Judy Busk Goes to College, Part 2

I read and personally reply to every email that comes in to me, even the cranky ones. Not surprisingly, the cranky ones tend to lodge in my heart long after I read them.

Several years ago someone wrote to say, “I don’t know why you put all that scholarship stuff in the Ali books. It has nothing to do with the plot.” Perhaps not, but the so-called “scholarship stuff” has a lot to do with me. Last week’s blog was the first part of the story about how I ended up going to college. This would be part two. If you’ve heard me speak at a random PEO or AAUW fundraising luncheon, you may be familiar with this story. Even so, I think it bears repeating.

There were 128 kids in Bisbee High School’s 1962 graduating class. Two of the girls were pregnant. One, was pregnant and unmarried. Her baby bump was totally invisible under her boyfriend’s Letterman’s sweater. The the second one, Linda, was married and expecting her second child. She had her boyfriend/husband had gotten “in trouble” and married between our sophomore and junior years.

In April of that year, with graduation scheduled for the end of May, Linda received a letter from the superintendent of schools saying that due to her “delicate condition,” she would not be allowed to participate in Class Night, Baccalaureate, or Graduation and would be receive her diploma by mail. Did the father of her “delicate condition” receive a similar letter? No, he did not, and despite the fact that he was already a father, he had been allowed the play varsity sports all during both our junior and senior years.

My best friend, Pat McAdams Hall, and I were co-editors of the school newspaper, the Copper Chronicle. We were both offended, so we began passing a petition asking that Linda be allowed to graduate with our class. Shortly thereafter Mrs. Riggins, our Journalism advisor, called us in and told us we needed to stop passing the petition. We said, “No, this isn’t fair.” Next our senior class advisor, Mrs. Medigovich, called us in and told us we needed to stop passing the petition. We said, “No, this isn’t fair.”

A few weeks later, on a Tuesday afternoon, when I arrived home from school the phone was ringing. You may be asking yourself how, almost sixty years later, I can be so sure that the phone rang on a Tuesday afternoon? Easy. I answered the call because my mother was ironing, and Evie Busk always washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday!

On the phone a male caller asked if he could speak to my father. I said he wasn’t home. Then the man asked to speak to my mother. When my dad arrived home later that evening, she told him he needed to call the superintendent of schools. So he did, and when the conversation ended, he came looking for me.

“I’ve just been told that you’ve been chosen to receive the Bisbee High School Alumni Scholarship to the University of Arizona,” he said. “It will be awarded during class night on the condition that you stop passing that petition.”

That scholarship was the only way I was going to be able to go on to college. I stopped passing the petition. Linda did not graduate with our class. I went on to college. I wouldn’t be a mystery writer today if I hadn’t gone on to school, but I always felt as though my success was predicated on grinding Linda’s life into the dust. She died of cancer while we were all still in our twenties.

Decades later, at a book signing in Tucson a man I thought to be a stranger turned up at my table. “I’m Amos,” he said. “Linda’s older brother. Our whole family knew what you tried to do back then. Thank you.”

His words were a real blessing—a balm to my soul.

Had I been allowed in the Creative Writing program at the University of Arizona, I’m sure I would have been told to write what I know. Somehow I managed to figure that out on my own, and that’s what happened here. In many ways, Ali’s history and mine are intertwined. That’s how all that “unnecessary scholarship stuff” ended up in her books.

And you know what else?

Cranky emails or not, it’s still there.

37 thoughts on “Judy Busk Goes to College, Part 2

  1. God Bless you JA!

    Tough decisions always come through a crucible of pain, doubt and clarity. In addition this decision is the story of women, their rights and what we have endured to arrive where we are today.
    Keep on keepin on me dear your history bears retelling to remind everyone of our collective history!

    BTW we miss you in AZ

    • On the wall in front of the Bisbee Woman’s Club (built 1902), one of the many images in a wonderfully painted mural displays a Woman’s Club member handing a scholarship to a young lady. [Ali is in Cottonwood/Sedona but obviously, JA Jance has deep roots in Bisbee]

  2. That “scholarship stuff” is part and parcel of what make Ali Reynolds a real person. There are also those recurring “little stuff” things that make J.P. Beaumont and Joanna Brady real people.

    • This! I love the writing and these series and a good part of that reason is that I love the characters. They are part of my family and it’s things like that that make them real. Long ago, I remember how I was sad when Joanna Brady was introduced. I wanted Beau. He is family and, as soon as I finished one book, I yearned for the next. Now, I love Joanna and Ally the same way. Just needed to accept a little bit of change and how great they are. My father-in-law moved to Tucson a bit ago and when we visit, I think of Joanna and have always wanted to visit Bisbee. One day, I will.

      Thank you for sharing your very personal story and for giving us Beau, Joanna, and Ally and all of their families.

  3. Oh, my, how hard on you, and sad for Linda. I know a similar story from 1967, the man who later became my husband was a senior in high school and had gotten his younger girlfriend pregnant. They married in Feb. He was banned from all of his sports teams and they wanted to kick him out of school (small rural town in Iowa)
    One of his (female) teachers insisted and begged that he be allowed to stay and she did a class of some sort just for him so he could get the credits he needed to finish. Which he did. The marriage did not last long, no surprise, and his wife graduated as valedictorian the next year. He eventually ended up in college down here in Missouri where I met him and we married after I graduated. He paid a lot less dearly for that contraception failure than she, but it was hard for both and certainly hard on all who went thru similar things before the 1970s, when I assume things improved–not sure, though, I was long gone from school by then. I’m so glad you met Linda’s brother and he helped you feel better about all of that.

    • My little high school in West Virginia allowed a married couple to stay in school and graduate together in 1970. Grandparents taking care of baby during school hours so parents could attend.

  4. The elements that you include in your stories resonate beyond the narrative of your characters. I have found the Ali Reynolds novels to be both entertaining and reflective of important social issues.

    As a retired educator I have been drawn to the scholarship process you include in the Ali Reynolds series. Providing access to education to deserving students who don’t fit into the more traditional categories of success is I think a critical opportunity for our society. Moreover you integrate this into the narratives in such a way that is both entertaining and convincing.

    There are profound changes taking place in higher education some for the good and some that are, in my view, very disturbing. I’m really looking forward to how you integrate these challenges in your future work.

    Finally I have to give you a tip of the hat. The level of productivity that you continue to demonstrate after so many years of writing is inspiring. As an avid fan I am very grateful that I can expect each year the opportunity for a great yarn and thought provoking story.

  5. I got married between my junior and senior year. Not because I was pregnant but because I had a rough time at home as my mother was in the hospital almost all the time and my boyfriend was entering the service. Not a great reason but at 17 you don’t know this. I was told by the principal that if I married I could attend school but could not be a cheerleader or go to any activities on the school grounds, even to a game. I elected to marry and move to a larger city to attend school where they were more liberal thinking and graduate from it. I was the only married student there for the first semester, there were several by the time I graduated. Life sure has changed since then, but still not enough for women.

  6. I love all of your books. Knowing about this incident in your school days and how you handled it makes me admire and love you even more. I am so glad you came into my life.

  7. Keep telling your story of how it was to be growing up years ago. Many young girls were treated poorly. I’m not sure if much has changed, but I hope so. I had a scholarship for my first semester at college. It changed my life.

  8. I wish I had discovered your blog sooner. I so enjoyed our email exchanges, and I don’t know why they stopped, but following your blog will let me “keep up” with you again.

    I treasure the copies of your books you signed for me at the OWFI conference.

    • You’re welcome to go back through the blog archives. It’s like reading my autobiography in weekly installments.

    • Vivian, your information is no longer in my database. I’m looking into why you no longer receive the newsletters.

  9. Bless you Judy. Life touches us in so many ways. Thank you for standing up for the Linda’s in our world. The choice you were forced to make in high school were terrible but so much a part of that time. I am afraid those choices are still out there. Linda’s family obviously appreciated that you and others stood up for Linda’s rights. I attended a mixed adult and high school vocational high school. The married “adult” women were not supposed to talk with the “regular” high school girls. Stupid rule then because they certainly were not going to contaminate us. Keep spreading your words of hope.

  10. After my son (now in his early 40’s) and a few of his friends graduated from college and started their careers, they held an event for a couple of years to raise money for “An Average Joe” high school scholarship. At their graduations they were given small awards which barely covered one book and they figured out the value of monetary help.
    I don’t know the criteria, but the award went to someone not in the top 10 of the class. I do know the first person to receive the scholarship is now a lawyer.

  11. Thank you for standing up for your classmate! I’m sorry to hear she died so youg.

  12. GOOD FOR YOU AND YOUR FRIEND!!!!!!!!! I look back on my 70+ years and realize how many times we were “categorized” and excluded because we were girls – or women later on. I’m so proud of you!! P.s. I’m a PEO so thank you for speaking at the “little groups”, too ?

  13. Unless my old timers has kicked up again, I believe that Ali was a recipient of that very scholarship in the books. It very much applies to how she got to where she is today and how Leland came into her life.

    What a skunk to call your mom and dad about the scholarship. Not enough guts to tell you himself. It figures. The putz.

  14. Ali Reynolds books have long been my favorite. That she and B. have set up the scholarship fund only makes her seem more of a ‘real’ person, not impressed with their own success. (Though I confess, I’m envious that they have a ‘Major Domo’!) I love Figg and look forward to the next Ali Reynolds book!

  15. Please don’t stop sharing! “That scholarship stuff” is an important part of what makes your characters and stories so real and dimensional. And fascinating!

  16. Thank you for standing up for her. The inequity between males and females back then was mind blowing. For what its worth, I believe you made the right decision. Those were hard days for women and I’m thankful for the forward-thinking women that made things change. Love your books. I’m a dedicated fan.

  17. It wasn’t just students that suffered the stigma of being a reproductive member of society back then. I was raise in a farming community, but when a married teacher became pregnant she was forced to quit teaching. As if we didn’t know here babies came from! It was not a disease that we could catch.

    It was thee fact that they never could bring themselves to address the real problem: the boys who wanted “IT” and who would keep after the girls to “put out” with all the “but so and so does it” lines they could find to tell. The males in charge were the biggest instigators in that whole thing because it was always the “boys will be boys” attitude that always prevailed.

    We still see it today with the Prep school rapes and the judges sending down slaps on the hand while the victims, the girls, are public humiliated for coming forward. It even came to light just how far this went with the Cosbys and Weinstiens and Epsteins finally bringing to light how many women are habitually treated as pawns in this game.

    At least now the girls are offered a different deal in many high schools. Day care for the babies forced upon them by the same lies to get them into bed in the first place. And programs to help them graduate or get their GEDs so they can pull themselves up to go on to colleges and then productive careers.

    This may sound harsh, but let’s face it, until things change, things are not going to change. Until this society stops objectifying women as sex objects and treating women with more resect, then there are still going to be those “boys” (who will be boys) bullying women into unwanted sexual encounters and babies are going to be the unwitting victims of it all. I put “boys” in quotes because the men who continue to do this into their adult years are still just that: immature men who have to get their way in whatever they are doing.

    On another note: girls like Judith Busk paved the way for the girls of today to step out and make history like having the most newly elected officials in this latest election to enter the halls of decision making there ever has been. Girls are being shown the way by women who were shown the way by brave girls who came before. Taking that scholarship was the bravest thing JAJ could do back then. That carved out a life that eventually gave her a bigger voice than the petition ever could.


    And we have that poor girl sho got pregnant — at a time when it was still a time they were punished for the fact some boy couldn’t keep it in his pants — to thank for that!

  18. I graduated in 1962. One of our classmates got pregnant the summer before our senior year. Needless to say, she wasn’t allowed to attend school. She married the father of her child and it lasted until he passed away a few years ago. No one knew she was pregnant just figured she didn’t like school. When her son passed away did we know that was the reason. Very difficult to lose a child and she still has a hard time accepting his death although she has other children.

    What a difference the 60s were compared to today.

    I have wanted to write a book but wouldn’t know where to start.
    I am an avid reader and enjoy your books.

    You were kind enough a few years ago to respond to me when I had found error in one of your books.

    Thank you
    Gay Eagleston

  19. Isn’t it amazing how HE gets us answers to questions from long ago. I’m glad you to hear this happened so you get closure, Judy. It’s interesting how we tend to carry the question with us until we get an answer. What’s even better is to be appreciated for something you did for someone who passed. Gotcha in my heart and prayers.???
    Jeannie from the Mesa Red Mountain Library audience
    P.S. Miss your visits.
    I’m now 4 years NED Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer .
    Your books and blog continues to warm my heart.??

  20. Isn’t it amazing how HE gets us answers to questions from long ago. I’m glad you to hear this happened so you get closure, Judy. It’s interesting how we tend to carry the question with us until we get an answer. What’s even better is to be appreciated for something you did for someone who passed. Gotcha in my heart and prayers.???
    Jeannie from the Mesa Red Mountain Library audience
    P.S. Miss your visits.
    I’m now 4 years NED Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer .
    Your books and blog continues to warm my heart.??

  21. Thank you for sharing this story, for the stand you took for justice (and against double standards), and showing that life is full of difficult choices. It’s easy to keep holding those choices in our hearts and second-guessing ourselves, so I appreciate knowing the ‘end’ of this particular choice. That the family remained grateful all these years later is a testament to the difference you made.
    Thank you for mentioning P.E.O. – we are so proud of the work we do to help educate women through our Projects and Cottey College.

  22. First of all, there are always parts in every mystery stories that have nothing to do with building the mystery itself. What they do is build the characters, the setting, the feel. And I for one appreciate that.
    Next, I was pretty horrified by the story. For Bisbee High School to blackmail you in such away is unconscionable. Of course, I know that happened in those times. Frankly I am surprised that your friend was allowed to continue in high school when she was pregnant and married. Either one would’ve got a female student tossed out of my high school.
    Of course, the boyfriend or husband would not have been tossed out.

  23. It makes me sad to think that the Superintendent of Schools had to stoop to bribery – your scholarship or your values – to browbeat you into submission.

    Happens every day.

    The end result is always that feeling of guilt that we abandoned someone to protect ourselves.

    Bravo for lasting as long as you did and for standing up for a fellow student.

Comments are closed.