Part IV: Mary-Alice Martines

Meet Mary-Alice Martines

By: Mark Lee
Fall 2014 Communications Intern
Senior majoring in advertising and public relations

Mary-AliceShe is a vibrant, sweet woman who is looking at her age not as a crutch but as a time when she can do the things that really interest her.

Mary Alice was born in 1930 in Oak Park, Illinois, birthplace of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway. When she was 10 years old, her family moved to River Forest, another prominent Chicago suburb.

“I liked living there. My school was just four blocks from home, college was another couple of blocks away. Everything was near to my family.”

Mary Alice attended Rosary College, which is now Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Rosary College was an all-girls Catholic college. There she wrote for a school newspaper. When she was a freshman, Mary Alice took a class on sociology taught by professor, Gladys Selew. Gladys introduced Mary Alice to social work.

“I started to take social work classes and I loved them. I absolutely loved social work. I said to myself, I want to be a social worker.”

But, her parents were uneasy. They worried about the neighborhoods and cities her daughter would be working, and feared for her safety. They had another suggestion, a suggestion that became an incredible opportunity.

“My parents put their heads together and said, look, you love French, how would you like to go to Fribourg, Switzerland for your junior year?”

Mary Alice accepted the offer without a second thought. She headed to Switzerland where she studied French at the University of Fribourg.

“Wow, I thought, that sounds great. I focused mostly on French and less on social work and enjoyed my junior year.”

She returned to Rosary College for her senior year, taking classes in French and English education.

“That was the one thing my parents said, look, you can choose what you want to do, but you must take what you need to be a teacher, because you never know what the future holds.”

She’s grateful to her parents for the advice.

Mary Alice graduated from Rosary College in 1951 with a major in French and a minor in English education.

After college, Mary Alice married and had four children. While her husband was a professor at Lawrence University in Appleton, she did a lot of volunteer work with the Fox Valley Human Rights Council in Appleton. She worked on issues surrounding housing for low-income families in the surrounding communities.

This was the impetus for her involvement in politics and other political movements.

“ I think the most important thing for me in terms of personal growth was that I got involved with the Grape Boycott.”

The Grape Boycott, which lasted more than five years, was led by a Mexican-American farmer, César Chávez against growers of table grapes in California. It was a grassroots effort of strikes, consumer boycotts, marches and community organizing that raised awareness about the working conditions and low pay of the farm workers in the grape fields. It ultimately resulted in the formation of a labor union for the workers.

When Mary Alice was 45 years old, she decided it was time to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker. She completed her Masters Degree in Social Work at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

She worked in child welfare, recruiting foster homes and supporting foster parents caring for children with behavioral issues, at Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin until 1987.

She then worked for the Milwaukee Public School system as a social worker.

“It was the best job ever. It was the most wonderful place.”

Mary Alice retired in 1995.

After retirement she decided to take advantage of her French major. She packed up and moved to Québec, Canada where she lived for 6 months.

“ I hadn’t used my French for a while and I thought, that would be a fun trip.”

She’s enjoying every moment of her retirement.

“Retirement is a great time for many older people. It gives you the chance to do things that you can’t do when you are raising your family or focusing on your career.”

She does understand what comes with aging too.

“I’m so lucky. My health is wonderful, my mind works, but I miss my memory. You start a sentence and you know what you are trying to say, like the name of a book or something, then the time you get to it, it’s gone.”

Mary Alice now lives on the lower Eastside of Milwaukee in a lovely apartment. She is a proud member of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee where she is an active member raising awareness about the social justice issues of today. She was also heavily involved in creating an amendment on the upcoming ballot on November 4th, saying that corporations aren’t people, and money isn’t speech.