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Archivist documents life of St. Mary’s alum

Abigail Forney | Monday, January 23, 2012

Saint Mary’s students had a unique chance to learn about their school’s history from College archivist John Kovach on Monday.

Students gathered in the Student Center Lounge to hear Kovach speak while viewing images of past life at Saint Mary’s College. 

Photos of old uniforms and boating events on Lake Marian populated the collection.

The panels of pictures, stories and poems in the exhibit centered on the life of a 1916 alumna, Dympna Balbach. During his lecture, Kovach described the life of Balbach through the photographs.

“These photos tell a very interesting story about a woman that was always very close to Saint Mary’s,” Kovach said.

Balbach attended Saint Mary’s to receive both her high school and college education, majoring in music. She had neither a career nor a husband after graduation.

For a consecutive 55 years after her graduation, Balbach attended every year’s class reunion, meeting with up old friends and visiting the campus. Because she came to campus so often, the archives had several photos of Balbach and her friends throughout the years.

Three days after the 1972 reunion, Balbach died at Saint Joseph Hospital in South Bend. Her will was discovered and she had left her entire estate, valued at more than $1 million, to Saint Mary’s.

Balbach’s contribution was the College’s first donation over $1 million.

The stories of other alumnae can also be found in Saint Mary’s archives. One 1877 graduate went on to not only perform in Le Opera, but to also become a very influential opera columnist in a Chicago paper.

Another graduate became an independent nurse during World War I, and afterward traveled to Algeria, Kovach said.

“I’m continually finding new and interesting things,” Kovach said.

This exploration of Saint Mary’s history was made possible by the Student Government Association as part of Heritage Week. Other Heritage Week events include the Riedinger Tea, the Heritage Dinner, a scavenger hunt and S’mores with Sisters.