Martha Secosh '58
Member of SJA’s first graduating class reflects back on the impact the school had on her life
By: Regina Dew, '11
Published August 2015
In 1954, Martha (Shiroda) Secosh, ’58 received an introductory flyer sent to St. Leo’s grade school about a new high school opening just for girls. Intrigued, she went to see what this promising new school was all about. What Secosh knew was that the tuition was reasonably priced and the class sizes were small, giving teachers and students more one-on-one time. What she did not know was the profound impact this decision would have on her personal and professional life.
Started by the Sisters of Charity and named after its founder St. Jeanne Antide Thouret, St. Joan Antida High School (SJA) held special meaning for Secosh throughout her life.It was the starting point for her advanced education and an anchor for professional support.
“I think it’s kind of funny how we, these big 8th graders, were squeezed into the tiny chairs at the nursery to fill out paperwork because the school hadn’t finished its construction yet,” said Secosh looking back on those first SJA memories.Delayed because of construction, Secosh and the other incoming freshwomen began attending SJA a bit later than other schools.
"We began school in the middle of September after placement exams for math,” Secosh said.She vividly remembers the uniforms they wore. “All the other private schools in the area wore navy blue uniforms and ours were maroon, so we really stood out,” she said. “I am glad SJA has kept the uniforms in some form throughout time.”
Although the uniforms have remained constant, many things have changed.
“One change I’ve noticed over the years is how the girls are more focused on their careers now.Maybe it’s because they have more opportunities now than we did, but I like to see that.They are even attending MSOE, which was just a very small engineering school back then,” said Secosh.
For the classmates planning to attend college when Secosh was a SJA student, scholarships were the primary focus of 11th and 12th grade studies. “From day one, we focused on college or night school to keep on improving ourselves,” said Secosh. For students like Secosh who chose the career route after high school, job networking was offered.
“There were fewer opportunities back then for women, but I knew I wanted to work in an office,” Secosh said. “I chose office work in manufacturing because I like to see the progress of things.”
At her very first job while still in high school, Secosh worked in Kohl’s food store. “I made it my goal to be a checker, but in order to be a checker you had to learn the bakery and deli departments.It was a challenge,” said Secosh.Even at such a young age, she made it her mission to gather information about both fields to obtain the position she sought.This became a habit throughout her career.
“I’m most proud of always being able to find work,” Secosh said reflecting on her career. “I’ve worked at Milwaukee Die Casting, a brewery, paper recycling facility, and a sand and asphalt factory.I’ve never gone long without having a job, and in most cases my next position was better than the last.At one job, I even had an employer that became a matching donor for SJA.”
With each position held during her professional life, Secosh took advantage of opportunities to learn, ranging from on-the-job-training to educational courses; her constant curiosity for learning and seeking new challenges was enhanced because of her time at SJA.
“The Sisters were always challenging us and engrained this ‘can do’ spirit in all of us,” said Secosh.“For one of my later jobs, it was required that I knew how to use Microsoft and my employer did not want to pay for my training, so I applied for computer classes at MATC to educate myself.Back then ‘computer’ was just a word.But over the years I kept myself up to date with technology.”
In her more recent years, Secosh made the decision to retire and enjoy the fruits of her labor.
“I decided to retire because I had friends who died without even tapping into their Social Security or any of the other benefits they worked all their lives for.That’s why I retired.I wanted to enjoy the rest of my life,” said Secosh.
And although now retired, she fills her time by giving back as a volunteer.She is involved with SJA and other local non-profit organizations.
“I knit hats for cancer patients and premature infants for local hospitals,” Secosh said of one of her favorite volunteer roles. “And I have remained connected to my St. Joan’s family.”
Secosh has become a prominent SJA figure as a supporter, event attendee and active member in the SJA Alumnae Association, where she has served for a number of years.She received the Alumna of the Year award in 2005 for her steadfast volunteer efforts and the multiple ways she has continued to support the school since graduating in SJA’s very first class in 1958.
“I always wanted to give back in some way because the school has given me so much,” said Secosh.
Even though years have passed since her graduation from SJA, Secosh still clearly recalls fond memories of the school and of her attentive teachers and close friends.
“My fondest memory of SJA was all of the teachers in general. They were very giving and interested in you as a student and a person even after you graduated.They were always asking if we were working and if not, they offered to help.They never forgot your name,” said Secosh.
In addition to her academic learning, SJA amplified the vital life lessons Secosh learned at home.
“I was raised in a household that valued hard work, frugality, and making the best from situations,” Secosh said. “That rang true for what I experienced at SJA and what I believe the school still does today.”
When asked what advice she would have for SJA students today she said, “Make the best of these years, make friends, and concentrate on your studies.” And one statement that she has always lived by is, “Always keep trying.” Whether in her personal or professional life, this mindset has carried Secosh far, from a prominent student to an honored alum.