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Writer, Researcher, Historian; Patricia Schearer Mertz '53
Photo courtesy of Patricia Schearer Mertz '53
Seasoned writers like trustee emerita Patricia Schearer Mertz '53 don't stop
In October 2010, Mertz's 14-page manuscript, "Elsie and Wallace Stevens: Reading's Contribution to Culture and Coinage," was awarded first place in the Hiester Manuscript Awards at the annual meeting of the Historical Society of Berks County. Mertz, 79, was motivated by a summer 2010Reading Eagle poll that asked "who are the most famous people with ties to Berks County." Mertz felt that the poll results did not fully reflect the rich cultural history of the area. Proud of her Berks County heritage, her response to the three-week research and writing project was also personal. "I didn't know I had a distant cousin married to Reading's noted poet," she says.
It was Mertz's husband Edgar who first wondered if she could be related to the lady on the dime who shared the same last name as her mother's family. Mertz set out to learn all she could. Elsie Kachel Stevens (1886-1963) was indeed the model whose profile adorns more than two billion Mercury dimes. Better known as the wife of Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), a major American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mertz believes her distant cousin Elsie was "short-changed by history."
A natural storyteller with a love of language, Mertz came to Albright to become a Spanish teacher. That was until Professor John Khouri returned her graded written history exam with the words "you are a writer" scribbled on the top. Those few words inspired a 28-year career in writing.
It was her college degree and experience as editor of the Albright yearbook that helped her land her first writing job in New York City with TV Guide in 1953. Responsible for the letters column at a time when TV was black and white, she was often asked what color television stars' eyes were. However, unbeknownst to the magazine's editors, Mertz and her husband, newlyweds who lived on a tight budget, did not even own a TV. But Mertz always found a way to answer her readers' questions.
When Mertz's husband was transferred to Cincinnati, she began work as a feature writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer's home furnishings, decorating, antiques and architecture section. A devoted mother of two young children, her work occasionally took her away from her family. During the Ford administration, she interviewed the White House curator, Clement Conger, about a silverware collection donated by two Cincinnati women. Relying on a tape recorder, she did not take notes. When she realized that the tape recorder did not work, Mertz wrote the article from memory. Not only was the article a success, it was a lesson learned.
Now retired and living in Nashville, Mertz has also fulfilled her love of teaching. She has taught English to Hispanic immigrants in shopping centers, churches and libraries for more than 20 years. "I wanted to keep my Spanish alive," she says. Mertz also continues to write. She writes a "life book" for each of her two children and four grandchildren. "I add a page to their Life Books each year: what they said, what they accomplished, what they read, who their best friend was, what intrigued them. It's one of my best writing projects."
–Linda L. Mecca '08