Our St. Lawrence County AAUW Agents of Change

See our Women of Courage Profiles


2009 Agent of Change: Pat Musante (1944-2016)

For more than 20 years AAUW has biennially honored a St. Lawrence County woman whose work as employer, employee or volunteer is noteworthy in one or all of these three areas: her work has advanced the cause of women's rights; her work exemplifies the importance of equity for women; her work has brought about significant change in the community.

It is with great honor that the AAUW-St. Lawrence County Branch announces the 2009 AAUW Agent of Change: Patricia Musante, Director of the Potsdam Public Library, a resident of Norwood, NY.

A former Potsdam Public Library board trustee, board president and avid library user, Mary Kelly Jones says, "Grace, passion, tenacity and vision are qualities Potsdam Public Library Director Patricia Musante has employed over the last 10 years to create a 21st century library. In the process she has redefined how residents of Potsdam and the surrounding communities perceive the public library. Pat's service to the community, dedication to the advancement of women's rights and unwavering commitment to ensure the equality for all women make her an ideal candidate for this year's AAUW Agent of Change award.

"Libraries seek to attract and meet the needs of avid readers. Pat takes this one step further. She looks at who is not using the library, where are the road blocks to library usage, and based on her findings, creates programs and services to attract these traditionally non-library users to come to the library. As a result the Potsdam Public Library has experienced a dramatic increase both library use and circulation.

"The library offers those seeking a new career job information and small business resource center. This has been particularly useful for women wanting to re-enter the work force and for those women seeking to create a new business venture. The Potsdam Public Library has successfully embraced the idea of offering library services to populations challenged to get to the library such as local senior housing sites and residents at Evergreen Park.

"Pat is hard at work to bring the Fred Cleveland Literacy Center to fruition in the next year. The center, located in the basement of the library will offer a wide range of literacy services to the community. Pat is the only librarian in the county to have a weekly radio show highlighting the new materials and library programs as well as the latest reading trends.

"Without question the creation of a library taxing district is her most challenged, successful and ambitious project to date. After exhausting local funding sources, Pat introduced the idea of instituting a solid, stabilizing funding source. Her tireless effort resulted in the passage of the Potsdam Public Library taxing district, one of the few such districts in New York State.

"The new taxing district significantly increased the yearly book budget from $19,000 to $47,000. This allowed for the first time the Potsdam Public Library to increase its collection from simply popular fiction to a larger teen collection, graphic novels, books on CD and DVD's. With a wide variety of programs and an expanded collection, the library continues to demonstrate its value in the community as the library with the highest circulation in the county.

"Pat orchestrated to secure for the Friends of the Potsdam Library a space in the basement of the library to create a used bookstore.

"An Agent of Change embraces the road blocks of change and finds creative ways to incorporate these "road blocks" into the landscape. Through her consistent dedication to quality library services, Pat has introduced Potsdam and the surrounding communities to the abundant opportunities of the global village in which we all live, by visiting the library.

"Pat gifts departing board members with a wonderful children's book called Miss Rumphius by Barbara Clooney. It's a story about a welt travelled librarian who spreads beauty and sharing happiness by scattering lupine seeds around Maine. Pat is Potsdam's Miss Rumphius; she as scattered the seeds of reading, she has helped us to discover and value the beauty of a well tended and nurtured library."

Pat hosts the AAUW book discussion group and in September will introduce group participants to their first graphic novel. AAUW member and Book Group regular Kay Briggs writes, "The book group reflects diversity- members have come from Malone, Nicholville and Gouverneur. Some belong to other book groups, 'The public is welcome' means that we have non-members, men, and people of different ages. The age spread is particularly helpful in bringing out different points of view. Pat Musante is a happy embodiment of the spirit sponsored by our AAUW organization which welcomes diversity, and encourages continuing education, and lifelong learning."

And Pat has a positive impact far outside of the library field. Nancy Horan, Professor Emerita at SUNY Canton, writes that "Pat is a regular visitor at the Canton Nursing Home where she is attentive to quality of life issues for residents and bringing concerns to the attention of the nursing home staff. This year she established a connection with a professor at Potsdam College who teaches a course that includes a community service requirement which brought some fifteen student volunteers to the nursing home to spend time with residents. The program is to continue this fall and, hopefully, will become a permanent practice.

"In working with Pat on these issues, I continue to be heartened by her compassion and dedication to work as an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Often the good people do goes unseen. The AAUW Agent of Change award is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the remarkable contributions Pat Musante has made to the North Country."

Kimberly A. McFaddin, a Social Worker at the Nursing Home, writes of Pat, that she "is an advocate for community involvement in the nursing home. As United Helpers is planning culture change and more resident focused living, Pat consistently advocates for enhanced volunteerism and developing structures to make the volunteer programs a success. Pat also supports the activity program through bringing in "Bi-Folkal" kits that provide tools and visual aids to stimulate conversation and reminiscing with the residents. She periodically changes the topics and updates the kits to support continued dialogue and interaction.

"Pat is a woman who cares about people and the resources available to people in her community. The nursing home is a place that many never experience. But for those who do, Pat's contributions and vision add a little something extra to the human experience that is sometimes forgotten."

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2007 Agent of Change: Allison Koch

Honored Canton midwife's practice in jeopardy

CANTON, NY -- What began as a ceremony to recognize the accomplishments of a local midwife quickly turned into a case study for what is wrong with the American health care system for members of the St. Lawrence County Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) at their meeting in Canton.

The 2007 AAUW Agent of Change awardee is Allison Koch of Canton, who opened the doors for women in health care by becoming the first midwife with a holistic, female-centered, OB/GYN practice in St. Lawrence County. She is the owner of Tree of Life Midwifery and Women's Health in Canton and is one of a limited number of midwives in New York State to be able to practice independently rather than being hired by a physician or a hospital -- at least for the time being, that is.

In accepting her award, Koch announced that by the end of the year she may well have to close her office and move out of New York State in order to continue to practice her personalized, holistic health care based on the midwifery model.

When she started her business six years ago, she paid $2,500 a year for malpractice insurance, she said. This year, the bill was $27,000. That will be enough to close her doors forever in St. Lawrence County, unless something changes.

Ironically, it was the State of New York that gave Koch a $30,000 grant a few years ago that enabled her to go back to school to gain the credentials to become a midwife in the first place. And the reason New York encouraged and made possible her further education was to provide more health care to the county, a traditionally underserved area of the state.

Now, because New York is not among the handful of states who have addressed the malpractice insurance crisis that is driving providers out of health care, she will be forced to relocate, she says. This will impact not only her family and her employees, but all the women and families for whom she now cares.

Many of her clients travel long distances for the midwife birthing option and for regular and alternative care for yearly exams, menopause issues, family planning, counseling, and related services for women of all ages.

And she is one of the major care providers for low income (Medicaid and the MOMs program) pregnant women in the county. She and one other midwife now assist women to deliver one-third of all babies born at Canton-Potsdam Hospital.

Koch describes her practice as ďAn important model for health care, one that could lead the way for health care reform to make it family-centered.Ē

She has also provided mentoring to young people interested in exploring the midwife health care model. Because she was mentored, she strongly feels the need to pass along that critical support to the many college, high school and BOCES students who have approached her over the past six years.

Koch has delivery privileges at Canton-Potsdam Hospital until the end of the year. In the meantime, there is a solution that could help Koch keep the doors of her practice open and continue to provide the critical services her clients are seeking. She has been seeking an extension of hospital privileges and help with her malpractice insurance costs from Canton-Potsdam. CHP has programs in place to assist and recruit health care providers to the area to address the chronic shortages in care. But so far, she says, she has not been able to connect with anyone who can help her.

At the AAUW meeting, a number of her patients discussed their efforts to encourage the hospitalís administration to assist. AAUW members were enthusiastic in their support and signed a petition to that effect.

Koch is only the second person recognized in the field of health care by AAUW in the last 20 years. In 1989, AAUW named Sister Kathryn Healey as its Agent of Change for her ground-breaking work in bringing Hospice to the county. Today Hospice and Palliative Care of the St. Lawrence Valley provides outstanding care and support to the terminally ill and their families in a brand new, state of the art facility with a professional staff and a core of dedicated volunteers.

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2005 Agent of Change: Bea Woodward

POTSDAM, NY: Bea has been an Agent of Change all of her adult life. She has been a role model and mentor to many individuals. She has ventured into fields that were not the usual areas for women. She was one the early college graduates to major in chemistry and mathematics. During WW II, she worked in the chemistry lab in the Dupont Rayon Plant in Niagara Falls, NY. She and her husband came to the North Country during the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Later, when her husband became ill, she took over the management of his paving business.

She was a non-traditional student when she obtained her M.Ed. at St. Lawrence University. As a N.Y.S. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, she was first assigned to the Plattsburgh area, which included the Dannemora federal prison. Subsequently, she was transferred to the Massena area, and St. Lawrence County. As an employee, she was flexible and adaptable, and a quick study. The contacts she made during that period continue to see her as a friend.

After she retired, her leadership abilities had more time to be expressed. By her own example of commitment, thorough attention to detail, and ability to work well with others, she has energized every organization with which she has been associated. Among them, the Golden Agers of Norwood. She served as president of the St. Lawrence County Branch, AAUW for two terms, was president of the Potsdam Zonta Club, and president of the local chapter of AARP.

For 15 years, she has been a regular instructor for 55 Alive, now called the AARP Mature Driving program. She began training instructors in the northern area about 8 years ago and two years later became Associate State Director of these counties: St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Clinton and Jefferson. Although she resigned from this position in 2004, she is still called upon as consultant, and occasionally as a substitute instructor.

She was a founding member of SOAR (Stimulating Opportunities After Retirement) that began in 2001.

Bea is an active, logical, no-nonsense leader who listens carefully, sifts thoughtfully, speaks and then acts with authority. At any meeting, she is a mover and a shaker who can quickly meet and know the essential players in an organization. No job is too big or too small for Bea. She sees a need, recognizes what must be done, and does it.

From 1986-89, Bea served as president of St. Lawrence County Branch of AAUW. During those years, AAUW co-sponsored non-partisan candidates' forums with the League of Women Voters. AAUW lobbied for the Child Care Bill, and co-sponsored a workshop on "Lobbying in Albany" by Mike Burgess.

An inveterate traveler, Bea coordinated our first AAUW-CFUW Cross Border International Forum at Wellesly Island, "For Land's Sake," in 1987, about the impact of pollution upon our environment and health. Turf wars do not exist in Bea's world. Her attitude is, "I don't care who gets the credit, as long as the job gets done."

During her presidency, the branch made a deliberate effort to celebrate the achievements of women. AAUW organized a panel discussion in Canton on "Women in Public Office." It was Bea who initiated our Agent of Change Award in 1987. We started a series of profiles of North Country Women, and published a small booklet "Women of Courage: Ten North Country Pioneers."

In 1987, AAUW hosted a luncheon to welcome the first woman to be selected as president of SLU and to introduce her to the wider community. One year later, AAUW welcomed the first women president of Mater Dei College. We attended a joint AAUW CFUW conference in Ottawa on "Women, Leadership and Sustainable Development."

At the New York State level of AAUW, Bea served as the Women's Issue Chair. She attended the IFUW (International Federation of University Women) Conference when it was held in Helsinki.

Bea became a member of Zonta, an international service organization of women in business and the professions, in the late 1980s. Bea immediately became active as a member and soon volunteered for leadership, serving as president of the Potsdam Area Zonta Club for two terms, from 1989-1991.

Bea has that critical ability to inspire volunteers and empower them to achieve excellent results. During her years in Zonta, she always worked tirelessly at the local level and kept abreast of the district, national and international aspects of the organization. Her own love of travel and infinite curiosity about other people and lands make her an excellent citizen ambassador, particularly in an organization like Zonta, with a broad worldview.

But she hasn't spent all her life in meetings. Bea has run in marathons and been an active square dancer. She is still a member of the Borderline Quilters Group. She has been an avid world traveler. She has been to all parts of the USA, to many European countries, Australia, Africa and South America. She participated in the Potsdam-to-Potsdam USA-Germany exchange, and in elder hostels. As a Zonta member, she attended one International Conference in Paris, and one in Hong Kong. She was a good ambassador wherever she traveled.

Bea has always been able to find the time and energy to give to all the organizations she believes in. In today's multi-tasking world, she has been a pioneer in this as well as many other areas. She has accomplished all this, retaining her upbeat attitude, and her sense of humor. She is always willing to help and to steady someone who is uncertain about tackling a new responsibility.

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