Former Geneseo roommates Joanne Goldstein Siegel ’47 and Eleanor Bonnet Betlem ’47 became lifelong friends shortly after they arrived on campus in 1943.
“She didn’t have a sister, and I didn’t have a sister,” said Betlem, “so we became sisters.”
Though Siegel settled on Long Island and Betlem in Rochester, they’ve remained close for 75 years. Their husbands, who are both deceased, also became good friends. After Geneseo alumni reunions, the couples would vacation together in the Thousand Islands to boat, fish and catch up.
Other Geneseo graduates, John Gleason ’87, who serves as the chair of Geneseo Foundation Board, and MaryGrace Jiran Gleason ’84, met Siegel several years ago at an alumni clambake they hosted on Long Island. “It made John and me so happy to hear Joanne’s stories about Geneseo, and about her husband and their life together,” said MaryGrace.
When the Gleasons needed to come to Rochester last fall, they invited Betlem so the “sisters” could reunite. It had been several years since they saw each other.
The women hugged as they told each other how great the other looked. “We were really looking forward to seeing each other,” Betlem said later.
The former roommates reminisced and shared stories about being students at Geneseo in the mid-1940s. The women attended all of their classes in the then administration building, Sturges Hall, and remember walking from their sorority house on Wadsworth Street to campus, in the freezing cold.
During a labor shortage in the early 1940s, they worked for a day at a canning factory by the Genesee River.
“We got 10 cents an hour that day,” Betlem remembered.
After graduation, both Siegel and Betlem taught primary school. Siegel taught for 32 years in Levittown, N.Y., and Betlem for taught for 40 years in Greece, N.Y. Betlem remembers her first job interview and it still makes her proud. “The principal hired me on the spot after I told him I was trained at Geneseo,” she said.
“When Joanne remembers Geneseo she smiles just like we do,” says MaryGrace Gleason said. “Even though there is almost 40 years’ difference between our ages, we all feel nostalgic and filled with gratitude toward a place that shaped us.”