Family ties bind Mooneyham to university
Charlotte Mooneyham, an adjunct professor of teacher education at Texas Woman’s University, holds a photograph of her mother, Irma Shepherd, in her graduation cap and gown from what then was Texas State College for Women. Also pictured is Jacqulyn, Shepherd’s older daughter, at age 7. Photo credit: Ronda DuTiel.
Charlotte Mooneyham’s voice takes on a reverential tone when talking about Texas Woman’s University. As the university alumna talks about what TWU has meant to her family, it becomes clear why.
Mooneyham has been an adjunct professor in teacher education at TWU for the past four years, but her connection to the university goes back much further. She credits the university with her mother’s ability to “reach higher than possible for women of the Depression.”
Her mother, Irma Orr Shepherd, earned her bachelor’s (in 1939) and master’s (in 1947) degrees at what then was Texas State College for Women. Her reason for pursuing higher education was to earn more money to help support Mooneyham’s older sister, Jacqulyn.
Mooneyham said her parents were living on a farm in December 1932 when her mother went into labor. Her father, Jack, hitched up a wagon and headed into town to get a doctor, but Jacqulyn had been born by the time they got back. There were complications, and doctors eventually concluded that oxygen had not reached the baby’s brain. She was diagnosed with severe mental retardation.
“I think they would call it autism today, but there wasn’t a term for autism, or the knowledge, back then,” Mooneyham said. She added that Jacqulyn has a big vocabulary and a sense of humor, but no reasoning or judgment.
“She likes people and will hug or shake hands or go with anyone,” Mooneyham said of her sister, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday.
Her parents needed more money to care for Jacqulyn, and school had always been easy for Irma Shepherd — she skipped grades and finished school at age 14, Mooneyham said — so the couple came to the women’s college in Denton.
“Obviously, they had no money,” Mooneyham said, but Marvin Loveless, the college’s business manager, looked at Irma Shepherd’s grades and test scores and told her they would find a way for her to attend college.
True to his word, Loveless allowed Jack Shepherd to work off his wife’s tuition by performing manual labor on campus. She graduated and went to work for the WPA (Works Progress Administration), and that extra money enabled the couple to take Jacqulyn to doctors all over the country.
Mooneyham said her mother worked one-on-one with Jacqulyn during the day and worked the night shift as a chemist in a refinery. Her father worked during the day and stayed with Jacqulyn at night.
Doctors said sleep deprivation was damaging Mrs. Shepherd’s health to the point that she probably wouldn’t live much longer. The courts committed Jacqulyn to the state school in Austin — the only state school in Texas at that time — when she was 12 years old.
Though it was a difficult decision, Mooneyham said, “Mother and Daddy wanted her to be somewhere safe when they passed, and they wanted me to have a family.”
Mooneyham followed in her mother’s footsteps, earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology and social work from TWU in 1972 and her principal certification in 1986. Her husband, Charles, completed his master’s program at TWU in 1984. The couple taught and served as administrators in the Frisco Independent School District for a combined total of 64 years. The school district recognized their years of service by naming a school, Mooneyham Elementary, in their honor. Their daughter, Mari, is a teacher and coach in the school district, and son Daniel also is an educator.
“We’ve continued the path set by my mother,” Mooneyham said.
Her mother also taught in the nutrition and food sciences department at TWU and was awarded Emerita status in 1980. Mooneyham fondly recalls growing up on Austin Street behind the Denton campus.
“We were always on the campus, roller skating or riding our bikes,” she said. “It was a great place to sled on those rare days we had snow or ice.”
The campus was magical, she said. Her mother saw Eleanor Roosevelt on campus in 1939 when the first lady dedicated the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods and was here when John Phillip Sousa visited and wrote a march for the students. Mooneyham’s eyes light up when she talks about seeing the Royal Danish Ballet on campus in the 1950s and peeking at Lady Bird Johnson as she entered and left a luncheon hosted by her mother in the 1960s.
She still views TWU as an amazing place that helps students who, like her mother, are seeking a better life for their families. Mooneyham spoke of a student from Vietnam who is working toward a degree in order to inspire his four younger brothers to get an education. Another student would get up at 3 a.m. and take three buses from Garland in order to get to campus, all to make life better for her children.
Mooneyham hears such inspiring stories every day, and says it only deepens her love for the university that opened so many doors for her mother and continues to provide opportunities for students today.
“I love to tell my classes – because I believe it so in my heart – that TWU was a place for women when women couldn’t go other places. And we’ve expanded that inclusiveness to all people now,” she said.