101-year-old alumna celebrates 80th reunion

At 101 years old, Lenore (Van Gundia) Costello was the oldest graduate at Alumni Weekend this year and the lone representative of her Class of 1938 to celebrate their 80th reunion. It truly was a memorable day for Lenore and the nearly 600 alumni who returned to campus for to celebrate “One for the Books.”

Although she spent much of her life in Florida, Lenore was born and raised on a farm in Sycamore. She recalls how she landed at Heidelberg back in 1934. “I took tests at different colleges and I got a little scholarship in biology from Heidelberg,” she said. “I decided I was going to use the scholarship and I’d find my way through college.”

Three of Lenore’s four sisters attended Heidelberg, and two of them, Billie Kuenzli, ’45, and Jane Barton, ’68, also graduated. She was accompanied to Alumni Weekend by her niece, Beth Barton, ’65, and her nephew, Glen Kuenzli. “We really are a Heidelberg family,” Beth said.

Growing up in the Depression era, Lenore remembers working her way through college washing dishes at France Residence Hall. “I did everything I could to earn my room and board in France,” she said.

With a major in sociology and minors in biology and history, Lenore was hired by noted history professor Martin Walker Smith to be his student assistant. She helped him grade papers, scan and clip newspapers for articles about antiques and hire housekeepers. “He came to my wedding. After 80 years, I still have my graduation gift from him and the wedding gift,” she said.

In addition to her jobs on campus, Lenore also worked at Woolworth’s on Saturday for starting pay of 11 cents per hour. “But I got that up to 27 cents,” she said. “That was enough to buy my books.”

She also landed a job with the Seneca County chapter of the American Red Cross through the National Youth Association program her sophomore year, later becoming the executive director for the Wyandot County and Richland County chapters. “I was working when World War II broke out and the whole emphasis of the Red Cross changed overnight,” said Lenore. “It went from disaster relief to an all-out war effort.”

Lenore spent the majority of her career as an executive with the Girl Scouts, starting with a small, six-town council of 650 girls to a much larger seven-county region in central Florida, with oversight for 9,000 girls “and a very big staff.”

She may be a centenarian, but Lenore’s mind and memory are sharp and her smile bright. Her secret to longevity, she said, is staying active. At age 97, she went on a church mission trip to Puerto Rico. For her 100th birthday, she went canoeing. “I couldn’t believe I had the strength to paddle for two hours without stopping, but I did,” she said. For her 101st birthday, she took a trip to Switzerland.

Today, Lenore enjoys reading, knitting hats, playing Scrabble, watching the Tampa Bay Rays and Duke basketball – “I don’t know how I got hooked, but I really like Coach K” – along with along with TV game shows.

Her advice for a long, healthy life: “Every day, get up and find something to do,” she said. “Just never stop.”

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