Alumni Voices

Alumni Spotlight: Mary Jo Ahern

Charter class member shares her favorite memories at OU and honors family legacy with recent gift to the OU Libraries

A woman posing outside in front of a sign that reads, "LEAVE YOUR MARK ON THIS WORLD BE GOLDEN"


icon of a calendarAugust 4, 2022

icon of a pencilBy Noor Hindi

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With Homecoming and Reunion Weekend just around the corner, OU alumni are reflecting back on their time at OU, remembering shared laughter with friends, professors who made a difference and memories that shaped their lives forever.

Charter class members, who were the first to graduate from OU and helped build the foundation for today’s students, are feeling especially nostalgic.

OU alumna and charter class member Mary Jo (Koren) Ahern, CAS ’63, is sharing her memories of OU, how she remains connected to the university and how she’s giving back to the community she loves.

“There were only a few of us charter class students, and we were all excited to be part of something new,” she says. “The charter class was a close group, and together we watched the roads of our university get paved and buildings go up. It was thrilling.”

The OU charter class included approximately 500 full-time students, many of whom lived in the surrounding area. There was no student housing, so most students commuted from home. Ahern, who did not have her own car, drove her mother to work at Pontiac Motors every morning before picking up her friend, Jackie Lamar Hoisington, and heading to campus.

One of Ahern’s most memorable moments at OU is pushing a cart of books up a hill to help fill the shelves of the new Kresge Library.

“We had to carefully load carts with books to push from North Foundation Hall up the knoll to the new Kresge Library. The filled carts weighed several hundred pounds,” she recalls, laughing. “We completed moving those books in one afternoon.”

The library would come to hold a very special place in Ahern’s life. She describes it as “the heart of campus” and remembers it being a meeting ground for her class and for the thousands of students who have followed in the years since.

Recently, Ahern made a generous gift to fund the renovations of a collaborative study space on the second floor of the library. This gift celebrates her family’s legacy at OU and honors husband, Owen Ahern, and their children and grandchildren: Heather, Jim, Joe and Ben Kapanka and Shannon, Dan and Norah Armijo.

Nearly every member of the Ahern family has some connection to OU. Daughter, Heather, met her future husband, Jim Kapanka, on her first day of class. They would both later graduate in 1991. Daughter, Shannon, met her future husband, Dan Armijo, during a class field trip. They both graduated in 1997 and 1996, respectively, and later married in the gardens of Meadow Brook Hall. Mary Jo and Owen celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in the Grand Ballroom at Meadow Brook Hall. Their granddaughter, Norah Armijo, will begin her OU journey this fall as a member of the Honors College.

The family’s gift will create a much-needed collaborative study space where students can meet to work on projects and presentations. Dean of OU Libraries, Polly Boruff-Jones, recently oversaw the installation of a naming plaque recognizing the family’s generous support.

"We are honored to recognize the Ahern family legacy at Kresge Library and are so grateful for the family's support,” she says. “The Ahern gift along with other generous alumni and community members ensure that students have accessible, up-to-date technology, study spaces, and resources necessary to our students' academic success."

Outside of time spent at the library, Ahern says some of her favorite memories at OU include taking Russian classes for her language requirement and later majoring in Russian language education. She recalls spending time at her professor’s home with her classmates.

This experience was common for OU charter class members, because class sizes were small and entertainment places, sports and activities weren’t yet established at the university.

“It was so much fun,” she says. “We all knew each other quite well. Our professor, Mrs. Kovach, would invite us to her home where she would pull out a big old trunk full of treasured mementos from Russia. We’d learn Russian dances, sing Russian songs and explore the language and culture.”

Ahern would also serve as a student tour guide at Meadow Brook Hall, the home of OU founders Matilda Dodge-Wilson and Alfred Wilson. She was stationed in Mr. Wilson’s private library. On her first day, Mr. Wilson greeted her with a big smile and spent at least half an hour telling her about his library and showing her the wood carvings around the perimeter of the room depicting his life story. Ahern and her classmates would later attend senior prom at Meadow Brook Hall, where Mrs. Wilson presented each charter class member with a diamond ring bearing the charter class insignia.

While it’s fun to look back on so many special memories, Ahern looks forward to maintaining her connection with her alma mater in the years ahead. “It meant everything to be able to contribute to Kresge Library and continue to be part of Oakland University,” she says. “I really think that I owe them my career, and I’m excited to continue being part of the OU family.”

The Oakland University Libraries are committed to fostering academic excellence and serving as a central pillar upon which the university can advance its educational, research and public service goals. Learn more about Oakland University Libraries services and programming.

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