A picture’s worth 1,000 memories

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

AMARILLO, TX — Photographs of Feb. 9’s President’s Ball transported Margaret Heyde back from Amarillo, Texas, to another formal dance in her hometown, Dowagiac.

“I met my husband at our Dec. 16, 1967, formal! We’ve been together since,” the former Margaret Miller, Dowagiac Union High School Class of 1965, commented on SMC’s Facebook page.

While that’s true, a few more twists to the tale of that pivotal night make their improbable meeting all the more remarkable.

Heyde, a member of the college’s second graduating class who grew up on McOmber Street, had been writing to soldiers. Her brother, Reuben Miller, also attended SMC.

“Letter-writing was very big in my family,” she said. “After going to Methodist choir camp and MYF camps, my girlfriends all kept close friends with kids all over southwest Michigan. That’s where the letters began.”

As involvement in Vietnam deepened, and “the guys went away, I began my epic letter-writing,” she said. “I guess in the throes of the war I wrote to maybe 10 servicemen. I was a close friend of Bill Hoppe, who went into the Army. While writing Bill, he ended up at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. This is crucial, as everyone I wrote to had a picture of me.”

“My picture was on Bill Hoppe’s desk,” Heyde said. “That’s where Pete Napoleon comes in. Pete was drafted into the Army from Wellesley, Mass. He asked Bill who I was and where I was from. There starts another friendship. Well, Pete gets transferred to Valley Forge Hospital in Pennsylvania. Guess who enters the picture. Yep, 17-year-old Tom Heyde!”

“I’m in nursing school at SMC with my old high school nurse supervisor, Myra Melvin,” the college’s first nursing instructor, and “I break in Mrs. (Eileen) Parks as our nursing director. I am heavily into campus stuff even though in nursing school.

“I didn’t drive, so Debbie Guyton and I are close friends. That Christmas dance is coming up and I mention this in a letter to Pete. He suggests he come up and take me! Oh my, a college man! It would be better if he could bring his friend. Well, Deb didn’t have anyone taking her.”

Hitchhiking from Pennsylvania to Michigan in December

“Pete and Tom show up on my porch, hitchhiking from Pennsylvania to Michigan in December,” Heyde said. “I recognized Pete, as I had a picture, but who on earth was standing next to him? Tom Heyde! We did go to the dance, but Tom didn’t know how to dance, let alone hadn’t dated per se before this event.”

The men returned to Valley Forge, but the pen pals continued to exchange letters.

“Pete gets his paperwork to go to Germany. Tom turns 18. Tet begins,” Heyde said of 1968’s Tet Offensive, a major escalation and one of the largest Vietnam military campaigns.

Tom gets his papers for Vietnam, stopping in Dowagiac on the way to see his grandparents in Wisconsin. He needs a second round of shots before shipping out.

“He comes back to my house with a temperature of 103 degrees, gets stuck with my family for two weeks and we attach at the hip,” Heyde said. “He comes home after a year, we marry at First United Methodist Church, he goes back to Qui Nhon for another six months, and thus, come April 16, 2023, we have been married 54 years,” with one child, Dr. Jennifer C. Heyde Denham, two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter, Hayden Janet, who will be 3.

One of 16 in SMC’s second nursing class

Heyde, 75, was a student in SMC’s intensive 11-month Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program, graduating on the lawn outside Fred L. Mathews Library at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug 11.

Her Class of 1968 consisted of 16 women from 10 communities, including Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Berrien Springs, Gobles, Niles, Paw Paw, Angola, Ind., Sturgis, Hartford and Bangor.

Nursing students of that era wore pink pinafores and would not recognize today’s green scrubs.

Heyde remembers the third-floor ballroom of the old Elks Temple downtown “totally decked out” two flights of stairs above today’s Wounded Minnow.

And the dress she wore, navy blue with velvet on the hem and white on top. All she has are memories because her photographs were destroyed June 27, 1992, by an F4 tornado that tore through Fritch, Texas.

Heyde worked as an emergency room nurse at Lee Memorial Hospital. Tom studied mechanical engineering, graduated from SMC in 1973 and worked for Rudy’s until they moved to Chicago when her husband joined IBM for two decades. They moved to Texas in the early 1980s.

A friend convinced Margaret to try substitute teaching and a second career was born. She attained a bachelor’s degree in English Language Arts from “WT,” West Texas A&M University in Canyon, south of Amarillo. She taught for 20 years before retiring at 62 13 years ago.

‘Santa’s Workshop’ theme for holiday dance

According to the 1968 Spectrum yearbook, “On Dec. 16, 1967, the Elks Club was transformed into a festive Santa’s Workshop for the annual Christmas dance. The many SMC couples in attendance danced to the music of the Satin Sounds amid a wonderland of giant lollipops, candy canes and red poinsettias. Suspended in the center of the dance floor, a six-foot drum fashioned of angel hair and red ribbon added to the magic of Santa’s Workshop.” 

Mr. and Mrs. Claus (Pat Coplen and Barb Schiff) took time out from their busy holiday schedule to attend, presenting each holiday couple with a surprise Christmas gift.

Dr. Donald L. Newport, first SMC Dean of Students in 1966, and Mrs. Newport were presented with a silver service by the student government.

Dr. Newport left Jan. 1 to become president of Platte Valley, Neb., Community College — the youngest president in the country at 26.

Newport, who established The Newport Family Endowment President Leadership Award with a $5,500 gift to SMC in 2014, went on to lead five two-year colleges in Nebraska (Platte Valley Community College, Columbus), Oregon (Chemeketa Community College, Salem), Texas (North Lake College, Irving), Oklahoma (South Oklahoma City Junior College), and Michigan (Alpena Community College in 1987). He retired from Alpena as President Emeritus in 2004.