By Timothy Cwiek
May 20-26, 2005
Reprinted with permission from Philadelphia Gay News
Margaret Caroline Yeakel, a social work professor known for her support of the downtrodden, died on April 17, 2005, from complications due to a hip replacement.
She was 89 and lived in Havertown.
Always supporting the underdog, Yeakel’s career spanned 70 years, and included teaching English to disadvantaged youths in Appalachia, and establishing a social-work education program in post-Communist Hungary.
Yeakel was born on Jan. 10, 1916, in Fair Oaks.
She received a bachelor’s degree in literature and English from Oberlin College in May 1939, according to school records. [Incorrect: She graduated in 1935].
After graduation, Yeakel taught English at an Appalachian school in Kentucky, known as the Hindman Settlement School.
“It was fantastic,” said her sister, Dorothy Hall. “The faculty was a most unusual collection of people, who wanted to be there because of the culture that existed there.”
Yeakel then worked as an administrator with the Girl Scouts of the USA, in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. During that period of her life, she met Grace Ganter at a Girl Scout camp near Cleveland.
The women remained life partners until Ganter’s death from cancer in 1986.
In the 1960s, Yeakel and Ganter earned doctorates in social work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
Yeakel received her doctorate in 1963, and Ganter received her doctorate in 1961, according to university officials.
The couple co-authored two books related to social work, “Retrieval from Limbo” and “Human Behavior and the Social Environment.”
Yeakel taught at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and at Smith College School of Social Work in Northampton, Mass., before moving to Havertown in the early 1970s.
During the 1970s, Yeakel became a faculty member of West Chester State University, and helped to develop a social work program at the school.
She retired from West Chester in the mid-1980s.
Yeakel was selected as a Fulbright Scholar in 1990. She used the scholarship to return to Hungary, and to continue her work in establishing a social-work education program throughout Hungary.
“The fact that she studied Hungarian in order to do this is incredible,” Hall continued. “It’s not an easy language.”
Yeakel also was very interested in promoting the rights of the elderly, Hall added.
She chaired the board of the Center For Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in Pennsylvania from 1992 to 1996, and continued to serve as an emeritus board member until her death.
Bernice Soffer, a former executive director or CARIE, said Yeakel helped expand the agency, and she skillfully edited its newsletter.
“Margaret brought a sense of caring, humaneness, integrity and intelligence to the organization,” Soffer said. “She was very articulate. She had a wonderful sense of herself, and of the world.”
Soffer praised Yeakel’s commitment to service.
“She was a force for good, in her own quiet and steadfast way,” she said. “She stood for helping people who couldn’t help themselves. She left the world in a better place than she found it.”
Yeakel’s interests included poetry, swimming, canoeing, traveling, music, civil rights, and literature.
“Marcie was very versatile, gifted and broad,” Hall continued. “She wrote a sonnet in January 2005, which is a beautiful sonnet. Some of her work was published in a small poetry magazine, The Lyric. She had a great facility with language.”
Hall said Yeakel also enjoyed spending time at her summer home in New Harbor, Maine.
For the past six years, Yeakel took piano lessons at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music.
“It was a pleasure having her,” Kathyrna Barone, director of the school, told PGN. “She was a very lovely human being. She was a vigorous, intelligent lady. Toward the end of her days, maybe she wasn’t so vigorous physically. But spiritually and intellectually, she remained vital.”
In addition to Hall, Yeakel is survived by a brother, Allen, and five nieces and nephews.
© 2005 Timothy Cwiek