Dedicated benches on the quad honor loved ones: ‘Memory lives here’

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Grandchildren sit on a bench dedicated in loving memory to their grandmother Nancy Sams Palermo ‘61 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. in 2002. Photo courtesy of Pete Palermo

Nancy Sams Palermo ‘61, daughter of two Occidental graduates, was able to find a man at Occidental. Or it may be more accurate that her husband Pete Palermo ‘59, who said he dedicated a bench to her in loving memory after she died, found her.

Pete Palermo said it all started at a Wednesday night dance mixer at Occidental.

“She was dancing with somebody. I won’t mention the person’s name, but I think she wanted to get away from him,” Pete Palermo said. “Anyway, she dropped her purse and all her coins spilled out. Isn’t that the typical story? So I helped her pick up her coins and we started dancing.”

Pete Palermo said he was a senior when she was a sophomore, and he felt pressure then to find “the one” in college. He said his wife, an active member of the Gamma Kappa Theta Sorority and a synchronized swimmer, was popular and spirited. They shared similar interests, like both being Dodgers fans.

“She was cute. Let’s put it that way. She was always happy, smiling and had a good smile,” Pete Palermo said.

Pete Palermo said she became an elementary school teacher, and the two were married for 40 years. He said they traveled the world together: Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France.

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Grandchild sits on a bench dedicated in loving memory to his grandmother Nancy Sams Palermo ‘61 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA in 2015. Photo courtesy of Pete Palermo.

“[Our daughter] would take [her children] to Occidental when they were little and as they grew up, and showed them the bench,” Pete Palermo said. “And they would talk about Grandma. You know, Nancy? That’s really what I take back from doing that. That memory lives there because my daughter made a point of it to take the grandchildren as they were growing up. Any time they came to town.”

For Mother’s Day in 2001, daughters Laurie Chatham ‘80 and Leslie Chatham ‘78 bought a bench in honor of their mother, Trudy Stratton Chatham ‘45, who attended Occidental during World War II.

“It wouldn’t be on an academic building. It wouldn’t be any place having to do with studying,” Leslie Chatham said. “It wouldn’t be in the library. We would never have donated a book. But a bench on the Quad— yes. The only thing that would have been better would have been a card table.”

They said their mother would tell just about anyone her life story.

“She made a splash,” Leslie Chatham said. “People remember her, and she remembered every detail of every person she pretty much ever met.”

Trudy Stratton
A photo of Trudy Stratton Chatham ‘45 courtesy of Laurie Chatham.

One time they said the whole family visited a different college for a prospective student day. Their mom struck up a conversation with one student there — this student was from Guatemala.

“Within about 90 seconds, Mom not only knew who [this student] was and who her parents were, but she ascertained that she had actually visited this family when this girl was an infant,” Leslie Chatham said. “And likely changed her diaper.”

Laurie Chatham said when her mom went to Occidental, they had Dorm Mothers instead of Resident Advisors. Laurie Chatham said Dorm Mothers were often in their 40s and would oversee the women especially — Trudy Stratton Chatham would have to sneak past them after their set curfew.

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Leslie Chatham ‘78 and Laurie Chatham ‘80 sit on a bench dedicated to their mother with their mother Trudy Stratton Chatham ‘45 at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of Laurie Chatham.

Leslie Chatham said it disappointed her mom that there were not more men around her at the college; there were military men stationed on the campus, but they were kept pretty separate, and they were not in her classes. However, their mom still made plenty of friends at Occidental; the daughters said their godmothers both went to Occidental.

Trudy Stratton Chatham was likely drawn to Occidental because she had an affinity for LA and small liberal arts colleges — she also appreciated Occidental’s Presbyterian roots, Leslie Chatham said. Laurie Chatham said one of the reasons they decided to buy the bench was to celebrate their mom in life rather than remember her in death.

“We gathered for Thanksgiving. We made a little sojourn out to the bench, and did a bunch of photo ops, and [Mom] was really thrilled,” Laurie Chatham said.

Laurie Chatham said her son Alex Chatham Toy ‘14 also went to Occidental, and he told her there was something wonderful about being able to sit and study on his grandmother’s bench.

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Leslie Chatham ‘78, Alex Chatham Toy ‘14 and Laurie Chatham ‘80 sit on a bench dedicated to Trudy Stratton Chatham ‘45 during Alex Chatham Toy’s ‘14 2014 graduation from Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Photo courtesy of Laurie Chatham.

“We make light of [Trudy Stratton Chatham’s] sociability, but a lot of the time it was for the good,” Laurie Chatham said. “She was looking to see where she could make a small difference for people.”

Bob Bozzani ‘51 is 93 and said he dedicated a bench in honor of his parents, Mary and Joseph Bozzani, who were immigrants from Italy — they did not attend Occidental, but they are the reason Bob Bozzani could attend.

“They were proud that their only son went to college,” Bob Bozzani said. “I knew that they gave me something that they couldn’t quite afford. I just knew it within. But there was never a mention. Never, never, never any mention that they sacrificed.”

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Bob Bozzani ‘51 visits Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Thursday, Feb 17, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

Bob Bozzani said his father was a car dealer and he followed in his footsteps with that profession.

“[My father] had a way of talking that [people] really loved,” Bob Bozzani said. “He kept a little accent purposely because it added to his personality.”

Bob Bozzani said his mother was a very social homemaker, and Italians admire their mothers because they know how hard they work.

“I’ll tell you how bad of a student I was [at Occidental],” Bob Bozzani said. “I was shy, and I almost flunked public speaking.”

However, he said that his public speaking class came in handy later in his life. He also found a world religions class he took at Occidental to be memorable because he ended up traveling abroad a lot in his life. He and his wife visited India 80 times, Bob Bozzani said.

“I truly enjoyed being on [the Occidental] campus again,” Bob Bozzani said via email. “Being with all of those students walking around the campus was good vibrations. I know you are fortunate to be there, so I do hope you enjoy your time there.”