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Shirley Michaelsen: A Modern Pioneer

Sat., Feb. 14, 1998

One of the first times Shirley Michaelsen appeared in this newspaper was September 1965. In a society page article on fall fashion shows, she posed with her daughter Dianne and was referred to as “Mrs. Robert Michaelsen.”

Michaelsen, along with her best buddy and colleague, Betty Hammond, pioneered almost all the women’s programs in place in Spokane today. Michaelsen died Sunday at age 79; Hammond died in April. Both of their hearts gave out, but not before they shared them with thousands of Inland Northwest women.

How appropriate that Michaelsen would be eulogized on this page today. In the late 1960s, when she began her pioneering women’s work at the Community Colleges of Spokane, mostly men wrote on editorial pages and they wrote about issues of the world.

Michaelsen’s work helped women realize that their issues - self-esteem, parenting, child care, workplace equality, aging, widowhood - were important, too. And deserved attention and respect.

Michaelsen and Hammond engineered programs, such as Displaced Homemakers, that showed women they have a right to be here. Programs that showed women how to speak out, and end habits and relationships that tattered their spirits and diminished their minds.

Michaelsen’s message was easy to accept, because she also honored and embraced women’s traditional roles. She doted on her two daughters and her grandchildren. Just a few months ago she spent time at her daughter Gail’s home in Florida sewing up a household of curtains.

“Visionaries are not usually cuddly,” said Jan Polek, gender equity specialist at the colleges. “They tend to stand alone and aloof thinking of the future and changing the present. Shirley was such a visionary, but she was also caring and cuddly.”

Michaelsen officially retired in 1988, but she still taught classes in the women’s programs that evolved from her early work. Brenda VonBrach heads those programs now and she worries that the 600-seat music building auditorium on the SFCC campus, where Michaelsen’s memorial service will be held today at 11, won’t be big enough. Some mourners might have to stand, but she knows Michaelsen wouldn’t have minded the chaos. “Shirley demanded perfection from herself, but always understood and never judged the imperfection in others.”

Now Michaelsen is gone, and Hammond, too. An era has passed with their passing. Goodbye, pioneers. And thanks.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Rebecca Nappi/For the editorial board

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