A Woman’s Place: Generational Differences Among the Women of My Family
Giggling amongst her friends, Jennifer Balthazar jumps into her car, setting her diploma in the backseat and taking off her cap to toss in the back as well. It’s 1971 and she’s just completed her graduation from Poudre High School. Starting up her beetle Volkswagen, Jennifer takes a moment to look out at the sea of caps and gowns leaving with their families and wonders, “What now?”
It’s 1971, the start of the digital age with the invention of the microprocessor, Disney World opens, and the cost of gas was 40 cents a gallon. The women’s rights suffrage was raging across the country as females everywhere fought for equality.
For an 18-year-old fresh out of high school, Jennifer faced a world of decisions about what her life would look like and how she would live it. Moving into an apartment with a friend in the summer of 1971, she began hanging out with the bright young men across the hall with her roommate.
It wasn’t long before she began dating Jim Koehler, a young farmer who was roommates with her friend’s boyfriend. After 5 months of dating the two decided to get married and start their lives together.
For a woman of her age, class, and education level, there wasn’t much choice for anything else.
Jennifer reflects saying, “My father told me, ‘There’s no use in going to college. You’re just going to get married and have kids.’ So I didn’t know I could do anything else. No body ever told me I could be anything else.”
Growing up as the only girl to her three older brothers, Jennifer had different expectations set on her. While the boys went to work with their dad, she stayed at home to do the cooking, cleaning, and other domestic work with her mother.
“I would have loved to go to work with my dad, but I never thought of it because my place was at home. It was just a different time then.” She recalls.
After graduating high school, Jennifer didn’t have a plan to go to college. She knew it wasn’t in the cards for her and she had never thought it was something available to her.
She worked at First National Bank in Fort Collins, Colorado to pay her rent and enjoyed the few months that she lived with her friend before meeting Jim.
After the two got married Jennifer recalls feeling like this was all she was able to do as a woman in her time saying, “I never knew I could be anything else. Growing up I was always told that I was going to get married and have kids. That’s it.”
The young couple waited four years before having their first baby, Katie Ann Koehler.
“I wanted children, of course. I wanted four and Jim wanted none, so we had four.” She explains snickering.
After Katie, Heidi, Nick, and Sadie quickly followed suit. Jennifer felt she had done her job as a woman. She had gotten married, had her kids, and wasn’t sure what there was to do next. That’s when she started her radio career.
Beginning as a overnight host on the weekends at KLOV in Loveland, Colorado, Jennifer found a new passion for the career life. Entering the career with no experience, she learned the job and moved up from there.
“I got the job with no experience because the man was fascinated with my boobs… he never once looked at my face, but hey, it got me the job. You use what you have to get where you want to go.”
Not only did she face adversity in the workplace, but there wasn’t much support at home either.
“My father laughed at me when I told him I wanted to do radio. He told me I couldn’t do it. So I did.” she remembers.
Quickly, she became the most popular radio host in the station, but her struggles weren’t over. Although she was successful this didn’t change the fact that she was a woman.
“I was the most popular, but that didn’t matter because I was a girl. The boys were the top guns in the station, it didn’t matter that I had better numbers.”
Jennifer didn’t stop with radio. After her radio career had run its course she decided to become a flight attendant.
“The most fun job I ever had was being a flight attendant. I got to go everywhere and see all these amazing places. It gave me access to opportunities I never would have gotten by being a housewife.”
Being a flight attendant helped to broaden her horizons and see places she never would have before. She wasn’t stuck inside anymore, but she was flying to new places every weekend.
Retiring in 2019, Jennifer decided to put her flying days behind her and enjoy her retirement with her husband. While she isn’t working anymore, she still has big dreams to live out.
“I want to open a margarita truck! I already have the RV I’m going to renovate, I just need to get the liquor licenses and all the paperwork in order.”
Jennifer hopes to open her new business in the summer of 2021 and hire her granddaughters to work the truck over the summer. The truck will have the name Bonita’s Margaritas, after her mother that passed away in 2014.
Let’s rewind to the year 1993 when Katie Koehler, Jim and Jennifer’s eldest daughter, graduated from Fort Collins High School. Sitting in her 1986 Ford Escort, cap and gown worn proudly with a diploma in hand, she wonders something different: “What job do I want?”
Of course, she had planned out all her interests before graduating, but when the date came she thought of the career she might have. Katie’s options were much more broad than that of Jennifer’s.
After 45 years of fighting, “the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna confirmed that women’s rights were human rights” The new confirmation helps women, but hasn’t quite set in all the way for those who are used to less progressive ideas.
While college was more of an option for Katie, she decided that it wasn’t for her and went down the road of agriculture. The agriculture community was a huge part of her life throughout high school and this wasn’t about to change.
Working at Busch Ag greenhouse, Katie found a love for her job and a passion for plant care. She helped grow the plants that later became beer.
“This was one of my favorite jobs. I remember learning so much and enjoying being around the plants everyday.”
At age 18, Katie was helping a friend move out of their house when she met Jake Williams. Jake was a young cowboy complete with a mullet and cowboy hat. They took to each other quickly and started dating.
“I knew I was going to marry her by the first date. She was a unicorn.” Jake explains
At the time Jake was still in high school and they often joked about the age difference between them. This didn’t stop them however when they got married in 1996 at the age of 19 (Jake) and 21(Katie).
Being a mother was always the biggest dream for Katie and while she might have loved to have a career, having a baby was her bigger goal. In 2000, their first child was born, Hattie Williams; her brother Caleb followed in 2003.
Raising her daughter, Katie made sure to engrain the notion that she could be whatever she wanted to be. So differently from that of Jennifer’s upbringing, Katie’s children were raising to know they could do anything they wanted.
“I always told my kids what my mom used to tell me, ‘You can be whatever you want to be.’ I really tired to make sure my kids were raised to work hard for what they wanted, but know that they were capable no matter their gender.” Katie recalls.
Differently than her mother, Katie wanted to have kids and get married. Her dream was to be a mom and she made it happen.
“I always wanted to be a mom. My biggest dream was having kids and raising them. So that’s what I did. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t have options, it was more that this is what I wanted to do.” Katie explains.
However, this didn’t stop her from having a hand in her husband’s business and even earning an associates degree to the University of Phoenix for children’s education.
The young married couple built a company together, Topline Woodworks, a trim carpentry business. Katie handled the books while Jake handled the woodworking.
Money became a struggle during the 2008 recession and Katie opened an at-home daycare to help support the family. This daycare allowed Katie to be home with her kids to raise them, while also bringing a second income to the household.
In 2012 she decided to go to online school to get her degree in children’s education. Her plan was to become a preschool teacher after graduation. Unlike her mother, college was an option and when she wanted to go she could.
After completing her degree, Katie decided she wanted to continue to stay at home and raise her two kids, Hattie and Caleb. She uses her teaching knowledge to help educate the children at her daycare and better their experience there.
“I loved being a daycare provider, I loved every one of those kids. But it was exhausting and I was drained at the end of the week.”
After 16 years of owning her own daycare, Katie decided to put it behind her and move onto something else.
“We were financially stable and both my kids were grown. I had no reason to keep doing daycare. I wanted something new, so I closed the daycare.” Katie explains.
Growing restless of being at home too often, Katie decided to get a part-time job at the post office in Wellington, Colorado. She had a few friends that worked there and she needed something to fill her time.
“The benefits were great and it gave me something to do during the day. It helped me stay busy.”
Today Katie is the co-owner of Topline Woodworks, she works part-time for the post office, and she continues to be a loving mother to her two children.
The year is 2018, Donald Trump is president, an immigration crisis is breaking out, and the Me Too movement is in full force.
Walking back to my car in the parking lot, feet sore from the heels I had on, I take off my cap and set it next to the diploma in the passenger seat. I look out the windshield at my fellow classmates who I just walked across the stage with and wonder: “What college do I pick?”
Unlike my grandmother and mother, I have a certainty about my education and options. I have been accepted into my top 5 schools I’ve applied for and was narrowing down my choices.
I know what I want to be and know how to get myself there. Unlike generations before me, I grew up hearing the words, “what do you want to be?” instead of, “This is your only option”.
College had always been on my radar and no one had ever told me I couldn’t do it because of my gender. In fact, woman actually make up the larger amount of people in college now.
Of course, the world isn’t perfect and there’s still inequality among the sexes, but it’s no where near as unprogressive as it was in the 70s or 90s.
The progression of women, especially the education of women, have grown immensely over the last 50 years and continue to grow even today.
With my college graduation planned in the Spring of 2022, I look forward to being the first woman in my family with a four-year degree. I look forward to opening more doors for my daughter(s) one day and continuing to press the barriers of what a women’s place is in the world.