By Thomas Mayhew
Nearly a year ago, my grandmother Dorothy started blowing up my phone. It took a while, but I ﬁnally listened to her story about a long lost relative, one that went here to Beloit College 63 years ago.
I never truly understood my connection with Beloit until homecoming weekend 2011, when its source also found my phone number. On the other line was a man named Jerry Donley. I didn’t know who he was, although the last name sounded distantly familiar. He said he was here from Colorado Springs for the weekend and told me it was imperative we speak in person.
That Sunday morning I sat anxiously in Alumni House’s foyer waiting to get to the bottom of this story. He arrived in a casual suit with a full head of dark hair and a lanyard nametag: ‘Jerry Donley –- Alumni — ’51.”
“Jerry,” I smiled. “I’ve got to know. How is it we’re connected? My grandmother explained, but I never understood.”
He began an explanation with rigor in his voice to parallel my own enthusiasm. It was 1985 when he and his wife Dot met my grandparents, Don and Dorothy. They spent lots of time together, and obviously never lost touch, for it was my grandmother who mediated this bridge between us. Jerry and my grandfather Don fortiﬁed their relationship on my great grandfather’s farm in Sioux City, Iowa.
The relationship between Dot and Jerry, Don and Dorothy, grew stronger, especially between their own children. My father Paul is the youngest of my grandparents’ three children. Jerry and Dot’s son David is also the youngest of three. My father Paul and David grew to be friends enjoying life in Atlanta, Georgia. They had families of their own, gave each other work when the other struggled and intermingled their family weekends. My two best childhood playmates were David’s daughters Laura and Melinda.
It still didn’t make sense to me, were Jerry and my grandfather just friends? As it turns out, Jerry’s wife Dot is my grandfather’s cousin. Her maiden name is Mayhew, which she kept until meeting Jerry at Beloit.
I asked Jerry about his time at Beloit. He was a track and ﬁeld athlete particularly gifted at pole vaulting. Inducted into the Beloit College Athletic Hall of Fame in 1988, he still holds the school’s record for pole-vault.
Jerry shuﬄed a folder in his hands, “I thought you’d get a hoot out of this.” He pulled out a couple of pictures of the historic greased pole battle held at Strong Stadium. Jerry is seen youthful and athletic amongst sixty underclassmen covered in black grease ﬁghting to the top of a pole for the ﬂag.
Throughout our conversation, other strange coincidences came to light: Jerry went to high school down the street from my own in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and lived on the same exact street as my parents now do, only forty blocks east. His current wife Christa coached Beloit’s Athletic Director Peggy Carl in track at Occidental College. Jerry also spent time with former Beloit coach and Athletic Director Ed DeGeorge at Colorado State.
I value these rewarding connections with family and friends through Beloit — connections that are bound to continue and grow over the years. Homecoming especially reaps these rewards.