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A "College Girl's"Victory
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Mark Evertz
Photo: PCC Cascade developmental English student Sally Kemple survives the school of hard knocks to garner third place in national essay competition.
The life journey of Sally Kemple always managed to find the bumpiest of roads.
At 12, the North Portland resident found herself homeless and alone. By 15, Sally became a ward of the court, then, two years later, a high school dropout, a wife and a mother. In the years to come, addictions, family health issues with her husband, Dennis, and scratching together a living for her family in places such as a Portland area car wash, seemed to seal her fate.
After about 40 years of struggle, the 52-year-old Kemple, a first-year student at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Last winter term, the developmental English writing student put her life to paper for the national Townsend Foundation Spring 1999 Scholarship Program for Developmental Reading and Writing, netting third place. The award, announced in late June, earned Kemple a $500 scholarship and a healthy boost in confidence.
"Now that I’m using my brain, I know I’ve got a good one," said Kemple. "It just took me a while to realize it."
Christmastime 1998 was when Kemple decided to make that life-altering decision to get back into the classroom.
"It was December 21 and my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas," she recalled. "I said `I’m not going to sit here and watch life pass me by. I want $37 (the cost of tuition at the time) times the number of credits I take. I’m going back to school.’"
Her husband was more that willing to oblige. "He said, `Ya know, I’ve always wanted to date a college girl’" Kemple said, chuckling.
Overcoming a paralyzing fear of school after years of failure almost kept her from being the college girl she and her husband both wanted. That was before Kemple met PCC Cascade developmental English instructor Mary Lane Stevens.
"I was scared to death," Kemple recounted. "On that very first day after (Stevens’) class I said I didn’t know if I could do this. But I told her she had my undivided attention."
Soon thereafter, Stevens saw promise in her student’s gift with the written word and encouraged her to submit what became Kemple’s autobiographical essay "Taking Charge of My Life" to the Townsend Foundation scholarship program.
"Sally’s ability to evoke her childhood in her journal impressed me," remembered Stevens. "Her wealth of details really paints a picture, in the same way "Little House" books do."
Kemple remembers the day Stevens encouraged her to take a chance and submit her essay.
"She told me that in all her years as a teacher she never had someone she felt would qualify for this, but said `I think you can’ to me," said a bubbly Kemple. "I told her that if she thought I could do it, I knew I could."
The pat on the back from the Townsend Foundation and the $500 will bring Kemple back to PCC in the fall to pursue a college degree. She sees herself "helping people" as an emergency dispatch (9-1-1) operator. Kemple said she has her own tenacity, and the faith of Mary Lane Stevens, to thank for her new lease on life.
"She is an awesome teacher," gushed Kemple. "She knew what she had to say and do to get me going. She told me she knew I could do it and (now) I know I can."
Hearing and seeing that rise in self-esteem has an equally positive effect on Stevens.
"How does this make me feel as an instructor? Wonderful," Stevens said recently. "Obviously, Sally did all the work, but seeing her so happy makes me feel good too."
And the proof of Sally’s happiness these days as she enters classes this fall is in the PCC notebook writing journal that she totes around with her wherever she goes.
"She started that journal in Writing 90 and took to it like a duck to water," said Stevens. "And she’s continued it after the classsome wonderful, memoir-type stuff."
The vote of confidence has Kemple fueled by the joy of achievement and dreaming big.
"My life will never be the same since I won this award from Townsend," she said recently. "I now have faith in my abilities and I know there will be more checks in the future for my writing."