NEA Today is featuring retired educators who are still making a difference—and two of those highlighted are Arizona's own Barbara Matteson and Linda Somo.
The former NEA-Retired president, Barbara Matteson was recently honored as the NEA-Retired Distinguished Service Award by the NEA-Retired Executive Council.
Linda Somo, the past-president of AEA-Retired and currently serving as the treasurer of the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans continues to offer mentorship and advice on the AEA-Retired Board. Read below about their continuing contributions to the teaching profession below and to all AEA members.
Six Over 60: Meet Retired Educators Who Are Still Making a Difference
BY BRENDA ÁLVAREZ
Elementary School Teacher, Tucson, Arizona
You could easily describe Barbara Matteson, a former elementary school teacher from Arizona, as outdoorsy. Most days, she hikes four miles on one of Tucson’s trails as early as 5a.m.—just to beat the heat. If she’s not out on the trail, then she’s out knocking on doors for issues that are important to her, such as women’s rights, political candidates, and education.
“I try to keep busy,” says Matteson, who was recognized in June as the NEA-Retired 2017 winner of the Distinguished Service Award. The recognition, presented annually since 2000, is the organization’s highest honor.
The award is a fitting tribute. For the past 27 years, Matteson has been a member of the Arizona Women’s Political Caucus, an affiliate of the National Women’s Political Caucus, a multipartisan, grassroots organization that increases the number of pro-choice women in elected and appointed positions. In this role, Matteson encourages and supports women running for elected office by targeting, recruiting, and training those who are interested in the political process.
“I support these candidates, attend panels when they’re speaking, and work on their campaigns,” she says of her work as a political activist. The work dovetails with her her commitment to education.
Matteson, who once served as the president and vice president of NEA-Retired, and was on the NEA-Retired Executive Committee, is now involved with an initiative to rescind a voucher law, signed in April by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, It’s the largest voucher expansion program the state—and the nation—has ever seen. The program gives vouchers to students to use for private and religious school tuition, as well as homeschooling. “This is a terrible thing for public education,” says Matteson—which is why she’s often outdoors, walking on a political trail to get pro-public education friendly candidates elected and bad laws overturned.
High School Counselor, Mesa, Arizona
Linda Somo retired in 2000 from the Mesa Public School District, where she spent 30 years as a teacher and counselor. Within that time, Somo was an active member of NEA, the Arizona Education Association (AEA), and the Mesa Education Association. Today, Somo serves as the past president of AEA-Retired and remains on the go through an initiative called the M.O.R.E. (Mobilize, Organize, Recruit, and Energize) project.
Established two years ago through an NEA grant, M.O.R.E team members travel throughout Arizona to keep their retired peers—especially those who moved to Arizona from other states—informed on education and retirement issues. The group also mobilizes them to take action and encourage membership to the retired local chapter.
“We have been emphasizing membership,” says Somo, “because our strength is in our numbers— and the more numbers we have, the stronger our voice, and the more legislators will listen.”
In addition to membership, other top priorities include protection of Social Security, Medicare and pensions. Twice a year, the group hosts a meeting that brings in national speakers. Top names include Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that works to improve the economic security of disadvantaged and at-risk populations, and Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from the rock n’ roll band Sha Na Na. Bauman is now an advocate for social safety-net programs.
As a member of the M.O.R.E Project and AEARetired, Somo, along with other retired members, monitors Arizona’s state retirement system, attends hearings, and provides testimony for bills coming through the state capitol.
“We keep abreast of all the pending legislation,” says Somo. “This helps our active members, too, because when they’re in the classrooms, retirees are out testifying.”