Friends since the ’50s
By Baker Maultsby
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2018 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
They live in four different states. They long ago settled into their own distinct lives — working jobs, raising families.
But the friendship they formed more than six decades ago as college students in the early 1950s has endured, even grown, through the years. And on a late August afternoon, these four women gathered, as they do once a year, to reconnect. There were lots of laughs, a few tears, and a good deal of reminiscing about their time together at what was then Spartanburg Junior College.
Margaret Gibbs ’54, who hosted the group at her home in Spartanburg, talked about the two-week-on, two-week-off schedule of classes that allowed her to work at Craft’s drugstore and earn money to pay for school.
Judy McClure ’55, who grew up in Massachusetts and learned about SJC from a pastor at her church, described the “culture shock” she experienced after coming south for college. “Oh, boy,” she said. “I’d never had grits or sweet tea or biscuits.”
Iona Richardson ’54 doesn’t remember exactly how she learned about SJC when she was a high school student in Ahoskie, North Carolina, but she spoke of coming to a place where the rules were strict — especially for girls. “I don’t know if there’s a word for how strict it was,” she said, noting that female students weren’t allowed to drive cars and that romantic hand-holding was off-limits on campus.
Janie Faust ’54, a Florida native, didn’t dispute Richardson’s recollection but reminded the group that when they “went to the canteen, you could meet boys. I think you could even dance,” she said.
Faust, Richardson, McClure, and Gibbs arrived at college in Spartanburg from diverse parts of the country and from different family backgrounds. They have gone on to lead full and unique lives. But their time together at SJC remains a source of deep respect and kinship.
It was a formative time in their lives. Each left home with dreams of a better life. They came to SJC in the early 1950s. The college designed a program to support students who needed to work — and even helped them find jobs with local Spartanburg businesses.
There was a strong sense of community at the college, said Faust. “The students had an innocence, and we were all poor,” she said. “There was nobody who was above anybody else.”
The rules, as Richardson recalled, were tough — perhaps intended to be particularly protective of female students who worked off campus. But they managed to have fun — at the canteen, in the small dormitory for girls, on the occasional road trip to visit friends from other colleges.
Richardson and Faust lobbied for permission to start a cheerleading squad. They got their way but had to make their own outfits.
Overall, the experience was special. “It was truly the best two years of my life,” McClure said.
The four young women spent a great deal of time together at SJC, and their friendship was further solidified when Faust was married in Florida after the four graduated. “They all came, and they took care of planning my wedding,” she said.
One by one, they got married and started families. Faust settled in Tampa, Florida. Richardson moved several times before ending up in Fort Worth, Texas. McClure made her home in Raleigh. And Gibbs returned to Spartanburg, where she currently lives in the Roebuck area.
During the busy years of working and raising children, the four friends didn’t see each other on a regular basis. They stayed connected through phone calls and letters.
Eventually, time allowed for them to plan vacations together. Their husbands became friends, and everyone looked forward to annual get-togethers.
Gibbs, McClure, Richardson, and Faust are all widows now. But their yearly visits remain an important part of their lives.
While in Spartanburg, the group was looking forward to visiting the SMC campus. They understand that much has changed at the College but are pleased to know that SMC continues to be a place where first-generation college students thrive and those with financial need find support.
“I want SMC to keep providing opportunities for those who need it,” Richardson said.
And they hope it remains a strong community where deep and lasting friendships are made possible. As Faust put it, “I have had groups of friends over the years — but nothing like this.”