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Interaction: Making a point

The archives photo published in the spring issue of The University Magazine brought back many memories of RIT’s fencing teams, although no one was able to identify all four women. Here’s a sampling of the letters we received:

To the editors:

I believe I recognize Barbi Brill on the left in the “From the Archives” photo in the spring 2002 magazine. Barbi and June Johnson (right) were the stars of the women’s team in 1956-57 – the senior year for both. By 1955 they were joined by Donelda Choate, but I don’t recognize her in the photo.

The RIT women’s team won the Intercollegiate Women’s Fencing Association championship for the first time in 1955 when Barbi won the individual championship and June placed second. June won the IWFA in 1957 and the RIT team placed first.

I recall that Barbi was the organizer for the 1957 tournament hosted by RIT – the first time the women’s championship had been held outside of the New York City area.

Barbi moved to New York City to continue fencing and was nationally ranked for a long period. June married Marty Siebach ’57, who taught electrical engineering technology at RIT for many years.

I fenced at RIT from 1956-60. I was captain of the men’s team and continued fencing competitively until 1995.

Bill Streeter ’60

To the editors:

I was a member of the men’s varsity fencing team from 1953 to 1957. I believe the woman on the right may be Barbara “Barbi” Brill, an excellent fencer who won many individual honors. Along with Barbi, Clea Cooper and June Johnson were mainstays of that team. In 1955 the women’s team won the National Women’s Fencing Association Championship at Rutherford, N.J. This capped the career of RIT’s fencing coach, Harold Florescue, who had coached at RIT for about 18 years prior to this event.

Your photo brought back many fond memories of my fencing experience at RIT. I hope you receive other responses to your archives page as fencing at RIT has regrettably passed into history and its many successes and accomplishments have been forgotten.

Carl A. Nelson ’57

To the editors:

When I saw your photo of the women fencers, it sent me to my own scrapbook. June Johnson and Barbi Brill were, in today’s word, “awsome!” I was the baby of the team and my prowess as a fencer was nothing to brag about, but I filled in the roster and made it possible for the team to be in the competition.

The other important reason for my being on the team is that I met the man to whom I have been married for the last 44 years, Harold Gunther ’57. Harry wasn’t a fencer, but his roommate was on the men’s team, so I was introduced when he came to a competition.

Joanne Burton Gunther ’58

To the editors:

In the summer between freshman and sophomore years, I had a mild case of polio, which left my upper arms rather weak. I was supposed to lift weights and do exercises or take up a sport. Since fencing was the only sport for women, and I enjoyed it, it seemed the natural thing to do.

There were not a lot of us but we were a close-knit group.

We had a couple of undefeated years and got to go to the Intercollegiate Fencing Tournament in New York City in 1955.

I remember going on the subway in our white fencing outfits and people kept asking us if we were doctors. They kept asking ‘What is RIT?’ By the time it was over, they had heard of us, and we took their nice trophy home to Rochester.
Since there was no gymnasium, we usually practiced on the second floor of the Eastman Annex, and wrestling coach Earl Fuller had his wrestlers come up there to run laps. I suspect he thought they would work harder to show off for the girls.

I guess it must have worked, because that was where I met Jim Modrak ’58, one of the wrestlers. We were married in 1958.

Mary Patricia Estey Modrak ’56

Do you have ideas or comments regarding the magazine, or information to share? Write to The University Magazine, 132 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, NY 14623-5608. Send e-mail to umagwww@rit.edu.

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