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Coming to Juneau and her education
Taking the GED and getting a job
Going to community college
Embracing her Italian heritage
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CONNIE MUNRO: The reason I'm really talking about the Community College is because of a very, very special lady in Juneau, and her name Edie Ebona Butler. I arrived in Juneau in 1971, in October '71.
And at the time there was an alternative high school called Project Careers at the Juneau Douglas Community College downtown building, which was next to Capital School, where the empty playground is right now.
And that particular program recruited the parents of the high school students who did not have a high school diploma. And it was one of those situations where you almost had to go.
The recruitment was rather rigorous. And so as a middle-aged mother of seven children my son Peter kept on saying, "Mother you have to school with me today or I can't go." So off I went down the hill and to the school.
And at the time the principal of that school was Charlie May Moore, whom I'm sure many of you know very well. And, I took for the GED test, and I was studying for the mathematics test.
And because I'd only had 10 years of school I'd never had algebra or, geometry. And in those days they used to have little carrels and in the carrels you'd sit there and you'd put on earphones for the audiotape and the filmstrip to give you instruction.
And I was going through the geometry filmstrip and all of a sudden realized there wasn't any way that I could possibly pass this test and I put my head down and my hand, you know, and little tears started coming thinking that I was so close and yet I knew I couldn't do this.
When I felt a tap on my shoulder and I turned around and this woman said, "Have you got a minute? I'd like to talk to you." And so I didn't know who she was and I got up and, and we kind of went over to the little corner.
And she said, "My name is Edie and I'm from the Model Cities Program and I would like to talk to you about the math test." And I really wasn't quite sure what she meant about that.
In those days you really weren't told that you could retake the test, you weren't told that you could challenge the test. And you really did not even understand the scoring process and so she started telling me all these things.
And she also said to me after going through all this scenarios that you can challenge the test, if you don't pass it you can retake it after some study, you only have to get about half right to pass and they're multiple choice, which I didn't even know, and I was wondering whether she was allowed to say all that, this stranger in the midst.
And I can't tell you how exciting it was for me to tell her that with her encouragement I would probably take the test. She then asked me which village I came from.
And in those days you know the 70s was still kind of the flower children type dress and so on and I had, I wore long braids and of course I had the dark hair and the brown eyes and she really thought I was, was one of her people.
And when I told her I wasn't, I was from Vermont and I wasn't from one of the villages she was stunned. And then she said to me, you know in kind of this really humorous way, she says, "You wouldn't happen to have Italian blood?"
And I said, "Yes, why?" and she said, "You know the Italians always steal the North American Indian roles in the movies." And besides I had an Italian husband.
And she said, "Well it's off time and I made a mistake" and, and we really had some electricity between us and she said, " Why don't' we go for a walk."
She had to go back and report to the Model Cities Program that she was finished for the day. And that she would introduce me to Andy Ebon... Ebona (phonetic) and Walter Johns, who were working in the program they were leaders in the community, now remember this is 24 years ago.
And then she said to me that tomorrow morning we will meet at the Community College and I'm going to sit there while you take the test.
I was just stunned. And so I met her the next morning and Edie sat there while I took that test, and of course very fortunately I passed it.
We got to know each other real well, we started socializing together. Edie had as many children as I did, they were all about the same age. And within about three weeks I got a phone call from her and she said, "We need to speak to you right away, get down here, it's important."
And so I didn't know what was going on. I went down and she said, "Would you like a Community Vista Volunteer position?
with Charlie May Moore to recruit adult education students and to be a tutor trainee?" And I said, "Well, why me?" And she said, "Well, the pay isn't very good."
It was 180 dollars a month and she said, "You have a husband, Alan is supporting you and you can afford to do it. And we really need someone who could recruit students, who had actually gone through the process.
And a middle aged momma and everything would really be helpful and you'd be able to get a lot of our people in that program." And I can't tell you how exciting it was to be interviewed by Terry Pigees (phonetic) who asked me the asked me the question about my education.
And when I told him I just have a GED, I remember him swinging around on his chair and looking at me and saying, "don't ever say that again. And I think will be the last time you say 'just a GED'."
and I got the job. I went on to anchorage and studied for a whole month. My husband for the first time in his life took care of the children all by himself for a month. And came back, and this is my really start with life long learning. And it's real, real special.
Edie said there was a 'pay it back' process in her culture, and that certainly as in Italian, I should understand that. And the community college up the road had no transportation
and she had signed up for two courses introduction to anthropology with Wally Olson and introduction to psychology with Shev Shelton.
And I would have to drive her there, that's the pay back for what she did for me. And I said, "Great, what nights do you go? I'd be glad to do it."
And in those days not only did we not have public transportation, but we didn't have the beautiful expressway of Egan Drive, that you can drive that we have now.
The road was, as you know the old road that that curved all the way to the campus. And we did not have streetlights in many sections of that road.
So Edie really needed to be assured that I would take her to those courses and pick her up. And she said, "Well there's one thing I forgot to tell you, I have signed you up for the same courses and I wanted to be assured that you go with me."
I was absolutely hysterical and said, " I don't, I know can't do college work. It's too soon, give me time." She said, "Absolutely not. I will take the notes for you, I will help you study, I will help you with those exams and besides," she said, "Wally Olsen is a cinch of teacher." So off we went to school.
The college then was quite interesting. I think they had about four professors at the time, it was in, there were two buildings. courses were offered like every other semester.
And it took me nine years to get a two-year degree. I went part time, I, I worked full time. I tried to get hours that were in concert with my children's school. And was very fortunate to do that.
And because of Edie's encouragement along the way, she mentored me, she helped me, she supported me and without that I know I would not have been a life long learner.
I've been able to get my bachelor's degree, my master's degree, my teacher's certification. Or not keep the job.
I have to say that Juneau's very special in that way and our university is so accessible. And as each new building opened up and oh by the way I have to tell you this. I even helped design the interior of the Bill Ray Center, which housed the adult basic education program in those days.
And how exciting it is to after 24 years of taking the GED to be the State Supervisor for this program. And without Edie's encouragement I would not have been able to do it.
There's a wonderful Italian sideline to this, all of you know when Godfather, the first Godfather movie came out? And Edie thought it would be a wonderful idea if we all went together and then had an Italian feast after and I said, "fine."
And I have a daughter Carol, who, we were sitting down stairs getting ready for this, this wonderful feast. And she was 11 years old and I said you've got to get up and come down and help me make ravioli, we're gonna use your, your great-grandmother's recipe.
And she stomped and put her hands on her sides and said, "Absolutely not. I'm Scottish I'm not Italian. You inherit you father's culture and I refuse to learn how to make those awful things."
Well Edie was, well she looked at me and she said, "I don't think Carol's talking about food. I think she's talking about the social stigma that the movie was projecting," which of course was the mafia, violence and corruption.
And she said, "You know Connie as much as, as you have enjoyed and loved our culture. until you can make sure that your own children are aware of their culture and love their culture, then you can't really equally share with our Tlingit culture."
And she encouraged me to organize a, the Juneau Italian Membership Society in 1973. Senator Duncan named us after him, it's the short term for it is JIMS
and our main goal was to teach our children about the celebrations and the history of the Italian culture so that they too can achieve the same pride that our First Alaskans have.
And that to me was the most special, important gift that any Juneauite could possibly give an outsider who was only going to be here for three years.
And I am now, have grandchildren here and will spend the rest of my life here because of this beautiful person.