|Margaret Svec was a pioneer for women in higher education and one of the founding instructors at Shoreline Community College.
Svec died in her sleep late Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012, according to her friend and neighbor Nancy Katz. Born April 10, 1913, Svec was 99 years old. Katz said plans to celebrate Svec’s life are pending.
As a young girl, Svec was living with relatives and her widowed mother and dismissed the thought of attending college. “Not many women had the opportunity to go to college during those times,” she said during an interview in 2010. But her teachers in Des Moines, Iowa, encouraged Svec to apply for scholarships.
“My high school teachers kept telling me I had to go to college,” she recalled. “They believed in me and never stopped encouraging me to get a college degree.”
Svec enjoyed writing poetry and in 1931, won a national high school competition that included a full scholarship to Drake University. At that time only two years of college were required to teach so Svec went to work in Newton, Iowa, teaching elementary-school science.
Her mother remarried and Svec followed them to Seattle. She completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington, graduating Magna Cum Laude, and went on to earn her master’s degree in English at the UW.
Degrees in hand, Svec wanted to head back to the classroom, this time, a college classroom. At a time when women were not commonly hired as college professors, Svec wrote to Drake’s president and landed a spot teaching freshman English
“The president of Drake University carried one of my poems in his wallet for years,” Svec said. Later, she won a poetry contest at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and dedicated the award to the president of the university.
In 1941, Svec came out West again for a teaching position at Everett Junior College, where she taught English for 15 years as one of the original faculty.
“All the men had gone to war, so there were positions open for women,” she said. “Year after year, I saw students succeed who might never have been able to enter or complete an education beyond high school, as they obtained an education equal and often, superior, to that in a more prestigious institution.”
In 1944, she married Jerry Svec. “I went from Peck to Svec,” she said, adding that they made their home in north Seattle. In the mid-1950s, the 60-hour weeks were taking a toll and she left Everett to have more time at home with her husband. She continued to teach part-time at the University of Washington before landing a full-time job in 1964 at the then-new Shoreline Community College.
Svec was thrilled to be teaching what she loved and inspiring women to complete their education.
“It was really wonderful,” she said, recalling her favorite lecture, “Racism, Sexism, Ageism and the Unholy Trinity.” In the mid 1970s, Svec helped establish a women’s center at Shoreline. The center was opened in 1978 just before she retired.
“I never forgot my struggles trying to get an education,” she said. “My commitment to both the community college concept and the progress of women through the Women’s Center occupied the rest of my life.”
Although not happy about retiring at age 65, Svec found a way to continue inspiring women to get advanced degrees. Over the years, she supported the Women’s Center by giving over 100 lectures on women’s issues and serving as mentor advocate, donor and advisory committee member.
Svec was honored at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Center in 2003. Barely visible behind the microphone, the diminutive Svec brought smiles to the more than 100 people there to applaud her work. The director of the center provided copies of one of Svec’s lectures, “The Making of a Friendship, Why Women Are So Good at It,” written in celebration of Women’s History Month in 1988.
The Shoreline Community College Foundation established The Margaret Svec Endowed Scholarship to help women pursuing transfer and professional technical degrees or certificates. While a number of students have received financial support from the scholarship, hundreds more have benefited from her classroom lectures or friendly conversations.
“I now hope that, as one dedicated person, in a small way I can make a big difference in the lives of women who will benefit from the quality education they will receive at Shoreline,” she said.
Ritva Manchester, Foundation manager, said earlier this year: “Margaret never forgot Shoreline Community College and our students. She has always been a dear friend to the college. The Margaret Svec Scholarship has provided generously for many women students pursuing transfer and professional-technical degrees.”
Also earlier this year, Lynette Peters, Women’s Center program manager, visited Svec at her home.
“She looked me straight in the eye and emphasized once again how thankful she was for all of her friends,” Peters said. “Her friends and the study of friendship was her passion.”
SCC/Donna Myers, Ritva Manchester, Lynette Peters, Jim Hills