Patt Zamora '72 was a feminist before it was hip to be a feminist. But don't tell her that. Zamora doesn't like labels and she prefers to define herself on her own terms. Her story is a compelling combination of determination, dedication and grit. A lot of grit.
In 1956, at the age of 16, Zamora dropped out of high school, got married and gave birth to the first of her five children. Some years later, Zamora and her husband, John, found the family could use a second income.
Patt Zamora, however, discovered that money-earning options available to women who hadn't finished high school were few in the early 1960s. Most required a high school diploma and, even with that in pocket, opportunities were limited and the paychecks were thin.
Patt decided to go back to school.
"I had five kids and I had to take care of them," Zamora said. "I realized that the only way I could do that was to finish high school and get a college degree."
'It's hard to put into words, but Ambrose has heart. I don't know how else to say it.'
Patt Zamora '72
That was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with education. After she finished high school, she enrolled at St. Ambrose, graduated in four years with a 4.0 grade point average and then commuted from Davenport to Iowa City to earn a law degree in two years.
Retired now from a successful career in law, as well as from a long tenure as a member and president of the Davenport Board of Education, Zamora credits St. Ambrose not only for providing her with a college education, but also nurturing her in ways that go beyond the classroom.
"It's hard to put into words," Zamora said, "but Ambrose has heart. I don't know how else to say it."
An example of that ‘heart' preceded Zamora's first semester in school. Days before her freshman year, Zamora realized she was $300 short of the tuition needed to enroll.
"I didn't have the money and nobody would loan it to me," Zamora said. "I called the school and told them I was sorry but I didn't have the money. About a week later, the school called and told me somebody had paid my tuition. To this day I don't who paid it."
Zamora's Ambrosian story did not stop there. Three children - daughters Cynthia Zamora-Taylor '81 and Cathy (Zamora) Cartee '84 and son John Zamora '87 - are SAU graduates. So are three grandchildren, and six nieces and nephews.
It's a remarkable story, with the matriarch's grit passed down from generation to generation.
"She passed down to all her children a strong streak of independence," said Cartee, herself a successful attorney known for her wit and confidence. "And to my Dad's credit, he supported my mother going back to school, and he told his daughters that they better be able to take care of themselves and the best way to ensure that was to go to college."
Cartee went to the University of Iowa for a year, but didn't like the atmosphere so she transferred to St. Ambrose.
"I loved the intimacy of Ambrose," Cartee said. "At Ambrose, I played softball, played in the band and sang in the choir. I could not have done all those things at Iowa, but I could at Ambrose. At St. Ambrose, you're encouraged to participate, and everyone is allowed to participate."
The legacy has continued with a third generation. Cameron Cartee '14 is one of three grandchildren who followed Patt to St. Ambrose. Two high school-aged granddaughters are considering SAU as well.
"My Grandma expected her children to go to college and my Mom and Dad had the expectation for their children," Cameron said. "I had a wonderful experience at St. Ambrose. And my experience was my own experience. I was able to get a great education from a quality school, tailored to my own generation."