Beyond Vassar

Award for Outstanding Service to Vassar

By Lindsay Dawson ’05

Kay Holman Langan ’46 is, to put it bluntly, a one-woman alumnae/i association. Her history of Vassar volunteer positions is enough to put mere mortals to shame.

Over the course of 50 years, she has held every role the Fairfield County Vassar Club could offer (some more than once). Her track record with AAVC is similar: among other positions, she served on the board three times, as publicity chair, president, and alumnae/i trustee.

Langan’s drive to serve comes from a deep desire to ensure that “Vassar’s unique brand of education will continue to be available to future generations. Many of the facts I learned at Vassar are long gone, but that way of learning and thinking has been the mainstay of my life,” she explained recently. She also noted the “integrity and insistence on excellence” of the Vassar community, a generalization to which she feels entitled, since her “case study is so large.”

Each year AAVC honors an alumna/us who has served the college with dedication, grace, and generosity over the course of a lifetime. Meg Venecek Johnson ’84, AAVC board member and chair of the Awards Selection Committee, said, “AAVC is always grateful when alumnae/i make a meaningful volunteer contribution to their club, or class, or region. Kay has made meaningful contributions on every level, in every forum, for more than 50 years. She is an extraordinary example for all Vassar volunteers.”

Even more extraordinary is the depth of Langan’s accomplishments. Her commitments to Vassar, taken alone, would probably amount to a full-time job. But she somehow managed to find time for a distinguished career between AAVC and Fairfield Vassar Club meetings. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in Modern European history, Langan worked in the United Nations Secretariat for two years. She spent 12 years at home, then became a freelance editor for the McGraw-Hill publishing company. Later she penned two high-school business textbooks of her own—one for “what were then called disadvantaged students,” and the other to comply with McGraw-Hill’s “pioneering guidelines for non-sexist language.” Eventually she launched a career as a business writer, producing speeches, brochures, and reports for a range of corporate clients.

When Langan “retired” in 1990, her options did not include slowing down. “I tell my young friends that if they are counting on their retirement years as a time of peace and quiet, they had better think again!” she said. “What my life is not? Dull!” She maintained her frenetic pace and elected to broaden her horizons rather than diminish them. Immediately after leaving her job, she went back to the classroom for a master’s degree in early modern history from New York University. Returning to higher education did not daunt her, even when an intimidating computer program caused many of her young classmates to drop out before second semester.

She said, “I got what I wanted, a way of being able to go on learning that I hope will last for the rest of my life.”

Similarly, her commitment to Vassar continued stronger than ever, as she chaired her class’ 50th reunion in 1996. Outside of Vassar, Langan works on development projects for Hudson Link, a program for educating Sing Sing prisoners, and Harlem Episcopal School, which will open its doors this fall for gifted students in need. She also is a member of the vestry of Christ Church Greenwich and chair of the church’s Adult Education Commission. As Langan said, “Vassar alumnae/i have been leaders in their communities and professions since the first graduating class. They still are and that makes me very proud.”