Centenarian Reflects on the Lessons She Learned at Mount Holyoke

Fay Kleiman Poles ’39: Powered by Mount Holyoke College

Photos courtesy of Barbara Goldsher

“I thank Mount Holyoke for what I have become,” says Fay Kleiman Poles ’39. “They gave me a love for learning that I still have today.”

Fay first arrived on campus in 1936, during the Great Depression. She was inspired to major in English after taking Latin during high school. “I was always interested in and appreciated the written word and the commonality between different languages,” she says. “Libraries were always a very important part of my life.”

Fay Kleiman Poles ’39 on campus as a student

Fay Kleiman Poles ’39 on campus as a student

Fay remembers the beauty of campus in the late 1930s, the sound of the chimes coming from Mary Lyon Hall as she walked to class, and the wonderful community of people that surrounded her, including some of her favorite professors. “I recall one of my professors was Scottish, and she would read aloud works from English poets,” she says. “And one of my French professors drove me and a few classmates to New York City to see the play French Connection. It made me so happy to see a play in the city.”

Like many alumnae who attended college during the depression, Fay wasn’t sure quite where she would land after graduation. But she was lucky to get a job as a social worker for her home state of Connecticut, a job she enjoyed. Soon after, at a local mixer—a popular social event of the time—Fay, who describes herself as being “a very shy girl with red blonde hair, a color unusual for the time,” met her husband, Seymour, who passed away ten years ago.

Fay describes their life together as a “marvelous love affair.”

The couple raised their two children, and Fay passed on her love for knowledge and lifelong learning—instilled in her during her years at Mount Holyoke—to her children. That love continues to thrive in her grandchildren, who have traveled all over the world and are active in their own communities. Fay proudly boasts that a grandson is in law school and that her nieces and nephews are doctors, dentists, and a vice principal for a school in Brooklyn. “Education is part of my heritage, and my family has honored that beautifully,” she says.

While deteriorating eyesight makes it hard for Fay to read print and to visit the library as often as she used to, she is happy to share that she still has a “pretty good vocabulary” and is able to communicate proficiently with her fellow residents at The Grace House in Windham, New Hampshire, many of whom have disabilities that make communication difficult.

“I do feel that reading books is key,” she says. “Have an open mind. That should get you places.”

—By Jess Ayer

3 responses to “Centenarian Reflects on the Lessons She Learned at Mount Holyoke”

  1. Pamela Stuart '70 says:

    My aunt, Virginia Cotins Eisenhart ’39, was a member of your class. She was a very cultivated and elegant lady who became a Trustee of the College. She and her husband, Richard (“Dick”) Eisenhart, established the fund for donors to contribute at least $1000. Ginnie was always grateful to the College for the advantages it offered and noted the chance she had to attend on scholarship with the opportunity for a work-study program. She established a fund to honor her parents who made it all possible (the Arthur and Fredda Hyde Cotins Fund). I was pleased to follow in her footsteps (graduating with the Class of 1970) and was honored to accept her Alumnae Medal of Honor when she was unable to be present due to illness. One of the most fun events I ever attended at Mount Holyoke was a dinner at the time of her 50th reunion where the favors included wrinkle cream. These women were not only talented and accomplished but they had a great sense of humor!

  2. Toni Sailer Eisenhauer says:

    I am a member of the class of 1968 and have just returned from a weekend at MHC having participated in a 50th reunion planning meeting. Annette’s paintings are beautiful. I hope I see one of them in the MHC art museum the next time I am there… for the 50th reunion weekend !!!

  3. Bless you for sharing. MHC certainly taught you well. As for me, I am 80 now, MHC class of 1958. At MHC I started painting seriously, in oil on canvas. While raising three children I took many trips into New York City to study American Art pricing; in later years I became an art dealer and used my profit to put my children through college. I now enjoy painting landscapes of the magnificent California coastline. My website AnnetteFoisie.com tells that story. i have much gratitude to MHC for setting me on this path. I divide my time between church work and painting, both deep loves.
    Annette Foisie OSL

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