College friendships can last forever

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We were unlikely roommates when we moved in together the spring quarter of our freshman year at Auburn in 1972. Bill was from Nashville, Tennessee and I was from Cottonwood, Alabama. I was studying Agricultural Economics and Bill was in Textile Engineering. We didn’t have much in common from our past, but we had everything in common to become good friends and roommates.

Our friendship endured as he went to Vanderbilt, earned a Masters in Chemical Engineering and began a lifelong career with Monsanto in St. Louis. I went home to Beall Peanut Company, our family business before starting Ponder Enterprises and building Hardee’s Restaurants in this part of the Southeast.

We stayed in touch off and on for these many years. In 2014, Bill and his wife, Pam, and Mary Lou and I decided we would collectively celebrate turning 60 years old together. We took a cruise to Alaska and had such a good time we planned to repeat a trip together each year.

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Last year, we took our first river cruise sailing the Danube River. It was an extraordinary trip. The slow pace allowed us to spend quality time together, usually playing Spades, while exploring parts of Europe we would have never been able to visit any other way.

This year, we planned a repeat of a river cruise, only this time we would sail the Rhine River, visiting Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands before ML and I departed for Great Britain to visit some old friends in London.

It is no secret to those that know us well that ML and I love to travel where we have never been. The first part our journey has not disappointed. In fact, I am writing this article as we enter a lock on the Rhine River, with France on one bank and Germany on the other. This river is not much wider than the Chattahoochee and seems a lot tamer.

We spent our first two days in Lucerne, Switzerland. It is a delightful city nestled on a lake with mountains soaring from the banks in many directions. We spent a half day on the lake visiting different villages on our way to Mt. Platies.

We then took the world’s steepest cog railroad to the top to visit a hotel and restaurant built along the spine between two mountain peaks. It exceeded expectations times ten. We spent hours hiking between the peaks seeing snow on the steep cliffs below us.

A couple of days later we visited the Black Forest in Germany. It is a spectacularly beautiful area as well. A trip into the mountains showed us how people have lived for centuries in the remote mountain valleys. What did they do during the long winter with temperatures diving 30 degrees below zero and snow waste deep? They learned to carve wood and eventually invented the cuckoo clocks.

France was next with a visit to Colmar, a medieval city with homes and buildings that were two hundred years old when Columbus discovered America. It is hard to imagine the level of commerce and sophistication that was already in place in Europe when America was just being discovered.

Combine that with the delightful food and great company and it is easy to say that our vacation is off to a great start. During the first three days we have met two couples that are Auburn fans, two couples that are Alabama fans, and a Swiss woman wearing a Georgia Bulldogs shirt. She had no clue who the Dawgs were, but reminded us what a small world we live in nevertheless.

Can friendships last from college? The answer is a resounding yes, and they can grow and flourish in ways you could have never imagined when you first meet fresh out of high school. You may go to college to get an education, but the friendships you develop during those days are a gift that last a lifetime.