Blanche (Bond) MacNeil - Notre Dame's oldest living alumnus

In December 2022, Hound Terry Cooney ’70 had the opportunity to connect with Blanche MacNeil (nee Bond) in Langley, BC. Just a few weeks before, Blanche had celebrated her 102nd birthday and became the oldest living alumnus of Notre Dame. Terry’s connection to Blanche is through his sister-in-law, Lois Fraser who is Blanche’s niece.  Lois had mentioned to Terry that her aunt was turning 102 in November and she wanted to see her. So Lois and Terry made the trip to Langley.
Terry sat and interviewed Blanche about her days at Notre Dame. Some information and questioning was drawn from Alice Stefan Henderson’s book ‘Notre Dame of the Prairies’ in which a chapter was devoted to Blanche.
According to the book, Blanche attended Notre Dame from 1933 to 1937. This was confirmed by Blanche but what was not known was that these years were not consecutive. For the better part of a year, Blanche helped out at the family farm near Cupar, Saskatchewan. Secondly, there was a question as to why Blanche at the age of 13 would be sent to Notre Dame. Apparently, her mother wanted her to become more acquainted with girls her own age. This made more sense in the fact that Blanche had 3 siblings – all boys.
Blanche remembered Sister Edith as someone “who always knew what was going on and kept everybody in line”. Sister Louise ran the kitchen.  Tuition was regularly paid by baked loaves of bread, butchered animals or dozens of eggs. “We always had good meals and never seemed to run out”, Blanche said. There was no running water and baths were unheard of unless students went home for a weekend or visited a family.
Blanche’s favourite subject was Math - “I liked Algebra … I like Geometry”. Sister Edith was an excellent teacher.” She also talked about how she learned to knit at Notre Dame. “Another student taught me. We used to make rugs from old wool suits. We were so happy with so little.”
The interview went on for a couple of hours and Blanche was most obliging. One moment of particular interest was when Blanche recognized classmates pictured in Alice’s book. Her face lit up and memories flowed with such ease. It was something special to see from such a remarkable woman.
Excerpt from Blanche’s story in ‘Notre Dame of the Prairies’ by Alice Stefan Henderson:
“Every Friday, we had pancakes for lunch, big thin ones. Then for dinner, we had them rolled up with brown sugar. Now, whenever I eat pancakes, my mind skips back to those years.”
Top left: Terry and Blanche read Alice Stefan Henderson’s book ‘Notre Dame of the Prairies’
Bottom Left: Blanche, the oldest living Notre Dame Alumnus at 102 years old
Right: From ‘Notre Dame of the Prairies’, a photo of Blanche (right) with Rosemary Moravec (left) and Evelyn O’Byrne (middle)


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