Your mother changed my life. I am happy to say that I was able to send her a thank you letter before her death. I would like to share my story.
I was your mom’s student for several semesters. She was a Smyth when I began and then became an Iversen. I chose her each semester because of her great mind and authenticity. This was during the early ’70s with demonstrations for women civil rights and rallies against the Vietnam war. I remember one time in class, your mom had learned a new term, “roach” and asked the class if we were smoking insects. We laughed and told her the meaning. She smiled.
I was amazed with her photogenic mind. I was a quiet student who listened but did not contribute to the discussions (mostly because I didn’t do the readings). I did ask questions that your mom appreciated. My time at Oneonta was coming to an end, and I needed a reference from a teacher for my reference file. Since the only classes I attended consistently were your mom’s, I knew she would be the one I should ask. However, I could not imagine such a great mind would have anything positive to say about me. I even went to the school counselor to ask for advice. Unknown to me, he approached your mother and told her about this student “Gus” who was afraid to seek a reference. (I was known to most on campus as Gus except for my professors who knew me as Diane Gusa). Later, I found out that it greatly upset her that any of her students would feel the way I did.
In my last month, we were having a discussion about how society limited the opportunities for women. One male spoke up and insisted that women should stop complaining because that was the past and not now. Well, I forgot my shyness and proceeded to “school” this male student of all the problems I had personally experienced as a woman on the campus. I must have spoken for almost 5 minutes, and during that time, someone said: “you tell them, Gus!”
After class, your mom asked me to accompany her to the local snack bar. I thought I was in trouble. She bought me cookies and milk, and we sat down. That is when my life transformed.
She told me that I indeed was not the most studious students, but in her opinion, I was one of the most intelligent, critical thinkers she knew. That conversation lifted me up so much. I remember walking back to my apartment and felt like I floated. I saw myself in her eyes and believed what she told me. I was intelligent!
When I found your mom, so many years later, I told her how her words changed my life. Since those years at Oneonta, I had many professions, never doubting that I could accomplish what needed to be done. Academically I earned a masters and later my PhD and published several pieces. I taught in higher education, using your mom as my inspiration and model. Your mom has been on my mind a lot recently, and I had hoped to reconnect and thank her again. Instead, I am sharing her gift to me with you. I hope this will give you a warm smile. Your mom’s legacy lives in many lives. I only hope that someday I can make the same difference for someone else.
Finally, I do have a request. Your mom wrote a book about Mormon women, and I have searched for it. If you know how I might purchase or find this book, it would be a treasure I have been searching for. (Actually, that is how I found this page.) [Editor’s note: you can purchase a copy of her book The Antipolygamy Controversy in U.S. Women’s Movements, 1880-1925: A Debate on the American Home (Development of American Feminism) (1st Ed) through Amazon –simply click through the book title to find it there.]
— Diane Gusa
Terence J Smyth said:
Thank you for sharing this wonderful memory of my mother. I had the pleasure of taking her for two classes when I was at SUNY Oneonta. Pass/Fail of course, she did not want any nepetism rumors.
James Lemire said:
Dr. Joan Iversen sparked an epiphany in me. I came to Oneonta State because the college accepted all the advanced credits I had taken in high school; I stayed because of the O.S.T., the Copper Fox, the Rail, Red’s, the Black Oak, the Sip-n-Sail, and Crazy Gifts. I had never had to work hard in high school, and I was in my junior year at Oneonta, cruising along the same way, heading towards a Social Science Education Bachelor’s Degree in the same way…do only the required work, and take the tests.
In my first ever class with Dr. Iversen, on our first assignment, I was given an A+, the only one, she said. She told the class that I was the only one who “got it.” Then she asked me, in front of the whole class, why I wasn’t in her honors history program…I thought briefly, and although I didn’t like the answer, the only one that came to mind was the truth. “I am lazy,” I replied; “you must be, if you can write like that and don’t have all A’s,” she commented. It all changed for me in an instant; I learned about hard work in that second of time, and never settled for half-assed any more (and those would have been her words, too). I took every course with her over the next two semesters that I could (5 more, all A’s), and recommended her to all that would listen ! (as a side note, the incident almost helped in other ways, too, as two of the most beautiful girls in the class asked me to tutor them, but unfortunately, when I tried to, they were never available).
I earned that Bachelors degree in three years (plus the high school credits), I student taught and loved it in my last O State semester, and I got a job teaching immediately. I am now in year 32 as a high school Social Sciences instructor, and am also department chair. I remember her impact on me nearly every day, and still count her as one of the two or three most positively influential instructors I have ever known. I have been blessed by many events in my like; Dr. Joan Iversen’s classes certainly rank high on that list.
Nancy J. Smyth said:
Thanks so much for sharing this remarkable story. I can just see her having that interchange with you in front of the entire class. It sounds like you have gone on to inspire many students now, with your teaching and leadership.
— Nancy Smyth
Thank you; I am lucky to have had her push towards a fascination with the “inside story” of history, and try to share that with teenagers as much as I can !!!