I had a delightful conversation the other night with Mary Alice (Yochim) Watson Gannon class of 1963. Yes, that is right—Gannon class of 1963. Some of you may not be aware that women were at Gannon full-time before it officially went co-ed. Mary Alice was the first of these women.
Her story begins when she was a senior at Villa Maria Academy in 1958. Mary Alice saw an ad in the Lake Shore Visitor newspaper for an academic competition conducted by the Diocese. The winner(s) would receive a full scholarship to Gannon. She shared with her guidance counselor that she would be interested in entering, and the counselor had to check to see if she would be eligible.
The day before the competition, Mary Alice learned she could take the test, which she anticipated would be heavy in math (and she believed the Cathedral Prep students had the advantage by taking higher mathematics classes). To her great surprise, the test concentrated on English, in which she excelled. Mary Alice does not remember another woman taking the test. A few weeks later, she was called into the Priest’s Room at Villa Maria Academy and met with Msgr. Wilfrid Nash, president of Gannon. He told her she had tied for second and was eligible for a scholarship, but had to keep it quiet.
Mary Alice, valedictorian of her class at Villa, entered Gannon as an electrical engineering student. She struggled with integral calculus and Father Russell had her take it again during the summer. After a year and a half, she switched to chemistry with the dream of becoming a cosmetic chemist and moving to New York City.
Mary Alice remembers in Mr. Freeman’s class that he would go around the room, beginning with the first chair in the first row, and ask each student to answer a part of the homework assignment. Mary Alice learned to sit in that first chair because all the student had to do was read the assignment to get things started. Her favorite teacher was Father Xavier Mihm, calling him bright and a great teacher.
In between classes, Mary Alice “hung out with the guys,” mostly from the science and engineering classes. These men were also dating her former Villa classmates. “Monday morning, the boys did not look anything like they did when they dressed up over the weekend for their dates.” She said everyone was respectful of her and treated her like a lady. They watched their language and manners around her. They all gathered in the Commons, which was near the cafeteria, where her mother worked as a cashier. It was also off this “common” area where the one ladies’ room was located, mainly for the cafeteria workers’ use.
After graduating from Gannon, Mary Alice married and had two children. It wasn’t until a few years later that she entered the work force as a computer programmer. She worked with computers for 35 years and lived through the evolution of computers.
As I was speaking with Mary Alice, I pictured a very young and vivacious woman who has experienced a great deal, and still has many new and interesting adventures ahead of her.
(Published in 2010 by Cathy Fresch)