75 years later, South Portland recognizes high school graduate

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Seventy-five years after her high school graduation, a retired nurse was recognized for an academic achievement denied to her as a teenager.

Mildred Marie Truland Dexter, soon to celebrate her 95th birthday, graduated eighth in her South Portland High School class with a 92.9 grade point average.

But in the 1940s, the school balanced recognition between male and female students, so although her grade point average was higher than a male classmate’s, he was honored instead of her, Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said.

South Portland High school now honors the top 10 students in each class, which has been the practice for the last 30 years, Kunin said. 

On Aug. 27, the School Board finally rectified the slight and recognized Truland Dexter as an honorary top scholar. 

“It’s nice, but it’s hard to accept now, so many years have gone by,” Truland Dexter, who now lives in an assisted living facility in Virginia, said in a telephone interview. 

She added her father, Forrest Truland, a railroad worker who was proud of his daughter’s achievement, sought to have her recognized, but was unsuccessful.

Despite the disappointment, Truland Dexter said she just went on with her life and education, training and working as a nurse in Boston.

“I graduated and that was that,” she said. 

Truland Dexter went on to graduate from the Carney Hospital School of Nursing  and worked at the Marine Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, where she met and later married a young veteran in her care, James Dexter. Together they raised a daughter, whom she named for her sister, Virginia – a promise the Truland sisters made as children.

She retired from nursing after 30 years. 

Her niece and namesake, Millie Pelletier, now lives in the family home in Thornton Heights. She asked the School Department to consider her aunt’s recognition after Truland Dexter shared the story with her.

Pelletier said her aunt’s achievement was especially admirable because she worked two jobs as a student to help her family, running a paper route and babysitting. 

Pelletier, who speaks with her aunt every day, said she wanted her to be recognized because it was a matter of equality and fairness.

“I could hear it in her voice, it still upset her,” she said of her aunt’s retelling of the memory.

Pelletier, who attended the Aug. 27 School Board meeting to accept the honor, said Truland Dexter has a giving and generous spirit, and always made holidays special for the children in her life – her daughter, her nieces and nephews, and the many children she cared for as a nurse. 

Truland Dexter said she remembers playing baseball with neighborhood friends and skating on Libby’s Pond as a child.

“I loved baseball, and I could hit the ball too … and outrun the boys,” she said. 

“She was tough and feisty,” Pelletier said. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @Juliettelaaka.

Mildred Truland Dexter

Mildred Truland Dexter and her husband, James Dexter, on their wedding day. Truland Dexter, a retired nurse, was recognized Aug. 27 by the South Portland School Board as an honor graduate, a title stripped from her in the 1940s because she was a woman. 

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