Georgene M. Shank

Honored by:Carolyn Cornette
Brick location:C:16  map

Georgene Morrison Shank is an advocate of women; women in the managerial work place, women in the membership of government bodies, women in the administration of education, women in the performance of health care. As a strong, bright, articulate woman, Georgene, when asked to record some biographical notes, noted more "life" than can be included. However, to read Georgene's own writing is to be introduced more appropriately to the woman she is. I have not changed sentences, but I have by necessity eliminated many. Georgene is orginally from Buffalo, NY, a graduate of Geneseo State Teachers College.

"I remember someone in Ames asking me where I came from and I really wanted to answer, 'I was born of woman.' And a strong woman she was.

I became a teacher, not because I wanted to, but because it was expected of me. That first job taught me a lot--to keep one step ahead of the history teacher as he chased me around the desk, and that I did not like working with children. Much preferred adult male clientele for library services to chattering children. So a woman who was a teacher at Sunmount and I lit out for the territory. We both took jobs at the Veterans Hospital in Livermore, CA, because we wanted to see San Francisco. World War II was barely over. The town had two industries, the VA hospital and a sanitarium for rich drunks. It was a change.

I transferred to the Oakland, VA hospital as Chief Librarian after becoming engaged to Wesley, a student of architecture at Cal. What a happy time! Loved being in charge ... of the library.

One fateful day shortly after Wes graduated he called me to say he had a job in an architect's office at $1.00 an hour! Now I could quit work and we could start a family. When he proposed he declared we would have four children. I should have left then. However, those were the fifties and everyone was propagating like mad. So we moved to the suburbs and life took a whole new turn. The children began to pile up: Jennifer, Matthew, and Edmund. We read while they were in the crib. I followed my mother's example and stuck to Shakespeare and poetry. When they began to comprehend we moved on to the usual children's books. To remain in touch with the adults’ world and to cling to remnants of sanity I worked evenings and weekends at various county libraries. When Jenny was two we were enrolled in the local mother/child nursery school. I finally met some women like myself. Well, the nursery school fell on evil times. I felt it necessary to organize a new school based on proper principles. We did. And all was well. By then we had used up our second sterile suburb and were prosperous enough to move back to the city. When the kids are in school what does a girl do? So I began to study piano with a neighbor who was on the piano faculty at Mills College. I really didn't want to play the piano; I just wanted to see if I could. In order to help pay for all of the lessons, because Wes decided to learn cello and the children were studying piano, and Ned was in private school, I went to work part-time for the high school English department, correcting themes. Also, again to prove to myself that I could do it, I began to study Russian and German.

Wes decided he was bored with the business of being an architect and wanted to be a teacher and a scholar. So we sold our beautiful house, bought a blue Buick, and headed to Montreal and McGill University.

We came to Ames on a rainy day in the fall of 1964. When we took the job, Wes bought a tiny house on West Street close to the school the children would attend, the school where I would teach and be a librarian, and to ISU. It was very quiet when we moved in. Then the students came to town. Ames was a very primitive rural town. We went to concerts in the Armory, and remembered our season tickets to the San Francisco Symphony. The best restaurant in town was Tom's Grill. I cried for a year. Had been saving up Des Moines for the day I could not stand this little cowtown one more moment. Then Jenny and I went to Des Moines, and we both began to cry.

However, one adjusts. I enjoyed my job at Welch Middle School. The young principal, Don Carlson was in his first year and was very supportive of what I was trying to do. Which was to create a library curriculum that would undergird the instructional program.

Took a year off to finish an M.A. in English at Drake in 1968. Returned to teach for one year and decided that I had paid my dues and resigned. However, one must be doing something, so I went to work on campus at the "Y" as Office Coordinator. One year of that was most interesting, and one year was enough. So I ran in the Democratic primary for the Iowa Legislature against George Palmer and Neal Hines. Neal won.

One must keep busy and out of trouble, so Carolyn Cornette and I opened a consignment clothing shop called the Clothesline. We had great fun, entertained our customers, and made a little money. I wrote a pamphlet explaining how to start a shop.

I chaired the League of Women Voters study in 1972 that concluded and recommended to the City Council that they install Dial-a-Ride system with large buses on fixed routes as needed. Council acted, the ISU student government and ISU entered into a joint funding agreement. We received national recognition. 

I was a member of and chair of the Ames Planning and Zoning Commission for five years. We did the first revision of the master plan for many years.

Served ten years as an elected city council woman-at-large. On my recommendation the city formally recognized neighborhood associations that are routinely advised of city actions that might affect them.

Was twice elected as director of the National League of Cities Women in Municipal Government. Served two terms on the NLC Human Development Steering Committee.

Leaving office in a blaze of glory I led the winning fight for the city to institute pay equity.

Now I am retired from work and from the political world. I do not miss any of it. Well, I do miss being able to stir things up a bit, and to tidy up city government, to right wrongs and so forth. But one needs a healthy helping of energy to do those things. So I try to write scurrilous novels. My problem is that I am too short winded. And so it goes.”

Georgene continues to serve the community as a volunteer. She is a member of the Ames Library Board and the Board of Directors of Iowa Public Television.

She was honored by Story County Women’s Political Caucus as a “Women Who Has Contributed to Political and Social Change”. Georgene Morrison Shank had made significant contributions to the special quality of life that the citizens of Ames enjoy.

Submitted on 3/10/93