Sandra Nordmark / by Michael Falco

Who is Sandra Nordmark?

Sandra Nordmark moved to Battle Creek from East Lansing, where she attended Michigan State University. After completing her Ph.D., she moved around some, but has been settled in Calhoun County for about thirty-five years. She has worked in park conservation and is invested in social justice and equity work. 

Excerpt from interview with Sandra Nordmark by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: And how would you describe yourself racially? Your racial, ethnic, and class identity?

Nordmark: [14:36:00] Some people have asked me how I view myself with respect to my personal identity with race and I have always said I consider myself something of a Viking. My grandparents came here from the old country in Scandinavia. I still feel a strong affinity to that. To my Native American friends who used to call me a lot of very interesting names, I was always “that Viking,” “that woman who talks so much.” [laughs]

Q: When you think of your identity in relation to Vikings—when you say you feel very close to that—what parts of that do you identify with? What parts of it do you feel that you have ownership of and are viewable within you?

Nordmark: [14:36:47] The Viking me is not Brunhilde. But it is very closely aligned with, again, the outdoor, the natural world, the exploring mind, the curious person. The one who is a risk- taker, which I was not as a young person. The one who is up for a spirit of adventure but also open and willing to learn from other experiences. I always thought that that in my grandfather especially, and I think that’s still true of me today.

Q: What were some of the names that your Native American friends called you?

Nordmark: [14:37:27] What ones can I repeat? A very dear man that I used to work for was a Native American from Michigan and of the local tribes prominent to Michigan. And one day he started calling me VWW. And I said, “Paul, what in the world is that?” And he said, “Oh that’s my name for you.” And I said, “What is that?” And he says, “Verbose White Woman. I hope you won’t be offended.” And what could I say, you know? We’d well established the fact that I like to talk, so I accused him of being rather insensitive to some of the vagaries that we women felt we had to do in the presence of superior white men. And that’s to keep talking so we wouldn’t get overrun.

Q: Talk about your relationship to your race, to your gender. It seems that being a woman has been a defining thing throughout your life and how you’ve had to push back against it.

Nordmark: [14:38:29] I guess my parents had always thought that I would go to art school. Particularly, Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids. Or if not that, then some teacher’s college. And my mother was highly alarmed when I chose Michigan State University on a scholarship with plans to go into equine medicine. That just wasn’t done. So after some agonizing hand wringing on her part, I went on and then realized that I was not going to do well in things like math. Still can’t balance a checkbook.

So I did switch from my hopes of equine medicine into wildlife management. And that’s where I ended up going all three of my degrees. Only to find when I graduated that the roads to employment as a woman in that field were closed to me. I took the Civil Service Exam in Michigan. Passed with a really high score. Got a call from the director of the Department of Natural Resources: “Come and see me.” Oh boy, you know? So I walked to his office and he said right away, “I really apologize. You had a high score on the exam, but I can’t hire you.” And I said, “For heaven’s sakes why not?” And he said then, “You could do this, “[but] the wives of the men you’d be working with would never accept it.” And so that’s where my professional career in that field started and ended with a crash.

So I had to spend the rest of my life working around the periphery. Finding the areas that would relate to what I wanted to do, but would never allow me to actually practice in the field. It’s the way it is.

Interview Transcript