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Penny Penrose Bignold ’56 recalls the first Greek Day

Editor’s note: Penny Penrose Bignold ’56 was the instigator of the first Greek reunion, which she organized with the help of the alumni office for her Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters. This mini-reunion, held as part of the 50-Plus Reunion in summer 2009, was the precursor to the upcoming 2011 Greek Day set for June 9, 2011. It is open to all fraternities and sororities with chapters on the Whitman campus before 1961.

“I was attending a 50-Plus reunion three years ago and was staying in Prentiss Hall. I heard the clock tower bell strike midnight, and I thought to myself, ‘This is just too good; we’ve got to have a Kappa Reunion in the Kappa section of Prentiss!’ The next morning I walked over to the Alumni House and asked Nancy Mitchell (associate director of alumni relations) if this would be possible. She jumped at the chance, and replied, ‘Absolutely.’ And that’s how it all started. All of the Kappas I talked with thought it was a fabulous idea.   

“I wrote the first letter and mailed it to all the Whitman Kappas. It was entitled ‘Once in a Lifetime,’ as I thought that would be the only time we would hold this reunion. For that 2009 reunion, there were 22 of us that stayed in the section; others were in motels and homes. At our Kappa dinner that Thursday night at the home of Karen Elder Pribilsky ’58 there were 51 Kappas — ranging in age from the early 70s up to 91 years of age! This was a reunion of women who shared the life-shaping experience of living together, building common values and developing interpersonal skills while at Whitman. It was really overwhelming, and gave me goose bumps to see so many of our sorority sisters together, just enjoying each other. Age did not matter. Individuals realized the unchanging nature of their experience, and it renewed their bonds personally, with the organization and with the college, in a positive and meaningful way. It allowed us to realize how important those friendships were that we had made in our sorority and reaffirmed our commitment to our sisters and to our sorority. 

“Certainly, through this gathering we strengthened our Kappa bonds, but we also strengthened our love for Whitman College. There were faces back on campus that had not been seen since they left Whitman! Some had only attended Whitman for a year or two; it renewed memories, friendships and commitment to the college. Everyone immediately felt comfortable together, being in the familiar setting with friends that had played such an important part of their Whitman experience. They were excited to be included, and they are returning in 2011    

“It was so much fun watching the groups of five or six Kappas walking along on campus that weekend! You could tell they had picked up right where they left off more than 50 years earlier. And for some, those years had not been easy, but to share with others, who could understand was special. Even Whitman staff members commented on what fun it was seeing this group on campus, enjoying themselves thoroughly.  

“The men that have Kappa wives had their noses a bit out of joint and promised if we’d do it again they would come serenade us.  

“Before we left on Sunday the word was out that it was not going to be a ‘Once in a Lifetime!’ Yes we’re looking forward to it next June (June 9, 2011) and many Kappas have already signed up to come again. As one Kappa alumna stated, ‘Time and distance do not diminish the love and friendship our sisters have for one another.’”

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