Columns

Women tell their stories, hope to inspire

Having spent 40 years at Castleton, Associate Dean of Students, Victoria Angis is able to pull a three-inch thick binder of materials related to Women’s History Month events from her office bookcase that stretches back to 1988, the first year that faculty decided to mark the event.

Every Woman Has a Story as an event has been taking place for 18 years, since 2003 and Angis admits that it is the star of the month’s events. There are about 100 women on Angis’ list who have spoken in the past.

“Some of the women talk about how they were brought up and how they came to be where they are. Some of them speak only about what their academic interest is, or they speak about other people in their family. You never know what they’re going to say and that to me is what makes it so exciting,” Angis said.

“She has been so passionate about this for so many years, and has brought so many good events to Castleton. Nobody works harder than VA,” said Director of Creative Services Jane Foley.

At 11:54 p.m. on March 5, 15 staff and faculty gathered in the Alumni Room of Huden Dining Hall chatting away over lunch. A small folding table displayed wristbands and travel mugs for sale, with proceeds going for scholarship funding. One student worker quietly kept an eye on the sound equipment, sat back in their chair, and pulled out their phone.

By 12:03 p.m., Angis took her place in front of the Women’s History Month quilt and behind the podium to welcome everyone to the first event of the Every Woman Has a Story lunch series.

She brought the crowd’s attention to the full calendar of Women’s History Month events that were printed on, in her words, “not quite suffragette purple” paper and had been placed on the tables prior to the event before introducing the first speaker of the event.

Marissa Nemergut replaced Angis at the podium and began recounting the story of her life and how she came to work as a staff assistant for the Upward Bound program at Castleton, but not before taking a moment to acknowledge her mother, who Nemergut said she admires greatly for accomplishing so much in a generation that did not have anything.

Marissa Nemergut speaks at Every Woman Has a Story

The youngest of five children, and the only girl of the family, Nemergut said learned so many important core values from her two depression-era parents, and that she learned how to accept whatever may come at her in life from them.

“We were not in any way rich, but I didn’t feel poor. But I know that we were definitely financially challenged. I knew that my parents dream would be for one, if not all of their five children go to college and complete college,” she said.

While in college, Nemergut took on a full-time job as a letter carrier for approximately a decade. She also had a brief stint as a small business owner alongside her husband. Nemergut says that she learned so much in her time as both a student and a mentor, and in wrapping up her story remarked that her future may involve her writing a book or two, and perhaps running for governor.

“There are so many things in this state that really need to be fixed, and I think a really strong woman can do that,” Nemergut said.

Assistant Dean of Nursing, Angela (Angie) Smith was next.

Nursing professor Angela Smith takes the stage to tell her story.

Smith began her story by telling the story of her mother and father, and the challenges they faced because their families didn’t support their relationship. She told how her mother dropped out of high school at 17 in the tenth grade when she became pregnant with Smith’s older brother. At the same time, her father dropped out of Paul Smith’s College. The year was 1968 and realizing the likelihood of being drafted to join the Vietnam war, Smith’s father joined the United States Air Force.

Smith was born on Feb. 29, 1972 and is a proud leap-year baby. She discussed how she considers herself lucky that when her father was re-stationed to North Dakota, he remained there for 11 years, and she considers that base a home.

“A home I can never go back to. Because with all of the security, unless you know somebody on base, you can’t get on base….and my house isn’t there anyways because a tornado blew it away,” Smith said.

She also spoke about being thankful for the diversity that she was exposed to as a child living in that environment, but is saddened by not having any long-term friends, due to the constant change of people moving on and off base.

But her talk then turned to how when she was 13 years old, her mother disappeared from her life and how devastating it was for her to lose the person who supported her in every way.

“I no longer had someone to lay out my clothes for me,” Smith remarked.

In the 10th grade, she left North Dakota and moved back east and admits that when she met with her guidance counselor to make future plans, nobody had told her that should be anything. Despite showing interest in becoming a veterinarian, her guidance counselor told her that she wasn’t academically successful enough for that, and recommended that Smith become a hairdresser.

Smith became a cosmetologist and worked in the field for seven years, and by that point had gotten married and had a child. She tells the crowd that one day she walked into work at the salon, looked at the mirrors and said, “I can do more with my fucking brain than this,” and drove immediately to SUNY Adirondack (then Adirondack Community College) and filled out an application. Without a veterinarian program available, Smith turned to nursing.

After completing school, she moved on to coronary critical care but that after a year, was almost ready to quit nursing all together.

Having moved to the post-anesthesia care unit in Rutland, Smith met what she called “the most incredibly kind and supportive” nurses of her career. She then moved on to the Emergency Department and worked within that unit for seven years. The time she spent in that position allowed her to really understand the healthcare delivery system in the United States and how flawed it is. But she also experienced the joys of educating young interns and seeing students thrive and be confident in their field. It was through these ties that she was presented with the opportunity to work for Castleton.

“I have never regretted coming here. I have never regretted a day,” Smith said as she launched into closing remarks.

Audience member and Director of Development and Alumni Affairs Courtney Widli is a Castleton alumnus who has been working full-time since she graduated in 2013 and has been involved in Women’s History Month since she arrived.

“Every Woman Has a Story is one of my favorite parts of Women’s history month. It’s what made me want to get involved in Women’s History Month. It’s my favorite event of the entire year. I think we can do so much more and I would love to see it continue to grow,” Widli Said.

As for student engagement?

“It varies every year, specifically for Every Woman Has a Story, we find that students come out for their favorite staff or faculty but we find that some speakers draw smaller student crowds than others… It’s really sad. People work so hard to set up the programming and people set aside the time to speak, it’s disappointing to see a low student turnout, so we are hoping to learn more about what it is that prevents students from attending” Widli said.

Future speakers for the Every Woman Has a Story event include Charlotte Gerstein, Sara Stears, Marisa Valent, Kendra Ross, Maya Hancock-Kraus, and Adrienne Matunas. The series will be running every Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.