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Profile - Julia Cole Kneissl

Julia Cole Kneissl, known as Julie Cole when she was attending St Hilda's, was born in 1935. Here she looks back on some of her memories of the school as it was back then, and shares her life experiences since leaving St Hilda's.

My association with St Hildas Collegiate School for Girls started when I was eight years old and I was attending Arthur Street School during World War Two. At that time there was a teacher shortage as many were fighting overseas, as was my Standard Three teacher. So the short children were sent down to Standard Two where the desks were shorter and the taller ones were moved to Standard Four. As we lived on London Street, my parents sent me to St Hilda's as a day student. Two years later, my mother developed TB and was placed in a sanitarium. I was transferred into boarding school. I have written about the boarding school experience in my latest book “My Journey, - Falling down, Getting up, Starting over” by Julia Cole Kneissl ( I was not allowed to see or speak to my mother for four years, when she was deemed well enough to return home.

Our school uniform at that time consisted of : A singlet, a viyella blouse, woolen bloomers which doubled for gym, knee-high socks, a striped tie, a tunic with three box pleats front and back, a long tie belt (which was tied tightly to show off our new figures), a v-necked sweater, blazers and overcoats, hats and scarves, mittens and gloves, indoor and outdoor shoes. Hair had to clear the collar, and when one knelt, the tunic hems had to clear the floor. I looked like a sausage with a piece of string tied in the middle. Boarding students wore a black velvet dress with a lace collar for dinner which was washed at the end of the term. I made a very special friend during those years, Mary Freeman, who came from Lake Wanaka. We are still in contact.

I returned home when I was 14 and reunited with my mother. I continued as a day student until graduation in the sixth form. I was a member of Havelock House.
 When I completed my schooling at St Hilda's, I went to Home Science School where I received my diploma. Upon graduation I met my future husband, Ken Handcock, a graduating medical student, and we were married when I was 22. I was very fortunate in obtaining an instructor position with Professor Avice Bowbyes at the Home Science School who was in charge of the Clothing Department. She was a great inspiration to me and we remained in contact for the rest of her life.

My husband’s post graduate work in psychiatry took us to Montreal, Canada, and we travelled on a merchant ship where he served as the ship’s doctor and I was the only female passenger on a long seven week voyage crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans seeing mostly horizons and water. I became acquainted with Montreal's educational system when I taught as a substitute teacher at Montreal High School for Girls.

At the end of four years, job opportunities were more attractive in the USA than NZ so we moved to Albany, NY. I stayed home to raise three children. After a 23 year marriage, divorce raised its ugly head and I was forty years old without any job skills. I enrolled in a social work program at the State University of New York at Albany and earned my Masters degree in Social Work. Hudson Valley Community College offered me a full-time position if I would teach introductory and special issues classes in gerontology. It became my specialty and for 23 years I taught at many area colleges, schools of nursing and the Medical School.

Other positions I held were:

- Establishment of a SAIL Grant which provided funding to sponsor students to seek field work in aging facilities

- A guest on the TV News featuring “Stress in the Workplace” and “Adult Children with Aging Parents.”

- An advisor to the Human Services club for five years where we did fundraising for special needs and the sponsoring of a MidAtlantic States consortium of Human Services Conference.

- Presentations of retirement seminars to companies offering employees early retirement packages.

- Sensitive work was needed in establishing a Human Sexuality Course. I developed the curriculum and course outline and designed appropriate interesting, instructional activities. The classes were always full and requests for further classes came from other colleges and the medical centres.

Other duties included:

- The Professional Organization Citation of Excellence was given for my role as Director of the Peer Information Center

- I served as the President and chairperson of the local branch of the National Association of Social Workers

- I also developed a private practice in family therapy and travelled to NY to work under four of the top feminist family therapy workers, Betty Carter, Peggy Papp. Marianne Walters and Olga Silverstein. A wonderful experience. I became a Board Certified Social Worker and enjoyed the combination of academic as well as clinical practices.

I then met my present husband Bill Kneissl and have been very happily married for the past 25 years. I have written three books and also published “Bridging the Gap between Home Science and Social Work,” in the Journal of the Association of Home Science Alumnae, New Zealand, 1987. My latest book talks about how I learned about finding happiness through my life experiences of losses and learning which developed into independence . My boarding school years were part of that. I still have a photo of the Chapel and regret that it had to be removed. Also I loved those banisters in the houses which we slid down when no one was looking, standing to the side when a teacher walked by, writing out 10000 times 'I will not talk in class', marching to keep warm in the winter, school dances, Miss Dalziel, Miss Ruddock, (my music teacher), lighting the fires in the morning, marching to keep warm, and the day when students and faculty changed clothes and had a great basketball match!

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