Best Buddies Since 1980s, Huskies Group Has Monthly Meetups After More Than 35 Years
By Tony Scott
Alumni Karen Heide, '85, and Sue Vitek Walsh, '85, met a group of women they still get together with monthly while living in the Alpha Sigma Alpha house in college.
Starting college as a freshman can be nerve-wracking.
There is a fear of the unknown and everything is new. Among the questions a new college arrival might ask themselves might be, “How am I going to meet new friends?” or “Will I get along with my roommate?”
The fortunate ones find friends quickly. Some of those friendships last throughout one’s college career, and for a lucky few, they will last a lifetime.
That has been the case for Karen Crampton Heide, ’85, and Sue Vitek Walsh, ’85, who hit the college friendship jackpot. In honor of Best Friends Day on June 8, these two alumni shared their story about lasting friendships that have endured decades.
Since graduating from NIU, the pair and 10 of their best friends from college have gotten together for monthly meetups at each other’s homes, every year for more than 35 years. Heide, Walsh, Kandy Remmel Gore, ’84, Jean Ferry O’Connell, ’85, Karen Tabbert, ’85, Sharon Hoholik Smith, ’85, Donna Mueller Fruehe, ’85, Lori Hubers, ’87, Liz Ward Cramsie, ’86, Robi Nowak Nevers, ’85, Sandy Hahn Tassi, ’86, and Jane Marchese Larsen, ’85, have organized the meetups since shortly after Heide and Walsh graduated..
While not every gathering included all 12, most of them have, even through moves and other changes that life brings.
Heide and Walsh met each other through pledging their sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha (ASA), on campus. The sorority house was how the 12 women eventually all met each other.
“I knew a few of the girls and we pledged together, but once you join the house you meet everybody,” Walsh said. “Our house was small and you really got to know the people you lived on the floor with. Most of our relationships were formed either from pledging or just living together in the house.”
“It was an open-door policy,” Heide added, laughing. “Open closet, open everything.”
Heide and Walsh shared memories of living together with a group of girls in the sorority house in the 1980s, some of which would be strange to the generations who grew up with cellphones.
“There was a phone on the wall in the hallway that had the longest cord in the world,” Heide said. “Those are things our kids will never experience.”
The pair recalled going out and participating in mixer parties with fraternities, which often involved costumes or themes.
“We had this little icky bathroom, and we’d all be getting ready in this little bathroom to go out, just being together with everything we did,” Heide said.
“We’d be running all over, asking 'who has overalls?' and 'will someone do my hair?'” Walsh added.
For Heide, NIU made a particularly special impact, as she met her husband, David, ’85, at what she refers to as a “fix-up dance” through her sorority. The two would get married shortly after graduation.
“I met him that day and knew I was going to marry him the next day,” she said.
Heide and Walsh went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in fashion merchandising. Their lives went in different directions, but the bond that formed at NIU remained strong over four decades.
After graduation Heide worked as a display coordinator for a clothing retailer and later moved to Minnesota with Dave, after he took a job there. The couple lived there for three years but came back to the Chicago area. In 1992, the couple had twins, and she worked as a homemaker.
Walsh was an assistant buyer for Marshall Field out of college and later Waterford Wedgwood as a sales rep, and after taking time to be a homemaker following the birth of her second child, returned to the workforce and is currently a sales account manager for FedEx.
“Everything revolved around the girls at the ASA house. The memories that have stayed with me involve the relationships I formed,” Walsh said.
A bunch of the women from the house were living and working in Chicago after graduation, Walsh explained, and one of them volunteered to make a spaghetti dinner for a group of them to get together. Soon, they invited others in the Chicago area from their sorority days to join them and the idea expanded.
“It just kept growing,” Walsh said.
The group has their first get together in January every year, and that’s when they pick their months. Walsh said it’s convenient for all of them to host once a month, so they can plan them around family events or other needs.
“That’s why we get such a big turnout every month,” she said. “Sometimes there’s five or six or us, sometimes there’s all 12, but I think having it on the calendar from January through December helps.”
The group purposefully plans it at each other’s homes throughout the Chicago area, rather than at a restaurant or other public space, Heide said.
“You can talk more. You’re not at a restaurant where you only talk to who’s sitting near you,” she said.
The gatherings have evolved over the years, Heide and Walsh said.
“We have a couple girls who have cottages, so almost every year we go to Wisconsin in the summer, and then two of the girls have houses by each other in Michigan, so we do a fall weekend there,” Heide said.
One year the group went to Florida. Every year, they have a Christmas party where their husbands join them, Walsh said.
This year, some of them are turning 60 so they are thinking about doing something special, Heide said.
During the height of the COVID pandemic, the get-togethers were fewer, and smaller, and outdoors. There was an attempt to do a virtual gathering, but the outgoing and talkative group found that to be challenging.
“We did a Zoom call, I think once, but that was obnoxious,” Heide said.
Walsh added, laughing, “None of us were shy; we were talking at the same time.”
The tradition of getting together with a group of college friends has led to a multi-generational camaraderie of sorts.
“We attended our own weddings and showers, and now our kids’ weddings and showers,” Heide said. “We’ve come full circle.”
Walsh added, “We’ve watched each other get married, have babies, and have been intertwined in one another’s lives.”
Being in such a tight group of friends that has lasted for decades is special to both Heide and Walsh.
“We’re truly blessed, that’s for sure,” Heide said. “We are there for each other. Call any one of us and we’d be there no matter what.”