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Finding my voice at a young age

Sylvia Malagamba is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


In 1945, Hester Mundon made such a deep impression on me at an especially awkward time in my life as a 13-year-old adolescent seventh grader. At first I just disliked her. But by the end of that first semester of the home economics sewing class at Samuel Hamilton Junior High — I hated her.

She looked like a drill sergeant with her starched white blouse buttoned to the neck with a small brooch or pin at the top and a matching plaid vest and skirt. She marched around the classroom scuffing the floor with her Cuban-heeled shoes as she inspected every machine, every cut, every seam.

Since I made two glaring errors in this class by being creative, she flunked me for not following the exact instructions on the pattern. Me, the honor student who had been sewing since I was eight years old!

There was seldom any constructive criticism offered. She was out to make me pay. Hmmph — as though I wasn’t embarrassed enough. She killed any creative ideas I had that would have made the class more interesting. I was relieved to get out of there. Fortunately, she never extinguished the creative spark in me. She only focused it.

I continued sewing my own wardrobe, graduating to Vogue Designer patterns and fashion shows and later teaching my three daughters the art of sewing. Then, in my own small way, I got back at Hester Mundon.

When our class finally moved up to senior high school, I was back on the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. Soon the time came to be assigned to a guidance counselor. I was horrified to discover that the girls’ counselor was none other than — you guessed it — Hester Mundon.

I stormed down the hall to the principal’s office and refused to be assigned to her. I was told “too bad, you have to have a counselor.”

“Then I’ll go to the boys’ counselor,” was my retort. A rebel was being born.

The principal said “Impossible.”

I said, “Too bad. It’s the boys’ counselor or no one.”

Reluctantly, the principal agreed to send me to the boys’ counselor for an interview. The switch was approved by the three of us, the counselor, the principal and me.

Later, with my head held high and probably with my chin sticking out a bit, I sauntered past Hester Mundon’s office — never again to enter. I was the only girl to be assigned to the boys’ counselor. What a stroke of luck.

The boys’ councilor and I clicked. His glass office was an offshoot of a room dedicated to study hall. During my once-a-week assignment to study hall every Tuesday morning, he would signal me to come in if he wasn’t too busy. We had long, interesting discussions. He made me think, more so than any other person that I knew. He encouraged independence.

“Don’t be a follower. Do the research. Think for yourself,” he advised.

He inquired if I like to take tests.

“I dunno, depends,” was my answer.

In 1949, our high school was one of two in Pittsburgh to be beta sites for some national testing evaluations. I began taking tests for him, eventually getting pretty good at it. As a senior I later qualified for a scholarship to the University of Chicago.

But it turned out that the University of Chicago did not accept women into their architectural program at that time, and that’s what I wanted to study. Instead, I landed a scholarship to Pennsylvania College for Women — now called Chatham University — and studied art and communication.



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