Community celebrates Women's History Month
April 6, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - The social struggle women throughout history endured and often overcame was the focus of this year's Women's History Month celebration March 18 at the Commons.
"It's been a long stretch," said Mary M. Parry, a local civic leader and USO volunteer since 1941, "but it's been a fun job trying to make people recognize that women can do the job as well as men."
Noting how women's history sometimes seems penned in "invisible ink," the theme for this year's program was "Writing Women Back into History."
To begin the program, Sarah Smith, Hilda Martinez and Emma Miles of Fort Drum's Equal Employment Opportunity Office each recited a poem that paid tribute to all women. Afterward, the guest speaker, a tireless volunteer and beloved figure of the Fort Drum community, was introduced.
"I'm a better worker than I am a speech giver," she said.
Parry then shared personal stories from a life that began in the Finger Lakes region in 1923.
She said she was just 10 when her father died - a tragedy that forced her mother to work at a manufacturing company where she struggled to support three girls during the worse of the Great Depression. Parry said her mother taught her many things, including how to give to others when their own family lacked so much.
"Every tramp (who) walked by came and was fed in our house," she said. "Of course, I didn't know there was a depression - nobody told me. But my mother fed everybody, and she taught me that you need to take care of people and that you can't live by yourself. You have to be aware of others.
"How she supported us on $5 a week - to this day, I have no idea," she said. "But she did."
Parry's first job as a teenager was making ice cream sodas at a local drugstore.
"A female soda jerk was kind of a novelty around the whole neighborhood," she said. "Everybody was coming in to see the new soda jerk."
She said her future husband, Walter, was one of the young boys who often dropped by to see her.
After putting herself through the Freeman Business School in Syracuse, Parry went on to work at the U.S. Army's Seneca Ordnance Depot, where she said she inventoried blockbuster bombs and chased deer-hunting trespassers off the premises before taking a desk job at the facility.
"They really didn't like a female in their office, but they put up with me," she recalled. "Time went on, and I learned that men can learn to like women in an office."
Encountering unreceptive all-male work environments was typical of Parry's experiences. She said when she was offered an executive position by the Watertown Chamber of Commerce decades later, other members threatened to resign if a woman was hired, which, Parry said, they ultimately did not do.
"There again, they weren't too happy because they had always had only men," she said.
When she retired in 1990 as executive vice president, Parry said she had helped to more than triple membership at the Greater Watertown Chamber of Commerce.
"Being in jobs like that, which were normally men's jobs - it wasn't easy," she said. "You had to watch your step. You had to be careful that you didn't overstep.
"But fortunately for everybody, that's not the way it is today."
Parry ended her speech by issuing a challenge to her audience.
"I urge you all," she said, "if you have the opportunity, volunteer for something. If I haven't said anything (you'll remember), if you have an opportunity, take a few hours and volunteer. It would be really appreciated."
Parry then was presented with flowers and a gift by Julie Terry, wife of Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum commander.
"You're truly a trailblazer," she told Parry. "It's because of women like you that my generation and my daughter's generation have the opportunities that they have today."
After singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" to close the special occasion, Staff Sgt. Gloria Jackson of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (LI), said she was inspired by Parry's story.
"What impacted me the most was hearing the struggles that women had to go through in order to get to where we are today," Jackson said.
"My mom (also) had many struggles in life," she added.
Jackson's maternal grandmother died in 1978 as part of the mass suicide known as the Jim Jones Massacre. She said her abandoned mother, who was just 16 at the time, had to "basically raise herself."
"The struggles (my mom) went through inspired me to be who I am today," she said.