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Aleta (Christina) Congdon Robertson
I entered Lake Forest College as a 16 year-old freshman, and the four years that followed shaped the rest of my life. LFC’s liberal arts program and diverse student body opened up a whole world of ideas and possibilities for me. I majored in psychology because I wanted to help people and make the world a better place.
I learned, however, drawing alone in my cinder block room in Deerpath Hall that my true love was art. I began to draw cartoons and hung them in my dorm room using a web of strings and paperclips since we couldn’t put anything sticky on the wall. I Incorporated cartoons into my term papers when I needed to communicate abstract ideas that were hard to explain in words. I continued to do this in graduate school and doctoral studies. Even my dissertation defense had hand-drawn visual aids.
Upon graduating from LFC, I entered a school psychology masters level program at Roosevelt University in Chicago and went to work for the Special Education District of Lake County (Illinois) also known as SEDOL. This was part of a five year plan to pay off my school loans before entering art school. Well, the five year plan stretched into a 40 year plan. While at SEDOL I met the love of my life, Rich Robertson, a graduate student and friend of my brother. Also while at SEDOL I conceptualized and facilitated a behavior therapy program for special needs students. Eventually that program morphed into a flagship model for the state of Illinois for teaching prevocational skills for students entering the workforce.
The superintendent of SEDOL thought that I showed leadership qualities and directed me toward an off-campus doctoral program in education administration through George Peabody College for Teachers of Vanderbilt University. It took me ten years to graduate because while I was in school and working full time, I gave birth to two daughters and a son, moved across the country twice, and took a hiatus to study medieval church history at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
At age 40 I found myself living in Portlandia with my family and have remained for the last 30 years. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous. I live 20 minutes south of downtown Portland, 3 hours south of Seattle, an hour and a half west of Mt. Hood and an hour and a half east of the Oregon coast. It’s like being on vacation all the time.
I’ve found things to help me stay busy out here. I worked for Portland Public Schools (PPS) for 25 years as a school psychologist. I taught adjunct at Lewis and Clark College in Portland both in psychology and continuing education departments. I wrote essays about my adventures in public education and published them on the PPS school psychology list serve every Friday noon, so my colleagues would have something entertaining to read while they ate their lunch. I volunteered at my children’s high school during the summer by keeping the track and shot put pit free of weeds and trash and also pruning the campus trees. I helped a friend “Design on a Dime” her house when it was time to refinance. We raised the appraisal value $20,000. I was a performing member of both Toastmasters International and the Portland Story Teller’s Guild. I made prom dresses for my daughters and a dragon costume for my son.
I took family leave from PPS in October 2013 to help my oldest daughter care for her identical twin sons with special needs, i.e. autism spectrum disorder. I officially retired on December 1 of that year and continued to help her care for the boys. I should add here that my younger daughter has three sons who are neuro-typical. Needless to say I have become adept at assembling Lego toys and am familiar with a large number of superheroes.
While my family remains my priority, I also realize that I always need do something just for myself, to do more with art. I took on a volunteer job as the art director for a Presbyterian church and started taking drawing and lighting/set design classes from the local community college. Currently I’m trying to teach myself to do abstract paintings. As Franz Schulze used to say, “It’s harder than it looks.”
Thinking back over the last 50 years, I must say that I’ve had a lot of fun. Life has been good to me and I can’t complain. I’m looking forward to seeing you all in October.