Joan (Barber) and Mitchel Syp ’72, P’01

Joan (Barber) and Mitchel Syp ’72, P’01

Joanie and Mitch on campus in May 2022

Joanie and Mitch on campus in May 2022

The First Golden StagMates

Our college years were full of big changes in the world — the Vietnam War, Kent State, campus strikes. Fairfield was a great place then, and is an even better place now.

— Joan (Barber) and Mitchel Syp ’72, P’01

In the early summer of 1968, Mitchel Syp graduated from St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, N.J. That fall, he packed a duffel bag full of casual clothes and drove up Interstate 95 to continue his allmale, Jesuit education at Fairfield University. The University had just revised the dress code, making the incoming Class of 1972 “the first class of men that never had to wear jackets and ties in the classroom,” recalled Mitch.

But that wasn’t the biggest change at Fairfield during Mitch’s undergraduate years. “Two years later we became coed and the girls arrived,” he said. “Everything happened then!” Joan Barber was among the first cohort of women to join Fairfield’s newly coeducational campus for the fall 1970 semester. Looking for a change and wishing to be closer to her home in Rye, N.Y., she transferred from an all-female, Catholic college in Massachusetts and was one of a dozen or so women to join the Class of ’72 as a junior.

During an Orientation program for new students, Mitch noticed Joanie sitting on the lawn by the Campus Center. He introduced himself and learned that they were classmates, both sociology majors, and that Joanie was living in Julie Hall — which also served as a convent back then. “She’d left the all-girls school to live with the nuns!” Mitch teased.

Joanie and Mitch pictured in the Class of 1972 Manor yearbook.

Joanie and Mitch pictured in the Class of 1972 Manor yearbook

They ran into one another again in the cafeteria that evening. Goaded by a buddy, Mitch worked up the courage to ask Joanie on a date and she accepted. “We went to the movies on September 17,” said Joanie. “We never forget that because each year, we celebrate the anniversary of our first date.”

Originally a rugby player, Mitch had traded the pitch for the Playhouse stage before he met Joanie; his many acting roles on campus included the lead in The Fantasticks. “I even got Joanie to join the Playhouse,” said Mitch, “and we still talk about her ‘starring role’ — a one-liner — in The Detective Story.” By the end of their junior year, Mitch had given Joanie his Fairfield class pin, which had a small red gemstone and a ’72 charm hanging from it.

“That was a big thing in our day,” said Mitch. “A guy would give their school pin to their girlfriend if they were really serious about them.”

Engaged the Christmas after graduation, Joanie and Mitch married on October 20, 1973. Dancing at their wedding reception for the first time as Mr. and Mrs. Syp, the newlyweds had no idea they’d just contributed to the alumni phenomenon known today as Fairfield StagMates.

Records kept by the Office of Alumni

Relations indicate that there have been between 2,350 and 2,400 alumni marriages since the early days of coeducation at Fairfield. Over a span of 50 years, that’s the equivalent of about four StagMate weddings per month. “And those are just the ones we know about!” said Colleen McGinn, director of alumni engagement.

In May, Joanie and Mitch were recognized as the first StagMate couple ever to return to campus for a 50th anniversary reunion. “Many of our closest friends also attended,” said Mitch. “That was the best part – that we could all share the experience together.” At a Golden Stags Induction luncheon, University President Mark R. Nemec, PhD, presented 67 members of the Class of 1972 with commemorative medals, and Alumni Association President Hugh Morgan ’69, P’94 led a class toast.

More than 110 classmates and spouses also attended a private cocktail reception and dinner-dance that evening. “I love to dance,” shared Joanie. “I danced from the time the DJ started until he ended; it was a blast!”

The youngest of Joanie and Mitch’s three children (Bridget Syp ’01) followed her parents’ lead to Stag country. The Syps have five grandchildren. In 2015, Mitch retired from a career in global sales within the pharmaceutical and healthcare logistics industry, and Joanie retired after more than three decades in education at both public and private schools in New Jersey. They currently live in the Cape Cod town of West Dennis.

As the first Golden StagMates, this 50th reunion held profound meaning for Joanie and Mitch. Reflecting on their half-century together, Mitch noted, “Our college years were full of big changes in the world — the Vietnam War, Kent State, campus strikes. Fairfield was a great place then, and is an even better place now.”

Other Articles in the Fall 2022 Issue

Letter from the President

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Fairfield Heads to Texas

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Leadership Goals

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A Mindful Approach

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Game Changers

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Sean Crosby ’21, MS’22

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Sean and Winnie Atterbury O’Keefe, P’23,’26

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