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The Enduring Friendship of the North End Gang

The Enduring Friendship of the North End Gang
Fifty-five years after meeting on Stribling’s north end hall, this lively group’s remarkable friendship has stood the test of time.

It was September 1957, and freshman Nelda Cook Perry ’61 had just said goodbye to her mother. As she settled into her new dorm room on the first floor of Stribling Hall, she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of loneliness. She put a vinyl record on her new Hi-Fi record player to help fill the silence.

Suddenly, in bounced an energetic blonde, who plopped herself down on the bed without hesitation.

“Hi my name is Gayla, and I’ll be living across the hall from you. I like your music! Can I stay and listen?”

Soon, other girls assigned to the north end of the dorm began arriving, and Gayla greeted them similarly. There was Gayla’s suitemate, Janie, a pretty girl with a sweet Mississippi drawl; Betty Sue with her infectious giggles; auburn-haired Ann from Memphis; Beverly, the comic relief; and sweet, quiet Enedina. Sophomores Joyce and Peggy introduced themselves to the new freshman, quickly taking the newcomers under their wings and showing them the ropes.

And with that, the North End Gang was born.

The group became inseparable, eating at the same table in the dining room and walking to church together each Sunday. The group was notorious for its pranks: from taping Betty Sue’s tooth brush to the ceiling, to piling all of Enedina’s furniture on her bed, to rolling shampoo bottles down the hall during Quiet Hour.

Most often, though, the girls found themselves congregated in Gayla’s room, sharing stories and dreams.

“Our gang meetings in Gayla’s room are among my favorite memories,” Beverly Ward Wood ’61 said. “We shared experiences of the day, made plans, teased each other good-naturedly, and poked fun at some of the college’s archaic traditions! It was like being with family. Everyone was heard and accepted.”
It was Beverly’s mother that christened the group of friends as the North End Gang. Responding to Beverly’s many accounts of the friends’ activities and escapades, her mother wrote a letter asking “What is that North End Gang up to now?”

“Since at that time we all lived on the north end of Stribling, we readily adopted that name,” Beverly said. “Before long we were known all over campus—even by the business office after we accidently broke out one of the glass panes in the north end door while running away from a group of angry sophomores during initiation. Thankfully, we only received a stern warning.”

To make their new name official, the girls fashioned a sign that read “Private for North End Gang Only” and hung it on one of the stall doors in Stribling’s community bathroom. Did the other girls living in the dorm take note?

“No,” laughed Betty Sue Craven Beebe ’61, “and we really didn’t intend them to. It was all just in fun. Our group was never exclusive—many girls from all over campus joined in on the fun, and we even had some campus boys as unofficial members. We just enjoyed being together.”

As the spring semester wrapped up and the girls prepared for a summer apart, each felt an unspoken anxiety as they wondered if the closeness they experienced that first year would remain in the years to come.

“As we packed to leave for the summer after our freshman year, Gayla initiated the Round Robin letter. We all participated, and returned our sophomore year still a close-knit gang,” Beverly said.

Over the next three years, a couple of the original nine left Mary Hardin-Baylor, while others moved off to other dorms on campus. New members, including Betty Sue’s new suitemate Sondra Attaway, and Gayla’s chemistry lab classmate Mary Winn, were added to the group. But the changes only revealed that the North End Gang had become more than just a collection of girls living on the north end of Stribling Hall—they were now lifelong friends no matter the proximity of their living quarters. As graduation neared, vows were made to keep in touch, but at the time, the North End Gang truly couldn’t comprehend just how long and deep their friendship would be in the years to come. The four years at Mary Hardin-Baylor College were just the beginning.

“Early on, we kept in touch through letters after graduation and perhaps an occasional phone call. Many of us came back for Charter Days,” Gayla Vardeman Corley ’61 remembers. “When I was in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia in the mid-1960s, a few of the girls gathered to make a cassette tape to send me. It was highlighted by the popping oil as they chatted over a fondue pot meal!”

In 1981, Gayla and her husband, Charles, became medical missionaries in Zimbabwe. Whenever they were home on furlough, the North End Gang would get together. In March of 1989, the group gathered in Abilene to plan a trip to visit Gayla in Zimbabwe. Although only three women were able to go, the entire group was involved in planning the trip, and each contributed medical supplies to send to Zimbabwe with the women. Beverly, Sondra, and Nelda spent two weeks with Gayla, traveling around Zimbabwe in a Datsun pickup truck.

“Poor Charles, he was a wonderful chauffeur and a guide even when managing this group of unique women,” Nelda said, remembering the trip. “Gayla booked many interesting places to visit in different areas of the country. We met other missionaries and visited two wildlife preserves. Everything we experienced was different from our own way of life. We came away humbled by the visit.”

The North End Gang has met annually since 1996 for trips to places as diverse as the Black Hills of South Dakota; Cloudcroft, New Mexico; and Lake Palestine, Texas. Most recently, the group traveled to Anderson, South Carolina, to visit the home of classmate Brena Bain Walker ’61, who, along with Carolyn Allison Owens ’61, was adopted into the group several years ago.

“The thing that that holds us together is, although we have been together so many years, we have never been exclusive,” Beverly said. “Anyone who wants to join us is totally welcomed and accepted. When life separates us for a time, no one is ever dropped. All effort is made to keep in touch.”

And now, more than 55 years since that fateful September day when the girls first arrived on the Mary Hardin-Baylor campus, the group continues to lean on each other for support, laughter, and the occasional bouts of silliness. Whether just down the hall, or continents apart, the North End Gang continues to experience life together.

“I wish for every student the friendships I found at Mary Hardin-Baylor,” Betty Sue said. “The relationships we have had with one another through the years have been closer than family. They were life-saving, at times, as we shared the bad times and the good times with each other. We have been together through all of life’s milestones.”

-Jennifer Meers Jones ’08



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