Allisyn Kateusz is one woman, but a link in two chains of scholarship.
She is headed for Jerusalem soon, to study old manuscripts that relate to the life of Mary, mother of Jesus. They were written by a woman scholar, and provide evidence that Mary was a more dynamic leader than traditional accounts of her life portray.
Her participation in that chain of female scholarship and female leadership, on the other side of the world, is being made possible by another chain of female scholarship and leadership – one that endures on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
UMKC women students finishing a postgraduate degree are faced with the thorny question of how to fund required travel, research and seminars that are part of their final coursework. For the past 42 years, thanks to the generosity and foresight of previous generations of women, many of those students got their answer in the form of a generous scholarship from the Graduate Assistance Fund (GAF), a program of the UMKC Women’s Council. This year the fund, with assets in excess of $1 million, distributed over $75,000 in scholarships to 73 young women headed for all parts of the globe.
The scholars and supporters of the fund gathered at the UMKC Student Union for the annual Graduate Assistance Fund luncheon to say thanks. Students shared stories of projects now within reach and donors told of the inspiration from other women that encouraged them to give gifts.
Kateusz, completing her interdisciplinary Ph.D. in history and English, will use her scholarship to study the manuscripts in Jerusalem. Found in what was once ancient Syria, the documents offer a more honest and accurate image of Jesus’ mother.
“I can study these documents that were acquired and translated in the early 1900s,” Kateusz said. “The scholar was the daughter of an academic who taught his twin girls to read ancient languages and separate fact from fiction. Many of the original sources she read had been edited to make Mary the more docile, retiring figure we picture, not the dynamic religious leader she likely was.”
Kateusz’s research has already resulted in one of her articles being accepted for publication in the fall edition of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Her GAF project was one of 85 proposals. It took the selection committee a total of 500 hours to narrow the list of awardees to 73.
GAF assistance can make an enormous difference in a young woman’s academic career. Lora Lacy-Haun attested to that influence.
Before she was given a special award in recognition of her dedication and support of the Women’s Council and the Graduate Assistant Fund, Lacy-Haun, the retiring Dean of the UMKC School of Nursing and Health Studies, explained what the GAF award meant to her as the young single mom of two little girls, many miles from home and help. She not only got the advanced degree she needed to further her career, but her daughters saw the benefits of education and professional preparation. One became a veterinarian, the other a teacher specializing in urban education.
Chancellor Leo Morton would later remark that the university was paid back many times over for the scholarships given to Lacy-Haun that led to her tenure and service at the School of Nursing and Health Studies.
Curt Crespino, vice chancellor for university advancement, and Mistress of Ceremonies Angela Bennett, UMKC alumni trustee, paid special tribute to three women whose deaths in the past year were felt keenly by the GAF membership: Mary Merryman, Joan Berkley and Harriette Yeckel. All three were named-award donors and GAF board members who believed in the vision of women relying on each other put forward by Martha Jane Starr, UMKC’s first woman trustee and founder of the Women’s Council.
It came as no surprise that, at the end of Grace Lai’s flute performance in memory of these three idealists, Crespino announced that Harriette Yeckel had given GAF $25,000 from her estate: two $10,000 unrestricted named awards and $5000 to match other donations for a third award.
At the center of each table were flowers, symbolic of hope, symbolic of shining stars. There were plenty of both to go around at the GAF luncheon.