Leading by Example

Published on 28 January 2019

With an unwavering passion for the profession, Joanne Anderson, B.S. ’59, pursued a career in pharmacy at a time when her choice was uncommon. Through her leadership as a student at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and throughout her career, Anderson became a trailblazer inspiring exceptional women to pursue careers in pharmacy and health care.

“In my senior year of high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college,” she said. “When I was growing up, a girl could be a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. There were two drugstores where I lived in East St. Louis, and one of them was run by Veronica Eisele [B.S. ’33] who lived in our neighborhood. I was always so interested in seeing all of those bottles, but I thought, ‘well, I’ll be a teacher like I’m supposed to be.’ Then one day as I was riding home on the bus, I thought to myself, ‘why do I want to be a teacher? I don’t like any of those classes. Science is what I like!’ And so, I made the decision, then and there that I would look into pharmacy school.”

For Anderson, there was no other pharmacy school than St. Louis College of Pharmacy. The College seemed like a match meant to be — her best friend, Bernice McCarthy, B.S. ’59, was going there in the fall, and it was close to home — but Anderson had something of a rude awakening when she arrived on campus. Coming from an all-girls high school, Anderson was not prepared for the barriers she faced as one of only nine women in her class.

“At that time, girls could be the secretary of the class, but they could never be the president,” Anderson said with a smile. “But having gone to an all-girls school, where girls were president and editor of the paper, I couldn’t understand why a girl couldn’t be and do all of those things.”

Anderson forged a new path, and it wasn’t long before she would go on to become the national secretary treasurer for the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Student Chapter.

“That was a job and a half,” Anderson laughed. “At the next APhA convention in California, we worked hard to get St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s name known. We set up a “district six” for the Midwest that included schools like University of Illinois, Purdue and the College, of course. We kind of put the College on the map for the student section.”

When talking with Anderson, it is difficult to believe that she was ever “painfully shy,” as she described. Anderson served as president of the Alumni Association from 1972-73, the second woman president after Phyllis Sarich, B.S. ’46. And in 1979, Anderson made College history as the first woman to serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees. Within the span of her 26-years as a member of the Board, Anderson served on the Board’s executive committee for several years and as senior vice president before her two-year term as chairman. It would be 30 years before another woman assumed the role of chairman of the Board.

As a woman who has held many leadership positions throughout her remarkable career, she established herself as an influencer, and perhaps a beacon for other women, both in the profession and at the College. Her sister Carol Muzzarelli, B.S. ’67, insists that the only reason she is a pharmacist is because of her older sister. Anderson’s daughter Margie Besing, B.S. ’86, also followed in her mother’s footsteps, showing the same dedication to the profession and College through her own involvement and leadership.

Despite all this, Anderson claims it was never her intention to be a woman of influence.

“I simply did what I needed and wanted to do,” Anderson reflected. “I was just so taken with the profession. I love the profession, and I wanted other people to be just as happy as I was. I never once woke up unhappy to go to work. I believe I encouraged both men and women simply because I really enjoyed being a pharmacist.”

This story was first published in the fall 2018 issue of Script. Visit stlcop.edu/script to read more and access previous issues.

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