Women Who Made NMC
March 11, 2021
Editor in Chief
March is Women’s History Month! The evolution of this celebration was a long time coming and has its roots in the labor movement. On March 8, 1857, female New York garment workers marched for humane working conditions, a set 10-hour workday, and equal rights. While the police broke up the protests that day, the movement eventually created the first women’s labor unions.
On the anniversary of the protest in 1908, women marched again. 15,000 garment and needleworkers walked through New York’s Lower East Side and rallied in Union Square. They fought for an end to sweatshops, child labor, and to demand the right to vote. This inspired a three-month strike the following year.
New York celebrated its first “Women’s Day” on March 8, 1909, and in 1910, at the Conference of Working Women, more than 100 women from 17 countries unanimously passed a motion to establish International Working Women’s Day. In 1981, Congress made the second week in March National Women’s History Week and in 1987 it was expanded to a month. Women’s History Month has been celebrated every year since.
NMC has had women leading the way since its inception. It is impossible to list all the women who have contributed, and are currently contributing, to NMC over the years. We are grateful to the instructors, staff, students, volunteers, organizers, fundraisers, and community supporters, both past and present. Their efforts have helped NMC foster more employment opportunities for women and a more equitable future that we are still creating today. Thank you.
Pauline Baver: Baver was one of the five original instructors at NMC, and the college’s first female faculty member. She taught business classes from 1951–1975 and also worked in Office Administration beginning in the early 1970s. She was very active in the NMC community until her death in 2011.
Elaine Beardslee: Beardslee taught English and History in the early 1960s, but in 1963 she began working at the campus library. This was her primary love and she worked hard to build the library’s collection. When she retired in 1995, she maintained her connection and served as a volunteer at the library. She was named an NMC Fellow in 2006.
Edna Sargent: She worked as NMC’s first Registrar (1966), Counselor, and Physical Education teacher. Sargent had served in the Women’s Army Corps during the Korean War, had a reputation for pitching a mean softball, and worked at the college for 22 years.
Ernestine Johnson: In 1960, Johnson was approached and hired by NMC to create and run a nursing program at the college. She became the first Director of the Associates Degree in Nursing program, which saw its first graduates in 1963. She ran the program from 1960–1973, when she retired.
Kathleen Guy: In 1977, Guy was brought in as the college’s first full-time public relations employee. She served as the Vice President for Institutional Advancement. Later, she became the first female Executive Director of the NMC Foundation. She remained in that position until she retired in 2011.
Shirley Okerstrom: Okerstrom served on NMC’s Board of Trustees (1978–2000) and was its first female chair. She was also the Board’s liaison to the NMC Foundation for 14 years and a Foundation Board member for eight years. The Fine Arts building was named in her honor and she became an NMC Fellow in 2003.
Ilse Burke: Burke was the first and only female to serve as NMC President, from 1996–2001. Her leadership style was one focused on teamwork, transparency, and community consensus. During her tenure, NMC saw the planning and fundraising for the Dennos Museum and the passage of a $34 million bond that allowed the college to put its plans into action.
Roberta Teahen: Teahen wore many hats at NMC. Throughout her career (which spanned from the early 1980s–2001), she worked as a faculty member in the Business department, as Department Chair, and as Dean of Occupational Studies. She played a critical role in writing the grant that resulted in the Parsons-Stulen M-TEC Center. She became an NMC Fellow in 2020.
Gail Kurowski: Kurowski is the first woman to lead NMC’s Police Academy, the same program she graduated from in 1983. Before accepting the position, she served the Michigan State Police for 20 years as a training officer, legislative liaison, and in recruiting and selection. Increasing the percentage of female students enrolled is one of her goals for the program.