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Mary Zellem ’71

Mary Zellum '71

Mary Zellem was born in Sewickley Valley Hospital in 1949, and lived in Fair Oaks, Coraopolis, and Erie, Pa., during her childhood. She grew up in a working class family with three siblings (two brothers and a sister) in a family of Russian descent.

Her father had entered the coal mines at age eleven to help support his family and died young, at thirty-nine, from black lung. Her mother worked as a maid and cook. Neither of her parents had a high school education (though her mother earned a GED later in life), but it was always assumed that Mary and her siblings, as Americans, would be college educated. Three of them ended up attending IUP.

Mary started working toward a degree in Psychology in Fall 1967 and finished in the winter of 1971. Her first job was with Snelling & Snelling Employment Agency. The gender biases of that time allowed her only to interview and place other women in administrative and secretarial positions. After that, she worked as director of social services for a nursing home in Robinson Township. This position later inspired her to go back into sales, first as a pharmaceutical rep and then selling medical equipment for American Hospital Supply, for which her territory included all of New York (except for the city) and northwestern Pennsylvania.

On one particularly cold day (seventeen below zero, she remembers), while driving her route for American Hospital Supply, Mary stopped at a phone booth to call in an order. The call was to AHS offices in southern California, and Mary inquired about the weather there. The response was that it was kind of chilly: With breezes off the ocean, the temperature was about 72 degrees. Not long after, Mary sold most of her belongings and moved to San Francisco with only two suitcases.

That was in 1974, and Mary has been in California ever since. She continued her career in sales, holding various positions, and today she is director of sales for an upscale lifestyle magazine, M Magazine Bay Area. She resides in San Jose, Calif., with her husband, Russell W. Gatschet.

What led you to attend IUP?

When it came time to think about college, I was looking at schools in California and Hawaii and also at Penn State. But my sister, Marsha, was a nursing student at IUP, and she suggested I visit. She said the school was a great value and also that I would like the campus. She was right on both counts, and so I went.

Tell me a little bit about your time at IUP as a student. How involved were you in and out of class?

Well, to be honest, I was in a hurry to graduate and join the work force. I probably only made it to one or two football games and one basketball game while I was at IUP. And, in addition to my studies, I worked full time. A typical day for me began at the dining hall, where I worked from opening until 9:00 a.m.; then I had classes until 4:30; and then I worked at McSorley’s Restaurant until about 11:00 p.m. So there wasn’t a lot of free time. My parents instilled the ethic in me that if you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. So part of my involvement with IUP today is to recoup some of the social interactions that I missed back then.

Sounds like you were very busy.

I really was, and I graduated in three-and-a-half years on top of that. But even so, I do have a couple very fond memories unrelated to work and school.

My freshman year, I was on the Armstrong [County] campus and, together with a group of other students, took over a derelict retail front in Kittanning and built up a coffee house from scratch. We served food and drinks and brought in folk singers and other entertainment. It was a true gathering place.

That sounds like a lot of fun. What’s the other memory?

Well, this one is less fun, but something I’m proud of. The women’s dorms on the Armstrong campus were still being built, so the university put us up in town at the Steim Hotel. It was a mile or so from campus. On a particularly cold and snowy day, a group of us girls put on slacks for the walk to class, but, when we reached campus, we were denied entry because our attire “wasn’t ladylike.”

Well, we protested. We organized a walkout. And it was scary because we really didn’t know how the administration would react. Would they just kick us out or send us home? But it worked. The dress code was changed after that.

You mentioned staying involved with IUP since you graduated. What have you done?

I cofounded the San Francisco alumni chapter with Meriam and [the late] Ray Phillips around 1986 while Dr. [John] Welty was IUP’s president. We were active through about 1992, and often hosted cocktail parties and other fundraisers.

How about more recently?

During the last four years, I’ve attended a couple of Bay Area alumni events organized by Mary Morgan [associate director for Alumni Relations at IUP]. I actually hosted one of them in my home—in April 2009—and the dean of the business school came to speak. I’d be happy to host again in the future.

You’re also very involved in a couple of organizations in your community, aren’t you?

Yes. I’m chair of special events for the Arts Council Silicon Valley, which is the largest independent arts council in the state of California. It’s given over $25 million in grants since its founding almost thirty years ago. What we mainly do is regranting: We get money from large corporations, like Hewlett Packard, and then we distribute it to worthy organizations and individual artists.

I’m also on the executive board of the Alameda Business Association, which represents merchants in the Rose Garden area of San Jose. The Rose Garden area is famous for having the first paved rode in all of California [circa 1777].

What would you want other alumni to know about your experiences in these positions, or about giving back to IUP in general?

For one, it’s just a great opportunity to network with other alumni—our life paths and careers take us so many different places after we graduate. But it’s also great, at least for me, to be able to socialize with people who have a shared, common background. IUP was just a slower time and pace, and on such an idyllic campus. It’s nice to keep in touch with that.

Do you have a favorite moment or memory related to your service in these positions?

Well, I do have a funny memory. Ray and I were hosting a black-tie event for friends, associates, and alumni as a fundraiser for IUP. Ten minutes before it was set to start, the oyster shucker called to cancel. So there I was, shucking five hundred oysters for the guests while wearing my party dress.

Profile published on 5/19/11

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