Soliciting business from East Coast schools, executives at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel extended an invitation to Sister Helen Marie Duffy and Sister Ellis Denny, former NDP headmistress and principal, to take a weekend getaway at the hotel. The ladies accepted and enjoyed the royal treatment at this most esteemed destination. When Sister Helen Marie asked if the Waldorf extended such hospitality to all school visitors, the answer was surprising: NDP was the only school to accept the invitation.
Fast-forward more than 50 years—NDP senior classes have been the only high school groups allowed to stay at the Waldorf, and each year, true to form, the hotel did not disappoint. Only two NDP classes since 1968 have missed out on the Waldorf experience. One class was “bumped” due to a presidential entourage and the other for a World Trade Organization meeting.
Yet 2017 is marks the beginning of an end: it is the last year NDP will visit this revered institution, which has hosted the world’s glitterati since its opening in 1893. At the end of February, the Waldorf will close for three years to remake some of its most luxurious suites into condominiums.
NDP’s Senior Class New York Trip runs a close second to Gym Meet in the minds and hearts of alumnae. Such nostalgia prompted Mrs. Ellen Cullen, who planned 35 senior NYC trips during her tenure as NDP’s head librarian, to organize an alumnae trip in January 2011. Just last week, Mrs. Cullen led a busload of NDP alum on the fourth bi-annual trip to the Waldorf.
“This year was very special! Looking at everyone on board the bus, I realized how important their friendships were to them,” said Mrs. Cullen. “We had graduates from different decades reuniting with classmates, former teachers, and even some mother and daughter graduates together.” As she spoke to the women, she explained it was going to be very different this year. Many long-time Waldorf employees were leaving for new positions at other hotels. It would be a bittersweet visit.
Sue Dregier, NDP English teacher, took the alum trip this year with her daughters, Clare ’91 and Catherine ’87. For many, she explained, the alumnae NYC trip has become a mini-reunion, with graduates traveling from as near as Baltimore and Richmond to as far as San Diego and San Francisco. Walking into the Waldorf Astoria brings back countless memories for these women, explained Mrs. Dregier, many of whom feel this was the highlight of their senior year.
A Facebook call out to alumnae yielded some great “favorite memories,” many featuring the Waldorf:
- MaryBeth Koliha Protzman ‘75 remembers seeing “Colonel Sanders in the lobby of the hotel”.
- Mia Potthast Walsh ’84 will always remember the “giant keys” and being on the last alum trip to visit the hotel.
- The women in the Class of 1988 vividly recall waking up to the sound of a fire alarm. They had to sit in the cold on 49th street for hours. Upon returning to the hotel there was a beautiful buffet of food for everyone. Ms. Cullen remembers it being “fun to watch everyone walking around in their pajamas and fur coats during the time on the street.”
On January 26, the Class of 2017 and their chaperones left for the Big Apple. Among the adults were Ms. Suzanne Nichols, who has been on practically every NDP NYC trip since the start, and Ms. Mary Bartel, a 35-year veteran chaperone. While Ms. Nichols said that there is nothing like the Waldorf lobby, she is excited to see what door will open next for NDP in NYC.
For Ms. Bartel, who has missed only one trip during her 36 years at NDP, she vividly recalls Sister Helen Marie explaining that the flags flying at the hotel entrance represented the countries whose dignitaries were currently staying in the hotel. She will always remember the large flower arrangements in the main hallway down from the clock, the buzz of a black-tie affair on Friday nights, and the sheer elegance of the place. To her, the Waldorf is “just breathtaking,” and she is wistful that such an important component of the experience is ending.
The Waldorf Astoria will always loom large in the memories of NDP alums. As this page turns, do you have a favorite Waldorf memory from your senior trip? Share it with Bluenote!