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Alumni Spotlight: Sparked at Mount, Senior Swimmer Still Aglow

January 03, 2019

From the Midwest United States (Toledo, Ohio) to the European continent (Germany), and everywhere in between, Mary (Wilson ’67) Grapentine moved a lot - 16 times to be exact. Amidst those moves, and her husband’s (J. Dee Grapentine ‘66) 26-year United States Air Force career, Mary’s Mount Union friendships and affinity for swimming remained steadfast.

It started back in 1963 when there were curfews on campus. At that time, the dorms were segregated, and women had to be in their rooms by 10 p.m. on weekdays. The rule didn’t seem to bother the ladies though, as it cultivated camaraderie. It was during those nights Mary found a group of girls who would become lifelong friends. That same year, Mary signed up for a swim class instead of taking the traditional required physical education class. Having grown up on Lake Erie she knew how to swim, but these classes took it to a whole new level. Though she didn’t know it yet, Mary’s new-found friendships and love of swimming would become two grounding pillars on which she would lean heavily throughout her life.  

The Golden Girls of Mount Union (as they affectionately call themselves) stayed close after graduation, marriages, kids and careers, and gathered in honor of turning 40 – a tradition they didn’t realize they were creating. “It didn’t matter what we were doing individually, we kept coming back to our core group,” Mary said. “We continued at 50 calling ourselves ‘The Golden Girls.’ For future gatherings we decided to meet every five years since 50 seemed such an advanced age! We became ‘Still Alive At 55’ and planned to meet again at 60,” she continued.

It wasn’t until turning 50 that Mary decided to become involved with Senior Olympics. She was recovering from breast cancer, determined to conquer the disease, and started lap swimming -having been active with water aerobics before her mastectomy. From that moment, her fondness for the sport returned. “Knowing nothing about competitive swimming, I signed up for two events in our local Senior Olympics competition - I was hooked!” She stated. “With advice from swimming friends, I got a Speedo, cap and goggles, and instruction! I was now going not only to the local competition, but also our New Mexico State competition.”

By 2005, when the Golden Girls became the Silver Foxettes at 60, Mary decided to compete in a national competitive swimming event for the Senior Olympics, with the support of her girl group. “The Girls decided to come to Pittsburgh for the event and combine it with our 60th birthday party! What a hoot! I adopted purple as my swim color and we all wore the colors and represented Mount Union!” Mary stated.

In 2009, at Stanford University, Mary won her first national medal – a silver in the 200-yard backstroke event. She was also joined by fellow Mount Union graduate Ed March ’68 at that same event, and they’ll meet again in Albuquerque as they both have qualified for 2019.

Ed and Sue Merch and Mary and Dee Grapentine in front of a pool

(Pictured above from left to right: Sue (Dugle '67) March, Ed March '68, Mary (Wilson ’67) Grapentine, and J. Dee Grapentine ‘66)

“To sum up my Senior Olympics participation—it provides an opportunity to stay active and healthy as we advance in age” Mary simply stated. “It offers camaraderie and support through the years. Friends are made all over the country.”

For Mary, it all comes full circle. The friendships she’s made through Senior Olympics, were made possible because of the foundation she laid during her time at Mount Union, and she’s extremely grateful for both.   

To learn more about the Senior Olympics, visit