The Heroines

Betty Stevens

is honored with a Brick from Janice G. Stevens.

So many women, from teachers and friends to siblings and other relatives, have touched my life in so many ways that it would be impossible for me to catalog their contributions to my life or their effect on the development of my personality and personal values. However, there are two women who stand out in my life as examples of the type of woman that I hope I am.

My mother, Betty Stevens, is probably my greatest heroine. Along with my father, she raised seven children to adulthood in the small eastern Kansas farm town of Lane. As a full-time homemaker, her world was sometimes pretty small. Her childhood dreams of traveling and living a more cosmopolitan lifestyle were never realized. Yet, I never saw her succumb to depression or heard her speak in self-defeating terms. What I did see was a pragmatic approach to living in the present and dealing with the reality of here and now. Not in a cold or detached way, but with great love for all of her family.

When I look at the person I am today, I trace my greatest strengths to the lessons I learned from my mother. I felt unconditionally loved; even when she did not agree with or approve of my choices, Mom always defended my right to make a choice and never rejected me as a person. If my choice proved hurtful to myself, I could always expect to feel her loving touch as she comforted my pain, while still holding me responsible for my own choices.

My mother also taught me about money; how to live on a budget as well as the life lessons that money does not equal respect, love, or happiness. That people are to be loved and things are to be used, not the other way around. That women are as important as men, even if they don't always have access to the same choices (a definite truth in the childhood of most girls in the 1950's and 1960's).

My mother made great efforts to teach me the skills of her life as a homemaker, but openly encouraged me to follow my own path and to fulfill my potential. She was my greatest cheerleader. I find that particularly remarkable in light of the fact that she filled the same role for six other children, both those older and those younger than myself. When my time on earth is done, I can only hope that I have touched the life of one person as positively and deeply as my mother has touched mine.

Harriett Wooldridge is a woman whose acquaintance I made after I had graduated from college and was working as a pharmacist at the hospital in Winfield, Kansas. That I ever came to know Harriett is a coincidence of our being co-workers, but that I love her deeply is due to her and her marks on my life.

I came to Winfield, fresh from college and full of myself as only a new graduate can be. I had seen little of the actual world, but five years at major university had broadened my horizons considerably. Harriett was the first woman in my new surroundings to embrace me as a human being and call me her friend, though she is closer to my mother in age than to myself. I suppose you could say that she adopted me as an adult.

That first Christmas away from home when I had to work was particularly difficult, especially since I was mourning the death of my oldest brother just a few weeks before. Her invitation to Christmas with her family, where I was made to feel a part of things, not just a lonely outsider, made a world of difference in how I got through that dark period of what was always my own family's special holiday.

Harriett has reinforced many of the teachings of my mother, while adding some of her own. As an older role model to whom I was not related, we did not carry the bond or the baggage of common experiences. Our relationship has developed out of liking and then loving the other woman as we got to know each other. Her guidance and friendship as I made the transition from college student to working professional have helped to mold my approach to life and people. Our conversations have at times forced me to examine my presuppositions and find them to be wrong, allowing me great opportunities for personal realization and growth. Harriett is someone I feel privileged to know and who will be a part of me for the remainder of my life on earth. In summing up our friendship and my esteem for Harriett, I can say without hesitation that I am a better person for having known her.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to recognize these women during their lifetimes with a tribute that will have a positive impact on the life of countless other women. Thank you to the WSU Center for Women's Studies and the WSU Endowment Association for your efforts in creating the Plaza of Heroines.

Submitted by Janice G. Stevens

August 31, 1998 (for Betty Stevens)