Vixen family rallies on

It was just short of his 10th anniversary at Sweet Briar College when Steve Bailey found out that he would indeed be celebrating — and his family with him.

Steve and Susan Bailey with their daughters at Founders' Day 2015
Steve and Susan Bailey with their daughters at Founders’ Day 2015

“When the College was saved, it felt like our family was whole again,” Bailey says of that fateful day in June when alumnae forces reached a settlement agreement that would keep Sweet Briar open.

But it wasn’t just his job as director of physical plant that was saved that day. His youngest daughter, Mary Kate, had just finished her sophomore year as a Vixen.

“After the announcement of Sweet Briar’s closing [in March], traditions tended to be solemn reminders of what would be lost to us forever,” she remembers.

“Now that Sweet Briar has been saved, traditions are carried out with even more pride and joy than before the announcement. [They] mean so much more to me now because I have a deeper appreciation for the effort that was put into making Sweet Briar what it is today.”

Mary Kate is an engineering major with minors in business and math, and a member of the IHSA riding team and the field hockey and softball teams. She hopes to find a job as an electrical process engineer after she graduates in May 2017. She’ll be the fourth woman in her family to earn the rose, following in the footsteps of her mother, Susan Parr Bailey ’81 (psychology), an elementary school teacher, and older sisters, Elizabeth H. Bailey ’10 (sociology), who works as a clinician with Horizon Behavioral Health, and Caroline Bailey ’13 (anthropology/religion), a benefits analyst.

They’re proud of Mary Kate, and they’re hoping future generations of Baileys will fall in love with the College as they did, says Elizabeth. It’s difficult for her to describe what makes Sweet Briar so special, because there are so many aspects she values — from receiving an outstanding education to the family ties that keep getting tighter.

Having growing up “in Sweet Briar’s backyard,” all three sisters experienced the College as a place where “young women grow into bright, well-rounded, strong, educated women who are able to take on life’s challenges,” says Caroline.

It all started when her mother was in elementary school, marching in the Five Star Parade during Amherst County Day on Sweet Briar’s beautiful campus. Susan knew then that this was her school.

“The love that began almost fifty years ago has grown stronger over the years, with each connection and memory that has been made,” she says. “I can still be found walking the same parade route with my dog, Annie, enjoying the beauty and tranquility that has become such an integral part of our family.”

There are many other memories Susan cherishes: Lantern Bearing. Dell parties. Impromptu concerts by the Sweet Tones. And not to forget about the friendships that continue to shape her life today.

“Byrd Stone was my favorite professor at Sweet Briar,” Susan recalls. “[As] associate professor of education and Campus School director, [Stone] fueled my lifelong passion for teaching children with her enthusiasm and love for kids. I was able to get firsthand experience working with the students at the nursery school and kindergarten under her direction. I not only admired and respected her; she was my mentor and very dear friend. Developing friendships with professors at Sweet Briar is very commonplace and one of the things that makes our beloved school so special.”

When Sweet Briar celebrated Founders’ Day in September, all five Baileys were there, marching up to Monument Hill.

A revered tradition at the College, it is one of the family’s favorites. In 2015, it meant more than ever.

“To us, Sweet Briar is home,” says Elizabeth. “Sweet Briar is family. We are all Vixens.”