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Talking with Dorothy

Posted Monday, April 2, 2012, at 8:24 PM

The woman applied a new coat of lipstick; I'd done the same just before entering the Main Hall at Cottey College, looking forward to meeting this remarkable woman.

Dressed in a fashionable yet comfortable-looking red outfit, her welcoming smile and down-to-earth personna made me instantly glad I'd met her.

Dorothy Vanek, a St. Louis area native and staunch supporter of women's colleges in general; and as a PEO, of Cottey College in particular, was in town for the groundbreaking of a new softball field. She'd funded it to the tune of $125,000, and it will be named the Vanek Family Memorial Field.

I was soon to learn this woman had lived a remarkable life.

She'd attended a girls school for a while -- one that later became coed, much to her dismay; and she was studying art and architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, when World War II ended and the men came home. When they did so, opportunity to study at Washington University was no more -- the returning men needed those slots.

So, she decided to become a stewardess. When she was a child, her father would take her to Lambert Field to watch the airplanes. "I guess he didn't know he was planting a seed," she said; but she applied to a program and was accepted; quit her job and told her parents the news. She'd be leaving for Kansas City. Her father, she said, wanted to know who would be funding this move, "I said, 'me.'" she said.

Through this new career she met the man who would be her husband.

When she married, she had to give up her job as a stewardess -- married women were not allowed to do that type of work.

She must have seen a slightly shocked look on my face.( I don't know why, because I know things have changed much for women in the past few decades)

Women, she explained, didn't have the rights then that we do now.

"I always figured he married me because I would be adaptable," enough to cope with the lifestyle they'd have. He worked for Pan Am airline.

"We moved 25 times," she said; she did put her art education to use though, through those many moves. Most of the time, they relocated with their two children along; but on one occasion were separated from their two girls for four months.

On that trip, she confided, many of their belongings never caught up with them, and they made do with what they had with them.

She told of rough times; the hazards and safety precautions necessary when they went to Morroco; and of fun times, like going to Austria shortly after "The Sound of Music" was filmed and staying across the street from the famous filming site.

And she told of her visits to Cottey College in the past, among them a trip to see the opera, "Afiwa" performed at Cottey, and other occasions as well.

Adaptability, she said, was an important asset to her; and she encourages others to learn to adapt as well, and to embrace experiences that come your way.

"Experiences," she said "become a part of you."

That's true. I think the experience of talking with Dorothy will remain a part of me for a long time to come.



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Lynn Wade
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Exploring the obvious and the not so obvious in search of the oh, so elusive "something to do' that's all around us.
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