It is clear that Mary was born to help others, and this passion first surfaced in a career as a certified respiratory therapist. After marrying her high school sweetheart and having three children, Mary wanted to join the burgeoning female workforce of the 70s. She followed her interest in the medical field and applied as a respiratory therapist-trainee at Omaha’s Methodist Hospital. Mary worked full-time while pursuing her certification; soon, she saw there was a need for complex medical information to be translated for the general public. Mary had always loved writing, and this career would infuse this love with her already growing knowledge of the medical field. In the fall of 1981, at 28 years of age, Mary enrolled in the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) with plans to major in journalism. Mary continued to work as a respiratory therapist and cleaned doctor’s offices to help support her schooling and her family. This income, as well as several scholarships, helped Mary stay afloat as she worked her way toward her dream.
Mary’s decision to pursue journalism at UNO followed a period of rapid expansion in the department, which reflected the growth of the field. Journalism began as a branch of the English department but soon became its own. One visionary leader, Dr. Hugh P. Cowdin, came to UNO as Chair of the Journalism department, and in 1975, the Speech and Journalism departments merged into one, becoming the Department of Communications (uno.edu). Another faculty member, Bob Reilly, was an associate professor at UNO as well as an author, television producer, and actor, among other talents (Cowart, Gateway Archives). Reilly was multi-faceted and worked closely with Mary during her college career. Mary recognized Reilly’s influence on her, saying, “Bob Reilly was a wonderful public relations role model. I frequently sought his advice and considered him a mentor during my time at UNO and for many years after” (Kenny). She recalled bringing her children to his office to turn in assignments, and it was these types of close relationships that were some of the most meaningful to her.
Undoubtedly inspired by mentors like Cowdin and Reilly, Mary joined the Society of Professional Journalists and became its president during her senior year. She also became a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America and interned at The Daily Non-Pareil, the Council Bluffs, Iowa newspaper; these involvements prepared her for her future careers. In the summer of 1985, Mary officially joined the staff at the Gateway, UNO’s long-standing student newspaper, where she became a features editor. Along with editing, assigning topics to staff, and designing layout, Mary wrote a bi-monthly opinion column.
Karen Nelson, a former Gateway editor who worked closely with Mary, credited her for her incredible contributions by saying Mary “worked miracles with even the worst copy and often made a good copy better” (Nelson, Gateway Archives). In the February 28, 1986 publication of “Fan Mail” in the Gateway, then Associate Professor of English John J. McKenna included Mary’s name among students he felt represented “interesting and deftly crafted work” and said that Mary and several of her colleagues “have brought the Gateway to its highest level of excellence since I joined the faculty in 1970” (McKenna, Gateway Archives).
Mary’s articles vary in subject matter, but her interest in women’s issues shines through. Mary’s first article appeared in the July 26, 1985 issue. “Women’s Center Director Plans Programs, Education” educates readers about the Women’s Resource Center and describes the new director, Helen Quigley, as enthusiastic about women’s issues and exhibiting a drive to make a positive difference on the UNO campus. Quigley said, “Women have certainly had gains, but there’s been a loss involved with every gain … the only way to change things is to educate women in the masses. Let them know what they’re capable of” (qtd. in Kenny, Gateway archives). Kenny’s articles show the women who helped UNO’s population grow and strengthen and also reveal her interest in women’s issues.
This was not the only article that appeared to reveal Mary’s interest in women’s issues. An article