Class reunion a daunting task when class was on another continent

  • Sue Cosgrove

    Sue Cosgrove

Published11/25/2008 12:02 AM

Anyone who has organized a reunion, whether it be family or classmates, knows what a lot of work it is. For Sue Cosgrove of Wheaton, it was an especially daunting task as her school was in Europe and her former classmates are scattered throughout the world.

From September 1965 to June 1966, Cosgrove spent her junior year abroad studying at the Institute of European Studies in Vienna, Austria. This October, 35 of her former classmates, together with spouses, traveled to Chicago from 18 states to reunite and reminisce.


What motivated Cosgrove to take on this task was her application for a scholarship in early childhood education from the Erickson Institute, funded by the State of Illinois. The application asked a typical college entrance question: "Describe an experience that was formative in your life."

Cosgrove immediately knew that she had to describe the year she, as a small town Iowa girl from an all-girls Catholic college, traveled by ocean liner to Europe, toured the great galleries and castles, and independently visited such exotic places as Beirut, Jordan and Cairo.

"We traveled on the Queen Elizabeth II," she said. "But it was not elegant because we traveled steerage and stayed in very small rooms that we called 'slave quarters.'

"It was a five-day trip, a dream experience," she added. "The price ($2,000) included the ship, a tour of England and Europe, and top-notch tour guides. It also included tuition, room and board, Christmas in a ski village and spring break in Italy."

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When school closed down in February, everyone went their separate ways. Cosgrove and two friends visited Yugoslavia and Athens, flew to Istanbul then visited Jerusalem, Jordan and Cairo.

Many of Cosgrove's classmates came from all-boy or all-girl schools and by their own reckoning were "quite innocent."

"We commented at the reunion about how naive we were and how nice it was to be able to grow up without drugs," she said. "We first ran into marijuana on a boat in Egypt.

"We all agreed (at the reunion) that this was a pivotal point in our lives." Cosgrove said.

Many of the group later went into the Peace Corps and continued to live abroad.

"One thing I noticed was that a lot of people chose not to have children," she said. "Many have traveled widely, especially to Africa. Quite a few earned Ph.D.s. One climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. There are a lot of lawyers."


Cosgrove took a different path. She transferred to Mundelein and earned her degree in sociology, married a young man from Chicago's "Back of the Yards" neighborhood, worked as a caseworker for the Juvenile Court at Angel Guardian Home on Chicago's north side.

Then the children began to arrive, five in all, and the Cosgroves moved to Wheaton. In Wheaton, a new chapter in her life was about to unfold.

"I was invited to join a neighborhood women's Bible discussion group," she remembers. "It was just what I needed at that time of my life. I was overwhelmed by children. We had intelligent, competent leaders."

Cosgrove has continued to mesh her love of children and her interest in Biblical studies.

"Neighbors were always asking me to watch their kids," she said. "I had my home licensed as an official Child Care Home in April of 1988. I estimate I have changed 25,000 diapers, served 15,000 government approved meals, and given 2,500 bottles while caring for some 60 children, including my own."

During her tenure on St. Michael's church council, she promoted Bible study classes. She started a women's group that meets Thursday mornings. She became active in a jail ministry that includes 12-step programs, anger management and computer classes. She recently began teaching a parenting class to inmates at the DuPage County jail.

"It is the most rewarding ministry I've ever experienced," she said.

Her classmates at the reunion showed their appreciation for her yearlong efforts to reunite them by presenting her with a dozen roses, a bottle of champagne, a hand knit scarf, and silver earrings. In the spirit of Vienna, she organized a "Gemutlichkeit" cocktail party followed by an Octoberfest dinner at the Edelweiss Restaurant. They also enjoyed traveling "first-class" on the Mystic Blue ship out of Chicago's Navy Pier.

As one of their group wrote, "No one will know the impact that year had on me ... I doubt if a week goes by that I don't use something garnered from our Wien experience."

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