Dan Wachowiak and Susan Monahan arrived at the San Diego College for Men and San Diego College for Women, respectively, in 1958 as students. Both were new to college and looking for their future path. Four years later — and two weeks after they graduated — in 1962, they got married and launched their life together.
“This is where I met the love of my life,” Susan said.
“That’s true,” Dan said. “My favorite memory as a (college) senior was marrying her after graduation.”
The four years of a person’s college life delivers education, awareness, and a chance to grow, to meet interesting people and gain experience. The Wachowiaks got all of that and a bonus. Fifty years later, as alumni and as a couple, they’ll be back at their alma mater for this weekend’s USD Homecoming and Family Weekend.
The happy couple, which lives in Chula Vista, Calif., has four daughters — all USD alumnae — and grandchildren. The elder Wachowiaks, who attended college when the mascot was “Pioneers,” before “Toreros,” will return to campus this weekend to renew relationships with their classmates and to re-live fond memories of a place they’ll always cherish. Call them Pioneer Toreros.
“It’s a university I’m very proud of; I’d recommend to anyone to send their children here,” said Susan, who is on the 50-year College for Women reunion committee. “It was such a great place to start. We’re happy that our children also wanted to go here. We had such a great experience. We wanted them to have the same kind of experience we did. That was very important to us.”
Wachowiak was 22 and had completed a two-year stint in the U.S. Army — 16 months as part of an artillery battalion in the Korean War — when he arrived at San Diego. He took an admissions test and was accepted with the help of the GI Bill. Many of the students enrolled in the College for Men were military veterans and entered college a bit older. Wachowiak (pictured, center) was an economics major that enjoyed spending time with his male classmates at “The Lark,” a basement CFM campus hangout. Wachowiak was Associated Student Body President his senior year, earning 165 of a 281 possible votes in the 1961 election, and he was dating Susan, who he met when she worked on the College for Men campus as a student secretary.
“The College for Women was fussy about mingling with those of us from the College for Men,” Dan said. “We were always an issue, we were treated differently, considered ‘more primitive.’ It was considered wild if there were women visiting The Lark.”
Monahan arrived at the College for Women at age 18 and she immediately fell in love with the beautiful campus established in 1949 by co-founders Bishop Charles Francis Buddy and Mother Rosalie Clifton Hill. The College for Women, which opened for classes in February 1952, was a place for young women to receive a proper education under the watchful and careful guidance of nuns. Susan, who majored in English and had minors in education and philosophy, enjoyed First Friday masses and the Catholic traditions. She was homecoming queen and senior class president. She recalls a campus in which her classmates were dressed up at all times and that every girl owned a trench coat, a fashion statement seen most often when signing in or out on campus.
Both reflected fondly of Bishop Buddy and Mother Hill for putting their time and efforts into building a foundation at Alcalá Park and a beautiful campus where education and more could bloom.
“There are three things that are significant in education: beauty, truth and goodness,” Mother Hill once said. “But the only one that attracts people on sight is beauty. If beauty attracts people, they will come and find the truth and have goodness communicated to them by the kind of people here.”
After graduation, Dan had a successful career as a banker and financial planner. Susan was a teacher and administrator in the San Diego Unified School District. She also worked in community education programs where students came to Old Town to learn about the history of California and another at Balboa Park where its museums served as experiential learning opportunities for children.
Dan and Susan Wachowiak are Pioneer Toreros. They’re Changemakers, too.
“I think what it means to be a Changemaker is to do the very best you can, wherever you are, for the good of all,” Susan said. “It’s great when people go to far-away places to help others, but not everyone has that opportunity. Everyone, though, can make changes where they are, make them positively, and not do it in a way where you’re taking over and doing things for people. Instead, you’re encouraging them, supporting them and giving them opportunities to do things for themselves.”
Dan and Susan came to college looking for their own path, but on their way, they found each other and have been following it successfully. They’re back for USD’s Homecoming and Family Weekend and they’re celebrating not only where they’ve been, but also how far they’ve come.
— Ryan T. Blystone