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Vintage Gown, Timeless Bronco: Kay Polzin's Story

Behind this beautiful vintage wedding dress is a timeless Bronco. 

Kathryn (Kay) Stimson Polzin (B.A.’46, Mathematics) has a long history with East Campus. She not only earned a bachelor’s degree from what was then Western Michigan College of Education, but also graduated from the Training School in 1938 and University High in 1942. Kay in Dress

Born in Kalamazoo, Kay’s father unexpectedly passed away in 1933 when she was just 8-years-old. She and her family had been living with her grandparents, and after her father’s death, Kay’s mother took a job at Gilmore Brothers Department Store for $12 a week.

“I mostly lived at home while going to school, but my mother figured out a way to afford for me to stay in a dorm [at Western] for one term,” Kay said. “She wore the same two dresses to work day after day and sacrificed a lot for us.”

Growing up during The Great Depression, Kay was well acquainted with the concept of frugality. Like her mother, she also knew how to make the most of a good garment. In fact, she wore the dress she walked down the aisle in during her honeymoon in Chicago and for several other occasions.

Today, thanks to her niece (Suzanne Stimson Leech), Kay’s wedding dress is part of the Historical Garment Collection at WMU. (You can read more about this story here). Located in Kohrman Hall, this collection includes garments and accessories dating back to the 19th century. 

“It’s a nice mix of everything. We have 1860s huge hoop skirts with crinoline, 1920s flapper costumes, shoes and baby clothes from throughout the centuries," said Iris Cooper, a fashion history instructor at WMU and curator of the collection. "I enjoy our wedding dress collection where you can really track styles throughout the decades.” 

Kay currently lives in Friendship Village and will turn 99 on New Year’s Eve this year. Here are a few more details from this wonderful and proud alumna’s life:

  • Paul V. Sangren, who became the president of Western State Teachers College in 1938, awarded Kay her eighth-grade diploma from the Training School.
  • Kay grew up on Horace Avenue, east of the city of Kalamazoo, and she and her brother often rode their bikes to elementary school.
  • She learned how to drive on a Ford Model A.
  • When Kay was in high school, her grandmother went back to night school so she could help her grandkids with algebra. Although she didn’t have a college degree, Kay’s grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse.
  • Kay was happily married to her husband John for 62 years before he passed away in 2017.
  • Before she married, Kay taught in Grand Haven and Portage schools. She also worked as a research lab technician at the Upjohn Company. 

Kay in Aisle


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