More than papers are bound up in a bundle of letters that has passed through the post office many times in the past 58 years.
"It's kept us close very, very close," said Margaret Shea of Minot as she gripped a blue binder with a cover photo of the 1954 fall class of the Royal Alexandra Hospital School of Nursing in Edmonton, Alberta. The binder holds a lot of love and emotional ties for Shea and the 22 graduates who remain from the class of 32.
Shea said the class wanted to stay in touch after graduating so one of the members started a round-robin letter. Upon receiving the letter, each woman would add her own letter and send the collection on to the next classmate on the list, waiting for the collection to eventually come around again.
Margaret Shea holds the book of round-robin letters that members of her nursing class have been circulating since 1954.
What started as a few pages now takes a binder to contain. Computers have led to typewritten pages, but handwritten letters haven't completely gone away.
"Everybody looks forward to getting this book," Shea said. "When we get it in the mail, everything stops. You want to just read it. Everybody reads it real fast and later on they browse through it. It's become very precious to us next to our families, I think."
Shea said the book of letters currently takes about a year to make the round.
"This book has nine lives like a cat. We have had three or four times when we thought we lost it," she said.
In one instance, the book arrived at the home of a class member who was ill and later died. Shea was able to contact the woman's daughter, who visited with other family to track the book to a shelf in the classmate's home. The book now includes a page of next of kin for each member.
The graduate nurses have become like sisters.
"I myself feel like they are all my sisters. It's a feeling you can't even explain," Shea said. "We have shared disasters, illness, deaths."
When one of the nurses was confronted with her husband's Alzheimer's diagnosis, she had a former classmate in the same situation to console with her. When Shea's house was inundated in the Souris River flood last year, the sisterhood's grapevine kicked in, bringing her cards and phone calls of support.
All these events get recorded in the letters that travel to British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, North Dakota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, California and Washington state. Over the years, letters have traveled as far as India, Northern Ireland and Honolulu.
Shea, a native of the Edmonton area, and two of her classmates had relocated to take jobs in Honolulu after graduation.
"We were going to go around the world. That was our last stop because we met our future husbands there," she said.
Shea's husband, Richard, was a Minot native serving in the Navy. They lived in Washington, D.C., Maryland, Texas, Washington state, California and Northern Ireland along with making two stops in Honolulu. They later settled in Minot, where Shea worked 25 years at the former St. Joseph's Hospital. She said most of her class members have had long careers in nursing before retiring.
Class reunions are held at Royal Alexandra every year to reunite classes on five-year schedules. After each five-year reunion of the Class of 1954, Shea writes up the event for the round-robin letter. Their last reunion was in 2009.
The book opens with photos from their nursing school days. The photos bring back memories of the black stockings and shoes that were the required uniform during their first 2 1/2 years of training. It was a celebration event when student nurses replaced the black items with white attire in the later part of their training.
The three years of training were intense, with little time off. It included training in a tuberculosis sanitarium.
The book's final page is a memory page with the graduation photos of those who have passed on.
Along with the old photos, each member has a section in the book to include current family pictures and her latest letter. They remove their previous letters. Shea said she has been saving all her letters over the years.
The women haven't considered what might become of the letters someday when they are gone. However, Shea said Royal Alexandra is developing a historical archives that could prove to be an eventual depository for the book of traveling letters.