Austin recognizes past graduatesPublished 10:47am Friday, September 28, 2012
Even Austin High School alumni didn’t want to go to school.
That’s what June Kjome shared with AHS students Thursday morning. As a little girl, she hated going to school every day.
“I hated it with a purple passion,” the Class of 1938 AHS alum said. “I would get up every morning and cry.”
Yet by the time she hit third grade, her outlook had changed. School became fun for Kjome, and that was the beginning of a lifelong passion; she eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1972.
“That change [in outlook] made all the difference,” she said.
Kjome, along with Class of 1956 alum Peggy Keener, were honored Thursday as the 2012 AHS Distinguished Alumni.
Kjome, of La Crosse, Wis., served as a nurse, midwife and midwifery teacher as part of a Lutheran mission in South Africa for nearly 20 years. In La Crosse, she served as Head Nurse of Pediatrics at Gunderson Lutheran Hospital from 1965 to 1972; and Director of the Department of Education at Gunderson Lutheran from 1973 to 1985.
Kjome has worked for nearly seven decades as an advocate for the rights of marginalized and persecuted people at home and around the world. Her efforts began in 1945 as a missionary nurse in Zululand, South Africa, where she spent 19 years as a “bush nurse” witnessing firsthand the inequities imposed on black people living there. Upon returning to the United States in 1964, Kjome started her career in La Crosse but made several trips back to South Africa and Namibia.
She has received numerous awards for her work and advocacy, including being the first recipient of the League of Women Voters in Wisconsin’s Meg McLane Award for Advocacy. In 2007, La Crosse also held a “June Kjome Day” citywide celebration.
Keener took a different path to success.
She lived almost 30 years in Japan, teaching English in many ways to Japanese citizens, including starting an English-language program in 1963 for NHK-TV, Japan’s largest national TV studio, making English lesson radio programs, recording books-on-tape and traveling throughout the country as a teacher and lecturer.
Her book, “Potato In a Rice Bowl,” about her memories from living in Japan, won the Readers Favorite International Award for Best Memoir of 2011 and the Award Winning Finalist in the humor category of the 2012 International Book Awards.
She encouraged students to “bloom wherever they were planted,” to take chances and to realize that their life in high school will not define them once they venture into adulthood.
“It’s never too late to become who you always wanted to be,” Keener said.
She and Kjome were honored at the annual Distinguished Alumni banquet Thursday night, and will take part in the Homecoming Parade Friday afternoon.
For both alumni, the award is humbling, but they are glad to come back to Austin and share their experiences.
“This is the hub of my universe,” Keener said. “I’ve always belonged to this town and this school no matter where I went.”