Autobiography (2003)

I expect to pass through this world but once.
Any good, therefore, that I can show my fellow creatures,
let me not defer nor neglect it,
for I shall not pass this way again.

Biography of Sherin Rose Bowen

I was born on the last day of February, 1938 in Medford, WI, and am the oldest of three children of June Lemke.   My father, Arthur Schneider, died when I was three and a half years old and my mother married Herman Lemke when I was five years old.  It is he who I knew as my father.

My elementary years were taken up with schooling at Thielke School, a one room school west of Medford.   Walking ¾ of a mile to school brought me close to nature on a daily basis.   I had the same teacher, Mrs. Jochimsen from third grade through eighth grade.  Through most of my years I had two other students in my class. Total students varied between 27 and 32 students in per year.  My mom helped to form a 4-H Club, which we named Thrifty-Go-Getters, and it is unique in that it still exists to this day.  This was my first introduction to UW Extension focus on rural education.  Mom volunteered as the 4-H sewing leader, and was active in her local Homemakers Club.  My sewing skills were honed under her tutelage along with project activities in gardening, foods preparation, and a variety of animal and poultry.  The Taylor County Fair was the highlight of the year where we prepared many entries for competition.  Three trips were made to the WI State fair as a delegate of my county.  These were important building blocks in my life.

I graduated from Medford High school in 1956, was active in a variety of activities that were valuable in developing leadership skills.   I also graduated from 4-H that year.

The first venture in the outside world was to Madison for what was to be summer work following graduation.  During that time I received a marriage proposal and much to my mom’s dismay, college plans were put on hold.  I married Robert Bowen in December of 1956.  We began married life in Madison, WI, where he was a student in the university system.   He had recently been discharged from the Coast Guard and the GI bill was an important part of our life, providing assistance in paying university tuition bills.   The next major event was the birth of our first child, Robert, Jr.   It was at that time we made another life-decision that would direct my next decades of life – that of being a stay-at-home mom.  We were in agreement that having mom in the home was essential in child rearing and my future life role was put on track.

Bob’s first teaching position was in Brown Deer WI, at Granville High School and we moved to the eastern part of the state.   My focus outside the home was mostly centered on volunteer activities within our church, various community activities and served my time in various leadership roles in the high school faculty wives club.  On the home front I fine-tuned my parenting skills and did custom sewing and tailoring for additional income.  Following the birth of still-born twins, our second son, Bryan and then daughter Beth were born, coming into the world as screaming healthy children.  We also recognized we were not city dwellers and purchased land in rural Germantown loving the quaint culture of the area.  We designed and built our home, while carving out a rural lifestyle for our family.  Sewing, gardening, landscaping and acquisition of a dog and cat continued to be an important part of my life.

Bob was a successful gymnastics coach, having taken three state WIAA championships, and that brought about a career move to Stevens Point in 1966, where he was recruited as the UWSP Gymnastics coach.  Another change in life style; housing was impossible to obtain in the rural areas and we became city dwellers.  Amy was born in 1967, and my dominant role in life was keeping family together and sane.  Church activities continued to be an important center of our life.  I moved from the rural 4-H youth concept to the typical city youth activity and became a Scout leader!

It became evident that Bob would need to obtain his terminal degree if he was to continue with college teaching; gymnastics continued to be important in his life, but his teaching area was focused on Health Education.  We fully realized that the next two years would hold no real security as we took a flying leap off the lily pad and moved all four children to Bloomington, Indiana, living in a tiny apartment.  Bob was enrolled as a grad student and everyone worked together on the Bowen Survival Program.  The kids had paper routes, and mom cleaned apartments, taught knitting, typed dissertations, dad worked part time until the mission was complete.  I received a PHT (Putting Hubby Through) signed by the Chancellor of IU, while Bob received his HSD (Health & Safety Doctorate).  We couldn’t afford the fees for him to attend graduation, so headed back to Stevens Point with our little family,  congratulating him on the big day.  During this period I was active in a variety of activities within the IU Student Wives club and served as president.  Mom duties included Scout Leadership for two Cub troops and one Junior Girl Scout troop, all of which met in that tiny apartment.

We returned to Stevens Point n 1971 to a home we had purchased on Division Street before departing for grad school.  At the same time, I found myself back to church and youth volunteer work.   Finding a home to raise a very active family was high on the list of priorities and we found a farm north of Stevens Point.  We were thrilled with the opportunity to purchase this plot of several hundred acres of land and farm buildings but the turning point in the decision was two year’s worth of firewood, located near the corn crib that would feed the wood furnace.  This was during the energy crisis when all thermostats had to be lowered.

Finally, we were raising children in what I felt was a satisfactory atmosphere.  Back to my rural roots!  The girls joined the Casimers 4-H Club and mom was recruited as the Sheep Leader.   I continued in my traditional role, and the old UWSP Faculty Wives club was an important personal outlet for a time.  We changed the focus of that organization to include both wives and female faculty with the new name of University Women.  Having experienced the importance of a Student Wives Club for young women whose husbands were students we also began a UWSP Student Wives Club.  The need for daycare surfaced and the nucleus of what is now the UWSP Child Care Center was begun with the assistance of Helen Godfrey.   During my tenure as president of University Women, we began the Festival of Arts, which continues to this day, bringing artists and the general public together in an admission free event that celebrates the beginning of spring.

Still committed to the idea of being a full time mom, and having close contact with the art world, I began a picture framing business, working out of my home.  Overcoming obstacles such as zoning regulations and space needed, I found the business successful far beyond my wildest dreams and finally 12 years later I sold the business, having to face the fact that to continue would mean moving into a storefront in the city.  Somehow the word got out (one of the zoning restrictions were no advertising) and people from throughout Central Wisconsin appeared at “The Frame Shop” doorstep.  Perhaps my most famous clients (at least in my mind) were Fran and Frederick Hamerstrom, world reknown biologists.

My “pastoral phase” in life was still a dominant focus in life, and following the selling of The Frame Shop business, I moved to another avocation, spinning and weaving.  My full time mom duties were stretched to the max riding shotgun over four very active teens who always seemed to be in some type of crisis.  Added to that one never knew which foreign student needed a bed and some food for a day, week, or sometimes months.   Farming became full time, with crops to be harvested, a flock of sheep to be fed and cared for, fences to be repaired, etc.  We were lambing approx. 45-50 ewes each spring which resulted in about 100 lambs.  That meant bottle babies, birthing problems and thoughts of becoming a full time veterinarian.   Each of the kids also had their animals and our place looked like Old McDonald’s farm.

We were truly “back to the earth” in our lifestyle, raising almost all of our food requirements.  The kids proudly shared with friends that there was very little consumed by the family that was not raised on our land.  We continued to harvest our yearly supply of wood, and have a mountain of hilarious stories to share during family reunions.  We had reached one of our goals, that of knowing each of our children could be totally self sufficient if necessary. They knew how to raise food, harvest and store it, along with acquiring many basic skills to assure survival in almost any situation.   The interest in the fiber arts continued and I taught short courses in spinning and weaving from my shop within my home as well as at Seivers School of Fiber, Washington Island, WI and to my 4-H kids.

It was during this time while listening to WI Public Radio that I heard about Wisconsin Rural Leadership (WRLP) a two year leadership training program.  In spite of being told by our UWEX County agent that I was too old for the program (I was 45 and supposedly the cut off age was 40), I applied and was selected for the first class of WRLP.  UWSP Chancellor Lee Dreyfus had written my letter of reference and became my mentor for the program.  Little did I know that my life would be heading in a complete turn of direction as the result of these decisions.  New thoughts and new ways of doing things began to enter into my life.

I spent three weeks in Jamaica, while in the WRLP, and it was there that I was bitten by the international bug,  Other international experiences followed, almost completely in developed countries, but I never forgot the impact of working in a 3rd world country.   Bob and I, along with Bob and Molly Wolensky led the London Semester Abroad tour, which included a three week tour of Europe for forty students and subsequent stay in London.  Bob then took on the role of Director of International Programs at UWSP.  I was fortunate to accompany him on numerous site visits to the UK, Europe and South Pacific.  I spent four weeks in Argentina as leader of a Rotary International Group Study Team.   And I was so very fortunate to be part of a  three week WRLP leadership program to China, arriving 100 days after the Tienemann Square incident.  Meeting community leaders, realizing the long tentacles of communism, and the constraints that the local citizens were under was a real eye opener.

During this time on the home front, our oldest son and daughter had received their bachelor’s degrees and our second son, Bryan was receiving his master’s degree from UWSP.   Amy was a student at UWSP.   And for the first time since 1956,  mom was working outside the home, in a real paid position,  that being Director of General Assistance for Portage County.

Itchy feet came once again, and three years later, one beautiful August day, during my lunch hour from work, I came to the realization that I could no longer be penned inside a building.  It was time for change; it was time for Mom to go to college!    I explored opportunities and found a perfect major, International Studies with a minor in International Resource Development.   I found a fascinating world of study right in my own back yard here at UWSP.   I was fortunate to have access to faculty with broad visions who provided flexibility in programming and was able to take advantage of independent studies that included everything from the study of cooperatives to third world women in development subjects, micro-enterprise lending, etc.

My world just about collapsed as two weeks before I was to embark on my “higher education era” I was told I had to have major surgery immediately.  Following surgery, there is a six week recovery period, but there wasn’t time.  The surgeon said absolutely, I said absolutely not.   Well it happened, there was no time for a formal recovery period because the day after leaving the hospital classes began.  My mom of 70 years drove me to my first classes.  The walk into the UWSP Collins Classroom building was done ever so cautiously, everything seemed to be a very humbling experience in so many ways.  Non-trads were not yet common on the campus and a 47 year old studying and taking notes with 18 year olds became a study in itself.   Besides my insides hurt horribly.   At the same time, my husband announced that we would be hosting a professor from Jagiellonion University, Krakow, Poland.  The next six weeks began a wonderful relationship with Tomas Trafas, who served me tea in bed, after I limped home from my full load of classes.  It was a unique cultural experience.  Attending daily classes at that time was a real challenge but it was accomplished in a variety of ways.  My husband sat in on one lecture for me, as I was just too sick to get out of the house that day.  Gail Skeleton will never forget his falling asleep in her lecture, which to this day he denies.

Spanish was my chosen foreign language and almost my downfall in my pursuit of higher education.  Never having had studied a foreign language, I found myself with 18 year olds who had already had 3 or more years of language.  This brain seemed to be like shoe leather and nothing was sticking.  I quickly became aware that I really didn’t know my own language, as I struggled with this very foreign study.   My thanks to Roberto Assardo and Barbara Knowlton, UWSP Spanish Dept faculty, who somehow got me through the required 300 level class.  This was accomplished in numerous ways, one of which was studying in Mexico (Roberto’s solution).  Along with lots of frustration, tears and assistance from my daughter Beth (she spoke French) I finally passed muster.

My role during this brain-stretching era took on new dimensions.   Now the kids were tutoring mom in “new math,” how to identify trees in winter, how to boot a computer, memorizing Spanish conjugated verbs and a myriad of other subjects.   Husband Bob, ever the professor, was a valuable asset in mentoring in the written word.   After his review of a gut wrenching research paper that I thought was so good, I would find more red marks than the original writing.  Finally graduation came, and it was a proud moment for everyone when Mom finally walked across the stage, receiving her diploma from Dad and a kiss from Chancellor Dreyfus.   Always a fond memory will be my dear friend Molly yelling above the crowd, “Well you finally made it!”

Now I had this wonderful degree, my children all had graduated from UWSP, were pursuing their respective professions and establishing families.  What was next for me?  For the first time in my married life, I could make a decision that involved me.  The international arena was beckoning, but what was there available when I was living in Central Wisconsin?  Bob suggested joining Peace Corps, but I doubted I would have a marriage left after that.   At that time, I was active as a volunteer with Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners (W/NP). My first role had been in developing the partnership between Stevens Point and Estelí and I had traveled to Nicaragua several times as well as hosting Estelí people in our home.  I was the chair of that group and a member of the Board of Directors.

I was approached to take on the W/NP Executive Director’s position and quickly realized this was not going to be an optimum employment situation, as the organization was on a rather severe downhill slide.   I carefully researched the idea, meeting with former UWSP Chancellor Lee Dreyfus, Jack Ellery, Bob Williams, Bill Reese, President of Partners of the Americas, Washington DC; and Frank Valva, USAID staff in Nicaragua, all who were acquainted with the organization, its history and its potential.  I was somewhat aware that working for a non-profit always presents challenges, never is secure, but on the other hand the potential of working for an internationally well established and recognized organization was a lure not to be ignored.   I was impressed with the people to people philosophy and felt there was real potential with this organization.  I knew the history of the organization and the idea that first surfaced with President Eisenhower, that people to people diplomacy can be a very effective foreign relations tool.  President Kennedy then put that idea into action with the Alliance for Progress with the strong people to people approach and that is where Partners of the Americas was born.   After heavy soul-searching, I felt I could bring W/NP back to its rightful position in life.  I made another leap off a lily pad, agreeing to spend my last decade of professional life to make a difference in a very different arena.

This was a time, when all my past history of being creative, having to be resourceful and a master at budgeting with limited finances, juggling schedules, having ten balls in the air at a time, as well as being careful and sensitive would be taxed to its limit.   My varied background had groomed me well for this job, and taxing as it was, the most important result was the gratification that it brought.

W/NP had little money and no home. Approaching UWSP Chancellor Saunders on the need for a home for W/NP, he offered a room in Nelson Hall.   We made the mighty move, bringing the state office of W/NP from the state capitol to Stevens Point.  Not all in the Madison area were happy about this move, but let’s face it.  The price was right.  They now had an Executive Director and an office, both for very little money.

The next ten years were an uphill climb.   Thanks to many wonderful, committed and skilled people, W/NP is now highly recognized throughout the sixty chapters of the Partners of the Americas network that covers the entire western hemisphere, as well as having a credible reputation in the international community in Nicaragua.   We expanded the outreach to the entire state of Wisconsin and ditto for Nicaragua.   The membership of W/NP is wide and varied.  We were able to obtain US Agency for International Development (USAID) certification; we have received numerous substantial grants from USAID and the Department of State as well as private sector funding.  I have had the pleasure of working with US and Nicaraguan Ambassadors, and numerous governmental officials from both countries.  I learned the protocol of visiting embassies and government offices.  I have traveled in a BlackHawk Helicopter with the Wisconsin National Guard in rural Nicaragua several times.  This last time it took going all the way to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to get clearance for my transport so I could give my presentation during the Project New Horizons ceremony (along side the Ambassador).  Last year, while in a restaurant in Managua, I was asked to stop by the table of past Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamarro. She had recalled our meetings in the past and we talked about the women’s projects we were administering.  It was gratifying to be in the presence of a great lady.

We have expanded our office space numerous times.  W/NP has a large warehouse located in Stevens Point that stores donated materials facilitates international shipping.  We also own a building in Managua which serves as the country headquarters, has an expansive warehouse and plans for a multipurpose training center.  Field offices are maintained wherever projects are active.  A fleet of four vehicles and twelve motorcycles facilitate program activities.  We have a well trained staff of seven in the Managua office (several who are bilingual) and depending on what grant is in force, at times as many as 37 field employees.  As we had none of this when I first became director, it gives me a real sense of accomplishment.

While these things are meaningful,  for me, the most powerful outcomes have been to personally see people grow and change.   I will use the example of Rosa.   Rosa and her two children live in Tipitapa, a small town outside of Managua.  When I first met them they were humble people with little opportunity to improve their lives.  Rosa’s father came to me one day, saying he had tried hard to change their financial state but with such a high unemployment rate, he couldn’t find a job anywhere – could I help him?  He was trained in electronics, and if he just had a few tools, he could repair small appliances.  His grandson Jonathon had just returned from Wisconsin following heart surgery.   His daughter Rosa was a very shy woman and terribly worried about her son.  We were able to provide some tools for him, but the real story is with Rosa.  Brad and Joanne Martin, Whitehall, WI were Jonathon’s foster parents during the time of his heart surgery.  Later they gave Rosa a sewing machine with the charge of establishing a W/NP Sewing Center.  Rosa was absolutely overwhelmed that someone would think enough of her to give her a sewing machine.  I was present for this experience and have photos to document all.   On our next visit we found that Rosa was conducting neighborhood classes for women and girls.  She was attending our training sessions located in our headquarter office in Managua.   That meant at least 2-3 hours trip in a crowded bus one way plus walking.   The next year when the Learning Center Tour Workshop took place, I saw Rosa come into that conference room with her head up, shoulders squared and a big smile on her face; she exuded confidence.  What a contrast – the year before she was so shy and lacking confidence that you would have never gotten her into that room.   I have personally watched her home grow through the years..   At first she had nothing, then a little house with a dirt floor and two rooms, then another room, then a porch, then cement floors, then a roof over the porch, a masonry fence around her bit of property, then a garden, and this last visit, a refrigerator, stove and toaster oven!    She is a confident leader, a dedicated mother and community leader.   All because someone thought enough to give her a used sewing machine.  I have hundreds of these stories.

While in the remote rural mountainside community of El Sisle located in the Department of Jinotega, I was doing administrative follow-up to our maternal and child health project and happened on one of our Promoter training meetings.   The Brigidistas and Parteras (community health workers and midwives) who served as volunteers were verbalizing that they had no money to take the bus to the training meetings.  Typically, they had to travel up 15 miles on steep mountain roads on foot.   As I listened to them I realized how we could help.   Partners gives opportunities, not money.  We are very careful not to create dependency; rather we focus on developing self sufficiency.  The answer was not to give program money to assist them, (which would not be there next year) but rather give opportunity.  We planted the seed of a sewing center, the women were ecstatic with the opportunity and the result was that now they have a thriving sewing/learning center, and they are generating personal income.  Initially, my North County HCE Club pooled their money to enable the purchase of a brand new treadle sewing machine.  A highlight of my life was to have my mom and daughter with me in the mountains of Nicaragua for the delivery of that machine to the El Sisle group.  Finally members of my family could  to observe what it is that drives me in what I do.  Since then the WI State Association of Home and Community Education (HCE – formerly known as Homemakers) have provided four more treadle sewing machines to this area that has no electricity.  The W/NP Women in Development committee has provided basic sewing kits and supplies and the women are now becoming self sufficient, and acquiring income generating skills.  A fact that I am most proud of is that the El Sisle group named their sewing center after my mom.   It is called the June Lemke El Sisle Center and each time I visit the Jinotega area, they ask about my mom.   They were so impressed that at her age, and shortly after hip replacement surgery, that she came to visit their community.

Through the work of some wonderful volunteers, programs expanded.  Ardith McDowell, Montello, WI came to my office asking how the HCE Clubs statewide could be involved in W/NP.   We designed a program where women here in Wisconsin could share their “stash” of fabric and sewing supplies and equipment.   Now more than 2,000 women from throughout Wisconsin are sending down mountains of sewing supplies, sewing machines.  Lucy Harvey, Wausau, WI has brought the WI Chapters of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) into the fold, and they are major contributors to the Learning Centers.

The Sewing Centers have transitioned into what are now called Learning Centers and since 1990, they have increased from 4 to 79 and next month there will probably be two more.  The sewing machines and supplies sent from Wisconsin are distributed to the centers with the intent of providing training.  No equipment goes to an individual.  W/NP has a micro lending program where a woman can borrow up to US$150 to begin her business. (A brand new Singer treadle machine costs US$120)  Each center consists of a group of women who are required to organize themselves and find a room/building.   They must fill out a small proposal asking to become a part of the W/NP network.  This requirement is vital because W/NP does not foster dependency; this is a program requirement with the intent to create self sufficiency.  Following approval by the women’s committee in Nicaragua, the respective center receives sewing machines and starter kits to teach sewing skills.  The Managua office maintains a detailed inventory of each center.  A variety of vocational skills are offered and include cosmetology, cake decorating, handicrafts, woodworking, poultry raising, square foot gardening, chimney and stove building, and whatever else is determined to be pertinent to a particular area.

We are now expanding, once again, having acquired a building that will be turned into a national training center.   We will continue to use people both in Wisconsin and in Nicaragua as trainers, working together as we share thoughts, ideas and skills to continue growing this project.  We are pleased that UWEX staff have seen the value of these training programs and now volunteer their vacation time for an out of country experience.   We are also fortunate that many retired Peace Corps volunteers have also joined our volunteer force.   Our ultimate goal is that as we share these experiences on a people-to-people basis, both sides acquire new respect for their counterparts and expand their understanding and their flexibility.

The focus continues on providing integrated training programs.   W/NP Farmer to Farmer and maternal and child health projects overlap within the communities, so that coverage is provided in holistic family living.     This project has expended to stove and chimney building.   We found that women were experiencing severe asthma and general respiratory problems.   There was no venting of wood smoke from their cooking stove.   Former Peace Corps volunteers from Wisconsin have done an assessment and designed a program that trains the woman of the house to not only build her stove, but harvest the soil to make the bricks for her stove, while building a latrine at the same time.   That way she can repair her stove when it is needed.

The chicken project has also grown out of these network, and selected families receive 10 hens and a rooster with the understanding that the poultry are penned, that they are fed and watered correctly, receive their vaccinations and then after an established period of time, the family must give ten chicks and a rooster to another family.  Wisconsin families provide the initial funding to buy a small flock of chickens.

Our maternal and child health projects have been funded by the US Government and have ranged from US$675,000-$1.2 mil.  Little did I know that when typing dissertations and assisting my husband in all those primary health concepts as he completed his degree, that we would be using that information as we prepared these very difficult grant proposals.    Working on the train the trainers’ concept, our training staff trains the community members in primary health care innovations for women and children, i.e., prenatal care, breast feeding, immunizations, identification of infectious disease in children less than two years and family planning/HIV and STD prevention.

Just as I was writing this, I received an email of appreciation from Mayra Mendoza, who lives in remote Nicaragua thanking us for the training in using drip irrigation and square meter gardening.  Her watermelons are ready for harvest and will provide critically needed money for the family.    When we asked Julita Flores how the Chica Nica doll dress project impacted their lives, her quick response was “now we eat every day!”    These are the things that have given me the very best employment I have ever had and make each day worth living.

When Hurricane Mitch made a lengthy stay in Central America, northern Nicaragua was badly damaged.  It was at that time that I realized W/NP did have credibility and additionally I was about to receive a major training in international shipping.   People came to us, asking if they could donate money as they were confident that their money/donations would get to the right people.  One of our creeds has been to always maintain a very low administrative rate, something we are very proud of.   In the world of many non-profits charging exorbitant fees and salaries, we had the reputation of being extremely frugal.  This was not a concept foreign to me, as those years of living on little money and being creative with budgets finally was paying off.

During Mitch, we also solidified the concept that we, in the north, provide the resources and those that need the help provide the labor.  Example – many groups send their people to another country to build houses, schools, churches.    W/NP sends the money so that the local people can build their own buildings.  They know best their culture, where to get the best and most appropriate building materials, and what type of structure to build.  With a high unemployment rate, why send gringos to build.   The locals are perfectly able to do these tasks.  We have no problems with our working side by side, learning from them, but they must be in charge.  A very meaningful incident happened when Rob Burke, a UWEX staff person was doing a strategic planning exercise with a group of men representing cooperatives in our Farmer to Farmer program.   One of the comments in the evaluation said “for the first time, someone from another country showed us the way, but didn’t tell us what to do.  Other groups always told us what to do.  He actually let us decide what we needed most and how to get it.”    It is through this type of philosophy that we have been able to establish trust on both sides.    W/NP has always operated on the premise that we are not Santa Claus helping poor folk in another country.   Rather we come together equally to the same table, plan together and then work together.   This is the way we make a difference.

My past twelve years had plenty of bumps along the way, as I learned the challenges and pitfalls of non-profit work.  Thanks to the continuous guiding forces provided by my husband and other mentors, the slogan I coined when first taking on the W/NP director’s position, “Working together, we make a difference” continues to be meaningful today.  Today partnering and making a difference are buzz words, but back in 1991, that wasn’t true.  W/NP still uses that phrase today as we work to make friends for America.   The greatest asset that Partners has is providing opportunities for the common person to be working with someone from another country on an equal basis.  And best of all, one doesn’t need a doctoral degree to be involved in the international level.

Retirement happened last March, 2003, but cutting out Partners would be like discarding one of my children.  I have returned somewhat to the fiber world, but international development will continue as a mainstay of my life.   People continue to ask, “just how do you think you can change the world?”   My answer, I am not changing the world, but I can make it a better place for at least one other person.  If everyone would do just one thing, it would be like grains of sand on a beach.   One grain doesn’t really mean anything, but many together can make a beautiful place to reside.

We, who are born in the US are so fortunate, we have so much, but do all those material things really mean that much.  We must continue to raise that level of awareness of the plight of so many people throughout the world.  That must be one first to our friends and neighbors.  People in developing countries find themselves in terribly challenging circumstances, and not through anything they did, and many times, if we look far enough, we find that we might have done it.   The saying that when we sneeze, our neighbors in developing countries get pneumonia has become very real in my life.

My loom still stands with the piece I was working on when I became employed by W/NP.  It is called “Bits and Pieces,” and is the story of life.  Twelve years ago, I warped my loom to make three rugs and a wall hanging.  The rugs have been used on our floors for years, but the last piece remains to be completed.  For the weft I used beautiful and some not so beautiful yarns; some spun from wool from my own sheep, some were colored, having been dyed, some had been moth-eaten, others shorn from my dear friends in my barnyard, no discrimination – black, grey, white and brown.   Some yarns were thin and sleek, others lumpy and bumpy.   Some were from those who I had taught spinning, others were discards from the weavers in my classes (in this household, nothing is discarded).    By putting all these various colors, textures, good and bad together, I found I had a composite of life.   We have good stuff in our lives, but also there are moth holes, bumps, lumps and other bad things we want no one to see, beautiful bright colors and probably ugly dull colors.   Put it all together in a weaving, and you have a lovely piece that would grace the home of a king.   People are the same, made up of bits and pieces, and we must all be proud of what we are, who we represent.   The good and bad together make a well rounded person.   The wall hanging is almost finished, but it remains on the loom.   When will it come off?   That is a question I cannot answer

As I look back on my life, I also see the bits and pieces of a multitude of experiences.   Did W/NP dominate my life?  You bet, and my family will confirm that.  Did motherhood dominate my life?  Of course, and I am proud of it.  Yes, there are a myriad of holes, moth-eaten areas, and a large assortment of lumps and bumps.  I also have had so many tremendous opportunities; have so many wonderful friends, both here in Portage County and all over the world, and the most accepting husband, supportive family (that now includes 12 grandchildren) and mom that anyone can wish for.   I am indeed fortunate!

In this new day:
I will be enthused and preserving,
I will use common sense,
I will have fun,
I will love and respect my family and friends,
I will always try to do the next best thing,
I will behold God beholding me and smiling, and smile back.”