Friday, November 30, 2012

Remembering my childless mentor

As I prepare to write my Christmas cards, I realize that this year, for the first time since 1974, I will not be sending a card to Dolores Freitas Spurgeon. She was one of my journalism professors at San Jose State, the one who took a personal interest in my work. She helped me get a scholarship and made the connections for me to do my first major magazine article. A few years later, she got me into California Writers Club, where I rose up the ranks to become president of the Silicon Valley branch. Through the years, she has always been there, sharing her connections and applauding my accomplishments.

Dolores happened to be Portuguese American, like me, and she was one of the first people I interviewed for my book Stories Grandma Never Told. Hers was an inspiring story. She grew up on a farm in the Santa Clara area, and when she reached college age, her parents offered no help or support. "My father thought it was a waste," she said.

The old-timers believed girls would just get married and have children anyway. A whole generation later, I faced a similar attitude.

But Dolores was determined. Armed with a $25 PTA scholarship, enough to pay most of her first year's fees, but not enough for books, she enrolled at San Jose State, taking two majors, commerce and education, so she would be sure to get a good job. Unable to buy textbooks, she either read them at the library or borrowed her friends' books. Later she worked in the campus offices to help pay for her schooling. She graduated in 1936 and went to work as an elementary school teacher, but then fate stepped in in the form of Dwight Bentel. He was starting a journalism program at SJSU and hired her to work with him. She started with secretarial work, then became an assistant instructor and finally a full a professor. With Bentel's encouragement, she earned a master's degree and a general secondary credential at Stanford University.

Meanwhile, Dolores also got married, but contrary to her family's predictions, she did not have children. In those days, birth control was not an option, nor were fertility treatments. If babies didn't come naturally, they didn't come at all. Instead of raising her own children, she nurtured her students. Hundreds of journalists remember Dolores with love and gratitude.

I'm sure there were many like me who enjoyed her typewritten notes--she never made friends with the computer. Every year as I prepared to send her a Christmas card, I hoped she would still be around to receive it. She was very old, and in recent years, she suffered various health problems. But she always managed to scribble an encouraging note on a card for me.

This year will be different. Dolores passed away a few months ago at the age of 96. I feel like I've lost another mother. But I am grateful for this childless woman who gave me so much.

Dolores is proof you don't have to have children to have a successful life.

Are there childless people like Dolores in your life whom you admire?


Anonymous said...

No one person comes to mind, but there are many, many famous women who never had children. One of my heroes is Rita Levi-Montalcini. I don't think she ever married. But to be 103, still serving as an Italian senator, still holding an office at her own brain research institute, and a Nobel laureate to boot, despite all the odds stacked against her, is not too shabby!! What an amazing life and inspiration. The impact she has had on the world will last forever.

Sue Fagalde Lick said...

Rita sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

Karolina Maria said...

Reading about Dolores made me wonder if my work as a teacher is God's consolation prize... if maybe I'll never have children either, but I just don't realize it yet. Teaching is fulfilling and frustrating all at once... which sounds much like parenting, I might add :)

Sue Fagalde Lick said...

I think teaching does have a lot of similarities to parenting. I have done it, too, and yes it is both fulfilling and frustrating, and I fell in love with every one of my students.

Jamie said...

Yes! I was (and remain) blessed by godparents who have no children on their own. They lavish love on their nieces, nephews and the children of their friends. Wise, fun and amazing role models, they have positively impacted the lives of dozens of children that I know of over the years. Whenever people tell me that it's selfish not to have children, by birth or adoption, I think of them and all the families they were able to make stronger because they didn't have their own kids and were free to pitch in whenever and wherever they were needed.

Sue Fagalde Lick said...

Jamie, you are so right. As been said many times since the shootings in Connecticut, they are all our children, whether we gave birth to them or not. We can, and should, help, anywhere we're needed.