by Susan Anderson
Two years. That was all the time Elly English planned to spend at St. Bonaventure University, a place that “didn’t even have a football team.”
But 45 years later, this lover of college football remains deeply connected to Bona’s.
“I found three things when I came to St. Bonaventure: a professional home, a spiritual home and a familial home,” says English, who recently transitioned into a retirement that promises to be anything but dull.
Born in Seneca Falls, N.Y. (birthplace of the women’s rights movement and home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she proudly points out), English was the first of her family to go to college.
Her parents, each the eldest in large circles of siblings, were forced to quit school in order to help support their families. But they possessed a strong commitment to a future college education for their only child.
English fulfilled this goal by attending the State University College of New York at Brockport, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education.
And she didn’t stop there.
Her first master’s degree was from Ithaca College, in physical education. Two more followed, both from St. Bonaventure — one in elementary education, the other in counselor education. From there, she headed to Italy to gather research for her dissertation, earning a doctorate in physical education, majoring in history and philosophy of physical education and sport from SUNY at Buffalo. Then it was on to a teaching stint at Kent State University, which she calls her “Mt. Olympus for sport history and philosophy.”
But the thread that led her to St. Bonaventure was her late husband, longtime Bona’s professor Joseph C. English II, who taught in the School of Education for 27 years. He was meticulous; she thrived within chaos.
They arrived at Bona’s in 1964 with their two young daughters in tow and a son to follow (all three to become Bona alumni; Susan, ’78, Pamela, ’79 and Dr. Joe, ’87), at a time when females were not permitted to wear slacks or have a dorm on campus.
“In 1970, the university was still putting together the curriculum for the master’s in elementary education and asked if anybody in the group could teach health education,” she recalls, citing a state education law that by 1976 would require elementary teachers to have a background in teaching health education, including sex education.
Of the assembled group (three nuns and her husband), only her husband raised his hand, saying “he knew someone very well — capable of teaching not only health but sex education.”
So began her career at Bona’s, teaching as an adjunct.
By 1973, English became the first woman to teach physical education at St. Bonaventure.
“The gymnasium is a learning center and is a classroom,” she says. “It was made for me.”
In 1991, after time away teaching elsewhere, English returned to St. Bonaventure as a professor in elementary education where she taught social studies, health education, children’s literature, and adolescence education — and for the last four years, some courses in physical education.
“Teaching is where I fit,” she says. “I try to always do it with enthusiasm, to look outside of the box, to be creative.”
The advice she has passed on is “to love what you do, because your enthusiasm comes through. Those you teach will discover the joy of learning — and what a joy it is.”
For St. Bonaventure alumna Keli Garas-York, Ph.D., ’99, that enthusiasm and love of learning made a lasting impression. “I was inspired by Dr. English, her stories and her instruction,” says Garas-York, who studied under English during graduate work at Hilbert. “She made me realize that I could go on to get my doctorate. I’d never even considered that as a possibility.”
An assistant professor in the Department of Elementary Education and Reading at Buffalo State College, Garas-York adds, “I would not be on the path that I am today if I hadn’t had Dr. English as a professor.”
A CONTINUING THREAD
English’s love of movement, dance and foundations of sport has taken her around the world and deep into some of the oldest archives in Europe, resulting in numerous published articles.
With collaborator Dr. Nancy A. Chicola, she has co-authored two books and given many presentations at the local, state and national levels, and on the international scene in such places as England, Greece, Scotland and Spain.
“I’ve considered Elly a mentor,” says Chicola, associate professor at Buffalo State College. “She keeps me on track. She is really compulsive about having things completed and helps keep me focused.”
A recipient of the University Faculty Research Fellowship Award, English has spent the past seven summers studying sport at Oxford University’s former women’s colleges.
“Research in the untold story of sport from the perspective of the athlete at the five women’s colleges at Oxford University, from their beginnings in 1879 to 1979 when none of the Oxford University colleges included both sexes, is a fascinating quest,” English says. “Hopefully, it will make a fascinating read as well.”
She also enjoys committee work and served on a number of university committees. In 1994, she headed “where angels fear to tread,” becoming the first female chair of the Faculty Senate just as the university faced probation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and financial exigency.
“Elly English was central to the still untold story of this university’s ‘turnaround’ just fifteen years ago,” says Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F., S.T.D., president of the university. “Elly led faculty work involvement in the creation of Clare College and the successful completion of our Middle States visit in 2004. She simply refused to be defeated by the serious threats to success and she convinced all the rest of us that success was possible. And she was right.”
Eventually, English became chair of the Middle States Committee and later chair of the Permanent Accreditation Committee.
“I like the whole idea of the structure of accreditation,” English says of the periodic review process, adding that it gives an opportunity to show “how good you are at what you purport to do: the two P’s — prove it and show your pride in it.”
Another responsibility of the Permanent Accreditation Committee is to evaluate new overseas programs established for undergraduates and to review programs that are recommended for students to attend in other colleges overseas. In 2007, English, as a member of the PAC Team, headed back to Rome, Florence and Venice to complete their review tasks and found time to search for a bargain tapestry, “an oxymoron at best,” she shares.
DESIGN FOR THE FUTURE
In August 2008, English retired, “sort of.”
“Elly unswervingly strives for excellence,” says Dr. Paul Schafer, associate professor in St. Bonaventure’s School of Education, and English’s friend and colleague for nearly four decades. “I wish her a great retirement, but know that she will never slow down; it is not in her nature.”
Today, English is an adjunct professor for St. Bonaventure’s School of Education and remains active with the Elementary Education and Reading Department at Buffalo State College. And research is still prominent, for she returned this past summer to Oxford to continue her work on female sports, while impatiently waiting for the college football season to begin.
About the University: St. Bonaventure is in the top 15 percent of institutions in U.S.News & World Report’s 2010 ranking of Northern universities that offer master’s degrees. It has a history of accomplishment and service that extends back 150 years. At the heart of St. Bonaventure University is the Franciscan affirmation of the dignity and worth of the entire created order. Fundamental to this vision is an awareness that it is within relationships and community that individuals discover and develop their potential.