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The Alums Who Started it All

From left: Gwen (Strauss) Stern (’74), Bonnie (Sager) Gurian (’73), Elin ( Juvelier) Fischer (’74), Dona (Leeds) Leibowitz (’73), Wendy (Rollins) Latham (’73)

Judith Lemley (’72), is proud to say she was part of Wilmington College’s first graduating class. She remembers her 1972 ceremony vividly, from the inspirational speaker to the bleachers behind the “campus” where it was held. 

In October, Lemley was thrilled to reminisce with fellow graduates at a 50th Reunion celebration, which honored the classes of 1971, ’72, and ’73. Some alums were from the tri-state region, while others traveled from New York, Florida, and North Carolina. The alums swapped stories and shared memories, and it was nice to see Warren Sherrow (’72) and Joan “Dee” Martin (’72), who met and wed during college and are still married. 

Judith Lemley
Judith Lemley

“It’s amazing, the growth of the University,” Lemley said in a video during the party. Awed by her alma mater that started with 194 students and now serves over 20,000, she said, “I don’t know if anyone imagined it, but there was a vision, and the University fills a need. I see a lot of happy and successful students now. I’m very pleased.”

In 1968, the Tours Inn on DuPont Highway in New Castle was converted into the college. Its lobby was the original main building, and rooms were used for dorms, a cafeteria, the President’s office, and Admissions and Business Affairs offices. Students like Lemley took classes in a nearby church. (The college gained University status in 2007.)

Most students came from afar, but Lemley lived a few blocks away. She had been in the military for two years, which afforded her education benefits, and was a mother of two school-aged children, so her daytime hours were free. 

“I just walked over, met the President, and they were glad to have me,” said Lemley. 

She received a Business degree since an Education program hadn’t yet been developed. She still dreamed of becoming a teacher. Lemley later earned a master’s in Education from Wilmington and then taught at her former high school, William Penn, for 20 years. 

“I don’t know if anyone imagined it, but there was a vision, and the University fills a need. I see a lot of happy and successful students now.”

Judith Lemley

Lemley helped the college on weekends as a switchboard operator. She’s still a fan, deeply proud that one of her grandsons is a Wilmington University graduate.

The Alumni Relations Department planned the reunion to coincide with Homecoming weekend. They supplied yearbooks, photos, and memorabilia and hosted a special tour of the New Castle campus.

Wilmington University President Dr. LaVerne Harmon was delighted to celebrate the former students. “It was a positive experience, not just to meet them, but to thank them for taking a chance on us. We were not yet accredited when they first enrolled, so they took a leap of faith. We have grown significantly since those days, but it all started with them. We will never take their faith in us for granted and will always be grateful.”

—Maria Hess

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