A women's nation
Last year, a study by journalist and California First Lady Maria Shriver, along with the Center for American Progress, described "a woman's nation" in which, for the first time, women constitute half of all workers and mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families.
"Quite simply, women as half of all workers changes everything," noted the Shriver Report, pointing out "a dramatic shift" from 1967, when women were only one-third of all workers. "It changes how women spend their days and has a ripple effect that reverberates throughout our nation. It fundamentally changes how we all work and live, not just women but their families, their co-workers, their bosses, their faith institutions and their communities."
Against that backdrop are the stories of just a few Bluffton women. Their calling as doctors, nurses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, homemakers, volunteers, bankers, administrators and teachers and their roles as daughters, mothers, granddaughters, grandmothers, students, wives and friends are what make a woman's nation.
A family tradition of serving
Helping others runs in Kristen (Shelly '10) Matthews'family. So, while the May 2010 graduate won't be doing it exactly like other Shellys have, it's not surprising that service is in her plans.
Her lineage includes, among the women alone, a great-grandmother, Dr. Ella (Garber '19) Bauman, and a grandmother, Dr. Elizabeth (Bauman '54) Shelly, who became medical doctors. Her mother, Kathy (Bowers) Shelly, has been a registered nurse.
Matthews "thought I was destined for the medical profession" as well, possibly as a nurse. But, while medicine is an obvious way to help people, "I don't think it was in me," she says. "I wouldn't have the stomach for it."
Coming to Bluffton four years ago with varied interests, but not knowing which one she wanted to pursue, she began looking at possible majors. She settled on sociology, she says, because the required classes in human interaction sounded intriguing.
In addition, Matthews says, "there's a lot of freedom in that field to explore." In her case, exploration included minors in peace and conflict studies (PCS) and international studies, along with involvement in the music program. And her cross-cultural trip to Israel/Palestine two years ago provided even more global perspective.
During that trip, she also began dating classmate Devon Matthews '10, whom she married on May 29. They are interested in voluntary service. "I want to do something that matters," says Kristen, also this year's May Day queen, noting that "pursuing my own career is definitely a priority for me." So is "making a difference for people," she adds, describing a dream job involving living and relating with people in a foreign country.
Her grandmother, Elizabeth (Bauman) Shelly, supports the travel idea. "Every young person should go abroad sometime," the retired obstetrician/gynecologist says. "It changes your perspective."
That's coming from a woman who was born in Quakertown, Pa., then spent most of her childhood in India—where her parents, both doctors, worked for the Mennonite General Conference from 1925-61—and, in the last half century, has lived in the former Zaire—now the Democratic Republic of the Congo—and Brussels, Belgium. Her travels also included stateside stints in Bethlehem, Pa.; Oakland, Calif.; and Hazard, Ky., before moving back to Bluffton in 1999.
Earning her Bluffton degree in biology/pre-medicine in 1954, she moved on to the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where she was one of 14 women in a group of about 200. Being in the minority was not a deterrent, though, for a woman whose career dye had been cast long before. "It's all I ever wanted to do," she says about being a doctor. "No one had to talk me into it."
By the time she married Walter Shelly '55 in June 1956, he was at Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College, which, she adds, didn't accept women until 1961. So she transferred to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, also in Philadelphia, where she was one of nine women among the roughly 120 students—and graduated in 1958.
Growing up in Champa, India, "I saw the need for women to take care of women," she says. But she also chose OB/GYN because "I didn't have to know everything," she says. "It wasn't such a broad field."
With the 1960s came the beginning of the Shellys' international travels and the births of their four children, beginning with Mark, Kristen's father, in 1960. "I was fit to be tied with a child all day at home," says Elizabeth, whose husband said full-time work outside the home was off limits at that point, but she later did part time medical work while Walter completed his surgical training.
Having had only two years of residency previously, she redid her residency in Bethlehem, Pa., from 1978-82, then worked with an Indian doctor in the city until 1986.
"I always went where Walter felt called," Elizabeth says and, in 1986, that was to Hazard, Ky., in Appalachia. "Seeing the need, I couldn't say no, but I wouldn't have gone without the new hospital"—Hazard Regional Medical Center—that opened in April 1987, she adds.
Except for a doctor in Hazard, "I never felt I wasn't accepted" as a female doctor, says Shelly. "I didn't want to put myself above anyone; I just wanted to help," she says. "I thought there was a place for women in medicine. I never regretted it."
Kathy (Bowers) Shelly, Elizabeth's daughter-in-law and Kristen's mother, feels the same way about life choices she has made since attending Bluffton in the late '70s. With a Mennonite church background, parents who had both gone to school here and other family in the area, coming to Bluffton from southeastern Pennsylvania in 1977 "was a natural thing to do," Kathy says. But at the end of her freshman year, she decided to pursue nursing and, that summer, as a nurse's aide in a nursing home, she "fell in love with working with older people," she remembers.
Moving back to Pennsylvania, she continued working as a nurse's aide and went to St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing in Bethlehem, where she graduated in August 1981. She married Mark Shelly a week later and moved back to Bluffton for his senior year of college. During that year, she was a registered nurse at Bluffton and Lima Memorial hospitals.
She continued working full time for four years in Philadelphia while her husband attended Jefferson Medical College. By 1986, she and Mark started their family, which includes Lauren, a fourth-generation Bauman/Shelly at Jefferson Medical College; Kristen; and high school freshman Bryan. After moving to Penfield, N.Y., she held part-time jobs for a number of years in nearby Rochester, where Mark is employed at Highland Hospital.
After caring for her mother until her death, Kathy moved her aunt, who also needed a caregiver, from Florida to Penfield. At the same time, she has been active with Rochester Area Mennonite Fellowship and in her community—and, last December, earned a master's degree in strategic leadership from Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester. "I'm looking for new opportunities either in the church or nonprofit work," she says.
Shelly struggles with what she calls society's notion that one must be in the workforce to do important work, pointing out that volunteers do important things, too. "I have felt the support of family to make the choices I have made," she says. "I feel comfortable with those choices. And I want to continue to use my gifts and strengths where God calls me."
She has advised Kristen to "listen to your inner calling from God" as well, she says. "She has many gifts and talents, so I know she'll do well."
Like mother, like daughter...almost
When she came to Bluffton in 1993, Jennifer Warren followed in her mother's footsteps from 30 years before. Since graduating in 1997, though, she has taken a different path.
"I think mothers working outside the home is a sign of the times almost," says Jennifer (Warren '97) Quirk of her life as wife, mother of two young children and academic adviser to the 260 student-athletes at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J. But it's also a life she has chosen, just as her mother, Harriet (Bontrager '67) Warren, had decided to stay home with her children when they were growing up in the 1970s and '80s.
"My mom is a hero to me. She's the most wonderful woman I know," says Quirk, also calling her a role model. The Oakland, N.J., resident had envisioned herself as a stay-at-home mom, too, but that changed sometime before she graduated from Bluffton with degrees in communication and sport management.
She spent the summer between her junior and senior years in Dallas, working at girls' basketball camps run by a women's basketball legend. A nanny would take the woman's son to the park, Quirk recalls, and once, when he was hurt, he ran to his nanny instead of his mother. "That broke my heart," she says, but by then, "I also knew I wanted to work."
She considered sports broadcasting and, as an intern at WSJV-TV in South Bend, Ind., loved everything about the job—except the hours. Certain about wanting to be a mother, too, she didn't believe she could do that role justice if she was also working outside the home from 1-11 p.m. every day.
After graduating from Bluffton, her next stop was Indiana University, where she earned a master's degree in athletic administration and higher education personnel administration in 1998. Also at Indiana, on her first day there, she met her future husband, Brian, a master's degree student in adapted physical education.
In August 1999, she started at Fairleigh Dickinson as a general academic adviser. She enjoyed the work but missed the athletic component, "to the point I was miserable," she says. With her husband working as a high school physical education teacher in Ridgewood, N.J., Quirk decided to give the job three years, after which she thought she might pursue a Ph.D.
About six months before the three-year trial period would have ended, the advising position in the athletic department opened and she got the job, only to learn two weeks after accepting that she was pregnant. Worried she would lose her new position as assistant athletic director for academics and student-athlete support services, Quirk talked to her supervisors, who were "extremely flexible," she says.
After the births of both her son Brady in May 2003 and her daughter Cammi 22 months later, Quirk was able to adopt a schedule split between home and the office. "I was able to work as well as be a mom and be at home," she says.
That doesn't mean it's been easy, especially with her husband also coaching after school. "There's a balance that has to be there," she says. "My kids go with me to a lot of different events." But with the high cost of living on the East Coast, it's difficult not to have a two-income family, she points out, crediting a good day care/preschool and "a large supply of babysitters"—college students in need of income—with helping the cause in the absence of nearby relatives.
"I love what I do. Work balances me out," says Quirk, adding with pride that Fairleigh Dickinson student-athletes have the highest grade point average as a cohort—regularly around 3.1—of any group at the university. "They're my kids, too," she says.
She learned the balancing skill at Bluffton, where, in addition to playing tennis, she worked in the sports information office and was a resident adviser, Witmarsum editor and active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. "It gave me the confidence to know I could do multiple things and be good at them," she explains, saying she was exposed to good working-parent role models as well.
Her Bluffton experience also "taught me that having faith and believing in yourself and what God has planned for you makes all the difference in the world," Quirk says.
Unlike her daughter, "I didn't know what I wanted to do" before arriving at Bluffton from her native Shipshewana, Ind., in 1963, recalls Harriet (Bontrager) Warren. Being a teacher—like her mother, aunts and uncles—wasn't a goal, but that's what happened anyway after she earned her degree in home economics in 1967.
"Teachers were in great demand at that time," she says. "I didn't have to go places for interviews; they came to my house." She taught for two years in the Standish-Sterling Community Schools in eastern Michigan before deciding to seek a master's degree in secondary school guidance, which she received in 1970 from Western Michigan University. While there, she met her future husband, Ken, and after she returned to Standish as a guidance counselor for a year, they were married in June 1971.
With Ken in the Navy, they moved to San Diego, where son Joe was born in 1972, followed by Jennifer two years later. Ken left the service in 1975, and the family moved back to northeast Indiana where he began a teaching career.
"I was fortunate that I was able to stay at home with the kids while they were little," says Harriet Warren, who was a substitute teacher for more than 20 years in the Lakeland district and a volunteer in the schools and elsewhere in the community. She was a 4-H and Girl Scout leader—and "cookie guru," she adds—as well as a member of several boards, including the LaGrange County Library and Extension Service boards, and active in the United Methodist church.
As a participant in United Methodist Women at the district and conference levels, she was able to "indulge my 'urge to learn'," Warren notes, with many trips to Washington, D.C., and New York City for seminars on national and international topics. "I think this desire to further educate myself and others was enhanced by Bluffton, where there were many opportunities to participate in a variety of activities and express myself," she continues, citing the early January "interterm" programs of the late '60s as an experience "that opened many new arenas for thought and action."
After leaving full-time teaching, she was never interested in returning, she says. She would have needed 16 credit hours to get a teaching license in Indiana, and she didn't want to go back to school. So she substituted in all subjects and grade levels, and served a couple stints in the Lakeland High School guidance department, working with seniors who needed help preparing for a test required for graduation.
When her son and daughter were growing up, "there were still lots of mothers who were able to stay home with their children," says Warren, who now spends winters in Auburndale, Fla., with her husband. "I'm sure my mother was very disappointed I didn't go on" in teaching, she says, but "I liked being at home. I was glad I was able to do that."
Her daughter says that while nothing is better than your child wanting to be with you, having a career is still satisfying, too. "It's part of me," says Jennifer Quirk. "It's part of who I am. I don't think I would be a better mother if I wasn't working."
Joanne Passet '75 studies United States history as part of a generation of American women who helped make it.
Before she came to Bluffton in 1971, the Wharton, Ohio, native had heard that, as a young woman, she could be a teacher, a nurse or a librarian. "That was the message I had from high school teachers," Passet says. She loved history but was told women couldn't do anything with a history degree because most teachers also were coaches. So, toward the end of her college career, she took the coursework necessary for the elementary education degree she earned in 1975.
At the same time, though, Bluffton exposed her to opportunities in history and research that laid the groundwork for a career in higher education. Passet, who went on to earn two master's and two doctoral degrees, is now dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indiana University East in Richmond, Ind., where she is also a professor of history.
At Bluffton, she worked with librarian Delbert Gratz as a part-time employee in Musselman Library. Passet's Ph.D.s are in library and information science (LIS) and U.S. history, and "the reason is, I worked with him. He was a historical researcher," she says. The experience revealed career opportunities to her, as did studying with history professors John D. Unruh Jr. and Von Hardesty.
"I was prepared with the right tools," says Passet, also the author of four books. "They had so much passion for history, and that just fueled my passion."
After teaching for two years in the Lima, Ohio, area, her Bluffton background helped Passet get into graduate school at Bowling Green State University, where she was granted a fellowship for a master's program in history that she completed in 1979, specializing in archives.
The next year, she earned another master's degree, in library science, from Indiana University, where she also accepted a position as an archivist and librarian. Continuing to take one course each semester, Passet worked her way toward a doctorate in LIS in 1988.
She then taught for six years in graduate schools of LIS—two at UCLA and four at Indiana. But "I was getting deeper and deeper into history," she says, and, in 1994, left her tenured faculty post at Indiana to pursue a Ph.D. in U.S. history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Completing her coursework in three years, she left Wisconsin and, in 1998, returned to Bluffton, where she finished her dissertation and taught women's history while serving as director of libraries until 2000.
After teaching one year at Dominican University in Chicago, Passet moved on to Indiana University East, where she reached the rank of full professor in 2005, directed the Honors Program from 2006-08 and, last August, became dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.
The previous dean stepped down while she was on sabbatical in Vietnam as a Fulbright Lecturer—an accomplishment that also had roots in her Bluffton background. "My exposure to faculty who did voluntary service or international service planted the seed that led me to want similar experiences," says Passet, who was also a visiting lecturer in South Africa in 2005. "I was just inspired by the way they followed their convictions."
A researcher of U.S. women's history, Passet says many current students believe American women didn't start working outside the home until World War II. That's not true, she points out, noting that women have always worked. But those who went to work as part of the war effort in the 1940s "planted ideas in their daughters" that they could have careers, as well as college educations, she says.
While that has happened—and Passet says she has seen considerable change in the 35 years since her graduation from Bluffton—"glass ceilings" remain for women, as does difficulty in balancing all the aspects of their lives to live up to society's expectations. Today's students often think that all the battles are won, but there is still much for us to do."