May the Circle Be Unbroken

November 30, 2009

 

Through the ages: From left,

Through the ages: From left, Sandra Mikush, Katherine Mikush, Barbara Hardin, and Alta Stone Russell, seated, represent four generations of Duke alumnae. Elizabeth Gillikin Johnson

When Alta Stone Russell '23 was sixteen and a first-year student at Trinity College, she rode a streetcar from her East Durham home to campus and back every day. Last May, on the eve of her 106th birthday, Russell presented her 1923 class ring to her great-granddaughter, Katherine Hardin Mikush '09, who represents the fourth generation of Duke alumnae in the family. The ring fit perfectly.

"In many ways, our family reflects the different stages of Duke," says Sandra Hardin Mikush '80. "My grandmother went to Trinity when it was a local college. My parents [Barbara Russell Hardin '54 and Paul Hardin III '52, J.D. '54, Hon. '94] were both children of Methodist preachers and attended when Duke was seen as a North Carolina Methodist university.

"When I came to Duke, my family was living in New Jersey." (At the time, her father was president of Drew University.) "So, in a way, I was a typical Duke student from the Northeast. And now Katie, who majored in international comparative studies and has been active in DukeEngage, represents Duke's international focus."

The Russell-Hardin-Mikush legacy is not restricted to the matrilineal side of the family. The three older women met their husbands through Duke: Alta Stone married Leon Russell B.D. '30, Barbara Russell married Paul Hardin, and Sandra Hardin married Donald Mikush Jr. B.S.M.E. '80. Over the past eight decades, an impressive number of siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and in-laws have also earned their Duke degrees—and formed their own fond memories of their experiences at their alma mater.

Sandra Mikush, deputy director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, says the multigenerational perspective has deepened her family's appreciation of Duke. "People tend to hang on to and love the time they spent at Duke. That's understandable, but it's also wonderful to see how Duke has grown into an international university. We're all proud of how the university continues to change and grow over time."

In addition to Alta Stone Russell's class ring, Katherine Mikush inherited another family gift. Like her great-grandmother, who was a teacher in Hillsborough, North Carolina, before marrying a Methodist minister, Mikush will teach in rural North Carolina, having embarked on a two-year commitment to Teach For America.