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Homemakers

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Betty Allen H’57

Steve Charles—As the self-proclaimed official photographer for Associate Director of Communications Richard Paige’s Wabash on My Mind podcasts, I get to sit in on some of the most interesting conversations on campus. The highlight of my Homecoming Weekend was Rich’s interview of Betty and Bob Allen as they anticipated Betty’s being named an honorary alumna of the College. (Watch for the podcast on the Web site in the near future).

Rich does a great job of honoring his guests by taking these conversations seriously while welcoming them and helping them to relax behind the mic. It wasn’t long before Betty and Bob were laughing and taking turns reflecting on DePauw (Betty’s alma mater), Wabash (Bob’s), their first year as a married couple in Mud Hollow (ask them about “rocking the roof”), their life together as Bob rose through the ranks at AT&T, and their children.

Betty recalled an essay she’d been assigned when she was a girl; she had been asked to write down her life goals.

“I’ve saved it, and I re-read it just recently,” she said. “I wrote, ‘I want to be a good wife and mother.’”

“She’s been a perfect mother,” Bob said, and he described with gratitude the loving home she had created for him and for their children.

I felt a surge of gratitude myself; Betty is about the age my own mother would be today had she lived. I was taken back to grade school and those forms we had to fill out at the beginning of the school year:

Name:
Address:
Phone number:
Occupation of father:
Occupation of mother:

Dad was an insurance agent. I didn’t know what to write for mom.

“Homemaker,” she told me, and she said it proudly. It had been her life goal-the hardest work and, for her, the highest calling. Betty Allen’s vocation: A good wife and a good mother. “The backbone of the family,” as Betty’s honorary alumna citation puts it.

Consider the fact that Bob and Betty have contributed millions to the new independent housing on campus, and Betty’s a home builder, too!

Sunday morning I was listening to On Being on NPR as the cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson spoke about what the word “homemaker” meant to her. She described women doing this work as “composing a life, as if throwing a pot or painting—a creative act.”

She said you’ll even see this tendency when homemaker enter the world of business: “They often maintain an awareness of whether their decisions are for the general good, they notice discomfort, distrust and try to resolve it. They support people working together.”

“Homemaking is creating an environment in which learning is possible,” Bateson said. “That is what a home is. That is what we want the home we give to our children to be—places where they grow in many different ways, they learn how to connect with other people, they learn how to care for others, they learn skills, their own capacities, how to trust other people, how to trust themselves.”

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Professor Kealoha Widdows H’07

That got me thinking about Professor Kealoha Widdows—a woman who chose a career path very different from Betty Allen’s. Here’s part of the citation NAWM President Rick Cavanaugh read naming Kay an honorary alumna.

“Your steadfast belief that your students need to see the world in order to be effective leaders in it is seen in the many immersion learning courses you have taught. You have led students to three continents, including Ecuador to study the political economy of oil production and Europe to learn about policy-making in the European Union. You have brought international visitors to our campus who have enriched students’ experiences.

“We are told that your name translates to ‘love’ and ‘a great friend who will always be by your side.’ For nearly three decades, you have stood by the sides of scores of Wabash men you have taught, mentored, loved, and cheered on with admiration.”

The work Kay Widdows and all our best teachers, men and women, do—the dedication and heart they bring to that work—sounds a lot like Bateson’s definition of homemaking. It’s a sign of the times that many of today’s professors do that work both at Wabash and for their own families.

 

At the beginning of Saturday’s Homecoming Chapel, President Hess urged returning alumni to “remember that Wabash is always your home.”

Those words would be little more than wishful thinking if not for generations of women who have loved this “College for men” and its students—teacher/homemakers like Betty Allen and Kay Widdows. The well-earned standing ovations for Betty and Kay at Saturday’s Chapel were a moment to give thanks for them all.

A teachable moment.