Maria Wagaman - May 2015

West Chester, Pennsylvania, an historic town incorporated in 1799, was the battle site of both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Best known for the Battle of Brandywine, West Chester was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.  Notables who hail from this historic town include Jim Furyk and Sean O’Hair, golfers; Anna Jarvis, founder of the Mother’s Day holiday; Dave Barry, newspaper columnist; Philip Gosselin, baseball player; and of course, Maria Wagaman, Friends In the Hills Secretary for 2015.

Maria, nee Maria Louisa Frerrer, grew up in this, as she describes it, Anglo-Saxon town, where her father, a Cuban immigrant, owned a barber shop. “The Hispanic name was quite uncommon in the area as were people of Hispanic descent,” she explains. “It was only as an adult when I looked back and realized my ethnicity perhaps played a negative role in some aspects of my life in those early years. My girlfriend and  I had applied to a small Christian college in the early 60s. Both of us were extremely qualified, but she got in and I was rejected… my Hispanic name, I do suspect.” Despite what she then viewed as a setback, she attended and graduated from Penn State.

However, ethnicity came to play a very positive role later in her adult life while she was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified district. A judge ordered the balancing of staff with an emphasis on diversity. Along with her impeccable credentials, with her Hispanic roots Maria now had a “leg up” for a very desirable administrative job. She was selected and “so here I was in this job and my language skills were English, and Spanish and my name, Wagaman, didn‘t seem to meet the profile, a bit of irony, I must say.”

Maria, a woman on the go, has traveled extensively. “Galapagos  was wonderful. Here is support for Darwin’s theory and you see species that exist nowhere else.” Other trips have taken her to Machu Picchu, China, and almost all the Mexican ruins. “I’ve been in many places, but in Europe, only Spain,” she laments. However, some of those spots may just find their way on to her bucket list.

 One highlight of Maria’s travels was traveling to Cuba in 2013.  Since visas were not being issued to Americans at this time, she participated in a cultural exchange program approved by the Treasury Department.  “The tour was limited to what the government wanted us to see…music, art, dance, museums. Many of the streets of old Havana are very picturesque. Itinerary was very controlled, but that is what Cuba is.  People live on $50 a month, but you don’t see dirt poor people or beggars. There is no such thing. As a communist country the government provides many services: medical, education, and everyone has a ration card. However ironic, I did see preschools and senior centers sponsored by the Catholic Church.”   During her trip, she reaffirmed that there was indeed no way highly motivated, entrepreneurial people could have stayed in power. “My father’s whole family immigrated to Florida and New York.  I did get a taste of what it must have been prior to the revolution when I stayed at the National Hotel in Havana, dined at some of the privately owned restaurants and visited the Hemingway estate.”

After graduating from Penn State, Maria spent her  career  teaching  third-graders for 25 years before taking on the responsibilities as an out-of-classroom beginning teacher mentor in Los Angles. While pursuing this position, she went back to school and obtained her masters in Administration. She helped create and write the curriculum for the Teacher Training  Academy for LAUSD which enabled college graduates to begin teaching as they concurrently completed their teaching credential at the University level. She worked as a Specialist in Credentials.

After her retirement, she worked as an Associate Professor at California State University, Northridge, with student teachers in a program she helped initiate while they completed their practicum requirement. She also consulted for LAUSD teaching in the Teacher Training  Academy and organized preparatory classes for students working toward their credential completion.

Retirement from retirement also brought a change of scenery for Maria as she bid farewell to the west coast and hello to Arizona desert living. Fountain Hills offered what she was looking for... proximity to her two daughters and five  grandchildren, the possibility of many friendships and the small-town feeling with the urban amenities close at hand. 

Has she managed to keep herself busy since her move in 2007? Well, she belongs to two health clubs and Zumba is her passion there. She plays Bridge and Mah Jongg and participates in two book clubs. She is active with the Four Peaks Women’s Club, and Friends in the Hills, where she serves this year as secretary.  If she finds time to sit down and relax, you might find her reading some detective mystery or the current selections of her book clubs.

We really never leave our hometown roots completely and Maria is no exception.  “I just had a conversation with a friend from my Junior High days,” she says excitedly.  “I’m planning to return this fall and we are taking a road trip together.” There will probably be lots of reminiscing for those gals from West Chester about the roads taken, not taken as well as the roads that lie before them and Maria, I am sure, will navigate them well.