Monday, December 20, 2010

Trudy J. Sundberg: An Interview

Through the Years

It is impossible to "sum up" Trudy Sundberg, and I had thought this would be more a dialogue or conversation, but this morning I decided to make this about Trudy rather than my knowing Trudy in the 60s on Whidbey Island, Washington; however, having said that, I see I interjected myself in many of the questions. This is a blend, then.

Above: Trudy Sundberg as one of the first city lifeguards in Trenton, NJ in the early 40s. Her idol was Esther Williams. "Health is part of why I swim, but most of it is that I love to be in the water." Below: Trudy driving a 1925 Mercedes Benz Gazelle replica in a League of Women Voter's parade, Oak Harbor, Washington, c. 1990. Note about her swimming: In her 60s, she was the first person to swim 2,000 in a local pool. Right: Kay, self portrait, 12.10, shooting photographs out a car window.
Back to the 60s. My husband, Denny Weeks, was stationed at NAS Whidbey and I became involved in the Officer's Wives' Club...and immersed in political issues of the time and place. Our paths often crossed. Trudy's husband was John Sundberg and, of course, the men knew each other. Trudy is eleven years older than I am. I was in my late 20s, wrote poetry and painted--searching for self. My children were very young; in fact, one was born there. Everyone knew Trudy. She was living a "liberated" life before Betty Friedan told women that it was achievable and should be sought. Most of my friends had also attended a university; we had degrees, but were not working (no jobs there). We were serving our husbands and families; the men were frequently on deployment and so we waited. But Trudy did it all--she was a leader.

In brief, but this isn't, Trudy Sundberg was amazing, then, and still is--in her 80s. It is easier for me to say this now that so much time as passed, but I was in awe of her intelligence, energy and commitment to family and self, particularly at a stage in my own life when I was questing, but with largely unstated hopes, dreams, or goals. Some of us did get together and talk while our kids rode their Hot Wheels around the living room. We were not critical of ourselves or the times, as I recall.

Now, many years later and following my own 30-year career with the National Park Service in DC (historic preservation)--and five marathons; this is Marine Corps in 1984 and never a favorite distance--I have some perspective and can see that in many ways, Trudy and I have had parallel lives, that is, interests and energies. We were out of touch for years, but found each other online.

This is how I remember Trudy Sundberg looked when we knew each other on Whidbey Island--it was the era of the Beehive and the Beatles, and we both succumbed to the hair style. Men wore very narrow ties when not in uniform. Elsewhere, America was in in the midst of a social "revolution," but not on this Island. These are questions I posed to her by e-mail. May the conversation continue--as long as it possibly can. The simple legend Q=Question from Kay; A=Answer by Trudy.

Q1. KDW: I frequently say that "I want to be remembered in time." Some of my young artist friends nod in affirmation that it is what they want too. When you do what you do, which is daunting (see footnote), is that ever in the back of your mind?

A1. TJS: Actually, I want to be remembered in time by my children and grandchildren and the students who will always remember how much I loved them. However, I hope that anonymously my devotion to good, progressive, representative government will prevail. From the letters, presents and visits, it appears that I'll be remembered as an inspiring teacher... also an active Democratic innovator...Shakespeare lover...swimmer...avid reader.... and by my poetry recitations... Shakespeare, John Keats, Emily Dickinson, Edna St.Vincent Millay... Willian Blake... Wordsworth.. I could go on....

Q2. KDW:
During my own childhood , my parents provided latitude to attend every church with various friends. I did, and finally concluded that institutional religion was likely not for me, but some other kind of spirituality of my own creation. To you, this comment/question: Religion seems to pull people apart, cause wars, violence. Also, most religions underscore our human need to acknowledge a kinder, gentler heaven, and a father-like deity of some sort. Did you grow up with religion? How has it affected your life choices?

A2. TJS:
My father was a Baptist; my mother was from a Catholic family but joined the Methodist Church. When our family moved from Ohio to New Jersey, we all joined the Baptist Church in Trenton. In college I met Unitarians whom I found inspiring. John was from a Lutheran family. We were married in Champagne, Ill.,U of I Campus Presbyterian Church. My kids went to Unitarian SS. Through the years I have evolved from being Baptised in Church to a Unitarian, Agnostic, Atheist, and now Humanist.

Q3. KDW: I know you to be hard-charging and organized, on top of things--in control. When are you soft, if you understand what I mean and do not feel put off by the question? I mean what kinds of things make you let go. For me, clouds, birds, the ocean sound. And, for you?

A3. TJS: Swimming, listening to classical music, Sinatra, Netflix, gardening, reading poetry.
Q4. KDW: I am looking for areas of commonality here, and know there are quite a few. My husband, Denny Weeks, said he could talk all day (TJS: I have fond memories of Denny) to you, and of course, I was jealous of that. Most of the officer's wives were jealous of the fact that you were working (as a school teacher, and had your own money and your own car!) But I digress. Here is a specific question: I hated that beehive hairdo (see our pics) because it was lacquered and rigid and looked like a dome. When I got home from Vera's in Penn Cove, I tore at it with a comb. Having someone make me look like a caricature rubbed me the wrong way, yet I conformed. What did you think of that style and were you glad to say goodbye to it? Did you think anything about it one way or another?

A4. TJS: One of my biggest sins is vanity. (I associate it with the 4th Deadly Sin, Pride). I plead guilty, but with aging, have become much less vain and almost completely indifferent to fashion. I still like clothes from Nordstrom, and still have several Adolfo suits that I treasure. My Polymyalgia Rheumatic and curvature limit some of my best dresses. Clothes: My family was poor during the Depression years. I was in Trenton High School from 1968-1972. Before entering Miami U, Oxford Ohio, I designed all of my clothes... skirts, jackets, dresses, suits and did housework and gardening for a gifted seamstress, who was our neighbor. Someday, you might want to see those pictures.

Q5. KDW: I know you swim each morning. When doing laps what do you think about?

A5. TJS: Good question! I do my best laps when I am planning the day, making mental lists, remembering lyrics of old old songs... and.... reciting poetry.

Q6. KDW: I know the house and garden are an extension and symbol of your long and happy marriage to John Sundberg, who passed away six years ago. Trudy, I never knew him, but thought he was incredibly handsome, and seemed to be strong and quiet. Tell me about the flowers and your new project that you are sharing with your family today, please?

A6: TJS:
It is impossible for me to describe John without sounding hyperbolic. On November 6, my family got together in Kismet (name of our house that John Built) for the reincarnation of "Back to the Future." In this "Back to the Future " exhibit, I have one box with the sticker..."diaries available to the public for the first time." John was a highly evolved human being. (Hard for me to describe in a few words.) Handsome, modest, high IQ to match his high character values. He loved cooking, did the big turkey dinner every thanksgiving and Chrismas, was modest, lover of and hunting. Loved flying and also his fishing boat. We were crazy about each other.

Q7. KDW: One of your students, David, helps you now. Of all your students (consider Virginia and Washingon State) did you have ONE in particular who blossomed, soared really high? Perhaps unexpectedly?

A7. TJS:
It depends on what you mean by "soared really high." I don't know of any who became famous, but several who have contributed much in academia, Naval Academy, journalism, political strategies, FBI, art, and jurisprudence. I have boxes of thank you and appreciation letters from students who give me great joy when they express themselves... such as.... "I now love books... I now write poetry.... I now am active in drama......every time I hear a Shakespearean quotation I think of you." These "grass roots" expressions are my immortality.
Trudy Sundberg - Footnote of current activities:

Here are some of the things that consume my time and take priority.A. Because I have Polymalgia Rheumatica , I swim 5 days a week to keep it under control. (time. up at 4 a.m. small breakfast, leave home at 5:30 and arrive at pool at 5:45 to get there before the Navy. Swim 45 minutes free style & back.

B. Book group.... Ex Libris .. I am an avid reader. Founder of this group.

C. Discssion group Pandorans. I founded the group 35 years ago and it is still operating.

D. Esoterics... started this one also... primarily philosophy, poetry the classics.

E. Good Government and Political issues. I am the founder of the Whidbey Island Democratic Club.

F. My husband died 6 years ago... I love the home he built for us. I manage garden with help of David, a former student... and my wonderful PI, Monica.

H. I was the president of the League of Women Voters for 3 terms and am still active.

BUT NOW... let's talk about Whidbey Island's AAUW. I think I am a charter member. I admire everything about the AAUW and many of my close friends are members. Your programs are varied and valuable. There is something for everybody and events are always very well organized. Highly respected in the community. You might be interested to know that in 1942 in Trenton, N.J. I was the proud recipient of an AAUW Scholarship in the amount of $300. That was a huge amount in those years emerging from the Depression. (I have tried in many ways to reciprocate their generosity and trust in me.)

Teaching has been one of the everlasting joys of my life. But that is another big chapter.

Blog Content: Kay Weeks and Trudy Sundberg
Photos: Trudy Sundberg, Jose Reyes, Kay Weeks


Anonymous said...

Hi Kay — I just read “A Walk in the Past,” which really was a walk in the past for me. Especially interesting, having known both of you during some of those Whidbey days you covered. (I never succumbed to the beehive, tho Vera tried to convince me to let her do one.)

Mary Berglund
St. Petersburg, FL

Anonymous said...

looking forward to seeing you again - great interview!

cindi ryland
ellicott city, md

Anonymous said...

Was that second portrait you? or her? Didn't see a resemblance to your friend, so it must be you!

I wonder whether she knows a former co-worker of mine in Norway who lives on Whidbey Island.

Ruth Rossin
Roanoke, VA

Mark said...

Mrs. Sundburg was an english teacher of mine when I attended Oak Harbor High school back in 1980. She was an inspiration to me even though I was never really good with english. One very special time I remember fondly was when she had hired myself and another friend to do some work for her at the home she and her husband built that over looked Oak Harbor. The beautiful home very much reflected the wonderful people who lived there.