• History of the AASCU Spouse/Partner Program

    In 2008, just after then AASCU President Constantine W. (Deno) Curris announced his intent to retire, his wife Jo Hern Curris, Director of Spouse Programs, asked her two predecessors (Pat Appleberry and Bobbie Ostar) to submit a recollection of their time while at the helm of AASCU's Spouse/Partner Program. Their narratives were included in the 2008 Spouse/Partner Directory along with a farewell message from Jo. This material is reproduced in order to provide a history of the AASCU Spouse/Partner Program. 

    Our beloved creator and architect, Roberta “Bobbie” H. Ostar, describes the formative history of the AASCU Spouse/Partner Program in the early 1970`s - 1980`s

    Originally the AASCU Annual Meetings were attended by presidents only. Spouses first began attending about 1971, and at that time programming depended on the interest and energy level of the spouse who lived where the meeting was scheduled.

    Early programs featured cultural tours and panel discussions on the Role of the Spouse, Tax Advice, Record Keeping and Life Style for Mobility.
    I was asked by my husband, Allan, to plan programs for the spouses in 1979. Having never been a campus presidential spouse, I came to the project with an observer's perspective. Those were the heady days of Woman's Liberation, and since most spouses were women, there was a healthy dose of "I wasn't hired to a university job!"

    I think my first objective was two-fold: First, to convince spouses that if their spouse was a university or college president, that they were indeed labeled as the Presidential Spouse!

    The second goal was to demonstrate that there were many differing ways of addressing their role. In other words, yes, you ARE the Presidential Spouse, but how you treat the obligations considered to be part of the role can vary. You yourself can determine the role! The occasional male spouse, who also found himself facing many expectations, was also actively included.

    Over the next 12 years I carried out this responsibility as a volunteer (as were the campus spouses!), I created programs to assist spouses in balancing their presidential spouse activities with their family and personal goals.

    I was ably assisted by the AASCU Spouses Program Committee and the many AASCU spouse program participants who shared their triumphs and tragedies.

    This program which continues today is the most satisfying project I have ever done. Thank you all for your help and appreciation! 

    - Bobbie Ostar

       Volunteer Spouse Programs Coordinator
       Allan W. Ostar
       (AASCU President 1965-1991)

    (Bobbie served as an unpaid volunteer, without designated staff, for over 20 years. Thank you Bobbie for unparalleled service!) 

    Patricia “Pat” Appleberry, our acclaimed innovator and guiding light, describes her approach in the 1990`s into a new millennium.

    When I became Coordinator of the AASCU Spouse Program in the early 90s, the characteristics of spouses were changing rapidly. More male spouses were added to the rolls each year, and more spouses of both genders were pursuing independent careers. The prior “two-for” pattern was rapidly disappearing. Also, the numbers of persons of color and from different cultures were expanding in the presidency. This resulted in rapidly changing needs. Programs became focused on helping career spouses articulate their career responsibilities within those of the presidency, and adapting our programs to serve both genders, persons of color and those from other cultures.

    Family matters, including the needs of children of highly successful, visible parents also became part of the formal programming. AASCU’s culture of privacy permitted open discussions of the personal experiences of presidents and spouses, the stresses of two-career couples, and the changing nature of leadership.

    Examples of some of the innovative programs include:

    • Information to campuses about the newest drugs entering the U.S.,  and possible ways to combat campus use and the impact on the life and academic performance of students. Also, partnered with Century Council to provide computer-based information about differing effects of various amounts of alcohol, food, and drink, and the behavioral results.
    • Financial and life planning for career transition and retirement purposes
    • Creation of an annual Spouse Tribute recognizing leadership given to campus, community or career development
    • Establishment of male spouse discussion opportunities to focus on career needs and the uncertain campus expectations of them
    • Inclusion in programs of internationally known individuals of color and from different cultures, for both presidents and spouses


    It remains a joy for me to have had the opportunity to help develop programs for the changing needs of the times.

    - Pat Appleberry
       Coordinator AASCU Spouse Programs
       James B. Appleberry
       (AASCU President 1991-1999)

    In her farewell message, Jo Hern Curris summarized her goals, philosophy and achievement during her tenure as Director of Spouse Programs.  

    Good Heavens, has it been 10 years already?????

    My initial introduction to AASCU was a fall meeting in 1974. I vividly remember overcoming my trepidation because of a wonderful woman named Bobbie Ostar. As I observed her interaction with all of us, recognized her knowledge, and basked in the warmth of her caring,I knew that she would "be there" for me as well. Next came my good friend, Pat Appleberry. She and I had long been comrades in arms, and I always admired her creativity and intellect, both of which she so generously brought to her subsequent programming.

    Imagine my surprise later when I was privileged to become Director of Spouse/Partner programming. I felt as if I were coming home, simply moving back into the old neighborhood after visiting the extended family during the past 25 years.

    My fundamental goal as Director has been the active acknowledgment of the magnitude of YOUR
    contributions, YOUR personal worth, and YOUR value as spouses and partners.

    It had been my observation over many years that we volunteer partners of "two for the price of one" presidential couples were frequently thanked, but rarely substantively recognized for our contributions.

    Any salaries are few and far between, no pension plans, infrequent campus naming ceremonies and sporadic citizen of the year acknowledgements, because all the time commitments and contributions were "expected."

    Recognition of your valuable service became my mantra, and having a really good time together was a high second on the list.

    Exciting and/or substantive programming based on your requests, supported by our Fantastic Breakfasts(premised on local cuisine), and supported by our Special Drawings (which by the way began as a bribe for your completing surveys), and our ever popular Round Table sessions having been the foundation of our membership interaction.

    A sampling of our program topics has included,by category and number of presentations:
    Professionally presented Entertainment sessions/6, Media/3, Balancing Careers/4, Retirement and Estate Planning/4, Personal Issues including children, presidential illness and death, and troubled presidencies/B, International Focus/5, Local presentations of interest including historians/jewelers/artists/storytellers/native peoples /13, Male Spouse Concerns/7, Fundraising/3 and a Mix of unique events as exampled by the personalized Tour of Charleston South Carolina organized by Clemson alumni/historic families/6.

    Without doubt our most poignant session, prompting a standing ovation with tears for many was Naples,2002. Beyond the Campus: Life Situations That Arise When You are Thrown A Curve--LeonBoothe, Judith Ingle, Adele Kupchella and Debra Merwin generously discussed the death of a spouse, living with cancer or Alzheimer's, and the realities of being a caretaker.

    Our presenters have been a combination of external experts with an emphasis on spotlighting our own membership.

    Every attempt was made to include as many persons as possible in our extremely limited time. Approximately 95 different individuals (no double counting) have served as presenters, moderators or facilitators, and 56 different members having served on the Spouse Programs Committee, with an additional 14 persons have volunteered for the Wellness Committee.

    It was my hope that by initiating the Spouse Directory that we could more easily recognize and communicate with each other, and with the subsequent additions of the Wellness Committee and the Fond Farewells sections, that additional cohesiveness was possible. Additionally our focus became more inclusive by expanding our mission to both Spouse and Partners.

    The addition of Hospitality areas during registration has encouraged relaxed conversation and opportunities for any special groups to meet such as male caucuses or diversity gatherings as needed.This is also true of the parallel programming of new spouse mentoring and experienced spouse book reviews and on site touring.

    Enhancing the importance of the Spouse Tributes by introducing the deserving recipients and their presidents at the opening session of Annual Meeting has been particularly meaningful.

    Introduction of color-coded name badges combined with special service ribbons was designed to increase a sense of participation and belonging.

    Amongst my greatest delights has been working with the Spouse Program Committee members, and also the extremely congenial interaction with presidents in planning for Summer Council and Annual Meeting.

    The president's active support in including spousal representation in all possible joint sessions has, I believe, increased our sense of self-worth.

    None of these initiatives could have been achieved without the phenomenal AASCU staff, and we all have enjoyed the wonderful photography of Gordon Thomas!!

    In retrospect, my most meaningful recommendation has been "Operation Campus Friends/Campus Freedom," and I wish to thank all who have supported our students, faculty and community military personnel and their families through your dedicated efforts.

    Perhaps my most critical programming segment has been the featuring of national issues and providing opportunities for discussion, frequently in joint session. For example:

    • 2001, New Orleans: Post 9/11, John Molino, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military, Community and Family Policy advised as to actions helpful to our military students and faculty departing for Afghanistan. A second program addressed our Anthrax fears.

    • 2003, Newport: Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent, selected by TIME Magazine as one of the three 2002 Persons of the Year.
      This courageous whistleblower authored the Memorandum on the
      FBI's lack of response to evidence of terrorist activity before 9/11.

    • 2005, Scottsdale: Afghanistan Unveiled, the PBS Special Documentary of the reality of Afghanistan women, as filmed by courageous young Afghanistan women, who risked life-threatening circumstances to film their compelling story.

    • 2005, Montreal: AASCU spouses/partners joined the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) Partners Group for a significant international collaboration.

    Without question however, it is the joy of having the opportunity to know you as individuals that is my most outstanding memory, and I thank you sincerely for your friendship and caring. Also, thank you Deno,Elena, Bob and Bobbie, it has been a fascinating journey!

    - Jo Hern Curris
       Director, AASCU Spouse Programs
       Constantine W. Curris
       (AASCU President 1999-2009)