California State University, Long Beach
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A Rewarding Time for McMicken

Published: March 2, 2009

It has taken 44 years and a few twists and turns along the way, but Betty McMicken is having the time of her professional life.

Her journey has included a speech and audiology internship at the West L.A. Veterans Administration Hospital in the 1960s, co-founding and directing the Orange County-based Newport Language and Speech Center in 1971, directing a speech and hearing program at Western Medical Center in Orange County for 20 years, owning and running the Silver Pines Lodge in Idyllwild for 15 years, competing and winning races in amateur windsurfing in the 1980s and serving as the chair and full professor in the Communicative Disorders department at Cal State Los Angeles in the 1990s. Then there are the horses, which McMicken has ridden since the age of 3 and continues her passion by riding in numerous trail competitions every year.

“My horses and I won about 15 buckles last year and we have a few national and many state titles,” she said proudly.

After retiring from Cal State L.A., McMicken figured she would work part-time as a lecturer in the Communicative Disorders Department at CSULB and spend even more time riding horses, but things changed.

“I started out in 1998 as a part-time lecturer, got bored, and within a year I was full-time,” she said. “There was a need for more faculty members and my chair is very persuasive and talked me into becoming an assistant professor in 2006. Initially I really thought I had lost my mind because I would be starting on a tenure track all over again.”

By her own admission, much of her apprehension of beginning all over was the somewhat daunting task of having to publish and doing the community service required of the position. And, most recently, she had lost her dearest friend from the age of 7, to suicide and readily admits that it “really knocked me off my feet and I kind of lost my direction and energy for awhile.”

Then, along into her life came Kirk Douglas. Yes, that Kirk Douglas, the 92-year-old, three-time Academy Award-nominated actor who has survived, among other things, a helicopter crash in which he suffered a broken back, later a pacemaker, replacement of both knees and, of course, his much-publicized stroke in 1996.

Douglas, whose speech was affected by the stroke, had been working with speech therapists for a decade before meeting McMicken at a 2006 Christmas party.

“I knew who he was, of course, and I walked up to him and said ‘Hi, I’m a speech pathologist,’ and we spent a long time talking to each other that evening,” said McMicken. “I told his wife, Anne, that if there was ever a need for help, they could give me a call. Several months later I received a call and my life changed, literally.”

McMicken and Douglas hit it off right away.

“There was a tremendous personal connection between us. The very first day I was with him, he read me a poem he had written and we connected because I appreciate and love to write poetry. His poetry is charming and so well done,” praised McMicken.

“I wondered if I could encourage him more with poetry and with, of course, some lyrics and dialogue that he could act out, maybe in a poetic fashion that has more of a rhythm and more predicable rate. I thought perhaps that he could practice materials which would bring in his creative side and incorporate those aspects more into his speech,” said McMicken. “Over the past year we have worked on creative projects and now he is preparing a one-man show which I think will be fantastic and most inspirational. I think he would probably say that he is encouraged by our time together.”

McMicken added, “He has taught me a great deal about courage, creativity, and making impossible dreams come true. I have had a rare, marvelous opportunity to assist this incredible man. He has a bravery and an energy that I’ve never seen before. He has remarkable abilities with his post-stroke speech that I have never seen duplicated. He rewrites my textbooks.

“He has an enormity of spirit and a creative side that continues to be vibrant, and that creative side assists him enormously in his ability. I love the person that he is. I help him once a week and I have learned more about strength and humanitarianism from him and Anne than from anyone in my life. He’s taught me volumes about what the brain can do and I’m still not sure how he does what he does.”

Photo by Victoria Sanchez
Betty McMicken

In October 2007 McMicken was invited by Anne to a luncheon where she was being honored as Woman of the Year by The Friendly House, a substance abuse program in Los Angeles. During the luncheon they played a video showing the Anne Douglas Center, a women’s substance abuse rehabilitation center established at the Los Angeles mission in 1992.

“I felt like the dumbest person on Earth because I had never heard of the Anne Douglas Center and I know downtown L.A.,” admitted McMicken, who received her bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. “I was invited to come down the next week to see the center and I have been deeply involved ever since. It was during this first visit I became aware of the tremendous efforts of Kirk and Anne Douglas in rebuilding the Los Angeles Mission and establishing the Anne Douglas Center for women. I have become a volunteer speech pathologist for the Los Angeles Mission, specifically for the Anne Douglas Center, with individuals in rehab and with the homeless population. I am down there 10, 15, 20 hours a week depending on my university commitments.”

McMicken is also involved in the L.A. Christian Community Clinic which is located across the street from the mission.

“These rehabilitation centers and clinic have become a passion of mine and a tremendous blessing,” she said.

The L.A. Mission/Anne Douglas Center and the clinic have certainly aided McMicken in helping her fulfill her community service and publication requirements, but an extension of that relationship is the hands-on experience it has provided for her students.

“My students would say it’s changed the way I teach. It’s changed the way I think. It’s an extraordinary experience,” said McMicken. “It’s given me the best post-doctoral education I ever had. It’s given me an opportunity to involve my students with a neglected population of communication disordered people, and to evaluate and treat the problems that are associated with these individuals. I have students from CSULB and CSULA that are volunteering, and we are providing a tremendous service for everyone involved, and it is all because of the introduction from Kirk and Anne Douglas.

“I never imaged I would be doing this,” said McMicken, who brought Kirk Douglas to campus in October to speak to a full house in the Daniel Recital Hall. “By far this time is the most rewarding time of my life. Five years ago I would never have imagined I’d be volunteering and setting up programs at the Anne Douglas Center and the L.A. Mission. This experience has given me a new sense of purpose and many blessings continue to fill my days. I can never say thank you enough to Kirk and Anne Douglas, for their manifest kindness, for all they have done for the city of Los Angeles, and for all they have taught me.”