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Harriet Yelon led an unusually exciting life before coming to William Woods
University—tutoring Moroccan children, tending sheep and goats, and serving
as a governess for two Italian children—all before she was 25.
Yelon moved from Connecticut to New York by herself when she was 17. When
she was 23, she had $600 and bought a one-way ticket to Europe.
She lived in Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands, where she met a Berber man
from Morocco who asked her to teach English to his boys.
“I lived with the family, cooked with the women and tended the sheep and
goats. I spent about a year there, learned enough Arabic to get by, and the
boys got better in slang English.”
She said the women there prepare the food, serve the men and eat what’s
left over.
“Because I was the honored guest I was served the eye of the lamb (raw)
during the feast of Ramadan, but I wasn’t prepared for it to be swimming in
its own juice. Don’t think I’ll ever forget being that honored.”
After living in Morocco, she went to Italy, where she got a job at the Daily
American Newspaper as a proofreader. She also worked on the underground
restoration project, cleaning artifacts for several months. She became engaged
to an Italian man and worked any job she could fnd so she could stay in Italy.
“I became a governess for two children, both of whom had numerous
problems, and they thought that an American woman would be very lenient
and let them get away with anything possible. Anything to stay in Italy!!”
She said her engagement “lasted longer than the jobs, but not that long.” She
came back to the U.S. and at 25, enrolled in college.
“When I look back at it, I took a lot of
risks, did a fair bit of hitch-
hiking, and had two
friends with even riskier
behaviors that landed
them in jail,” Yelon
said. “Thankfully I
wasn’t with them at
the time!”
Although she was in her mid-20s when she started college, Yelon earned four
degrees: a B.A. in history from Albertus Magnus College, New Haven, Conn.;
an M.A. in history from Hunter College; an M.A. in sociology and a Master of
Social Work from the University of Missouri.
Yelon frst came to WWU in 1981 to teach sociology and social work. She
moved to Missouri after meeting her husband, a physicist from Columbia, at a
chemistry convention in New Orleans. She taught a year at Stephens College,
and then Fulton was her next stop.
She has taught upwards of 10 different courses throughout her career here,
including Women in Society, Social Movements of the 1960s, Race and
Ethnicity and Ethics in Social Science. In 1992, she was the recipient of the
Louis D. Beaumont Dad’s Association Distinguished Professor Award for
Excellence in Teaching, and in 1999 she won the Governor’s Award for
Excellence in Teaching.
Yelon was the advisor for Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity at WWU from 2006
to 2010, and she says it was an amazing experience for her. She started their
“Dudes for Diapers” annual campaign when the FIJI men collect money from
the residence halls to buy diapers and donate them to the Lutheran Family
and Children’s Services in Columbia.
Yelon retired in 2010, but she continued to teach on a part-time basis.
However this semester will be her last at WWU. She says the thing she will
miss most about teaching is developing strong relationships with her students
and helping those who needed help the most.
Never afraid to take risks in the classroom, Yelon pushes the limits, with care.
She has liberal ideas but has never wanted to offend her students, just give
them another perspective. She said she will miss guiding students and really
getting to know the ones who care about the classroom and put the effort into
their work.
“I hope I have touched students’ lives with knowledge and have changed their
lives in small ways,” Yelon said. “That’s worth quite a bit when you teach
every week for 25 years.”
She is looking forward to having more leisure time. She plans to continue
working with Columbia’s Ragtag Theatre; she has been on their executive
board since 2004. She also began doing triathlons (swim, bike, run) in 2005,
and has been a winner in her age group for Columbia Multisport.
After she leaves WWU, Yelon would like to visit Papa New Guinea and
New Zealand.
“One thing is certain; you can’t go back and do it the same way again,” Yelon
said referring to going back to Europe. “I have been back to
Spain, Morocco and many parts of Italy and
sometimes it feels like none of it happened, but
every time I see a lamb I get queasy.”
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