By Allison Scola
“This line is for veterans,” was a comment Evelyn Kandel ’58 often heard as she waited at Columbia’s Veterans Affairs window in University Hall to collect her GI benefits. “I am a veteran,” she would reply, much to the surprise and delight of her fellow servicemen-turned-students. It was the mid-1950s, and Kandel felt proud that she was one of the only women at Columbia University who could proclaim “Semper Fi!” and own it.
Kandel recalls a chaotic childhood of moving from place to place, wherever her father’s work took them. Despite her interest in painting and an inclination to be an interior decorator, upon graduating from Scarborough High School in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., she lacked the funds for college tuition, so she decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and see some of the world. The military suited Kandel: “I liked the spit and polish aspect of the service,” she says. “So much so, I would buff my shoes until they were like glass.”
Kandel completed basic training in Parris Island, S.C. and was stationed in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps in Arlington, Va. She started as a clerk-typist, but eventually was tapped for public relations and recruitment work. In 1952 her portrait was featured on a Marine Corps recruitment poster, a veteran affairs brochure, and a stamp commemorating women’s 10 years in the Armed Forces.
“One of the posters appeared in Times Square, and I was one of a handful of women interviewed for a television spot about our time in the service,” Kandel professes.
Eventually at 22, Kandel was ready to re-enter civilian life. She returned to New York, enrolling in the School of General Studies and paying her tuition with funds from the GI Bill®. While at GS she studied psychology and took advantage of the broad liberal arts education the college offered.
“I took anthropology with Margaret Mead, music with composer Vladimir Ussachevsky, and writing with poet Marianne Moore,” she says. “It was an exciting time with a packed schedule. I worked very hard for four years.” Columbia gave Kandel the opportunity to revisit her interest in sculpture and painting as well as discover a new talent for writing poetry; however, upon graduation in spring 1958, she put her poetry and art into a portfolio and took a job with the Girl Scouts of America, training volunteers to lead troops around the region.
Later that year Kandel married. Life seemed to be settling down, yet within two years, after the birth of her daughter, Kandel’s husband was stricken with cancer and died. The Marine in Kandel rose to the occasion, and in order to support her infant daughter she started teaching second grade at a Long Island school.
For all I am
and still hope to be
You were my guide
You were the key
that opened the door
to the feast of ideas
- Evelyn Kandel
A year later she married Robert Kandel CC ’52, her late husband’s business colleague. The new couple had two sons together, and the stability of family life enabled Kandel to revisit childhood and college interests. She started to paint as a hobby and studied privately and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts. Once her children were old enough, Kandel returned to school for a master’s degree in school psychology, but after earning 15 credits she realized she really wanted to immerse herself in art classes in order to become an art teacher. She landed an internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s parent-child program and began teaching at local community centers and the YMCA to gain more experience.
In one year, Kandel took 30 credits of art courses. Creating a self-imposed boot-camp, she threw herself into learning how to teach art history and various media: sculpture, print making, and painting. Eventually she received her teaching certification, and in 1985 she obtained a position at Portledge School in Locust Valley, N.Y. where she taught seventh to ninth grade and served as the chair of the art department. Her career as an artist and a teacher of art took flight, and Kandel went on to teach at Portledge School for 14 years.
In 1990 Kandel earned a Master of Arts from Long Island University as well as received a Skidmore College High School Art Teacher Fellowship. For the next 13 years she returned to Skidmore for three weeks each summer to make art alongside other teachers from around the country. The resources at Skidmore – studio space and feedback from colleagues – enabled Kandel’s art to flourish. She created sculptures, artist’s books, masks, paintings, and assemblages. Over time, evoking the talent she discovered while at Columbia, she was inspired to write words and phrases on her pieces. Eventually the phrases turned into poetry, and the poems moved away from the artwork and onto paper.
Today, Kandel exhibits her art in many shows and is also a published poet in various journals and anthologies. She is often invited to read her poetry at venues throughout Long Island and is the host of monthly poetry readings at a gallery in Port Washington, N.Y. A lifelong learner, Kandel continues to take poetry courses and is a member of two writing groups.
“The Marine Corps gave me the discipline to take advantage of the education afforded by the School of General Studies and, importantly, the GI Bill, which made it possible for me to afford it,” she says. “The School of General Studies opened my mind to the intricacies of a symphony, to a clear understanding of chaotic modern European history. I marveled at the brilliance of a philosopher's thoughts and created stories and poems, one of which was just accepted for publication (fifty years later!). GS made me curious to know, to learn and experience all the hidden joys only a well-educated mind can know.”
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.