Nine of the Kappas gathered in September at the Town Club in Salt Lake City. Seated (left to right): Mimi Byrd Mortensen, Marie Barker Bennett, Jeanne Forrest Christensen, Virginia Isaacson Peterson, and Joyce Beck Barnes. Standing: Pat Warshaw Ferrin, Frances Johnson Darger, Jewel Johnson Cutler, and Kay Reynolds Patterson.

Sorority Sisters for Life These U Kappa Gammas have sustained meaningful connections for more than 65 years.

The simple act of getting together monthly has kept a remarkable group of women firmly bonded since the late 1940s. They first met as U “coeds” at the Kappa house at 33 South Wolcott, where they played a lot of bridge. As they married and their families grew, they began meeting in the evenings. Now in their late 80s and 90s, the remaining 11 members now meet once a month for lunch, where they share updates on their lives and often have the occasion to sing “Happy Birthday”—which they’ve now been doing for more than six decades.

Paige Paulsen Erickson BS’80, daughter of Kappa sister BJ Paulsen, who passed away in July, was fortunate enough to be a guest at a gathering last year. “Even though my mom had talked about her Kappa friends for years, I had no idea how extraordinary this group of women is. They come from all walks of life.”

Some are true pioneers, Erickson says, like Frances Johnson Darger BA’46, who played the violin in the Utah Symphony from the time she was 17 until she retired at 87. Darger’s sister, Jewel Johnson Cutler BA’48, who sang lead roles in U opera productions and was a longtime member of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, is also a member of the group. Virginia Isaacson Peterson BS’47 spent decades making outfits for members of the Tabernacle Choir and laughs as she relates how so many of the women fibbed about their dress size.

Then there is Pat Warshaw Ferrin BS’47, who always has a new report about her ever-popular husband Arnie, a former U and NBA basketball star who was also the U’s athletic director for nine years. Twins Marillyn Barker Johnson BA’47 and Marie Barker Bennett BA’47 MA’51 PhD’80 went on to earn graduate degrees at Yale, where one (Marillyn) studied English and the other (Marie) studied music. Erickson says that on the day she was there, “Marillyn read a poem she had written, and Marie invited the group to an opera she had recently composed that was produced last fall.”

Joyce Beck Barnes BS’48 earned a degree in management from the business school and went on to own The Inn at Mazatlan, a popular destination for many Salt Lakers. Others in the group include Kay Reynolds Patterson BA’47 MSW’69; Marian Cheney Baldwin BS’47; Jeanne Forrest Christensen BS’49; and Mimi Byrd Mortensen JD’47.

Some of the women have lost their spouses, but many are still married and serve as caretakers for loved ones. Not surprisingly, they take great pride in their families. Some were full-time moms, some worked full time outside the home, and some worked part time. Some are financially well off, while others are not. But no matter their paths, the bonds these women share are unbreakable. Their genuine affection for each other is palpable. And to boot, they’re still huge U sports fans. At a recent lunch in September, they were all aflutter, discussing the Utes’ latest football loss, some of them suggesting with good humor that they should coach the next game.

“Their friendship is founded on trust. They’ve been there for each other through the trials and tribulations life throws at all of us—and all the joy as well,” says Erickson. “The key is that they have experienced life together. They are an amazing and unique group of women who learned early on that bonds created in college and nurtured throughout their lives really do create honest-to-goodness lifelong friendships.”

Editor's note: Sadly, Marie Barker Bennett passed away Nov. 18, shortly after we went to press. Read an obituary here.

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