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Celebratory remarks illuminate impactful life


At last month’s Penn College remembrance of Veronica M. Muzic, four main speakers shared personal and professional memories of a legendary leader, friend and mentor. A number of people couldn’t attend because of summer schedules and competing commitments; still others were seated in the back and said they didn’t quite catch every word. For them – and for those who never met the longtime educator and administrator, but are harvesting her benefaction and deserve to know its roots – PCToday presents this archival roundup of the day’s candid recollections.

Muzic life celebrationDuring the Celebration of Life on Saturday, July 27, on the first floor of the Student & Administrative Services Center, the following remarks were shared with about 250 attendees:

Veronica Muzic’s ‘New Adventure,’ Part Two

Delivered by Marcianne Muzic Laycock, daughter

Welcome to the life celebration of Veronica Muzic. A celebration and event my mother, whom I affectionately called Mrs. Control Freak, has had absolutely no control over. In fact, she is probably really miffed that we are all making such a fuss.

Mother called her diagnosis, “my new adventure.” She never complained, continued to smile and in her normal fashion, always put others first. She managed her health care in a businesslike manner. For example, when a home health aide came to the house to help her bathe, mother sat them down and with notepad in hand conducted an interview. “Where did you get your training? How long have you been working for hospice? Do you live in the area?” Mother in control … while the home health aide is thinking, “Who is this woman? It is just a bath.”

Mother had an interest in everyone she met. Every doctor, nurse or technician who came in contact with Mother went through a series of questions about their training. (An especially big smile if the answer was Penn College). There was John the X-ray technician, who came to take Mom to be X-rayed. Mother read his name badge, “John, X-ray tech” and John said, “That’s me” and she corrected, “That is I”… and off they went. Mother received many lovely cards from people all over, wishing her the best and telling how she has impacted their lives. One card from her physical therapist left me giggling. A sentence read, “Thank you for helping us all correct our use of the English language.”

Mother was a very private and humble woman. She was always stoic, showing little emotion anytime there were stressful times in her life. And trust me, there were many stressful times!  Always a stiff upper lip and a smile to encourage the rest of the world that all would be OK. There are maybe a handful of people here who are aware that a former South Williamsport High School student has written and dedicated a book to my mother. In fact, one of the main characters, Victoria Merritt (VM), was somewhat modeled after Veronica. Victoria Merritt is in her first year of teaching at the local high school and develops a nurturing relationship with one of her students. My mother had her first high school English teaching job in South Williamsport in 1964; her student is the author, H. J. Brennan. “Father’s Day,” by Mr. Brennan, can be purchased at Otto. Please support your local bookstore. My mother would love that. In Mother’s review of the book, she did mention that one should read slowly so they can see the character development.

Frequently, when I introduced myself to people in the area, I would often hear, “Oh, you’re Veronica Muzic’s daughter; that couldn’t have been easy.” Ask the teenage Marcianne that question and the response would be, “You have no idea.” As an adult, I have bragged about my mother and her accomplishments for years. The support my mother has shown, the compassion and care for my sister and father, all while being this super powerhouse at the college, the symphony, the YWCA, the Community Arts Center, the South Williamsport Education Foundation … and all this going well into her senior years.  Absolutely amazing.

In my early 30’s, I built and opened an Educational Child Care Center in the Atlanta suburbs. This really struck a chord with my mother who had been instrumental in creating and opening the Children’s Learning Center here at the college. The day of the grand opening, my mother was beaming. At that time, I felt I had earned Veronica Muzic’s respect as a professional. In 2012, when I was working toward a National Accreditation for my third school, Mother was instrumental in walking me through what seemed to be a mountain of paperwork, essays and questions that were required when submitting my application. Of course, she was so well-versed in this, given her work on Middle States Accreditation for the colleges and universities in the Mid-Atlantic United States. When I sent Mother the picture of myself and young students raising the accreditation flag and celebrating our achievement, I knew once again that she was so proud.

I would like to thank several people who were constant visitors and helpers during Mother’s short illness. Davie, thank you for your weekly visits and show-and-tell that you brought to each visit. Mother so looked forward to and enjoyed those visits. Diana and Ken Kuhns. We so appreciated the flowers, baked goodies and Ken’s handy workmanship in making the house manageable for Mom. Mary Ann Lampman, aka, Meals on Wheels, mother was always looking forward to the news-of-the-world visits. Bob and Nancy Bowers, the baked yummies and flowers were so appreciated. Diane Peeling and Suzanne Murray, thank you for your many contributions and sitting with Mom, keeping her abreast of symphony news and book discussions. And the mahjong ladies; Maria, Louisa and Margie, thank you for keeping the games going although Mother wanted to change the game completely in her favor. My cousin Lisa, I so appreciated you coming to care for Mother for a week so that I could head back to Florida to care for my boys and kick some butt on the tennis court. Aunt Lucille and Uncle Marcel, those three weeks were wonderful for all of us.  There are numerous others who stopped and visited with Mother and she truly enjoyed the company.

Well, Mother, I will continue to brag that I am Veronica Muzic’s daughter.  I am in awe of your achievements, your friendships, compassion and, most of all, the love and support that you have given to Catherine, Dad and me.  So, I raise a glass and hope that Part Two of “your new adventure” is the trip of a lifetime.

Poem

Read by Lisa Halberstadt Rowinski, niece

My Aunt Veronica was instrumental in bringing Dr. Maya Angelou to Penn College. This is a poem titled, “When Great Trees Fall.”

When Great Trees Fall

By Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of
dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

When Nelson Mandela passed, Maya Angelou tweeted: “We thank him for coming, we thank him for teaching, we thank him for loving us.”

Aunt Veronica: We thank you for coming, we thank you for teaching, we thank you for loving us.

One final thought: Aunt Veronica could be irreverent at times. Again a quote from Maya Angelou that I think would bring her joy during this celebration.

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

42 Years – Veronica – A Force

Delivered by Penn College President Davie Jane Gilmour

Little did I know the profound influence and impact that Veronica Muzic would have on my life.

In the early years, as I call them – history to some or many of you – my relationship with Veronica was distant. I was a brand-new rookie faculty member. Veronica was this demigod for women faculty. There were not many of us in 1977. English, math, nursing, surgical tech, and the “new kid” in dental hygiene. My relationship existed in “awe” from afar, encounters at Cillo’s, and, of course, our “outside conversations,” near the west entrance of the ACC.

Veronica was recognized as feisty, wise, a master teacher and quick-witted. I vividly recall her passion for TOT Watch (our first children’s learning center), the Women’s Series, developmental studies, and daily living and breathing our open-door mission.

But even then, her expectations and dreams for our students led the way.

Fast forward a bit and our paths began to cross in a new dimension. Through (chief academic officer) Jim Middleton, we began to work together on projects, and then she took a “duty in the school,” as she called it.

Veronica played a crucial and, at times, pivotal role in the merger with Penn State, in the transition to Bachelor of Science degrees, and in the Q Commission, which was a group of master teachers gathered to chart the way for this new venture. Many of the recommendations remain in place today.

As I applied for the position of president, I knew I could count on Veronica for advice, direction, and (this is the best word I can use in public) direct communication. With Veronica as provost, I felt something that’s difficult to describe: that we could do anything – face opportunity, face grief, challenges, highs and lows. I don’t know the words, but I can tell you the feeling was powerful and real.

She maintained a strong connection, a network, if you will, with faculty. She always kept the faculty pulse, as a guide and reminder of our roots.

I am forever grateful we shared the new library, our first baccalaureate graduate, and our only challenge to a problem presented by an outside group: We walked confidently into the Department of Education to prove our Applied Human Services Degree was different from Lock Haven’s.

There were so many things we shared. We often joked that we could write a book. Well, she would write … but we could not publish.

When Veronica officially retired, she gave me a box of files meticulously organized – “Our Problems,” if you will. She wanted to pass them on, just in case!

Working with Veronica was special. First, it took me a while to stop trying to beat her to the office. I told her one day … She laughed it off.

Second, she had a way of asking you questions, when she already knew the answers – or knew what she wanted you to do or say.  But that was her way of helping you see the light. “Davie, have you given thought to ___(fill in the blank)___? Is that the best idea?!”  Translation: “Davie, that is a crazy idea and let me help you get a new one . . . the right one!”

Veronica and I took two trips that stand out among the memories. We traveled to Wurzburg, Germany, to solidify an exchange program with the university there. I recall our travels, meals, sightseeing and our work, all of which made for a great visit.

Atlanta was another stop for us. A conference. Candidly, I don’t know what conference, or whether we were presenting or just attending. But here is what I do remember, like it was yesterday: I met Veronica’s personal shopper at Nordstrom’s, I learned to love Misook clothing, we saw “Les Mis” together at the Fox Theatre, and we visited Marci and George.

Veronica was the master of work, culture and experiencing life.

I admired her attention to detail. She taught me the rich knowledge in process analysis: of a master schedule, faculty load calculations and syllabi review. She taught me well, and, to this day, I use that detail analysis to follow up, to get information, solutions to problems, and, as the leadership team would say, “solutions to the absurd.”

These past few years post-retirement, Veronica continued using her office for a few other things: “her symphony work,” access to “the machine”– she liked ours better than hers at home – and a get-out-of-the-house strategy.

We still talked. I asked for and she gave advice. The day she told me of her diagnosis, she brought me a note, things I could help her do. That helpless moment will remain with me forever.

Veronica was a mentor, a bellwether; she had vision, tenacity and passion. During one of my last visits with her, she was still asking what she could do to help me.

Veronica proofread every issue of Penn College Magazine. I told her I would have one in a few days. Instead, the proof came to my desk a few days after she passed. I sat there reading the “in memorial” section, wishing I could walk across the office and hand it to her one more time.

You are here because you knew Veronica in some capacity. Your life is better for having known her. My life is forever enriched beyond words because of my time with Veronica.

Tribute to Ms. V

Delivered by Lynn Hanson, friend

For those of you who don’t recognize me, I am a relic of a golden age.  My name is Lynn Hanson, and I come from Alabama.

I arrived at the Williamsport Area Community College in 1987, where I shared an office with Veronica Muzic, Peter Dumanis and Ned Coates. Those three colleagues made fun of my accent, but welcomed me into the fold anyway.

In that office, ACC 317, the focus of every hour of every day was always, naturally, of course, teaching and learning. In that office, Veronica and Peter gave me ballroom dancing lessons. I taught them how to crack pecans in your hand. They instructed me on Pennsylvania culture, while I offered lessons in speaking Southern. I learned to say “You’uns,” and they learned to say “Y’all.”  They helped me understand that a Pennsylvania farmer is being friendly when he says, “You ain’t from around here, eir ya?” And as many of you know, Veronica learned to answer when I called her “Ms. V.”

To their credit, my office mates really tried to pronounce my name the way my family does (Lee-yun), which requires two syllables instead of one. Veronica more often called me LeeAHN, placing the accent on the last syllable rather than the first. But then, I never mastered the box step, either.

I feel justified in saying that we all learned about equally well.

I worked here at the college for 11 years, and they were very good years – even though Veronica grew up and left us for a higher calling in administration. But whenever she could, she would sneak back, share a cigarette with Peter and catch up on the news.  Around Christmas every year, we could usually coax her back for an office reunion. We would lock the office door, cover the window, and share a private holiday meal and gift-swap. We called it the Locked-Door Lunch.

I always brought Alabama gifts for my Yankee friends, so you can imagine what a hit they were: things like grits and pecans, or boiled peanuts, and sometimes even rabbit tobacco, which is a weed that grows down South in hot, dry places near pine thickets – and you can smoke it.

I thought surely Veronica and Peter would try it, especially if I tied it up in a festive red ribbon and presented it in a smokey-looking vase. But they never did. And yet one time, mysteriously, somehow, the rabbit tobacco caught on fire, and flamed right up into a veritable torch, until quick-action Ned grabbed it and dunked it in Veronica’s coffee cup, saving us all from a conflagration.

It was a rollicking good time!

In that office, Ned and Peter thought up sneaky ways to make each other answer the phone – and then they’d hang up – and then they’d keep score! Sometimes, they even played pranks on Veronica, (which was risky), like the time they used a hand truck to turn her desk around backwards, and she couldn’t even open her drawers.  She was not happy that day.

She wasn’t happy because she couldn’t do her work. And you know how she felt about work.  That woman had an agenda!  Look at the comments made by so many on the PCToday website.  The accolades are all personal, and yet they form a common, familiar refrain.

Veronica Muzic was a powerhouse: a master teacher, an excellent administrator, a role model of leadership and service, and a true friend.

I learned from Ms. V that friendships are not limited by age brackets. After all, she tolerated me, 20 years her junior.

Because of her earned seniority at the college, I will always be indebted to Veronica for the opportunities she offered me, for her shaping influence and for all that I learned by her example.

During the height of Penn College’s Women Writers Series, Veronica Muzic and our college colleagues brought in some pretty impressive authors, such as poet Maya Angelou and novelist Margaret Atwood, to interact with students, faculty, staff and residents. Tony Award-winning playwright Marsha Norman was a big hit on Broadway, as well as the stage of Klump Auditorium. For some of these notables, Veronica developed one-credit courses to study the full creative works of featured poets like Gwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov and Joy Harjo, now our nation’s first Native American poet laureate.

For me, the most significant writer was Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” her most famous novel. And it was Veronica Muzic who introduced me to Alice Walker – quite literally: She assigned me the task of collecting Ms. Walker at the airport when she came to Williamsport to speak and read.

Because of Veronica Muzic, I sat next to Alice Walker at dinner.  I introduced Marsha Norman on stage.  I interacted with Gwendolyn Brooks, Denise Levertov and Joy Harjo.

Because of Veronica Muzic, I was led by the nose to serve as lead faculty for our department, join and chair Governance committees, lead search committees, participate on steering committees, and manage self-study initiatives for Middle States accreditation.

You women, in particular, know what I’m talking about.  It was hard to say “No” to Veronica Muzic.

Ms. V encouraged me to create new courses to teach as Special Topics. She supported my efforts to earn a doctoral degree. She read chapters of my dissertation, providing a much-welcomed critique, and she selflessly wrote letters of recommendation when I started a job search that would mean moving away. Now, that’s friendship.

In friendship, Ms. V offered compassion when I suffered heartaches, she remained loyally “on my side,” and encouraged me to shift my focus to work that could be done – and done well.

~~~

I can think of only one benefit emerging from the sad fact that Veronica Muzic is not with us today: She cannot interrupt us as we pay tribute to her remarkable life. She will not advise us to “Get over it” or “Move on.” She will not change the subject, or deflect the spotlight, or turn its beams on others – like the gracious, consummate host she always played.

When Veronica was diagnosed with cancer in March, she wrote a very brief note to a few of us, stating the stark facts as she saw them: “My days are ‘numbered.’  I have cancer. (Brain, chest, lung) … Once it is ‘done,’ it will be over!  No service, no party.”

Yet here we are, thanks to Veronica’s daughter Marci, pressing ahead, despite her mother, just like her mother.

It’s kind of like we’re getting away with something.

Here we are paying tribute, articulating the strong emotion and gratitude we feel for Veronica’s inspiration in our lives, both professionally and personally. Because Veronica Muzic is not here, we can say everything we want to say.  She cannot stop us.

And really – it all comes down to this.  “Ronnie, Mrs. Muzic, Veronica, Ms. V –

You have done so much!

And because you have done so much,

I have respected you.

I have admired you.

I have loved you.

You have meant so very much to me.”

~~~

I was so fortunate this past April, when Mary Lou and I came to Williamsport to celebrate the life of Ned Coates, another undeniable Penn College personality. Before he died, my last few telephone conversations with Neddie provided balm for the poignant loss that was coming.

So during that trip to Pennsylvania in April, I was equally determined to see Ms. V on each of the days we were here.

When I saw her first in the emergency room, I was struck by her interest in learning about “this last part.” She said, “I had no idea I could learn so much.” She marveled at the medical technology in the hospital; the skill of her physicians and nurses; the kind, intimate care her family provided: Bill and Lucille, Lisa and Marci.

And one more thing impressed her and this is really important for those of you who loved Veronica, and especially those of us who sought her approval – she marveled at us.  She wrote to me in an email:

“LeeAHN, this has been an extraordinary experience – people who have written and visited, the notes themselves, the flowers (that have taken every flat surface), homemade food and desserts …

Never, never had I expected this response to my problem …

Guess who gets the medal for luckiest person!”

Imagine!  We made her feel lucky.  There is a moment when the giving and the receiving become reciprocal, and we can’t tell them apart.

~~~

Veronica Muzic’s leave-taking was a learning experience for her, and for many of us, as well. Consider the model of dignity and grace that she provided:

  • She accepted the realities.
  • She trained her keen eye of observation on her own situation.
  • She found elements of her realities “interesting” – and even “fascinating.”
  • She continued learning.
  • She expressed gratitude through it all.

And finally, finally, she allowed us to show her and tell her how very much she meant to us.

Just before Mary Lou and I left Veronica’s hospital room that last day in April, Ms. V and I sat together, knee to knee, clasping fingers. She let me tell her. She let me tell her the things I have told you today, and she accepted them.

The very last compliment I paid her was this: “You were wonderful to me.”

And do you know what she said? She looked me right in the eye. Her eyes were shining, and she said, “It was wonderful being wonderful to you.”

How perfectly Veronica: clever, witty, just a little bit superior. And honest.

The giver and the receiver, like the teacher and the learner, share far more than we can fathom.

If we are lucky enough to have benefited from Veronica Muzic’s largesse, if we have been lucky enough to make her feel lucky, then we can stand and represent her, even if she’s not here.

And we can certainly carry her forward in the memories we cherish and the stories we tell.

~~~

If you have stories that you would like to tell, I believe the people in this room would like to hear them.  The family invites you to come forward as you choose.

Comments

Lynn Hanson,

Thank you to everyone at Penn College who assisted and facilitated the Life Celebration of Veronica Muzic. She was an extraordinary leader and facilitator, worthy of both tribute and emulation. I am still so saddened to write of her in the past tense. Our consolation will be the longevity of the many contributions she made throughout her lifetime.

Tushanna Habalar,

This is a fantastic write-up. I am able to appreciate the impact this wonderful woman had on her family, peers and friends. Thank you for sharing this.

Darla Logue,

Like Lynn Hanson, I, too, cannot adjust to using the past tense when referring to Veronica. She was a force to be reckoned with and I am so happy that she saw fit to befriend me. I wonder if we will ever know just how far-reaching her influence was? As long as those of us who knew her draw breath, she will never be forgotten.

Kathy Richards,

Veronica saw in me, a young 26-year-old, the ability to teach English Composition back in 1983 … and then she guided, mentored and blessed me with her wisdom, wit, example and compassion! I will be forever grateful for her leadership and kindness!

Ed Thompson,

How wonderful it is to be remembered for doing so much wonderful work for others in your lifetime. A gift from God to everyone fortunate enough to have had her in their lives. The world is a better place for her having been here. Peace.

Henriette Evans,

Very moving speeches celebrating Veronica’s life! I feel like we just had a chat in front of the LEC building. She shared her passion for helping and empowering the students. Her work will have an everlasting effect on many of us. Peace and love.

Michael Kowch,

My husband introduced me to Veronica just two years ago. We hosted our Williamsport wedding, then dined with her at Penn College. She was a kind, smart and eloquent woman; I have heard such great stories from Jim’s long-lasting relationship. All of us wish there were more years for a continuance. You were a powerhouse and diva.

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