When Catherine R . Mumaw ’54 realized participants from her maternal and child nutrition course in Jamaica were doing development work in every parish in that island nation – not to mention Africa, Asia, and South America – she thought, “This is the most important thing I’ve ever done.” She developed the course, taught mostly by local professionals in 1976 and 1977, with Thelma Stewart of the Jamaican Ministry of Education, after organizing several intercollegiate Mennonite home economics cross-cultural seminars to Jamaica.
Thirty years and many experiences later, it’s harder for Dr. Mumaw, EMU s 2006 “alumna of the year,” to pinpoint the most important moment of her career.
Mumaw’s involvement with EMU dates back to childhood. Her father, John R. Mumaw, was university president, 1948-1965; Catherine received her B.S. degree there and returned to teach home economics from 1957-1974. “Those first 40 years were all formative,” she said. “I remember well that chapel in the old administration building.” Early influences include her mother, who “had a spirit of hospitality and was good humored and a good manager”; her father, who taught her by example that all humans are equals; her first grade teacher, Rhoda E. Wenger (TY 32), whose missionary journey to Tanzania impressed young Catherine; and Mary Emma Showalter Eby (TY 37), who taught her in high school and college, and later persuaded John R. to invite Catherine back to EMC as faculty.
Mumaw earned her master’s degree in 1958 and her Ph. D. in 1967 from Penn State University. Marjorie Knoll, her doctorate adviser, “empowered me to think for myself.” Knoll also encouraged Mumaw, who already belonged to the national and state home economics associations, to join the International Federation for Home Economics. Mumaw’s involvement with the IFHE took her all over the world, from Melbourne to Manila to Minneapolis, as delegate, committee member and member of the executive committee.
As a professor and department chair of home economics at Goshen College, 1974-1986, and associate professor in the Human Development and Family Studies department at Oregon State University, 1987-1995, she continued to serve around the world. At Goshen, she directed a planning committee for transcultural seminars on international development. Through OSU, she helped Bunda College of Agriculture in Malawi update their home economics and human nutrition programs and took part in a three-month faculty exchange program with Avinashilingam Deemed University in India.
She remembers visiting one remote area of India where villagers used solar power to generate electricity, heat water for their dairy and power the community television system. She saw solar cookers in practical use among India’s poor and continues to advocate for solar cooking: “The sun costs nothing.”
Mumaw retired early from OSU to work in Nepal, and says, “I have no regrets whatsoever!” From 1995-1999, through Mennonite Central Committee, she was an education adviser for Kathmandu University School of Education. There, Mumaw and her colleagues worked to improve education especially in Nepal’s primary schools, where only a third of teachers were qualified to teach.
After attending the School of Educations’s free sessions, teachers began to ask for additional training. Mumaw also helped to “create the infrastructure” for new graduate programs at the school of Education. While in Nepal, she served twice as a tehcnical adviser for the Asia-Pacific region of the Food and Agricultural Organization, which developed distance education programs for rural women in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Living in a different culture, she found it important to have “the attitude of a learner.” Her host family, the Bhadra’s, Nepalese who had both received their doctorates at OSU, served as important mentors as she adjusted to the new culture.
The Mennonite tradition has informed Mumaw’s focus on peace and justice, and a colleague, Revarthi Balakrishnan, has “helped me think through the most what’s important with women’s development issues.” Mumaw admires the work of Perdita Houston, one of the first writers to actually go into villages and talk to women about their world, and E. F. Schumacher, author of Small is Beautiful, who advocated small-scale, local solutions. “I have come to believe that education – after clean water and health – is the most important thing to help people help themselves.”
In retirement, Mumaw lives in Corvallis, Ore.; keeps up with international friends (and checks their English for presentations via e-mail); sings in the choir; does amateur photography; takes a continuing education course on Hungary; serves on the IFHE’s Congress Committee and is preparing for its hundredth anniversary meeting in 2008 in Lucerne, Switzerland.
She’s also looking forward to another, first, anniversary this October. After traveling to all the major continents and over 40 different countries, Mumaw has embarked on a new journey – as a newlywed. She looks forward to her future with Clair Basinger of Harrisonburg, Va., and 29 new daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Published in Crossroads, Spring 2006.