By Beth Brosnan
As a young girl growing up in Lowell in the 1930s and ’40s, Connie Lanseigne-Case’s universe was relatively small — but it was full of windows to the wider world.
She grew up in Pawtucketville in a French-speaking home, and rubbed shoulders with neighbors in Lowell’s Greek and Portuguese communities. Uncles who served in the military brought home photos of Egypt and King Tut’s recently discovered tomb, “which completely fascinated me,” she recalls. Her father, a loom fixer and mill supervisor, made a point of taking his only child to Lowell’s Parker Lecture series, introducing her to leading authors and thinkers.
“And every day when I walked to school at St. Patrick’s in the Acre, I would pass Lowell Textile Institute,” she says. “I used to look at the campus and tell myself that one day I would be a student there.” In 1949, she made good on her vow when she enrolled, not at Lowell Textile, but at State Teachers College at Lowell, becoming the first of her many cousins to attend college.
State Teachers College proved to be the first of many windows that Lanseigne-Case would climb through.
After graduating in 1953 with a degree in elementary education, she taught at schools in Billerica, Chelmsford and Lowell, and earned both her master’s and doctoral degrees in education at Boston University. School Superintendent Patrick Mogan hired her to direct Lowell’s first Head Start program. Later, as chair of the curriculum committee, she helped Pelham, N.H. launch its first public high school. She retired — ostensibly — as a reading specialist in Hudson, N.H., and promptly joined UML’s Learning in Retirement Association (LIRA), coordinating its arts and music programs for 16 years.
“My husband once told me, ‘If someone checked your brain, they would find that education was your entire life,’” she says with a laugh.
A key part of Lanseigne-Case’s education took place outside the classroom. The little girl who once dreamed of Egypt has now traveled to 56 different countries. As an early member of Crossroads Africa — a forerunner to the Peace Corps — Lanseigne-Case met with President John Kennedy in the Rose Garden of the White House, before traveling to Gabon, West Africa to spend a summer working with local teachers. While there, she met the medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, who a few years earlier had won both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Goethe Prize. “To this day, he is a model for me,” she says.
Three other key role models are her late parents and husband: Hector and Rose Lanseigne, and Dow Livingston Case. Earlier this year, she decided to honor all of them with a major gift to support the renovation of Coburn Hall, where she was once a student. A handsome first-floor room overlooking the entire South Campus will now be known as the Laseigne-Case Classroom.
Lanseigne-Case remembers this classroom well: It was to that space that students were evacuated when a fire broke out in a different section of Coburn Hall during her senior year. Today, she hopes the Lanseigne-Case Classroom will help light a different kind of fire for future teachers.
“Lowell is my hometown, and State Teachers College was my introduction to higher education and so many other things,” she says. “When I visit UMass Lowell today, I see so many different students from everywhere, and I want them to have the same opportunities I did.”