A Glorious Privilege

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Nancy Joseph 10/01/1999 October 1999 Perspectives

Some experiences are sweeter the second time around. Just ask Margo Hartland Wyckoff (BA '73, MSW '75). The Seattle native attended the UW for two years, then left for financial reasons. When she returned in her late 20s--by then divorced and raising a child--the University seemed like a slice of heaven.

"I used to get up early and go to campus to study," recalls Margo, a history major. "I would sit on an old stone bench near the quad and feel almost tearful with the excitement and joy of being there. I felt I was the luckiest person in the world. I loved the UW the first time around, but the experience of coming back as a mature woman was profound. I didn't take the University for granted, I didn't take learning for granted. It was just such a glorious privilege."

Margo and Tom Wyckoff.

Margo's husband, Tom Wyckoff (MD '74, Res '77, MS '77), had a similar reaction. Although he had earned a BA in art and archaeology from Princeton, a stint in the army convinced him to pursue a medical degree. He came to the UW--his hometown school--to complete premed requirements and attend medical school.

"I started school within a few weeks of returning from Vietnam," Tom says. "I just dove right into chemistry and physics. It was exhilarating. It was just like being in a candy store." Tom particularly remembers Chemistry Professor Martin Gouterman, whom he describes as "a terrifically lucid, friendly, wonderful professor."

During their years at the UW, Tom and Margo--who had attended Laurelhurst Elementary School together--became reacquainted, fell in love, and married. In fact, Margo had to take an exam the morning of the wedding.

"I was taking a class on the history of Germany, taught by Jon Bridgman," she recalls. "The final was scheduled from three to five p.m. Our wedding was at six. I went to the professor and asked whether I could take the exam earlier in the day. When he heard the reason, he was quite obliging."

Another history professor, Giovanni Costigan, knew all about the nuptials. He and his wife attended the big event. Costigan had become friends with Margo after she took two classes from him during her first quarter back at the University. "He was so accepting and encouraging-and so brilliant. It was incredible to take ten hours with Costigan that quarter. He remained a wonderful mentor."

Since earning their degrees, Tom and Margo have had successful careers in health care--Tom as a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine, Margo as a social worker and then, after earning a PhD, as a clinical psychologist specializing in chronic pain. Several years ago, they decided to retire. "We have so many interests, we need several lifetimes to focus on them all," explains Tom. "We figured we should at least get started."


"We're afraid to go more than fifteen minutes from the UW," jokes Margo, only half kidding. "It's been so much a part of the fabric of our lives."


The couple knew they wanted to focus on education but weren't sure where to begin. Then a friend asked if they would spearhead the Mother Read/Father Read program in Washington state, through the Washington State Commission for the Humanities. The program teaches parents how to read, using children's books that participants can keep and later read to their own children. The Wyckoffs jumped at the chance to help.

They started with a sixteen-week demonstration project at the women's prison at Purdy, visiting the prison each week. "The inmates were some of the most eager learners we've ever seen," says Margo. "They were so touched that we would care about them. And they were dedicated to becoming better parents."

The Wyckoffs continued with the Mother Read/Father Read Program--now offered across the state--for nearly three years. They also helped establish the Clemente Course in Seattle, a program aimed at providing college-level courses to disadvantaged adults, which is co-sponsored by the UW Center for the Humanities. Tom also has pursued environmental causes, and the couple started an environmental group on Hood Canal. But with all their volunteerism, they've never forgotten their ties to the UW.

Margo has been on the Sociology Department's visiting committee for the past decade, and both Tom and Margo recently joined Arts and Sciences' College Board. And they have made a major gift to Arts and Sciences to establish an endowed fund supporting faculty fellowships. The gift is directed to the College rather than a single department, says Tom, because "we wanted something that would reflect the breadth of subject matter that we've experienced. We wanted to acknowledge the importance of teachers, regardless of specialty."

The Wyckoff's gift comes in the form of real estate. Proceeds from the sale of their land--waterfront property on Hood Canal--will go directly to the University. "We had purchased this waterfront lot when we were just married, when it cost almost nothing compared to today's prices," recalls Margo. "It's a pristine site, but we have other property down the road and don't need it. By giving it to the UW, we are helping the University and avoiding the burden of selling the property ourselves."

The couple's primary residence is in Seattle, near the University, and that home they have no intention of selling. "We're afraid to go more than fifteen minutes from the UW," jokes Margo, only half kidding. "It's been so much a part of the fabric of our lives. Even as children, we spent time on campus. We thought of it as our park. It was just a part of our growing up."

The Wyckoffs can still be found on campus frequently, attending lectures on everything from demography to literature. They're already looking forward to turning 60 so they can audit courses through the University's Access Program for senior citizens.

"We've always relished our liberal arts educations," says Margo. "We love the whole potpourri the University has to offer. It's a huge buffet.and we want a taste of everything."