Sunday, December 26, 2004
4:00 PM to 5:00 PM EST
Monday, December 27, 2004
11:00 AM to 12:00 PM EST
Life Story / Obituary
Marguerite D. Eaglin was known for meeting the needs of others. Injustice was unacceptable and she did not simply talk about how things should be; she rolled up her sleeves and worked to make things better. She cherished books and the knowledge they offered, promoting education tirelessly in the hopes of improving the lives of individuals and society as a whole. She loved her family deeply and gave them her best, hoping for their happiness above all else.
Marguerite was born on June 8, 1920, in Waxahatchie, Texas, a small town near Dallas. She was the second child born to Orville and Leona Davis. Later, another sister, Bennie Lee Sewell, would join her and her big brother Roy. Marguerite was raised in Austin, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother until she was fourteen. At the time, the United States as a whole was strictly divided along racial lines, with segregated schools, sports teams, and even drinking fountains. Marguerite's neighborhood, however, was diverse, and she grew up playing with children from a variety of racial backgrounds. Her grandmother taught her the value of every life, speaking about tolerance and acceptance. Those lessons shaped the way Marguerite would live the rest of her life.
Marguerite spent time with her friends at the local soda shop after school, but she also spent hours reading and working hard academically. As a result of her good grades, her principal promised her that if she maintained them, he would see to it that she went to college; an amazing possibility for Marguerite. The 1930s was the decade of the Great Depression, making college financially impossible for many, and in fact, large numbers of students didn't even finish high school because they had to go to work to help support their families. Marguerite got straight A's and dreamed of continuing her education, but unfortunately she moved from that school district to Oklahoma and her dream seemed less likely to come true.
Marguerite did not give up hope, though. Eventually she graduated from high school and attended Guthrie College, where she met Simon Eaglin. They were married on June 9, 1940, in Bristow, Oklahoma. On a whim, they hitchhiked with some friends to Ann Arbor. Once they arrived, they decided to stay, and lived in Ann Arbor for three years before moving to Ypsilanti. Marguerite worked hard, maintaining their home and raising their three children while attending Eastern Michigan University. While in college, she became an early member of Delta Psi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, America's first Greek-letter organization established by Black college women. Marguerite persevered, earning her bachelor's degree from EMU in 1953.
Marguerite believed that education equaled freedom and opportunity. She stressed reading within her own family, encouraging her children to learn about different cultures and ideas through books. At night she sat on the porch with Valerie, pointing out the constellations and telling the stories of their origins. Always, she inspired the children to look up that way, beyond where they were at the moment, to dream of where they could be and how they could take others with them. She taught Fulton, Patrick, and Valerie by example that education was vital and challenged them all to continue their schooling. All three of her children earned advanced degrees. Valerie became a counselor at the University of Michigan, and the two boys became lawyers. Marguerite herself attained her specialist degree, just short of a PhD.
Marguerite began teaching at Harriet Street Elementary in 1953. On May 17 of the following year, the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared that separate educational facilities based solely on the race of students were inherently unequal, a decision that forged the way for desegregation in America's schools. In 1957, Marguerite was selected as one of the teachers to participate in the integration of the Ypsilanti school district, a challenging, sometimes frightening, but extremely rewarding undertaking. She served as president of the Ypsilanti NAACP, a pioneer in the process of desegregating Ypsilanti. She was instrumental in the integration process on the student level as well, guiding the children toward tolerance and acceptance as she had been by her grandmother. Because of her commitment to fairness and equality as well as her skills working with people, she was also named chairperson of the newly established Human Relations Commission of Ypsilanti. Marguerite later taught at Woodruff Elementary School. Year after year, she saw students with learning differences struggling through school and, as usual, determined that she would not sit idly by watching them suffer. She approached her administrator with a plan to assist these students and the principal, trusting her professionalism, competence, and compassion, gave the approval to implement her plan. Thus, she established the first special education program for the Ypsilanti School District at Woodruff Elementary School. She became a strong advocate for her children, insisting that they be treated the same as other students, not as inferiors. Her goal was to educate the children to "fit into society," teaching them life skills about things like nutrition and hygiene. Many of her students were poor, so she gathered donations of clothing and food from local merchants. Her program was so successful that it was designated as the special education model for the state. She was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel to reform general education and was able to give input into the writing of the Michigan State Constitution, adopted in 1963.
She moved up with her students through the school system, teaching them at the intermediate and high school levels. In 1967, she took a leave of absence from Ypsilanti High School and applied for a counseling position at Washtenaw Community College, which she was granted. She ended up staying at WCC as a counselor, initiating such programs as peer counseling to help students thrive at college and also assisting them in transferring to four-year institutions. She was chosen to be the Faculty Union President, and negotiated a settlement for faculty and student rights. She retired in 1988 from Washtenaw Community College after twenty-two years of service.
Retirement was far from the end of Marguerite's activities. She remained active in the community and supported political activity and educational initiatives. She helped form the Ypsilanti Voguettes, a civic and social group for women. She was a member of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church for sixty years, and a member of the Palm Leaf Club. She joined the Ypsilanti Senior Citizen Center to find people to play bridge with, but as usual, her involvement didn't stop with just what she could get out of it. Soon she found herself serving on the board and later became a passionate advocate, raising money to keep the Center open when she learned that the city planned to cut its funding. Her efforts were noted in an article in the Ann Arbor News in December of 2003. She also served as the chairperson for the Fire and Police Pension Board of the city of Ypsilanti.
She had said that as a child she traveled the world through reading, and as an adult she was able to actually see many of the places she had imagined so often. Her experiences around the world continued to expand her appreciation for all peoples. Her resourcefulness, energy, and incredible intellect inspired others to work for change and her commitment to education over the years affected the lives of countless students and their families.
Marguerite died on Monday, December 20, 2004, at the Glacier Hill Nursing Center. She was preceded in death by her parents and also by her son Patrick in 1998. Marguerite's family includes her husband, Simon; two children, Fulton (Jan) Eaglin, and Valerie Eaglin; five grandchildren, Christopher, Jennifer, Jessica, Alison, and Caitlin; and her sister/friend, Johnnie Mae Sparks, of Austin, Texas.
Friends may spend time with Marguerite's family at the Nie Life Story Funeral Home, 2400 Carpenter Rd. on Sunday, December 26, from 4 - 8 p.m. with a Scripture service at 7:00 p.m. Visitation will continue on Monday, December 27, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 410 W. Cross Street, Ypsilanti, from 10:00 a.m. until the time of the funeral mass at 11:00 a.m., the Rev. Fr. Ed Ertzbischoff celebrant. Burial will follow at St. John's Cemetery. Please visit Marguerite's personal memory page at www.lifestorynet.com where you may share a memory, or, in lieu of flowers, make a memorial contribution to the Marguerite Eaglin Scholarship Fund at Washtenaw Community College.