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When Henry Ryder ’67 thinks of his undergraduate days, he recalls doffing his “frosh” beanie to upperclassmen, taking classes exclusively with male students, and learning the alma mater so thoroughly he found himself singing it to his children years later.

By the time Marianne Okkema Rhebergen ’75 arrived at Lafayette, the beanies were gone, young women were studying alongside young men, and a feeling of change was in the air.

Still, both Ryder, who earned an A.B. with an economics and business major, and Rhebergen, who earned an A.B. with majors in religion and classical languages, remember a campus that looked and felt traditional in many ways. They also remember professors who knew them well and cared about their personal and academic progress.

“I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school,” says Rhebergen, a Presbyterian minister who holds a Ph.D. in divinity and works as interim executive presbyter for the Presbyterian Church USA’s Lehigh Presbytery. “That was the image I had of college.”

Ryder, associate professor of economics/management at Gloucester County College in New Jersey, says he was looking for much the same thing—and made his college decision fairly quickly and based on limited information.

Years later, when it came time for the eldest of his three children to decide on a school, high school students—and parents—had become far better informed. Still, after researching a long list of schools and visiting quite a few, Carrie Ryder Evje ’00 chose Lafayette. So did her siblings, Steve Ryder ’02 and Suzi Ryder ’05.

Rhebergen, who met her husband, Paul Rhebergen ’73, at Lafayette, went on to have three children of her own. And in 1999, after plenty of research, her eldest, Debbie Rhebergen ’03, also chose Lafayette. Three years later, Kristin Rhebergen ’06 did the same.

At Lafayette, the Ryders and Rhebergens are known as legacy families.

“We get roughly 100 applications a year from children of alumni and enroll between 25 and 30,” says Carol Rowlands, director of admissions. “Lafayette prides itself on its sense of community. It’s wonderful to see sons and daughters of alumni seriously consider their parents’ alma mater.”

For Suzi Ryder, who says she “grew up on the Lafayette campus,” the choice was natural.

By the time she entered, Carrie had graduated with a B.S. in geology and Steve had graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. Both had been high honor students and were doing well in graduate school.

“My parents didn’t pressure me to come here,” she says, explaining that she applied to and was accepted at a number of schools, and eventually narrowed her choice to three liberal arts colleges in the Northeast.

Suzi, now an English major and EXCEL Scholar, also received a Marquis Scholarship, as both her siblings had done. But she attributes her final decision to weekends spent with Carrie.

“She got me to see life beyond the admissions department and the catalogs,” Suzi says. “I saw the fun and all the good friends she made.”

For Steve, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley and works for Raytheon in El Segundo, Calif., the deciding factor was the Marquis Scholarship.

“No other similar school offered anything remotely like it,” he says. “There’s a lot more to the scholarship than financial aid, such as travel and other cultural opportunities. The fact that I had been coming to campus my whole life made it a comfortable choice. I doubt many incoming freshmen can say that the president of the college knows them by name before they even arrive for the first day of orientation.”

Unlike the Ryders, the Rhebergens had no history of alumni weekends or alma mater lullabies.

“When Debbie and I were growing up, Lafayette wasn’t a really big thing in our family,” says Kristin, explaining that the family lived in a variety of locations and, because both parents are ministers, rarely had weekends free for College activities.

Debbie Rhebergen, who earned an A.B. with a major in government and law, says she made her choice after visiting a variety of schools—and despite visiting Lafayette on a bleak, icy January weekend.

“I really, really liked the people,” she says. “I came out of Lafayette thinking I felt much more at home than at the other schools. I liked the beauty of the campus and the location, and I liked the family tradition.”

Studying at Lafayette brought big changes in Debbie’s life, starting with her decision to take a leave of absence during her first-year spring semester to campaign for Bill Bradley in the 2000 Democratic presidential primary.

“I think the reason I’m doing what I’m doing in life right now is because I went to Lafayette,” she says, explaining that she went on to conduct EXCEL research, study in Belgium and Washington, D.C., and continue working on political campaigns. Since she graduated, Debbie has held managerial positions in a number of campaigns, including those of Democratic primary contenders Richard Gephardt and Wesley Clark.

Kristin, an international affairs major with an emphasis on German language and culture, spent six weeks during the summer of 2003 studying in Germany and plans to study there again this spring.

“I always knew that Lafayette was a really good academic school,” she says. “Now I know how good a reputation it has in the professional world.”

For both Marianne Rhebergen and Henry Ryder, the current Lafayette campus, with its wealth of new facilities and research opportunities, seems in some ways much changed.

And yet, they say, some things have remained the same.

“It has much the same feel,” Rhebergen says. “It’s still an institution where the faculty know their students.”

Categorized in: Alumni