Charter Class member, recalls getting out of class to find apples awaiting them outside of their door that Matilda had her farmers drop off.

“Matilda Wilson was the driver of an old car, she had a Dodge, and we could always tell when she drove through because she laid rubber when she stopped and when she started,” Brischke said. “She was a real wild driver.”

Upon their prom night, Matilda, had a special surprise for the charter class — a diamond graduation ring presented to all the graduating members. Many alumni still wear their rings, some in necklace form.

“I’m proud of it,” Kelly said.

Expansion at OU

The graduating members of the first class graduated with 125 students. Oakland’s numbers have vastly expanded since humble beginnings.

“The fact that the university is now getting 20,000 students a years is phenomenal,” Laidlaw said.

Although Oakland is mainly a commuter campus, in the beginning it was only a commuter school. Its location was the saving grace for some of the Charter Class members.

“If not for Oakland University I wouldn’t have been able to go to college,” Greta Anderson Gappy, class of ’64 said.  

For more history on the Charter Class, check out the archives in Kresge Library at Oakland University. Many historical pieces have been donated by alumni during the years.