Stauffacher JC'31 Remembers 'River Swim'

McLaughlinIn her nearly 100 years, Frances McLaughlin Stauffacher JC’31 has witnessed many historic international events, progress and seasons of change at Mount Mercy, and has remained committed to helping others.

Along with Sister Veronica Gorman JC’31, the duo represents Mount Mercy’s oldest living alumni.

When Stauffacher entered Mount Mercy Junior College in the fall of 1929, the United States was just about to experience the stock market crash that would herald The Great Depression. At that time, she lived at home and walked from 28th Street Drive SE and Second Avenue to the Mount Mercy campus. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy only one year before, Mount Mercy was considered to be on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids. Stauffacher encountered only a cornfield on the trek from her parent’s home to the College, which she made twice a day when she walked home for lunch and returned to Mount Mercy each afternoon.

“The Sisters lived in Judge Greene’s mansion on top of the hill and high school students attended Sacred Heart Academy in the brick house next to it,” recalls Stauffacher, the second-oldest living graduate of Mount Mercy. She finished her degree in May 1931, solidifying her spot as a member of the second graduating class of Mount Mercy Junior College.

Stauffacher aspired to be a physical education teacher so her “coursework included chemistry and exercise classes.” She remembers that students were required to wear navy blue dresses with a white collar. “The Dean, Mother Xavier, would speak sternly to us girls if we were not dressed appropriately,” says Stauffacher. In addition to her avid interest in physical education, Stauffacher was an adept swimmer who took Red Cross swimming and life-saving courses — an interest and theme that would continue throughout her life. She participated in “River Swim,” a five mile swim from “High Rock” (across Edgewood Road on Ellis Boulevard) to the “Northwestern Bridge” (Northwestern Railroad Bridge in downtown Cedar Rapids). She remembers that “it took all afternoon to swim” as they zigzagged down the river. Stauffacher still has the medal she won for a River Swim.

After she graduated from Mount Mercy, Stauffacher enrolled for two years at Coe College. Following that, she taught school for one year at Immaculate Conception. From there she joined the offices of Bankers Life Insurance Company, where she worked until 1943.

As World War II progressed, and in keeping with her interest in physical education, Stauffacher joined the American Red Cross as a recreation worker in a military hospital. She was stationed at Scott Field Air Force Base outside St. Louis, and worked there for two years, attending to soldiers who “washed out” of officer training and who were later assigned to Radio School at Scott Field Air Force Base. Following her stint at Scott Field Air Force Base, she worked at Mayo General Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois for two years.

In 1947 she married George Stauffacher. After years of successful careers and travel, the Stauffachers returned to Cedar Rapids to retire. They were married 50 years until his passing. Frances Stauffacher is still active — showing off her “River Swim” medal and visiting with Mount Mercy employees and students.