To celebrate Women's History Month, Chaparral will feature remarkable women from the family ancestry of various GCC employees.
What woman in your family was impressive in some way? How did she embody strength, inventiveness, perseverance, or some other phenomenal quality?
My maternal grandmother ('Amal' in Syria and later 'Leah' in Israel) was truly remarkable and the exemplification of courage. She was born in Damascus. She was orphaned young and had to rely on her sister's charity (and rebuff a potential arranged marriage that her brother-in-law was trying to force her into later). At 15, she fled from her sister's home and made her way to a nascent Israel (then the Mandate), paying a Druze smuggler with some gold and jewelry her mother her left for her. Things at the time were getting more impossible every day for Syria's Jewish population (today the population no longer exists where it once did). I can't imagine my grandmother's courage and bravery in making the decision to take part in a dangerous journey on foot, trusting a complete stranger, and doing it so young. She was the first in her family to flee.
I named my daughter, who recently turned two, in her honor (Amalya). My grandmother was incredible for her time (even marrying outside of her racial background when that was fairly unheard of) and I wish I would have had more time with her. She passed way at 63 -- entirely too young.
A passport photo belonging to my maternal grandmother, and a photo of me with her (I was a toddler in the photo, about two and a half). The photo was taken during Purim 1988, in Kfar Saba, Israel.
My Great Grandmother, Edna Shotwell (3rd from left) was a member of the Mazamas. She is registered at the summit of Mount Rainier as a member of the August 1914 ascent.
An account of the first night of the climb: "….each person, selecting a spot as far removed from the perpendicular as he could find, began to excavate the loose material in an attempt to get a place level enough to lie down; and also to build up a screen of rocks for a wind shield, necessary here where the air is freezing cold at night." 1914!!!!
My grandma, Helen Colton, was an exceptional person ahead of her time. She was talking and writing about sex and women’s issues in the 1970s.
She was self-educated and loved learning. Although she was valedictorian of her high school, it was the Great Depression, and there was no money for college -- especially for a girl. She started her career as a writer and became the New York Times Hollywood correspondent.
She evolved her career over many decades, becoming the author of a number of books, being interviewed on TV and radio, and leaving a legacy of caring and justice.
My nana, Mary Cooling, was fierce. Family lore has it that the neighborhood bully tried to mess with her once about being a “bastard” and she made him regret it. She earned her registered psychiatric nursing degree despite her limited education and worked her early nursing years during WWII. Her first daughter was born a year before the war ended. These difficult times strengthened her compassion. Nana befriended the patients in her charge who had been abandoned, seeing them for the people they were. Known for her courage, determination, and empathy, she was a guiding light for those who knew her.
Born the granddaughter of Czechoslovakian immigrants, my Aunt Nancy took on Bohemian traits as a Rainbow Gathering healer. After earning her Masters, she brought some of her radical beliefs, which were not always readily accepted or received, into the classroom. With a zest for life, Aunt Nancy opened her home to troubled youth while rearing her own nine children. She had room in her heart for both blue collar grit and mind expansion. She heavily influenced her family, as a group of close-knit creatives, and her friends by her open-mind and far-reaching ideals. Surrounded by the Great Lakes and her musical family, my Bohemian Aunt Nancy settled and rooted herself in her matriarchy until she left her earth suit last year.
Theresa Zemko Lorch
My mother grew up in Lewistown Montana in a less than ideal family. Her mother was abused by her husband (my mom's stepdad). So as a child, she escaped to the library to check out books to read. And her love of books carried on for the rest of her life. She valued education but did not graduate from high school. In adulthood, she pushed to have her and my dad get their GED, even though neither of them needed to. That GED accomplishment, and her love of books, influenced me toward academia. She was a strong woman who took no guff but also had a kind heart – and an excellent intellect (from reading her books).
Less than one year ago, I was talking to my grandmother and through our random topic conversations, she shared with me that she was one of the advocates for the development of schools in her pueblo of Tepetongo, Zacatecas, in Mexico. She was born in 1941 and she recognized the importance of her community being educated. I was in awe when I heard this since I did not know that at a personal level, I had someone in my family that advocated for education and now I feel even prouder working in this field.
Gertrude Foster Brown, 1867-1956, a distant ancestor to Chris Cicuto, on his mother Sally’s side, established herself as a suffragist, journalist, concert pianist and nurse during World War I. One of Gertrude’s notable historical contributions was the pending passage to the 19th Amendment titled, “Your Vote and How to Use It”. Her work encouraged women of New York to be good citizens and exercise their ability to vote by taking new rights as serious “obligations”. Amongst many other lifetime accomplishments, Gertrude was elected President of the New York State Women’s Suffrage Association in 1913 and helped found the National League of Women Voters.
My mother, Judith Hartlieb Reed, was the first woman to go to college in her family. She earned a BA in Music at Stetson University where she met my father. She then raised two children, each of whom is now a professional with a MA degree, while working four jobs simultaneously (secretary at a ball bearing firm, church choir director, church organist, and childcare center director). When her kids left the house, she then earned an MA in Humanities on Frank Lloyd Wright from Hofstra at 59 years old while continuing to work as a full-time administrator there!
Elsie Carrillo (My Grandmother)
She was born in 1902 (Ontario, California). She took on the responsibility of caring for her siblings when her mother left the family. She was married at age 13 and widowed at 38. She worked hard and fought for healthcare for her son who became afflicted with polio during the depression.
She was able to get jobs cleaning and ironing for others and managed to live without support from others despite her limited formal education. She was feisty and endeared by those she worked for. After her death she surprised her children with an inheritance.
The photo is me and my grandmother Elsie on my 18th birthday.
I would like to honor my paternal grandmother, Nevart Kachaterian-Amirian. She was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (at the time she was an infant). My great-grandmother carried my grandmother through the genocide, despite all the requests to drop her on the way to avoid causing attention due to an infant crying. Although she lost her father and got separated from her sister during the genocide, the rest of her family escaped and was stationed in Tabriz, Iran. Growing up, while continuing her education, she learned many different skills, including Armenian needlework (see attached picture, it is the symbol of eternity). She graduated with honors from a prestigious university in Tabriz (Temagan). She got married and had six children. Moreover, she taught at an Armenian high school in Tehran and continued to be involved in the community, mentoring young girls and women. I am one of the lucky grandchildren who learned Armenian needlework (aseghnagordz) from her. My grandmother’s life journey and accomplishments motivated me to live life to the fullest, never give up on my dreams, and continue advocating for justice.
In 1914, my grandmother, Consuelo Martinez, buried her father under the floor of a small church after Pancho Villa attacked the city of Torreon. She came to Los Angeles as a teenager and raised 8 children, 4 of whom she trained to be dancers, singers, and actors in 1950’s television shows. On Saturday nights, she baby-sat my brother and me. Eating ice milk, we watched late-night Mexican wrestling and Italian opera. A familiar face at the Santa Anita Racetrack, she was once knocked over in her wheelchair. Friends helped her up as she counted her $15,000 Pick-6 win.
In celebration of Women’s History Month I would like to honor my mother Tagui Karaoglanyan. She was my biggest inspiration in during my graduate studies at California State University Northridge and continues to inspire me in my journey as an ESL Instructor.
Mrs. Karaoglanyan served the district and the community for twenty-eight years as an Educational Assistant. Her contributions extended well beyond her job description. In her many roles within the district, Mrs. Karaoglanyan left a lasting impression and built strong relationships with students, parents, and staff members. Mrs. Karaoglanyan joined the Herbert Hoover High School family in the year 2000. She was not only hardworking and dedicated, she took the time to connect with staff members and inspired both students and staff with her positive energy and zest for life. She was an essential member of the Hoover community, also known around campus as “Ohana.” Mrs. Karaoglanyan supported students and teachers in and out of the classroom, specifically within the Special Education and English Language Development Departments.
To honor her legacy and continue to inspire and support our students, The Tagui Karaoglanyan Memorial Education Fund will sponsor a scholarship to support and recognize a senior or seniors who have exemplified personal and academic growth during their time at Hoover High School.
My mother-in-law (I know, quite unusual), Nota: an orphan in times of war, the first in her family to go to college, became a dentist when there weren’t many female dentists, worked in three continents, raised her children well, welcomed her children's spouses, chanted every Sunday at church, sang to her grandkids, never missed the opportunity for a party or a trip, wore red and beautiful jewelry, never without her red lipstick, fought Alzheimer’s and left with everyone from her family around her last summer. I hope her granddaughters inherit her kindness, her fighting spirit, and her love for life.
Sirvard Hekimyan, my grandmother from my mom's side, was an incredibly resilient, resourceful, and amazing woman. She was a self-taught and sought out seamstress in Greece and Armenia; her clients were often affluent women who specifically requested her by name. She made beautiful dresses, stockings, and hosiery with the most intricate of details. Due to this skill and talent, she and her sister were able to sustain their family during WWII. In 1946-1947, she and her family left their beautiful home in Greece, sold their belongings and repatriated to Soviet Armenia, to help build the nation. She married my amazing grandpa, Gevork, in Armenia and built a home and raised a family in very difficult circumstances with lack of resources, while making sure that all four of her children were well educated in academics and music. She deconstructed her home in Armenia and immigrated to America and built a home again, this time expanding her love and support to her grandchildren and extended family. She built a home in three countries and overcame the many obstacles she faced with determination and grace. She endured two open heart surgeries in America, but never lost her sense of purpose and her heart just grew more each time befriending her neighbors, regardless of language barriers and spreading her love of food, family, and laughter.
Justina C. Benadom (maternal grandmother of David Hassett), 1918-2006, was an Austro-Hungarian immigrant to California where she married and had six children. Her husband, Robert, left her and their children (aged two to twelve years) when he went on the run for money-laundering and embezzlement. Justina, while she single-handedly raised their children, went from welfare assistance to independent wealth in under ten years as she worked her way up the corporate ladder at Shaklee, one of our country's first natural nutrition supplement companies. "Gramma B" was tough, tenacious, and equally tender hearted.❤️
My Aunt Bert (Gendason Jones) was one of my father’s 10 siblings. Born in 1902 in Baltimore, MD, she remained there when the rest of her family moved away, even though as a woman, she was expected to stay close to family, marry, and have children of her own. However, Bert struck out on a unique path as a single woman, working in Philadelphia and New York as a secretary. She eventually worked with the military/government as a court stenographer, allowing her to travel the world. A 1953 New York passenger record showed her traveling alone back to NY from Bremerhaven, Germany. Why? Bert was a stenographer at the Nuremberg trials, an incredible historical event she became part of. What a unique life she lived as an assertive, independent, capable woman, who was truly a force of nature!
I started out researching my family history when I cleaned out my mother's attic. I found all kinds of documents and photographs dating back to before the Civil War. As I kept exploring my roots, I discovered I was related to at least five passengers on the Mayflower. This is a tiny bit about my female ancestor who traveled on that ship at age 13: Mary Chilton, my ancestor, was one of the passengers on the Mayflower, which arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620. Mary has always claimed that she was the first person to step on Plymouth Rock when the passengers were allowed off. Both her parents died on the ship, and during the first deadly winter, almost half of the surviving settlers died. Mary was one of only four women who survived the journey and that first winter.
The few records that remain show her to have been feisty and strong-willed. She defended her daughter in court, and she worked with her husband in the trading business—both of which were very unusual for a woman at that time. She died in Boston at the age of 72. Today, she is celebrated as one of the founding mothers of America and is honored in many historical sites and monuments.
Photo: The Landing of The Pilgrims by Henry A. Bacon, painted in 1877
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