(MCT) -- Marcia Anderson never thought of herself as a role model until she became the first African-American woman to earn a second star as a U.S. Army general.
"Then I realized it presented me with an opportunity," she said.
The Rock County native hopes to inspire young people of many backgrounds. She was born in Beloit and spent her childhood in economically depressed East St. Louis.
“A lot of people who grew up there probably didn't have high expectations,” Anderson said.
She will speak at the annual Women in Higher Education Leadership event at UW-Whitewater next week.
The military trailblazer will talk about pathways for success and her journey in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Anderson never planned to join the reserves, but she needed a science credit while attending Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
After being told the “military science” course would fulfill her science requirement, she signed up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Anderson soon found out that ROTC was more than a substitute for gym class.
“It challenged me to do things I had never done before,” she said.
Anderson stayed with the military, where she was promoted through the years.
“The Reserves offered a welcoming environment where I felt I could excel,” she said. “Everyone seemed to have an interest in helping me improve my skills.”
Anderson said she just tried to do a good job every day.
“Hard work over time brought me to this point,” she said. “And good mentors.”
Anderson points to her father, Rudy Mahan of Beloit, who served in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1948 to 1951. The retired Beloit Corp. sandblaster said opportunities in the military were limited because of prejudice during his service.
“It took a while to get to where we are today,” Mahan said.
He was elated when his daughter was promoted to major general in October 2011.
Anderson also pointed to strong women in her family. She recalls one incident that taught her the importance of being prepared.
Her grandmother and mother went to buy a new car but were ignored by the car salesman. They asked to see the dealership manager and showed him that they had gone to the bank and gotten a loan.
“After that, the salesman was helpful,” Anderson said. “It made a big impression on me when they did that. It showed me you have to be prepared, and you need a strategy.”
As a citizen soldier, Anderson served in both the military and civilian sectors while rising in positions of leadership in the military. She left her post as clerk of Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Wisconsin, three years ago to serve full time with the Reserves.
Recently, she moved from Washington, D.C., back to Wisconsin, resumed her work with the court and will retire from the Army next month.
“I have managed to juggle both jobs and keep everyone happy,” she said.
The 56-year-old is married to Amos Anderson of Verona and has two stepchildren.
She never lost sight of her mentors during her 35-year military career. She also never lost sight of a powerful message.
“It's not where you start in life,” Anderson said. “It's where you finish.”
©2014 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.