A Mentor and Example for Life


Melinda Rath ’77, Volleyball

“It was a pretty momentous time,” says Melinda Rath ’77, of the early days of Title IX. “I was on the inaugural volleyball team way back then, the College’s first sport for women.”  

An athlete in her Upstate New York hometown, Rath had hoped to play a sport in college, but opportunities to participate were still limited.  

“I was just looking for a school in a warmer place than Lake Ontario where I grew up,” she says with a laugh. After a relatively warm winter trip to Baltimore, she only applied to Washington College.  

Once at Washington, Rath jumped into intramurals, rowing crew and playing volleyball and softball, where she met future Washington College Hall of Fame coach Penny Fall. Rath learned from Fall while at the College, and Rath looked to Fall as a role model and inspiration later during her career. 

“She was an icon,” says Rath of Fall, who tirelessly championed women’s athletics. “She was strong willed. She went to bat for us and advocated for us forcefully.” 

When volleyball became a varsity sport in 1976, a resources gap remained as the players had to buy their own uniforms and arrange their own transportation. And they only had locker room access when male athletes weren’t using it.  

“Lots of girls on the team had boyfriends, so at least we had fans,” she says. “But we were always in the back gym. If there was a tournament, they’d open up the whole space but otherwise, we never got the front gym.”  

Fittingly, the gym was named the Penny J. Fall Gymnasium in 2001. As a mentor and leader, Fall struck a balance of gentle toughness.  

“She’d tell it like it was: don’t whine, learn a lesson, no excuses, don’t be late,” Rath says. “But she was approachable. She could talk about tough topics in a non-judgmental, empathetic way. She’d listen, have a piece of advice. She could empathize with us and be the mom or sister or friend we needed. She stressed teamwork, giving your all and committing to something.” 

After graduating from Washington, Rath worked as a paralegal in Philadelphia, and after six years on the job, learned she would not advance without a law degree.  

“So I took what I learned from Ms. Fall, to be my own advocate and make something of myself,” Rath says. She went to law school, continuing her paralegal career during the day and going to law school at night for four years. “After being a student-athlete, it was doable. Suck it up and get it done, and don’t give less than 100% to either endeavor.” 

Now 32 years into her law career, Rath works in financial and estate planning with a Philadelphia trust company.  

“I’ve built a healthy, successful, fun career,” she says. “I don’t think of it as work. And I attribute a good bit of where I am today to Penny Fall.”