For junior Emily Walker and her sister Caroline, a freshman, first impressions of Hillsdale started well before traditional college visits. Each said one of her earliest memories is of dropping off their eldest brother Chris ’06 at Hillsdale in 2002. Caroline was just two years old at the time.
Since then, each of the five Walker siblings has attended Hillsdale, with the youngest two now current students.
But their family’s history at Hillsdale didn’t begin with Chris. Fifty-nine years prior, their grandmother’s cousin, Mary Louise Schultz (née Wilson), ’47, arrived as a freshman. Her experience differed from that of the younger Walkers: At the time, the effects of WWII reached even quiet Hillsdale.
“The first couple of years it was mostly just girls because the fellas were all in the service,” she said. “You know, they’d been drafted or they enlisted for WWII. So things were much different.”
Since food was rationed for the war effort, the students had to take ration cards to meals in the dining hall, Schultz remembered.
“But it was still a wonderful school, and I loved every minute that I was there,” she said, fondly recalling her favorite professor and adviser, Windsor Hall Roberts, professor of history, and an ornithology class with biology professor Bertram Barber, founder of the Slayton Arboretum.
Schultz said that, like Emily and Caroline, who she visits at Hillsdale, she had also followed her older sister’s example in coming to the college. After visiting her sister often during her years at the school, Schultz’s choice was clear: “I never looked anywhere but Hillsdale,” she said.
Emily and Caroline never knew a time when Hillsdale was not a part of their lives.
Caroline recalled how upset she was when she realized college was where they’d have to say goodbye to Chris.
“We were really close,“ she said. “And so, at convocation I was sitting on his lap, and when they stood up to say goodbye, he just held me the whole time. And then he was putting me down, and I’m like ‘you’re not putting me down, where are you going?’ … and I did not understand what was happening, and I just started crying.”
But it wasn’t goodbye for long. Jeni joined her older brother two years later, and Katie, following in her brother’s and sister’s footsteps, arrived as a freshman in 2007. During those years, their parents and two kid sisters visited regularly. The girls would have sleepovers and make breakfast — waffles and pancakes — in Olds and Waterman residences with their older sisters and climb on Chris’s lofted bed in Simpson residence, “which I thought was the coolest thing,” Caroline said.
“It’s funny to grow up here, basically, and see it through all the stages of these buildings being built, and the changes in professors and everything, … And then to be here and to actually be a student,” she said. “It’s really strange, but it feels very natural.”
Though four years passed between Katie’s graduation in 2011 and Emily’s freshman year in 2015, the Walker legacy has impacted her time as a student. During her first semester, she took classes from professors who had taught her older siblings or had been their classmates — like Associate Professor of History Matthew Gaetano, a good school friend of Chris’s.
“I get called Katie and Jeni a lot,” Emily said.
Caroline said taking classes with Gaetano “has created a very fun but a very interesting dynamic because he knows how brilliant Chris is.”
Sharing a common experience at Hillsdale has made the already loving family closer, though they are spread out in years.
“I think it just makes us closer as siblings because we have that shared common experience,” Jeni said. “When [Caroline] says, ‘Oh I’m going to babysit for the Coles tonight,’ I know exactly who they are.”
She says that the common Hillsdale experience “makes the age gap seem a little smaller.”
Trying to live up to their siblings’ reputation and still pursue their own interests has been a learning process for the girls, and Jeni said all four girls strove to fill their eldest brother’s shoes. Chris graduated the third in his class, a feat none of the younger siblings has accomplished. But it was encouraging to have him set a high bar, Jeni said.
“I really felt the academic pressure the most because that’s at that point what I cared about the most,” Emily said.
She said she also felt the social pressure to be like her siblings, two of whom were on the Homecoming court, and another in Lamplighters, a woman’s honorary. Emily, then about 7, remembers being too young to run onto the field when Chris was crowned Homecoming king.
Each sibling has intentionally pursued different interests, and Caroline said learning piano alongside Emily means being outshone.
“I heard her practice today. She’s really, really, really good,” Caroline said. “I’m okay with completely being in her shadow in the music department and realizing in other areas, I can be more involved in those areas.”
She added that being on campus taught them balance and brought them closer together.
“I think what I had to learn was it’s that it’s ok to have a different experience,” Emily said.
Schultz still visits the school and recently attended Hillsdale’s football game against Michigan Technological University, where she sat with President Larry Arnn.
“Yeah, that was really nice,” she said.
Like Schultz, Emily began as a student after her sister graduated — the first girl to enter Hillsdale without a sibling there — and said now having Caroline has been “a blast.”
Caroline will graduate 74 years after Schultz did. Whether separated by decades or just a few years, the family’s Hillsdale experiences have drawn them together, cultivating a love for life, learning, and each other.
Commenting on the latest comers in the family’s long legacy, Jeni said: “I think it’s funny for them to be the ones that are there now, rather than the cute little sisters who would come and visit.”