Three generations of Jumbos reflect on their time at Tufts
Sara Willner-Giwerc, E18, EG22, Gail Willner-Giwerc, A86, and Linda Willner, J62 have more than a last name in common. As graduates of Tufts University, the women share a legacy of learning—and teaching—that spans three generations.
In honor of Mother's Day, we asked the 81-year-old matriarch, along with her daughter and granddaughter, to reflect on their days at Tufts. In the following audio story, the women share memories of campus life across the decades and discuss the impact of this shared experience on their lives, careers, and family.
Tufts Now: Today we hear from 81-year-old Linda Zimmerman Willner, her daughter Gail, and her granddaughter, Sara. The three women sat down recently to reflect on their time at Tufts and share memories of campus life, then and now.
Sara Willner-Giwerc: I'm Sara Willner-Giwerc, and I graduated from Tufts University School of Engineering in 2018, and then again in 2022.
Gail Willner-Giwerc: Hi, I'm Gail Wilner-Giwerc, and I graduated from Tufts University School of [Arts & Sciences] in 1986.
Linda Zimmerman Willner: I'm Linda Zimmerman Willner. I graduated from Jackson College in Tufts University in June of 1962.
Sara: One of the most important things in our family is food. And one of the things that I remember most from my time at Tufts University is my dining hall experience and what it was like freshman year to be so excited to eat in the dining hall. I was wondering, Nana, if you could share what your dining hall experience was like when you went to Tufts?
Linda: I was living at 21 Fairmont and the dining hall for females was at Hodgdon Hall. The winters get a little cold up there and we needed to wear skirts to dinner each evening, so the people in my little dorm petitioned and asked if we could eat at Carmichael, which was much closer, or if we couldn't eat at Carmichael, could we wear pants to dinner? And the answer for both questions was no, so we trudged to Hodgdon every night and froze.
Sara: And what was the food like?
Linda: Um…interesting. I don't really remember that much. I just remember when I went to visit Tufts, and my cousins were at Tufts, and they thought it would be fun if we ate at Carmichael. I remember lunch was chipped beef on toast, and we did not stay at Carmichael for lunch.
Gail: And mom, I remember you talking about meatloaf also, and that the meatloaf in college was not your favorite either.
Linda: I had many meals of…cold cereal and milk. They didn't have salad bars in those days. They didn't have choices in those days. It was very, very different.
Sara: What about for you mom?
Gail: It was much more similar to when you went. There were tons of choices when I was at Tufts. The big thing was tofu. Tofu was a relatively new product at the time, and so that was like a big thing in the salad bar. And, you know, everyone was trying to eat as much tofu as they could eat, and I just couldn't get a taste for it. Let's just put it that way. The biggest thing I remember about the dining hall was the amount of tofu that was available.
Sara: That's funny. I thought a lot about both of your experiences every time I ate, especially when I lived in Carmichael. I would think about that all the time, that I got to eat in Carm in my dirty sweatpants after softball practice, and you had to be dressed up and wearing skirts and the food wasn't nearly as good. And mom, I never touched the tofu the whole time I was at Tufts.
Linda: And they would never let the females dine with the males in Carmichael.
Gail: Oh, wow. That’s right. When I went, people went in their pajamas. Sunday morning brunch, there were just as many people in clothes as there were in pajamas. I can't imagine, mom, that being the case for you.
Linda: No, we were lucky if we could wear pants!
Sara: Another fun similarity that I think we all had was the places we lived on campus. My freshman year I lived in Houston Hall, and mom, I know you lived there. What was it like when you were living there?
Gail: The exact same as when you were living there. I mean, nothing changed. The furniture was the same, but the one thing that was different is that when I lived there, men and women lived on the same hall, but they had separate bathrooms, like a whole section that was [for] men and then a whole section that was [for]women on the same hallway. But I think for you, it was much more random in the bathrooms were even co-ed, correct?
Sara: Some of them, yeah. I love that you came to visit me my freshman year. You walked into my dorm room and said, “It looks exactly like when I went here!” The other thing you commented on, Nana, when you visited me that year was how Olin, the building that like sort of breaks up the res quad and the academic quad was constructed well after you went there, and I remember walking around with you and you were like, “It feels so small. It feels so small. I thought there were more buildings.” And then we got over to the academic quad and you were like, “Oh, this building wasn't here.” I was wondering what other buildings and changes you've noticed from when you went there?
Linda: You know, I can't even remember. I mean, the bookstore was across from Ballou Hall, and now the bookstore is down campus someplace. Bush was out there by itself next to Hodgdon, but there was nothing else down there. The chem building was there and the arena theater and Jackson Gym. Aside from that row, anything behind that was the old golf course. That was just empty.
Sara: And what about you, mom? Because you've seen a big transition too.
Gail: Yeah. I mean, Olin wasn't there when I was there even. That's a very new building. The campus center was there when I was there. It was brand new. I was part of the Leonard Carmichael Society, and we were the first ones to have our office in that building, which was really exciting.
The biggest difference that I notice is all the engineering buildings and things like that that were just recently put up. That was a huge change from when I was there. And some of the fields, like the baseball field… I don’t remember it looking like that when I was there. The softball field, we know it was redone and is new. So those are some of the things that certainly come to mind to me.
Linda: When I went to school, telephone calls were very expensive, so we didn't speak to our parents until after nine or ten o'clock at night, when the rates went down. We would signal and let it ring once or twice or whatever, and then your parents would know to call you back because it would be cheaper than trying to put all the money into a payphone.
Gail: And there wasn't a lot of privacy when you made those phone calls either, you know.
Linda: Oh, I should say that we had a curfew in women's dorms. I think it was nine o'clock during the week and 10 o'clock on weekends. And, of course, men weren't allowed anywhere above the lounge on the first floor.
Sara: Nana, you lived at 21 Fairmont, and the house that a lot of the softball team lived in was 20 Fairmont. So every time I would go to something at the softball house, I would think back to how you trudged up and down that hill a whole bunch of times just like I did in the ice and snow. What was it like at 21 Fairmont?
Linda: It was nice. We had a wonderful house mother, Fran Carr, who taught at BSOT. We were all very, very new and very green, and it was fine. I met my friend Sue Fritz Michaelman, and we've been friends ever since. I just spoke to her last week, and you've met her and her children. That was a wonderful relationship. It was a wonderful experience. It really was. Being able to go away to college and not stay in the state of New Jersey… that my parents were able to allow me to do that was a true gift.
Sara: I think one of the biggest gifts that I got through my time at Tufts was the friendships that I built. I sort of learned that from you, Nana, and from you, mom, because you made some of your best friends at Tufts too.
Gail: I did. And you've sort of grown up with them. I mean, they visited us; you visited them. So not only did I make lifelong friends, but their kids went to Tufts and you guys got to know each other there as well, which was a really nice connection.
Linda: We sort of kept it in the family. And as I said, my cousins were there before me. We have the elephant, they gave me as a little souvenir before I ever went to Tufts and I passed it on to Sarah.
Sara: It's on my nightstand at home. I think that's a pretty special thing, that not only is it a place where people themselves go and enjoy, but then want to send their kids and their grandchildren, and then we all meet again.
Gail: And it's a place people like to visit. I mean, even when we would come to Boston to see our friends, we would want to meet on campus and walk around or go to a game or something like that. It's a place people want to come back to.
Sara: I wanted to ask you all about what you packed for your freshman year? Because one of my favorite memories from my packing/moving in process was we had the whole car packed. Dad had Tetris-ed it all, and the last thing to go was my catcher’s bag for softball. I was adamant that I could not go to Tufts without my catcher’s bag. I'm sure, Nana, that's not exactly what was on your mind when you were trying to move to Tufts. What kinds of things did you pack, and what did you have to leave behind?
Linda: When I went to Tufts, basically we shipped all our clothes in a trunk. It was Railway Express, and you had to have a trunk packed and secured, and they came to the door and picked it up and loaded it on a truck. Then they sent it to your dorm and somehow you had to figure out how to get it from the first floor of the dorm up to your room. I was on the third floor, and my parents were not able to help me with that. It was a big black trunk. I still have it in my attic. Then when you came home, the trunk went back home and took all your stuff back home. You didn't take that much in the car. I guess we packed efficiently.
Sara: What about you, mom? What did you bring with you for your freshman year?
Gail: You know, I moved a lot in high school, so I didn't have a core group of friends to sort of bounce ideas about, “What are you bringing?” So my mom helped me pick things that she brought. I packed wool skirts and slacks and pumps and all these things because she said that's what you have to wear. And then I got there, and it was just like high school. People wore jeans and sneakers, and all of a sudden, I definitely did not fit in. But we brought way more than just clothes. It was bedding and like, you know, shoe things, and things to store things in, and desk supplies. We packed it, and we brought it all.
Linda: In my day, we didn't bring linens because there was Gordon Linen Service. You had linens changed every week. I hadn't thought about it until you said that, but it was very different. You brought your clothes, of course. But I remember once I met my roommates, we went out and bought bedspreads and, you know, things for the room. Not to the extent where you bring all the electrical things that you bring now and, of course, we didn't have computers or any of that stuff. It was much more minimal, I guess.
Gail: Sara, was it traumatic packing up? I think t-shirts were the hardest thing for you, right? And sweatshirts, which ones to bring, which ones to leave behind?
Sara: Yeah, definitely. Was it all going to fit in the car? And was it all going to fit in the room and all of that stuff? Mostly, it was leaving home. I remember talking about it on that drive, and you saying, “Just imagine doing this process with Nana and Aunt Nancy and what that was like.” It's pretty cool that we got to each generation experience [that] with its unique set of challenges.
Gail: Right. And mom, you didn't get to do it the typical way with your parents either. Your parents weren't able to bring you in a typical way.
Linda: No, my father had been ill and so he couldn't do anything. And that's why my cousins who were at The Medical School at the time came over and helped me move in.
Sara: We had the, uh, the Willard college moving bins. We had the set of navy blue plastic bins. And not only did me, my younger brother Max, and my older sister Molly, all move in and out of college with them. But then we moved half the softball team over the course of my time at Tufts. The Willard moving bins were everywhere!
Gail: We schlep it. It's all good.
Sara: Yeah, exactly.
Sara: I was wondering if either of you had a favorite class from your time at Tufts that you remember that still stands out?
Gail: I definitely do. I had two that stand out: Yid Lit with Sol Gittleman. He was amazing and I feel so lucky that I was able to take that course with him. I didn't get to take a lot of electives because I wanted to get my certifications in both general ed and special education, but that was one that stands out. And in my major, there was a curriculum lab at the Eliot Pearson School, and I loved it. Like that's where I learned how to make goop and all kinds of hands-on things. So those are the two that stand out for me. How about you, mom?
Linda: Well, I think it would be professors who stood out for me because I really can't remember the courses. It was a long time ago. Professor Manley, who was the chair of the economics department was a very special, lovely gentleman. And then there was Daniel Ounjian, who was very young when he came to the department, and that was exciting. That's what I remember about the department, and how few women were in economics at that time.
Sara: You were one of three women that graduated in your class to major in economics?
Linda: I think you may be right, but I don't remember.
Gail: Sara, your experience was so different than ours, though.
Sara: Right. I was at the School of Engineering, and I think when I was going through undergrad, it was more of a 70/30 gender split—70 percent male and 30 percent women—but I just saw it grow every year. One of my favorite classes was Tech Tools for Learning with Marina Bers, which sort of blended engineering and education. I was so pumped to take that course because it was at the Eliot Pearson Children's School. I remember calling you, mom, and saying, “I finally get to go there. I finally get to take a course here.” And it was also one of my favorite courses because we got to work with the students and actually design real curriculum that we were going to implement. I think it's funny that even though we had super different majors, we sort of wound up still really liking the same course many years apart.
Linda: We share so much together with our having had the same educational opportunity at Tufts, and we've all done different things with it, but it has helped each of us and formed each of us in different ways.