March is designated as Women’s History Month. In 1978, the school district of Sonoma, California, organized “Women’s History Week,” a weeklong celebration of women’s contribution to our history and culture, and sponsored a “Real Woman” essay contest and a parade in Santa Rosa, California.
In 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8th as National Women’s History Week. President Carter’s proclamation: “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” Finally, in 1987, Congress passed a law designating March as Women’s History Month.
Do you ever get the feeling at church on Sunday that the pastor’s message was prepared just for you? Well, in preparing for my article this month, President Carter’s message sure did seem to be written just for me. Whether it was as a Nuclear Submarine Officer or as the CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperative, my name is well-known, yet there are some very strong women in my life whose names aren’t so well-known, and without them, mine wouldn’t be either. It felt right and appropriate that I consider this the “Women in My History Month” and take some time to highlight their courage, strength and leadership.
The first woman I want to shine a light on is my mother, Barb. She had a very tough childhood, and my coming along didn’t make it any easier. Like so many young girls, she found out at the age of 17 that I was on the way. I would say that her first act of real courage was the decision to keep me. This decision got her kicked out of the house, and she had to live with relatives until I was born. Before she married my dad, when I was in third grade, she was a single mom working hard at Sheller Globe, an injection molding automotive parts factory, to keep my brother, Craig, and me fed. My mom was a pretty tough lady, and she was very tough on us. Life had been tough on her, and she was determined that her boys would do better. I would characterize her as more stuff than fluff, and that stuff was mostly steel.
She took us to the public library every week, and she taught us the value of reading. She would take me to a used bookstore in town and let me pick out a grocery sack full of books for a quarter each. She would let us take home stories from authors like Louis L’amour, Max Brand, Zane Grey, Robert A. Heinlein, Jules Verne, Mark Twain and countless others. She demanded that we get straight A’s in school, and if we brought home anything other than A’s, we were grounded from everything but church, school and work for the next 10 weeks until the next report card came out. She sacrificed having nice things so that we could attend a private school because she knew the value of the education that she didn’t have. She cleaned the church and made a deal with the school for my brother and me to be the janitors before and after school to help pay for our tuition.
Once, when I was in high school, she took my place working at our family sawmill so I could go to basketball practice. Our sawmill was homemade and would not pass an OSHA inspection then or now. While my dad was running a log through to get the bark off, my mom grabbed the slab, and it bowed into the blade. Before she could let go, she was jerked back into the blade. Her back hit the bolt that holds the blade on, and her arm flung into the blade, shearing off a piece of her arm near the elbow and also shearing her wedding ring off. When we went to visit her in the hospital, she was battered and bruised, but I only remember her telling me not to worry about it, that it was not my fault. She was tough and stood her ground. My mom placed a sign on the door to our house that said, “Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully, so don’t use it in here.” She did her very best to make sure that I learned to read, write and work, and that I learned Christian values to guide my way. I sit here today and reflect on how much she sacrificed so that I could have so much. Thanks, Mom!
The second woman I want to recognize I met in middle school. Back in those days, the boys hung out on one side of the gym, and the girls on the other, and if you wanted to get together, you sent an emissary over to intercede on your behalf. The note said, “Buddy likes you. Will you go with him? Yes, No or Maybe.” Well, lucky for me, Tracy said, “Yes!” She was a cheerleader in high school and cheered me on during basketball games. Years later, she officially said “Yes” again, in 1988, and we married. Tracy has truly had my back and has been my best friend and a lifelong cheerleader ever since. Tracy was 19 and I was 20 when we got married. If you watch our wedding video, you can see us run out of the church and get into my 1979 Chrysler LeBaron that cost me $1,200, less than the wedding dress that Tracy was wearing when she hopped in. I was in the Navy, and I hauled her away from all her friends and family to the Naval base in Orlando, Florida. I was an E-4 in the Navy, and I can assure you that she didn’t marry me for my money; we had none.
Sailors go to sea, and I was gone a lot. Three kids and my demanding career as a submarine officer meant that Tracy was required to be mom and dad most of the time. It was not uncommon for me to sail away and be gone for up to six months with no communication home. Submarines are called the Silent Service for good reason.
Here is how lucky I am. Tracy was so solid that she was able to keep the home fires not only burning but blazing while I was gone, and she was so capable that I was able to go in early and stay late and truly be focused on work while she did more than her share at home, even when I was not at sea and technically at home. This always allowed me to learn my job and to do great things, and in doing great things, get promoted to the next level to do more things. It may sound cliché, but I truly would not be where I am today without having a strong woman like Tracy at my side all these years. Any of you who have had the privilege of meeting her know just how special she is.
So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I want to acknowledge all the women out there in our cooperative family who, like my mom, Barb, and my wife, Tracy, do amazing things every day to make our lives, our cooperatives, our communities, our state and our nation better. I encourage you to take time this month to formally thank the women in your life whose achievements should be recognized.
Vernon “Buddy” Hasten is President and CEO of Arkansas Electric Cooperatives, Inc., and Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation.