Larraine Matusak Oral History Interview


Part one

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SCARPINO: Today is March 3, 2016. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI); and, Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for the Study of Leadership Excellence, also at IUPUI. I am interviewing Dr. Larraine Matusak, at her home in Sun City, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. This interview is a joint venture undertaken by the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association.

We will include a more detailed biographical summary with the transcript of this interview; for now I will provide an abbreviated overview of Dr. Matusak’s career.

Larraine Matusak has had a long career as a practitioner, promoter, funder, and scholar of leadership.

She earned her PhD in higher education administration from the Fielding Institute, Santa Barbara, California, in 1975.

An important component of her career consisted of a series of positions that allowed her to break new ground in higher education.

1968–1974, she taught Natural Sciences and developed the Adult Alternative Baccalaureate Degree Program to address the needs of underserved students at the University of Minnesota.

1974–1979, she served as the first Dean and founder of the College of Alternative Programs at the University of Evansville, in Evansville, Indiana, focused on adult learning and continuing education.

1979–1982, she was the second president of Thomas A. Edison State College of New Jersey, an innovative institution dedicated to serving mid-career adults.

1982–1996, she was recruited for and accepted an executive positon at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. She served as a program officer and leadership scholar. She directed and augmented the Kellogg National Fellowship Program; she was responsible for all grant making in the area of leadership; and she served as the foundation’s the first Leadership Scholar.

She was both the founder and funder of the Kellogg Leadership Scholars Program (KLSP), which brought together scholars and practitioners of leadership. She played a pivotal role in funding the process that produced the International Leadership Association.

1996–2010, she served as a Senior Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership and as a trustee of the International Leadership Association.

She was President of the consulting firm, LARCON Associates, which she started in about 1996.

Dr. Matusak was one of the original board members of the Council for Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL), which was founded in 1974.

She is the author or editor of several publications, among the most significant of which is Finding Your Voice: Learning to Lead . . . Anywhere You Want to Make a Difference (1996).

She has earned numerous awards and recognitions including, in 1996, the International Morris T. Keeton Award which recognized her contributions in adult learning and leadership, presented by the Council for Adult Experiential Learning, which she helped to create.

In 2006, she was inducted into the International Adult Continuing Education Hall of Fame.

She has received several honorary degrees including Marietta College, Central Michigan University, University of Southern Indiana, and Union Institute and University.

And, of course, she is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the International Leadership Association.

So, with all that as background, I would like to ask your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview, to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives where they may be used by patrons which might include posting all or part of the recording and transcription to the website of the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives.

And also to deposit the recording and transcription with the International Leadership Association and the Tobias Center where they may also be used by patrons and with the understanding that all or part may be posted to those organizations’ websites.

So, can I have your permission to do all that?

MATUSAK: Yes, you certainly have.

SCARPINO: So as I said when we had the recorder off, I’m going to start by explaining for the sake of anyone using this interview that I’m going to ask a few basic questions about your childhood just to get some demographic information in the record.

I am going to follow those basic questions by asking you some in-depth questions about your youth and young adulthood, aimed at providing users of this interview insight into the big-picture question: Who is Larraine Matusak?

After that I have some broad questions for you and then when we are done with those questions, we are going to work our way more or less chronologically through your career, with plenty of discussion about leadership.

I’m going to point out that part of the fun of doing this is that we can have a plan, but we don’t always end up where the plan says we’re going. So we’ll see how this turns out.

So, let’s start with the basic demographic questions. When and where were you born?

MATUSAK: I was born in Chicago, July 22, 1930.

SCARPINO: Where did you grow up?

MATUSAK: Chicago.

SCARPINO: Any particular part of Chicago?

MATUSAK: Southwest side. I was a back-of-the-yards kid. I was a poor kid who didn’t know I was poor.

SCARPINO: That’s probably a good thing. Did you have any brothers and sisters?

MATUSAK: One sister, and she died in 1979.

SCARPINO: And her name was?


SCARPINO: Who were your parents?

MATUSAK: My parents were Rose and Ted; Ted Matusak, and my dad worked at Armour’s. I still have a scale that he had from Armour’s; I put plants on it. We hang it up in the summertime. My mother worked part-time but mostly she was at home raising the kids.

SCARPINO: So, my first question is kind of a fishing question. It’s like throwing the net in the water to see what comes back when you pull it into the boat. So it requires a little bit of a setup.

In October of 2011, I interviewed Manfred Kets De Vries at the ILA Meeting in London. In getting ready for that, I read an article that he published titled “The Leadership Mystique,” and I was really struck by something that he said in that article. I’m going to read a couple of lines for the benefit of the users and for you. This is what he said: “All of us possess some kind of inner theater and are strongly motivated by a specific inner script. Over time, through interactions with caretakers, teachers, and other influential people, this inner theater develops. Our inner theater, in which the patterns that underlie our character come into play, influences our behavior throughout our lives and plays an essential role in the molding of leaders.”

So, here’s the question. If we use Kets De Vries’ term, the “inner theater,” can you tell me about your “inner theater,” about activities or events that happened when you were young that influenced the person and the leader that you became?

MATUSAK: Yeah, I sure can. The one that I probably want to stress is, we had a little cottage and it was always known as the “Matusak Oasis” in the neighborhood because everything was two-story homes, flats, as they were called, but we had a little cottage in the back and a huge garden. But every day when I came home from school, I loved to study; I was an excellent student and I loved to study. The house was always full of women when I came home and my mother had this group together and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I couldn’t study and it made me very upset. So I said to my dad one day, “Dad, why does she do this?” Both of my parents had—I don’t know about my dad, but my mother had only an eighth grade education. And he said “Larraine, your mother believes that God gave everybody a gift and they don’t even bother to open it and use it, and she’s helping them find their gifts.” Well, it didn’t mean a lot me then, but it meant more and more as I grew and matured and became a professional. And what she was was a community organizer without a title. She was always the one who was, “Mrs. So-and-So is sick; you bring the soup, you wash the curtains, you go to the grocery store,” etc., and that care of people, loving people, and finding out what’s the reality of each person and what they have to offer I think came from that. It started there and it grew. That was the seed.

SCARPINO: What about your dad?

MATUSAK: My dad was Mr. Silent; wonderful, patient, enduring. My mother had a hot temper. My dad would go for a long walk when she had a temper fit, and when he’d come home, he’d throw in his hat and say “Is it safe now?” and we’d all laugh.

SCARPINO: So, opposites attracted in that case.

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right. I would spend many hours sitting on the yard swing—remember the old yard swings where you have two seats that face each other?—with my dad, never saying a whole lot, but when I made my plans to enter the convent, that’s where I broke the news, on the swing.

SCARPINO: Matusak—Eastern European?



MATUSAK: Well, my dad, I believe was Czech; my mother was Slovak. So, Czechoslovakia.

SCARPINO: Were they first generation?

MATUSAK: My dad came from Europe when he was about three years old and then went back again. My mother never was in Europe. She was born in Joliet, Illinois.

SCARPINO: So, your father worked for Armour, you grew up in basically an Eastern European neighborhood, and mostly Catholic?

MATUSAK: Yes. Absolutely.

SCARPINO: What was it like growing up in that neighborhood? What do you remember about that?

MATUSAK: I remember that it was like one big family. We were just talking about that the other day. The neighborhoods, you knew everybody and everybody knew you. If I did something I wasn’t supposed to do three blocks away from home, when I got home, they knew it and I got it.

SCARPINO: I had that experience.

MATUSAK: You did?

SCARPINO: Yes, I did.

MATUSAK: You could walk anywhere, there wasn’t any fear, we all played outside and in fact, around Eastertime, which is now of course, but during Holy Week, we could walk to nine or ten churches in a short time because you had the Slovak church, the Czech church, the Polish church, the Russian church was two blocks away, the Irish church. You walked to the churches and made your visits and it was kind of a novena. Carrying your Easter baskets was the biggest thing. It was who had the most beautiful cover on the Easter basket. It was a lovely neighborhood and it was a fun place to grow up.

SCARPINO: So each of the European groups had their own Catholic church?

MATUSAK: Yes, yes.

SCARPINO: Have any of them survived, do you know?

MATUSAK: You know, I don’t think any of them except the Irish church, St. Basil’s on Garfield Boulevard, still exist. The others exist, but I don’t know if there’s any membership or anything. It’s been so long—the last time I was back there, I went to visit my aunt and the neighborhood was in shambles. You have to say reality, I don’t care if it’s recorded, but the southern blacks had moved in and in fact, I’ll say this, you’re talking about a plan that gets interjected, this is getting interjected. My aunt stayed in her home stubbornly like a great oak tree for 40 years and her sons were tired of pulling bullets out of the doorway. Her neighbor mugged her twice. This is a woman with a quadruple bypass and then they killed her dog and threw it over the fence. So she came to live with me in Battle Creek for a whole year, but that was the hardest thing she ever had to do.

SCARPINO: To move from the old neighborhood.

MATUSAK: Yes, yeah.

SCARPINO: What kind of an impact did growing up in that Eastern European culture have on you as you became an adult?

MATUSAK: You know, I never learned the language, which is terrible. I understand it. I understand all the languages because my mother used say she spoke [inaudible], which meant “a little bit of everything” because she got along with everybody. And so I could understand what they were saying, but I resented it and so I refused to speak it. The cooking, the care for people, the fun, the dancing, the laughter, that was all part of the European. We’d close off the street and have a dance. I’d play my accordion, my uncle played the drums, and we had a party. It was fun.

SCARPINO: So, you grew up in a working class family.


SCARPINO: How did that shape your…

MATUSAK: I grew up in a working class family and I wanted to go a Catholic high school. I went to Catholic grade school. My parents could not afford to send me to a Catholic high school, but I found one that I could walk to, it was 14 blocks, but I could walk to school, and I decided I’m going to work. Now remember, this was war years. I was 13 years old, so I upswept my hair and I put makeup on and they were hiring everybody and anybody. So you name the place, and I worked there. I worked at Wrigley Spearmint, I worked at the meatpacking company, I worked at Goldblatt’s, I worked everywhere. And within a month or two they’d say, “Where’s your birth certificate? How old are you?” and I’d say, “I forgot it.” Then I’d get laid off.

SCARPINO: Did you have to go to confession for that one?

MATUSAK: Yes, and then I’d have to go get another job. That too, I think helped in the shaping of me. I knew what I didn’t want to do. The meatpacking plant, Phil, was a real shock to my little 13-year-old body because they put me at the top of a conveyer belt where the cans would—they were packing cans for Russia, meat. They would come down through the bin with roaches and everything else—the cans—and I’d have to pick up the hot cans, put them on the conveyer belt, and the women at the bottom were packing them and screaming at me because they got piecework. I got 52 cents an hour. I’d come home bloody and dirty and crying and tired. My mother and dad would say, “You can go to Lindblom High.” I said, “No, I won’t; I’m going to the Catholic high school.” And I did. I made it through the high school, paid my way the whole way, and learned a lot about people of all levels, knew what I didn’t want to do, and loved music. That was my first love, music, and went to St. Joseph’s High School.

SCARPINO: Goldblatt’s, what is that?

MATUSAK: Big huge department store.

SCARPINO: Well, that’s quite a range of activity; the packing house, the chewing gum manufacturer.

MATUSAK: And Salerno butter cookies. Wherever I could get a job, I got a job. One place that I loved was working for the—it was a place where they were developing the war bonds. I was very precise at what I did, and so they had me doing all of the so-called shearing of the war bonds. We would go up on the second floor and talk about technology and today, Phil, compared to then, you’re bringing back memories. They would have this whole line of pens on these metal things all the way across a room and these pens would sign the signatures on the war bonds. It was a fascinating job. I enjoyed it.

SCARPINO: And so your job was to take these big sheets of war bonds and then cut them up into the individual bonds.

MATUSAK: Right, right and precisely, precisely.

SCARPINO: Other than your parents, were there any other adults in the neighborhood that had an impact on shaping the person you became?

MATUSAK: Not in the neighborhood. Father Ambrose at the grade school—he was the assistant pastor—he had a great influence on me, and a couple of the nuns did. I remember that in my sixth grade, Sister Florence, I was carrying a red wagon from the library with all the books of poetry and Edgar Allan Poe, and Frost, etc. because she so inspired me to read and to really reach for something bigger. Yeah, the nuns did. And the nuns in the high school that I went to were a very, very great impression on me. My voice teacher had been a concert pianist across the world and she was remarkable. I had a PhD science teacher in high school, and she too was amazing, just absolutely amazing. So I think that the nuns and the priest had a great deal of influence on me.

SCARPINO: When you were growing up, I mean it was obvious that you were smart. You were willing to work hard, you were willing to do whatever it took to get a job done. What did you think a young woman who was smart and willing to work hard could be?

MATUSAK: Anything.

SCARPINO: You believed that?

MATUSAK: I really believed that I could do anything, yes, that I could go anyplace or do anything. And then what happened in high school, which was pretty remarkable I think, is that in my senior year, well, I had one of the leads in the play which was an opera instead of just the operetta. And then there was a contest that was put on by what was then known as the Civic Opera, which is now the Opera House in Chicago. Tony, who was my boyfriend but he was also a vocalist, we sang the Indian Love Song in the competition, and we won. We won. I don’t think I knew then what a great win that was, but my dad was very proud and so was my mother, and the offshoot of that was to sing with the Civic.

SCARPINO: So you had a chance to sing with them?

MATUSAK: Yes, yes. It was just an amazing opportunity and I was 18 and the whole world seemed to be my field, and I had a scholarship to Mundelein.

SCARPINO: Mundelein?


SCARPINO: Which is a…

MATUSAK: College. Catholic College in Chicago, in music. But again, go back to those nuns, there was one in particular, the Benedictine—look at the Benedictines and the Felicians. The Felicians taught me in high school and I admire them to this day, but there was something missing in them that I didn’t see that I saw in the Benedictines, which was the care of people, the real care of people, and to reach out beyond where they were to make a difference in peoples’ lives. There was a nun there that really, really was brilliant, this woman, as I knew more and more. Mathematics for her was like eating an apple. She was just brilliant; trigonometry, all of the math. But, she would take a break because she had to shovel coal to keep the furnace going, keep the kids warm. That really, really impressed me and so that’s when I made up my mind; what I was going to do was go someplace where I could really make a difference. I thought it through; I thought about marriage. I always wanted to have nine kids if I got married. I wanted a full baseball team! (Laughing) That was my thought then, you know. Because I’d get off the bus, 10 cents for a streetcar—it wasn’t a bus—and all the kids in the neighborhood would come running to me. I loved kids, I still do. I don’t like little kids now; now I love teenagers and I love teenagers who are not where they’re supposed to be, and I love working with them.

SCARPINO: I raised a few of those! (Laughing)

MATUSAK: I love working with them. They’re just so malleable and wonderful and you can really help make a difference. I’m going all over the board, but I’m trying to answer your question.

SCARPINO: No, that’s fine. I was actually going to ask you how you settled on the Benedictines, and it was the woman, the role model, and what they represented.

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right.

SCARPINO: You mentioned singing and you won the competition and you actually sang with the Chicago Lyric Opera. I understand from talking to some of your friends that you had the opportunity to be a part of the Chicago Lyric Opera when you graduated from high school. So, you turned that down to join the Benedictines.

MATUSAK: Yes I did, yes I did. And that was with spiritual direction. I really talked it through. I did the either/or, you know, do you or don’t you? Why? What’s the difference, etc.? I wanted to make a difference, and I felt I could make a difference by being a Benedictine.

SCARPINO: Did you give up singing completely?

MATUSAK: No. Except when I entered the convent, I’ll never ever forget that. There you are, you’re kind of nervous as a cat because you’re giving up everything and you’re leaving home now. My parents did not want me to go to the convent.

SCARPINO: Where was the convent?

MATUSAK: In Lisle, Illinois—L I S L E—it’s right near, what? Naperville.

SCARPINO: Okay, I know where Naperville is.

MATUSAK: There’s a big convent there still. The community has dwindled to probably 30 people. There were 200 then. But anyway, what did you ask me?

SCARPINO: I asked you just where the convent was.

MATUSAK: Okay. Anyway, there I was and the Reverend Mother met me to accept me. Her final words to me after all the warm greetings, etc., “Remember, you’re not a diva here.” (Laughing)

SCARPINO: So she knew you’d been a singer in the opera.

MATUSAK: Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Those were her words. In the convent we had the Divine Office and singing several times a day, and yeah, I used my voice there. And then later on, after I had been a novitiate and then vows, etc., I played the organ for masses at churches and taught music in schools, etc.

SCARPINO: You also mentioned that you played the accordion as a teenager.

MATUSAK: Oh, yes.

SCARPINO: So where did you learn to play the organ?

MATUSAK: Well, I learned to play the organ in the convent. And the piano I learned as a kid. Here again, this will give you a little bit of my personality, I guess. The nun promised me—I think I was a fourth grader—that she would not put the telephone books on the piano seat for the recital. She would not do that to me. It was at St. Michael’s School where I went to school, and she put the phone books on that stool and I sat in it and my mother says I played like a hellion and I marched to the end of the stage and said “and now I quit.” And I refused to go for any more lessons.

SCARPINO: Well, she told you she wouldn’t put the books on the bench.

MATUSAK: That’s right.

SCARPINO: So, the next question I’m going to ask you, you already sort of brought it up. One of the sources that I read in getting ready for this interview was by Diane Dickey, called “Creative Native,” 2000, and she has that quote from your mother that “God has given everyone a gift and most people never take the time to open it.” So, what gift did God give you?

MATUSAK: That’s a hard one. But I think, first of all, I want to say He gave me intelligence, that’s the number one gift, but my second gift from God is the ability to bring people together, even people of very, very different persuasions. Sometimes I don’t know how I do it, but I get it done. Probably it’s patience, it’s loving, caring and hearing, listening; listening and hearing to what people are saying and show them that they are more alike than they are different. I think that’s a gift.

SCARPINO: Do you think that listening is a quality of an effective leader?

MATUSAK: Critical, critical. I think it’s the quality of an effective leader. I think it’s the quality of a good doctor, which they rarely do is listen.

SCARPINO: That’s true.

MATUSAK: Yeah, I believe it is critical. I think it’s critical in every position.

SCARPINO: So, what your mom said in this quote is that most people never take the time to open it, so how did you recognize the gifts?

MATUSAK: I think other people recognized them before I ever did. I would always be reaching out to help somebody, someplace, some group and realize that by what I was doing I was really making a difference and it was using the gifts that I had. And people would tell me, “You have a gift, you’re charismatic, you’re a listener, you’re a leader.” I was so busy doing it, I never bothered… what do they mean? What is leadership?—until I got to the foundation, that’s the first time. I never looked for a job. I was so blessed. I mean, I worked at the University of Minnesota after I left the Community. I was working on a degree. I had a grant at the University of Minnesota and was given a position of Assistant Professor. And then I got a phone call—because I was working with a group of students that I felt had high potential to succeed, but were being put into ticky tacky boxes by the university. Sorry, but that’s what we do in universities.

SCARPINO: That’s right. That’s exactly what we do.

MATUSAK: I started working with students and had them put their own boxes together, always being sure they got their English, and being sure they got their science, etc., but they would put together a package and, guess what? Kids who were failing were graduating. The College of Liberal Arts, we beat them with graduation rates because I put together that program, which was an alternative baccalaureate program, fighting for those kids who would have flunked out.

SCARPINO: And you were in the College of General Studies?


SCARPINO: I want to ask you one more question about singing before it gets away from me. It’s only tangentially related to singing. As a teenager, you had experience as a performer, right? Up on the stage, you had to do this. So, later on in your life, when you became a teacher and an executive at the Kellogg Foundation, did that ability to perform carry over into teaching and running meetings and facilitating?

MATUSAK: Oh yes, oh yes, very much so. I love a podium. I love a stage. I just relax and I love public speaking, which has been a great benefit for me as well, yeah.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a few big picture questions related to leadership because the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association want to hear about this. So, let’s just start with the big one; how do you define leadership?

MATUSAK: Well, you know, it’s very simple. For me, leadership is getting good things done with the help of others. And you don’t do it yourself, because if you think you can lead all by yourself, look around, nobody’s behind you, you’re not leading. You’re leading yourself into a pit. But that to me is very simple leadership. So, if you can wave a baton and get a group of six, ten, twenty, forty people to move toward doing something good, that’s leadership. You don’t have to do it yourself.

SCARPINO: When did you figure out that that was leadership?

MATUSAK: You know, as I said, I never thought about it. I was too busy doing it until I got to the Kellogg Foundation. There, the Executive Director, Russ Mawby at the time, had a leadership program in place that he was going to abolish because it just wasn’t successful. Three groups had been selected, they all still had years to go, but they were floundering. I didn’t know that when I first took the job.

SCARPINO: (Laughing) That’s the stuff you find out after you take the job.

MATUSAK: Exactly, exactly, exactly. But then I realized that even the word leadership was negative to these groups. They hated it. They thought they were just getting money to do what they wanted to do, because no one had any direction for that program. So I sat down and started working with it and designed a whole different approach to it and took it to Russ Mawby and his first response was “No,” because he had designed the first one. But his first response was no, and so we went on and on and we argued a bit and finally I said to him, “Okay, you’re the boss, but I’m the expert, so what do we do?” And nobody had ever said anything like that to him before I don’t think. And he said, “Well, one, two, three,” and I said, “Okay, fine, we can do that.” And we began. He didn’t accept that we needed a CCL or that we needed an Outward Bound.


MATUSAK: Center for Creative Leadership. Because you know, Phil, the one thing that I was finding is that people do not know themselves. They don’t know what their gift is, as my mother said, but they just don’t know themselves. I’ll give you an example. One of the women that we had on the Advisory Committee who became a Fellow, they have to go through what the Fellows go through, we sent them to CCL. She was a Vice President at Johnson and Johnson.

SCARPINO: I talked to her.

MATUSAK: Yeah. And after she saw herself on the video, she said, like this—you’d have to know Rita—“Oh, my God! Now I know why all the guys get so mad at me at meetings!” A professional—so all these Fellows we had who were in their 30s who thought they were God’s gift to mankind had no idea how, who they really were and how they came across. And it was a constant revelation. I can go at one after the other of people who—the Native American who is now at the Kellogg Foundation going up the mountain on Outward Bound and she was stuck and then suddenly everybody is cheering her on from both ends and she’s “I’m not going to put up with a drunken husband anymore!” And she went up that hill and saying everything she had to do and realized she could do it! And she’s an exec at the foundation now.

SCARPINO: We’re going to talk about Kellogg in considerable detail, but because you’ve mentioned it a couple of times, Outward Bound is a sort of boot camp-like challenging outdoor experience for people to sort of push them to their limits kind of thing.

MATUSAK: Exactly, exactly.

SCARPINO: And that was a part of your—you worked with Outward Bound.

MATUSAK: Right. Well, we worked with Outward Bound to give us a week for the Fellows. The Fellowship Program, each Fellow had to attend two seminars a year for three years, and they had to develop a learning plan, and that plan was a leadership learning plan. It could be in anything they wanted, but it could not be in the discipline in which they were trained, if they had a discipline. And it brought some amazing results.

SCARPINO: Do you think of yourself as a leader at this point in your life?

MATUSAK: You know, I do and I don’t. Yeah, I do—I mean it hit me really hard in Barcelona that when I told them I had read their book—have you read what I wrote, what I said at Barcelona?

SCARPINO: Yeah, Carol sent it to me in October or whenever that was, yeah.

MATUSAK: Okay, yeah, well, I said to them “I read half of your book, Leadership 2050, and none of you are addressing the problems of leadership today.” And I told them what the three problems were. I got a standing ovation from over a thousand people.

SCARPINO: Why don’t we put that in the record? What did you tell them the three problems were?

MATUSAK: Okay. Well, the number one that I said was greed. You think about China, and you think about Russia, and what’s going on in the world, that’s greed. If we don’t face greed in some way and understand the interdependence of all of us on everybody and everything, that’s not leadership. Secondly, the second thing I said was anger and hatred. There’s more anger and hatred in this world than I want to face every day. Turn on the TV; it’s awful. And third, take this as a broad definition now—is ignorance—because ignorance evolves into very, very protectiveness of myself and it ends up as arrogance. We have a perfect example of that in our presidential race. It’s ignorance, it’s all of the above. So those three things, in my mind—what we’re having so much taking over our leadership programs is management, and we have enough management organizations. I don’t want to teach people how to run a meeting. I don’t want to teach people how to become an executive. They have to learn to lead and you can lead on every level, and we’re not doing that.

SCARPINO: So, what do you think your signature qualities are as a leader?

MATUSAK: Signature qualities?

SCARPINO: What makes you stand out? I know that’s hard, it’s self-reflection, but that’s what you did to all those Fellows. (Laughing)

MATUSAK: It is. I know. Well, as I said, my signature quality probably is the ability to listen and then to bring together what I’ve listened to and make people realize you’re more alike than you’re different. I’ve been told that a thousand times, that I have that ability. We’ll sit at a meeting, ILA meeting, and listen all around the table. You’ve got to be listening. And then I’ll say something and they’ll say, “Well yeah, yeah, that’s more clear.” “Well, I just repeated what all of you said, but put it together in a different way.” Yeah, I guess listening, but not just listening; it’s listening and then able to pull out the heart of the issues and put them together.

SCARPINO: As you were talking, something kind of popped into my head and I’m going to see where we go with this. When you entered the convent, one of the terms that sometimes gets used for organizations of nuns is a cloister, right?


SCARPINO: And the implication of that, and I don’t mean this in any pejorative way at all, is inward-looking, you know, isolated from the world. You spent 19 years as a sister. How did you come out of that experience with the ability to listen and pull people together and put points on the horizon for them to march toward?

MATUSAK: Well, first of all, I wasn’t in a cloister. It was the Benedictine Community. So therefore, I was 22 years old and I was building a school in Texas.

SCARPINO: San Antonio?

MATUSAK: No, Fort Worth. White Settlement to be exact. When I say that, that’s the other thing that you learn in a convent—you can do anything because God will help you. So there was nothing I couldn’t do. And did I ever build a school before? Hell no! And I discovered the realities of it, but I did it and was successful with it. That’s why I said I was leading and I didn’t know I was leading because I was doing it, but being the principal of a school in Cicero, Illinois, where the pastor was absolutely hopeless, and making that a successful school, being a Benedictine means reaching out to the people. Being in Texas where you walk the street with the habit and kids were screaming, “Mommy, Mommy, witches, witches!” because you were in black. But it was not a cloistered existence. I learned a great deal about how to—I also use one word—manipulate—to get what I wanted. There’s a way to get what you wanted.

SCARPINO: Well, if you’re going to build a school and you don’t know how to do it, you’ve got to manipulate something.

MATUSAK: Exactly, exactly. Or in the parish, where the pastor refused to turn on the heat, and we had a huge school in Cicero, Holy Mount, it was a big school. Everybody said, “Oh you can’t do anything, you know, he’s old and he’s been there forever.” And I just lined the kids up and said, “You’re going home, it’s too cold to be in school.” He came racing out of the rectory, “What’s going on?” because the children are marching in line. I said, “We’re all going home because you won’t turn the heat on.” He turned on the heat. I was the principal there, and I was young and I was playing three masses a day and teaching music and teaching the eighth grade and being the principal. And you can do all those things, because God will help you.

SCARPINO: So if you’re doing three masses a day, one of those is at the crack of dawn, right?


SCARPINO: So that’s when your day started.

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right. It always did anyway. At 5 o’clock you were up in the convent. The big difference in the Catholic schools then and now, I think, was that when we got home from school—we prayed and all—you sat at the recreation table in the evenings from 7:00 to 8:00 and everybody was sharing. “You had so-and-so, you had Phil’s sister, was she like this?” blah, blah, blah. You learned a lot about the kids in school and what others were doing in their classrooms because your life was dedicated to God and those kids. You can’t have that when you’re a married person. So we had a different kind of existence, I think, but it wasn’t cloistered.

SCARPINO: I’d like to say for the record, I knew that, but I was trying to draw you out. (Laughing) Make a little transparency here. So, I’ve read some of the things, not everything, but some of the things that you’ve written about leadership and quite a bit that’s been written about you. For example, you said in the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance Blog, which was your first blogging attempt, May 19, 2009, you said, “I define leadership as the ability and passion to attain positive results by encouraging others and by working with and through others to achieve a common good. From my perspective, true leaders are courageous people. They’re not afraid to take a risk and they don’t waste much time worrying about what other people might think of them.” So, it seems to me that that definition is a pretty good summary of your career.

MATUSAK: Yes, right.


MATUSAK: I guess I have to admit that. Yes.


MATUSAK: You know, but somebody always recognized something, Phil. As I said, I never looked for a job. When I got the job at the University of Minnesota and then I got a phone call from Indiana from the Vice President there saying that he had a bunch of fuddy-duddies for deans and he wanted a new college created and he’d like me to come and do it. He had heard about the alternative baccalaureate. I said, “No, thank you. I love what I’m doing here. I love teaching.” And I still do, Phil. I love teaching. And I’m happy. I got an airline ticket in the mail to go to the University of Evansville, Indiana. I took the ticket to my boss and he looked at me and he looked at it and he said “Go.” I did, and I got that job.

SCARPINO: Flying into Evansville must have been some trick in those days.

MATUSAK: It was, it was, and having the interview was a real trick too, but I don’t know if you want to hear about that.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you about that in a few minutes. Your definition, does effective leadership begin with somebody who has a vision or insight of the common good?

MATUSAK: Yes, yes, I mean we can use the word vision, but it makes people nervous. But having some insight and concern for the common good is the really important thing. And if I’m concerned about the common good, I’m going to have a vision on how to make it better.

SCARPINO: So, how do we know what serves the common good?

MATUSAK: How do you know what serves the common good? If what you’re thinking about doing is going to selfishly only reward only a handful of people who are already rewarded with everything they need, that to me is not the common good. The common good, and I’m not being socialist in my thinking, but the common good is actions that will help facilitate the improvement of people on all levels, not just one segment.


MATUSAK: For example, in the award that I have set up with KFLA, Courageous Leadership Award, the first receiver of that reward was a judge from the Louisiana/New Orleans area. He worked with teenagers and he said he could no longer tolerate the way the law treated teenagers and he took off his robe and said “Keep it” and he’s working—gave up his judgeship. That’s courageous leadership because he wanted to work for the common good of these kids, not condemn them.

SCARPINO: How do you go about encouraging others, or working with and through others? You mentioned the presidential race and, you know, Congress, I mean that seems to be an increasingly difficult thing to do.

MATUSAK: It is, it is. But you know, when working with the Fellows, again here’s my gift—somehow or other my caring, my love, my listening—that’s what they tell me—inspires them. And they worked well and hard and were very, very successful, and that seems what I do to people. And I don’t want to do anything to people, I want to do it with them, but this is what they will tell me, even here in Sun City, and it always amazes me.

SCARPINO: Because you are active in the local community here?

MATUSAK: Yes, this is a neighborhood. That was another reason I didn’t want to be outside. It’s an amazing neighborhood as far as I’m concerned. Now, people say that I’m responsible for some of that, and I say I don’t know how, but we get together, we have parties all the time. Sixteen of us women get together and go to lunch once a month and I missed the lunch because I was really not feeling well last week and Connie went to the lunch. That afternoon, I had a woman come with a walker and another woman come—they all ended up here saying, “We missed you at lunch.” What is that, Phil?

SCARPINO: Well, part of what it is, is that you are your mother.

MATUSAK: Well, that just makes me want to cry.

SCARPINO: I mean, that’s what she did. Did you ever think about that?

MATUSAK: I’m just so grateful. Excuse me…

SCARPINO: That’s okay. You went on to say in that definition that true leaders are courageous people, they’re not afraid to take a risk and they don’t waste time worrying about what other people think about them. So again, I’m going to say that sort of defines your career, but what does courage exhibited by a leader look like?

MATUSAK: It’s different, depending upon the situation and the person. Perhaps I showed a great deal of courage at the end of the interview in Evansville, but to somebody else it might have been something they thought was crass. Courage is different in different people and the judge I mentioned, and Susie Sygall, who is in a wheelchair, but has started Wheelchair International and has done all sorts of remarkable things. That takes that kind of courage. So, courage is what I described there; it’s the ability to make a decision and don’t care what other people say. If you feel it is right and it’s going to affect the common good, you do it.

SCARPINO: So what did you do at the end of the interview that could have been interpreted as crass?

MATUSAK: Well, this Dr. Simmons—he’s deceased now, but a remarkable man, brilliant man.

SCARPINO: President of the university?

MATUSAK: He was vice president. He was the one who had called me first. He sat there with his entourage of deans and vice presidents and said to me, “What would you do in three years if we awarded you this position?” Now that made my hair go up because I wasn’t looking for the position, so don’t say “if you were awarded.” So I was already a little ticked at that and so I said to him what I would do in three years, provided I had the monies to do it. And he said, “Well, that’s one year; now what would you do in three?” And I just picked up all my belongings, I stood up and I said, “Sir,”—by this time I had three days of interviewing—I said “You can take your job and shove it,” and I headed to the door. And the whole room cracked up and somebody said, “She’s got your number, Charles.” And he came running after me and put his arm around, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and blah, blah, blah, and I decided then I would take the position because he was humble enough to say he was sorry right away.

SCARPINO: Sort of like lining up all those kids and taking them home to make the Father turn the heat back on.

MATUSAK: Exactly, exactly. So some people would say, “God, that was crass,” but I just felt I needed to do that.

SCARPINO: So, particularly given the world we live in today, why do you think it’s important for effective leaders to be willing to take a risk?

MATUSAK: Because nobody is doing it. We’re all like a bunch of lemmings. Because the press has become so vicious with its attacks on people, nobody has the courage to stand up because we all have a skeleton in our closet. This is not helping us as a nation and as people, as you know. I look around, I listen, we read everything on all sides, from the Wall Street Journal, everything, both Connie and I, and I don’t see any courage at all, but I know why—because people are fearful because we all have something in our closets that we don’t want exposed and so there’s no courage. I’m concerned about that and that’s why I started that award. If I could just find one person every year, every two years, because that one person will have the ripple effect. It will encourage many other people and that’s what I’m hoping to spread, courageous leadership.

SCARPINO: It’s the Larraine Matusak Courageous Leader Award?

MATUSAK: Yes. I don’t care the age, I don’t care the color, I don’t care the person. I just want courage to make a difference.

SCARPINO: So how does an effective and courageous leader, or effective and creative risk-taker—how does that person go about motivating others?

MATUSAK: I guess the same thing that I’ve told you. How do you motivate others? Love them, care for them, inspire them, tell them they can do it, don’t try to do it yourself. They can do it. They can make a difference. It’s very important that we motivate other people to get good things done and not try to do it yourself.

SCARPINO: Does that also get people invested in what they’re doing and have them take ownership of what they’re doing, and not expect somebody else to do it for them?

MATUSAK: Absolutely. You need to be an enabler in that case.

SCARPINO: So in that case it’s good to be an enabler?

MATUSAK: Exactly. You want to enable people, “You can do it. Do it. Try it. You’d be surprised you can do it.” Dr. Sublett, Roger’s a perfect one on that. When I hired him at the University of Evansville, he had been teaching a history course. And I said, “I need an Assistant Dean.” And he said, “I can’t do administration; I wouldn’t be an administrator. I can’t do it.” And I said, “Yes you can, and you will if you want to.” That’s the key, you have to want to do it. He’s a marvelous administrator.

SCARPINO: He was relatively fresh out of graduate school when you hired him, right? Did you ever see him in Denver?

MATUSAK: No. Tulane. He didn’t finish his doctorate. I don’t know if he told you that. I hired him and he had not finished his doctorate. Finally I said to him, “You’re going to finish that degree. I’ll give you the time off to do it, and if you don’t have it done by X date, I’m going to fire you.”

SCARPINO: I will say that he and other people did use the term “tough love” to describe you.

MATUSAK: I remember driving to his house and going to see if he was working on his dissertation in the basement and not playing with the kids.

SCARPINO: Well, he must have been working on it. He finished it.

MATUSAK: He was, he was and he did, yeah. He and Hansen, Richard Hansen, the two young men.

SCARPINO: Who also worked for you down there.


SCARPINO: I talked to Mr. Hansen as well.

MATUSAK: Right. Oh, did you? He’s a wonderful guy. They were a big contrast. Roger is dark-haired and loud and boisterous, and Rich is blonde as they come and very quiet. When he was ever interviewing, I always said, “Don’t be deceived by his quietness. He’s like a whale; he moves a hell of a lot of water with no noise.”

SCARPINO: (Laughing) That’s a good way to put it.

MATUSAK: And he’s just wonderful, yeah.

SCARPINO: So, we’ll talk more about this later, but your book, Finding Your Voice: Learning to Lead . . . Anywhere You Want to Make a Difference, the last chapter is titled “Summoning the Courage to Act.” I’m going to read a line out of that because not everybody that listens to this will have read it. You said, “Now there is one more step that we need to take as we work together toward more effective leadership. That step is developing the courage to take action: the ability to make it happen, to translate your passion into reality, to develop a plan of action and produce results.” Was there a point in your life or in your career when you realized that you had the ability to summon the courage to act?

MATUSAK: Yes, yeah.

SCARPINO: When was that?

MATUSAK: I think so. At the University of Minnesota while I was teaching, because I objected, as I said, to the way we treated students. But even the general students when I taught the chemistry class, it was accepted, you know this from your university stint, that half the class is going to fail in chemistry and the other half will go on.

SCARPINO: We call those flunk-out classes, as I recall.

MATUSAK: That’s right, and I refused to accept that. So there I had an amphitheater of 250 students in a chemistry class and what I did—I did this with some method that I won’t elaborate on—but I took the bottom group that were going to flunk, and the top group who were just real whizzes, and I brought them together and I said, “Nobody will flunk this class if you sign this contract.” The top kids were going to be tutors and the bottom were going to be the tutorees, they were going to meet a minimum of twice a week, and then meet with me—the tutors—every week, meet with me. Well, first of all, it made me a better teacher because if the tutors all came in with the same problem that the kids were having, I knew I didn’t teach it right. And so I would revise the way I would present that issue in chemistry. The point is, very few flunked and the university and all the professors in the science department were on my back that I’m just passing everybody. And so I had to face that and say, “Come sit in my class,” which they did. When they saw what I did to help these kids—many of them were—they got Cs and Bs, they did very well with the final exams. When they saw what I did, they said it was too much work.

SCARPINO: For you.

MATUSAK: Yeah. And then the one man, the one chemist who was almost a Nobel guy, he was just brilliant, he came to me and he said, “Would you come sit in my class and see what I’m doing?” So I went in and oh my God, Bill, what was happening, I said, “Bill, you are so brilliant, you are so much smarter than I am, you’re thinking the things but you’re not saying them and you’re not putting them on the board. You’re only putting what you end up with and the kids are all lost in the tangle of it. So just try to slow down and when you’re thinking it, start putting it down and they’ll understand you. Try.” Bill Schwabacher. I don’t think he ever could do that. He was too brilliant. He shouldn’t have been teaching general chemistry. He should have been in a role like yours, a researcher.

SCARPINO: Well, I will say for the record that I do teach the beginning classes. This is my sideline.

MATUSAK: Yeah, but not with chemistry.

SCARPINO: Oh, no, if I had to teach chemistry, I could not summon the courage to act if I had to teach chemistry. (Laughing)

MATUSAK: Well, we’re all different on that one.

SCARPINO: But I was a forestry major as an undergraduate, but that was 45 years ago.

MATUSAK: Yeah, but see—look at that too, though. Again, God is good, but I think you want to hear this, too. When I was in the convent, I was sent to the College of St. Benedict to get a major in psychology. Now, I had been going to DePauw University and to Benedictine University and had credits in everything. They were changing my major all the time. If you looked at my transcripts and I never opened my mouth to you, you’ll say, “God, a kid who never could make up her mind what she wanted to do.” Yeah I could, but I kept being told…

SCARPINO: This was the Benedictines that kept telling you to change your major?

MATUSAK: Yeah, oh yeah. I mean I took Spanish I, II, III and French I all at one time at DePauw University, because they wanted me in languages.

SCARPINO: Good heavens.

MATUSAK: And I never taught languages. But anyway, they didn’t have a psychology major at St. Ben’s. And so I got on the phone in the Registrar’s Office next to the President’s Office and, you know the College of St. Benedict is a women’s institution?


MATUSAK: Yeah, marvelous institution. I got on the phone with the Reverend Mother and said, “I can get on a train and go up to Duluth, St. Scholastica’s has a major in psychology. The President walks out into the Registrar’s Office and she’s a microbiologist, and I’m talking on the phone to the Reverend Mother and she’s looking at my transcripts, the President is, and so she takes the phone and she’s talking to the Reverend Mother. And I had several sciences, and I had all A’s, and I got the phone back and the Reverend Mother said, “No, you’re not going to St. Scholastica’s.” I said, “Okay, well, do you want me to come back home?” And she said, “No, you’re going to get a double major in biology and chemistry.” I said, “I’ve never had an interest in biology and chemistry.” “Create one, Dear,” and she hung up. And so I did.

SCARPINO: And you did, really.

MATUSAK: Yeah, I did, and aced it.

SCARPINO: What do you develop that interest? What did you find attractive about biology and chemistry, because you did go on for a graduate degree?

MATUSAK: Yeah, I did. What did I find attractive about it? Well, number one, first of all, God had helped me for sure because I had never thought I would be in that discipline. Secondly, l loved nature very much and my music and my sound—I mean I have perfect pitch and so going out and recognizing bird sounds, etc., in biology classes, I loved, I loved, because I could do that very easily. And I just decided, okay, I have a gift for this so I can succeed, I will succeed in this. I struggled with chemistry in the beginning. I really struggled because it was so mathematical. But then I said, I love music and music is mathematical, so this will be fun too. And it was.

SCARPINO: We did mention, and I’m just going to make sure this is in the record, that you do sponsor the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance Matusak Courageous Leadership Award.

MATUSAK: That’s correct.

SCARPINO: Again, looking at that blog post you did on May 26, 2009, which was your first one, you said, “The essential nature of courage and action in leadership on every level, whether it be in schools, communities, corporations, or government has become an issue of great importance to me.” You went on to say that, “Every day I look for examples of courageous leadership and find that they are scarce.” When you wrote that in 2009, why did you conclude that there were so few examples of courageous leadership?

MATUSAK: Battle Creek is a city of about 50,000 or 60,000, but with all the surrounding areas it’s 100,000 people. It has a lot of problems; racial problems, as well as poverty, as drugs, etc. I didn’t and still don’t really see anyone stepping up to make a difference in that community anymore. Russ Mawby always did. He was marvelous. There is a young woman in Battle Creek now who—well she isn’t that young anymore; she’s probably in her 50s, but that’s young for me.

SCARPINO: (Laughing) Young depends on your angle of vision.

MATUSAK: Exactly. And she is stepping forward and making some surprising courageous decisions and I’m very pleased about that. But it’s scarce. And the same thing with our Parish, I belong to St. Phil’s.

SCARPINO: In Battle Creek?

MATUSAK: Yes. Until we had got Father John about four years ago, the church was almost empty. Now, it’s full and people are doing things to make a difference in the community, to reach out to people. So, it’s happening, but it’s scarce.

SCARPINO: Why do you think, at least in leadership terms, that the church went from almost empty to almost full?

MATUSAK: Pastor, the pastor. The previous pastor didn’t listen to the people, didn’t reach out to the people and to the kids. Father John listens, he reaches out, he’s making a difference in the Parish. I mean, we have an old building—it’s called the Tiger Building—and it’s four stories high, it’s brick, it’s built like the Rock of Gibraltar, but it’s in shambles. He is putting it all together and getting people from the community to come in and do it, to make it a community kitchen, and to do different kinds of small businesses within it. And everybody’s all excited about it. And where there was no money, he’s raised a million in a couple of months. Leadership. He is very charismatic. He’s very caring, a very caring man. So, yeah, there’s leadership going on now.

SCARPINO: I’m not going to jump through my notes to get the exact name of this, but you were involved, or maybe still are involved, with an organization that serves the needs of battered women in Battle Creek?

MATUSAK: S.A.F.E. Place. Yes, I was the president of the board, yeah.

SCARPINO: When did you do that?

MATUSAK: That was in the ’80s, in the 1980s, too early on. Again, I just didn’t have that experience with anybody being battered, not growing up ever, and when they asked me to be on the board, I said I don’t know. So they brought me in to take me on a tour and, Phil, as I went into the building they were in then, which was pretty much a shattered building, a little two-story house, across the street was a fella, walking up and down swinging a baseball bat. I didn’t think anything of it then, until I got inside and in the office was a woman all black and blue and a little kid crying. That was the daddy who had beat both of them up. And I thought, I’ve got to know more about this organization. And so I did. I went on the board and then became the board chair.

SCARPINO: In those days, in the 1980s, the issue of violence against women didn’t have public profile that it has now.

MATUSAK: No, that’s correct. Again, you know the courage to make a difference with that kind of organization and what we don’t do societal—I mean there always was money to give to a woman to have at least two to three months in an apartment after she got herself settled down, etc., and find a job. No more money for that. None. Governor Snyder takes everything away. So you say it’s more prominent now; I’d say it is and it isn’t, and the hands that hold the dollars are still hanging on to the dollars for other things.

SCARPINO: Back to the issue of whether leadership serves the common good.

MATUSAK: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I think it’s difficult to serve the common good. I’m not saying it’s easy. I think it’s very difficult and I think that some people you have seen give up their roles because they couldn’t do what they thought they could in that role. I need some more water, if you don’t mind.

SCARPINO: Sure, let me hit pause.


SCARPINO: We’re back on again. So we were talking about 2009 and you noticing that there were not a lot of examples of courageous leadership. How about in 2016, as you look around?


SCARPINO: Yeah, in what way?

MATUSAK: It’s worse. Maybe it’s just because my globe has become smaller. I realized that when we went to Barcelona. When you’re retired as long as I am now, 20 years, your globe of interaction with people becomes smaller and a lot of the people who you thought as courageous are dying along the way. Men like Russ Mawby, make a big difference, he made a big difference and was not always popular, but very charismatic and in the end…

SCARPINO: Amazing guy. I mean, I would say that I know him.

MATUSAK: He’s an amazing man, and we are very good friends and it’s sad to see to him now, but he’s in poor, poor health and his mind is going and his hearing is gone and his eyes, he can’t see, and it’s really kind of sad. But anyway, your globe becomes smaller and smaller. After Barcelona, I have so many invitations to speak in different places that I want to hurry up and get well so that…

SCARPINO: So that you can do it.

MATUSAK: Yes, right. I want to get out there and make a difference and I really feel—you can snip this out later—but I really feel God is keeping me alive because I have something to do. I have something to say and I’ve got to do that something before I go, before I fold up my tent. I’ve got work to do.

SCARPINO: Well, I mean I’m glad to hear that you had such a good experience in Barcelona. I mean, I heard rave reviews.

MATUSAK: Oh, thank you, but I had a great time.

SCARPINO: So you spent 19 years of your teenage and young adulthood as a Catholic Sister with the Benedictines. That’s a chunk of your life.


SCARPINO: As I understand it, you served in Illinois and in Texas; is that right?

MATUSAK: I served in Wisconsin, Illinois, Texas, Lisle. I think that’s about it. Yeah, different places. Wherever they had a mission, I think I served.

SCARPINO: Was the mission primarily outreach to disadvantaged?

MATUSAK: No, they were running schools.


MATUSAK: But you know, people have the wrong idea about Catholic schools, they always did. They always thought that only the rich kids could go to a Catholic school. That’s not true, because we take all kinds of kids and give scholarships to those who can’t afford it. But, yeah, we reached out to communities and did community work, a lot of community work.

SCARPINO: So, I want to talk to you a little bit about the years that you spent as a Benedictine, and if we could do it to get you to talk about ways in which those experiences helped to shape the rest of your life and as you self-consciously became a leader and that kind of thing. As I understand it, you had both teaching and administrative experience in those 19 years?

MATUSAK: Exactly.

SCARPINO: You assisted with the building of schools, you already mentioned that. Even when you didn’t know how to do it, you figured out how to do it. And you were working in a faith-based and value-based environment.


SCARPINO: So, first question: Could you just sort of give us an overview of the various places that you were assigned?


SCARPINO: It doesn’t have to be complete, but just sort of an idea of the kinds of things you did.

MATUSAK: Yeah, well one of the first places I was assigned was a school, Joan of Arc, in Lisle, Illinois. I think that’s where I discovered how much I loved teaching and had a great time there. I was there for three years, I think, and had a great time teaching those kids. A couple of the women are now nuns, became nuns. The men, one of them is a Brother, one is a priest, and they did wonderful things. That was one school. That was a good school.

Then I was in Texas, and the convent we lived in had been an old chicken place and so you had the smell of old chickens.

SCARPINO: By chicken place, do you mean a chicken coop place?

MATUSAK: Yes, it smelled from chicken. You know, you can’t clean that out no matter what. That was a tough experience. That was one of the hardest times of my life because it was hot, Texas is hot, and the environment was not inviting and loving and caring. And we were trying to reach out to the people, to the students, and I had made up my mind, in fact, that I wanted to stay in Texas.

Then I was assigned to another school and I taught for two years in the choir loft of the church because there wasn’t a school to teach in.

SCARPINO: That was also in Texas?

MATUSAK: Mmhmm. I had seventh and eighth grade up on the choir loft and played for masses up there and then had my classes up there. It was very, very different. And I taught some of the servicemen music on the Air Force Base, Carswell Air Force Base, and other experiences. Well, you know all of them, Holy Mount I already mentioned to you and…

SCARPINO: Holy Mount is where?

MATUSAK: Cicero, Illinois. Yeah, that was an interesting experience because we had wonderful kids, wonderful students, and in Berwyn, they were having lots of trouble with their students. When we looked into—why would that be? They’re neighboring suburbs; why the big differences? One thing we found is that the kids at Holy Mount, which was a much more Eastern European ethnicity, when they went home, grandma was there and grandma would see to it that they did their homework and what have you. It was much more family-oriented than they were in Cicero, which was interesting for me. I was learning all of this as a younger nun. When I got to the point of the Academy, we had a very exclusive Academy.

SCARPINO: And the Academy was where?

MATUSAK: At Lisle. I was assigned to teach sciences there, but what came to me was that I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do. I was working with this exclusive bunch of young women who could afford to come to an exclusive academy, and that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Yeah, I taught, and I had great fun, believe me. I made a lot of shock in the community I’m sure because I had a science lab where I believed I should have a lot of living things and one of the girls brought me a dying puppy which we kept alive and brought to life. I named it Sartre after Jean-Paul Sartre. And I had a monkey named Piffer, and I would put the monkey on a leash and the dog on the leash, and we’re not allowed to have dogs in the convent, but the monkey would ride on the dog’s back and we’d go for walks around the huge place. The monkey would catch—well they’re bugs—but catch them and eat them on the back of Sartre and the nuns would all have a fit and go to Chapel and pray for me because I was a sinner.

SCARPINO: For walking around with a dog you rescued with a monkey riding on its back.

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right. And they just were scandalized that I would do such a thing. Anyway, I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to do. Then I got this grant to study at the University of Minnesota and I got permission to accept it and I went to Minnesota. Really, that was a big turning point in my life because I realized that, first of all, I was now working with students who were coming from the farms especially. And when you’re a nun, you’re a neuter; you’re not a vetoing parent and you’re not an administrator at the university who’s going to throw them out. So, I found myself with an open door policy in my little studio apartment and I would have kids coming in crying and I was working with these young people who were hitting drugs for the first time in their lives, or being in a big university campus, and my convent wants me to come back and teach in high school. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t do it. And so I just said, “I can’t do it,” and went to talk to a confessor and he said, “You have two alternatives; you can become a bitchy old nun or you can make that horrible decision after 19 years to leave and construct a new life.” And so, you know my decision.

SCARPINO: I understand that when you made that decision that you actually went through a process, you didn’t just walk away.

MATUSAK: Oh, no.

SCARPINO: Laicization, is that the right word?

MATUSAK: Yeah. And the Benedictines are not under bishops, they’re under Rome. So I had to write a letter to Rome to get a dispensation from my vows, which I did receive. And there, too, my dad was dead but I couldn’t rely on my mother; we were poor. And you get $300 and a wave goodbye. You have no clothes, you don’t have a spoon, you don’t have a fork, you don’t have anything.

SCARPINO: So I was going to ask you, when you left, you literally were starting over.

MATUSAK: Oh, absolutely.

SCARPINO: $300, some clothes and a suitcase sort of thing, and that was it.

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right. And clothes you didn’t have because you had habits and so you had nothing, absolutely nothing. But you know what? I never thought about it that way. In fact, what I remember what we did is I was working for Dr. Rassweiler. He was a physicist, an amazing man, and in fact, he and his wife owned this house and I kind of became their daughter that they never had.

SCARPINO: They owned this house that we’re sitting in now?



MATUSAK: Because when he was dying, he called and we came, both Connie and I came here to see him; we had come before when he was dying and he begged that we not allow Irene to be put into a nursing home. And we promised and I kept my promise. We were here every three months and we cooked until we dropped so she had food while we were gone and somebody to take care of her. But we did until she died and then it was a shock and a pleasure that she left the house to us. It was a shambles. It was really bad. We were going sell it and after we tore out all of the stinky carpeting and painted and did all this stuff, we said, “Let’s try it.” So we spend our winters here now.

SCARPINO: So, when you were coming down here to cook for her, where were you commuting from?

MATUSAK: From Battle Creek.

SCARPINO: Commute seems a little like the wrong term for that. It’s a long way from Battle Creek.

MATUSAK: Yes, it’s a long way, it’s a long way, but it was from Battle Creek and we did that for I don’t know how many years, but we did it. We promised and we were going to do that.

But anyway, going back to how that happened at the University of Minnesota. So I realized that I had a mission and I wanted to fulfill that mission. I just felt that’s what God wanted me to do and it was a tough time. And yeah, you know it meant that, for example, Merrill Rassweiler saw to it that my classes were put in the morning and then in the afternoon I ran like a madwoman to the bathroom and changed into whites and rushed over to the hospital and worked on the crash team at the hospital until midnight.

SCARPINO: So, by whites, you mean a nurse’s uniform?


SCARPINO: Were you trained as a nurse?


SCARPINO: So you were volunteering at the hospital?


SCARPINO: Or you were being paid?

MATUSAK: No, I was paid, being paid.

SCARPINO: Okay, so you got a paying job, a second job, so to speak.

MATUSAK: Right, right.

SCARPINO: In the Emergency Room.

MATUSAK: Right, right.

SCARPINO: What did you do there?

MATUSAK: Well, what I did primarily was the EKGs and going with the crash team. I ran around the hospital with the crash team.

SCARPINO: The crash team is when people have heart attacks?

MATUSAK: Yeah, code blue. I did that and I enjoyed it, but it was from three until midnight and then at midnight I’d study until about two in the morning and then get up at five and go in and do tutoring for jocks and start my workday of classes and study.

SCARPINO: (Laughing) I did that too.

MATUSAK: Yeah, you know, so we were doing all kinds of jobs to make money to live. And I remember, in fact I said that to Connie—I did chicken pot pies last night because I didn’t feel like cooking—and I said, “You know what? I remembered I had $5 a week for food. That was all that I could afford.” The University of Minnesota does not pay well, and when you’re studying and teaching for them, I believe my highest salary there was $13,000. That’s not a lot of money.

SCARPINO: You were, at that point, a doctoral student, is that right?


SCARPINO: In one of your emails to me when we were corresponding back and forth, you mentioned that you had been a Mother Superior?


SCARPINO: Where was that, and what does that entail?


SCARPINO: So, near Dallas?

MATUSAK: Yes, Fort Worth.

SCARPINO: Fort Worth, sorry.

MATUSAK: In White Settlement, you know. Well, it means being responsible for all the Sisters under you and seeing to it to their health, their education, and I had a very different perspective about all that. So, I was opening up doors for these women and then you get threatened because you’re allowing them to be too worldly, you know.

SCARPINO: What were you doing that could have been interpreted as too worldly?

MATUSAK: Sending them off to get education, to institutions in Texas; are you kidding? But I did. I did. And you faced the music for it when you got home. And even myself—and this one’s going to be really bizarre—but when I got the grant…

SCARPINO: To go to the University of Minnesota?

MATUSAK: Yeah, one of the things with that grant then that evolved—everything evolves—was another grant where I was to study Alpine vegetation.

SCARPINO: Not too much of that in Minnesota, is there?

MATUSAK: No, but that was going to come from out in Colorado. I got permission again, and I said, “Well, I can’t,”—he tells us we’re going up into the mountains and I can’t go in the habit. “So, may I please go and purchase some jeans and whatever I need?” They said “no.”

SCARPINO: They wanted you to go up into the mountains wearing a habit?

MATUSAK: That’s right.

SCARPINO: And those black shoes.

MATUSAK: That’s right. And what they did—this is so ridiculous, but you know why my mindset changed—they took a habit, and they sewed it up the middle like pants and that’s what I was supposed to wear.

SCARPINO: So, I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful, but those are like Sister culottes.

MATUSAK: That’s right. But they were long, they’re long. I laughed so hard when they arrived. We were in a dormitory. I went into the hallway and I was dancing down the hallway with them. But I got rid of them and I made myself a pair of culottes, you might say, and took a bleach bottle, emptied it, cut the bleach bottle, cut my veil, took all the face stuff off and had the bleach bottle with the veil and that’s all I put on. Well, somebody got pictures and somebody sent pictures back to the convent.


MATUSAK: Yeah. So all hell broke out when I got there. But worse, and what made me realize I had to leave, was that I was walking down the hallway, dressed in the full garb again, back at the convent, and one of the old nuns met me and she looked at me and she said, “You adulteress,” because she had seen the picture of the way I was dressed.

SCARPINO: Oh my word.

MATUSAK: I thought, I can’t stay here. I cannot stay here.

SCARPINO: So, was part of the reason that you left that at some point it just became too limiting?

MATUSAK: Yes. Yeah, my community was not moving forward. College at St. Ben’s nuns were entirely different. They were very futuristic in their thinking, a very, very different group of Benedictines, and we had somehow stagnated.

SCARPINO: So in the 19 years that you belonged to that convent, they got older…

MATUSAK: They stagnated…

SCARPINO: …and set in their ways…

MATUSAK: Yeah, well the first Reverend Mother was very forward-looking. She was very good, the one who told me I wouldn’t be a diva. She was marvelous, marvelous. And things were growing under her. Then we had a Reverend Mother who was really, really not good and it stagnated, everything just stagnated.

SCARPINO: I understand, and I hope I got this right, that you spent two years in medical school.

MATUSAK: No, no, that’s not right.

SCARPINO: University of Illinois?

MATUSAK: Yeah, I was accepted, but I never was allowed to accept it, to go.


MATUSAK: Never was allowed.

SCARPINO: So, whose idea was it that you apply to medical school?

MATUSAK: I was the first woman to take classes at St. John’s University.

SCARPINO: Which is the Catholic college that’s sort of the pair with St. Benedict?

MATUSAK: Yeah, right. Right now, I mean they do everything as hour on the hour, bussing and it’s all coed, but it’s still women and men. They’ve done some very smart things on leadership and I’m going to interject that. They put the women through leadership training for two and a half years as women, and the men the same thing. Then they bring them together for leadership training and it’s an entirely different group because the women have a sense of security about themselves and strength, and it’s wonderful. But, anyway, yeah, where were we?

SCARPINO: I asked you about medical school and you said you took classes at St. John’s.

MATUSAK: Yeah, St. John’s. I was the first woman and they thought… I had embryology, and the priest who did the teaching there said that I was material for medical school. So, being naive—call it what you like, you know—the nuns encouraged me to apply and so I did. And I was accepted. Then my community said, “No, you have to come back and teach.” But that was my life with my community. I was forever being changed in whatever I was doing, always.

SCARPINO: For reasons that were not clear?

MATUSAK: I was a spoke in the wheel, for their use. Whatever they needed, somehow I needed to come home and fix.

SCARPINO: Was that because you had talent?

MATUSAK: I think it was because they thought I had talent, but they never thought about me as a person and how that might affect me.

SCARPINO: When you left, did you carry that lesson with you; remember to think about individuals as people?

MATUSAK: Oh my God, yes, I certainly did. I have no resentment of the community, however. I learned a lot there. And when people ask me why I’m so open to change, I say “19 years.” You went to Chapel on August 15th, after a retreat, and the Reverend Mother would walk down the aisles and hand you a piece of paper, and it said where you were going and what you were going to do. You may have been at Holy Mount for five years, and your piece of paper said, “You’re going to Fort Worth, Texas.” Texas. And you had two hours to pack a suitcase, one suitcase, and go. And you get accustomed to that. So I learned a lot about change. I can take change. I can take change overnight, if you want to say it that way. I also learned how to get along with people because nuns are just like every other people in any other community; there are good ones and there are those who are really downright nasty. And you learn to live with them because it’s God’s will that you’re with them. I learned a lot there, so I have no animosity. I spent 19 years. Maybe I should have only spent 10; no, it’s okay. It all worked out well.

SCARPINO: You got into medical school, which is not easy.

MATUSAK: That’s right. I didn’t know that then.

SCARPINO: That was the University of Illinois?


SCARPINO: Do you think you would have made a good doctor?

MATUSAK: Yes, I think I would have.

SCARPINO: You’d been working on the crash cart and everything.

MATUSAK: Right, yeah, I think I would have made a good doctor.

SCARPINO: So, you got your Bachelor’s from College of St. Benedict in 1966. We sort of alluded to this, but College of St. Benedict was founded in 1913 by Benedictine sisters, the only Benedictine college for women in the country. It remains a Catholic college focused on women. I got on their website.

MATUSAK: They’re doing great things.

SCARPINO: It emphasizes values-based leadership, to prepare women for roles in a diverse world.


SCARPINO: I copied that off their website.

MATUSAK: They’re doing wonderful things.

SCARPINO: Were they doing leadership when you were there?

MATUSAK: No, no they were not, and it was much smaller when I was there. It has grown and they have a marvelous reputation. I’m thrilled at what’s going on there.

SCARPINO: You were biology and chemistry?


SCARPINO: I assume you were a good student.


SCARPINO: Do you feel as though you got a good education there?

MATUSAK: Excellent education there, excellent. In fact, when I went on to do the Aspen vegetation thing, yeah, I had to take a test, Alpine vegetation, take a test. And they said to me, “Why are you bothering to do this?” And I said, “Why are you asking me that?” And they said, “Well, because you know it all already.” And I said, “No, I don’t know it all already, but I got all the stuff you’re asking me back in college.” St. Ben’s, they were excellent teachers. Excellent.

SCARPINO: Besides the content of your courses, what did you take away from that experience?

MATUSAK: My life at St. Ben’s was wonderful. I spent a great deal of time in the music and theater department. And I wasn’t majoring in those areas, so I was the one who worked lights and did all that kind of stuff. As long as I was a part of it, and sang with them, etc. I took away from them that you can be a Benedictine and you can be out there doing amazing things. I have this intense loyalty. What I should have done, perhaps, looking back now, is transfer communities. I couldn’t do that. I felt this loyalty to the community where I had been and so the best thing for me to do was to leave. But I left from St. Ben’s with very warm feelings, a great deal of love for many of my instructors and teachers, and the realization that I had an education that could not be surpassed there.

SCARPINO: From the way you describe it, they’re still doing a pretty good job.

MATUSAK: They are, they are. And I stay in communication.

SCARPINO: We’re going to talk about your graduate education and so on, and your career in higher education, but I want to ask you a few more things about leadership.


SCARPINO: So, starting with the fact that nobody fits a stereotype, I’m going to do it anyhow. Do you think that there are differences, in general, in the way men and women lead?

MATUSAK: Yes, I do.

SCARPINO: How would you characterize those differences?

MATUSAK: Well, I think that women have a better sense of bringing people together to get things done and less of a need to become big man in the tower, okay? I just think women naturally have this feeling. They don’t need to be front and center. But the difference in the leadership, I think men are much more authoritative; you do it my way or you take the highway. They have to learn that they can take steps and work for the common good and get other people to do what they want done. It’s harder for them. But you know, I’ve worked with men and women, I really get along extremely well with men. I like men. I think that if they learn to give a little, they are remarkable leaders. So, you say, is it different? Yeah, it is different.

SCARPINO: As a woman in a variety of leadership positions, did you ever find yourself faced with obstacles that you felt men were not faced with?

MATUSAK: Yes, a lot of times. Many, many times.

SCARPINO: For example?

MATUSAK: Well, for example, when I was called by the chairman of the board of Edison State to apply for that position, my first response was, “No, I haven’t been a vice president yet.” He said, “Well, we’ve gone through all of our resumes, and please, we’d like you to apply.” I applied. Unanimous vote of the board, unanimous vote of the faculty that they had there, but the chancellor would not accept a woman as a state college president. I’m going to tell you exactly what he said. He put them off and he put them off, and at that time New Jersey had this strange system where it had all of its state college presidents who were totally in charge of their campuses, but they reported to the Chancellor, which is a weird set-up, and so I would have to report to him. Well he refused, he refused, and the board insisted, and he refused. They said it’s unanimous. He refused. Finally, finally, when I was ready to say, “Take your job and shove it,” he consented to an interview. So I went in for the interview and he said to me, “Well, I’ve given you a hard time, haven’t I?” And I said, “Via others, yes you have. Why?” And he said, “Well, nobody I knew knew you.” I said, “That’s interesting. Nobody I know knows you.”

SCARPINO: (Laughter) You lined the kids up again, didn’t you?

MATUSAK: That’s right, that’s right. And we got along. I had to manipulate him more than once, but we got along after that.

SCARPINO: As your career developed, did you have mentors?

MATUSAK: Oh yes, yes. Dr. Rassweiler was a very strong…

SCARPINO: At Minnesota?

MATUSAK: Yes. He was a very, very powerful, powerful mentor and guide to me without saying so. He was just an amazing man. Everybody trusted him. I was always amazed at the amount of trust he had and worked closely with him. He was definitely a mentor. Then another person who I would say had been a mentor, although I don’t think he realized it, was Dr. Charles Simmons, the one who was Vice President at Evansville. A powerful man. The faculty either hated him or loved him. I really loved him. He protected my back because I was doing unique things and faculty were angry, and I was making money, they weren’t. He was always there to protect me. He was too blustery, but he and I got along just fine.

SCARPINO: Do you think that’s a mark of a good leader, that you surround yourself with smart people and then you have their back?

MATUSAK: Yes, because if you really want people who are going to make a difference, they’re going to step on toes and so somebody’s got to protect them or they’re going to end up in a ditch. Yeah, so I think that’s very important.

SCARPINO: Have you served as a mentor to other people?

MATUSAK: I think I have. I’m told I have; that Roger and Rich Hansen and their wives. I remember when I got the award at the Union Institute, Rich Hansen’s wife came up to me and she said, “You’ll never know the hundreds you’ve mentored.”

SCARPINO: Do you think that’s a mark of a good leader, that you sort of bring them all on?

MATUSAK: Yeah, I do. But you know what, I don’t think you know it. You do it because your heart says you do it, and when somebody says that to you, you’re almost embarrassed. So, yeah.

SCARPINO: Do you feel any particular obligation or interest to serve as a mentor to women on the rise?

MATUSAK: Absolutely, absolutely. I want to be their cheerleader. As I said, I’ve said this to my spiritual advisor, I said, “It just isn’t time for me to fold up my tent because I’ve got something to say and do, and God wants me to do that.” And it’s mentoring. Yes, it is mentoring, getting people out there to make a difference.

SCARPINO: So, you got your BA in 1966. What did you do after that?

MATUSAK: I taught at the Academy, yeah. I taught at the Academy for several years. I don’t remember the years now. In 1970, I was in Minnesota and I had left the community in ’69.

SCARPINO: So, by 1968, you were enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Minnesota?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah.

SCARPINO: And that started with a Master’s Degree, and you were on leave to be there? You had a grant?


SCARPINO: I’m just going to point out that I’m really grateful to Catherine Warrick for providing me insight into that part of your career. So she’s very, very nice to talk to.

MATUSAK: Yeah, she’s a marvelous woman.

SCARPINO: Just a little context for somebody who’s listening to this interview in the future, between 1968 and ’74, you taught Natural Sciences and developed the Adult Alternative Baccalaureate Degree Program at the University of Minnesota.


SCARPINO: Also while you were there, a number of events happened that had a major influence on the trajectory of your life and your career. I want to talk about some of those. So, 1969 you got your Master’s Degree in entomology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the study of insects.


SCARPINO: So, the last mention of insects in this conversation was the cockroaches on the assembly line in the meatpacking plant. So, how did you get interested in insects as a subject of graduate study?

MATUSAK: I didn’t. I wasn’t. Again, I don’t know why, I went there believing I was going to major in microbiology and the area was filled and they wouldn’t take any more students. And so the advisor, Dr. Link, advised that I go into entomology, that it would be the closest thing to microbiology. That’s how that happened.

SCARPINO: So, you’re in school and you’d finished the Master’s, you began work on a PhD at the University of Minnesota, again a science PhD, and I assume you were working on a dissertation?


SCARPINO: What was the subject of that to be?

MATUSAK: The specificity of malarial parasites in mosquitoes.

SCARPINO: Oh my goodness! So that would have required fieldwork in exotic places?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah. But the point was, at that point anyway, that I was antsy and the University of Minnesota is notorious for keeping people forever before they can really get their doctorate. So I had heard about Fielding Institute, Graduate University, and wrote my letters and had people look into it. In fact, the person who was serving as one of my advisors was the statistician at the University of Minnesota. So he looked into all of it; is it valid, etc., it’s a different kind of university. So I spent a summer in California—six weeks I think it was—with Fielding and began my work in education, creativity really, creative higher education, with Fielding. And that was a remarkable experience, too. And they’re doing really well now.

SCARPINO: Yeah, they’re still there and thriving.

MATUSAK: Oh yeah, they are.

SCARPINO: When I talked with Catherine Warrick, who then was Dean of Learning Development, I think, she told me she was about to take a position at another nearby college, and she recommended you to take charge of some new experimental degree programs being developed in the general college. She told me that she did this partly because you had administrative experience when you were with the Benedictines.

MATUSAK: Right, right.

SCARPINO: So you knew how to be an administrator. You served on the original design team and directed what became the Alternative Baccalaureate Program. When you switched from teaching to administration, do you remember the title of the position you assumed?

MATUSAK: They gave me a title of Director.

SCARPINO: And it would have been the title of this Alternative Baccalaureate…

MATUSAK: Right, right. I was still teaching.

SCARPINO: You were teaching and doing this?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah.

SCARPINO: And for a while you were still working…

MATUSAK: Studying.

SCARPINO: Okay, you were multitasking before we had the term.

MATUSAK: That’s right.

SCARPINO: Why did you decide to do this? What attracted you to that position?

MATUSAK: Well, the fact that I told you, we put students in these ticky tacky boxes and make them succeed or fail because they don’t fit the boxes. I just wanted something that I could prove—and in fact, that’s my dissertation—I could prove that if we recognize the gifts of individuals, they will succeed. They will. And they did. We took that to the Legislature and got money because I could prove that our students were graduating and getting good jobs, compared to CLA.

SCARPINO: So you got money from the Legislature to fund this Alternative Baccalaureate Program?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

SCARPINO: It occurs to me, while you’re talking though, that you several times pointed out that the university was putting the students in the ticky tacky boxes, but in the process, you were breaking out of your own ticky tacky box. Right?

MATUSAK: Yes, that’s correct, that is correct.

SCARPINO: So, did you ever feel like you were taking a risk?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah.

SCARPINO: Taking that position?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah, I knew I was taking a risk.

SCARPINO: I mean, you’re moving away from teaching, moving away from dissertation research, moving into administration, moving into a new area.

MATUSAK: That’s right, but I felt that as a teacher, I could make a difference, but as an administrator, I could really make a difference because I could protect the backs of people who are trying to make change that is good. So, that’s why I did it.

SCARPINO: Did you create the Adult Baccalaureate Program or develop it? Was it already in existence when you got there?

MATUSAK: No, it was not in existence. There was a team of us who worked on it.

SCARPINO: And you were the head of the team?

MATUSAK: Yes, yeah, we worked on that. It was a fun thing to work with a team and we had eccentricities, and we had people who thought that I was out on Mars or wherever, but we came together as friends and got it done. Same thing happened at the foundation. It’s very stereotypical kinds of people and we got things done differently.

SCARPINO: In one of the emails you sent me, you described your work with the Adult Alternative Baccalaureate Degree Program as follows. You said that you “developed an Alternative Baccalaureate Degree Program to address the needs of students who were older and didn’t fit into the rigid boxes that the university insisted they had to take or else.” How did you design that program to smash those boxes?

MATUSAK: Well, first of all, I didn’t do it alone. I did it with this group of people. But we recognized…

SCARPINO: You all, Jimmy Carter plural.

MATUSAK: Okay, well, the program in itself was modeled, as I told you, where we allowed the students to tell us what they thought they needed. We questioned them, we worked with them on an individual basis, but we didn’t say, “You must take these basic courses first,” and flunk out in them and what have you. But we recognized English was necessary; we recognized science was necessary. And you worked with the students to make a program major their own. Sociological Home Study, there’s no such major, but one of the students did develop that major. Don’t ask me specifics, I don’t remember, it’s too long ago. But it was that kind of thing where by putting together what they thought they needed plus what we said, “Yeah you ought to take this maybe because you’d be stronger here,” and they listened to us, they were successful. They had a much higher graduation rate.

SCARPINO: Did you also combine liberal arts with technical education?


SCARPINO: Was this a two-year degree?

MATUSAK: No. This was a Bachelor’s Degree.

SCARPINO: So the idea was that they would learn the English and the liberal arts subjects, but they were also, in effect, getting applied experience and getting their hands dirty.

MATUSAK: If they wanted to, yes. If they wanted to, yes.

SCARPINO: So it was an optional part?


SCARPINO: Was that common in universities at that time?

MATUSAK: No, no, absolutely not.

SCARPINO: Was it happening anywhere else that you’re aware of?

MATUSAK: No, not that I’m aware of, not at that time, too early.

SCARPINO: In the parlance of cross-country skiing, which I’m sure you’re familiar with if you lived in Minnesota, you were breaking trail.

MATUSAK: Yes, that’s right.

SCARPINO: You were skiing in the powder.

MATUSAK: Exactly, and I like doing that. I like doing that. I like discovery.

SCARPINO: You’ve pretty much done that your whole life, haven’t you?


SCARPINO: As you look back on your time with that program and the team and the students, what are you proudest of? What do you consider the most significant accomplishment? I’m going to say, your most significant accomplishment, because you were the head of the team. And if it had gone down in flames, that would have been on you, too.

MATUSAK: Yes, that’s right. The most significant accomplishment as I look back, I didn’t think of it then, but it’s again the gift that I have of bringing such different people together to work on a project and be successful. I don’t remember names now, but he would be Mr. Perfect in a square box, with a British accent and the whole bit, whom everybody was afraid of because he did all of the New York crossword puzzles in minutes, etc. He was on my team. And then a woman who was always so verbally negative about anything or anybody, she was on my team. We all got along. We all worked together. In the beginning, it was awkward and hard, but we all worked together. I remember, again, to me this is significant, is the little flashes. I had to have surgery on an eye, muscle problems, and the first one I saw when I woke up was Mr. Perfect standing at the foot of my bed. It was a powerful thing for me because he was so perfect.

SCARPINO: While you were working there at the Adult Baccalaureate Degree Program, I’m assuming that you must have experienced one or more of what we sometimes call “A-ha” moments. I want to talk to you about that, but I want to provide a little context for people who might be listening to this at some point in the future. So, you dropped out of your PhD program in science, you entered an experimental PhD program in higher education administration at the Fielding Institute, which you’ve already alluded to. The Fielding Institute had been founded in 1974, so it was new and untested. You earned the PhD in 1975 writing a dissertation titled Evaluation of the Alternative Degree Programs of the General College of the University of Minnesota. So, your work became your research, which was a clever way to get your dissertation done.

MATUSAK: Yes, that’s right.

SCARPINO: What motivated you to drop out of a science PhD program partway through and go get another one in a completely different field?

MATUSAK: Because I felt I was being smothered. I was being smothered. It had nothing to do with success, I could have succeeded, but I felt like I was being smothered and I would be smothered for a long time and I had things I had to get done and I could do this. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t have people like David Geesey, the statistician, looking and checking and seeing to it that everything was legitimate and that I would have a degree that was worth something and not just a throwaway degree.

SCARPINO: So he checked Fielding out carefully?

MATUSAK: Oh yeah, and then he became my mentor.

SCARPINO: So he’s the man you called Mr. Perfect?

MATUSAK: No, no, he’s not. But he really put great demands on me as I wrote my dissertation, and Mr. Perfect was always reading my chapters and he just made me feel so good, that I was a marvelous writer and what have you. But David was there as “we’re going to do this statistically.”

SCARPINO: So he was at the University of Minnesota and he helped you design the statistical analysis that gave credibility to your dissertation.

MATUSAK: Exactly, exactly, and mentored me the whole way, and he was tough. So that was good.

SCARPINO: Basically, you switched from hard science to social science.

MATUSAK: Right. Well, higher ed, yeah.

SCARPINO: Well, I mean, I guess when you start doing that statistical analysis, I call it social science.

MATUSAK: Yes, right, right.

SCARPINO: We talked about what attracted you to Fielding in Santa Barbara, but as you left science, the hard science, moved into higher ed and at least social science analysis, did any of that training and experience that you had in science stay with you and influence you as you moved forward?

MATUSAK: Absolutely.

SCARPINO: In what ways?

MATUSAK: Absolutely. I think I look at things—I want to take them apart. I have to know how it all fits together. I want to experiment and try something different. All of that comes from the science background. I don’t want something that’s been canned and tried 13 or 14 times. It was an amazing experience for me to switch to the sciences from music, etc., and then from the sciences back to something like social, as you say, social studies, but it wasn’t that at all. I mean it was working with creative higher education. I remember doing a video when we were there the six weeks and I thought, yeah, this is the way I can make a difference. This is what I can do. So, yeah, I use my science background all the time. I use it now.

SCARPINO: So, when you switched from science to higher ed, how did your superiors at the Benedictines respond to that?

MATUSAK: Well, remember, I left in 1969.

SCARPINO: Okay, all right, so you’re already gone by then.

MATUSAK: Oh yeah. And you know what? One of the reasons I did it is I said the University in Minnesota hangs on to you forever, I knew people who were working on their doctorates for six and seven years, and I said, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. Number one, I got a late start in life in making a living and I’ve got to make a living, and I’ve got to get that doctorate so that I can make a decent living. Yes, I was dating then, etc. a man, but frankly what was happening to me, I’ll be very candid—the last one was a Native—not a Native, an Indian. I thought there were a lot of male widows, widowers, and divorced guys on campus, professors, that I could find someone who I could fall in love with, Mr. Right. And we were dating, I was dating, and the last one finally broke that syndrome for me because he was all over me. I got home from that date, I remember I walked in the door and Connie had just moved in with me shortly before that, and she said, “Oh my God, you stink!” And I said, “Every time I go out, I’m not going to tell them I’ve been a nun 19 years, and these guys always want to go to bed the first date. No! That’s not me; I’m not going on any more dates. If Mr. Right comes along, I’m ready, but if he doesn’t, I’m going to make something of myself. I’m going to do what I want to do in my career.” And that’s what I did.

SCARPINO: So, there’s kind of a theme there, right?


SCARPINO: You were smothered by the Benedictines, you were smothered by the University of Minnesota, and you were definitely being smothered by these guys you were dating.

MATUSAK: Exactly.

SCARPINO: And you finally said, “I’m not going to do this.”

MATUSAK: Exactly. You got it.

SCARPINO: A certain independence; I mean, that takes courage, doesn’t it?

MATUSAK: Like my saying I quit with the piano and I never went back for a lesson, you know? Stubborn.

SCARPINO: Well, I didn’t want to say that, but it seems to me that you’ve certainly exhibited a pattern of having the courage to make choices when you wanted to move in a particular direction and it wasn’t happening.

MATUSAK: Yeah, and hearing you say that, I have to say yes, you’re right, but I never stop and think about that. I never plotted that way. If something has to be done, I do it.

SCARPINO: So, your book, Finding Your Voice: Learning to Lead . . . Anywhere You Want to Make a Difference, Chapter 4, addresses the spiritual side of leadership.


SCARPINO: I’m assuming, but I’m asking you, how much of that is related to your training as a young woman in the Catholic church and then as a Sister and so on? Is that the spiritual reservoir upon which you draw when you write that chapter?

MATUSAK: I think so, I think so. It’s there in my heart and in my head, and I accept that. Personally, I feel leadership without a spiritual base has no depth, and there’s something missing. I think that all of the work that’s being done on many levels on the executives in the business world that you’ll find in the reading if you read any of that stuff, they’re all saying the same thing: Something is missing. What is that something? It’s a sense of spirituality. Call it what you like, not religion; spirituality. It’s very different.

SCARPINO: What is the difference between spirituality and religion?

MATUSAK: Spirituality is your unity with whoever you respect as your major maker, the great person out there, great God. And religion is a segment of society that teaches you how they think you should worship this person. There’s a big difference in that. For a while, I just didn’t go to church at all. I just worked on my own heart, spirituality with a spiritual director, and said, “I want to get rid of all this stuff that smothers you.” I never used that word before, but it smothers you. And I feel very strongly about that, and yes that does come out in my chapter and I wanted to revise all that and rewrite, but something else happened, so.

SCARPINO: Are values a part of that spirituality?

MATUSAK: Absolutely, absolutely.

SCARPINO: I promised you we’d be done in two hours and so I’m going to wrap this up and just say…

MATUSAK: I’m getting a little tired.

SCARPINO: We’re going to stop. One minute, we’re going to stop, I promise, and I’ll talk for that last minute. We’re going to start next time that we sit down to talk about Evansville and then Edison College and Kellogg. We have one session left. I’m going to do this. I will let you rest and I’m going to summarize here. I want to get this in the record now.

In 1969 you earned a Master’s Degree in Science and then you began a PhD dissertation in science. You were teaching science and working on your dissertation. You took a new administrative job in the General College developing an alternative degree program focused on older students who up to that point were not well served by the university. You were so inspired or changed by that work that you dropped out of your science PhD program and earned a PhD in higher education administration at a new and untested college in Santa Barbara. You left the Benedictines after 19 years. You accepted a position in Evansville as the first Dean and Founder of the College of Alternative Programs in 1974, again concentrating on adult learners. In the meantime, while you were undertaking the new job in Evansville, you were still finishing your dissertation.


SCARPINO: There’s a lot of news and firsts in there.


SCARPINO: Did you look at it like you realized what you were doing at the time?

MATUSAK: No, no.

SCARPINO: Okay. So, then what I’ll say is that if anybody wants to find out about this, they can just tune in to the next session. Thank you very much for sitting with me for just a couple of minutes over two hours. I appreciate it very much.

MATUSAK: Thank you. Thank you, Phil; you’ve made it easier.