Experience

The lasting impact of Mary Frances England

Jan Garrison
 

Lintner remembers Mai Fan

 

September 21, 2021

One of the first memories retired Dean of Faculty Kathy Lintner remembers of Culver Girls Academy Dean Mary Frances England was when Mai Fan scolded her for wearing jeans on-campus.

It was 1973, which meant jeans were a part of every 20-something’s wardrobe, and Lintner was standing in the parking lot outside West Lodge (which also housed England’s office) waiting for her father to pick her up. As a new English teacher at the boarding school, Lintner stayed in the dorm as a supervisor. She didn’t have car yet, so her father was coming to pick her up and take her home for the weekend.

“Suddenly the side door of the dorm flew open and Dean England headed straight toward me, pointed a finger at me, and said sternly, ‘Young women do not wear jeans. Go back and change your clothes.’”

“I was stunned and didn’t know what to say,” Lintner said. She didn’t want to sound disrespectful, so she said, “My father is picking me up and I won’t be here all weekend, so no, I will not be going back in to change my clothes.”

Nothing else was said. England walked back to her office. But her point had been made. “I got the message about not wearing jeans publicly on campus.”

Lintner, who retired in 2016, was the keynote speaker at Sunday’s Dean England Day ceremony, honoring the founder and first head of Culver Girls Academy. It was a special celebration also marking the 50th anniversary of when girls other than faculty daughters set foot on Culver’s campus in the fall of 1971.

Shortly after the jeans incident, Lintner said, she started getting intermittent lunch or dinner invitations from the librarian Bertha Jones and CGA counselor Barbara Hughes. Both were close friends with England and the conversations almost always centered on the Culver culture and (at the time) Culver Academy for Girls’ development, “which was very informative for me.”

 

Kathy Lintner tells the audience about Dean Mary Frances England.

 

As she looks back on that time, she realized England was having other women mentor her in a more relaxed setting. “And it worked.” Eventually, England would join them and they would venture out for a movie and dinner. Or they would talk about the Women’s Literature elective course she taught. “I began to see her more as a colleague and leader, and protective champion of Culver’s young women.”

The girls of West Lodge “were equally instructive, helpful and eager to help me adjust to campus life. I learned about what leadership meant to them and how proud they were to be at Culver. Several had fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins who attended summer and winter school, and they wanted their daughters or nieces to have the same opportunities and experiences,” she said.

Lintner came to Culver after talking with a Spanish instructor, Dick Paul. He told her that Culver was hiring women faculty members. So, she borrowed a dress from her sister and came to visit the campus. She ended up bluffing her way into an interview with Dean Ernest Benson and walking away with a contract for the 1973-74 school year.

She was an English teacher until 1975 when several faculty and staff members were released due to financial troubles related to a dramatic drop in enrollment caused by the sentiments surrounding the military and the Vietnam War. “It was a devastating experience for so many people,” she said. “And the abruptness of the action left no room for people to process and come to terms with leaving Culver.”

She was working on her master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame at the time and one of her professors arranged a graduate assistantship for her so she was able to complete her degree and begin work on her doctorate. She also served as tutor for members of the Fighting Irish football and basketball teams.

But life intervened, she said, and her work on her Ph.D. stopped. She ended up taking a position in the nearby Knox school system as a full-time English teacher. Spending eight years in one of the poorest school districts in Indiana at the time, with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, poverty and drug addiction, Lintner said, “I had to redefine what the word ‘normal’ meant.”

But “those eight years in Knox were the most formative ones for me as an educator,” she added.

 

The Passing of the Light is the final part of the ceremony. 

 

During the summer of 1988, a Culver colleague, Paul Hamer, the English chair, called Lintner and asked, “’Are you ready to come home yet? I have a teaching position open.’” But, with 12 years of experiences now under her belt, Lintner said, she felt prepared to come back, “so I didn’t hesitate – I gave him a resounding ‘yes.’”

In 1993, Lintner was named the Dean of Faculty. It was also England’s final year as the Dean of Girls. When they reconnected for the last time at Café Max, England gave her some advice. The four points they discussed were:

  • Culver’s mission is the guiding star for the school. Never lose sight of it.
  • People are the richest resource you can have. Develop their potential and support them.
  • Take care of the people you lead to the best of your ability.
  • Lead by example, in both word and deed. You may be the only Bible that people ever read.

“This was the last conversation I had with Dean England,” Lintner told the girls and guests, “but the four talking points became the foundation of the work I did for the next 20-plus years.”

And, though, England and Lintner were “from two year different generations, we shared a common love for Culver that tempered those differences. We learned how to agree and disagree and still work together, which is a trait every person should learn to cultivate in life.”

Lintner added, as she looks back at their relationship, she sees “more common than divergent traits.” From personal loss to taking on responsibilities suddenly thrust upon them to a winding career path that led them back to Culver to “championing the CAG/CGA women and leading by example.”

And when this annual celebration occurs, she said, “it reminds us of our obligation to ourselves to live a fully conscious life in which we find meaning and personal value, just as she did. By lifting ourselves, we lift those around us.”

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