Age: 93 Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Dorothy Craven is probably the only person who moved to Hawaii reluctantly. “I didn’t want to go,” she says. “I had everything I wanted in Maryland.” In fact, when her husband, John Craven, accepted a job at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Dorothy told him she and the children (12-year old David and seven-year old Sarah) would stay for one year. Dorothy hated leaving her job as a speech pathologist at the University of Maryland and had no luck trying to line up another one in Honolulu before the move. “I figured I would take up swimming,” Dorothy says, “and that I would be bored.”
She was wrong on both counts. She loved Honolulu and has lived there since 1970, staying put even after John’s death in 2015. And the swimming had to be put on hold because she was offered a job as a professor of speech pathology at the University of Hawaii the moment she stepped off the plane. She was tenured in 1976, the same year David graduated from high school, and later served as the Chair of the Speech Pathology (now Communications Disorders) Department. Throughout her professional career in Honolulu, Dorothy was able to grow the University of Hawaii’s speech pathology program and do clinical work in a field that she fell into accidentally but still finds intriguing and deeply satisfying. At 93, Dorothy continues to be asked to lecture, advise and mentor because her expertise is sought after and legendary on the island.
Dorothy was the first in her family to go to college, something she found she had in common with many of her students at the University of Hawaii. She credits the many wonderful teachers she had in high school and college for igniting her passion for learning and for introducing her to issues and topics she knew nothing about, and she tried to serve that same role for her students. She graduated from high school in Missouri in 1941 and attended Southeast Missouri State University (then State College) during World War II. It was a coed college, but by Dorothy’s senior year, there were only two men left in her class. “All of them got drafted,” Dorothy says. A speech professor had taken Dorothy under his wing and introduced her to the field of speech pathology, encouraging her to go to the University of Iowa for graduate school (one of only two programs in the country at the time). She began her Masters the summer she graduated from college, then took a couple of years to work as a speech pathologist in the Alton, Illinois public schools before earning enough money to return and finish her Masters.
Dorothy began her career working as a speech pathologist in the public schools. “Once I got into the field, I loved it,” Dorothy says. “There was never a day that I went to work that I didn’t love what I did.” She met her husband John in Iowa and moved to Maryland with him after they married, where she continued her speech pathology work in a private clinical practice as well as helping veterans at Walter Reed Hospital. “When you work with people who have problems and have come to despair that they will ever be able to communicate confidently again,” Dorothy says, “It is so very satisfying to be able to help them.” She worked with singers who had lost their voices, men who returned from the Korean War and had issues with their hearing, and children who had speech impediments. The common denominator among all of her clients was their determination. “Everyone was always so motivated,” Dorothy says. “They all wanted to succeed.”
She felt the same way about her graduate students at the University of Hawaii. “These wonderful students were so determined and really appreciated my help,” Dorothy says. “I could relate to them.” Neither of her parents had gone to college and Dorothy sees herself as “an example of what education can do for somebody.” Her mother was a stenographer who refused to let Dorothy take typing (“I still can’t type with any speed or accuracy,” Dorothy says) because she didn’t want Dorothy to follow suit. Her father, a salesman, was determined that his children would get the college education he never got. Both of her parents were proud of her success even thought it took her far from her home. “Education changed my life,” she says.
It is a life she is glad she gets to enjoy in Hawaii. “In my old age, I am able to live by myself because my former students all look out for me,” Dorothy says. “Hawaii has been very, very good to me.” She was active with the Democratic party, often volunteering at events, campaigns (including her late husband’s run for Congress in 1976) and with initiatives that will impact the world she is leaving behind to her children and grandchildren. She continues to provide mentoring to the Hawaii Speech and Hearing Language Association and volunteers with the Historian at Honolulu’s Central Union Church. “She is a bit of a rock star in Honolulu,” her daughter, Sarah Craven, says. “You can’t go to the grocery store without someone approaching her to say ‘Mrs. Craven! Do you remember me? You changed my life!’”
Dorothy is proud of her career, her children and grandchildren, and some of her successes along the way, like getting Hawaii to require speech pathologists to have a Masters degree. And she remains engaged in the world around her, still striving to make it better. The lessons gleaned from her career and a life that has spanned so many changes and developments are the things that served her well throughout and have remained constants. “You have to be a good listener,” she says. “And you have to assume that there is something good in most everybody.”