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Marge Harrington of Grace Presbyterian Village.jpg Marge Harrington, resident at Grace Presbyterian Village, was a Navy Yeoman in the 1940s.

Women’s History Month is a time to reflect on the inspiring movements that extraordinary women have led and the accomplishments that courageous women have achieved. Two remarkable women, Marge Harrington, 92, and Carolyn Dennis, 76, reside at Grace Presbyterian Village – a continuing care retirement community in Dallas and have powerful stories to share about making important adjustments through life. Harrington enlisted into the Navy during World War II and served three years before moving to Texas from Boston to raise a family with her husband on a cotton farm. Dennis earned her Master’s Degree in Theology and moved beyond the way qualified women were rejected for jobs in the 1960s simply for being a woman. In the 1980s, she went on to dedicate nearly a decade of her life working as a Sponsorship Developer for Refugee Services of North Texas and helping those who were fleeing persecution in their home country and seeking shelter.

“I can’t pinpoint what exactly compelled me to sign up, but it was in Boston in 1943, as I was walking home from work one day at age 21,” recalls Harrington. “I passed a recruiting station and decided to step in to learn more. By the time I left the recruiters, I was enlisted to serve during World War II.”

Harrington’s brother had been drafted into the Army and her brother-in-law was serving in the Navy at the time, so when she came home from work with the news that she’d joined, her family expressed concern but simply “had to accept it” as Harrington put it. Once they recovered from the shock, she says they admitted to being proud of her willingness to serve. Harrington was stationed in Grand Prairie, Texas, where she learned to make lots of adjustments but also established deep friendships in the open barracks of the Navy base. It gave her an experience she says she would never trade for anything.

“I was a Yeoman, First Class and worked on the base newspaper,” said Harrington. “During my service in the Navy, I first was assigned to the security office for a year. But then I got assigned to be the secretary for the public relations officer. I was in charge of the layout and the typing of the entire newspaper, which I had to do on a manual typewriter every month. Before I was discharged, I was the editor of the paper.”

Harrington met her husband in 1944 while serving. He too was in the Navy, but they were never stationed at the same place. The met when he came home to Texas on leave, and their entire courtship involved corresponding through the mail for three years. That relationship would bring even more interesting adjustments for her.

“He served another two years in the Navy after I got out,” said Harrington. “I enrolled into Columbia University, and we kept in touch over the next few years while I was there. Then, he got discharged to Boston and a week later, we got married – so that was the end of Columbia for me.”

Harrington’s plans shifted greatly as she had to transition from her urban Boston life to living on a farm in the country and raising a family in Texas. Eventually, they had running water in their home, but that was a major culture shock for Harrington at the time. The hardships she and her husband experienced together both during the Navy and later in life are what she believes helped shape their character.

“I always appreciated the older women in my life who showed me what it looks like to be a strong and good woman,” said Harrington. “I truly looked up to my mother as the smart and amazing woman she was. My grandmother was also a powerful influence in my life. I think it’s important to remember those kinds of women in our history who have experienced so much and therefore have so much sound advice to offer.”

Similarly, Carolyn Dennis’ life has been full of passion but also necessary adjustments along the way. Since the early 1980s, she has been dedicated to helping others and putting her education and experience with a Bachelor of Science degree, Master of Theology degree and clinical pastoral education in Parkland Memorial Hospital and Methodist Central Hospital to good use. However in the 1960s, it was not easy for her to get hired.

“Back in the ‘dark ages’ of 1961, I was refused employment for a job in New York City even though the interviewer admitted I was eminently qualified because I was ‘likely to get pregnant and leave,’” recalls Dennis.

Dennis describes it as a painful time when women had male supervisors who, in many cases, did not want to work with professional women.

“It is so easy to take the present openness of women in the workplace for granted,” said Dennis. “I encourage everyone, especially young women, to acquaint themselves with the history of women’s ‘liberation’ movements and remember that the freedoms and equality that we now enjoy have never come easily or automatically. Hard-won advantages need to be celebrated, nurtured and protected during times like Women’s History Month. In addition, we need to remember that there is still a long road ahead for many women who face ‘glass ceilings’ of many sorts, some subtle and some blatant.”

In the 1980s, was able to utilize her skills and education to make a difference in the lives of others. While she believes the best thing that she ever did was marry Bob Dennis and enjoy 50 years of marriage with him, many refugees who found sponsors and therefore safe havens may argue that her taking the role of Sponsorship Developer for Refugee Services of North Texas would be the best thing she did. Working for that organization, Dennis was part of the efforts to provide resettlement services for legal refugees in need. She served as a resource person for mission programs and urged countless groups in her designated coverage area, to help those who were seeking protection and a new life.

In addition to Refugee Services, Dennis continued putting her knowledge to good use working for other organizations, including the Human Rights Initiative in Dallas as the fundraiser and founding incorporator. Now at Grace Presbyterian Village, she is a resource person for OASIS – Older Adults Sharing Important Skills. This group supports volunteer efforts whether involving visitors from outside the community or residents exchanging knowledge and ideas amongst each other. She also is the part-time Life Enrichment Fine Arts Resource Coordinator at Grace Presbyterian Village coordinating guest speakers and events for everyone to enjoy. Dennis also writes and publishes the community’s monthly newsletter to keep everyone informed.

“I hope hearing from Marge and Carolyn reminds us all why we need to recognize Women’s History Month,” said John Berkely, Executive Director for Grace Presbyterian Village. “It is so important to take the time to consider the outstanding achievements made by women and listen to their stories. These are just two of many at Grace Presbyterian Village who have such fascinating backgrounds and certainly are worth honoring.”