Sunning on a Florida beach in March of 2012, Lori Foley '80 and three fellow members of the "Girls of Third Floor South Hall" at first stood out as a curiosity amid the clusters of college students reveling in spring break.
Before long, they were an inspiration.
"It was the most amazing trip," Foley said. "At first, we felt a bit odd in and amongst the spring-breaking college students. In the end, they gravitated toward us, fascinated that we were former college friends still spending time together."
Foley and her fellow, fun-loving Class of '80 Ambrosians-Cheryl (Mason) Lunardi, Terri (Reid) Zumbahlen and Sandy (Larson) Bahe-dubbed the inaugural vacation "Sting Break," and immediately planned another trip for 2013.
Those trips were the result of an enduring relationship the classmates established at St. Ambrose.
"We lived together, nursed each other, shared heartbreaks," said Foley, whose group also has gathered at one another's homes for girls weekends several times a year since 1980. "It's a bond like no other friendship I've ever known."
Many St. Ambrose alumni feel the same way and have made certain not to let miles and years keep them apart.
Chad Driscoll '08 is part of a group that has traveled to be together each summer, starting with back-to-back summers highlighted by classmate's weddings. "Then the third summer came and we said, ‘Oh, no one is getting married this summer,'" Driscoll recalled. "But we really enjoyed our time together, so we decided not to wait for another wedding."
Meeting mid-point in Des Moines, Iowa, the past several years, the group has gathered at the state fair, played disc- and mini-golf, shared meals, and simply enjoyed each other's company.
In October, Dolly Grupalo ‘59 and fellow nursing grads will reunite in the Napa Valley region of California. The 23 alumnae plus spouses will hail from 11 states and stay within walking distance of each other in the small town of Yountville, where Grupalo lives. The itinerary includes a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train, a private bus trip to a 12th-century-style castle winery, and a Western barbeque at Grupalo's home.
"We've always been in contact with each other," said Grupalo. "It's the camaraderie, the joy of being together. To celebrate where we've been; to be who we are. There are always a lot of laughs—and some tears too."
This is not their first trip. "There was the Florida cruise; Arizona in 2007; the 50-year reunion at St. Ambrose in 2009; and San Antonio, Texas, in 2011," Grupalo recalled.
A group of more recent graduates who have scattered across the country also have kept a busy, common travel log, said Jessica (Leonard) Holberton '02.
The "Girls from 2020 Gaines" (an address they all shared while at St. Ambrose) have come together at the customary weddings, and bridal and baby showers. But for various members of the group, there also were treks to SeaWorld in Florida, New York City, Las Vegas, and, three years ago, a nostalgic trip "home" to St. Ambrose, where all six were present for a new picture, sitting on the stoop of 2020 Gaines once again.
What transforms classmates into travel mates?
"It's about deep friendship," Foley said. "There's something about that Ambrose bond. The connection, like none I've ever known. We take care of each other and say, ‘Keep me in your prayers.' Whatever happened those magical four years have stayed with us our entire life."