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BARBARA MADDEN - An ordinary life

By Blog Master
Posted: 05/25/2021
Tags: bios



The Member Connections presentation by Barbara Madden was titled “Highlights from an Ordinary Life.” As Barbara sees it, “there is nothing extraordinary about my life – except perhaps my living this long.” And yet, after an engaging hour getting to know more about Barbara and her life, we all realized, again, that life is extraordinary, often more by chance and opportunity than design.


Barbara’s father immigrated with his family to Oregon from Germany when he was 13. Her mother was a 2nd generation Italian farm girl from San Jose. Neither of them went to school beyond the 8th grade. They met in a boarding house in Oakland during the depression; each working and sending money home to their families. They were both 18 and married at 20. She is sure that neither family expected that their child would marry an “outsider”.


Barbara was the first of three children. She remembers her parents as resourceful, hard working and optimistic. At that time, a white working class family could thrive. Her neighborhood in East Oakland was economically and ethnically diverse, though not racially. She was quite aware of the differences in people, families and financial status. Her father often pointed out the differences, and it was clear that her parents now considered themselves more American than German or Italian.


“The economics of the time were different”, explained Barbara. A working class family could get by. During World War II, because he had children and was exempt from the draft, her father got a job in the Oakland Police Department although he lacked a high school education. His status and salary as a civil servant enabled the family to purchase a small home that became the foundation of their stability as a young family.  


A quiet and studious child, Barbara loved to read, especially fiction. By immersing herself in the fictitious lives portrayed in books, she became further aware of the differences in people, the twists and turns that life can have. She was a good student but without any sense that she would go to college, as this was not in the experience of her family or neighborhood. However, as she graduated from high school, San Francisco State College was expanding and looking for more students. After passing an entrance test, Barbara found herself in college. “This was another instance of chance and opportunity playing a role in my life; an affordable college education provided by the state of California”.


She met her husband, John, in college when he was a teaching assistant, and she a student. They married during her senior year. After graduating with a degree in Social Work, Barbara went to work for the welfare department. Before long there were two children, and in 1961 they moved to Altadena when John got a job at Pasadena City College.  


Barbara attributes her long career as a clinical Social Worker to chance. In Pasadena, Barbara took her two young children to a Mommy & Me class at the Pasadena YWCA. She found it emotionally life-saving, and, eventually she began teaching the class. The encouragement and example of YWCA staff, led her to graduate school at USC, with John helping out on child care duty. Again, another opportunity; tuition was manageable. After completing her Master’s degree in Social Work, she was a clinical therapist for the next 30 years, ending her career as an outpatient therapist at Cedars Sinai Medical center. “I helped ordinary people with ordinary problems.”


In 1970, John received a sabbatical from PCC and determined that the family was going to spend nine months travelling through Europe in a camper – not exactly an ordinary undertaking. So Barbara and John, and their two pre-teen children, embarked on a journey through Europe, from West to East, from colder climes to warmer ones. “Life became very simple, focused on the daily necessities. We got very good at living in a close space, so much so that when we returned home we would have long conversations standing in the hallway.”  


Barbara and John were married for 59 years. They joined the Village, at Barbara’s instigation, before it was even completely formed. “I had spent my professional life outside of Pasadena and I knew I didn’t have enough friends in my own community.” A chance receipt of a flyer inviting interested seniors to a pot luck led to an introduction to Pasadena Village.  “And when John died I felt completely surrounded with caring in a most natural way. That is the true value of being part of a Village.”


Today Barbara is an active member of the Village – very active. She is a Board member (her second term), a member of the Services Assessment Team, the coordinator of the Neighborhood groups, and on many committees. She is proof that really there is no such thing as an “ordinary” life.


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