Every February around Valentine’s Day, Kathie Ervin and her former Gamma Phi Beta sorority sisters from the Class of 1956 at the previous Iowa State College have exchanged letters in a round-robin format that has lasted for 63 years. This longtime correspondence did not go unnoticed as the Wall Street Journal caught wind and published a piece on this remarkable sisterhood.
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” Ervin said. “One of my sisters sent some of our letters to a younger friend, who contacted the Wall Street Journal to see if they would be interested in doing a story. She thought it was an interesting story that we had kept in touch for 63 years.”
The story sparked interest from NBC’s TODAY Show. Originally, this piece started as an interview at their former sorority house in Ames. Seven sisters, including Ervin, were present for interviews. However, Ervin wasn’t immediately aware the TODAY Show wished to fly all the ladies out to New York, along with a companion, for a Thursday feature on the program. Ervin and the sisters were given hotel accommodations and reunited.
“My children still comment about how excited I’d be when the packet would come with letters once a year,” Ervin said. “I’d always sit right down and read these. It’s like hearing from family. Some I’m in close touch, but to hear from every one of them was so exciting. We’ve always felt it was invaluable to keep in touch and have even reunited in Ames for our 25th and 50th class reunions, plus other reunions in Scottsdale, AZ, Lexington, KY and even Des Moines.”
The ladies were driven to the studio, where breakfast awaited them in the green room for the show. Questions were “spontaneous” and the ladies were unaware of what they would be asked beforehand. After the show, they were taken to an Italian restaurant for lunch with active sorority members.
“It was exhilarating to see my sisters again and to know people thought this was of interest,” Ervin said. “I was not nervous about it at all for some reason. They made us feel very comfortable. “It was a very wonderful experience and gave a validation of our interests in each other.”
According to Ervin, their class originally consisted of 19 members who lived with one another for three years and became close as they “experienced the same stage of life together.” There is no particular reason for sending letters around Valentine’s Day except for the fact that’s when they first started 63 years ago as a way to keep in contact. 11 members, Ervin included, still participated in the letter round-robin to this day.
“I’ve had a lot of people comment about this to me since I’ve been home and they all thought it was an excellent production,” Ervin said. “I think they believe this is all remarkable over such a long period of time. We didn’t think so and took it for granted.”
During this whole experience, Ervin and her classmates also spent time with active members of the sorority, who took a “deep interest” in their letters and keeping in touch for so many years.
“One thing that is completely different from then and now is writing,” Ervin said. “Today, everyone texts and emails. These letters are a lasting thing. I have packets of letters from as far back as 2004. One of the girls has kept letters from even later. I recommend young people do it today. Some of the girls at the sorority house now are very interested in doing the same.”
Ervin graduated from Iowa State College in the same year as her husband, Keith, and later settled in Philadelphia before eventually moving to Keith’s hometown of Vinton. They have owned and managed Ervin Motor ever since.