Tip #140: A Tribute to Dr. Alma Baron

When I first started training adults in assertiveness in the mid 1970’s, I taught in the evening for the University of Wisconsin Extension in Madison, Wisconsin. After I had taught two sessions, I got a call from a Dr. Alma Baron, who was interested in having me conduct a one hour after dinner program on assertiveness for her class at the Management Institute. Dr. Baron had recently introduced women’s programs, beginning with a series of seminars on administrative and secretarial skills, and she thought I might possibly be a good addition to her program.

That one- hour after- dinner program soon became a two- hour afternoon program, then a four-hour program, and eventually an all- day program, as Dr. Baron took me under her wing, mentored me, and included me in more of her workshops.

We eventually even created a distance learning program in assertiveness, long before the advent of home computers and video hook ups. Alma asked me to write the introduction to the workbook, design activities, and administer the program, reading the participants’written homework which they mailed back every week! Surprisingly, it worked!

Alma was this petite bundle of energy who was always impeccably coiffed and clad in wonderful dresses and pant suits. Since she had spent a long time working in a women’s clothing store with her husband, Lee, she knew just when to buy the latest fashions at the best prices. I’m sure I was a terrible disappointment to her in that arena.

However, she was a very vocal and enthusiastic supporter of my training skills and, because of Alma, I began my relationship as an ad hoc instructor for the Management Institute that would last over thirty years!

For years, her energy and vitality, her absolute love of being in front of a group and telling stories, her sincere commitment to help women move into management roles, and her ability to engage people to learn and share what they had learned were a beacon at the University.

Among Alma’s many extraordinary accomplishments, the one that made the greatest difference to me was her decision to go back to school to earn her doctorate in adult education at the age of 51, while still managing Lee Baron’s women’s clothing store on the Square in Madison. And Alma never stopped encouraging me to return for my own doctorate, feeling that it was an important key to unlock my future.

It certainly unlocked Alma’s, because she quickly expanded her sphere beyond the borders of Wisconsin and the United States to include yearly teaching commitments in India, Scandinavia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia.

She even created her own endowment: The Alma Baron Second Chance for Women Scholarship. The beneficiary of this annual award is a woman older than 45 years old who has been accepted at the University of Wisconsin- Madison to continue her education after a period of time away from academia.

Dr. Alma Baron died last week at the age of 83 after an incredibly full life as a civic leader and an amazing inspirational teacher. Because of her trust in a fledgling trainer and her prodigious support as a mentor, I was able to move with focus and certainty along the path she blazed as an independent training consultant.

I will miss her energy, her thousand- watt smile, her practical, can do optimism and creativity, her down to earth humor, and her wonderful stories and belief in the human spirit. We were all blessed to have had her with us to light the way.

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