Dr. Gurganus is now Professor Emeritus at University of North Carolina Wilmington.
I grew up on a farm in Indiana. My dad died when I was young, and mom worked hard and managed money very carefully so that my brother and I could go to college. I marvel at how she did it.
I loved college, but I soon discovered that I was unprepared for what came afterwards.
I worked as a teller, in retail, and as a teacher’s aide in high school. I was encouraged to go back to school to become a teacher, but I wasn’t sure what area to major in. I had done well in most subjects in high school, and I found that I enjoyed helping students most with math, so I finally decided on a math degree.
It had been 10 years since my last math class, and I had forgotten quite a bit. I tested into trigonometry, but there were a lot of gaps I had to fill in. My first math teacher was phenomenal. He became my mentor and a model of how I wanted to teach. I loved school and couldn’t wait to teach.
I considered myself a relatively healthy person, but I discovered that I couldn’t handle teaching in high school. I would come home exhausted, physically and emotionally, and my health began to deteriorate. I came down with mono and couldn’t shake it. I finally turned in my resignation and went home to my mother’s to recuperate. I felt like a failure.
I took a part-time job teaching on the college level. My marriage crumbled. I found myself going through a divorce and not sure if I had what it took to get through it. If it hadn’t been for family, friends, understanding colleagues at work, and a church that took me in and helped me put my life back together, I might not have made it.
I took on a 2nd job as a waitress in a Thai restaurant to make ends meet, and the college gave me additional work. I slowly picked up the pieces and realized at age 40 that I had finally found my niche, teaching on the college level.
In 2002, I married Ken and joined him at UNC Wilmington. I love teaching math and helping my students learn. I try to make my office feel like home, so my students feel welcome and at ease, whether they come for help on math or to talk about life or just rest and visit for a few minutes.
I love Wilmington in the spring, but the summer heat is hard on me, and I do miss the fall colors and winter snow of Indiana and Kentucky. I love escaping with my husband to the farm he grew up on, and being able to go out at night to look at the stars, get up early to watch the wood duck fly out from her nest in the hollow sycamore in the yard, and hunt for wildflowers like I used to with my mom -- I have come full circle, and it feels good.
Ken and I have two dogs and one cat, all rescued critters. I have learned over the years that most of us are rescued critters. Strays, neglected, abused, whatever -- we need to be taken in by others who have also been rescued, so we can heal and learn to trust again. I think that is the intended function of friendships and also of the church.
I consider myself a generic Christian: I try to live out the teachings of Jesus, but I don't feel comfortable with being pigeon-holed into a certain denomination (they all have their problems). When we got married, Ken was a member of First Baptist downtown, and he asked me to give it a try. It took me forever to feel comfortable there -- big city church, blah, blah, blah.
However, as I got more acquainted with the people, I learned that there were wonderful people at FBC doing some very good things, and it made sense to plug in there. I now teach an adult class, help write adult lessons, and helped start a volunteer tutoring program for Karen refugee children from Burma/Myanmar.
I love to travel when I have the time and the money. Friendships mean a great deal to me. I also love to read, when I have time and am not too tired. I like to create my own recipes. I love Asian food. Wildflowers, interesting plants, critters. Some of my favorites are seedbox, meadow beauties, harebells, a strange brown fungus called earth star, hover flies, "Mondvogel" – a European moth that looks like a small twig when its wings are folded up. All things geometric: snowflakes, the spirals in pine cones and the centers of flowers, quilts, floor tile designs, Native American art. Simple pleasures: the sound of a cat purring, a cool breeze on a fall day.
Life is good, but I was taught at an early age not to expect it to be easy or always fair. My dad's accident wasn't fair. The abuse my mom suffered as a child and her dementia in her old age weren't fair. Having an auto-immune disease that makes me stay out of the sun isn't fair. But you roll with the punches and try to do your best anyhow. You try to help others instead of wallowing in self-pity or bitterness.
Besides, there are a lot of good things that we receive and didn't deserve, either. I am grateful for loving parents, a good mind, a good education, excellent teachers, and friends and family that love me in spite of my foibles. I have received much, thanks to God’s mercy and grace in my life. I do my best to extend that to others, because I know how much it has helped me.