Seventy years ago, Karen Winger stepped off the St. Cloud State University campus in Minnesota for the final time as a student – saying goodbye to her college days and to her cherished roommates.
She married, moved west from central Minnesota to the rural foothills of the Santa Clarita Valley, and raised her two children.
But Winger had never forgotten about her college friends, and even today she says their inseparable bond persists.
“We wrote letters to each other for 70 years,” she said.
On Sunday, 88-year-old Winger and her roommates will attend Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, in what will be both a homecoming to their native state and a reunion of old acquaintances.
“We’ve always wanted to go to the Super Bowl,” said Winger.
Goal in mind, Winger and Shirley Lorenz Shanahan, one of her roommates who moved to Ventura after leaving St. Cloud, devised a plan to get to the game.
“We saved $100 a month for three years,” Winger recalled.
Winger and Shanahan had both lost their husbands within months of each other in 2011 and, since then, had been determined to make it to the event.
“We both love football,” she said. “So (Shanahan) said ‘by God, let’s do it.’”
Over the course of the seven decades that have passed since their graduation, Winger said that the women would try to meet up at least once a year, somewhere in the country. Sometimes Albuquerque, sometimes Phoenix.
“Now that we’re getting older we’re spacing it out a little,” qualified Winger. “Now it’s more like three years.”
It seemed fortuitous, Winger said, that the Super Bowl should happened to fall in line with their scheduled reunion and in the group’s home state.
Three of the former roommates still live in Minnesota, and on Friday they joined Winger and Shanahan for a luncheon at a snowy diner in the Twin Cities.
“We never missed a day,” said Winger. “We’ve got a lot of memories and a lot of parties.”
Winger and Shanahan will stroll through U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon, navigating the crowded aisles and finding their seats. They will proudly don their purple Vikings attire, she said, in spite of the fact that their beloved Minnesota franchise will not be playing.
Three years of saving, 70 years of separation, will all culminate with one kick-off.
“You just don’t ever forget your friends,” she said.
“You hug each other and,” she paused, “oh, my God – it’s like you’re back in your school days.”