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Two college roommates reconnect after nearly 50 years apart
March, 2014

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, MN – After nearly 50 years, college roommates Cleo Johnson of Dassel and Diane Harris of New Brunswick, Canada, found that lasting friendship surpasses distance and time.

“It’s a beautiful experience,” Harris said, of reuniting with Johnson after so many years apart.

“It’s an incredible experience,” Johnson reinforced. “It’s just been amazing.”

Johnson, 70, and Harris, 72, became roommates their first year at Union College in Lincoln, NE in 1962.

Harris was studying business and secondary education, and Johnson, elementary eduction.

Johnson came from Blackduck, in northern Minnesota, while Harris moved from Panama, Central America.

“All my life, it was my dream to learn English,” Harris said.

She had attended a high school in her home country that taught English, but she wanted to be immersed in it to learn it better.

She was recommended to attend Union College in the Midwest.

“I had never seen snow before,” Harris commented.

For Johnson, it was a family tradition to attend the Seventh Day Adventist College.

Being so far away from home for the two of them didn’t turn out to be so bad, however.

“It was fine – too busy to notice,” Harris said, who also met her husband there.

“It was great. I was so excited for a new environment,” Johnson said.

Together, they lived in an apartment with another roommate, to whom they have sent a letter in hopes of reuniting with her, as well.

“They were wonderful,” Harris said of her roommates. “They made me feel right at home.”

After graduation, the roommates lost touch, particularly when Harris and her husband, a pastor, moved to Chile to be missionaries for two years.

As a pastor’s wife, Harris has moved around a lot, including “all over Canada,” where her husband is from.

Meanwhile, Johnson was teaching, first in Cloquet, then Glencoe and Hutchinson, which is where she met her current husband, Peter.

After being disconnected for so many years, Harris decided to visit the college in 2010, while passing through, and inquire on the whereabouts of her former roommate.

When Harris called Johnson, “I knew who it was right away,” Johnson said, upon hearing Harris’ voice over the telephone.

After connecting over the phone and mail, the friends had it on their bucket lists to connect in person.

Initially, the longtime friends had planned to reunite this summer when Cleo and her husband, Peter take a trip to the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Plans changed, however, when news came Harris would be moving to the opposite side of Canada, to British Columbia.

It was then they decided Harris would come to Dassel to visit.

Despite the unseasonably cold weather – which Harris is now used to – the former roommates haven’t had a hard time finding things to do.

“We have visited a lot of people,” Harris said, of Johnson’s family and friends. “Minnesotans are wonderful people,” she added in regards to the warm welcomes she has received.

Harris has also enjoyed the beautiful winter scenery found at the many rural homes she and Johnson have visited.

And she liked eating at the Third Street Café in Dassel. “I enjoy that small-town feel,” Harris said.

“It’s been just an awesome week,” Johnson said, of the reminiscing and catching up they’ve been able to do after all these years a part.

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