Monday, June 30, 2008

My Namesake and My Hero

Sarah Caroline Gudschinsky (1919 - 1975)

I was named for her, though I never met her. She died before I was born and I've always regretted that I missed her.

I hear that if you asked how to pronounce her name, she always said, "There are good shinskys and bad shinskys."

She started out as a kindergarten teacher and remained a teacher all her life.

She was a doctor of linguistics in a time before women were readily given such opportunities.

She was linguistics and literacy consultant for colleagues in the Summer Institute of linguistics in Mexico and Brazil.

She was the first woman in SIL to earn a Ph.D. and be elected to the SIL Board of Directors.

She was fearless, going to Mexico with her team and working with Mixtec and Mazatec tribes (who had likely never seen a person outside their race before) to create a written language where none existed. She created a method of teaching language that was later named for her. If you google "Gudschinsky" you can see all the books she wrote and the research that is still being done using her methods.

She died of ovarian cancer in 1975 and donated her body to science so that doctors and researchers could learn more about the disease and others could be helped.

I am proud to bear her name.

Hero sounds like such a petty word. It's overused and has lost the magnitude of its meaning.

Her sister, Mary Katharine (my grandma) was equally amazing. She was in school to become a surgeon but had to quit when she ran out of money. She was one of four women in her class. She ended up teaching first grade in central Michigan. She prayed for my father and his brothers constantly. Even after her son, Jimmy, died at 18, and her husband died just a few years later, she kept her independence and remained, well the word that comes to mind is serene. She was the most peaceful person I ever met. Even with four insane grandchildren who could probably have picked her up and shaken her if we wanted to, she maintained this serenity.

I can remember sitting on her lap as a little girl and reading to her. She's the one who taught me that an exclamation point applies to the whole sentence, not just the word it follows. Before Grandma set me straight, I would read, "Dick and Jane ran through the PARK!!! Spot the dog barked LOUDLY!!!"

She died before I was old enough to appreciate her. If you have grandparents, please don't take them for granted. Not a day goes by that I don't wish I had mine here to talk to.


Janet said...

This was a lovely tribute to both of those remarkable women. I was very fortunate to keep 3 of my grandparents for a long time. My mother's father died when I was 6, but her mother died in 2000, then my father's father died in November at age 97, but his wife is still going strong, having just turned 95. I turned his life story into a book about 5 years ago, which was one of the best things I've ever done.

Bob said...

Hi Sarah,

Sarah G. is one of our 'heroes' in Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL. It was very nice to read your tribute to her, and also to see how her life has influenced your own. May God give you the same wisdom, courage and perseverance as Sarah G.

Bob Creson
Wycliffe Bible Translators USA

Nature Nut said...

Very nice, and sweet!

Suldog said...

They sound like two very wonderful women. You are right to be proud of bearing the name and the genes.

Scribbit said...

Wow, that's a lot to live up to--some times I read about women like that and feel so ingsignificant!