Muhlenberg College senior Christa Carlstrand was in for a surprise when her psychology class met the Phoebe Terrace women with whom it was paired for a 12-hour service learning project. The only elderly woman Christa had really known was her grandmother, whose interests centered on home and family.
When Christa and her fellow students gathered at Phoebe Terrace, a retirement community of CHHSM member Phoebe Ministries in Allentown, Pennsylvania, their professor oriented them by linking classroom theory and real world practice. In class, said Psychology of Women professor Dr. Linda Bips, we learn theory about many aspects of womens lives: work, marriage, motherhood, midlife, violence against women, mental and physical health and aging. This project will allow [you] to have a relationship with women who have perspectives on the things were studying.
When Chista met her assigned partner, Betty Radman, she soon learned that people in her grandmothers generation could be as different as people in her own. Betty initially confessed her reluctance to participate saying, I was only a secretary. A lot of our residents were teachers and nurses. One even served in World War II Once Christa persuaded her, however, she learned that being only a secretaryBetty eventually became executive secretary to three presidents of Mack Truckswas a fascinating glimpse into the womens work of another generation. She learned that Betty, who finished high school at the end of the Depression, had attended business school because her family couldnt afford college. I didnt want to be a secretary, but I had no choice, Betty told her. I thought maybe Id be a writer because I didnt like math or science, but my mother worked for the City of Allentown in the treasurers office and adored it. She was featured in The Morning Call in 1917 because it was unusual for a woman to be handling millions of dollars in funds Shed make me sit at her typewriter and copy things from a magazine for practice. Once I started business school, though, I loved it.
What did the young women learn from their time at Phoebe Terrace? Dr. Bips remarked that many young women got a lesson on how to live full, active lives in retirement. One student said, I got out my planner to see when I was available, and she got out her planner to see when she was available, and she had less time than I did! Despite mutually-busy schedules, however, some of the relationships between the Muhlenberg students and the Phoebe Terrace women have continued long beyond the required time. Betty, who initially pleaded that she was only a secretary who was unable to attend college herself, recently attended a family gathering to celebrate Christas graduation from Muhlenberg.
To learn more about Phoebe Terrace and other Phoebe Ministries residences, please visit www.phoebe.org or call 610-794-5130.
–adapted from an article by Mary Venditta, published in the Summer 2005 issue of The Messenger, a publication of Phoebe Ministries