Lady Leopard for life
Peggy Redman defines the La Verne Experience
by Lauren Creiman
photography by Stephanie Ball
Tucked away on the second floor of Founders Hall is an office labeled, “The La Verne Experience.” Inside, wood shelves are packed with books and punctuated with pictures of the University of La Verne through its various decades. Plaques and artwork command the most attention: 1987 Alumna of the Year award, a rare framed and personalized La Verne citrus packing label and a large Joella Mahoney art-inspired poster commemorating Steven Morgan’s presidential inauguration. “You know, I’ve known him during his whole La Verne career,” says the woman behind the desk, perfectly at home among the mementos that tell of a life centered around the city and the University.
This is home for Margaret “Peggy” Deal Redman, director of the La Verne Experience. The program she oversees encompasses this intangible idea that one undergoes a unique self-transformation through his or her time at La Verne. Though the La Verne Experience program now manifests itself in a series of courses, it is still best understood through the life of the woman who heads it and how she came to be a strong, dynamic leader whose success is self-made.
Peggy was a La Verne woman long before she stepped on campus as an undergraduate student in 1956. “La Verne has been part of my life for as long as I can remember,” she says. Both of her parents attended the University of La Verne. Her mother Edna Brubaker came to La Verne College in 1927 and graduated in 1931. Just as her own children would one day emulate, Peggy’s mother and her four siblings all came to La Verne due to her father’s Fresno Church of the Brethren ties. “It was quite fascinating,” Peggy says. “This was in a time when women didn’t necessarily go to college. But my grandfather believed in the value of a college education, and so my mother and her siblings were able to come here.” Peggy’s father Jerry Deal was originally from North Dakota and was third in a family of seven children. He came to La Verne in 1928, and his four younger siblings later followed his path. All graduated from the same college. “Going to La Verne was something I was always going to do,” Peggy says. “I spent so many weekends here for homecoming as a child. I came to so many football games and homecoming events that it was just embedded in who I am, and who my family is.”
The La Verne family tradition expanded as Peggy’s aunts and uncles sent their children to La Verne as well. Family influence went beyond college selection. “Almost all of my relatives became educators,” Peggy says. Her mother taught kindergarten in the Bonita Unified School District for 35 years, and her father was a professor of psychology who later became the vice president of Mount San Antonio College. “Embedded in me was the value of what education does for people, and that motivated me to enter the world of education as well. During my undergraduate days, I knew that the most common career options for me were nurse, teacher or secretary, and teaching is something I knew I could do really well.”
Peggy spent 23 years in both the Bonita Unified School District and the Pomona Unified School District teaching second through ninth grades in subjects including math, English and history. She built a life reminiscent of a 1960s family sitcom. “I got married, had my three children (Jerry, Larry and Donna), did the whole Little League thing and taught. But of course, I eventually came back to La Verne.” Peggy’s first position with the University was as alumni director in 1983, a post she remained in for nine years. From her early days as La Verne faculty, Peggy was beloved by all. “When I was an undergrad at La Verne, guys used to come up to me all the time and say, ‘I want to marry you because I want your mom to be my mother-in-law,’” chuckles Donna. “They weren’t even interested in me; they just loved my mom that much.” Peggy’s positive spirit proved to be a lifeline when her destiny took an unexpected turn.
Life turning point
The forces of the world had other plans for Peggy, different from the life she had created. After 26 years of marriage to the man she met in college and raised three children with, Peggy and Don Redman divorced. “The thing about the divorce…it was not a bad thing; it was just sad. I thought I was handling it well,” Peggy sighed, “and then I got cancer.” Stage III ovarian cancer and two years of chemotherapy changed Peggy’s life, already so altered by the end of her marriage, in permanent yet positive ways.
Peggy remained optimistic throughout her treatment, and looked at it as simply another of life’s many obstacles. “Her spirits remained high even when she had cancer, and of course she just wanted to keep working,” former University of La Verne President Stephen Morgan says. “My favorite memory of her is from that time. When she was going through chemo, Peggy lost her hair, so she wore a wig. One day, we were sitting in a meeting together, and I noticed her wig was crooked. I kept trying to make this tugging motion by my head to tell her to straighten it, and she just looked at me weird because she didn’t understand. It was like our own comedic routine,” he chuckles.
Though many would have felt weary trying to weather the incessant storm that was Peggy’s life, she made the best of her situation and made use of the insight it provided her. “Sometimes your greatest challenges are life’s greatest successes,” Peggy says. “That’s what cancer provided for me. It gave me the strength to get through anything I wanted.” That mentality characterized the next 20 years of Peggy’s life, which she spent single and dedicated entirely to self-fulfillment. “I guess you could say that this time marked the end of what I was meant to be,” Peggy says. “I always worked in education and, hopefully, affected a lot of lives, raised three children—who ended up really neat people—and I was done. Then I was given this opportunity where a door opened. I finished my doctorate, became a professor, and traveled the country and the world in such a way to integrate travel into learning and my experiences into teaching.”
Peggy received her University of La Verne Ed.D in 1991 and transformed herself again, gaining a teaching post in the University of La Verne College of Education and Organizational Leadership as director of teacher education. As part of her doctorate program, Peggy completed a dissertation that studied the difference between Japanese and American administration in higher education. Her study took her to five institutions in Japan, with which she was entirely unfamiliar. The experience had her traveling Japan by herself for two weeks. Those days, Peggy says, were among the most illuminating of her career. “I didn’t know the language at all, but I was managing just fine,” she chuckles. When it came time to travel from Sapporo to Sendai, Peggy decided to venture there by train. The smooth, fun ride Peggy anticipated quickly vanished when she had to change trains. “I couldn’t read the signs, and I had no clue where to go or what to do,” she remembers. “I was just standing there, not sure where I was or how to get to Sendai. Then something happened that reminded me of the inherent goodness of people.” A woman approached Peggy and showed her how to read the symbols. She did not speak English, but the language barrier proved to be no barrier at all. “This experience showed me that anything can be a connector for you if you’re open to it—and that’s how life is. We were able to find a way to connect and understand one another despite the obstacle between us.”
That open-minded, can-do attitude certainly served Peggy well as director of teacher education. With her leadership, the teacher education program grew from certifying 30 students yearly to more than 350 yearly. Peggy never forgot one name or face. “No matter where we are—it could be in La Verne or even in another state—people rush up to her and talk to her,” Donna laughs. “Everyone remembers Peggy Redman. And the thing is, she remembers them all too. That’s just the kind of person she is. She values her relationships, and if she connects with you, she will remember you, and you will be family to her.” Peggy’s high regard for relationships still influences Donna, who is a La Verne city councilwoman and assistant professor of education at the University. “My mom told me, ‘You’re going to come across a lot of people who don’t agree with you. She taught me to listen, and to always look for the good in people. It’s easy to pass judgment, but the good is there. That’s how she is, and I want to be exactly like her.”
Peggy’s own innate leadership skills and relatability are how Peggy successfully managed a myriad of University and community positions. She served on boards for the YWCA, American Cancer Society, Parent Teachers’ Association and BUSD Teachers’ Association; worked actively within the city of La Verne as part of the Planning Commission for 11 years; and volunteered in six of her grandchildren’s classes during the past 20 years. This is common, says Donna, because the only life her mother knows is a busy one. “Peggy is certainly dedicated to La Verne,” Morgan says. “She is bright and capable…no matter what position she was in, I knew the job would be done well. She always tried to find win-win solutions to problems so there would be a victory for everyone. That wasn’t always possible, but she always tried. That’s just the kind of person she is. There aren’t many people I’d like to clone, but Peggy is one of them,” he laughs.
WOLVS in leopard clothing
Though Peggy has a list of accolades that would make any overachiever envious, one lesser-known accomplishment makes her soft eyes brighten with the spark of passion. When she began work at La Verne in alumni relations, she quickly noticed that University lacked one thing: women in leadership positions. A joke made by a former University administrator justifying why women were not among him in higher positions was enough to inspire Peggy to make some change. “This moment was a catalyst,” she says. “We’d established this thing called the women’s task force. It included faculty, staff and administrators: all women. We met and wrote a letter to President Stephen Morgan, expressing concern about lack of women in leadership. It was simply signed, “The Women’s Task Force.” The president was not thrilled, Peggy remembers. The group eventually took the name Women of La Verne and proudly called themselves WOLVS.
“The WOLVS were a formidable group; they were tough and held high standards,” Steve says. “In the end, though, they were always professional and fair. I appreciated that. It was an educational experience that was helpful to my career.” The challenges the WOLVS faced included not only the president and associated male administrators, but also women who were too afraid to speak up. “This was just the kind of thing we faced. We approached many different women on campus and asked them to join but were met with a lot of resistance. Many said they didn’t want men to see them that way, as aggressive,” Peggy says. “See, that’s when I thought, ‘Wow, I belong in a different era.’ I just decided I couldn’t worry about that because this was an important issue for the University.”
Because of the letter and the programs it put on, the WOLVS began to see some changes. Included was a campus-wide viewing of the films “Killing Us Softly” and “Still Killing Us Softly,” both of which address the objectification of women in advertising. “Here’s the funny part,” Peggy chuckles with a roll of her eyes. “Upon seeing the films, one of my University Advancement colleagues asked, ‘So you think it’s OK for women to dress any old way?’ And I said, ‘You’re missing the point.’ It is not about not washing your hair, or what kind of clothes you wear; it is that objectification of women is inappropriate, and it is about young girls thinking they have to be reed-thin to be beautiful.”
Peggy’s passion for encouraging women to be strong leaders began at an early age. In middle school, her babysitter once asked whether she would rather be smart or popular. Her answer, without hesitation, was to be smart. “Even at that young age, I understood that would last all my life. Beauty, popularity, all those things—I knew those would be transient. But my intelligence would last.”
The idea that a woman must find strength beyond her looks is something Peggy continues to instill in her five granddaughters and is something she carries into the WOLVS as well. Today’s group consists of Peggy, Adeline Cardenas-Clague and Ruby Montano-Cordova. They still meet regularly. “It’s that power of supporting one another that provides us that strength and has gotten us this far, and is what we need to continue.” Morgan is also pleased with the University progress. “I was made an honorary member of the WOLVS not too long ago. I think it is a symbol of what we have accomplished at La Verne and how far this institution has come, and I am proud of it.”
The most recent of entries on Peggy’s resume is director of the La Verne Experience, an initiative that incorporates the University’s traditions and values and takes form in mandated paired classes and experiences. The responsibility of implementing these programs falls to Peggy, with the help of planning committees.
“When you’ve gone here…well, there’s something very special about this place. When you leave La Verne, you know you’ve had some sort of experience,” Peggy says. “That is really what the La Verne Experience captures.”
Although no formal curriculum existed for this initiative in Peggy’s student days, the initiative calls for capturing the University’s unique personality for all who attend. “The La Verne Experience is as evident for those who teach here as it is for the students,” Peggy says. “I felt it visiting the college as a kid, as a student, and as a member of the faculty. We have this program now, but what people must also realize is that we define the La Verne Experience for ourselves.”
Among Peggy’s defining La Verne moments is the memory of having Roland and Corni Ortmayer as dorm parents in her undergraduate years. “As a coach, Roland had a great philosophy on winning—that it wasn’t everything. He understood that the making of a human being was more important than either winning or losing. That philosophy became part of me and shaped my later experiences.” Another favorite memory: the La Verne Alumni Float Trip. First created as a summer class for students in the 1970s by Roland Ortmayer, the trip has evolved into a two-week experience, open to alumni and students, of floating the rivers in Idaho and Montana. “People come together from many different walks of life to take this journey. That togetherness, that unique bonding that happens—that’s a fundamental of the La Verne Experience.
These memories make my own La Verne experience, and the next person you ask will have her own version of it. That’s what is so fantastic about this. The La Verne Experience is something we will all have, but it will be ours and ours alone.”
After dedicating most of her life to La Verne, Peggy plans to retire June 2014. Peggy anticipates spending more time with her husband Ray Yinger. “We have this little motorhome, too, so we will probably take short road trips together. I’m looking forward to it. But I will certainly still come to La Verne events.”
However, few believe she will leave her beloved alma mater behind. “This La Verne Experience position is my mom’s last hurrah,” Donna says. “We children have been telling her for years, ‘It’s probably time to slow down,’ but I don’t even think that will happen. She will still find things to do, and I’m sure she will be around here just as much. Peggy Redman is Miss La Verne, if there ever was one.”