“My life was always about education. I always wanted women to have a chance.”
Margaret Svec, Professor Emeritus, English, Shoreline Community College
When you ring the doorbell at her cottage house in north Seattle, Margaret Svec answers with a warm and welcoming smile. Her blue eyes sparkle as she shakes your hand and leads you into her cozy living room. Book shelves are lined with interesting titles, and frames hold photos that reveal her varied interests, such as a smiling Margaret with Ranch Romance, a local swing band that made it big in the ’80s and ’90s.
“Oh, yes, they are good friends,” the 90-something year-old said. “They helped me out during some difficult times, and I later became a groupie.”
Svec, one of the founding instructors at Shoreline Community College, leads you to the chair her calico, Tina, sits on. She tries to persuade the feline to move, but ends up pulling up another chair for you before sitting down herself.
“It’s important for women to get an education, don’t you think?” Svec asks rhetorically as she speaks about her own experiences.
As a young girl who valued her education, Svec had dismissed the thought that she would have the chance to go to college. Her mother was widowed and the two of them lived with relatives. “Not many women had the opportunity to go to college during those times,” she said of the Great Depression. But the young Svec had been encouraged by her teachers in Des Moines, Iowa, 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 was blessed with an ability to write poetry that garnered lots of attention and numerous awards, including a first prize in a national high school competition in 1931, and “that was what got me to college,” she said. She received a full scholarship to Drake University, where she completed the first two years of her bachelor’s degree.
At that time only two years of education were required to teach, so Svec found herself in an elementary school in Newton, Iowa, teaching elementary science. It wasn’t English, but at least she was teaching.
When her mother remarried a man in Seattle, Svec moved with her and completed her bachelor’s degree at the University of Washington, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. She also earned her master’s degree in English at the UW.
After completing her college education, she was anxious to get back into the classroom, but this time, a college classroom. She learned quickly, however, that women were not considered for college teaching positions. Not easily deterred, Svec wrote to the president at her alma mater asking if he might hire her, and shortly afterward, she was teaching freshman English back at her alma mater.
“The president of Drake University carried one of my poems in his wallet for years,” she recalled with a fondness in her voice. She had won a poetry contest for the Chicago World’s Fair and had dedicated the award to the president of the university.
In 1941, Svec landed 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.”
Her teaching provided a sense of accomplishment. “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 her love, Jerry Svec. “I went from Peck to Svec,” she said with a mischievous smile. They bought their home in north Seattle (the one she’s still in today) and in the mid-1950s, she left Everett CC to have more time at home with her husband. The 60-hour weeks had taken their toll. She then taught 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.” Then in the mid ’70s, Svec had the opportunity to help 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. 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 she wasn’t happy when the state enforced retirement status at the age of 65, Svec found a way to continue inspiring women to get advanced degrees. Over the years, she supported the Women’s Center in many ways as a presenter (giving over 100 lectures on women’s issues), mentor advocate, donor and advisory committee member. Even after retiring, she continued to return to campus to speak on women’s issues, giving a lecture at the age of 90.
Svec was honored at a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Center in 2003. Barely visible behind the microphone, the diminutive and feisty educator 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 favorite lectures, “The Making of a Friendship, Why Women Are So Good at It,” which the lecture/author has written in celebration of Women’s History Month 1988.
The Margaret Svec Endowed Scholarship generously provides tuition assistance for female students pursuing both 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 Community College through these scholarships,” she said. Margaret is also a Legacy Club member of the SCC Foundation.
Svec is celebrating her 97th birthday this month. Happy Birthday, Margaret.
Margaret Svec is one of the founding instructors at Shoreline Community College, where she taught English from 1964 to 1978.