Aug 25, 2023

Colby Alumna Josephine ‘JoJo’ Pitts McAlary ’44 Turns 100

At 100, as of Aug. 8, 2023, McAlary has been the oldest alum in attendance at reunion for the past couple of years and is one of Colby’s oldest alumni who remain engaged with the College. 

Colby Alumna Josephine 'JoJo' Pitts McAlary ’44 Turns 100

On an unseasonably cold day in June, Colby College alumni gathered under the big tent on the green to escape the rain and assemble for the Parade of Classes, a Reunion Weekend tradition. 

Alumni clustered with fellow classmates and appointed designated holders of class banners and signs. The classes then lined up in order, starting with the oldest class in attendance. At the head of the line stood a petite older woman, holding a sign with big blue lettering that read “’44.” While she was not surrounded by classmates, she was accompanied by several family members as she led the parade around the tent, smiling the entire time. 

For Josephine “JoJo” Pitts McAlary ’44, leading the Parade of Classes has become a highlight of her year. At 100, as of Aug. 8, 2023, McAlary has been the oldest alum in attendance at reunion for the past couple of years and is one of Colby’s oldest alumni who remain engaged with the College. 

“It felt very distinguished, and I enjoyed the recognition,” McAlary said of leading the parade for the second year in a row. 

McAlary, who didn’t become an active member of the alumni community until later in life, started attending reunion when her class celebrated its 40th, and has made an effort to attend almost every year since then.

“I just love getting out and seeing people,” McAlary said when asked about her favorite part of reunion. The feeling is mutual for many Colby alumni and staff who enjoy McAlary’s company and stories of her time on Mayflower Hill. 

Even though she has been the only member of her class to attend in several years, she continues to ask at registration if any of her classmates have checked in, eager to reconnect and reminisce, which she does easily with alumni from other classes. This summer, McAlary, who is the oldest member of the Colby Legacy Society, also had the opportunity to chat with Colby College President David A. Greene P’20, ’24, and was mentioned in his campus conversation, one of Reunion Weekend’s signature events.

“When I went to college, it felt like a big privilege. It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be a student now.”

‘Colby is Still a Beautiful Campus’

Colby was a part of McAlary’s life long before she was a student, as her mother Diana Wall (eventually Pitts-Fogler when she remarried), graduated from Colby as part of the Class of 1913. Pitts-Fogler was the first in her family to have academic ambitions, according to Jennifer Hicks, McAlary’s granddaughter and Pitts-Fogler’s great-granddaughter. Pitts-Fogler grew up with six siblings in Rockport and decided on her own to attend college, choosing Colby. It took her six years to complete—she took time off to earn money—and eventually graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Throughout her life, Pitts-Fogler stayed in touch with people at Colby—even earning a Colby Brick Award in 1971—and exposed her children to the College and its community. 

“When I went to college, it felt like a big privilege. It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to be a student now,” said McAlary, who also kept in touch with her classmates later in life by taking on the role of class correspondent for many years. 

When McAlary was a student, she spent her first year at Colby’s old campus downtown. By her sophomore year, she moved to the women’s dorms on Mayflower Hill, but still had classes downtown, which required her and other students to travel between both locations. 

“There was a bus, but there were times that I had to walk. I remember the times I had to walk up the hill, in a skirt, in the winter. That was a challenge,” McAlary said. “Colby is still a beautiful campus, but now it has so many accommodations for students, I don’t recognize it. The old campus was elegant.” 

One of the strongest memories McAlary recalls of her time at Colby is from when she was a sophomore performing in Portland with the college choral group. She remembers learning about the attack on Pearl Harbor as they left the theater. After that moment, she said many of the men in her class left to enlist.

McAlary met her husband Frederick “Fred” McAlary ’43 while they were both students at Colby. They were married on her graduation day before he went overseas to serve in World War II. JoJo McAlary, who majored in geology, taught school while her husband was overseas. When Fred McAlary returned from the war, he got a job working in the advertising department at the Bangor Daily News, where he stayed for 40 years. JoJo McAlary stayed home while raising their two children, Diana and Fred. In 1963 she returned to the workforce teaching middle school math, and a few years later got a job teaching math at Bangor High School, which she did until she retired in 1985. 

At the time of their retirement, the McAlarys left the Bangor area and moved into the house in Rockport where JoJo McAlary spent her high school years. The couple was married for just over 60 years when Fred McAlary passed away in April 2004. Today, JoJo McAlary still lives in the family home in Rockport that her father bought in 1918. 

Always Up for an Adventure

McAlary was born in New Orleans, La. on Aug. 8, 1923 to two Rockport, Maine natives. She spent most of her childhood in New Orleans and would travel to Maine every other summer to visit family. 

“JoJo has always been the energetic and positive force in our family,” said Hicks, the daughter of JoJo and Fred’s daughter Diana. “She was an only child of Diana Wall Pitts, who was a stern, strong figure, and Everett Pitts, who was a gentle, quiet presence. So I think JoJo found that counterbalancing her mother’s tough exterior and father’s quietness was natural.”

Starting in the mid- to late-1960s, according to Hicks, the McAlarys took on new hobbies and began to travel once their children were no longer living with them. JoJo McAlary was known for owning a series of VW campers from 1967 until she sold her last one in 1995. In the early 1970s, she and a friend drove across the country in her camper, and Fred McAlary met her on the West Coast to join her for the drive back east. 

The couple purchased land on Branch Lake in Ellsworth, where they would camp and swim throughout the summer, and as their grandchildren got older, JoJo McAlary would take them camping in Baxter State Park and hiking on Mount Katahdin. 

“She has always wanted to see and do new and exciting things,” Hicks said of her grandmother. “Even now, she never wants to be left out of the fun. She almost always says, ‘yes’ if she is invited to go somewhere. She and I took a trip to New Orleans in 2015—she was 92 at the time—to see where she grew up, and it was one of the best trips I had ever been on.”

100 Reasons to Celebrate

On Aug. 13, several dozen family members and friends gathered in Rockport to celebrate McAlary’s 100th birthday. The party was a wonderful moment for family, community members, and friends from afar to gather and fête a remarkable woman. As McAlary recently welcomed a great-great-granddaughter to the family, five generations were able to celebrate. Also present were “Jo’s Girls,” a group of local friends and family who visit with McAlary, drive her around town, and attend to her needs so that she can live independently. On display were decades of photos as well as letters of congratulations from President Joe Biden, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, and U.S. Sen. Angus King. Maine Rep. Vicki Doudera presented an official expression of sentiment on behalf of the ​​131st Legislature and the people of the state of Maine. 

Colby’s Director of Leadership and Planned Giving Valerie Sherman made brief remarks and brought with her dozens of birthday cards from alumni, faculty, staff, and retirees, who all wanted to send their best wishes to McAlary. 

“Jo and other alumni from the 1940s and ’50s represent a special time of transition in Colby’s history,” Sherman said. “We are honored that Colby is important enough to Jo and her family that she is able to be present at reunions to share her memories of that time and lead our Parade of Classes. My favorite moment [from this past reunion] was a group of ‘young guys’ from ’63 pulling her over for a photo—she was all smiles!”

Top photo: Josephine “JoJo” Pitts McAlary ’44, leading the Parade of Classes during Reunion Weekend on Saturday, June 3, 2023.