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Interview with Sylvia Polgar, May 24, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Sylvia Polgar, May 24, 2006
May 24, 2006
Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Sylvia Polgar moved to Chapel Hill with her husband in 1967. She completed her PhD in Sociology at UNC Chapel Hill in 1973 with a dissertation on children's play. In 1976, Polgar was hired as part of the sociology department at UNCW. Here, she discusses teaching students, interactions with faculty members, the development of the university, and the beginnings of the women's studies program.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Polgar, Sylvia Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 5/24/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 83 minutes

Riggins: Today is May 24, 2006. My name is Adina Riggins, I'm the university archivist. I am here today at the home of Dr. Polgar, who will be telling us her story for our oral history collection in the university archives. Dr. Polgar, please state your full name, for the tape.

Sylvia Polgar: I'm Sylvia Polgar.

Riggins: Thank you. We're in Dr. Polgar's home and she has with her--?

Sylvia Polgar: Chata.

Riggins: Chata, a cute little poodle. C-H-A-T-A?

Sylvia Polgar: Correct.

Riggins: He's a guest as well. Or, we're a guest in his home.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes. This is his home. I think it's mine, but he thinks it's his.

Riggins: Even Dr. Polgar's a guest. I'm really pleased to be here today--

Sylvia Polgar: I'm glad to have you.

Riggins: --and to talk about your time at the university in the social work department. You were probably in various departments.

Sylvia Polgar: It wasn't set, yes. I'll tell you about that.

Riggins: We'll get to that. But first, can you just give us some background information? That's how we like to start off. Please tell us where you were born and where you grew up.

Sylvia Polgar:I was born in Manhattan, in New York City, and I grew up in Manhattan in New York City and had never been South until 1967, I came to Chapel Hill.

Riggins: What brought you to Chapel Hill? As an undergrad?

Sylvia Polgar: My husband's uhm.. job. My husband took a job at ah.. UNC Chapel Hill and that's what brought us there.

Riggins: You told me before we started the tape that you would reveal your birthdate.

Sylvia Polgar: I was born June 23rd, 1928.

Riggins: Going back to your beginnings in New York City, where did you live? West Side?

Sylvia Polgar: I- I lived- I was born in Washington Heights and I lived most of my life on the West Side of Manhattan, Upper West Side, 80s and 90s in that area.

Riggins: I guess it's changed a lot since then.

Sylvia Polgar: It has changed a lot.

Riggins: Have you been back?

Sylvia Polgar: I go back at least twice a year. I also lived in Greenwich Village when I lived alone, you know. After I moved out of my parents' home, I lived in Greenwich Village, so I knew that part. But the ho- there was no east village. The west side has changed ethnically. It used to have just Irish and Jews and now it has a lot of Latins. And so- but that part hasn't changed as much, but a lot of- a lot of New York has changed a lot. The World Trade Center I never knew when I was growing up, because it wasn't there. So that was kind of a very different neighborhood.

Riggins: Right, the downtown.

Sylvia Polgar: Right. Tribeca didn't exist. It was where the boat- boats came in. So, it's really so interesting sociologically to see the changes.

Riggins: The changes in the downtown area and all over the island. You grew up in New York City. Did you go to public schools there?

Sylvia Polgar: I went to public schools. I went to Julia Richmond High School, which was an all girls' public school. It looked like uhm.. a jail. It had grates on the windows and one light out during the time we went to school.

Riggins: Very serious?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, it was very serious. I took a bus- a city bus back and forth to school. Uhm... I don't know. Nothing spec-- I had a good education. They had something called the country school, which was sort of like a special school within a school, so I had quite a good education there, yeah.

Riggins: Where did you continue your education?

Sylvia Polgar: Well, I started at NYU and Parsons School of Design. I thought I wanted to be some kind of an artist. And my- my parents said I should do a practical degree, so I tried to do flat design, which is fabric design and wallpaper. I had no interest in wallpaper and flat design. I did it for a little while and one day when I was doing an exercise, I was standing in the Met in front of Botacelli's "The Three Miracles" and I was rendering a quarter inch of drapery. That was my assignment. And I looked at the beautiful Botacelli and I looked what I was trying to do and I said, "This is not what I want to do with my life." So I dropped out of school. I went to work, most likely at every major industry in New York--television, garment industry. I worked for Ketchen Drugs for a while, uhm.. as a kind of secretary. I was an assistant to a buyer. I did all-- I was a production assistant on television for a while.

Riggins: Wow. Typing, did you do?

Sylvia Polgar: Production assistant, no. You picked cameras and got, you know, you did very-- it was- this was small-time live television y- years ago. You got the titles on and off the air and you pre-interviewed people. This was a show called "Between the Lines," which was an interesting show. It was a new show. And ah.. Jimmy Hoffa who used to run the union, the subway union, was one of the people I remember interviewing. So I had a kind of an interesting life during that time. But I always knew I wanted to go back to school. And I think it was maybe five years later, I went to Europe. No, I didn't. I went to Europe after I graduated. Uhm.. I went back to school on that point. It was right after the war, '41 or so. They had op-- not '41, after '45--'46, '47.

They had opened a school called the School of General Studies, which was a school up at Columbia University. It was Columbia's School of General Studies and they had night classes. And they were mainly for the returning GIs, but anybody could go. And so I worked at Columbia in the psych department ah.. in education for a while. And ah.. while I was working, I was taking courses. You got some free courses when you ah.. taught- when you worked there. And I eventually got a BS, they didn't give a BA there, a bachelor's of science, from the School of General Studies. And- and got, I think my degree was in English and Psychology. Uhm...

Riggins: It was probably very busy with a lot of returning-- the classes were probably very full.

Sylvia Polgar: That's right. There were a lot of returning GIs and very interesting people. They were a little older than a-- and so was I, you see.

Riggins: Right. So it probably was a good fit.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, it was a very- it was a very good experience. I- I liked the School of General Studies. I- it worked very well for me. It was almost like going to a community college, except they didn't have community colleges that gave regular degrees at that time.

Riggins: Bachelor's, right.

Sylvia Polgar: So that worked well. And a lot of people, including me, went from there into graduate school at Columbia. It was a feeder, really, because all of the people that went there were very bright, but not traditional Columbia College or Barnard College students.

Riggins: Their education had been interrupted by the war or something else.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, in my case, by not knowing what I wanted to do.

Riggins: Were your parents supportive during this time?

Sylvia Polgar: No, not really. My mother-- I was of a generation where girls should work until they got married and then not work. And if I worked, I should have been a teacher. Uhm.. I think that was-- or something practical. And ah.. I wasn't interested in teaching at that point, at not- at least not regular uhm.. classroom teaching. So I-- my parents and I-- my mother and I really didn't get along very well together, so I moved out of my apartment and ah.. that was hard, because I had to support myself.

Riggins: Doing all these various jobs?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes. And now going to college was not what it costs today. My goodness. And I lived in Greenwich Village and paid $50 a month rent. I still remember, and shared it with a friend of mine.

Riggins: That was affordable back then?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes. [dog barking]

Sylvia Polgar: Excuse me. Okay.

Riggins: We're back. We just had a little interruption when--

Sylvia Polgar: Chata.

Riggins: Chata's mailman came to visit. But you were saying that you were, people, women were encouraged to go into practical fields, such as teaching. You were not interested in classroom teaching. You knew that much.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, I didn't want to teach little kids at that point in my life. And so I moved out of my parents' house and worked and went to school. For a while I just worked full-time to get enough money to pay the rent. Uhm.. and eventually I be-- ah.. then I started working at the university. That's what happened.

Riggins: At Columbia?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. So that got me back into school. And I uhm.. I got interest-- I was working in the psych department and I got interested in experimental psych and training rats. And that was an interesting area. Uhm... [break in tape]

Riggins: At that time, your degree was in English and--

Sylvia Polgar: And experimental psych, yeah, so--

Riggins: You proceeded on to graduate school?

Sylvia Polgar: Ah.. I went to Spain for that summer. I think my mother paid my way to Spain. She wanted to go and my father didn't want to travel much, but he tra- he met her in Europe. So she paid my way to Spain and I went and I had a sort of oh- I had taken a lot of Spanish and I was really interested in a poet called Garcia Lorca. Do you know Garcia Lorca?

Riggins: I've heard the name. I don't know his work.

Sylvia Polgar: Well, I got- I got a sort of romantic view of Spain and- and this poet. And I wandered around Spain and ended up in Grenada, which is a beautiful city, where there was a man actually studying this poet. And so I learned something about him and I had a-- not with this man, but I had a romantic relationship. It was a great-- it was about four months in the summer, four or five months, and it was a great time. And then I almost got married and I thought better of it and came home. This was und- still under Franco when I left, so it was a long time ago. And I came back and decided-- oh, I know. I had worked-- that's what happened.

Riggins: How did you travel to Europe? Was it by boat?

Sylvia Polgar: By boat. [break in tape] I think I went over and came back on the "Liberte."

Riggins: That must have been something.

Sylvia Polgar: That was a- a really interest-- it's like, but it's like being on a- in a big hotel on the water. You don't really see the water that much. I mean, people drink and party and I mean, today's boats sort of even more so.

Riggins: Right, the cruise lines.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. This was not a cruise line. This was just a boat to Europe.

Riggins: But it was still pretty nice.

Sylvia Polgar: It was very fancy and the food was wonderful. It was just-- French food is just-- it was extraordinary food and interesting people. The young people were sons of diplomats and daughters of French people who were going back to France for the summer. It was an interest--

Riggins: A lot of young people?

Sylvia Polgar: A lot of young people on the boat, particularly on the sort of middle class, where we were. There was a fancy class, I've forgotten what it was called and then there was a lower class. And in the middle group was where all the action was. And that's where my mother bought the tickets. Steerage was the bottom. Cabin was the middle? No. I can't remember the names of the classes.

Riggins: Interesting.

Sylvia Polgar: It was interesting. But before I went, I worked for a man named Solan Kimball at Columbia, who was writing a book. He was an anthropologist. And a- and a- he was writing a book and I was typing it. And he got me interested in reading anthropological books and I read a book about a village in Spain. And when I went to Spain, that kind-- that book was in my head. And so I saw Spain a little bit like an anthropology might-- an anthropologist might see it. And when I- by the time I came back, I was really interested in anthropology. I- as I say, I had worked for Kimball and he was an an-- he was an educational anthropologist. He was at the School of Education at Columbia. That's where he was. And ah.. Columbia had a very interesting anthropology department. Margaret Mead was adj- adjunct. She was never major there, but they were very good people-- Conrad Ahrens wrote- wrote a book on Ireland. An- anyway, they were really major figures in anthropology at Columbia. And that's where I took my degree, but I never-- I got a master's. I did all the dissertation at Columbia, but I never wrote my dissertation there.

And about the time I should have done it, we moved to Chapel Hill. And I thought I'd finish it in Chapel Hill and I uhm... took my language exams at Columbia, because those were preliminary to writing my dissertation. And I took them in Chapel Hill. They were sent down and monitored. But I just never did it. I- you know, for whatever reason. By that time I was married and then I had a- one child. And so I finally finished my PhD in Chapel Hill. That's where I finished it.

Riggins: Oh, okay. In the same field?

Sylvia Polgar: I finished it in sociology, actually. Uhm.. but I still considered myself an anthropologist, because that's sort of more of my background training.

Riggins: You were able to apply a lot of the courses to it, I would think?

Sylvia Polgar: Right, right.

Riggins: Then you did your PhD in Chapel Hill. You came to Chapel Hill around 1967, you said?

Sylvia Polgar: I came to Chapel Hill- Hill in '67, that I know. Because I came here in '76 and it's just the reverse.

Riggins: And your husband, was he on the faculty?

Sylvia Polgar: He was on the faculty in anthropology, because he was an anthropologist.

Riggins: That's how you met?

Sylvia Polgar: That's how we met, we met through- I always tell the story that I knew almost everybody he knew and he knew almost everybody I knew, but we had never met. Ah.. but we did at a New Year's Eve party.

Riggins: With people in the department?

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. it was actually there were-- I knew his sister. Uhm.. I don't know how I knew all these people. I knew his sister's husband. Uhm.. the people who gave the New Year's Eve party and I were friends. Ah.. and they were also friends of his. There was a real overlap in our network. Uhm.. and I think it, you know, it was anthropology, it was politics, it was a lot of things that- that overlapped.

Riggins: That brought you together. Well, you came to Chapel Hill in 1967 and I know about that time period, because that's around when I was born in Durham. From what I understand, Chapel Hill was pretty quiet then, compared to what it is now. What did you think of Chapel Hill when you arrived?

Sylvia Polgar: Well, my favorite story is that my husband said, "Let's get a-- take an apartment in--" I've forgotten the name of the apartments in Chapel Hill. It was a two-story apartment. And he said, "Let's take an apartment and see where we want to live, where we want to buy a house." And I said, "Honey, you brought me to the country, I want to live in a house." I'd never lived in a house in my whole life. So I thought Chapel Hill was country.

Riggins: Right. You thought, "Why live in an apartment?"

Sylvia Polgar: That's exactly right.

Riggins: I can do that in New York.

Sylvia Polgar: That's exactly right. But to call it country and I think people would have-- even then would have laughed. It was a very ah.. it was a nice campus. It was a pretty-- it's always been a pretty campus. It still is. Uhm.. and the departments were very-- there was some very good people. There was still some stuff going on politically, because you still had to sign loyalty oaths. So it was- it was when I finally did work there for a little bit uhm... and there were a lot of nice young faculty coming in. But ah.. it was- it, you know, compared to what it is now, it was small. Uhm.. but I liked it, I liked Chapel Hill. It was a nice place to raise kids. We lived near campus. My husband used to bike to campus. I often walked to campus. Uhm.. and ah.. I knew a lot of people. There were a lot more women there, although the women that were there were also kind of gathered together. We had one women's group of people trying to get PhDs and some of them, particularly in the sciences, were having a lot of trouble with anybody taking them seriously.

Riggins: Wow. That's amazing.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, it is amazing. It's- there's still some problems, but uhm.. so I met- met some interesting women through those women's groups who we kind of supported and talked to each other. It was a- it was an interesting time. There was some political activity. They were trying to organize the food service workers during that time. So, and I was having- I had another baby around that time, so-- I had my other baby before I came down. That's not true. That's-- I came down with two kids, but they were young. My two young kids. So it was pretty busy, I mean, you know.

Riggins: Plus you managed to finish your PhD at Chapel Hill.

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. yeah, and I took a job towards the end of it working in the School of Social Work. This is how I got interested in social work. I was teaching-- I was developing social sciences and psychology and sociology and anthropology programs for social work. There was something in social work called s- the behavioral science H- Human Behavior and the Scientific Environment. HB and SE, it was called. And that was a component that they were telling people that they had to teach in social work.

Riggins: For the master's students?

Sylvia Polgar: That- that's right, the master's students. I don't think there was an undergraduate degree. I'm pretty sure there wasn't in Chapel Hill. And so I helped develop that, since I had a background in psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I was a right fit. And I worked on a grant, I think, to develop that and taught a little bit- taught that to social work students. I had no social work background other than that.

Riggins: But you had methodology. Did you go into research methods or it was mostly--?

Sylvia Polgar: No, I did-- well, I knew something about research methods, because you had to take that, but that really wasn't-- there was another man that I worked with in Chapel Hill whose field was research methods. So I mainly looked at human behavior and the social environment, that kind of stuff. Uhm.. and looked at what would be applicable to social workers. Like, you know, social workers need to know something about class and how class affects behaviors since they're working with poor people most of the time.

Riggins: What was your dissertation on?

Sylvia Polgar: Well my dissertation was on something entirely different. It was on children's play. I observed ah.. at that point, I wasn't going to go abroad. I had done my master's in Trinidad, but I wasn't going to go abroad to do a PhD, because-- I could have maybe, but it would have been hard with two kids. So I observed children on playgrounds and children in gym, those two settings--the gym setting and the playground setting. And I looked at the differences between how children behaved in those two settings. And it was- it was about play. It was called-- I wrote an article on it called "When Is Play Not Play?" And basically, it's when it's supervised play in the gym, it's not play. It's, you know, it's a class. But you watch children in unsupervised situations on the playground, and they- it fits the definition of play. They're trying to make this thing continue. So they do all kinds of modifications to- to make it play. So if you're- if you're a little kid and you can't hit ah.. a baseball well, they'll give you four or five strikes. Whereas, the kid who's good at it, they'll give three strikes. But there's all this kind of thing going on. It was really fascinating to watch.

Riggins: It's good you have a good memory of your dissertation. A lot of people don't.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. It was fun. I enjoyed my dissertation.

Riggins: Yeah, it sounds like you have an eclectic academic background.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: I can relate. I have done different things also. It makes sense when you can't-- when a lot of things appeal to you, why specialize? You worked in this department of social work, School of Social Work at Chapel Hill for a while.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, that's correct. And then I got my degree and my-- oh, we went to Eng-- no. Did we go to England then? '74-- I can't remember when I got my degree. Uhm... yes, I believe that's true. In '74-- I must have gotten my degree in- PhD in '73. We went to England for a year. My husband was a visiting professor. I was kind of a TA, uhm.. and I met every fortnight with my students. But that was kind of fun. The kids had a good time in England and I loved England. I didn't have a lot of work in England, but they gave me job. It was almost like a- being nice to me to give me the job I had. But it was fine. I liked it. And I could-- It was very hard to look for a job from there. And I came back without a job, with nothing to do and I got-- for almost a year I was depressed. I mean, I didn't know what to do with myself. I was in Chapel Hill. I wasn't going to get hired in Chapel Hill. They wouldn't hire a woman-- a husband and wife in the same department at that point.

Riggins: Right. Plus, you had gotten your PhD there and they often..

Sylvia Polgar: Right. That's another thing.

Riggins: You had small children, but that was not enough?

Sylvia Polgar: Well, I mean, you don't get a PhD and decide you're not going to work. And if you're going to have a career, you need to keep going. And this job opened up. And it was kind of inter-- I had sent out to Roy Harkin, who used to be in Chapel Hill. He was in the School of Education at Chapel Hill. And I sent him out a- a--

Riggins: Your CV?

Sylvia Polgar: CV, thank you. I couldn't think of that word. I sent him my CV and it happens that I had a background that John Scalf, who was an empire builder, who was the head of sociology at the time, thought was perfect. I could- I could teach in social work, although I didn't really have a social work background, but I had taught in the School of Social Work. I- I had sociology of education as a course potential to teach, which I could do in education. And I had ah.. anthropology, sociology, whatever you wanted, in his department. So he went to Daniel Plyler, who was an- was an extraordinary man. Ah.. I have a lot of respect for him. And he said I've got this person who can cover all these fields and somewhat, and he sort of sold me to Dan Plyler. And by the time I came for my interview, I knew I had the job. I mean, I knew he wanted me. And- and after being unemployed almost a year, to suddenly be in a situation where somebody really wants you was astounding.

Riggins: Wow. He was the chair of sociology?

Sylvia Polgar: John Scalf was the chair.

Riggins: Wasn't it called social sciences at this time? Was the department kind of--

Sylvia Polgar: I think it was called sociology, but it had criminal justice, uhm.. social work, anthropology, and sociology. I think it had all those pieces, although uhm.. and there were people who'd come and go and come and go and teach it. There was a guy named Al Sharp who was here when I first came. I have no idea--he was really interesting--what happened to him. There was a woman whose name I could find, but-- and I really liked her. She stayed a year or so. Uhm.. and Scalf just never renewed anybody's contract and they weren't under, you know, they weren't even on tenure lines for a lot-- a lot of them didn't have PhDs and uhm..

Riggins: But he wanted you as a tenure track?

Sylvia Polgar: Well he put me in a tenure track position. He did. And uhm.. which was really nice. I mean, it was nice for me. And ah.. This was also good, because I could commute back and-- my husband, remember, was in Chapel Hill. My kids were in Carolina Friends School. I didn't want to pull them out, so I left them all in Chapel Hill and I'd come back and forth on weekends. That was hard. That was hard. But my husband was willing to do it. We got somebody to be in the house, you know, when we needed to. And so we got a lot of help. And then that's how I lived for a number of years.

Riggins: Starting in 1976?

Sylvia Polgar: '76, no. '76, right.

Riggins: Bicentennial year.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: You were in Wilmington starting out assistant professor, teaching a lot, I'm sure.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: What did they have you teaching?

Sylvia Polgar: There were-- I think you taught four courses and you- they were all over the place.

Riggins: What do you remember about your first year or so there? What stands out? You were teaching all over the place? Is that when you started teaching in the school--

Sylvia Polgar: Right, in the Department of Ed. It was the de-- I taught all over the-- what really amazed me, most of the students were from Wilmington. There were a few that were from outside Wilmington. Most of the students had never been-- a lot of the Wilmington students had never been outside of Wilmington. And most of them had never been outside North Carolina. These kids that had been outside North Carolina, more than any, interestingly enough, were the black kids. And the reason for that was that a lot of them went up north in the summer to be with their family, like a mother who had migrated from here to go north. And not all of them, but there were a few of them. There weren't many black kids, but a lot of them were in social work. Social work would have been a field that blacks could- could enter and expect to do okay in. Uhm.. so.. I remember being so shocked that, for example, you couldn't assume any knowledge of foreignness or awayness. They were very insular students. Uhm.. at one point I was getting my social work students an exa-- ah.. questions that they had to take home and they were looking at community. You study individuals, groups, communities in social work. And we were looking at community and I asked them to draw their community, the borders of it, say who's in their community. And I've forgotten a number of other questions. And one of the questions was "Who has the power in your community?" And a number of these kids were rural kids.

And I said, "Who has the power in your community?" And the answer was "the Jews." And I was really shocked. What Jews had power in their community? Well, it turned out they were the storekeepers. I said, "What's the most valuable thing in your community?" and they said "the land." And I said, "Who owns the land?" And, of course, they didn't know. Ah.. you know, the land was owned by the big names that you all know today in this town, but they didn't know that. The people that they thought had power were the people they dealt directly with.

Riggins: The merchants.

Sylvia Polgar: They were merchants, who seemed to them to be very wealthy. So I learned a tremendous amount about the South, about people uhm.. it was a- it was a very different world. And again, these people had never been-- later on I started teaching. Later on we developed uhm.. a- a curriculum which is now communications, speech communications. I can't remember her name. She was a wonderful woman who died young.

Riggins: Is it Betty Jo Welch?

Sylvia Polgar: Betty Jo Welch, thank you. Betty Jo Welch put me on a committee to develop, because I was teaching language and culture and anthropology. And she put me on a committee to develop that curriculum. And I taught a course in that curriculum. Uhm.. it was called Language and Culture. And when the students came in, I was trying to talk about differences in language and I-- about-- Do you know what a phoneme is? The sounds? A phoneme is-- yeah, a phoneme is just the difference in s- in a sound system. For example, in Spanish there's a phoneme "ha," [guttural sound] which do-- in Hebrew, too, which doesn't exist in English. And the sounds in every language are slightly different. Like Chata is not Chata, it's Chata. The T in Spanish is dentalized. So I was trying to explain this to my class, but they had never heard a foreign language. None of them had heard a foreign language. So and that-- you know, that- make- it su- was such an insular world at that time.

Riggins: Most all of the students, if not from Wilmington, were from southeast North Carolina, that area?

Sylvia Polgar: Correct.

Riggins: What about Jerry Shinn? Did you know him then?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, I knew Jerry Shinn. I didn't know him well. Uhm.. he was- he was very funny, number one. And he was very interested in, you know, in getting all these beautiful things from all over the world into the university, which eventually became the Museum of World Cultures.

Riggins: The Museum of World Cultures. Yes, which now actually is housed in the library.

Sylvia Polgar: I love the ah.. sculptures and stuff as you come in. It's beautiful. I didn't know him well. I knew James Megivern better. I think politically I was more in line with Megivern than Shinn. Uhm.. but ah.. he did some interesting things for the university.

Riggins: Right. I just thought of him when you were describing the students being insular, because I think one of his assignments was to go ahead-- tell the students to go get passports, because a lot of them hadn't done that kind of thing.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. What would they do with passports? They wouldn't go anywhere.

Riggins: Right. But the process, I guess.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, well that's interesting.

Riggins: That is interesting, too, because you were there in the late ‘70s. The university had been around for about 25 years or so. It had become a university, but it was still very local.

Sylvia Polgar: When I came, people would say, "Oh, you teach at the college." They did not call it UNCW. They called it "the college." For a long-- it took about maybe five years after I was here that people began refer to it as a university. It was the co-- and they loved the college. I mean, the community loved the college and I was well-respected when I said. I was looking for a place to live, because I couldn't-- you know, my husband was in Chapel Hill with the kids and I needed a place here to live. And when I looked around-- I walked around Country Club in that area one day, I remember, with my other dog. And I would stop people on the street, women usually, and say, "I'm a widow. Ah.. but my husband died in '78, so you need to know. And I would say, "I'm a widow and I teach at UNCW and I'm looking for a place to live." And I thought-- being a widow I thought gave me respectability of one sort and teaching at UNCW gave me another kind of respectability. People did respect UNCW, yeah.

Riggins: That's interesting. There was a lot of support in the town?

Sylvia Polgar: Uh-huh.

Riggins: Did you end up moving here then with your children?

Sylvia Polgar: No, my children were almost finished school in '78, so uhm.. I think it was about two-- maybe about 1980. No, it was 1983 when the last kid went off to school-- college. And that very last year, 1983, my youngest son was alone in Chapel Hill and I moved back there and got my master's in social work there. See I had-- up until that point, I did not have a social work degree, although I was teaching courses. I went backwards and got a master's degree and- and because I really wanted to develop a social work program. That's part of what I was interested in at that point. It didn't seem sensible to teach courses and not have a re-- you know, a licensed degree.

Riggins: It's very hands-on?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: You went ahead and--

Sylvia Polgar: So that one year-- I had a lot of background, so it took me about a year and a summer to- to get my MSW, which I did. And my husband died in '78. Ah.. so you know, I didn't have any direct connections in Chapel Hill. My-- both my kids went to college, were away, so--

Riggins: You got your master's in social work. Was there support at UNCW to create a program in social work?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes. They were very interested in it at that point. Uhm.. and they sent me to conferences-- after that, after I got my degree, I came back. I wrote I think two levels of uhm.. accreditation documents and then one of the deans of women stopped the process and I was mad. It was right before I retired. Ah.. the school of education had just been turned down for accreditation in a kind of public way and they were afraid this was going to happen in social work. So they stopped the process. In social work it didn't work that way. You got sent back, but you didn't get turned down. And ah.. I got kind of disappointed after that. I really didn't-- I mean, I really enjoyed trying to develop a program. And I- I think I did pretty well in getting it developed up to a point. I know now it's quite developed.

Riggins: Right. Well, there's one now, so probably a lot of the groundwork was done by you.

Sylvia Polgar: I was- tried. I was doing a BA at the time. See, master's was far away. You first had to get a BA. We didn't have much faculty, you know. We did finally hire it. I mean, it was a long process. So a lot of the blanks and I were together at that point. And Al Sharp was there. I don't think there was anybody else.

Riggins: To develop this program.

Sylvia Polgar: Uh-huh.

Riggins: Even now that there's a BA, I don't think that the master's classes have started yet for social work.

Sylvia Polgar: I'm not sure either.

Riggins: It'll probably be pretty soon, but it's been a long process. There has been a bachelor's program there since I've been there which has been 2001. In the meantime, you were developing a social work program, you taught probably all the social work courses?

Sylvia Polgar: I didn't teach them all. Delilah taught some. I taught-- I didn't teach how to do social work, because I had never really done it. I did a little bit of it, but mostly on a kind of administrative level for- for my degree, you had to do an internship. But I didn't ever do-- ah.. people always thought of me as a social worker, which is what I was working in New York City on research uhm.. ah.. I did some research for New York State uhm... mental health division. We did some research on New York City schools and I used to stay around Harlem and people would think I was a social worker. I mean, what is a white woman doing in the middle of Harlem? But the fact is, I've never really done uhm.. social work. I did a little-- when I was close to retirement I did a little uhm.. direct therapy with a few people, for family service, but mostly, you know, my field was-- my expertise was really in community ah.. and in- in policy, uhm.. in history. I'm very interested in history and policy, Medicare, Medicaid.

Riggins: At the macro level?

Sylvia Polgar: That's exactly right.

Riggins: I have family members in social work, so the terms are familiar to me. Not that I know a lot about it, but they do. So you taught courses in social work. Did the students have internships?

Sylvia Polgar: They did. As a matter of fact, I developed the internships and that was fun, because I went around the community meeting people who were developing programs. I met Pearce-- the woman who runs the Elder--

Riggins: Elder Hostel?

Sylvia Polgar: It's not Hostel. It's Elder House.

Riggins: Elder House, yes. Pearce, yes. We've interviewed her for our Williston High School segment, because she's a graduate.

Sylvia Polgar: Linda Pearce.

Riggins: Yes.

Sylvia Polgar: Linda was a fascinating woman. I don't know if she told you her history, but up until I met Linda, up till that period, the- the few black people here were local. Uhm.. and most of them were not middle class. And- and the ones that got to college were the first generation to go to college. I met the parents. When- when graduation came, I would meet the parents. And it was always exciting for the parents, because these k-- and they-- none of their family had been to college. Linda was an i- interesting example. Linda's mother had been a maid for the wealthy families in town. And she came back because her mother was getting sick and this town was changing a little bit in its attitude towards blacks. And through her mother, all these people that her mother had worked for were now getting old and they needed a place to be during the day. And she had had a-- she has a public health or public administration degree. And she started this agency with the help of her mother's bosses, if you will, which I thought was just amazing. I mean, these were Warshaw and Warshauer and all the large wealthy families in town. And they gave money and support and their families started going to her agency.

Riggins: And it's still around.

Sylvia Polgar: And it's grown. I mean, it was tiny. I mean, I remember sending students there and they-- you know, there were maybe 10 clients, 5-10 clients. Uhm.. so looking for places to put students was really fun. It was really interesting.

Riggins: You can make ties with people in the community.

Sylvia Polgar: That's exactly right. That's how I met Linda. And I, you know, still see her occasionally.

Riggins: Right.

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. but that was exciting. That was- that was fun doing that.

Riggins: So the students didn't major in social work, then, when you were there--

Sylvia Polgar: I think they got a degree in sociology, with a concentration in social work.

Riggins: You probably felt like they were social work students, because they--

Sylvia Polgar: Well, they felt like they were, too, because, you know, I was the person they saw most. You know, again at graduation, I was the one that they got their family to meet. You know, and I can't tell you how strange it was to have so few black students and to have all of them be local. Uhm.. except the ones, as I say, that went up to New York in the summer. But uhm.. and there were very few black students. And they were all huddled over one building which I think was called New East or something. I don't think it exists anymore. It was the cafeteria building.

Riggins: Oh, West Side.

Sylvia Polgar: West. That's it.

Riggins: I think for a time there were more African-American students back then, say in the ‘80s, then there were in the 90s. It sort of dropped.

Sylvia Polgar: Oh, it did drop? Okay.

Riggins: But it's interesting that there were so few, but probably quite a few of them were concentrated in your department.

Sylvia Polgar: That's exactly-- that and education.

Riggins: Did you continue to teach in education?

Sylvia Polgar: No. I don't know when it stopped, but it was-- that was hard because you had to teach at night, because a lot of the students were teaching during the day. So I didn't stay there, maybe a couple years, two years that I taught in education. I was going to tell you something else. I don't remember. [dog barking]

Riggins: Alright. We just turned it off for some puppy dog barking.

Sylvia Polgar: I was going to tell you-- I was going to tell you some-- oh, I know what. A number of the-- at some point, we began to get a few middle-class black students. And they stayed a while and then they left, because there was no place in the community for them to go except church. There were no clubs downtown that would-- I don't know whether the clubs would allow them in, but they weren't attractive to them. There was no social life for these kids other than the university. There were no sororities just for black kids. So it was kind of hard for them. And so I was kind of sympathetic for their not wanting to be here, even though I w-- you know, it was good to have them. But it was an interesting problem. And I don't know if it's-- how much it's still true, but I think the town has changed somewhat since.

Riggins: Not long after you came there would have been a lot of attentions from the Wilmington Ten, etc.

Sylvia Polgar: The Wilmington Ten was earlier than that.

Riggins: Okay.

Sylvia Polgar: It was earlier than that, but that affected the whole atmosphere. Uhm.. by the way, I-- one of the nice things about the university, I just went to see the man who wrote "Blood Done Sign."

Riggins: Yes, Timothy Tyson.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, and that-- he was impressive.

Riggins: Did you go to some of those events?

Sylvia Polgar: I went to hear him talk. I bought five copies of his book and gave it to everybody I know.

Riggins: Isn't that an amazing book?

Sylvia Polgar: It's an amazing book. And he was so delightful and so-- a lot-- so much humility for a guy who did-- he's done a lot of interesting work.

Riggins: Oh, yeah. The whole topic of race relations, history. You said you got to know Milton McLoren?

Sylvia Polgar: Oh yes. He was one of-- I guess I was thinking about this and I hadn't told you. Uhm.. when I first came, not everybody, but a lot of the faculty would meet at lunch in that cafeteria that I was telling you. What did you name it?

Riggins: West Side?

Sylvia Polgar: West, yeah.

Riggins: It's not a cafeteria anymore.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, there was a cafeteria there and there was a faculty room that was separate from the cafeteria. And I think we went through the line and- and brought our food into that room. I'm-- that's my memory. And it- the room was maybe one and a half times as big as this living room. So it wasn't very big, with a table that sort of went in a half-moon shape. And Mel was one of the people who was there almost every day. Uhm.. Me- Megivern was there.

Riggins: Jimmy?

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. I'm trying to remember.

Riggins: You mentioned Charlie West.

Sylvia Polgar: Charlie West was there.

Riggins: From business.

Sylvia Polgar: And we had-- oh, Thad Dankel.

Riggins: Yes, yes.

Sylvia Polgar: We had these wonderful political discussions, very heated. Uhm.. and I was the only woman there, as far as I remember at that time. Because I- it was-- I mean, Kathy Berkeley was not there at the time. She would have been if sh-- she would have been at the- at lunch if she was in the university, but she wasn't.

Riggins: No, not yet.

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. and it was just a wonderful time sitting around the table. Different people would come on and off. But there was a sort of cadre.

Riggins: Regulars.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, regulars. And Mel was one of them. That's how I got to know him. And I- and I really liked and respect him. I like him tremendously. I read his- one of his books. Actually, my name is in one of his books. Uhm.. the one about his fa- his parents' store. I've forgotten the name.

Riggins: Is it the autobiographical one?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes. I read the draft of it and I loved it.

Riggins: That did very well. I interviewed him very recently. And he talked about how his more popular works had become, were so popular and were really interesting for him to write. He liked those exercises of writing for a nonacademic audience.

Sylvia Polgar: He do- he did very well. He wrote another one on a slave girl. Yeah, yeah. I- I bo-- I've read what he writes. And again, I- I haven't seen him a lot lately, but I- I liked him a lot and I liked his wife, who taught math.

Riggins: Yes. She was one of the few female mathematicians.

Sylvia Polgar: That's right.

Riggins: At UNCW or anywhere, so she did well, too. After you got your master's in social work, you said that they seemed to be more supportive, or you went to some conferences particularly for social work at that time?

Sylvia Polgar: There were conferences on accreditation and social work conferences generally. And then they usually had a segment on accreditation. Because social work programs were just being accredited at that point, particularly undergraduates. I- I think before that, there was no BA in social work commonly given. So they now began to give BAs and they were accrediting and that's what I was really going to those conferences for, was to learn what I needed to do and meet people and-- ah.. because I didn't have, you know, a network of connections. I did in anthropology, somewhat in sociology, but I didn't have that set of connections in social work, because I just went to school in a year and a half and came back and taught.

Riggins: Sure, yeah. Being the only one at UNCW trying to do this program, it's not like you had a connection of people at UNCW.

Sylvia Polgar: Right. Well, Delilah worked on it a little bit. Uhm.. I think that was all. I think there were just two of us at that point. Uhm.. but ah.. yeah.

Riggins: That was some good memories, having lunch with this group of people.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, that was-- those were wonderful times, because you learned a lot. Uhm.. you know, you learned about programs. But that-- it was something I missed later on. Uhm.. but I- I did work through women's groups. So that's the other thing. Not then, but later we began to form women's groups when Kathy came and uhm.. Pat Como was there. I'm trying to think of all the women who were involved. And we began to have women's ah.. day and have programs and-- oh, I know. Ah.. in sociology.

Riggins: Ellen Covan?

Sylvia Polgar: Ellie. Well Ellie came later, yes. I know-- I was very friendly with Ellie at my department. Before her, the woman who is married-- Miller. Her name isn't Miller, but his name is Miller.

Riggins: Oh.

Sylvia Polgar: Stat. Uhm.. she married him and then she-- maybe her name was Miller. I'm having trouble with her. She married uhm.. a guy who was a dean. He was dean of foreign students for a while. My names are going. Anyway, there was a small group of women which grew and grew. Ah.. I think Ellie came in very late in that, although she's been there a long time. Uhm.. and we began to do women's day. So we- that was another sort of network of people that was, you know, some of whom I still see regularly. Barbara Waxman is in that group. Uhm.. English department.

Riggins: English department may have had some. Patricia Lerch, she--

Sylvia Polgar: Pat Lerch was involved, yeah. She was in anthropology. Yeah, she was involved in it. Uhm..

Riggins: Let's see who else? Sociology? I'm trying to think who's been there a while. Diane Levy?

Sylvia Polgar: Diane Levy. Diane Levy was married to Rob Miller. That's why I-- and then she married--

Riggins: Gary.

Sylvia Polgar: Gary, yes. Diane was involved in that. So that was a- it was actually maybe 15-20 people uhm.. in. We gave- we gave programs at the beginning. We didn't invite people in. And eventually, we began to get into the network of people in women's areas and women's studies. We began to have lunches with women and it was interesting.

Riggins: For faculty or for students as well?

Sylvia Polgar: For student-- oh, this was- this was for students.

Riggins: Okay. So you'd have talks. It sounds like it was a precursor to women's studies.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, it was a precursor to women's studies, yeah.

Riggins: People were involved in setting up a women's studies program.

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: There is one now and there is a minor in women's studies.

Sylvia Polgar: I knew that. Oh, what's her name's in philosophy? Pat-- was it Pat- Patri- Pat?

Riggins: I'm trying to think. Well, there's Carol Thysell, who passed away.

Sylvia Polgar: What?

Riggins: Carol Thysell, who passed away. She would have been younger, in philosophy and religion.

Sylvia Polgar: Carol?

Riggins: Yeah, but she was younger.

Sylvia Polgar: No. Pat hadn't-- Patty, Patty.

Riggins: Oh, I know who you're talking about. Turrisi, Patricia Turrisi.

Sylvia Polgar: Patty Turrisi.

Riggins: Yes, she's great.

Sylvia Polgar: She was part of that group, too. Though I still never understood her when she talked. She was the hardest person for me to understand.

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Polgar: But I like her. She's a really neat woman.

Riggins: You'd have different programs for different--?

Sylvia Polgar: We'd have all kinds of-- whatever the issues were, you know, that we thought we- we'd have a day of programs and invite students and we got support from the university to do it. Ah.. we'd be in the student center and then we began to invite people. No- now there's a- a-- they've got women's week or women-- where they invite fairly famous women.

Riggins: Yes, in March.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: So that would be the--

Sylvia Polgar: This was the precursor of that.

Riggins: You would have maybe speakers from this area or from the university?

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: Or you would invite people from elsewhere?

Sylvia Polgar: At the beginning, we did it all ourselves. We each- we- we would all have a subject and we'd talk about whatever the subject was. Ah.. and try to get a panel and get it from community.

Riggins: This is great history for anyone who wants to look into women's studies at the university and how it evolved.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. There was something also going on ah.. uni- ah.. uni-- outside this university, all kinds of things were going on. Uhm.. so that that was also affecting us.

Riggins: Right, issues of the day, you mean?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. And the other interesting thing was I remember when I first came here when people talked about doing anything, they'd talk about what Chapel Hill was doing, because everybody got their degree from Chapel Hill.

Riggins: All the faculty?

Sylvia Polgar: That's right. And- so I- every once in a while I-- I mean, I got mine from there, but every once in a while I'd think, "Can't people think outside of that box?" But, in fact, they couldn't because they-- and, you know, when Kathy came and a lot of other people came, we began to get people with degrees from other states.

Riggins: Everywhere.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. So--

Riggins: Were you involved with any faculty recruitment in your department?

Sylvia Polgar: Oh yeah. Everybody-- well, at the beginning, everybody was on the recruitment committee, because it was such a small department. Uhm.. well, at the very beginning, the only person that was involved was the chair. But then uhm.. Plyler began to make them set up committees to recruit. And some people always had them, but some people ran the department autocratically. So but Plyler began-- he was a- a very interesting dean, because he was marginal to- from this little school where the first graduation I ever went to, he read off every single name of every student graduating in this place. And every one of them had three or four names. It was Mary Louise Elizabeth McKetchen ah.. and so on. And he read every single one of them.

Riggins: I've heard just great things about him. I interviewed him as well.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. He's a sweet man.

Riggins: Right. And did a good job.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, he did a very good job.

Riggins: So he worked to democratize, in effect, the department and make the chairs more admittable, or whatever the word would be, to the faculty. So he did his work there. Did you get to know any other administrators?

Sylvia Polgar: I knew Wagoner. I mean, ri-- because he was a very accessible. And he was a sweet man. Uhm.. and I was on the committee to make a- a monument on campus and they were going to make this monument with a waterfall and a map of the state and then something where- where our city was and water coming down. And I went to a couple of meetings. They had something mocked up and I kept saying, "You know what they need to do is build a- a hill on campus," because it was so flat. And they built a hill. No, they did. You know that area in this- near the library?

Riggins: Yes. It is nice.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, it's rolling. And that was absolutely flat. There wasn't-- and when I first came, Scalf, the chair, took me around campus and every building looked like every other building. And he said, "Isn't it beautiful?" And I bit my tongue and said, "Yes." It was the ugliest campus I've ever seen. It's-- I think it's quite lovely now. The- the library was the first nice building. That was the first one. And now, you know, particularly that central area, is so pretty with the trees and the-- they've just done a wonderful job on that.

Riggins: I guess that had that Georgian architecture, but it wasn't--

Sylvia Polgar: It was just boring, if you had buil- building after building of just simple Georgian architecture. And when Leutze came, when Leutze and his-- I guess his first wife had taste. And, you know, they knew how to make-- I remember, they-- even the administrator when they got all this stuff from the Museum of World Cultures and put it in the administrative building, that's where most of it was when I first came here. Well not when I first came here, but ah.. when he came here. And ah..

Riggins: That brought on some changes.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: I'm getting a flashing light here, so I'm going to stop the tape, but perhaps we will continue on. [end of first section]

Riggins: With tape two on May 24th, 19-- 2006. I'm back in the last century. Going through this history is making me think of the previous millenia. Anyway, I'm here with Dr. Sylvia Polgar talking more about UNCW days and also what followed. I was asking you about the transition when Dr. Wagoner was going to step down. You said you knew Dr. Wagoner.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: And his wife, Madeline.

Sylvia Polgar: I knew-- I didn't know his wife. I saw her at every Christmas they had the faculty, the whole faculty to their house.

Riggins: Right.

Sylvia Polgar: And she stood at the door in a white dress, I think it was the same one every year, greeting people just very nicely.

Riggins: Right.

Sylvia Polgar: But I don't know her.

Riggins: Right, right.

Sylvia Polgar: I was on committees and I saw Wagoner walk around campus. I mean it was a very different, more informal uh.. situation and he was on-- I was on this committee to build a monument I think I told you.

Riggins: And that didn't happen?

Sylvia Polgar: Nothing happened to it because it wasn't a very exciting idea.

Riggins: Yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: And then the whole campus got transformed when Leutze came and they really made it beautiful. I think it's a beautiful campus now.

Riggins: All right, so maybe that was when Dr. Wagoner was there, there was a push to do some beautification but--

Sylvia Polgar: There was a push to do beautification but I think nobody had the vision to do it. I mean it was very traditional sort of like, you know, you put a soldier up on a horse and you got beautification and it was that quality.

Riggins: Right, right.

Sylvia Polgar: But--

Riggins: Dr. Cahill, did you know him at all? He came from the outside.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, yes. I didn't know him. I saw him in meetings. I was on the faculty senate for a while and I saw him there and to say I knew him wouldn't be fair.

Riggins: Right.

Sylvia Polgar: But he seemed to have interesting ideas.

Riggins: Right, right, he was from the outside. What about uhm.. AAW, Dr. Mayer was involved with that but that may have come--

Sylvia Polgar: No, that was around but I don't know. I wasn't-- Maggie Parrish was involved with that. I was never involved with AAW. I have no idea why. I just wasn't.

Riggins: Right, right.

Sylvia Polgar: I was on a lot of committees for a while. I was on all kinds of curriculum committees because I had so many areas of specialty that they put me on a lot of different curriculum committees. But, no, I never got involved with AAW.

Riggins: How did that work? Did it take a lot of time to do that in addition to your teaching?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, but you learned a lot and it was a small campus so that was kind of-- and then uhm.. promotion and tenure committees.

Riggins: Tenure, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: You just learned a lot from doing that and it was kind of-- I thought it was interesting. I didn't-- it took time.

Riggins: Sure, sure.

Sylvia Polgar: But I don't think too much time. I thought it was a fair--

Riggins: Uhm.. and you're involved in your research writing.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, I did-- I didn't do a lot of research after I came here. I did some. I did more service because people were always asking me to speak to every group in the town uh.. so I did a lot more of that, which is not as valued. That's part of the reason I never became full professor. I never really did-- I knew what I had to do to get there.

Riggins: Right, right, yeah, so service is part of it but it doesn't--

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, it was important but it wasn't the main thrust.

Riggins: It wasn't valued as much, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: And I, you know, I decided again I have two kids growing up and my husband had died, I decided that I would stay where I was and do what I needed to do.

Riggins: Uh huh and teach a lot.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: You were teaching.

Sylvia Polgar: I was teaching a lot, yeah.

Riggins: And administration too, with trying to organize the programs.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah and I got time off for some of that, so that was nice and I got, you know, I was allowed to go back to school to get my degree and they gave me time off for that. They couldn't pay me during that time because if I had gone for a Ph.D. and I had a master's they would have paid me but because I was going for a lower degree the rules didn't allow it, which is kind of ironic.

Riggins: Yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: But that was all right.

Riggins: Dr. Wagoner announced he was stepping down and the search began for a new chancellor.

Sylvia Polgar: Chancellor.

Riggins: Carol Fink was on that committee.

Sylvia Polgar: That's right.

Riggins: Yeah, she's moved on to Ohio State. Did you know her pretty well?

Sylvia Polgar: I knew her pretty well. I worked with her. I had read proof with her occasionally. I had dinner at her house. She was very bright and a very unusual woman and I miss her because she used to give me books to read that were wonderful history books. There was one called "The Cheese and the Worms," which was a history of a man who was being tried before the Inquisition uhm.. for his ideas and it traced the history of his ideas. They had all the Inquisition records and it traced the history of his ideas. And, one of his ideas was that life came out of the void the way that worms come out of cheese and that's where that title comes from.

Riggins: Wow.

Sylvia Polgar: And she used to give me these wonderful books to read and I miss those books.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: She's at Ohio State now, is that where she is?

Riggins: Yeah, she left some time ago.

Sylvia Polgar: I know when she left but I didn't know where she--

Riggins: Yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: She went to Europe a lot.

Riggins: And I believe Jack Levy was on that committee also.

Sylvia Polgar: For, for?

Riggins: The chancellor search.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: Okay, yeah but there were some issues with that which I guess the faculty didn't have as much say so as they do now and uhm.. what do you remember about that search?

Sylvia Polgar: I think that, you know, I had a feeling that they-- I mean I had heard faculty saying exactly what you're talking about. That they didn't have as much involvement in it and I mean they weren't in education. They wanted somebody who could understand what, and they just thought this was a man with money.

Riggins: That's right they were uhm.. the board of trustees was ready to hire. Their top choice was this uh.. fellow who had been a--

Sylvia Polgar: I can't remember his name.

Riggins: -- a president, CEO of an encyclopedia thing.

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: And uhm.. so when that-- it was almost like it was uhm.. a done deal or, you know, they were almost announcing that it was--

Sylvia Polgar: I don't think I was on the in then and I may have been going back and forth to Chapel Hill so I may not have known a lot of went on-- what went on at that point.

Riggins: Right.

Sylvia Polgar: But so I can't really give you much of that history.

Riggins: But they uhm.. basically faculty said, you know, "We want someone who is an educator."

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: "An academic who understands faculty and students, has a PhD," etc.

Sylvia Polgar: Exactly.

Riggins: And what were your feelings then, along the same lines?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, absolutely, absolutely, yeah. I think a chancellor has to be an educator and has to understand the problems of faculty and the problems, you know.

Riggins: And even some pretty quiet people I interviewed before he left town, Brooks Dodson.

Sylvia Polgar: Uh huh.

Riggins: He had mentioned this during his interview. He said, you know, that-- even I took up a sign. There was a faculty--

Sylvia Polgar: Well, as a matter of fact, I think I was-- I think I was in front of Brooks, in front of that building during that time. I think I was. I think there's actually a picture of me in the newspaper.

Riggins: Yes.

Sylvia Polgar: I had forgotten that.

Riggins: Right, right. To be an activist was probably nothing too unusual for you.

Sylvia Polgar: No, it wasn't but for Brooks you're right, it was for Brooks.

Riggins: Yeah, he's a Midwesterner.

Sylvia Polgar: He's a very nice man.

Riggins: Midwestern. Quiet, you know but yeah he talks about that how all this was-- to him he felt a need to mobilize. And a lot of-- to the credit of the faculty the selection was Dr. Leutze.

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: Who you all, I think, very much supported.

Sylvia Polgar: Right, absolutely. No, I think Leutze, I mean you know there were a lot of criticisms of Leutze but basically I think he was a good chancellor and he grew the university and he did a lot of physical things that were pretty and, you know, even the color.

Riggins: He made a lot of changes.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: He had that vision from the outside. So you were still, you were on campus when Dr. Leutze came?

Sylvia Polgar: I'm sure I was. I'm sure I was.

Riggins: Right, right. He was installed in 1991. It may have been sometime around then. We'll look it up.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: When you retired and I'll let you know. And uh.. let's see. There was something I was going to ask you. Well, we can go back to that. Well, let's talk about what you've been involved with for all these many years. It's been a long time since uhm..

Sylvia Polgar: Well, when I left I thought I was going to go back to Chapel Hill when I retired but I had made so many friends here, you know. I was really very much integrated into the faculty and friends that I decided I was going to stay, and I bought this house. Sometime before I retired I bought this house. And, when I retired, I decided I had to do something to keep out of trouble and, you know, I was used to working every day. So the idea of just suddenly stopping didn't make sense to me, so I took a job-- a job-- it was I volunteered for Planned Parenthood and I worked with them on a program where they were trying to get children, young people who had one child from not having a second child and going back to work and to school or whatever uh.. and it was an interesting program. And I worked with that for a while. And then sort of everything petered out. The woman who was in charge of it left and I stayed with it I would guess almost a year. And then I started looking around for something else and I got interested in pottery and I started doing pottery. And I also got involved with mental health and eventually they put me on the board, the Mental Health Board.

Riggins: Of the Southeastern Center?

Sylvia Polgar: Right, Southeastern Center for Mental Health. That was pretty active because I was on a lot of subcommittees. I, you know, got to know a lot of people. I have a mentally ill child. I have a son who is mentally ill. That was also taking a lot of time and energy from me. He was here for a while during that time. He actually lived here. He does and he goes to Chapel Hill now. Uhm.. so those two things involved me and then I got into yoga, which got me even more excited. So, my schedule now is Monday and Wednesday I do yoga and Tuesday and Thursday I do pottery and everything else has to kind of fit around it. That's why I said the afternoon.

Riggins: Those are your priorities.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: There's a number of yoga places now in Wilmington. It's great.

Sylvia Polgar: I go to the Yoga Center now. The woman that I started with moved there and works there. She does other things too. But those are the main things I do now.

Riggins: You continue to sit on the board for Southeastern Center?

Sylvia Polgar: I've been on the board for, I don't know, 10, 12 years at least and uh.. I've been doing yoga for about eight and pottery for about the same amount of time.

Riggins: Are you involved with NAMI or--

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, I'm very involved with NAMI. I'm on the board of NAMI. I do, you know, I do their walks. I go to meetings.

Riggins: That's the-- just for any listener, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

Sylvia Polgar: The mentally ill that's correct, National Alliance for Mentally Ill.

Riggins: N-A-M-I, right.

Sylvia Polgar: And there's a local chapter which is pretty active and uh..

Riggins: What about the Mental Health Association?

Sylvia Polgar: Uh.. I know them and I was involved with them. We- we a group of us, including NAMI and also Mental Health Association, built Driftwood, which is a housing for disabled and mentally ill over behind Goodie's out in that area.

Riggins: Oh, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: Uh.. so I was again involved and met weekly, I think, trying to get housing built because there was really very little housing.

Riggins: Right, right.

Sylvia Polgar: For the mentally ill in this community and uh..

Riggins: They need-- the community needs volunteers. Have you done any work with race relations and that kind of thing?

Sylvia Polgar: I did but more when I was faculty than I do now. I used to have brown bag lunches. At one point, I had lunches where I asked black and white students to meet at tables and talk about issues. We'd pick an issue and we'd talk about issues, which was really interesting. That worked out very well. Uhm.. I- I don't know that I was, you know, every time there was any kind of Martin Luther King Day or one of those, I always marched and I tried to support political leaders that were uh.. and I supported groups, Earl Sharon in his recent run, although I didn't know about that until very late because I was away. I go to Vermont in the summer, so I try to, you know, support that.

Riggins: Will you be going up to Vermont soon?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, I'll be going. At the end of June I'll be headed off to Vermont. I live in the woods with an outhouse and no running water, no electricity. It's really fun.

Riggins: And you bring a lot of books.

Sylvia Polgar: I bring a lot of books and I do a lot of walking in the woods and uh.. I have a friend who lives nearby. I cook for her and--

Riggins: Right. Do you get visitors? I guess only if they want to--

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, only if they're willing to stay at a place with an outhouse.

Riggins: Right, which would be your place.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: And you have, I guess you go to sleep early?

Sylvia Polgar: Actually I play cards usually with a friend until 10:30 at night and then go home and go to bed and get up early.

Riggins: Your friends have electricity then?

Sylvia Polgar: She actually didn't until two or three years ago and she now has. She's my age but she's more infirm than I am, so uh.. she now has an indoor toilet. She doesn't have electricity. She has an indoor toilet. But we have gas. We have gas lights, gas stove, and gas refrigerator so that makes a difference.

Riggins: Oh, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: Well you're set.

Sylvia Polgar: Well, it's nice. It's like fancy camping.

Riggins: Wow.

Sylvia Polgar: My kids used to be up there with us. Now they'll be up this summer. One of them, uh.. you know coming up, the one with the kids will come up and visit. And then I have Chata, who's my company. A lot of people and I know people up there that come and see me and I go and visit them. It's a nice life.

Riggins: It sounds very--

Sylvia Polgar: And it's cold. It's not hot.

Riggins: Sounds pleasant.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes.

Riggins: And you're ready to come back to Wilmington.

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, in September I usually come back, try to come back after the hurricanes. I've had a hurricane hit this house, this room twice.

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Polgar: Went through the ceiling twice.

Riggins: Really? Leaked?

Sylvia Polgar: Made a hole in the ceiling. It didn't leak. It made a hole in the ceiling.

Riggins: Made a hole, oh my goodness.

Sylvia Polgar: I had-- the first time I think I had $40,000 worth of damage to this house. The second time it was 30 and they redid the floors and they repainted the whole-- that's why my house is so neat.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah, well let's hope for a quiet season.

Sylvia Polgar: I cut down all the pine trees. That's the thing that-- we had eleven pine trees on this property.

Riggins: Yeah, that will do it.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: Those can be scary.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. Have you lived through a hurricane here?

Riggins: Yes, yes and I was in Chapel Hill during Fran so that was not fun. And then here it's been relatively quiet since I've been here and since 2001 but I can imagine how that can be.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: You don't really want to take them-- you have to take them seriously. I know that I'll be caught off guard when a really bad one happens. What can you do?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: So we'll just make--

Sylvia Polgar: As a matter of fact, the last one I evacuated with Doris Levy, insisted I go with them, and we went to Chapel Hill but we couldn't get back because the roads got-- all the flooding was inland if you remember.

Riggins: Right, Floyd.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, we had to stay at Rachel's much longer than anybody wanted to.

Riggins: Yes.

Sylvia Polgar: And that was funny.

Riggins: Yeah, Floyd was a big one. I hope, well, you just have to do the best we can and hope that we can be good to the earth so that we won't--

Sylvia Polgar: I'm afraid we're not going to be.

Riggins: No, no, we're going to do our best. Well, I thank you for our interview. Before I close, I just want to say also I remember when we spoke on the phone. You said you really had fond memories of being faculty here, especially during the early days. Is that-- is that because in the early days it was so different, just like you said much more informal?

Sylvia Polgar: It was small, informal. You knew everybody across departments uh.. which is not true anymore. I mean people don't know uh.. you know, and again if you had a women's group you had a women's group across departments, so you knew uh.. I joined a book club and that was also-- I still am a member of that book club and it was all across departments.

Riggins: Does it still meet?

Sylvia Polgar: Actually this time-- the last meeting they were questioning whether they should meet anymore because everybody seemed so busy. And, see that's another thing. Everybody wasn't so busy.

Riggins: So, the book club is current faculty as well?

Sylvia Polgar: It's current, yes, it's almost all current faculty. I may be the only-- well Maggie Parrish was in it. I don't know if she's still in it, a lot of English department people, a lot of new people from the English department, a couple from-- Midori, I met him.

Riggins: Uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: Uhm.. I can't remember the other people but they were-- it was quite a large group. Suddenly it's slowing down and uh..

Riggins: Well talk about not knowing people, I mean I don't know everyone in the library anymore. I mean, I'm at a point where I know-- I still know people's names but there are people you don't see and you can't say that you're friends with everyone just because, who has time to be friends with 40 people?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, that's interesting. Well, we had more-- I mean we literally sat over lunch and talked and, you know, people that had classes went to classes but it was somehow the whole academic world was an easier pace. And if you wanted to get promoted you didn't need two books to get full professor. I mean, you're lucky, if you had four articles you were fine.

Riggins: You were fine, right.

Sylvia Polgar: So, you know, that's changed.

Riggins: Yeah, it's changed. It's become more uhm.. big time I guess, you know.

Sylvia Polgar: Well, UNCW is now a major player. It wasn't then. It was a small local school.

Riggins: Regional, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: Uh.. which had just come into the system, so that's a real change.

Riggins: It's a lot of growth that you could help happen but it's not like you're already trying to be a big player, right. And it has changed into-- and I keep saying before we close I just keep thinking of new things. At the library, since you seem to love to read. Did you have experiences in the library where you-- did you help select books for your department, for example?

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, we-- I think everybody did. Gene Huguelet was there who I really like, was head of the library. He was very open to suggestions from people, very open and, you know, you could go to the library and go into his office and sit. That's again a sign of the difference uh.. and, yeah, we always-- we put, you know, there were-- people were saying, you know, you shouldn't put textbooks. The beginning library was full of textbooks, you know. You should put reference books in the library and not textbooks and that changed. But, yeah, it was very easy to get a list and put it in the library. We did that all the time.

Riggins: Build the collection.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. And the library changed and uh.. developed and it was always such a pretty building. I mean I walked into it with such pleasure and there were activities there. We gave classes there because they had audio-visual stuff.

Riggins: Right, right.

Sylvia Polgar: Upstairs I remember.

Riggins: So you'd bring your class there?

Sylvia Polgar: Right.

Riggins: Did you know Louise Jackson?

Sylvia Polgar: Yes, absolutely, yes. She was a very interesting woman. She's retired, I assume.

Riggins: Yes.

Sylvia Polgar: Uh.. I did know Louise. I knew a lot of people whose names if you tell me I will know.

Riggins: Right. The names skip you now.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: Yeah, Louise Jackson would have been one.

Sylvia Polgar: There's one woman who is still working at the reference desk.

Riggins: Sue Cody?

Sylvia Polgar: Sue, yeah.

Riggins: Yes, very interesting person. She's done a lot of research, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah and she's-- and the librarians were always helpful and interesting, yeah.

Riggins: And you may remember Arlene from-- Hanerfeld-- with book selection. You may have known her.

Sylvia Polgar: I'm not sure, yeah.

Riggins: Yeah, yeah, well it's a great library. We're proud of it and proud of its history.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, and, you know, and journals that was the other thing because now I guess they're all on uh..

Riggins: Electronic.

Sylvia Polgar: Electronic.

Riggins: A lot of them are, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: I used to go there looking for journals.

Riggins: Articles, etc.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah. The other thing I used to do I didn't have this dog, I had another dog, was bring my dog to campus. My dog would sit outside the building whatever one I was in. He was-- he came into the social and behavioral science building. Nobody objected at that time. Now they'd object. But at that time they didn't. He'd sit outside and when he got tired of sitting outside he'd find a student who was nice to him and they'd take him up and open doors for him and he'd come right into my office and that was funny.

Riggins: Everyone knew that, you know, who he belonged to?

Sylvia Polgar: Uh huh, everyone knew and people would come into my office and say uhm.. I'm trying to remember his name. Not Sam, Puck, "Puck smiled at me." And he did. He looked like he'd look up at you and looked like he-- he looked like a small German shepherd. He wasn't a big dog. He was bigger than this one but-- and then he'd run. Oh, the other thing that was interesting is behind campus there was all this undeveloped area, lots of it, and I'd go walking with Puck between classes when I got tired of sitting at my desk. I'd walk back there and I'd collect wild mushrooms. And I'd see luna moths, rabbits, and just wonderful back there. I loved it. It was like a nature preserve.

Riggins: Nature, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: And they had this little nature preserve, which was also very nice.

Riggins: Right, right, that's still there.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah.

Riggins: I think they had to preserve some of that now because that's where all the construction is happening.

Sylvia Polgar: Oh, really?

Riggins: School of Ed is there is.. kind of uhm.. near the science building, Dobo. It's right around the corner from Dobo. There's this new School of Ed. There's going to be, so that's where it's expanded is away from the College Road. But there--

Sylvia Polgar: I actually got lost back there once.

Riggins: Really?

Sylvia Polgar: I was walking back there with the dog and there was-- the sun was out so I could tell where I was and then the fog came in and I couldn't tell directions and I ended up on Rose Avenue which was very far from behavioral sciences at the time because there was nothing between behavioral sciences and Rose Avenue.

Riggins: Yeah, oh.

Sylvia Polgar: I mean nothing. All the-- all the buildings where students lived and so on weren't there.

Riggins: Wagoner Hall wasn't there, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: None of that.

Riggins: Yeah that came later, uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: Yeah, and I walked back there and I got to Rose Avenue and I knocked on somebody's door to ask for directions and it turned out to be a man whose name I forget. He used to teach in the school of education, so it turned out to be someone I sort of knew.

Riggins: Yes.

Sylvia Polgar: He was retired at that point. He drove me back with the dog in the back of the truck. That's how I got-- because I had an appointment and I was going to be late for my appointment and I couldn't find-- I had no idea where I was. I didn't know where Rose Avenue was uh..

Riggins: Yeah, if you hadn't had to drive over there, yeah.

Sylvia Polgar: And I didn't really live in the community. Remember, I came in, I commuted in. I taught and I went back home and I taught. I never really wandered around very much.

Riggins: It wasn't Harold Hulon, the chair of the department, was it?

Sylvia Polgar: It might have been Harold.

Riggins: Was it? He was chair at uhm.. at one point.

Sylvia Polgar: It might have been Harold. I'm trying to--

Riggins: That's funny.

Sylvia Polgar: But it was funny that I knocked on the door and it turned out to be someone I knew.

Riggins: Yeah, that's a sign of the times just, you know, you were-- This is just, you know, friendly Wilmington.

Sylvia Polgar: It was not only friendly it was-- when I say it was insular, my other story, which I'll tell you now and stop talking.

Riggins: No this is great, exactly what we want.

Sylvia Polgar: I would-- people would stop and talk to me and they'd ask me where I was from and I would say guess, since I thought my New York accent gave me away. Now remember I had black hair, it was very dark brown, almost black hair and people would say, when I'd say "Guess where I'm from," they'd say "China, Greece, Italy, Spain." They'd guess all over the world.

Riggins: These are students?

Sylvia Polgar: These are-- these were people in the community.

Riggins: Uh huh.

Sylvia Polgar: Who had never seen someone that looked like me. I looked exotic to them, which is no longer true.

Riggins: Oh yeah, it's-- Wilmington has completely changed and become more cosmopolitan.

Sylvia Polgar: I mean but I looked, again I looked exotic. My eyes are a little slanty and I had very dark hair and I was small and a little swarthy. I mean they, you know, everything sort of fit something away from the United States from their point of view.

Riggins: That's a good story.

Sylvia Polgar: I love that story. I think it's so funny.

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