GCC Stands on the Shoulders of Risky Case
Posted on Friday March 8th 2013
When the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts announced they were honoring Ethel “Risky” Case with their “Standing on Her Shoulders Award,” no one at GCC was surprised. GCC, and much of Franklin County, has been standing on Risky’s shoulders for many years. Risky is one of 16 elder women receiving the “Standing on Her Shoulders Award” at the Fund’s 15th anniversary celebration on March 14. Criteria for the award include “creativity and risk taking on behalf of women, courage and leadership in achieving social change, a willingness to go beyond the norm in their fields, risk taking to pursue goals despite the views of others, and following a vision before her time.”
At GCC, Risky served as Professor of Behavioral Sciences and Director of the GCC’s Division of Continuing Education and Community Services from 1967-79. She was GCC’s first female Dean, serving as Dean of Continuing Education and Community Services in 1979-80 and as Dean of Students from 1980 to 1983. These job titles only describe part of what Risky did at GCC. At one point during Risky’s work at GCC, College President Lew Turner said to her, “So, what is it you do around here?” Risky’s response – “Whatever I want!” – sums up Risky’s bold, can-do style.
Although Risky retired from GCC 30 years ago, the impact of her work continues. She helped create the College’s Senior Symposia program and continues to serve on the program’s Planning Committee. Workshops Risky developed in Continuing Education went on to become two-year associate degree curriculums, including Early Childhood Education, Criminal Justice, and Fire Science Technology.
A complete list of Risky’s involvement and accomplishments in the community would fill many pages. A few highlights include her founding of the local chapters of the League of Women Voters and the National Organization for Women (NOW), serving as a founding board member of the Franklin County Community Development Corporation, and being the first woman to be a member of the Greenfield Finance Committee.
Reflecting on her work, Risky said, “I like to create new projects, but someone else has to run it. I don’t like to be bound by routine, I might go off in a different direction. When I was at GCC, we were on the cutting edge, leading the way for creating a college that served the whole community. People who teach at community colleges are the finest people on earth. They are sincere in their intention, and happy with student success, seeing that success as important, at whatever level the success is. What I’ve found is that the help is out there for people and other people enjoy giving help. The trick is to connect those wanting help with those able to give help at the right moment. And, making the recipient able to accept help.”
Risky enjoys helping others, and is grateful to hear from people whose lives she has impacted, like the time a woman came up to her in the grocery store and thanked her. The woman said her daughter took an evening course at GCC during her senior year of high school. She would drive her daughter to class and sit in the hall, waiting until it was time to drive her home. One evening, Risky walked by and asked her what she was doing. The woman explained she was waiting for her daughter. Risky said, “Why aren’t you taking a course?” The woman signed up for a course at GCC and went on to get a Master’s degree in education. When she stopped Risky at the grocery store, she’d been teaching for 12 years. She thanked Risky for getting her off that chair in the hall.
For information about the Standing On Her Shoulders Awards, visit www.womensfund.net.
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Sidebar: A Brief Glance at Risky Case’s Education and Pre-GCC Career
Brooklyn College, Economics and English, B.A., 1942
Teachers College, Columbia University, Vocational Guidance and Occupational Adjustment,
University of Michigan, Public Administration, M.P.A., 1949
Kent State University, Elementary Education and Remedial Reading, 1961-1964
University of Massachusetts, Doctoral Candidate (ABD), 1970 -1976
Southern Connecticut State College, Adult Education Summer Institute in India, Fulbright Grant, 1975
United States Army W.A.A.C. ~ W.A.C.
First Lieutenant Company Commander, Basic and Overseas Training Units, 1943-1946
Champlain College (Associated Colleges of Upper New York)
Director of the Vocational Guidance Center, Assistant to the Dean of Students, 1946 – 1948
University of Michigan
Assistant to the Dean of Women, 1949-51
Twinsburg, OH Public Schools
Elementary Teacher, Team Leader, 1961-65
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Director of Student Teacher Placement; Instructor, School of Education, 1965 – 1968
Sidebar: We Stand on Risky’s Shoulders
Bob Barba, GCC Dean of Community Education
Twelve years ago, Risky Case buttonholed me as I crossed the cafeteria at a College event and said, “I’d like to talk to you about when the College is going to do more for seniors.” Within a few weeks, I was in a meeting with her talking about what more the College could do for seniors. That January 2003 meeting led to the then-named Senior Education and Enrichment Program at GCC, now called Senior Symposia. The program now attracts well over 400 seniors to seven or eight symposia per semester. Risky is one of two founding members still serving on that Senior Symposia Planning Committee. In a meeting last week, Risky asked me, “When is the College going to do more for seniors?” I’m pretty sure within the month I’ll be in a meeting to discuss how we can do more for seniors. Risky is visionary and persistent. Having those two things together in a single person leads to great accomplishments like those Risky has achieved throughout her career and retirement. And, Risky seems to be having a great deal of fun in her far-from-retiring retirement.
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Nancy Buchanan, Retired Director of GCC Health Services
Risky has great determination. No matter what she does, she DOES it! She was a great boss and a great leader.
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Margo Culley, UMass Professor of English Emerita; Member, Planning Board, GCC Senior Symposia
The more I learn about Risky’s remarkable life of leadership and public service, the more she astonishes me. A favorite moment was when she told a group of us that she had met Margaret Sanger! Still going strong into her 90s, Risky continues to lead with steely determination, irreverence, and humor. We are all in her debt as she continues to show us how to “speak truth to power.”
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Larry Dean, Retired GCC Administrator
Risky hired me as Director of Financial Aid in 1980. When she called to say I had been selected and could give notice at my old job, I hesitated because I didn’t have anything in writing. Risky said, “Well, sometimes you just have to have a little faith.” Risky does have a lot of faith. She has faith in the people who work with her, faith in the power of education to transform lives, and faith in our society’s ability to be just.
Risky is a tough lady. She had a kind of ferocity about her that was both scary and reassuring for those of us working for her. If she was unhappy about something you did, you knew it. And, she fiercely advocated for her staff. It was reassuring to know you had Risky in your corner.
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Dave Patrick, Retired
Risky earned her name, being a bit larger than life and a bit of a wonderful character. GCC’s early years were a time of change in the overall culture in the country. Risky understood that and was influential in making changes. She had a great influence in shaping the teaching personality of the college and the early years of the college. She is so comfortable with breaking convention. It fits her personality and managerial style.
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Bob Pura, President of GCC
Risky was the first person I met at GCC in 1978 when I was working on a grant with all of the state’s community colleges. Risky took me to lunch and described accurately the people and culture of this community. Her description rings true today. Story after story about Risky show her absolute and powerful impact on the development of GCC. Her instincts about people are spot on. Over time, she has hired many of the significant voices on campus. About 10 years ago, Risky came up to me at a reception and said, “Here’s what we’re going to do next. We’re going to create the Senior Education and Enrichment Program. And, you’re going to support it.” I listen to what Risky says. She’s usually right. She has great intelligence, heart, soul, courage, and wisdom.
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Rob Yacubian, Retired Coordinator of Transfer Affairs
Risky hired me in 1971 with funds from a career grant. She knew the community, she was out and about all the time, keeping her ear and eye on the community. By the time she got to work in the morning, she’d have been at coffee shops and the post office and around in the community. She kept her finger on the pulse of the community and passed that pulse along to the College President.
When Risky became Dean of Students, she said “Each of you know your function better than I do. Do your jobs, and if you run into an obstacle, come to me.” When obstacles came along, she’d iron them out. She had tremendous faith in me, and I’ve told her many times that I am here today because of her.
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Written By Mary McClintock ’82