Mount Mary’s sixties folk group shares an unbreakable bond
Posted on May 10, 2022
When Mount Mary’s Class of 1967 gathered five years ago for their 50th reunion, The Whispering Winds hadn’t planned to perform. But deep down, they knew they would.
They stepped into the hall of Alioto’s Restaurant for a quick rehearsal, then offered a few songs to their appreciative classmates.
“We couldn’t help it. It’s what we do and who we are.”Clara Schneider Locher
Mount Mary’s celebrated folk singers of the Class of ’67 burst into song whenever they are together just as they did as undergraduates. Even more than for their songs, the foursome is remembered for their enduring love.
In the 55 years since they graduated, Ellen Shreffler Ostrand (“Shreff”), Judi Thomas Gosenheimer, Pauline Tollenaere Petterson (“Paulie”) and Clara Schneider Locher celebrate each other’s babies and grandbabies, promotions and retirements. They comfort each other in tragedy and sickness, and join voices every opportunity they find.
Today they are scattered across the country. Shreff lives in Phoenix, Clara in a rural community in Kansas. Paulie in Oregon and Judi in northern Wisconsin. Their mentor, Miriam Cecile Ross, SSND, lives in Milwaukee.
Ross, an associate professor of music from 1960-1970, hopes this quartet will be remembered “for who they are, the way they give of themselves and support each other. Their bond, which began at Mount Mary, is just incredible,” she exclaimed.
In the hallowed halls
In 1965, Shreff bought a guitar. “When you play the guitar, it doesn’t take long for people to gather around you and sing,” she said. “The four of us clicked as voices and as friends. We sang off the cuff all the time.”
In stairwells and tunnels, music studios and dorms, “anywhere and everywhere, they broke into song,” Ross said. She critiqued them, but little else. “They were self-starters and did their own arrangements. Their sound was simple and pure.”
They performed the music of the day – Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, The Kingston Trio. “We did other songs just because they were beautiful, like ‘The Village of St. Bernadette.’” Shreff said.
Nearby Father James Groppi marched against racism and young men across America left for Vietnam. The Whispering Winds came to terms with the turbulent times through music, singing songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” that reflected the social consciousness of the time, she said.
Ross got the quartet gigs at churches, synagogues, Veteran’s Hospital, Wauwatosa Junior Women’s Club and the Greek Orthodox Church, where they sang “Silent Night” in Greek, German and English. They performed on WTMJ-TV and later thrilled at seeing the broadcast.
They sang at Mount Mary’s 1966 Mother-Daughter Tea and on graduation eve for their families.
Paulie’s boyfriend Tom, later her husband, recorded them on a big reel. In the 1980s, he transferred it to cassette tapes, giving each their first recording of their music.
Out in the world
Judi became a teacher, Shreff a dietitian, Clara and Paulie joined the military. Clara stayed in the Air Force. Paulie became an occupational therapist. They had families, 11 children between them. Over the years, they lived around the country and across the world.
During the busy years, they’d dash off Christmas cards, try to make the reunions and keep one another in their prayers. Now in retirement, “we can fan the flames of friendship we have always had,” Shreff said.
Will they sing when they gather in October at their 55th reunion?
Nothing is planned, but of course they will. “We can’t help it,” Clara said.
The four of us clicked as voices and as friends. We sang off the cuff all of the time.Ellen “Shreff” Shreffler Ostrand ’67