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Jean Fountain

Jean Fountain

African American Businesswoman, Freedom Rider & Volunteer

Born: VA, United States
Heritage: African American

I would say that most important thing to learn is to love what you do. We all have a talent. Know what it is. I would also say, push away from the television and video games every now and then. Getting good grades is important. That doesn’t mean getting the highest grade. It means doing the best you can.

Jean Fountain

African American Businesswoman, Freedom Rider & Volunteer

My name is Jean Via Fountain. My birthday was May 2, 1942. I grew up in southern Virginia. I am a Taurus, which means my personality is like a bull—tenacious.

My heritage is African American. One grandparent was European. As a result I celebrate Kwanzaa. I think African Americans are made up of many different colors.

I had teachers who believed in me. Six grades were in the same room. One thing I remember vividly was discipline. If we were caught chewing gum, fighting or talking, we were sent to court. The teachers decided our punishment. My favorite teacher was Mr. Harriston. He was strict. We had to be on time and do our work. We had exams twice a year. All of our answers had to be in ink. If we made mistakes, we started over.

My academic strength was math and science. I was valedictorian of my class. I took history, chemistry and physics. One of the reasons I learned so much was because I loved to read. The other reason was because my teachers set high expectations.

I was the first in my family to go to college. I went to Howard University in Washington, D.C. There were many students from all over the world. I made a friend from Jamaica. John F. Kennedy came to our campus and spoke.

I grew up during segregation. When I was younger, I could play with white
children; however, during my later years of school I could not even use the same
bathrooms and drinking fountains as the white people did. Our school books were handed down to use after white children had used them. All my years of education were segregated.

My husband’s name is Woody. He was born in Virginia, but we didn’t meet until college. I chose him to be my husband over others because he knew how to dance and had a good sense of humor. As a child he dreamed of being a pilot. Woody served as a pilot in the Air Force for seven years. He went on to become the first black pilot for Northwest Airlines. He primarily flew to Asia. Occasionally, I was able to fly with him and really enjoyed learning about people from different cultures. My favorite trip was to Tokyo. I found out that they knew more about America than I knew about them.

We have a daughter, Tamara. In seventh grade, she was in track and cheerleading. Following in my steps, she was also valedictorian of her class at Edina West. Tamara went to Stanford to study biology. Upon graduating, she continued her education at a medical school in Boston and became an optometrist. She is also married and has two children, Nicholas and Natalie. They live in Chicago.

For my career I worked as a teacher in the Twin Cities. Then I worked at Pillsbury for thirteen years. My job was to make dessert. I also started my own business, called Via Fountain Associates, which helps people find jobs.

Currently, I am the president of the University of Minnesota’s Alumni Association. I also serve on the Zoo Board, volunteer for a medical foundation, and other community service projects. I still read and dance a lot.

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Honoring Jean Fountain

Thank You For Having Me Here

I was born in Virginia
Way back in those days
Called segregation
Where I could play
With white and black neighbors
Until we came of age
Then all of a sudden
Together we could not play
Thank you for having me here

I grew up with good teachers
They believed in me
We were never hampered
With low self-esteem
No one ever told me
That up I could not go
Raised with high expectations
At school and at home
Thank you for having me here

Six grades in one classroom
The old kids helped the young
If you got caught talking
Fighting or chewing gum
You had to go to court
In school to testify
If you were found guilty
Had to do time for the crime
Thank you for having me here

I always did my best
In all that I did do
I always raised my hand
Kids called me goodie-two-shoes
They called me smarty-pants
That’s all right by me
The harder you work
The more you will succeed
Thank you for having me here

As valedictorian
Of my graduating class
After I gave my speech
Everybody clapped
I went off to Howard
In Washington, D.C.
Not far from the White House
And John F. Kennedy
Thank you for having me here

Many of my classmates
Went on the Freedom Ride
Down south to Mississippi
To help the poor folks sign
Up for registration
So they could vote
In those days of integration
Looking for some hope
Thank you for having me here

Then I met my husband
He grew up with a dream
To become a pilot
In the military
With few black pilots
Then in ‘69
Became the first black pilot
For Northwest Airlines
Thank you for having me here

We were one of the first
In Edina who was black
My daughter gave a speech like me
For her graduation class
Now she is a surgeon
I’m so proud of her
Love what you are doing
This one thing I have learned
Thank you for having me here

Words by LARRY LONG with Nathan Monseth’s 5th Grade class of Countryside Elementary.
(Edina, Minnesota)

© Larry Long 2006 / BMI