May 20 a massive tornado devastated Moore OK. Two elementary schools were in the path of the tornado, and in the wake of the storm the heroism of school employees in shielding their children was deservedly high-lited. The same thing occurred in the wake of the horrific Newtown CT carnage in December, 2012. There, too, teachers who were killed by the assailant gave their lives protecting their charges.
“Weren’t nuthin”, they might all say in unison. In times of crisis one of the natural human emotions – to protect the more vulnerable – kicked in. Oh, they could have fled, too, but they didn’t. Because these were elementary schools, and elementary school teachers are ordinarily mostly female, the heroes were women. And they were deservedly celebrated for their heroism.
A few days prior to the Moore tragedy I had been to Coon Rapids for the annual Recognition Dinner of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, the union representing the teachers in Minnesota’s largest school district. I had been part of Anoka-Hennepin from 1965-82, both as teacher and as union staff; and since 1999 the union has always had its annual event, which I try to attend every year.
The dinner is a brief interlude in a long year to celebrate the good people who stand up and stand out in their commitment to their colleagues and to public education generally. It is always uplifting.
This May 15, one of the first people I ran into was Joan Gamble, a lady I had first met in the mid-1960s when we both taught Junior High School in Blaine.
Joan and I didn’t know each other well; she taught 7th grade Life Science, and I, 8th grade geography.
But schools are their own communities and in assorted ways people become familiar.
Joan hadn’t been to many of these annual Union gatherings, so it was a good chance to catch up, and we sat together at the same table.
Dinner over, the program began and President Julie Blaha announced that there were, this year, three recipients for the “Lifetime Achievement Award”, an annual award given to people who have made a difference. The names were not on the program.
The first Award was granted, then the Second.
The third Award was, the President announced, to Joan Gamble, the lady seated to my right.
(click to enlarge)
Joan, Julie announced, was the first woman to be President of the Anoka-Hennepin Education Association back in 1975-76, and it was during her active time in the Association that women everywhere were standing up for their rights: little things like maternity leave, etc., etc., etc. It was not a kind and gentle time. To change the status quo is never easy. The task to fell to quiet, powerful witnesses, like Joan, who did the work of making a difference.
Gentle, quiet Joan Gamble, who I knew both as classroom teacher, and as Association President and active Association member back in the 60s and 70s, was finally being recognized for being the “shero” that she was – blazing a trail for other females, including Julie Blaha.
Sitting at the table I looked at the list of other retirees like myself who were in attendance May 15. There were numerous other women who in various ways had “stepped up to the plate” when hard things needed doing, and they did them: People like Darlene Aragon, Dee Buth, Linda Den Bleyker, Sue Evert, Betty Funk, Kathy Garvey, Julie Jagusch, Vick Klaers, Sandy Longfellow, Kathryn Pierce, Linda Riihiluoma, Laura Schommer, Kathleen Sekhon, Sandy Skaar, and Kathy Tveit.
There were men on the list too, of course, slightly less than half.
But this was a day to celebrate the positive accomplishment of women, following in the difficult footsteps of many other women in history who said “it’s time for a change”.
It was great seeing you Joan, and all.