Maintaining a friend group of over a dozen (mostly retired) teachers and teacher aides for thirty-three years might sound like an impossible feat, but Violet St. Clair and her gang prove otherwise. Since the group first began at Campbelltown School in Sherwood Park all those years ago, it has grown into a special community that has stood the test of time.

What started as colleagues exchanging advice, stories, and words of wisdom in the hallways eventually grew into a close-knit group outside of school. “It brought us together because we shared ideas,” said Violet. “We shared school problems, classroom problems. The more we did that, the more we got to know each other. And we all speak the same language, as teachers.”

Although some friends switched schools throughout their teaching careers, including Violet, the Campbelltown crew still made the combined effort to meet on a monthly basis. Jill, who Violet has nicknamed the Dowager Empress, sends out a calendar each September to schedule their monthly get-togethers.

Outside of the regular meetups, it’s not unusual for some of the pack to split up into smaller groups to share hobbies and interests. A fond memory of Violet’s was visiting Graceland over spring break with three other members of the group, one of whom is a big Elvis fan. Although not a fan herself, Violet says she did find a new appreciation for The King and his music. And besides, the trip was an opportunity for longtime friends to share yet another adventure.

So, what’s the secret to over three decades of friendship? For one, Violet feels that showing respect and compassion for different perspectives is important for maintaining lasting bonds. “We all have our ‘teacher voice’ on,” she says. “We can handle some differences, but tone of voice is important. If you can say something with affection, and maybe give a pat or an arm squeeze, that goes a long way. We’re not all going to be around forever.”

With a group of pals this size, it’s not always easy getting everyone together. But despite friends moving away, family commitments or travel plans, the Campbelltown crew is as strong as ever in retirement. Whether or not everyone can make every gathering, the calendar will always be updated with future plans and birthdays (even Elvis’s included, every January).

And when the gang does get together, it’s like no time has passed at all – not even thirty-three years. “Everyone’s got to choose their own path, and sometimes their path does diverge from you. But we’ve been lucky,” Violet says. “This is a group that has stayed pretty dedicated so far. Knock on wood!”