Real women in real words |

Real women in real words

During Women’s History Month each March, high school students in western Nevada County are invited to write about “Real Women” – women in the community who have made a difference in the lives of those around them.

Essay winners are selected. The writers and the women they have profiled are honored by the Northern Mines Business and Professional Women, the sponsor of the event. Co-sponsors are the Grass Valley Elks and The Union.

The essays on this page were selected as this year’s winners.

First place

by Kenlyn McGrew, Grass Valley

Nevada Union High School

Lisa Stine

Nevada City:

The Hands of a Woman

I know her hands better than I know her face. They are small and sturdy, clean hands. They are working hands, filled with lines where they are free of decoration, notably absent of women’s hands’ delicate appeal. But when they take up that harp and fall into their music, it becomes impossible to ignore their beauty.

I feel selfish calling Lisa Stine my teacher. Undoubtedly, she is my harp teacher, and she has taught me music in a manner so unique that, after all my music teachers, I feel more a musician now than at any point in my life. But to call her mine seems to trivialize who she is to the hundreds of others she has changed through her love. I share my claim to her with the mentally ill children to whom she brought music therapy. They share her with schoolchildren in special facilities, and they with the young harpists she teaches and coordinates in the Celtic Festival. They share their claims with her own daughter and son; they are the greatest treasures of her life, and Lisa never once blinked at their price (a fractured schedule of part-time jobs). There is no greater love than hers, and it is an unconditional love we children are lucky to share.

It is her unbounded love that lets her, as a teacher, bridge the generation gap. Eighteen delightful years as an art and music facilitator at a local mental health program had given Lisa the desire to broaden her abilities; she added to her music therapy degree qualifications to teach basic skills to adults and English to speakers of other languages. Today, she teaches English through Nevada Union’s Adult Education Program, GED and diploma preparation at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, and harp to any and every adult. Through all the bustle, her eyes still dance when mentioning her teaching; if anything, the years have increased her love of her students, both old and young. Perhaps her love defies the boundaries of time because she is the adult who most shares the heart of a child.

And this heart calls her time and again to her music. Although she is integral in countless ensembles, she knows the most important music is that of her Harp Therapy Program at the Cancer Center. A woman with so much love cannot help but heal, and music is her medium to open her heart.

This heart, like her hands, is not unscarred or unmarked; the blessings of her children came with the devastation of divorce, and her life-changing work at the cancer center evolved through her own battle with chemotherapy and breast cancer. She has fought long and hard for the ability to love so many and so much, but where her smile faded, her strength remained alive in love. Her hands, the hands of a mother, teacher, musician, survivor and healer, bear the scars of these battles won and lost. No, they are not beautiful.

But what music they make.

Second place

by Shannon Turner, Penn Valley

Nevada Union High School

Charlene Brown

Nevada City:

A Real Woman

At first glance, she may look like an ordinary woman. She’s not a superstar nor is she some kind of famous model, but she is more, much more. This is no ordinary woman. She is a heroine, a perfect example of what a woman should be, but also an example of how everybody should be. Never will you find such a selfless soul. This woman, this real woman, does exist. Her name is Charlene Brown.

At 15, Charlene was already demonstrating her caring and courageous attributes. Charlene was teaching swimming lessons at the YMCA. There were a group of “retarded kids” whom no one wanted to teach. Charlene boldly took on the responsibility of the children. On the last day of swimming lessons, one of her students jumped off the diving board into the water. She then began to swim the length of the pool. This was no simple task for this young girl. She was blind and mentally challenged. Charlene was so excited about the child’s triumph that she decided that this is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life, and that was to teach special education. Little did she know that she would also perform miracles.

At first Charlene wanted to somehow “fix” the children. She wanted to fix them so they could be protected from a cruel world, which she believed to be very unkind to people with disabilities. Somehow she wanted to change them into normal people, who would be able to function in a normal society. Her career with these special children has now made her into a believer of accepting and celebrating each student’s unique abilities. She believes that the children have more to teach the world than she could ever teach them in a lifetime; therefore, she believes that every child is a success. Not one child is considered a failure.

Charlene has had opposition because of choosing this career. A close family member feels she has more to offer than to teach these children. He believes she should put her talents to work on gifted students, since they have more to offer society. Charlene firmly disagrees and has ignored this advice and courageously does that which she knows to be right.

Charlene has no idea the impact she has on these children and their families. I know first-hand the kind of miracles she is capable of performing.

My sister, Alyssa, suffers from a disease called autism. Autism is a very severe learning handicap. She has been a student of Charlene Brown for several years. It is this amazing woman who taught my sister to read, an idea thought to be impossible at the time, but not to Charlene. Others had tried, but none had succeeded except for one. Because of Charlene Brown, my sister is growing more each day. It was a sad day when Alyssa had to say goodbye to Charlene Brown, but a miracle because she was ready to move on.

Third place

by Brittany Tassone, Nevada City

Nevada Union High School

Mary Grace Tassone

Grass Valley

Ave Maria

My father was 8 years old. His younger brothers, Steve and Gerard, were 6 and 3, respectively. My aunt and godmother, Mary Grace Tassone, at the age of 19, didn’t have to be told to take care of her family after her mother died of breast cancer. Her father was away all week working in San Francisco. Thus, my aunt decided to take care of her family after finishing nursing school. She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Nursing in San Francisco during the year of 1958. She became father and mother to all her younger brothers and sisters. Mary raised my father through his childhood, as well as her four younger brothers and two younger sisters. Without Mary’s strength of character and impeccable self-discipline, the world may not have included myself or my three older brothers. She is dedicated to others and is quite involved with numerous community activities. Mary will casually mention these things like they are of no real consequence. She is far too modest. Thus, I feel it is my job to credit her with the recognition she deserves. Within the family, we have come to call her a saint in disguise, to which she only mildly laughs and smiles, never wanting or needing recognition. She is a member of Music in the Mountains, volunteers at the Interfaith Food Ministry, and is very actively involved in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, where she used to play the organ. She works at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital as a surgical nurse, where she was one of two original nurses at SNMH a week before the first patient arrived. She worked as head nurse and charge nurse for many years at the hospital, with an accumulation of over 40 years. She practically runs herself to exhaustion from commitments and helping people in any way she can. She has always supported me in my dancing for the past 10 years, always a smiling face lighting the way, knowing that you are capable of something, even if you think you are not. Mary is a soul which has touched an innumerable amount of lives, growing up in this community her whole life. She has never married, dedicating herself to a single life vocation in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. In 1988, she took a two-year leave of absence to study at the Center of Formation in Lourdes, France. It is clear that she has dedicated her life to God and helping others to find themselves, still raising people after all these years. She is completely selfless. To me, she is the most saintly person in this community. Mary Grace Tassone is the true meaning of family. She teaches us by her example. She loves all of us and asks nothing in return.

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