Before Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, there was Perdita Sheirich. She is Pomona’s longtime keeper of the class notes, the behind-the-scenes scribe working to connect you and countless other Sagehens in the back pages of this magazine. Compiling news of births, weddings, moves, career climbs, retirements and your ascent of Half Dome last summer, she carries on quietly chronicling the memorable moments in alumni lives. Death is her domain as well. When it’s your turn, Perdita is the one who will pull together your obituary for this magazine.
Nobody, it seems, knows precisely when Perdita started doing the class notes. The earliest mention of her by name in the magazine was in the February 1974 issue, but it’s possible she did some class notes earlier than that. At one point, she had three different part-time jobs on campus, and the dates and details are a tad hazy decades later. “I’ve forgotten how many editors I’ve had,” says Perdita. She does recall Gordon Hazlitt ’54, who was her first editor back in the ’70s. When contacted, he returned the favor, noting Perdita’s “cheerful personality and consistency.”
With her crisp white ’do and wry smile that sometimes borders on mischief, Perdita’s sense of humor is more than balanced by what Hazlitt calls her “sense of the proper.” Not one to fudge on deadlines or indulge needless exceptions to the rules, she brings a sense of continuity to the magazine and the wider Sagehen community—as she types away each afternoon in the basement offices of Seaver House.
Among her many editors, Perdita also can’t forget Christine Kopitzke ’75, who held the role in the ‘80s. “Chris got me a Selectric typewriter,” Perdita explains. In the days before words hurtled through the electronic ether, folks scrawled their latest news on the back of their Annual Fund donation forms. Perdita was left to decipher the handwriting and type each note on a little yellow slip of paper to then be typeset for publication in the magazine. After each fund mailing went out, the envelopes came back— in “stacks and stacks and stacks.” So heavy was the volume that for many years the magazine had a rule, since overturned, limiting alumni to one class note submission per year. Today, though, the class notes actually take up more pages: There are more living alumni and, with the internet, more ways for news to come Perdita’s way.
Perdita’s long campus tenure may have been preordained. Most of her life has been spent in the realm of letters and academia. Even her name has literary lineage, hailing from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. “Daddy was getting his degree in comparative literature at the time,” she says. When her father finished his Ph.D. at Harvard, the family moved to California, where her father became a German professor at UC Berkeley. Perdita later attended there, majoring in art.
Perdita was 30 years old with a successful career in New York City at a drapery and upholstery fabric company when she came back to the Bay Area to manage the firm’s San Francisco office. As she attended one of her father’s German Department parties at Berkeley upon her return, her mother made an introduction: “I know this most attractive young man I want you to meet.” Though Perdita was skeptical at first, something clicked and she and young instructor Dick Sheirich soon wed.
Dick landed his role as a German professor at Pomona in 1965, and Perdita, along with taking on part-time campus jobs, soon after became involved with the venerable Rembrandt Club, devoted to supporting the arts. (She remains a key player in the club to this day.) Perdita took several breaks from the class notes over the years to accompany Dick on his sabbatical travels and, when in Claremont, the couple was a familiar sight walking around campus and the Village day after day.
Since Dick’s passing in 2011, Perdita has found comfort in keeping at those class notes, and she hopes to carry on at the keyboard for as long as her eyesight holds up. In fact, right now she needs to get back to work. Just returned from vacation, she has 700 new emails to go through.