Office of Alumni Engagement

Rhea Currie ’39, Alma’s Oldest Known Alumna

The 103-year-old Alma College graduate has spent 75 years volunteering at her local hospital. “Volunteering is my way of life, and I hope I inspire a lot of people to give back,” she says.

Life was vastly different when Rhea Currie, then Rhea Wark, graduated from Alma College in 1939. It was the end of the Great Depression in America, gas was 10 cents a gallon, and The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind films were premiered.

Rhea Currie grew up in the village of Peck in Michigan’s Thumb. When she was a senior in high school, she had a family friend who had just graduated from Alma College. He asked her what her plans were after graduation and when she replied that she was unsure, he recommended that she attend Alma College. Rhea took his advice and started her journey as a freshman at Alma in 1935.

When Rhea was accepted to Alma, she received a brochure with a list of items that she would need. “One of them was a napkin ring,” Rhea laughs. She recalls how different things were during her time at the college.

“We had all kinds of curfews, and every student had a job in addition to going to school,” she says. “As seniors, women were always a hostess at the dinner table. We were supposed to dress for dinner, but that didn’t last long — nobody had the money to buy new clothes. We had a chef, and our meals were served to us.”

Rhea says that for fun, women would play the piano in the lobby of the dorms, and they would dance. They also attended formals at the Midland Country Club.

“We had an Alma College bridge club, and we used to have potlucks. There wasn’t much to do — but we made our own fun.”

Rhea met her husband, Chester Currie, at Alma College. Chester graduated in 1939 with a bachelor of science degree and even taught a few chemistry classes while he was a student.

“On our first date, we went to the movies for a dime. We had to wait a few weeks to earn enough money for our second date.”

Rhea spent four years at Alma College before graduating with a degree in education. After graduation, Rhea taught for two years at Harbor Beach and six months at St. Claire Shores. Rhea and Chester were married in 1941, and they moved to Midland when Chester took a job at the Dow Chemical Company.

Since then, Rhea has spent 75 years volunteering at MidMichigan Medical Center in Midland. She says that the people are her favorite part of volunteering.

“Volunteering is my way of life, and I hope I inspire a lot of people to give back,” she says.

Rhea has had the opportunity to visit Alma College in recent years and says that the main difference is the amount of people. “Back then, you knew everybody. There’s a lot more people there now.”

As Alma College’s oldest known alumna, Rhea had a piece of advice for recent graduates: “Grow your wings and continue to grow. Too many people get stalled.”

Story published on August 15, 2019