A member of the French family will have been enrolled at Saint Mary’s nearly consecutively from 1986 to 2026.
They’ve completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees; they’ve been involved in music, theatre, athletics, musical variety shows and more; they’ve witnessed buildings constructed and demolished; they remember four different university presidents; and they’ve majored in different subjects. Yet, as different as their experiences have been, they say they’re all proud to share a common Cardinal connection.
The family legacy began with biology major Amy (Keen) French B’90 who, after graduating from Cotter High School in Winona, wanted to continue her Catholic education close to home. Her sister, Ann Keen B’94, followed and majored in theatre. Amy’s husband Bob French completed a master’s degree in telecommunications in 1997.
The next generation included Amy and Bob’s children: Sam B’19, who majored in psychology; Jacob B’21, who majored in social studies education (and is currently getting his master’s in curriculum and instruction), and David B’21 who studied business management and history. Youngest sibling Alison is committed to starting in 2022 and hopes to get into the physician assistant program. On top of all that, Sam married Erin (Budin) B’20, who is also part of her own legacy family. And the legacy also extends to cousins.
“Dick Kowles shaped my career,” Amy said. “I did research with him for three years, which was instrumental in me getting a job. I owe my career to him. He gave those tests where you had to understand the material and couldn’t just memorize the material. You had to take what you knew and apply it.”
After graduation Amy got a job at Mayo Clinic in genetics. “I have done cancer research for almost 30 years, have authored or co-authored over 60 papers, including in the journals of Nature and New England journal of medicine,” she said. “I have presented my work at national conferences. The education I received led to my post graduate education and achieving a master’s degree in biomedical science. I am currently employed at Mayo Clinic as a senior research technologist by the department of laboratory medicine and pathology and do cancer research.”
Ann has had a variety of jobs and careers since Saint Mary’s and credits the theatre department for providing the skills and confidence she’s needed for them all, from founding a nonprofit theatre company to owning 360 Flavor and Spice, a custom blend store, and from serving as the venue director at Chicago Union Station to working for JP Morgan Chase. “The Lasallian mission of being of service and getting to know people can apply anywhere,” she said. “The biggest guiding principle Saint Mary’s taught me was to carry my ideas and principles to every job and that will always yield success.”
David is currently working at Fastenal Company as the associate supplier development manager in lighting and electrical. “Saint Mary’s helped me tremendously in my career preparation,” he said. “I attribute the ease of working in a corporate setting to the discussions and presentations that gave me the tools of communicating and critically thinking to solve business problems.” He particularly credits his business “strategies” course because it culminated in a high stakes final presentation that utilized everything he had learned in the business program. “It really taught me intellectual grit and challenged me on how to think on my feet,” he said.
Erin, currently teaching band for the La Crescent-Hokah School District, said getting out into the field as early as her sophomore year as an education major and having three years of being immersed in the schools helped her prepare for her career. She had the added challenge of student teaching during the pandemic.
Involvement and opportunities
Erin and Sam first met while playing music together. They, David, and Jacob all participated in various music ensembles on campus.
Jacob and David were both on the baseball team. One of David’s favorite memories is when the baseball team won the MIAC tournament in 2021. “Working through all the adversities of COVID-19, from 2020 our season being canceled in the spring to the challenges of being on campus in 2020-2021, made our playoff run even more memorable,” he said. “Teachers were really flexible and worked with our schedules and emphasized the importance of making sure education was a priority,” Jacob added.
“Saint Mary’s encourages students to be involved in activities, clubs performances, and sports while being a student. I was involved in a lot and they were all very different in their nature which allowed me to meet new people and grow more relationships with the community,” Erin said. “Saint Mary’s is where I met my closest friends, my husband and my family. Saint Mary’s prepares you for the future and gives you life changing experiences.”
Sam recalls having a lot of fun at various campus events including the musical variety shows. His jazz combo played for the ceremony at the dedication of the first section of Aquinas Hall (formerly the Science and Learning Center).
One more French, youngest sister Alison, has grown up hearing all the Saint Mary’s stories and will soon be making some of her own. One big draw for her was the opportunity to play softball with award winning Coach John Tschida B’90 who returned to Saint Mary’s last year.
“Coach Tschida is an amazing person and coach,” Amy said. “His softball knowledge is exceptional. But most importantly he is a great mentor to his players. Alison has grown up around the ball field. She started playing baseball at 3 until she was old enough to join the softball league in town. If not playing, she was attending her brothers’ games. She spends hours each week in the weight room and honing skills. She is driven to work to improve and be the best teammate she can be. And the culture that Coach Tschida creates matches what Alison wants in a program. She is super excited to play for him.”
The Frenches are Saint Mary’s advocates.
“I would recommend Saint Mary’s because it is a community that cares about you and your future. Saint Mary’s is a Lasallian Catholic School that focuses on your growth as a person and human and provides countless opportunities that challenge you to look at the world in a new perspective of empathy, dignity, resilience, and respect,” David said.
“Saint Mary’s is where you go to not just be a number, you are a name,” Erin added. “There is so much opportunity for involvement, community, and achievement. A big part of Saint Mary’s is the people who are there who made that experience so enjoyable.”
“It’s had a big impact on my life through significant events,” Jacob said. “It’s the overall sense of community. You’re immersed in a good community.”
Amy added, “It’s a very tight, faith-filled community offering an excellent Lasallian education.”
A shared experience
The French family uses words like “amazing” and “incredible” to describe the unique bond of attending the same alma mater.
“I think it is really cool that we are all Cardinals and a part of the Saint Mary’s alumni family, but it is also a cool thing to think that even though we all went there, that each of our experiences was so different and unique to all of us,” Erin said. “The connections we formed, the classes we took, the things we were involved in — nothing was the same for any of us. And it’s fun to be a part of something so connected, yet knowing our experience was unique.”
“It is an awesome feeling knowing that we shared a college experience with my family members,” David added. “It’s a testament to the quality of the school and how beneficial Saint Mary’s is from an educational and communal standpoint.”