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Alumni tradition still going strong after 59 years

Mar 18th, 2011 | Category: Feature Stories

By Mary Lance

Rita Helen Auge Keene ’46 (from left), Rita Pfeiffer Moulder ’46, Mary Helen “Pinkie” Devine Pinner ’46, and Nell Mueller Kothmann ’46, ’48 gathered around the Christmas tree on Jan. 6 to celebrate their yearly Twelfth Night tradition.

For 59 uninterrupted years, Mary Helen “Pinkie” Devine Pinner ’46 BA has hosted a Twelfth Night party for classmates, family and friends.

“Oh, I’d celebrate Christmas all year long if I could,” said Pinkie, a nickname she received thanks to her self-described “screeching” red hair.

Pinkie and her husband, Bill, hosted the first gathering in their home, but since 1996, the celebration has been held at the historic Brackenridge Villa on the UIW campus. This year, nearly 90 friends and family members, from every major city in Texas and a few towns in between, gathered together on Jan. 6. The guest list included three of Pinkie’s classmates and original attendees: Helen Auge Keene ’46 BA, Rita Pfeiffer Moulder ’46 BA and Nell Mueller Kothman ’48 BSN.

As is the tradition, toward the end of the evening, three guests were adorned with handmade crowns. Pinkie used to select the kings, mostly at random, but 25 years ago, she assigned the task to a young friend, Valerie Redus, who takes care to select kings who haven’t been previously honored.

The kings-for-a-night immerged from the house’s kitchen and strutted their respective crowns – one of gold lamé, one velvet and bejeweled, and the third of silver and black with a trailing tassel. One of the kings, a longtime friend of the Pinners, exclaimed, “It’s the most fabulous thing that’s ever happened to me to be asked to be king.”

But the derivation of her Twelfth Night celebration, also known as the Epiphany or Three Kings as documented in Matthew 4:11, had its origins not in the glitter of the presents brought to baby Jesus from the East by the Magi, or wise men. Rather, the concept for Pinkie’s celebrations grew from the advice she gave brides who were clients in her bridal consultant shop, O’Devine, which she opened on Hildebrand the year after her graduation.

“One bride insisted she would only have Christmas at her family home, not her groom-to-be,” Pinkie said, “and I told her, and then all my brides, this is no way to start a marriage. Flip a coin, first year at one family, second at the other, then on the Epiphany, have your own Christmas at home.”

The Pinners celebrated their first Twelfth Night in 1951 during the first Christmas season they spent as a married couple. In 1996, Pinkie was preoccupied with her broken arm and with her mother who was ill. Pinkie told her friend Dick McCracken, alumni dean emeritus at UIW, she wasn’t sure she could manage the party in her house. McCracken helped make arrangements for the celebration to be held on campus at the Brackenridge Villa and even offered his family recipe for plum pudding.

When Bill, an engineer with Exxon, passed away in 2008, friends weren’t sure Pinkie would continue the yearly parties. “Oh, yes, we will,” announced a determined Pinkie, and the tradition went forward.

Thus, on Jan. 6, partygoers toasted each other at the Brackenridge Villa, ate McCracken’s homemade plum pudding, munched on Pinkie’s hors d’œuvres, and satisfied the sweet tooth with a few dozen Christmas cookies baked for the occasion by friends.

McCracken and Pinkie Pinner are joined in more than friendship and a Twelfth Night party. The duo launched, at the request of the UIW Planned Giving Office, the 100 Legacies in the Making campaign to garner gifts for the university.

“I’ll do anything for Incarnate Word,” said Pinkie, who remembered that on her first day on the Incarnate Word High School campus, she turned to her mother and said, “Mama, this is where I belong.”

Today she feels the same. “I love every inch of Incarnate Word and what it stands for.”

And what Incarnate Word stands for, according to Pinkie Pinner, is “God takes care of us.” That caring God, for Pinkie, family and friends, arrives each Jan. 6 to bring them all together, once again, to celebrate some very wise men who recognized the enormous moment in history at the birth of a baby named Jesus.

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