Wiggsy Sivertsen spent her 47-year career at San Jose State counseling, cajoling and advocating for the rights of the campus's women, its LGBT community and just about everyone else. And at Friday's retirement party in her honor, appropriately held in SJSU's Student Union ballroom, she revealed just what kept her pushing against those glass ceilings, brick walls and sometimes brick-headed administrators for all those years.
"It's the students that make San Jose State a special place for me," she said, adding later, "This place is so special because of the variety of people here and the variety of what they do. I don't think I really learned how to love until I came to San Jose State. I need to find a way to not go too far. There's still a lot more to do, and we all need to do it."
Sivertsen joined San Jose State as a counselor in 1967, became a sociology professor in 1988 and served as director of counseling services from 1996 to 2007. The university had 11 presidents during her tenure, and it's safe to say they all quickly got to know she'd speak her mind about campus issues.
"I think hardly anybody who has met Wiggsy would be indifferent to her causes," said SJSU President Mo Qayoumi, who met her three decades ago and was among the litany of speakers at the celebration, emceed by her longtime colleague Terry Christensen.
Other speakers included state Sen. Jim Beall; Assemblyman Paul Fong; Nancy McFadden, executive secretary for Gov. Jerry Brown's office; Cathy Busalacchi, associate vice president of Campus Life, Student Affairs; alumna Olivia Sawi; Blanca Escoto of the Counseling Services Department; and Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, with whom Sivertsen founded the Bay Area Municipal Elections Commission in 1984. Letters were read from former San Jose State President Don Kassing and former Assemblyman John Vasconcellos. Sivertsen's sister, Doña Kirmsse, and niece, Leigh Kirmsse, also sang her praises.
And, in a perfect wrap-up, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda brought a commendation and was scheduled to speak, but was delayed by traffic and didn't arrive until Sivertsen was talking. Honda didn't get a chance to share his congratulations because, as always, Wiggsy got the last word.
FAREWELL TOUR FOR DALIS: Opera San Jose's opening night of "Don Giovanni" on Saturday was an enjoyable evening, though a long one as the performance stretched past three hours, with so many longtime supporters of Opera San Jose in the audience.
And now we begin the final events of founding General Director Irene Dalis' last season before retirement (thought I've got my doubts about how far she'll stay away from the California Theater). The big deal is the eighth annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition on May 10, which will be judged by the company's original resident artists: Doug Nagel, Eilana Lappalainen and Dan Montez. They, along with mezzo soprano Layna Chianakas, also will be part of the sold-out tribute dinner being held in Dalis' honor later that night at the Sainte Claire Hotel.
The Vocal Competition is a great way for opera fans to see some emerging talents, as 10 finalists from the West Coast Auditions for Singers compete for $50,000 in cash prizes. Tickets to the 3 p.m. event are $50, or $150 for premium seating and admission to a reception with the artists. Tickets can be purchased at www.operasj.org or by calling the box office at 408-437-4450.
BIRTHDAY FOR THE BARD: San Jose Youth Shakespeare is going all out to celebrate the famed author's 450th birthday this week with its production of "The Tempest" at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose's Rose Garden neighborhood. The show features 30 actors ranging in age from 8 to 20 and opens Wednesday, which happens to be the day Shakespeare died in 1616, and closes Sunday, one day after his birthday is traditionally celebrated. Tickets are $8 in advance and can be purchased at www.youthshakes.org.
For those looking for a more adult-oriented way to toast the Bard's birthday, John McCluggage brings the latest installment of ShakesBEERience to downtown San Jose's Cafe Strtich on Monday with "Romeo and Juliet." Though known as a great tragedy, it sounds like director Dan Beaulieu, artistic director of 7 Stages Shakespeare in Portsmouth, N.H., plans to focus on the play's more celebratory angles. The 7 p.m. show is free, though you'll have to buy your own pints.