The following is a first of sorts: Our first interview with Sarah Lantz, who might be considered the first faculty member here at Shelton College since its rebirth. Mrs. Lantz is well known and much beloved here in Saint Albans, having taught English at our high school for forty-four years. She taught me in 1977 and I was determined that she would teach my children, and she did. It was always a fight to get into her classes, and for good reason. Her students learned to love the great writers and went on to various successes in life. In the spirit of full disclosure, we must let the reader know that Mrs. Lantz is a major contributor to Shelton College. Her son, George Lantz, one of our town’s favorite sons and great success stories, became the CEO of Darlington International Steel and it is primarily through his largesse that this college, dormant for one hundred years, has risen from the ashes here in our town.
SCQ: Mrs. Lantz. Good morning. And thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. It’s our first, you know. Well, the first in about a hundred years.
Mrs. Lantz: I did know that, and, believe me, the pleasure is all mine. No one could be happier about the resurrection of Shelton College than me.
SCQ: This posting will note the generous endowment of the college from your family. Let’s start with exploring why you were interested in Shelton College in the first place. Many people would see the transfer of wealth involved here as irresponsible. Shelton College was nothing but an idea when you decided to give the money. Why did you do it?
Mrs. Lantz: Well, for starters, we have plenty of money. My needs are modest, you know, but I am completely secure, and so is everyone in my family. George’s success has been phenomenal, I know, but his was not the only success we had. My husband’s lumber business made money for thirty years and we invested wisely and spent wisely. We have more than we will ever need. I’m not bragging. I just don’t want anyone to think that I am taking a reckless risk or that our gifts to the college were some great sacrifice. They weren’t.
SCQ: That’s right. Your husband was the mayor here for years. I had forgotten that.
Mrs. Lantz: Yes. Sixteen years. 1978 to 1994. After he retired.
SCQ: Nonetheless, you could have given the money anywhere. To AIDS hospitals in Africa. To cancer research. Anywhere. In fact, there are a dozen existing colleges here in West Virginia that could have used the money
Mrs. Lantz: That’s true, of course. And no one should suppose that the gift to Shelton College has been our only gift ever. But the question is important and one that we, of course, considered as we contemplated endowing or re-endowing the college. I think there are good reasons for what we did. Defensible reasons.
SCQ: Now we’re talking. Please defend them. I know how good you are at this.
Mrs. Lantz: That doesn’t take much skill. I can do it in one sentence. Our culture is coming apart. Right here and now and right before our eyes. It’s as dire a need as a hospital in Africa.
SCQ: Some would say that is alarmist. Some would say that any reference to “culture” is, in the end, elitest.
Mrs. Lantz: Well, those people ought to start reading the paper.
SCQ: I think I know what you mean. I wouldn’t be here, myself, otherwise. But you’re going to have to take that thought a little further, for our readers.
Mrs. Lantz: Where do I start? This country is awash in drugs. It’s hit our state even harder than most places. It simply can’t be denied anymore. It’s affecting the most basic functions of the economy. Businesses can’t find people to hire because no one can pass the drug tests.
SCQ: Again, I think I know the answer to this one, too, but what does endowing a college have to do with addressing the drug problem?
Mrs. Lantz: You had better know the answer, or I’ve given my money to the wrong school. But, for your readers, the drug problem is, in the end, a spiritual and philosophical problem. It’s not going to be solved by more aggressive law enforcement or tighter regulation of the medical profession. It won’t be solved by therapy, either. I don’t discount either of those two institutions, they’re necessary, but it should be more than clear by now that they do not serve to reduce the problem. They may slow the pace down some, but they are not any kind of answer on a social or societal level. They don’t address the problem at its roots.
SCQ: And a college does?
Mrs. Lantz: It should.
Mrs. Lantz: By teaching people that there are better things in life than a buzz. By giving people the skills in communication and self-understanding to allow them to succeed in relationships and in work. By getting people out of the maelstrom of consumption and greed. By teaching people to recognize counterfeit goods. By exposing them to greatness and teaching them to love what is lovely. That there are rewards for work and patience. Real rewards that are worth the sacrifice.
SCQ: You’re starting to sound like a preacher.
Mrs. Lantz: I am a church goer and I love my church. I do consider my gift to Shelton College to be a part of my life in Christ. I give to the church, but the church here and now is overwhelmed with very practical problems. People are so sick and so burdened with insoluble problems. I pity the pastors. They are, as the saying goes, “up to their eyes in alligators” and don’t have time to think about how to drain the swamp.
SCQ: That’s not exactly how that saying goes.
Mrs. Lantz: You know what I mean.
SCQ: Let’s move on. How about your class? It’s the first class in Shelton College in a hundred years. What kind of class is it, and how did you decide on it?
Mrs. Lantz: I’ll tell you what it is. First of all, it is the joy of my life. I can’t tell you how much it means to me. I literally wake up in the mornings looking forward to it.
SCQ: We’re very glad to hear that, of course, but what kind of class is it?
Mrs. Lantz: An English class, of course.
SCQ: Of course.
Mrs. Lantz: And all girls.
SCQ: How are you getting away with that?
Mrs. Lantz: There is no Federal money going to Shelton College. That was a condition of our gift.
SCQ: Why only girls? How can that be fair?
Mrs. Lantz: It isn’t, on an absolute scale. But the question is “Is it good?”
SCQ: Okay, then. Is it good?
Mrs. Lantz: I could not be more convinced of it. It has changed these girls. Changed the way they view themselves. I think it will change their lives. Already has.
Mrs. Lantz: Let me tell you first how the class got started. Or, how I got the idea, at least. Have you ever read Reading Lolita In Teheran?
SCQ: Yes. An underground English class.
Mrs. Lantz: All women.
SCQ: But that was in Iran and under the dictatorship of the Ayatollah Khomeini. It was illegal for women to be educated then, or at least to read the western books they were reading. That’s not the case here.
Mrs. Lantz: Well. Yes and no. Reading Jane Austen is not illegal right now, I’ll give you that. But there is a definite spirit of the age that affects everything that goes on in a public school classroom. For example, do you think that the girls would be as willing to be forthcoming in class if there were boys in the room?
SCQ: I see. But, I’ll bet you’re going to say that there is more to it than that.
Mrs. Lantz: There is more to it than that.
SCQ: In the underground English class in the book the women were completely oppressed. They had nothing to look forward to but marriages to men who would lord it over them and consider them second-class citizens. They had to wear chadors. Women have never had more freedom and power than they do today in the United States. How can there be any comparison?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s true, of course, that there are opportunities open to women in this country that were not open to those women in the book. But there is a class of women in this country that is worse off now than forty years ago, and it’s a big class. There are far more women raising children alone in this country than there were forty years ago. We lionize them and put on that we think they are heroes, but it is a raw deal for them. It is one lousy existence. You can’t even say this in the public square anymore, but I am old and I am rich and I don’t care. Somebody has to say it. Children raised by single moms don’t have a chance.
SCQ: We will get mail on that one.
Mrs. Lantz: Okay. That’s a bit strong. And I know that the woods are full of this story and that of how someone raised by a mom who worked two jobs for thirty years went on to become a neurosurgeon or something. It happens, I know. But nobody is talking about the real statistics – that children raised in single-parent homes don’t achieve as well as those being raised in an intact family. They don’t get as much education, they don’t earn as much over their lifetimes, they are more prone to divorce, drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, crime and suicide. This is what single moms have to look forward to, really. Downward mobility. Unceasing stress and disappointment. And all the while working their fingers to the bone, doing jobs they don’t like. Wasting whatever potential they might have had. What a life.
You know, I feel funny even saying this, but in a way drug use is a rational response to that kind of existence. You know what kind of drugs everyone around here is hooked on now – pain killers. Where there is no hope of anything better than what these people have, no wonder they want to kill the pain.
SCQ: And reading Jane Austen is going to change that?
Mrs. Lantz: It might. In some cases, it just might.
SCQ: Tell us how.
Mrs. Lantz: Those women in Iran were just overwhelmed with the idea that women could have as much freedom as Elizabeth Bennett. That they could actually have a choice about where their life might go. They could tell men “no.”
SCQ: Some would say that Elizabeth Bennett would be overwhelmed with the amount of freedom and self-determination that women have in the United States today.
Mrs. Lantz: Theoretically, yes. In some cases – those women who have the best educations and the wherewithal to get them, yes. But let Lizzy Bennett sit in on a women’s prayer group somewhere these days. The problems women have these days would have been unimaginable in her day. And now that kind of life is the norm. It’s all that people even expect.
SCQ: So. Reading Pride and Prejudice might raise expectations. Some might say it would raise them a bit too high.
Mrs. Lantz: Not everybody gets to marry Mr. Darcy, but it is fair for a woman to have expectations. Maybe I should not use the word “fair.” Maybe I should say “wise.” Women should not take men to raise them.
SCQ: The question you’re going to get, though, I imagine, is “what is the alternative?” I mean, what do these women – this class of women – have to choose from, realistically?
Mrs. Lantz: The world changes with every decision, with every word spoken. The woman who stays clear of the violent or lazy man changes the world. Saying no does not mean the end of the world. They have to believe that.
SCQ: It was the end of the world to Jane Austen’s characters. If they didn’t marry, they were charges on society. They couldn’t even get jobs.
Mrs. Lantz: Jane Austen never married. She said “no.”
SCQ: It’s a little weird, it seems to me, to think Jane Austen’s books, which are all about marriage, would be used to convince women to say no to marriage.
Mrs. Lantz: To say no to bad marriage prospects. To say no to careless, lazy and violent men. The books might suggest that life can be better than that.