First in Friendship
You won't find it on any college ranking, but Dominican University is “#1 in Friendship.” And it has become a near-ubiquitous tagline around campus.
Students proudly profess it and many don apparel sporting the now-signature phrase. There’s even a chance you may find a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister wearing their own piece of #1 in Friendship swag, which was personally delivered to the Mound.
It is the legacy of relationship-centered support and compassion for all students set out by the Sisters that is the driving force behind generations of friendships, and now, a new motto to embrace that history.
“You’ll never meet a Sister at Dominican who doesn’t want to learn about you, be your friend and invest in you,” said Lupe Tiscareño ’18, MSW ’22, who first coined the sentiment during the summer of 2021.
“And to me, that’s what friendship is about,” she added. “I think the Sisters really brought out this mission of relationship-centered work and Caritas and Veritas, and how that translates to first-year college students is the meaning behind #1 in Friendship.”
Lupe, who is now the assistant director of academic advising as well as an adjunct instructor in the Rosary College of Arts and Sciences, began promulgating the catchphrase alongside colleague Mimi Pena ’21 as orientation leaders guided incoming students around campus.
The tagline, which originated as a play on the university’s prominent position in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings, quickly caught on—and students began fully embracing the message and passing it among themselves all throughout the summer.
“Every time one of the torch leaders went out of their way to help a student, or show kindness, we would always hear Lupe say, ‘That’s very #1 in Friendship of you,’” Sheila Dumaraog ’23, a 2021 orientation leader, recalled. “Lupe would say that often and it then transferred over onto us and shortly after we started hearing other students saying it to each other as well.”
Dominican has long been a place where meaningful friendships are formed. Here are just a few stories of these enduring bonds.
A lifetime of laughter
They call themselves “Grannies Gone Wild.”
They’re members of Rosary College’s Class of 1965, and their group is just as tight-knit as it was back when they gathered around tables in the Lewis Hall Grill or joined bridge games in the lounge.
“We just love being with each other,” says Barbara Tucker Philipps. Friend and classmate Donna Mathieu Kerns calls Barbara the “glue” that has held the core group of 10 friends together over time and distance—even while living 1,700 miles away from most of them.
“Of course, since we’ve been doing it for so many years, the depth of our love and understanding is really deep,” Barbara added. “Sixty years is a long time to be friends.”
The friends came together at Rosary through local connections: All knew someone in the group from high school or earlier.
“The sense of community that Rosary fostered during our generation really solidified these friendships,” Barbara noted.
“I think it’s because we shared the same values and experiences when we were younger and, somehow, that has carried us through,” Donna said. “There’s just a commonality we have, being from the same school.”
In the early days after graduation, the friends started a tradition called Girls Night Out to “stick together,” Donna said. Postcards with a date, time and location would go out on a regular basis.
“In one form or another, we’re still going—except now we’re texting one another!” Donna said.
Through the years there have also been trips and celebrations around the country, from Lake Geneva to Las Vegas, from Barbara’s home in Arizona to a friend’s winter condo in Florida (where the friends walked around wearing Groucho Marx glasses and mustaches). During one stay in Galena, Illinois, Barbara taught everyone how to text.
Since their 50th birthdays, they have been gathering to celebrate milestone birthdays and, of course, notable Rosary College reunion years.
“We share our lives and our experiences, but mostly we just laugh and drink wine and eat. What else is there?” Barbara quipped.
“We’re always laughing—I’m not sure sometimes what we are even laughing at, but we laugh a lot!” Donna added.
Barbara’s recommendation to friends just starting their life journey together? Designate a historian who will keep track of all your trips and gatherings.
“We can’t remember what year we went where,” Barbara said, laughing. “It’s ridiculous!”
‘Our friends from our college days, they are forever’
When members of the Class of 1975 began marking their platinum jubilee birthdays this year, there was only one way to commemorate the occasion.
“Ten of us were on a Zoom call in February when one of the girls said, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re all turning 70,’” recalled Kate Coulihan Ficke. “She said, ‘Think about how far we’ve come and learned in all these years and have to share with each other. Why don’t we have a party?’”
Kate and Marianne Daniels Hansel got to work, securing Dominican’s Cusack Board Room for party central. The Sapphire-Platinum Birthday Bash, held in August, drew 26 classmates.
For about a dozen of them, though, the birthday/reunion was just a continuation of gatherings that have been a part of their lives since their Rosary College days. Shortly after graduation, various members of the friend group began meeting for brunch.
When the pandemic hit, they shifted to Zoom—and picked up additional classmates from outside the Chicago area.
“One Zoom call had people from eight different states, which you can’t do at brunch every month,” Kate noted.
Kate, a transplant from Queens, New York, found a second family away from home when she was introduced to Deb Wielgot Schmalholz during freshman orientation at Rosary. Kate’s New York accent, which stood out among the Illinois-born crowd, earned her the nickname “Katie from Queens”—courtesy of Terry Jirasek, who introduced the pair.
“Deb thought I talked funny,” Kate said, laughing. “She thought I was unique, different; she was curious about what it was like to grow up in New York and be an only child. She adopted me!”
Knowing her new friend was alone on weekends, Deb, one of six children, invited Kate home.
Holidays with the family followed. Afternoons of making Christmas cookies and decorating Easter eggs in the Wielgots’ kitchen stand out in Kate’s mind. Deb remembers her friend jumping into snowmobiling and tobogganing with the family—even wearing her mother’s snowmobiling suit.
“She’s always been very wonderful and loving back to my family,” Deb said.
Marianne is the unofficial historian and organizer of the ’75 friends. In a blue-wheeled suitcase, she carries 50 years of photographs, clippings and memories of Rosary College life and the time that followed.
Photos show Hansel and friends sitting outside the old science building, decorating the Social Hall for Christmas with original ornaments they made, standing around the Lincoln bust west of Lewis Hall, and gathered by the ginkgo tree in the open field where Parmer Hall now stands.
For Marianne, a party at the house of Judy Hansel’s parents would lead to a new relationship between the friends: sister-in-laws.
“Judy had her brother cooking and I said, ‘There is this guy in the kitchen who cooks. I have to go in and meet him,’” Marianne recalled.
Of course, vacations to near and far-flung places have been the tradition for the friends, but even the shorter meals and virtual catch-ups are meaningful, Marianne says.
“It always brings me a lot of happiness that we can still meet for an hour or two and just refresh our friendship again,” she said.
“Our friends from our college days, they are forever.”
Friendship in France
For Korin Heinz ’89, a year of study in Strasbourg, France set the foundation for a lasting transatlantic friendship.
Korin was among the first Rosary College students to enroll in the Rosary in Strasbourg study abroad program when it originated in 1987. While immersing herself in French culture and language, she formed a bond with Birgitt, a local woman in her twenties hired by Rosary College to tutor students in French, and Didier, Birgitt’s husband.
“They would throw birthday parties for us in their house,” Korin recalled. “They also attended the Christmas party that Sr. Nona Mary (Allard, OP) put together. They would take us for walks and to interesting parts of Strasbourg that weren’t among the tourist spots—like the forest where we saw World War I bunkers that were still there.”
There were also days spent watching Birgitt bake and share stories of her native Vienna, Austria. And, of course, there was tutoring in French.
“Birgitt and I worked together on French a lot,” Korin recalled. “Talking with her just got me speaking it. It was the first time I started speaking French without thinking about it.”
Today, the language is a part of Korin's identity: she's a French teacher at Fenwick High School in Oak Park.
Korin kept in touch with Birgitt and Didier after she returned to the United States. In 2022, all three reunited in Belgium — a decade or so after their last meeting.
Korin has also maintained friendships with several Rosary classmates who still live in the Chicago area, including Laura Brown Schmuck, who studied with Korin in Strasbourg and, like her, teaches high school French.
“I feel really blessed to have gone to Rosary and the friendships I made there I still have today,” Korin said. “It really enriched my life for the past 30-some years …. It’s a real gift and I’m very grateful.”
Building bonds—on and off the court
A group of 18 near-strangers arrived on campus in the Fall of 2013 with the goal of achieving success on the volleyball court. But many departed years later with far more than a record-setting number of athletics triumphs.
The members of Dominican’s first NCAA men’s volleyball team scored friendships they hold dear to this day.
“When we got here, we were 18 people who kind of knew just each other and no one else, so we all glommed together pretty quickly,” said David DeMarco ’18, a member of the inaugural team. “As the years progressed, that relationship and that bond among us all just continued to grow—not only within the bounds of Dominican, but after we graduated as well.”
After graduation, many moved to similar areas in Chicago, an opportunity that David said extended the “feel of college into adulthood and into the working world, which only nurtured our bond further.”
David keeps in regular, and often daily, contact with many of his former teammates—despite their life circumstances beginning to shift. There’s still a bustling group chat with the likes of Alex Coyne ’17, Charlie Spry ’17, Brooks Nevrly ’17, Zachery Sinn ’17, MAEd ’19, Nick Timreck ’18, and many others from the inaugural NCAA team.
David’s fiancée even jokes that he talks to Alex more frequently than her. Several former Stars joined David as groomsmen for the 2023 wedding of Alex Coyne and Christina Wilson ’16 from the women's volleyball team. And it’s not the first time the teammates have been part of each other’s bridal parties.
The group still holds a yearly Friendsgiving tradition where dozens of Stars alumnae/i gather together and reminisce about the unforgettable memories they made at Dominican.
“The relationships and friendships that I made and had throughout Dominican and into my adult life have really been one of the most impactful things in my life to this day,” David said. “To say these friendships are a big part of my life would be an understatement for sure.”
Friendship through leadership
The story of modern friendship at Dominican University cannot be told without highlighting the group of orientation leaders from the summer of 2021.
Many of the 24 students who were a part of that group entered college at quite possibly the hardest time in history to form friendships: the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like students around the world, they felt the challenges of connecting when social distancing was encouraged and in-person interactions were few.
But, as torch leaders in student orientation, their united willingness to help lead the next generation of Stars changed all of that.
“We started out as a group of random people who were put together for a summer to work with incoming students on campus,” Kiara Valenzuela said. “It started with us being shy toward each other, but by (the end of the summer) we were like glue.”
“We always hung out with each other, we would have big sleepovers, trips to Six Flags, go bowling, and have breakfast, lunch and dinner together. We were all together nearly 24-7,” Kiara added, referencing a tight-knit group of Sheila Dumaraog ’23, Laura Espinosa, Lesly Salguero, Manny Salgado ’23, Maria Martinez ’22 and Pawel Kawa ’23.
Kiara and Sheila even got to share the time-honored tradition of the university’s Candle and Rose ceremony, an experience both felt served to highlight the close bond they had formed.
“I see her as my best friend and I probably wouldn't be the person I am today if I never met her,” Kiara said. “I truly think she is one of a kind and she definitely makes me stand out as a better person. She brings out 100 % of me all the time. She’s my rock.”
Traveling over 10,000 miles to attend college undoubtedly brings with it some uncertainty. So, Sheila, a native of Guam, had her questions about Dominican before she arrived. But she remembers the moment it became crystal clear that this was the place for her.
“When I was sitting in the Martin Recital Hall during (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration), I still remember hearing about the community at Dominican, and it was at that moment that I knew I was in the right place,” she said.
For Sheila, the relationships and bonds she formed while here made those statements a reality. She remembers her friends being right by her side while she struggled to determine her path after graduation. The unwavering support offered to her. And, of course, being able to cherish every step of her journey alongside them.
“I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Sheila said of her decision to come to Dominican. “I would be a totally different person. I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for that moment.”
Dana Luczak first met Morgan Lanton ’23 in her on-campus role as a resident assistant. The pair quickly connected, beginning the start of a close-knit friendship that both still cherish greatly. Together in their campus leadership roles, they helped spread the #1 in Friendship tagline—and even made special apparel, including sweatshirts.
Although Morgan has since graduated from Dominican, she and Dana, who’s now a senior marketing major, still uphold the close friendship they started here.
“To this day, Dana and I are besties who give back whenever we can to the Dominican community and even just celebrated our friendaversary,” Morgan said. “Number one in friendship is more than a tagline in the air at Dominican— it's the willingness to help anyone in need because everyone needs a friend and Dominican is where we can be one.”