Roommates at 18; friends celebrating at 80

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Kay Hansen, JoAnne Elmer, Betty Moody, Joan Davenport, Dorene Sheldon, and Sharon Senecal at Depoe Bay, Oregon on September 27, 2016.
Kay Hansen, JoAnne Elmer, Betty Moody, Joan Davenport, Dorene Sheldon, and Sharon Senecal show off their matching sweatshirts at Depoe Bay, Oregon. (JoAnne Elmer)

Six former BYU roommates proved that graduation doesn’t have to be the end of their adventures when they had a special reunion to celebrate their 80th birthdays last month.

Kay Hansen, Joan Davenport, Betty Moody, JoAnne Elmer, Dorene Sheldon and Sharon Senecal lived together in Heritage Halls during the ’50s. From Sept. 26-30, these six women vacationed together in Lincoln Beach, Oregon.

Senecal, who did a majority of the planning, said this was an event they had hoped to do for years. In the past they had gotten together for an evening or a lunch hour. They once stayed at someone’s house for a couple days and they toured BYU in 2010 before their old dorm was demolished, but this Oregon trip was their biggest reunion yet.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, it’s 2016 — this is the year!'” Senecal said.

Senecal considered several different options for their trip including a cruise, a train trip from Los Angeles to Seattle or a visit to St. George. All six women discussed their budgets and voted on options, but Senecal said they all agreed on one thing.

“Every option always had to include that we were close enough to a temple, because that is something we all wanted to do at the beginning or end of the trip,” Senecal said.

The former roommates eventually decided on Oregon. Senecal and Sheldon found a cottage overlooking the ocean and then planned a trip to the Portland Temple.

Senecal said she enjoyed the temple experience with her five friends.

“It was nice to see all six of us dressed in white, and being able to be there in the temple together was a special time,” Senecal said.

The six roommates ended their trip with a visit to the Portland temple on the night of Sept. 29, 2016.
The six roommates ended their trip with a visit to the Portland temple on the night of Sept. 29, 2016. (Sharon Senecal)

Two roommates brought everyone royal blue sweaters that said, “Never Underestimate An Old Woman Who Graduated From BYU.” They wore these sweatshirts constantly, Senecal said, almost like a uniform for the vacation.

“Everywhere we went, people wanted to know if this was the BYU in Provo, Utah, and what did it stand for,” Senecal said. “People were constantly asking us about the school.”

They spent much of their vacation time just hanging out and sharing stories of their kids and personal experiences, Senecal said.

“We had a beautiful front room, and we all just sat and told stories, sang, and just enjoyed ourselves,” Senecal said. “Being together was just a terrific thing.”

Elmer said they toured around a bit, visited the seals, ate out and reminisced.

“We stayed around and chatted a lot,” Elmer said. “We brought up memories like, ‘Do you remember when we did this and when we did that?'”

Elmer said the roommates bonded at BYU over a simple love of having fun. Three of the roommates — Sheldon, Hansen, and Senecal — sang as a trio for the BYU Program Bureau. Their director Janie Thompson nicknamed them the Gay Notes because they were always happy.

Everyone except Elmer eventually moved out of Utah after their time at BYU, but they kept in touch through letters, phone calls and emails. Today, four of them live in Utah, with one in Washington and one in California.

Moody said they’ve always been there for each other, even though they’ve had busy schedules and health issues.

Current BYU students should unplug from technology for a bit and support their roommates, especially since everyone is going through similar experiences in college, according to Moody.

“Get to know each other one on one, laugh and enjoy life so you don’t miss out,” Moody said.  

Elmer also gave advice to current students.

“Be patient, be kind, be understanding and keep in touch,” Elmer said. “Now with technology, you have text or email. Keep in touch when you graduate, and don’t just say you’re going to do it. Do it!”

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