DALLAS TWP. — From the instant she walked onto the stage, Maya Angelou connected with her audience at Misericordia University.
It was November 2007, and Angelou was on campus to address an overflow crowd gathered in the school’s Anderson Sports-Health Center. She received two standing ovations.
Angelou, the 86-year-old renaissance woman who was an award-winning writer, poet, actress and witness to history, died Wednesday morning at her home on the North Carolina campus of Wake Forest University.
Marie Stolarick, assistant director of Cultural and Special Events at Misericordia, said Thursday that Angelou’s visit made a huge impact on the campus, the community and the students.
Stolarick was the point of contact between Angelou and Misericordia, even before her arrival.
She recalled being instructed by Angelou’s assistant, Lydia Stuckey, on the the proper way to address her: Miss Angelou or Dr. Angelou were the acceptable forms. Stolarick said even her assistant should be addressed properly as Miss Stuckey.
“Miss Angelou struck me as a very private person despite her bigger-than-life presence,” Stolarick recalled. “She projected a presence of incredible strength of character, and of faith, and accepted the limitations of her weakening body by allowing herself to be transported by wheelchair only when she knew her legs could not carry her the distance.”
Stolarick said Angelou insisted on walking onto the stage — and that she did to an overwhelming standing ovation before even beginning to speak.
“I could see the physical effect such endearment from the audience had upon her as she smiled with humility through tears of appreciation beginning to surface in her eyes,” Stolarick said. “Even that one moment of her presence was incredibly beautiful.”
Amy Krzywicki, 37, an English teacher at Crestwood High School in Mountain Top, met Angelou at the Misericordia event. Krzywicki has taught Angelou’s works to her class — the poem “The Caged Bird” and the book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
“Her works are timeless,” she said. “They are universal. They address love, struggles, hate and they address overcoming the things that often bring us down. Her work is inspiring — that’s the best way to describe her.”
When they met in 2007, Krzywicki said she was impressed by Angelou’s large presence — describing her as a tall woman with a very unique voice.
“Her demeanor was also large and impressive,” Krzywicki said. “It was an overwhelming experience to be in her presence.”
Krzywicki said Angelou appeared impressed that she was teaching her works in her class, even somewhat humbled, despite knowing how popular she was throughout the world. She said Angelou told her she was pleased to be at Misericordia again, where she had spoken before in 1972.
When a picture was being taken of Krzywicki with Angelou, the poet cautioned her not to bow down for the photo.
“Stand tall, only bow to your Lord,” she said.
Angelou also encouraged the crowd to have the courage to reach out to others, to learn something new, to support others different from them and to go off the beaten path.
“You need to know someone existed before you,” Angelou told the crowd. “Someone was lonely before you but … survived, thrived and came through with passion.”