Thursday, May 26, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 33: Boston or Bust

Summer ’77. It was time for Troy to enter the “Student House,” an experiment in which 6th through 8th grade kids were housed in our Chicago headquarters building under the supervision of some “responsible adults,” to spend the school year in the Chicago public schools. Linda, Eric and I received our assignments at the end of July. We were to be Priors of the Boston Religious House. Along with this came an added benefit. We got to rent a very large U-Haul truck and drive it across the country, making stops at half the Houses in the U.S., picking up and dropping off belongings of other re-assigned families. We could take our family “discontinuity” time (our term for vacations, a concept that was not in our vocabulary) along the way, as long as we showed up in Boston by the end of August. We decided to make an adventure of it. Even Eric got into the spirit and we were to have many “tailgate picnics” as well as those in city/town public parks. Our journey took us to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Denver, Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New --York, Hartford, and ended in Boston, all during one of the hottest summers on record. Our only expenses were gas and meals, for which we were reimbursed. Lodging wasn’t a problem, since each House put us up for a night or two, requiring very few motel stays. At today’s gas prices that trip might have bankrupted the Order, but a gallon was only about 70 cents that year, compared to 4 dollars today.


It was truly a family adventure, as we tried to soak up a little of the local culture and history of each town and state as we passed through. We imagined ourselves “reverse pioneers” retracing the steps of our forebears who made the trek west by wagon train. Amazingly, there was not a single breakdown of our trusty steed, not even a flat tire, the whole way. The weather was hot but without storms, except for that one huge dust storm we observed but thankfully were not caught in as we drove through Utah.


We arrived at our new home at 27 Dartmouth, Boston, Mass. on time and intact, greeted by the outgoing Priors, the Wiltses, who were heading for their new assignment in Seattle. We were soon to be joined by our other two House members, Nancy Trask and Tom Reemtsma, with whom we would spend the next year.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 32: House Priors

1976-7. We settled in to our new room in the San Francisco House, organized our living space as comfortably as we could, with a queen-sized box spring and mattress on the floor, a small desk and chair with a lamp, and a commode that served as a headboard and wall for privacy from the entry door. Troy and Eric were at summer camp, provided by Order staff. Linda and I were now assigned as House Priors. At the end of the summer Eric started his 3rd grade year and Troy was in 5th grade at Starr King School.


Bob and Cynthia Vance had full-time assignments as Area Priors. Bob was travelling constantly, researching sites for potential human development projects, while Cynthia was responsible for securing in-kind donations and overall administration. One unforgettable result of her fearless approach to likely donors was the day Cynthia drove up to the front door with a station wagon full of half-gallons of rainbow sherbet. She ran frantically up the steps yelling for us to come help unload the sherbet and find space in our two or three freezers. Since there was not enough room for it all, she began handing out sherbet, which was by now getting a little soft, to neighbors and people passing by on the street.

San Francisco was a stopping place for people travelling overseas. And since the ICA had projects either in full swing or in preparation in the Marshall Islands, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, we were making regular trips to San Francisco International to pick up staff and volunteers and put them up overnight. We also hosted a number of our travelling fundraising staff for periods of a few days, or in some cases, weeks. This in addition to housing our staff and a group of senior high students whose parents were assigned overseas. These were, by the way, incredible kids who participated fully, with only the normal amount of teenage rebellion, in the House life and community activities, while being full-time students. Some of the best of these were David St. John and his sister Ann, John Wainwright, Doug Haman and Hendrik Idzerta, all of whom have grown to be successful adults and productive and creative contributors to society.

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The fall of ’76 kicked off with a flurry of preparations for a major Town Meeting initiative in San Francisco. Linda was in charge of coordinating twelve neighborhood forums to be held on the same Saturday. We had the support and endorsement of Mayor George Moscone and the Board of Supervisors, then chaired by Dianne Feinstein, and a who’s who list of community leaders, churches (including the now infamous Peoples’ Temple), service organizations and businesses. Training sessions were held in all 12 neighborhoods for workshop leaders in English and Spanish.


Eric, Karen Reese, Barbara Prather, Tim Goodger: Town Meeting San Francisco Promotion Team

On the day of the forums McDonald’s supplied hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and fries for every meeting. Local soft drink suppliers provided sodas. Other businesses donated door prizes. It was a massive undertaking. Some of the more memorable forums were the Tenderloin (San Francisco’s night life district), the Haight-Ashbury (where one of the participants ripped our flip charts off the wall and proceeded to jump up and down on them while shouting dis-establishment statements), the Castro District, and a special city-wide senior citizen Town Meeting that 500 unruly seniors showed up for. And we had prepared enough workshop leaders for half that number.

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We received lots of publicity. The press showed up at several of the meeting sites. Politicians of all stripes attended, and many even stayed for the whole day and participated, even though they realized they were not going to be allowed to make long speeches. It was a fantastic demonstration of citizen participation and community empowerment. Every meeting produced a set of proposals that residents could take action on and not wait for the politicians. Each one had actually written their own brief story of what the community meant to them, its history, present challenges and future hopes. Every neighborhood created a symbol, displayed at the plenary session at the end of the day, and wrote a song that the whole community could sing.

The bicentennial year ended and we were still a ways from the 200 Town Meetings in California, and even further from the 5000 across the U.S., which some crazy persons among us had proposed as our ultimate goal. But we as a group had never shrunk from impossible tasks, so we simply extended the bicentennial for another year or so and created the image of completing at least one Town Meeting in each and every county of the U.S. This would be a challenge worthy of a crazy group like ours.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 31: An Order Wedding

June 1976. My dad was in a nursing home—dying. My kids were in Minneapolis. Linda’s sons, Troy, a 4th grader and Eric in 2nd grade, were living with her in Los Angeles. I was on the road in California for much of the spring. Linda had the whole burden of planning for our June 6 wedding while working full-time and organizing a Town Meeting on weekends. We were assigned a weekend or two to prepare our “missional family document” which included designing a family symbol to hang in our room as a reminder of our covenant with one another, the Order, and G-O-D. There was a resident artist in the San Francisco House, Dean Ellis, who put the final touches on the symbol that would be displayed on our banner.


Finally the week of the marriage celebration came. It was to be held in the Los Angeles Religious House, a large three-story home, built by the actor John Barrymore, on 11th and Magnolia, just a couple of blocks off Olympic and Vermont. Linda’s mother came from Green Bay, Wisconsin to help her get ready, along with Linda’s cousin, Mary Anne Schefe, who lived in Redondo Beach. I was on my own, except for the members of the LA House and my mother, who lived in Van Nuys, so I had a place to stay for the week.

We had gold rings made with the center of our family symbol, a “St. Andrew’s Cross” repeated all the way around, and silver bands for the right hand signifying a commitment to a life of service. Linda had made the acquaintance of Percy Henkelman, a bishop in the Moravian Brethren Church, a local supporter of the Institute (who also happened to be Andy Griffith’s pastor) and asked him to officiate. Jann McGuire, whose family had lived with us in St. Louis and now lived in Lindsay, California, was the matron of honor. I asked Lyn Oden, an LA House member, to be best man.

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Bob and Joan Knutson, LA House Priors, made sure it would be a grand and elegant, but simple, wedding celebration. We had a simply elegant pre-wedding dinner with the House members and several local colleagues present. The day of the wedding arrived. My mother showed up with surprise guests, my cousin Jan O’Grady with her family from Council Bluffs, Iowa (I had officiated at her wedding back at Trinity Church in Lincoln in 1967– now she had two little girls of her own). The marriage service was held in the large living room (we wondered whether any of the Barrymore kids had been married there), with a reception in the back yard.

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Linda and I left the next morning on our “honeymoon trip” which consisted of pulling a trailer with her few belongings, and a wire cage with Eric’s pet black rabbit in the back seat of my dad’s blue Ford, heading for San Francisco, our next year’s assignment. We were able to arrange to stop for a couple of days’ stay in Carmel on the way. That was our honeymoon. But we were ready for the next challenge and approached our life together with hopeful anticipation and excitement, just like any newly-wedded couple.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Journey of Awakening – 30: Re-engagement

Although San Francisco was a great place to be, 1975 had been a tough year on the family. During the year my first marriage was officially ended in divorce. I had tried to keep in touch with Leslea and Robb by letter and occasional photos. But my emotional life was pretty much a mess and I spent a good deal of time insulating myself from feelings. I could hide in my day-to-day obligations. Still, the deep reflection on just how much my self-image was bound up in being significant, being some-body, had not yet begun.

Linda Tuecke, now divorced from Dan and having spent a year in Chicago at the ICA international center, was transferred to Los Angeles for 1975-6 assignment year with her two sons, Troy and Eric, both in elementary school. We began communicating during the year about our future and requested permission to marry. While awaiting the decision of the Panchayat (the designated spiritual leadership group of the Order: Ecumenical) I was put in charge of the newly formed Town Meeting California team.


The ICA had received a $50,000 grant from Bank of America Foundation to organize and conduct 200 forums in communities across the state. The initial phase of the campaign involved sending individuals out to spend eight weeks training local community workshop leaders in selected towns and neighborhoods, culminating in an all-day forum to identify community issues and challenges, formulate proposals, write a story, create a symbol and song to celebrate the history and hopes of the community, and present a document at the end of the day that citizens could take action on to implement their proposals.


I worked with the towns of Napa and Marin City (a demonstration integrated town in Marin County, north of San Francisco). These both drew several hundred residents. We also held a forum in the Mission District, our own neighborhood, at which more than 200 residents showed up. The Mission was fast transitioning to a Hispanic neighborhood, which meant that we had to produce materials in Spanish and recruit and train bi-lingual workshop leaders.

I was also sent to form teams in Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles, which were to go out and visit communities in hopes that we could reach the goal of 200 Town Meetings by the end of the year. We had endorsement letters from politicians from “Governor Moonbeam” on down, from service organizations, religious leaders, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Jaycees, as well as from mayors of the towns which had held the first of the Town Meetings. We thought we would be welcomed with open arms, but encountered the entire spectrum of resistance from the established leaders passive “we don’t really have any big issues” to “Who exactly are you and why are you here?” to “We need to keep commie organizations like you out of our town.” None of the open hostility and accompanying publicity ever stuck. But things were still not going fast enough to reach the magic 200.

In the early spring of 1976 permission was finally granted by the Order for Linda and me to marry. Linda was assigned out to work and was in an office manager job in LA. On weekends she joined the Town Meeting campaign focused on neighborhoods. Two of the largest of these were in Pico Union, the neighborhood adjoining the LA House, and Huntington Park, which Linda coordinated. The school year was winding down and we were planning a June wedding while trying to keep up the momentum of the Town Meeting campaign.

It was a whirlwind spring. It would be good to pause for a lively wedding celebration and glorious honeymoon.