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8 Over 80: Charlene Montgomery leaves positive mark on community

Sixth in a series on this year’s Courier 8 Over 80 honorees.

WATERLOO — As a young black woman in Iowa 60 years ago, it was challenging for Charlene Montgomery to land that first teaching job.

Racism had been kept at arms length while Montgomery was growing up on a farm with three siblings near the rural community of New Sharon and attending country school. She didn’t experience much of it in Oskaloosa while pursuing a double major in English teaching and business education at William Penn College, a Christian school founded by Quakers.

Then, in 1960, she graduated.

“That’s when I really got slapped with racial prejudice,” said the now 81-year-old. “We always knew it was there, but it didn’t really have a face until the job search.”

Montgomery eventually found a teaching job in a rural school district south of Des Moines. Two years later, she came to the Waterloo Community Schools and was among its early black educators. That work in the schools and other community involvement through the decades were the basis for her Eight Over 80 nomination.

“She was one of a few minority educators during that era,” Betty Lou Smith, Montgomery’s sister, wrote in her nomination. Among the honors Smith noted her sister won was the Gold Star Teacher Award in 1998, the year she retired. “She was and is a role model for family, students and co-workers.”

While there were several black educators in lower grade levels, Montgomery believes she was Waterloo’s first black public high school teacher.

One of her children, Liz Crowley, became a teacher and principal in the district. She died unexpectedly at age 48 in 2017.

Growing up, Montgomery looked to Smith as a role model. Her sister had gone to business school and gotten an office job in Des Moines. However, she was more interested in working at a school than an office.

Montgomery had helped to tutor fellow students in country school “from the time that I was quite young,” she said. Her family “just always advocated education” to be successful. “So the value of learning was instilled in us early.”

She still faced barriers to finding a job upon graduation. “I had a good academic record and resume,” she noted, but didn’t get much response when applying for positions. “I finally started sending a resume without a picture.”

Interview invitations began coming in, but even that backfired. Upon arrival, she recalled being told things like, “’We’re not ready for you yet’ and ‘Oh, I didn’t know,’” because of her skin color. Montgomery was even sexually harassed at one interview.

Encountering racism wasn’t a surprise. “I expected it because our parents had prepared us for the reality of what was out there,” she said.

But that fall, Montgomery did start a job in Liberty Center at Southeast Warren Community Schools, which had recently formed when three districts consolidated. The superintendent took notice when he recognized her family name. As a young person, he had delivered the Des Moines Register in the New Sharon area, including to her family’s home.

“Because he knew my father, he interviewed and hired me,” she said.

Montgomery taught business education at the high school including such courses as typing and shorthand. “I earned the respect of the community,” she said.

She applied for a position in Waterloo teaching business classes at East High School ahead of the 1962 school year and was hired. After heading off to complete summer coursework, Montgomery got a letter from the district noting her assignment had been changed to teaching English at West High School.

With a job in hand, though, “I could not find a place to live,” said Montgomery. Landlords were interested in renting to a teacher until they realized she was black. “So, the housing discrimination was really awful.”

Glenda Mabry, a white educator, eventually identified the family of a white district administrator who agreed to make space for her to live at their home, where she stayed for at least two years.

Along with teaching various English and writing classes, “I was very proud of the work that I did with an African-American literature course,” she said. “I had also at that time helped write black history curriculum for the district.”

Montgomery met and married her husband, James. Their two children, Liz and Travis, were born as she continued working and pursued a master’s degree in guidance and counseling at the University of Northern Iowa. He died in 2012.

“We loved our family life,” she said. They centered it around “raising strong and positive kids, and they became self-motivated and and quite successful.” Her son is a foot and ankle surgeon in the Indianapolis area.

By the mid-1970s, Montgomery was a guidance counselor working with younger students than she had been accustomed to at West Junior High School.

“I fell in love with students at that stage of development, because they needed so much,” she said. “I seemed to be able to really connect with students (who were) ‘on the fringe,’ many of them from dysfunctional homes and the ones who were rebels. I felt that I had found my niche with that age group.”

Smith said her sister “encouraged students to live their dreams” in that role.

Montgomery found ways to volunteer in the schools after retiring in 1998, as a mentor and reading buddy. She has also been active with the Waterloo Schools Foundation, Friends of the Waterloo Public Library, a hospice organization, Payne African Methodist Episcopal Church and Club Les Dames.

Montgomery’s more than 25 years of providing direction and input to the club is “her outstanding contribution to the community,” according to Smith.

“The club’s focus is helping young women in the community gain self confidence and purpose,” Smith said. “She gives freely of her time to the club both publicly and behind the scenes.”

During her career and through volunteering “I just have always tried to be guided by Galatians 6:9,” said Montgomery. The Bible passage says “And let us not be weary in well doing.”

Montgomery is “grateful and humbled” with opportunities for such “well doing” throughout her life. “I really got to touch hundreds of lives over my career and created special bonds with co-workers, too,” she said.

“I really got to touch hundreds of lives over my career.” — Charlene Montgomery

National
AP
White House pushes narrow virus aid

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday assailed Republican “disarray” over a new pandemic relief package as the White House suggested a narrower effort might be necessary, at least for now.

The California Democrat panned the Trump administration’s desire to trim an expiring temporary federal unemployment benefit from $600 weekly to about 70% of pre-pandemic wages. “The reason we had $600 was its simplicity,” she said from the Capitol.

The administration’s chief negotiators — White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — spent a few hours at the Capitol later Sunday to put what Meadows described as “final touches” on a $1 trillion relief bill Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to bring forward Monday afternoon.

“We’re done,” Mnuchin said as he and Meadows left Capitol Hill after meeting with GOP staff.

Meadows said as the White House was “looking for clarity” on a “handful” of remaining issues ahead of Monday. “We have an agreement in principle,” he said.

Both Mnuchin and Meadows said earlier Sunday that narrower legislation might need to be passed first to ensure that enhanced unemployment benefits don’t run out for millions of Americans. They cited unemployment benefits, money to help schools reopen, tax credits to keep people from losing their jobs, and lawsuit protections for schools and businesses as priorities.

Pelosi has said she opposes approving a relief package in piecemeal fashion.

“We can move very quickly with the Democrats on these issues,” Mnuchin said.

Separately, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said a federal eviction moratorium on millions of rental units, due to expire at the end of the month, will be extended. “We will lengthen it,” he said, without specifying for how long.

Republicans have argued that federal jobless benefits should be trimmed because the combination of state and federal unemployment assistance left many people better off financially than they were before the pandemic and therefore disinclined to return to their jobs.

Many Democrats contend that a lot of people don’t feel safe going back to work when the coronavirus is surging again around the country.

A former Republican congressman from North Carolina, Meadows said he is working with Mnuchin and Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to address complaints that outdated state computer systems will make it difficult for the jobless to get their benefits in a timely fashion if the formula is changed.

“It’s our goal to make sure that it’s not antiquated computers that keep people from getting their benefits,” Meadows said.

Pelosi criticized the hold-up on the GOP side. House Democrats passed a $3 trillion relief package a couple of months ago, with the aim of jump-starting negotiations. Republicans abruptly halted rollout of their bill last week amid differences between senators and the White House.

“They’re in disarray and that delay is causing suffering for America’s families,” Pelosi said.

She declined to say whether she could accept 70% of wages in place of the now-expired $600 weekly benefit.

“Why don’t we just keep it simple?” she asked, referring to a flat dollar amount.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said he doesn’t support the GOP legislation as proposed. He argued for lifting taxes and regulations he says are “hammering” small businesses. Cruz also argued for a payroll tax cut, which will not be in the bill. President Donald Trump had insisted on a temporary trim of payroll taxes, but both parties resisted the idea.

The White House and Senate Republicans were racing to regroup after plans to introduce a $1 trillion virus rescue bill collapsed Thursday during GOP infighting over its size, scope and details.

Meanwhile, a number of police chiefs and sheriffs in Arkansas and elsewhere say they won’t enforce statewide mask requirements, even within their departments. Some say they don’t have the manpower to respond to every mask complaint, treating violations of the requirement as they would oft-ignored minor offenses such as jaywalking. Others reject the legal validity of mask requirements.

Lang Holland, the chief of police in tiny Marshall, Arkansas, said he thinks the threat of the coronavirus has been overstated and wears a face mask only if he’s inside a business that requires it. He doesn’t make his officers wear them either.

So the day after Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an order requiring masks to be worn in public throughout Arkansas, Holland made it clear his department wasn’t going to enforce the mandate in the Ozarks town of about 1,300, calling it an unconstitutional overreach.

“All I’m saying is if you want to wear a mask, you have the freedom to choose that,” said Holland, who said he supports Trump. “It should not be dictated by the nanny state.”

The pushback is concerning to health officials, who say a lack of enforcement could undermine what they say is a much-needed and simple step that can be taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“If people undermine that mandate, they undermine the public health benefits of masking in the setting of this pandemic, and that just doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Dr. Cam Patterson, the chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who had called for a statewide requirement.


Red Herring Theatre Director J'Kalein Madison works with Krystal Madlock in a scene from the staged reading of 'A Raisin in the Sun," while actors Endya Johnson and Will Frost watch.


Local
Lottery takes hit but still meets budget

Iowa Lottery ticket sales, revenue earned for the state and prize money awarded to players all dropped during the past fiscal year, but the lottery still met its budget targets despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Preliminary figures released Friday show the Iowa Lottery generated about $81.5 million in proceeds to state causes from $372 million in sales during the 12 months that ended June 30. Players collected about $236.3 million in prizes.

The unaudited results also show that west-side Cedar Rapids Hy-Vee stores continue to be leaders in lottery ticket sales statewide. The Johnson Avenue Hy-Vee reported $911,523 in lottery sales, with the company’s Wilson Avenue store recording lottery sales of $897,610. The Hy-Vee Drugstore on Sixth Avenue SW had the fifth highest sales at $775,258.

Overall, the lottery paid out $24.3 million in commissions to retailers.

Although the lottery met its budget targets, sales in fiscal 2020 decreased 4.8 percent from the previous year’s total of $390.9 million. Revenue turned over to various state causes dropped 12.3 percent and prizes to players decreased 2.3 percent from the previous year’s total.

Those numbers were largely impacted by two main factors: the COVID-19 pandemic and a relative lack of big jackpots in national lotto games, according to Iowa Lottery Chef Executive Matt Strawn. The largest lottery prize over the past 12 months was a $1 million Powerball payout to a Correctionville man and a $1 million Mega Millions prize paid to the “Just Us” group in Eldora.

Large jackpots for Powerball and Mega Millions — one more than $1.5 billion in October 2018, the largest jackpot in the game’s history — attracted players. However, in fiscal 2020, both games’ jackpots were repeatedly won with increased frequency at comparatively lower levels — $40 to $100 million.

That in turn meant lower overall sales in both games. The COVID-19 emergency further impacted the lotto category, with lotto sales nationwide falling during the pandemic, lottery officials explained.

Scratch-ticket sales in Iowa, which have set annual records each year since fiscal 2015, did so again in fiscal 2020, totaling $262.4 million. That is an $11.8 million increase from the previous year.

Strawn noted that scratch games long have been the Iowa Lottery’s leading product category. In recent months, Iowans who suddenly had large amounts of time at home made scratch tickets part of their hard-copy entertainment options.

In general, the type of lottery product that sells best in a given year has a big impact on overall lottery results.

In a year like fiscal 2020 when scratch tickets sold particularly well, lottery profits overall will likely be a smaller percentage of total sales simply because scratch games have a smaller profit margin.

Sales in lotto games are largely jackpot-driven and therefore often fluctuate greatly from year to year, while sales of scratch games, pull-tab games and InstaPlay games are more consistent over time.

The lottery raised $2.5 million for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund, bringing the amount raised since 2008 to $30 million. In fiscal 2020, the lottery raised funds for the first time for the new Public Safety Survivor Benefits Fund, which helps with insurance costs for the families of Iowa peace officers and firefighters who die on duty.

Since the lottery’s start in 1985, its players have won more than $4.6 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $2 billion for state programs.