When Mary Margaret Robinson Federici graduated from Findlay High School, President Herbert Hoover had just suggested the five-day workweek; the average annual wage was $1,650; gas was 10 cents a gallon and Elizabeth Taylor hadn’t celebrated her first birthday. The year was 1932, and Mary Margaret was off to Findlay College.
On April 7, 2017, applause filled Ritz Auditorium as UF President Katherine Fell, Ph.D., awarded an honorary Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education to 102-year-old Federici. A lot had happened in the 85 years between high school graduation and accepting Dr. Fell’s congratulations. Now, with a cherished college degree in her hands, Federici can add one more major event.
Students at Findlay College in the 1930s had a similar campus experience to students at University of Findlay today. They socialized, had friendly competitions and did community service. Federici remembers individuals in her freshman class climbing up a greased pole on Spring Clean Up Day. They were faster than the upper classmen, so they earned the “prize” of not having to wear their mandatory black and orange beanies for the rest of the year. She recalled serving a Harvest Home dinner to community residents. Students caught the chickens needed for the meal and carried all of the food from the basement of Old Main to the gym for serving. She laughed that they were so exhausted, “we decided never to do it again.”
Something that was different in the 30s, was the position of Dean of Women. Federici remembered girls giggling as the Dean lectured them on proper behavior and dress. “When we laughed, the Dean was not happy because she was so serious.”
Federici left college to work as a theatre cashier. She married Jim Federici, whom she had met at Findlay College, and they moved to DuBois, Pennsylvania. They had two children after returning to Findlay and she returned to work when they were grown. It was during a shopping trip to the local A&P, that she ran into Carroll Morey, the Dean of Findlay College. Morey convinced her to return to school, so she resumed her studies 23 years after leaving college the first time.
Federici applied herself to her studies, but left her college classes just a few hours shy of graduating to accept a job as Liberty Benton School’s first kindergarten teacher. With no curriculum and no equipment except for a long table and a blackboard, she and her 25-30 students played games and told stories. Federici managed to secure a large roll of newsprint from the (then) Republican Courier and had her students draw a classroom mural. The following year, she moved to the first grade and remembers gathering in the gym to watch astronaut John Glenn orbit the earth. She has so many memories, marking special dates on the timeline that is her life.
Ben Federici, Mary Margaret’s great-grandson, knew she was troubled by the fact that she hadn’t completed her degree requirements. He began working with Julie McIntosh, Ed.D., dean of the College of Education, and Brandi Laurita, UF’s director of athletics, on an honorary degree for his great-grandmother. Dr. Fell conferred the degree during the opening session of the University’s Symposium on Scholarship and Creativity, an annual event that features student research, alumni speakers and award presentations.
From Franklin Roosevelt to iPhones, Mary Margaret Federici has lived it all. In the days before computers, Smart Boards, YouTube and online learning platforms, she kept her students engaged with stories, games and a big roll of paper. She deserves her degree and the title of “teacher.”