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Even as their post-College lives took different paths, seven friends stayed connected

Starting shortly after our graduation on June 6, 1949, until March 2012, six of my Swarthmore friends and I maintained a lifelong commitment to one another via an ongoing group letter called the Round Robin.

On campus, we were known as the Holy Seven—or sometimes as the Unholy Seven—and ever after we depended on our Round Robin to keep us heart-connected. Every two or three months, each of us would be thrilled to receive in the mail a pleasantly fat envelope, from which we’d eagerly take out and read the six individual letters written by our fellow chums, swap out our old letter for a new one, and then mail a new fat envelope, sending our trusty bird along on its next flight.

I remember these letters being chock-full of our triumphs and heartaches, family upheavals, world travels, and daily minutia, and I consider the “Seveners” each to be a treasured, integral part of my life. Today, only two of us remain,
but our memories—and letters—will last forever.

So who were these fabulous friends?

Mary Lee Schell Herndon ’49, an English literature major from Indianapolis who left Swarthmore at the end of our junior year to marry. (We flunked chemistry together—the first failure we ever experienced—before barely squeaking through the second time!) She later got her B.A., had three daughters and one son, and traveled extensively through five continents. Mary Lee died in 2013.

Maralyn Orbison Gillespie ’49, from New Albany, Ind., majored in English literature. A gifted writer, she became the senior editor of the Swarthmore College Bulletin and ultimately the College’s associate vice president. Always gracious, poised, and lovely, she also built a happy marriage, won many prizes for her gardening, and continues her intellectual pursuits and hobbies apace.

Laura Reppert Unger ’49, from Glenside, Pa., majored in English literature and married Richard Unger ’48; three of our Holy Seven were in their wedding party. The devoted mother of four sons who heavily invested her creative energies in community service, Laura died in 2013.

Lynne Davis Mifflin Schloesser ’49, M’64, a Spanish honors student from Drexel Hill, Pa., earned both her B.A. and a philosophy M.A. from Swarthmore. She was also crowned May Queen in 1949; were we ever proud of her! Not only was she a true beauty, but she was also extraordinarily bright with a compassionate, kind heart. The mother of five, she worked for a time as a vocational counselor in Swarthmore’s Dean’s Office before moving to France with her second husband. She died in 2011.

Margaret “Peggy” Comfort Smith ’49, from Haverford, Pa., majored in psychology. She left Swarthmore early in our senior year to marry Malcolm Smith ’48; they had two daughters and one son. She went on to complete her college education and to become first a teacher and then a docent at a living history museum, where she loved to spin yarn on a wheel, weave on a loom, and churn fresh milk from a cow into butter. Peg died in 2002.

Susan “Susie” Reinoehl Flindell Miller ’49 arrived from Havana, Cuba, where she had lived most of her life; she was deeply interested in the Spanish language. She left Swarthmore our junior year to get married, a union that proved to be short-lived; she married again in the early 1960s and moved to Virginia. Susie attended our 60th Reunion in 2009 and died in 2017.

And me, Barbara Lea Couphos ’49, known as Bobbe Lea. Mary Lee and I were roommates our freshman year, and I went on to work in the NYC book publishing field, rising from girl Friday to the foreign editor of Crown Publishers. My first boyfriend at Swarthmore, Paul Couphos ’49, became my second husband after he reappeared in my life in late 1967; we had a very good marriage until his death in 2013. Since April 2014, I’ve been happily ensconced in my older daughter’s lovely New Milford, Conn., home, delighting in spending time with my three granddaughters and their families.


AS THE ONLY still-living members of our beloved College gang, Maralyn and I chat frequently on the phone. It’s great fun to share chuckles and concerns, and even “see,” in our minds’ eyes, the smiles or sadness or wonderment of our very different lives in our elderly bodies.

The last flight of our treasured Round Robin ended in 2012. I had kept all the old letters that I had written, and one day, several months ago, I sat down and reread them. What a vivid review of my own 91-plus years, but also a heightened awareness of the challenges bravely navigated by my dear old classmates.

The underlying theme I rediscovered was the immense life-enriching importance provided by our deeply experienced connection. As students at Swarthmore, we lived together, laughed and cried, encouraged and listened, argued with and applauded one another. We celebrated our achievements and commiserated our setbacks and loved one another like sisters.

Never after April 1948 were all seven of us together in one group, but it meant everything to know that we were only ever as far away as a letter in the mail.

I am grateful for many things I gained at Swarthmore, but in some ways these friendships were the best, bringing such color and depth and connection to my life that I am stunned by my good fortune,

To be part of such a special group of strong, bright, loving women who each, in her own unique way, made a positive difference in her own life and in our wider world. Wow.

Photos from the Round Robin Files

Scribes and Scrolls

There is an entire aviary of Swarthmorean Round Robins—Joyce Favorite Akerboom ’49 wrote in to tell of a vivid memory of one she shared with a group that included her “puckish pal,” the late Helen Blankenagel Miller ’48.

“One gal mentioned something about a ‘scroll’ in her letter. That was all Helen needed,” Akerboom remembered. “She typed her next contribution on toilet paper! We all had a good laugh when the Round Robin came our way.”