It was Christmas Eve day as I stood in the Emergency Room of New Island Hospital. My mother was semi-comatose and suffering with Alzheimer's which was attacking the part of her brain that controlled the bodily functions. There were three doctors who had independently stated that she was terminally ill and would probably not be going home again. In an effort to stay composed I started to reflect about her life. Here were some of my thoughts. She had been born Oct. 27, 1918, to a father who was an Italian immigrant and a mother whose family had its roots here as far back as the colonial times. Neither parent was formally schooled. Her mother knew that it was essential that the next generation obtain a formal education. Therefore, even though it was the Great Depression, her mother hocked the furniture so that her daughter, Edith, could attend and graduate from Adelphi College as a Chemistry major (1940). After graduation, Edith had secured a position as a food chemist for Campbell's. Then she broke the sex barrier and became the first woman traffic manager of the US for the port of New York City.
After WWII Edith married Warren, whom she had known since elementary school. Upon waiting for five years she gave birth to me and a year later my sister arrived. She was truly a dedicated and a fabulous mother in every way. From my perspective she was the best in the world. She always maintained a mother was to be dedicated to her children, regardless of their age. As a result of this philosophy Edith would only take substitute teaching assignments (1958) in nearby districts until her children became teenagers. In 1964, a program that consisted of honors and AP Chemistry was offered to her by Levittown. She took the position since the chairman agreed that if my sister or I needed her she would be released instantly. After accepting the position her supervisor then suggested that she join STANYS (Science Teachers Association of New York State), which she did.
At this moment my cell phone rang. The call had an area code that I did not recognize so out of curiosity I answered it. It was a former student of my mother from 1968. Wow! I thought, Isn't that nice. This student cares about her teacher 40 years later. I then began to think about her teaching career. She taught in Levittown for 30 plus years and loved it. When she retired she continued teaching as an adjunct at some of the local colleges and universities. She always had an open door policy, at our home, for any of her students at anytime for any reason. Her involvement in education was very deep. She was a member of STANYS' Board of Directors, part of the executive board of South Nassau Section and then later Nassau. For many years she had been the director of the Long Island Science Congress for the Senior High Division and then later she was the coordinator for the entire Long Island Congress. In 1973 she co-chaired the New York State Science Congress in Brookhaven National Laboratory. Her involvement in the state included the Chemistry Writing Committee of the Chemistry Syllabus (1986) and many times wrote questions for the Regents. She had also been a member of the International Committee to Revise the Periodic Table. In addition to all of the above she had a 25 year involvement on the Nassau Science Explorations Committee.
At this point in time my mother was then transferred to a room in the hospital. When things settled down I began to think of the awards she had won over her long career. A few years ago, a former student had established a scholarship (in Levittown) to honor her beloved teacher, Mrs. Stillwaggon. The students had stated that very few people were as fortunate as she to have had such a caring and nurturing teacher. Other awards she received were Tomorrow's Scientists and Engineers Teacher Award (numerous times), Ford's Teacher Award from Future Scientists and about 10 years of Westinghouse winners. She had had as many as four winners in a year. Recently, the Edith M. Stillwaggon Scholarship Fund was established for a winner of the Long Island Science Congress in the field of Chemistry. The establishment of this scholarship surprised and pleased her enormously. Continuing with only some of her numerous awards she received the American Chemical Society Nichols Foundations Award for Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Manufacturing Chemists Association Regional High School Teacher of the Year Award, New York State Presidential nominee for Teacher of the Year, and the STANYS Service Award. She had had recognition from the Nassau Heart Association, Columbia Scholastic Press Association, NASA and National Science Teachers Association. Her most treasured award, however, was STANYS' Fellows Award which was presented to her in 1975.
By this time about 12 hours had passed and I was beginning to become resolved to the fact that I would be shortly losing my best friend/mother while an unimaginable number of former students, who had kept in contact with her over the past 50 years, would be losing their dedicated chemistry teacher. She had enjoyed teaching chemistry but had enjoyed teaching her students more, especially those from Levittown Division Avenue High School. And lastly, I believed the actively involved science teaching community would be losing a multi-faceted, caring and knowledgeable colleague.
On the night of Dec. 28, 2006 my mother, Edith M. Stillwaggon succumbed to ravages of Alzheimer's disease. I presently have a void in my life and I assume many of you who knew her will also miss her greatly.
Paula J. Stillwaggon