In the fall of 1980, Ted and Amy Ficklen signed up for the same course at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, and the rest is history.
“We were both so shy, and I still remember writing notes to her and asking to borrow a pencil,” said Ted.
He was the only male in the class – then-new professor Suzanna Rose’s introduction to women’s studies, to be exact – and he admits to ending up there because other classes were full. But Ted’s first impression of UMSL, and of a certain classmate, proved a lasting one.
“I met the love of my life that first semester,” Ted said. “UMSL has a lot of fond memories for us.”
The two also happened to ride the same bus to campus their freshman year, and on those commutes Amy got acquainted with William Faulkner and other southern writers, thanks to Ted, who grew up in Virginia and earned a degree in English from UMSL in 1984.
When Ted took a part-time job in the Thomas Jefferson Library as an upperclassman, Amy sought him out for assistance navigating the card catalog. By the time they married, in 1986, Ted was working at UMSL Libraries full time – a job he took shortly after graduating and still loves.
“I come in every day and just feel bouncy and excited,” Ted said. “Every year there’s a new crop of students here. It’s just really exciting. I didn’t know when I was younger that I liked working with people, but I really do enjoy working with people.”
Amy majored in social work during her first couple years of school. Work and family responsibilities kept her from completing her degree at the time, but she intended to return sooner or later.
Now, after several years balancing at least two UMSL courses per semester on top of her full-time job, she is nearing the finish line. When she crosses the stage at UMSL this December to receive her bachelor’s degree, Ted and the couple’s three children – Simon, Ruby and Lewis – will be watching.
“I always wanted to get my degree, and it just meant a lot to me,” Amy said, adding that she often finds herself doing homework alongside her kids – all of whom spent formative years in UMSL’s Child Development Center, cared for by Estella Rash and others. The oldest, Simon, is also a UMSL alumnus, earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2013.
A troubling diagnosis in late March 2008 had a major impact on Amy. Doctors discovered she had a brain tumor, and Amy underwent surgery to remove it less than two weeks later. Hazardous but necessary, the operation left her blind in one eye. But two months and several weeks of rehab later, she was back at work – and more motivated than ever to go back to school.
“It changed my life,” Amy said. “I was really lucky – I had a great family and a supportive work environment, and here I am.”
She acknowledges her boss at Saint Louis University, dermatologist Scott Fosko, M.D., for his role in that support system. She also remembers the encouragement of UMSL staff member Lorraine Simeone when she first began inquiring about what it would take to finish her degree.
“I had just walked up to get information, and I was all nervous,” Amy said. “But she got me going. ‘You can do it,’ she said … She really encouraged me and made me feel confident.”
“I always feel at home here,” Amy added. “The teachers care about you, there are great professors, and the students are great, too. Whenever you ask for help around here, if you approach any of these people, they really help you. They are very compassionate.”