Family First

Family First

These related Katies supported one another through college — all the way to graduation.
By Andy Steiner

You've heard about families like this. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to have been born into one. Parents and siblings support one another through thick and thin, share in-jokes and heirloom recipes, and actually enjoy spending time together.

St. Kate’s seems to attract students from close-knit families; our campuses boast scores of Duplikates and Triplikates, plus sibling and cousin pairs who share — beyond blood ties — the double bond of alma mater.

Related Katies say that their strong family connections boost their confidence and strengthen their loyalty to the school they share in common. Just ask Any Montenegro ’13, who encouraged her sister and cousin to leave their homes in Ecuador to study with her at St. Catherine University.

“There’s nothing like going to college with your relatives,” she says. “When we were all at St. Kate’s together, it was wonderful. Having their support made everything easier.”

We talked to three St. Catherine families who participated in Commencement ceremonies this spring. They reflected on the special bonds they share with one another — and the University.

LIKE DAUGHTER, LIKE MOTHER

Last year, when Ernestine Robinson M'14 watched her daughter Jessica “Jessy” ’13 accept her college diploma, it felt like Jessy wasn’t walking alone. And when Ernestine made the exact same journey this spring, she wasn’t alone, either.

“When Jessica walked across that stage, I saw my whole family walk with her,” Ernestine says. “My grandmother was there. My great-grandmother was there. My uncle George, whom I didn’t get a chance to meet because he was lynched in Mississippi, was walking across that stage with her, too.”

Jessy, Ernestine’s oldest daughter and the first member of her family to earn a college degree, makes her mother burst with pride. Diagnosed with autism as a young child, Jessy has worked hard her entire life, capping a solid high school career with a degree in Spanish from St. Catherine.

“When Jessica was first diagnosed with autism, all the doctors told me was what she wouldn’t be able to do,” Ernestine says. “If I would’ve listened only to them, I would have given up hope. But I come from a family where hope is all we have. And that’s the way we approach life.”

Jessy says she never let autism stand in the way of earning a college degree: “A friend of mine once said, ‘We people of disabilities can claim a university education.’ We don’t need anybody to dumb us down or deny us our education or our dreams.”

Ernestine went to college for two years before leaving to get married and start a family. After watching her daughter master a tough transition to campus life, Ernestine was inspired to go back to college herself. In May she earned an Associate in Applied Science degree in radiography, making her a radiologic technologist. She plans to return to St. Kate’s eventually to earn her bachelor’s degree.

“After I take my medical boards, I’ll be certified through our governing body,” says Ernestine, who works as an X-ray technician for Park Nicollet Health Services. “Then it will be like someone opened a candy store window and told me I can have whatever I want. With this degree, I can do CT, MRI, interventional radiology. Plus, the pay hike is great.”

For Jessy, watching her mom claim her diploma was the perfect reward. “I feel like I’ve done something big for once in my life,” Jessy says of her St. Catherine education. Now, her mom has that same feeling, too.

ROOT FOR THE Home Team

For one year, three of the four Luedtke sisters all played Wildcat softball together. It was a great time, with each sister supporting the others, just as they always have, in school and in life.

“We really enjoy playing on the same team,” says Alyssa ’14, who graduated this spring as one of the most decorated softball players in St. Kate’s history. She and her sisters — Kaitlyn ’15 and Kelsey ’12 — are members of a close-knit tribe (the youngest sister, Alexis, just finished her first year at Winona State University) that grew up as three-sport athletes in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota.

“We were a crazy-busy family,” says Kelsey, the first Luedtke to come to St. Catherine. She visited campus at the urging of then-softball coach (now associate athletic director) Madge Makowske MAOL’01, and was attracted to the green, peaceful campus and healthy balance between sports and academics. When the time came, Kelsey encouraged her younger sister Alyssa to consider St. Kate’s, too. Like Kelsey, Alyssa was interested in a nursing degree, and the University’s reputation as one of the top healthcare schools in the region was a real draw.

“I knew I wanted to be an athlete when I went to college,” Alyssa says, “but I also knew I wanted to get a good education so I could get a good job after I graduated.” St. Kate’s was the perfect fit.

The next Luedtke to enroll at St. Kate’s was Kaitlyn, who majored in nursing as well. The decision felt natural, like sliding her feet into a pair of custom-made sandals. “We have aunts who are nurses. We’re a nurturing family,” she says. “I love helping people, so nursing is the perfect line of work.”

Kelsey, now an RN at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, guided her sisters through course selection and cramming for finals. “We were all there for each other,” says Alyssa, “studying, going to practice and just living the college life.”

The sisters like to look back on Kaitlyn’s first Wildcat softball season, in spring 2012, as a golden time. Being teammates — and classmates — brought them even closer together.

This spring, when Alyssa was on base and Kaitlyn stepped up to hit, the team would cheer: “That’s her sister.” Back when all three were playing, the cheer had a slightly different twist. “Whenever one of us got up to bat, they’d chant: ‘She’s a Luedtke,’” Kelsey recalls. “It was awesome.”

THE MORE THE Merrier

When she first came to St. Catherine from her native Ecuador, Any Montenegro ’13 felt lonely.

“My parents weren’t here and my sisters weren’t here. It was so quiet,” she says. “I missed making meals together or speaking Spanish, or telling the kind of jokes that only we’d understand.” Many first-year international students feel the same way — but not many employ the tactic that Montenegro did. She focused considerable energy on convincing her cousin Maria Fernandez “Mafer” Rojas Montenegro ’14 and, later, her younger sister Katherine Montenegro ’14 to apply for admission to St. Kate’s.

“I started by telling Mafer, ‘You really have to come here. People are always helpful,’” Any recalls. “I was selling St. Kate’s because I really liked it here, and I hoped we could be close together again.”
Mafer and Katherine both applied and were accepted at St. Catherine. Mafer started in fall 2009, and Katherine arrived just days after her high school prom, in time for the start of spring semester 2010.
The Montenegros grew up in a tight-knit family. Any and Katherine’s father is Mafer’s uncle. Mafer’s mom is a single parent of three, and both families spent holidays and vacations together. It was hard for the young women’s parents to send their daughters so far away.

“Our mom still cries that her babies are not with her anymore,” Any says. “But she is glad that we are all here together.”

Any helped her cousin and sister make the transition to campus — picking up each one at the
airport, helping them move into their rooms, introducing them to her friends and teaching them how to take the city bus. “I would have been lost without her,” Mafer says.

Last year Any graduated with a degree in financial management. (She’s still living in the Twin Cities, working for Wells Fargo Investments.) Her sister and cousin earned their bachelor’s degrees this May in nursing (Katherine) and international business and economics (Mafer). The trio had stellar careers at the University:

• Katherine traveled to Bolivia in 2012 as part of the Opus Prize selection team.
• Mafer was selected to be a member of the prestigious Mayo Innovation Scholars Program in 2013–14.
• Any won the Spirit of AMTA award from the American Mock Trial Association.

Spring Commencement wasn’t the end of the Montenegros’ official relationship with the University. This coming fall, Viviana — Any and Katherine’s little sister — will continue the family tradition and begin her first year at St. Catherine.

“It’s so great,” Any laughs. “The Montenegros are taking over St. Kate’s.”

Jessy and Ernestine Robinson; photo by Sher Stoneman

The Luedkte sisters: Kaitlyn, Allyssa and Kelsey; photo by bfreshproductions

Katherine and Any Montenegro, with Mafer Rojas Montenegro; photo by Sher Stoneman

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