Prairie Mary: Professor, Activist, Humanist

Paul J. Apodaca
Parkland Prospectus, 2002

In my lifetime of almost 65 years, I have walked the world over watching and listening. And I don't mind telling you that there are many wonderful people out there. Individuals of distinction and accomplishment. Most of them are good people, but there are exceptions of course. However, of all the people I have met many impressed me to one degree or another, but none so much as Mary Lee Sargent. I was fortunate to have had her as my History Professor in the "Honors Integrated Studies Program" during the fall semester, last year. It took me all of one day to realize that this teacher and I were doomed to conflict. This wonderful Professor had not even started on her first lesson covering the first segment of history from 1945 to the present time, when I recognized what she was. A Peace-nik, a Dove, anti-war, anti-military, feminine-equal rights activist! And that's just the beginning. I said to my self; "Self...this is going to be tuff, and it's going to be war, come hell or high water, and the grade be damned cause I will get my say." Professor Sargent started with the post WWII Cold War, a period in history with which I was somewhat familiar because my fathe participated in the European Theater as a member of the 101'st Airborne (Sceaming Eagles) and the mighty 29th Infantry (Blue and Gray). Well I got my say, and she listened. And I had my war, and she listened. And I vented my wrath, my disappointment at having gone to Korea, Vietnam, and everything that happened between 1954 and 1997, only to come home to disrespect and rejection from those for whom I went to fight for, to protect. Including those who protested and burned their draft cards, some ran off to Canada, or became instant conscientious objectors based on their religion in order to avoid the draft. And she listened! And then she taught me History, in a way that will live with me for the rest of my life. And I slowly changed my mind. She told a story...and the story was the story of America from 1865 to the present...and the story was so brilliantly presented that I and every other student in that classroom virtually experienced it, we lived it. Mary Lee took us by the hand and led us through the Reconstruction of the Union 1863-1877.

We actually saw the Trans-Mississippi West from 1860-1900. through The eyes of the Sioux, Lakota, Cheyenne in Black Elk Speaks. We labored through The Incorporation of America in 1865 through 1900, and the Commonwealth and Empire era from 1870-1900. We experienced America's growth pains in Urban America and Progressivism from 1900-1917. We fought in WWI, 1914-1918. We were dancing through the 1920' era, and we saw and felt the pain of the Depression, and the New Deal, 1929-1940. And we fought and died in the battles of WWII, on both ends of the Globe in 1941-1945.

Mary Lee Sargent received her Masters Degree in European History (French) at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid 60's, and has written and spoken widely on woman's history. She has participated in sit-ins and sit-down's for civil rights, marched for peace, and led the charge for equal rights for women. She describes herself as an activist, and an agitator and she makes no apologies for that. And why should she? Mary Lee Sargent has paid her dues. She once chained herself to the door of the Illinois Senate, in an unsuccessful fight for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Mary Lee Sargent is also the "Johnnie Appleseed" of the Illinois "Grand Prairie" as the Native Americans call it. She spends personal time in the restoration and maintenance of the indigenous flora native to this geographical area, and the evidence is right before you here at Parkland College, take some time to explore it.

Professor Sargent also teaches American Women in History, this semester on Tuesday nights from 6:30-9:30pm. It is too bad that she is retiring this year...maybe we could persuade her not to? Mary Lee Sargent is proud of her life, her achievements, and her beliefs. She stands with the courage of her convictions in the face of rejection and criticism from the self-righteous indignant, and judgmental small and narrow-minded citizens of our society.

"How do you wish to be remembered?" I asked her. "Oh my, she replied. I guess if I could choose, I would want to be remembered as a committed and involved individual in the ongoing struggle to make life better for all humans on earth. Especially through my work as a teacher of history, and my efforts as a human rights activist." In addition, I would like my image to reflect that I have defined correctly what is important in life, and that the positive thinkers (or critics) will see me as a strong leader, intelligent, with the courage of my convictions. The negative thinkers have always seen me as a fanatical and radical individual, out of control. I would like to see them change their perception of me based on what I've accomplished, rather than on the threat they perceived me to be.

"What about your parting words, Professor Sargent?

"Well, I wish you all the strength of yesterday, and the hope of tomorrow...In other words, take the lessons you have learned and apply them to your future. Become actively involved in your community, and the national, state, and local politics. The decisions being made at these levels are affecting our daily lives, and we nave no one to blame if tomorrow, you don't like what was created today. Make an investment in your future, by participating today!" See...That is why she's so special, and so effective at everything she undertakes..."She Loves It!" Good Bye Mary Lee...We'll MissYou!