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Interview with Sharon Shields

Audio (first part)

Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is Thursday, February 16, 2006, and the interview today in the Peabody Library is with Dr. Sharon Shields, professor in the practice of human organizational development. To begin, please talk about your connection to Peabody and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger, and with an overview of the Vanderbilt-Peabody situation at that time.

Sharon Shields: I came to Peabody College in 1974 as a doctoral student. I was actually 24 years old and had been a teacher in the public schools in Kentucky when I was offered a graduate assistanceship in the department of health and physical education, to come here and work on a rural, health project, and to get my doctorate in curriculum and health and physical education. And the first time I ever stepped on the Peabody campus, it was like I had come home. I loved this campus. I met Dr. Leon Garrett, who was then the department chair of physical education and he was the one who offered me the assistanceship. I was offered the assistanceship in June, and by August I was here and in the department as a student. I subsequently graduated in August of 1976 from Peabody with my doctorate, with my PhD, and had several offers at other institutions, but had an offer here to be part-time on the faculty an to continue some work that I had already started in developing an intramural recreation program for the students here at Peabody and at Scarritt College, which at that time was an unaccredited college with the Methodist Church, just right down the street from us, but they had no recreational facilities. So I had worked with them to include their students in our programs. As fate would kind of have it, I decided to accept the offer here at Peabody and now 30 years later, in 2006, I have been on the faculty in a variety of roles. I'm not a full professor of the practice, in the department of human and organizational development, but over this 30-year period, I have had joint appointments in the medical center, I helped to start the Dayani Center, I have worked in several different departments. I've had about 19 offices. And so it's been a wonderful journey and I was here at the time of the merger in 1979. I had been on the faculty for three years. And when I accepted the position, it was a deal for me, and the goals that I had had personally and professionally. I had wanted to be in a small college. I had wanted to work in a very intimate and personal and wonderfully professional environment, and I found that Peabody College offered all of that when I accepted the position in 1976. I knew that there had been rumblings about past attempts at mergers, that there had been a desire on the part of Vanderbilt to "kind of overtake Peabody and to maybe either take its property and dismantle the college, or to take it as a college and to make it their college of education." But I never really felt that that was going to happen. It had never happened in the past. There wasn't anything that I was aware of as a new, entering faculty member that would have brought us three years later to the merger. And so, the atmosphere on our campus was one of great diversity. We had lots of international students here. I actually participated in a program that brought about 30 Brazilian students here. They spoke no English when they arrived. We put them into a very intensive summer English language course, and many of them now are still professors in Brazil, some of them are chairs of their departments, and they brought a whole new arena of physical activity, human performance initiatives to Brazil. Those were some of the fondest days that I've had here. Because of the great diversity, I had students sitting in my class that were from Turkey and Iraq and Iran and Japan and, of course, from Brazil. So it was this kind of international feel to the campus. I also felt that it was a very humanistic campus. It was one that really looked at the potential of the student when they admitted them, and what their far-reaching impact would be. It wasn't always just based on scores, on tests, but it was a very personal atmosphere here, and I think that Peabody had a great reputation in the 50s and 60s and early 70s for having this huge outreach. It started with their outreach into southern communities, and then it became a very globally known college. Teacher preparation and human development were the keystone pieces. And probably the thing that I enjoyed most was being here with so many of the leaders in the field that were making great differences. We look back now -- Susan Gray and Nicholas Hobbs and, you know, Ida Long Rogers, Sam Ashcroft, and all of those folks now are no longer here. In fact, Sam Ashcroft just recently died. And so these were people -- though I could list many, many people -- who had really stellar reputations in their field, both nationally and internationally, and who had influenced so much in their disciplines. So it was a wonderful, wonderful place to be. The campus was -- it was a very social campus. Almost everyone knew everyone on the campus, and I loved working in that environment. At the time of the merger, I think it took many of us by a great surprise because the first announcement was that we were going to merge with Tennessee State University, which I really thought was a great merger, that given our history, to link with a state, historically black institution, would have probably, at that point, confirmed for me the diversity issues and the openness of this college and the willingness to forge partnerships with a great number of different places, just like we did with Scarritt or just like we had done with other initiatives. There had been a lot of outreach on the part of this faculty to collaborate, and that has been one of the -- to me -- keystone pieces to Peabody College. But that short-lived. And then a little bit later we found out that really what had been going on was the deal to make the merger with Vanderbilt. And in all honesty, I was very upset about that. I felt like that this had not been a faculty decision, that there had really been no real consultation with the faculty or with the students, that this was a decision made politically and at very upper levels between the board and between the president of Peabody and the chancellor of Vanderbilt. President Dunnworth had come here and I had felt that there had been some interesting changes that he had made with various directions for the future, but I remember one statement that he made when he first came here and that was -- there will never be any need, and we will never need to merge, with any institution. And I am not coming here to plan a merger. And so that -- thinking that that was not something that was going to be dealt with and then to read it in the newspaper -- to be informed by a newspaper that this had happened and actually we just woke up one morning and saw the TSU headlines and then we'd wake up a few days later and we had merged with Vanderbilt University.

Dohrmann: You were talking about a few of the other key people in the merger from Peabody, from Vanderbilt?

Shields: Because I was so new to the faculty, even though I had served on faculty council committees and stuff, it's very hard for me to recollect kind of more of the political bindings of this particular agreement. I was not as astute at that point in time. I was newly hired. I was working with my programs. I was kind of learning to be a new faculty member in an institution -- and so some of these issues were not something that I was privy to, or that I had a lot of insight into at that time. I know that Thomas Stovall was very supportive of the merger, from what I could tell. I know that he was in the administration at that point, and I had great regard for Tom Stovall when I was a student here. I don't know what the role of Horace Hill was. I don't know how some of the negotiations took place. I know that there were some members of our board who had spouses on the Vanderbilt board, and so it seemed murky, at best, to me, to really know what the underlying issues really were. I have to trust that there was honesty in the fact that our financial situation was not going to sustain Peabody College without a merger. There were great discussions about whether or not that was truthful, but I think that history has shown, now, that it probably was a truthful analysis of the budget of Peabody College, and so, you know, it was a very devastating time, though, for many of the faculty. We lost faculty in the music department, the sports-recreation program, which I had been heading, was terminated because it was a duplication of programs. Vanderbilt had never honored the discipline of health and physical education as an academic discipline, so over the next seven-to-eight years, all of my faculty colleagues sought positions in other places or did other things or retired, and actually I'm the only one who was left after that period of time, and it was because, I feel, I connected quickly with Vanderbilt and looked at national need in the area of health promotion and actually got a joint appointment in the medical center, and went down another route. Instead of teacher training, I was now working on issues of medical prominence, at the time, and still is with medical prominence with health promotion, disease prevention. But at the very same time of the merger, in 1979, the Surgeon General also came out with a report that said instead of infectious disease being the major cause of death it was lifestyle-related behaviors. And there was a call for medical schools and schools of education and others to begin to look at those issues and there was a national effort to start various programs. And so I saw this as an opportunity to use my skills, to use my training, to be kind of on the cutting edge of a new endeavor here at the university, to work with the medical profession which, in some ways, took me back to the very roots of my own discipline because it used to be a medically-related discipline with a lot of doctors and others looking at health-related issues. So sometimes things come back around and I think that this created that, that I was able to make those linkages and spend about the next 11 years working on that in a joint appointment. But it felt like there had been a death. And actually one of the things that happened around -- as soon as that announcement was made -- Dorothy Skeel, who was on the faculty council and as far as I remember she was the chair of the faculty council -- Dorothy was a very good friend of mine and she called me up in my office and said, Sharon, we'd like for you to help organize a protest against the merger. And one reason why she asked me to do it is because I had done a lot of organizing on the campus to bring teams together, to run this program, this intramural sports program, and we needed to get this organized very quickly and I had the departmental contacts and I had done a lot of work getting information out. So she knew I could get it out quickly, and get this thing pretty well organized. And so, sure enough, we had a protest and we had, for every faculty member whose position was being lost, we actually set up tombstones out on the mall, and we marched from what used to be the Hill Student Center across and came up onto the mall. We started on the steps of the Hill Student Center and everyone, all of the faculty were dressed in their academic regalia, we asked students to come to this, there was a huge crowd, and I know that there are some pictures in our archives of that event. And we had several speakers that day who spoke out against the merger and what that would mean for the mission and role of Peabody College. We also played John Dunworth's inaugural address and his words that he would never support a merger. I watched many of my colleagues because my office was up in what was then the social-religious building and now the Joe B. Wyatt Center. I was housed in that building. I was in the lower two floors with health and physical education, the music department was up in the upper floors, and to realize that 40 of my colleagues were being dismissed because they were no longer going to continue a music program. I felt that that was really a strange outcome of the merger, but as you look historically, now -- if we could have seen into the future, there was a whole, I think, a desire on the part of Vanderbilt to have a school of music at some point and to have the Blair support of that and philanthropy and so they had to dismiss tenured members of the faculty in the music department and then wait a certain number of years so that they didn't show they were replicating any programs that had been here. These were bitter times, you know. I mean, it was a real mixed feeling. I can remember having black crepe paper and black cloth draped all up through the SR building. It was like we were going through the death of our college, and I think one of your questions is -- what was the climate, you know, between Vanderbilt and Peabody before and I think 21st Avenue is a good metaphor for that. It was divided. I think there had been outreaches and there had been collaborative work, but we were two very separate institutions and I think that we had operated, in many ways, very differently from one another, and that the values of Peabody College were perceived to be different than the values of Vanderbilt University and the way that we dealt with our students, in the way that we functioned as a faculty, in our mission to society, in our mission to our local community -- we saw ourselves as different, and we were a much more hands-on practice, even though we were also very research-related here. But there was a great balance between the two. I felt very defeated, and it was a time of lots of tears. Here I am, I'm an alum, I'm now on the faculty -- this was the place that I really wanted to be, and I wanted -- this is where I wanted my career. And I thought that Peabody College would be Peabody College, not a Vanderbilt University. So, I resisted. I protested. I felt that we were losing something and I could not see the gains very clearly. I didn't think there were going to be enough gains to counteract the losses. I know that we got lots of calls from alums that were just outraged. There was lots of confusion about how the degrees were going to be granted. There was confusion over whether or not Peabody College would just be an add-on and a second-class citizen to Vanderbilt because there had always been this perception from -- and I'm using the word perception a lot because it's hard to know sometimes the truth when you're going through these things, or the reality of the situation. You only have your own perceptions and your perceptions of how others were perceiving it too. And we felt betrayed. So when you're in that kind of grief and loss and betrayal feeling, it's hard to have a very objective view about truly what was going on. But I think it's important in this oral history to say that this was gut wrenching. This affected many generations of people who had graduated from Peabody College and what they knew Peabody to be and the fondness that they had for it and the real care that they had been given by the faculty and the staff and others here at the institution. And they thought that was going to be lost because of our perception of what Vanderbilt was like and that it was different. And we didn't want -- we wanted to retain all of the positive pieces of Peabody College -- and we didn't know if we'd get to retain them. I think that -- I think the positives of the mergers -- let me answer if I thought there were alternatives, first, to the merger.

Dohrmann: OK.

Shields: I don't know if there were or not. I think that there is so much information that was kept private. There was so much negotiation that was not understood. I cannot fault any of the people now who made this merger happen. I think that people in administration particularly thought they were making the very best decision that they could make at that time to retain Peabody College as an outstanding school of education, and that looking down the road to the future, if they did not do something like this, I think they felt that we would lose the college. Now, is that true? I don't know, because we didn't get to go down that road, and I don't know what would have happened. We took a different road. And so I can only trust that there really were no other alternatives. I wish that the administration had done it differently, that they had prepared us, that we had had focus groups, that we had talked about this, that we would have had the opportunity to say that here are alternatives that we see. But that was never asked of us. And so I think that's what made the merger so difficult is that we were never, as a college, really asked to step up to the plate, to be honestly dealt with what was going on in the institution, and to help in the decision-making and the path-setting for the college. And to us, that felt like something less than democratic. It felt something less than what Peabody would have really done in the past. And so it was kind of this boding of -- is this the way everything is going to be done now. So it didn't feel good. It didn't feel just. But I think that as I look over the 30 years, there have been many positives that have come out of the merger. I think that we have reestablished our national and international -- especially our national stature -- as a school of education. I mean, we're number three or four in the national --

Dohrmann: Yeah.

Shields: -- consistently now. We have research agendas on this campus that are -- you know, we have the number one special ed program in the country. It has taken the calm after the storm to see the real positives that have occurred. Our resources are great. The combined resources of Vanderbilt and Peabody, I think, have helped to escalate us in stature. I think that there is still great concern for the local community, and the global community on the part of the faculty on this campus. I think that the great strives have been made to save a lot of our tradition, and I know that this particular dean has done many things to revitalize the many traditional symbols and traditions of Peabody in bringing community back together. And has made some real intentional steps at that. We have celebrated the 25 years of the merger with a wonderful celebration up in the Wyatt Center, and a luncheon, so we went from kind of grief to a celebratory time 25 years later. I think that there are still, for people who were here pre-merger, we can see a great deal of the benefits of this merger, but I think that one question of what-if continues to linger with people who were here before, and it was because of the process, not the outcome, I think. I'm very grateful to be a part of the institution and the transformation and the transition that has occurred. One of the greatest positives that I think has happened is that Peabody College has had influence on Vanderbilt University. That it has been a two-way street. That we have now the largest undergraduate major in the university. That many of our values and beliefs are beginning to permeate other parts of the institution. And so I think instead of walking into this with a feeling of being overwhelmed, many of us saw it as a challenge to have influence on what used to be our neighbor and what is now a part of our family and that we learned to embrace that as a college. And to, instead of succumbing to a larger institution overwhelming us, I think that we have the smaller institution who has influenced the larger one. And I'm really grateful for that. I think it has spread the Peabody mission in a very effective way to many corners of the Vanderbilt University. And, you know, I don't even think about two separate entities anymore. I did for the first two years. They're Vanderbilt; we're Peabody. They're the enemy, you know -- but now, I really see the benefit and the value of what happened. I still long for some of the things that were here at Peabody that I think we lost, but that we were fighting hard to retain, and that we continue to work at retaining. I think that that's a very important piece of the legacy of Peabody College. I don't -- there has never been a day when I have come here that I have not felt that same feeling that I did the first day when I walked on campus. That I'm at home. And even with the merger, I still feel at home, and I really would not be anywhere else. I found myself in a small school of education, and now I find myself in a large, research one, institution. It was not exactly what I had envisioned for my career, but I think that it has, personally, stretched me. It has helped me to understand change and development and growth. It has helped me to understand collaboration. It has helped me to understand forgiveness. It has helped me to understand, you know, that life has a way of working out. And it may not always be the plan we have, but that there is an outcome that is needed that is greater than anything I could think of at the time. And I'm still remorseful for the faculty who lost their positions here. These were life-changing days for many people in their personal and professional lives. People suffered. I don't feel that we handled the suffering well. We could have been better citizens of the university community and the way that we dealt with the people who were terminated. So I have regret about that for the college, that we were not more humanistic. That we did not handle this in a more civil way. So, yes -- there is some still pangs that happen when you think about it. My loss of my own colleagues, the change in the college and everything -- but the new colleagues I have, the new direction of the institution, the things that are being accomplished by this college now, and the real -- I mean, we're a real guiding light to the rest of the university, as far as our rankings, our quality of students, the quality of how we conduct ourselves in the classroom and outside, our relationships with students, and so some of the marks that were the trademark of Peabody College have continued and are recognized now in the larger institution.

Dohrmann: Do you have other stories about Peabody and Vanderbilt at the time of the merger?

Shields: Well, you know, one of my very favorite people here was Dr. J. B. Windrow. And Dr. Windrow was the historian of the college at the time. And he was this very -- you know, he just looked like a Peabody professor. He was an older gentleman. He was in his late-70s/early-80s when I knew him. He knew every story there was to know about Peabody College. He had been here, I believe, since about the 1920s or so, the late 1920s. And so his -- he had a richness of, you know, the history from a very personal standpoint. And Dr. Windrow was a person that I relied on heavily as things changed because he could give perspective about things. And, you know, James Whitlock, and Ida Long Rogers, and Leon Garrett, and many people -- Dr. Garrett had left Peabody but he was the university of Kentucky and then at Mississippi and he was my major professor and I talked to him frequently about what was going on because he had his own connections to (inaudible) and others who had been in the history of the department that he had chaired, and he knew the richness of that Peabody history and it saddened us to know that we were no longer going to train health and physical educators at Peabody College. But that we were moving on to some other entities and work. And he really helped me to say, OK, those resources are gone. That's a door closed. Where are the open doors in your new situation? And I think that that was the turning point for many of us, to think about not just what he had lost but what we had gained. What have we gained through this merger? How do we reach out to make those connections? How do we enhance the work that we're doing under the new situation? And so not to dwell on loss but to dwell on gain. And it changed a lot of things for many of us. I was a tenured-track professor, and because my discipline was eliminated, I didn't know that I would be here 30 years. But with Willis Hawley, there was a new professor of the practice track that was instituted so that those of us who were doing more clinical practice, more hands-on work, had a place in the college. And Janet Eyler and I were the first two people who received the new professor of the practice title in the college. And both of us have been here now over 30 years. So there were ways that even though there was a different system and systemic influences, we were able to continue to find ways to have what we needed at Peabody, to continue our work, continue our mission, and I can tell you it was not easy. It has not been the easiest road that anyone can have. There are still things here that I feel, you know, there's always room for improvement in any situation. I would like to see more diversity again on our campus. I would like to see more internationalism. I would like to see our global outreach continue to grow as it is now and in some of the departments. We were known worldwide for the influence that we were having in various countries, and I think that we are beginning to reestablish ourselves in those ways. So -- I'm trying to think if there is any other story -- I mean, I just remember the protest. I remember the long nights, the meetings, the gatherings, we met at homes, we had focus groups about this, how we were going to fight it. But we didn't have much time. It was a pretty-done deal, and, you know, even when we protested it, it was a done deal. We were trying to reverse the decision, because it was a decision that had been made. But there are so many of us on the faculty, a few of us on the faculty, that were here at the time of the merger, and I think it's so important that you all are collecting this oral history because I think it tells of the tradition and the real passion that people feel and felt about this college. Peabody College, you know, I was thinking about it as I walked up here today, and I just thought, what is it about this place, and it is a sacred place, and when I think of all the teachers, all of the students who have been trained and who have walked through these doors, and then have gone out, they have gone out with a very special gift from this college, and I just am amazed and in awe of the influence that Peabody College has had over its lifetime, even through all of the changes, and that it continues to have. So, you know, I think we are trying to retain the real sacredness of Peabody College and the real sacredness of these grounds. And what, you know, the legacy that has been here, with the Nick Hobbs and the Susan Grays, and all of the others who have, you know, really had an individual influence on students but national influence on policy. And what a difference it has made.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much.

Shields: You're welcome.

 

Audio (second part)

Dohrmann: This is a continuation of the interview with Dr. Sharon Shields.

Shields: I just wanted to mention something about Dean Art Cook. Dean Cook was kind of, to me, Mr. Peabody, and Art was my boss for the first three years that I was here. I worked in the dean of students office part-time. I had a 50 percent appointment there, and a 50 percent teaching appointment, and I did run the intramural athletic sports program for the campus, and as I said, for Scarritt College. But I do want to relate one story, that I think for me, showed what Peabody was about. And one day I was walking out to the playing fields and this person came up in a little Datsun and his name was Fidel Schrida, and Fidel saw me walking out of the Social Religious building and it was about 4:30 in the afternoon, and I was going out to run one of our flag football competitions. And Fidel said to me, are you a professor here at Peabody, and I said yes. And he said, this is where I'm supposed to be. Now, classes had already started. Fidel had his undergraduate and master's degree from the University of Virginia, and he had been accepted at MTSU. But he got to MTSU, and to him, it did not feel right. And all of his possessions, his books, everything, were in this little Datsun with a little luggage rack on top. And here we were about two weeks into the semester and he says, I don't have anywhere to be tonight. I asked MTSU where is the next school that has a physical education program, doctoral program, and they told him Peabody College. And he got in his car and just drove up and here now is Fidel standing in front of me. And I said, Fidel, we've already started our semester. I don't think there's anything we can do right now. I'm really sorry. He says, Professor Shields, you can make this happen. So I went in and called Art Cook. I said, Dean Cook, I've got a student here that's wandering Tennessee trying to find a college. I told him the situation and he said, Sharon -- I said, Dean Cook, I can't take him home with me. He has no place to stay tonight. Dean Cook said, well, we've got an extra room in the dorm. Come down, get the key, put him in the East Hall, but tell him not to unpack a thing and we'll meet him in the morning and see what we can do to help him out. So, I got Fidel in the dorm. We gave him a pass for a meal in the student center, and he was set for the night. The next morning I had an early meeting and I was here at about seven o'clock, and out of the third-floor window of East Hall, I hear Fidel going, Professor Shields, come here, come here. It was the men's dorm, and I wasn't supposed to go in the men's dorm, and I told him and he said, I will clear the floors. You must come. So I came up the steps, walked into his room, and he had unloaded everything. He had everything neatly put around his room. He had his clothes hanging, his books, his papers, he said, I am ready to be a student at Peabody College. I said, Fidel, I told you not to unload one thing. Dean Cook is going to have a fit. He said, you can handle Dean Cook. You can make this happen, Professor Shields. And so I took him down to Dean Cook, told Dean Cook, we've got a problem. Fidel has moved in. Fidel was an Olympic athlete from Iraq. He had very good grades from the University of Virginia. And by the next day, Fidel was sitting in my graduate classes working toward his PhD. About three years later, at the time of the merger, a little bit later past it, Fidel graduated, and today, Fidel is the chair of the department at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. And to me that was a hallmark of Peabody College at that time. I don't know if that particular situation could happen today at Peabody College, but it told me that what we were most interested in was the potential of a student, and that we would bend over backwards to accommodate the real needs that students have and this student was so persuasive in knowing that as soon as he drove on the campus, just like I knew as a student when I walked on the campus -- I knew his exact feeling -- I belong here. I found home. And I knew that Fidel felt that way. I still have contact with Fidel, even to this day. He's married. He has a family. He's done extremely well. He's headed up many international conferences. And this was the person on the road that we took in. Had we not taken in Fidel, what influence would we have missed as a college of having in far-reaches of the world? He went back to Iraq. He went on to Saudi Arabia. And I hope that that is something that we never lose. That we don't lose the human interaction and the personal touch that Peabody College was known for, and that we, you know, could make things happen. Dean Cook, all of the faculty, there was this energy to make a difference in the lives of anyone who came into these halls. And no matter what their personal circumstance was, no matter how they got here, no matter what, it was to take the individual who had the desire and to give them the tools to then go on with their lives and to make that difference in the world.

Dohrmann: OK. Thank you.

 

Audio (third part)

Dohrmann: This is a continuation of the interview --

Shields: Another continuation --

Dohrmann: -- another continuation of the interview with Sharon Shields and talking about traditions at Peabody.

Shields: Well, I think that the, you know, some of them that we started talking about was the graduation breakfast where the faculty served the students and their families and I can remember being here with white jacket on and a white hat, chef's hat, and just being out with all of the families, having a time that we served breakfast, and one of the fun times was to see if we could serve it faster than the faculty the year before. And they timed us to see how long it took us to serve -- to get everyone served. For a while it happened out by the Hill Student Center and in the lawn in front of the Hill Student Center, and then it moved into a tent down close to the Mayborn building, and then we quit serving breakfast and started serving lunches that way, and a lot of the lunches were served down in the Circle, in the lawn in front of the circle in front of Mayborn. And today I think that there has been some intention of retaining at least the feel of that -- having families come for breakfast and then having a reception after the graduation, but it was really a wonderful, symbolic piece when the faculty was serving the students on their graduation day. Another was the hanging of the green, and actually, I have been to every hanging on the green, even when I was on leave -- to me, it's one of the more traditional pieces of Peabody College that we do at the holiday season. And I served every breakfast. I've not missed a graduation since my first year here, because I think it is the celebratory time. That's what we're all working for -- to see our students achieve their goal. And I know that the deans that I have served under, especially this one, has really emphasized the importance of faculty being at graduation and making this a very celebratory time for the Peabody community. The symbol of the iris, I think, is something that we now see on our Web site, it's being kind of -- you see it all over our campus. And when we had the celebration of the 25-year merger, there was actually champagne glasses with the iris on it and 25th celebration. A lot of the things retain the iris image because that was the symbol of Peabody. I remember having, when I first came here, we had lots of kind of celebrations of the different cultures that were here. I remember us having a huge international night in front of the Hill Center where different countries showed their dances, and I actually danced with -- I'm trying to think of his name. He just recently passed away. He and his wife were Peabody alums, Ed, his son's name was Ed, he was a social studies professor. I'll have to get you the name.

Dohrmann: OK. OK.

Shields: But Ed and I did the jitterbug for them, and we did all sorts of American dances and country dances to show them what our country's heritage was through dance, and then we had people from Brazil, like I said, and Turkey and Iraq and Japan -- it was just a really international night that we did for several years here. But we also had watermelon out on the lawn. Clara Haddox, who was a physical education teacher here, there are many, many historical pictures in the archives of the play days that she used to host here on the campus, and I was here when they brought in schools and they did performances and acrobatics and everything in front of the SR building. And I think that, you know, that just a lot of community functions occurred. I also remember seeing a lot of our retired Peabody faculty meeting in the Hill Student Center after they had retired. And they had a group that met and you could see all of these former faculty here. I also, probably one of the things I remember -- two of them -- was the Peabody Women's Club. I was 26 years old and I went with my white gloves and my heels and my pearls on to my first initiation into the Peabody Women's Club, and what was so interesting was that it had really started out as a club for the wives of faculty. But then, as women took more and more prominent roles and faculty positions in the campus, it became wives and women faculty on the campus. Now, I went to the president's home, which was on the corner of Edge Hill and 18th, John Dunworth's wife hosted it, and all of the finest crystal and silver was out, and it was like a tea party. But the unfortunate thing was we also went, that day they had decided to let us do something to see the community, and so we went to a fall fair and I can't remember the name of that fair but it happened every year here in Nashville, but it had rained. And here we all were in our finest -- with white gloves, our heels on and everything -- we took our white gloves off and by the end of the day we were all walking around in mud, barefoot, with our heels off, and having the greatest time at this particular event. So there were several things like that. And then, in the not-too-distant past, I got a call from Shirley Bassler who was -- she is Otto Bassler's wife -- Otto was a long-time member of the faculty and one of my mentors, and she said, Sharon, we have a Peabody Women's Book Club, and we've had several people who have had to quit doing it because they've gotten older and they have macular degeneration, or we've had some vacancies in this, and we try to keep it at around 20 people, or 24 people, and we would like to ask you if you would like to join the Peabody Women's Book Club. And I thought, oh my goodness, I have arrived now because I am going to be in the book club. And the way that book club ran was that it was former Peabody faculty and wives of faculty, and they would pick 12 books for the year. Well, really, they picked 24 books for the year, and you had a book for two weeks and you read it, and then you passed it to the next person, so these books got passed to all of these different people, and I passed my book to Ida Long Rogers, so every two weeks I got to see Ida Long for a few minutes, and once I had to just leave it on her front door because she was traveling. But it retained a connection for me with someone who I admired and respected so greatly after she retired. But it was so funny because we would go to the Teacher's Center at the end of the year and we would talk a little about the books, but it was more Peabody gossip that was going on at this dinner. And then we had, in the fall to set it up, we had a tea. And so the first year I was in it, I had the tea at my home, and I knew the expectations. I had to serve homemade pie. I had to have really good coffee. I had to have all of my finest crystal and china, so I had to go borrow it from my mother, and I had the Peabody Women's Book Club come over. And I must say I had a couple of friends who helped me host it because there were going to be 24 of us. And my friends were a little shocked that I was in this club because at that time I was the youngest person in it. The oldest person was about 87. And here were all these women on Sunday afternoon coming to my house with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and not all of them were in that situation, but it was the most eclectic group that you could have ever seen, with four decades spanned in our age difference. And it was just one of the most wonderful times that I had. And we do not have the Peabody Book Club anymore because there was no one to really keep it organized and going after the death of the person who had organized it for so long. And so people decided that we would not continue it. But there were just many things like that that brought the faculty, the community, together, across this campus.

Dohrmann: OK. And the planting of the irises?

Shields: When I was a student here and graduated and went across the platform to get my degree, as a doctoral student, as well as the undergraduates, and at that time all of the undergraduates of Peabody and all of the master's students and all of the doctoral students processed here on this campus and we had our Peabody graduation. And so, you know, you got hooded, and you were handed your diploma, and as you walked off the stage, you were handed a little sack, and in that little shack were iris bulbs that had been collected across the campus and we were given iris bulbs so that we would take a piece of Peabody with us anywhere we went in the world. And my understanding at that time, this was 1976, my understanding was that many faculty had traveled to other parts of the world and that their students had actually planted irises on every continent but Antarctica and the Arctic. So the Peabody flower was blooming well in a lot of places, and we took those -- and mine is still blooming in my grandfather's cabin in Kentucky lake because I thought that that would be the one place that I would always have -- so mine are still thriving and surviving at the lake house. And in fact, I'm going to take a digital picture this year of them when they bloom --

Dohrmann: OK.

Shields: -- and send it to you --

Dohrmann: OK.

Shields: -- so you will have a picture of my Peabody iris up there. But that was a tradition of helping us take a piece of this place with us wherever we went and to remember our roots. You know, what we were -- literally. The roots that we had and the foundation work that we had done in our own lives here at Peabody College. And you know, I think it was to help us to remember the motto -- at Peabody College, we make a difference. And so it was to also give us a sense of connection always back to this place. That we could always come here. We could always rely on it. We could always call anyone here and I think that that was another real -- I know there are many faculty who get calls years later from their students to write letters of recommendation or they're just checking in or they're calling to say, here is what I'm doing now, or whatever. And we have many that come back for other degrees. So that was a tradition that I love at Peabody, and we've actually done it a few times, but it's one that has not been retained consistently. But it was just a wonderful symbol of taking part of this place with us.

 

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All photos courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.
Audio files processed by Brian Smokler of the Peabody Technology Support Center.

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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.