Altoona native Jeannie Green learned more than how to sell jewelry while working for Sarah Coventry in the 1960s and '70s. The company that trained her to host in-home parties also provided her with an insight into other women's lives.
From that, she became a crusader for victims of domestic violence.
"I ran into so many women who said, 'Oh, I could never have a party,' or 'My husband wouldn't let me do that,'" Green, 82, recalled. "And I had parties I had to wrap up before the husband came home."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Jeannie Green first noticed victims of domestic violence while selling Sarah Coventry jewelry in the 1960s and ’70s.
Green, a short woman with a cute smile and an easy conversational style, got to know her customers and learned that some were living in fear.
"Remember that things were different back then," Green said. "If a husband came home drunk and started hitting his wife, what was she supposed to do?"
It wasn't until 1976 that Pennsylvania passed legislation creating protection-from-abuse orders.
Green said she was bothered by the women's stories. She said her husband, Louis, never hit her, and she wanted to do something to help them.
Through one of her customers, she learned of a meeting in Altoona where women were going to discuss issues to take to lawmakers in Harrisburg.
Green said she went, not knowing exactly what she was getting into. There, she heard women talk about the need for better housing and programs for children.
Donna Gority, a current Blair County commissioner who was then a volunteer for the Altoona YWCA, spoke about the need for more educational opportunities for women.
Green didn't know if she was in the right place to make her suggestion but took a chance.
"I stood up and said we need a house for battered women," she recounted.
The ideas offered that night evolved into a volunteer effort that led to the Feb. 19, 1979, opening of the Blair County Women's Resource Center in the basement of the YWCA building, 224 Union Ave..
In an Altoona Mirror story published that day, Gority described the center as a place where women would help women. The center had educational materials, plans for workshops and a volunteer staff. It had a long-range goal of providing overnight accommodations for abused women.
In the Mirror story, Gority credited Green for her role in establishing the center, not by naming her, but by identifying her as "a woman who sold Sarah Coventry jewelry... and detected that there were women who suffered from beatings or were abused by their husbands."
Green said she didn't want to be named in the story. She was well aware that some men were abusing their wives.
She feared for them and for herself.
Gority said she doesn't remember every detail about those early efforts. But she knows Green and describes her as the volunteer with firsthand knowledge and a passion to do something.
"Jeannie was the one who had been in and out of homes and knew women who were in danger," Gority said.
Four years later
The goal of offering overnight accommodations for abused women took time.
Volunteers spent time educating the community about domestic violence and set up a telephone hotline to provide help.
Family and Children's Services, then under the direction of Jackie Sutton, took a leadership role and found a house. In August 1983, it was ready for use.
Green said she was in the first group of 70 volunteers to be trained to work at the shelter. Gwen Pattillo, then working on a master's degree at the time, was the instructor.
"We were the only shelter in Pennsylvania that was entirely staffed by volunteers," Pattillo said.
"Some kids were real good and others weren't," Jeannie Green said. "But it reflected what they were taught. I told one boy that his hands were not for hitting, and he told me, 'But my dad does it.'"
LouAnn Green said she remembers her mother's desire to help abused women.
"When I was younger, she'd take me to meetings at the YWCA ... and I remember her working the hotline ... and at the shelter," LouAnn Green said. "My mother is a self-starter. If she wants to do something, she will find a way to do it."
Jeannie Green said the effort to create that shelter involved a lot of people. Family and Children's Services later opened a teen shelter and a homeless shelter.
"I felt like we kind of blazed a trail," Jeannie Green said.
Pattillo describes a similar feeling when remembers training volunteers to work at the shelter.
"And it's still going strong which makes me feel good," Pattillo said.
Sharlene Conrad of Altoona, who has known Jeannie Green for six years, said she likes to listen to her friend talk about her days of selling jewelry and trying to help other women.
"She can be mezmerizing," Conrad said. "And she's never tells me where the shelter is located."
LouAnn Green said her mother also doesn't disclose who stayed at shelter.
"One time this woman came up to me and said she and her kids had met my mother ... at the shelter," LouAnn Green said. "I wouldn't have known that. ... My mother is the kind of person who can keep a secret for life."
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.