One of the first women graduates of the Evening College recalls her time at Carroll in the early ’50s.
By Raven DeVoll
Driven by the desire to learn and succeed, 1954 alumna Terry Olatta Rozga proved to the men of John Carroll University women belonged in the classroom just as much as they did.
Rozga arrived on campus in 1949, not long after women were admitted to the University’s Evening College. At the time, most women took classes part time, but Rozga had other plans.
“I knew I wouldn’t persist in a lengthy college career,” she says. “I intended to graduate in four years.”
Not only was Rozga taking classes full time, but as the youngest child living with her widowed mother, she needed to finance her education and help her mother maintain their home. So she accepted a job at General Electric’s Nela Park in East Cleveland working in the lamp development lab during the day.
Rozga was sent to see Fr. Richard Deters, S.J., the Evening College dean, to discuss her heavy course load and other responsibilities.
“For women, the idea of graduating in four years was crazy at that time,” she says.
Rozga had a long talk with Fr. Deters that sparked the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Throughout her years at Carroll, he ensured the courses required for her to graduate were available when she needed them but openly admitted she was an experiment.
“Once the classroom produced issue-based conversations, professors realized I knew how to think,” she says.
Rozga excelled outside the classroom, too. She was active with the Little Theatre Society and wrote for the literary magazine and The Carroll News while holding a student government officer position. She even worked at the radio station.
“They were so delighted to finally have a woman’s voice,” she says. “There were certain scripts for commercials they couldn’t read because they needed a woman.”
Rozga also was involved with the campus sodality group. She describes the seven-day silent retreat she took with the Christian-based study group as one of the most memorable weeks of her life.
“I realized I was so busy all the time, and I found great redemptive value in the retreat,” she said. “I was searching for who I was.”
Though her college career was off to a great start, Rozga faced several incidents directly related to JCU being a male-oriented institution. Her first class began with the professor calling roll. After responding to her name, he looked up from his paper and said, “You’re a girl.” When asked why he hadn’t noticed before, he claimed he thought she was a visiting guest of one of the boys. Rozga was his first female student.
Another situation arose when the usual Jesuit instructor for a required sociology course refused to teach at night because he was reluctant to allow females in his class.
Deters asked if she would attempt to persuade him to teach the class, especially since she needed it to graduate. Making use of her outgoing personality, she befriended the professor, and they became acquaintances. Eventually, he relented and offered the course at night.
One of the bigger issues Rozga experienced happened during her senior year in Medieval English Literature. When the grades were issued, 11 of the students received incompletes, and she was issued an “F.” When she asked why, the professor said she was the smartest person in the class and should have done better.
Fr. Deters urged her to turn in her completed work to receive a better grade. Because the teacher never switched her grade to an incomplete like the rest of her classmates, she remained adamant and refused to turn in the work. She still has the “F” on her transcript. Because of the altercation, Rozga was one credit hour short of graduating on time. The speech department was willing to give her a credit for the extra work she had done for it throughout the years, but the dean of arts and sciences wouldn’t allow it.
By that time, she obtained a graduate assistantship to Marquette University. So in the summer of 1954, she was given a tutorial about the history of ancient Greek philosophy by Leone Marinello so she could leave for Milwaukee on time.
Rozga received a bachelor’s degree in English, with minors in theatre and speech. She then earned a master’s degree in speech and theatre at Marquette. After declining a job offer from JCU right before graduation, she taught for three years in the Marquette School of Speech before leaving to take care of her family. She continued to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha Communication Arts Department where she stayed for 30 years.
“The most memorable thing I’ve ever heard from a student is that I taught him how to think,” she says. “If only one student ever says that, then that’s enough.”
Living in Milwaukee with her husband, the couple has five children and six grandchildren. They enjoy traveling and have been to 20 European countries. Last spring she was able to stand in the theatre at Epidaurus.
“I was able to savor the wonderful spirit of the Greeks that Leone Marinello rhapsodized over back in the fall of 1949,” she says. “It took more than 60 years, but I made it.” JCU