By Ann Butler
There are reunions, and then there are reunions. I never heard back on the 50th reunion of the Class of 1966, which was the 50th class to graduate from Durango High School after it was built in 1916 (hope it was a good one), but I did hear about another reunion that was impressive.
Many Durangoans got to know resident Tekla Miller by reading her book The Warden Wore Pink. In the 1980s, Miller was the warden of two prisons in Michigan at the same time, a men’s maximum and a women’s multilevel prison. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Miller speak or just a chance to converse with her, her thoughtfulness about the criminal justice system has greatly opened my eyes to how we’ve become a country with a flawed system, and how so many inmates struggle with low literacy rates. Which makes my other beat, education, seem even more important.
Earlier this month, four other women who were trailblazers working in corrections visited Miller in Durango. She kicked their visit off with a luncheon for 20 women before taking them on a tour of the Southwest, which included a lot of laughter, reminiscing and eating, Miller said.
The visitors were two retired prison wardens, Pam Withrow and Luella Burke; Denise Quarles, who retired as a regional prisons director; and Adria Libolt, a retired deputy prison warden.
“We five women banded together for support when we were appointed in the mid-’80s,” Miller said. “We met once a month to air our fears, talk about the threats we got from male employees, discuss our concerns about success in view of not being wanted in a male-dominated business and cry.”
It was a joyful and special gathering, Miller said.
“The men who saw us as threats or incapable of doing the job called us ‘The Network,’” she said. “They did not mean it as a compliment. However, we used the nickname, and eventually we five women expanded in numbers and officially became the Association of Michigan Women Working in Criminal Justice.”
The organization exists today, and these leaders in their field have been inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
HHHCheck back at durangoherald.com for more Neighbors stories and photos. Neighbors runs in the Sunday print edition of The Durango Herald.Here’s how to reach me: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items. Follow me on Twitter @Ann_Neighbors.I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB of memory) and include no more than three to five people. I need to know who’s who, left to right, and who to credit with the photo. Candid photos are better than posed, and photos should be submitted as JPG or TIF attachments.