Thursday, April 24, 2008


Subject G. and I sat in the dining room of her restored Victorian home in the historical district of town, surrounded by eclectic art, antique furniture and brightly colored walls, occasionally distracted by the demands for petting by her old yellow tomcat.

I first married in 1966 to a mathematician who was pretty straight. He was an extremely straight and narrow kind of guy. At one point, about a year into the marriage, I realized I did not want to be a housewife. I didn’t want to clean house every day, entertain his associates, and have babies. I realized there was something else going on. At that time I was in publishing and I decided, with my husband’s approval, to go to the school of visual arts in NY to study photography and graphic art. I had been an artist in high school, my friends had pretty much talked me out of that, talked me into going to law school -- [with art] I would never make money. I decided to do that, and that’s when it first really hit me, at the school of visual arts - we were making films in class, looking at graphic arts as a way to truly express your values. I was the straightest kid in the class going, yeah, uhhuh, yeah! I had never done drugs, I was totally straight. At that point, so much of what I had seen and felt while I was at school -- I met some people who were smoking marijuana and doing LSD and taking mushrooms, and I didn’t know if I wanted to relinquish control -- but ultimately, I got past that -- I would say ‘67 is where it really hit me between the eyes at school. I walked around with a camera slung across my shoulders, changed my mode of dress -- I had always been fascinated with antique clothing but really got into 30s clothes -- evolved ultimately. I did have to make a living since I was a single woman -- I went to Wall Street at that point, doing marketing for tax shelters and oil drilling funds. Pretty successful at it -- working for a big brokerage house -- pursuing my alternative lifestyle at night -- carrying my briefcase, getting on the subway every morning completely dolled up in my full douche regalia, going to work, and then on the weekends going to the Fillmore East and seeing the Grateful Dead. That lasted until ‘71. I was making a lot of money at that time, and I was single woman, maintaining an apartment in Brooklyn, maintaining a life style, and I didn’t see any way around it.

I finally got to the point where I was sick and tired of those asshole bosses, shaking their finger at me, telling me how it was, I finally just quit. I said, that’s it, I’m never working for anyone else again, I don’t give a crap about anybody ever paying my rent, I’ll figure it out. I went off to Europe for 6 weeks, and when I came back, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied clothing design. I did that off and on until ‘87. I made leather clothing, went to several boutique shows in NY, had clients in Tucson, Chicago, NY -- I did a lot of hand painted clothing, mostly deer skin and lamb suede. I ended up opening a store on Long Island, and did that for awhile -- and wearing what I considered the most beautiful clothes in the world, fashions from the 30s and 40s. I would get on the Long Island Railroad in some long silk dress with a little short fur jacket and a big hat, decked with jewelry -- at one point I finally realized that antique clothing was really my love, and I gave up the leather, closed the store for two months, painted it all white, bought all these beautiful antique clothes, and reopened the store as an antique clothing store. That was in ‘73. The man I was buying clothes from had stashed away all these huge dresses made out of these beautiful fabrics, and he had bundles and bundles of clothes, so he talked me into closing my store and moving my business into Manhattan and manufacturing clothing out of recycled dresses. We had ourselves a business called Garbo Garbs -- we made it at Bloomingdale’s. We had windows on Lexington Ave., the highlight of my career.

Then I met N--, and I couldn’t not go with him, so I gave Garbo Garbs back to my partner and moved to California. I made belly dancing costumes. We lived on top of Mt. St. Helena at Calistoga, and he was working in a vineyard. Baking bread -- it was fabulous. But we couldn’t afford to buy land. We knew we were doomed to be together for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to settle down, have a family, have a garden, do the do. Neither one of us wanted to go back to the city. He had escaped NY when he was 18, and the only time he ever came back was that one summer when he found me.

So we wandered the country in a van, looking for a place to live -- made it to Florida, wandered around until we came to Fayetteville AR in ‘75. We had met a woman in Madeira Beach FL -- she had run away from her husband but she had grown up here. She had bought a little motel in Madeira Beach and was making pottery. She was doing her hippie thing. Our basic plan was, we wanted to be in a university town, I wanted to open an antique clothing store, and N-- wanted to learn a trade. He was a window trimmer when he had been in NY as a kid, and he had worked in the vineyards in CA, and he was a fisherman, none of which translated to -- he’s seven younger than I am, so he didn’t go through the initial angst of having to leave the straight world. He graduated high school in ‘68. He was already there. He knew he was never going to fit into corporate America. So we didn’t have that issue on his life. I was the one who had to step through that door.

So we followed this path, going through Tennessee, the Carolinas -- we went to Eureka Springs first, and it was uh, no, not Eureka, too cool for us, we’re not so spiritual. We showed up on Dickson St. in Fayetteville and went, hmm, this looks like the place, and we haven’t left since. I opened Second Time Around.

Most of it was the anonymity of being in a city and having three friends and five friends and never really being intimate with anything -- not the earth, not people, barely yourself. You got up and you functioned. You created whatever aura you could to make yourself happy, but there’s this very big feeling of isolation, no matter what you’re doing. I grew up in a small town, but when I went to NY and got into the excitement of what the city had to offer, I had 12 years of it, got real juiced on it, took advantage of it as much as I could, but I was 30, and it was time to evolve into who I really wanted to be when I grew up. California was a groove, a wonderful place, very laid back. Napa Valley now is not what the valley was in the 70s. It depends on how far you want to buy into it -- it takes an incredible amount of money to maintain this very groovy lifestyle. We didn’t particularly want to do that. We had friends there very much like us, the only problem was that we couldn’t afford to do what we wanted to do, which was buy a piece of property, build a house -- even then, raw land was $25,000 an acre in the valley. We lived just below Mt. St. Helena on the Silverado Ranch -- I went from Brooklyn to the Silverado Ranch. It’s A Beautiful Day had lived there, and Taj Mahal lived there. We lived in a little cabin with wood heat and it was wow, this is it -- this is what N-- had promised me, come away with me darling this is what I’ll give you. We had a beautiful garden, and in the middle of our beautiful garden we had this bed -- he built me a four poster queen size bed with a big foam mattress, and we would lay out there at night and stare up at the stars, I mean, come on, it was perfect. And that was the adventure -- it was so spiritually satisfying. It was real, me hoeing the garden, or him splitting firewood, sitting by a roaring fire, making soup, sewing belly dancing costumes.

We were looking for cheaper real estate and something that would sustain us. Although we were hippies, we both came from middle class families, both of our fathers were in the jewelry business. His dad was a diamond cutter and my father was a watch maker, self supporting -- both Jewish -- anyway, the values we were raised with -- we wanted indoor plumbing and hot water. We lived the wood stove, but I wanted a toilet that flushed, and so to synthesize all it required that we actually work for a living, not ever being on the dole anywhere, and create our own world. So this proved to be the perfect place for it.

The first day we got here we walked into ROTC for lunch, and G-- M-- came over and said, hi, who are you, are you planning to live here, do you need a house to rent? I mean, the first day. We said, hey, this is a community. Another person said, we’re having pot luck tonight, come over, we’re going to play some music, come on over, meet some people. We knew we had arrived immediately. It took us awhile. Fortunately N-- got work, the guy we lived next door to was building dairy barns and he hired N-- on as a laborer, taught him how to lay stone and brick, he took it from there. The following April I had opened Second Time Around -- my parents and N--’s parents lent us money, and I flew to NY and went to my old partner and bought clothes, and he gave me the name of a rag house in KC and in Dallas and in St Louis, and I made those connections.

Then I got pregnant, and we bought a piece of property -- and it was like, here we are. I have a child -- she just graduated college. She’s more ambitious, straighter, than we are -- she drinks a little, but doesn’t do drugs at all. I smoked pot in front of her, and it wasn’t until she was about ten that we pretty much stopped smoking in front of her. She says some of her most amazing recollections were at the house we built out in the country. We had this big deck that wrapped around the house, and we would sit out there and roll joints at night -- we exposed her to stuff like that. We skinny dipped in the White River every day in the summertime. She learned to swim naked in the river, I nursed her when she was 3 months old in the river, so that she would have no fear of water. I would stand in the water, and N-- would throw her at me, and we’d put her under, bring her up. She never had a fear of water, in fact, she swam competitively. We ran around naked. To this day, she’s like, mom, dad, but then, she’ll get undressed in front of us, and she’ll say, don’t look, and it’s like, oh come on, like we’ve never seen your body, come on -- and there’s a part of her that’s very modest.

As far as drugs, her rationale is, I know how brain damaged you get smoking pot, so why would I want to do that? [laughs] I’ve said to her many times, you know you ought to smoke a joint and kick back, and she says, thanks anyway, mom, but... She drank one summer, between her junior and senior year. They had this big deal, a place they called safe spot, and they would go, had a designated driver -- I was the only adult who knew where safe spot was -- in case something ever happened, they wanted one adult who knew where they were. I became the designated adult. And those kids still come over here and hang with me -- they bring beers over - I’ve had kids come over and say, we’ve got this killer pot, you want to smoke some with us? You’ve got to try this shit. -- I don’t see anything wrong with it. The things that concerned me when I decided to have a kid -- I had taken LSD, is my kid going to come out totally warped. I mean the kid is so bright and so driven, and refutes all these horrible things in the media about -- I mean, I have never said to my child, did you do your homework? I never had to. I gave her the option in her life -- you are responsible for your own life - here is your choice, this path, or this path -- you choose, you do, I’ll help you.

I had a repressive mother, and all my life I was very resentful of the fact that she threw my art away and told me I would never make it. She should have seen that my father got up every morning whistling -- he was an artist, a watchmaker -- about the fact that he dropped out of law school and became a watchmaker. From dealing with a resentment toward that, and suddenly getting this incredible clarity on LSD, that there was more to life than the little ant going to work and coming back, going to work, coming back, etc. stash it away, money is so important -- I mean, it was a combination of my own hurt feelings, working out of that, and suddenly realizing that there was so much out there that didn’t have anything to do with commerce, and you only got to go around once, I didn’t care what anybody else said, it better be fun, dammit. That’s been my life -- I want to lay down every day and say thank you god that was a great day, and most days I can do that. You have to look at the big picture --human rights, environmental issues -- the fact that you yourself make a difference in the universe -- take responsibility for it. Every action that you take is karmic, on every level. If you impact one other person in the world and they in turn take responsibility, and acknowledge that what they do is karmic, they’ll impact somebody else, and constantly expand that base of knowing --

I always talk about these issues, usually on a one to one basis. Stuff like recycling and environmental issues, I’ll do whatever I can, whatever it takes. Petitions, signs, go out to talk to every person on this block and say, when it’s time to do the recycling, I want you to participate, and this is important... When we first moved here, everybody on this block was a bunch of old ladies -- it’s changed a lot in the 15 years we’ve lived here. But it was important for me to talk to everybody -- like, ok, we’re going to have recycling over here at IGA. If you want me to, I’ll take your stuff -- if you don’t and you want to do it, fine, but I think it’s important, so if you will separate, I’ll do this.

I prefer dealing with people on a one to one, but I’ll go and talk to the little old lady on the corner, it’s time to have a mammogram, they’re having cheap mammograms in Springdale -- if you need a ride, call me -- make an appointment.

At this very moment, there is a difference, in that I work in a new job, and it is for a big corporation. Now, the vice president, who is in charge of our office, is a guy I got high with for years, so he knows and I know -- I don’t know if anybody else knows. There are a couple of other people in the office that I would bet -- but we have never said -- I would never at this point feel free to say hey, you want to smoke a joint, come on over. I don’t know if that will change. About a week after I was hired -- I had no idea my friend worked for this company -- he came up from Little Rock and walked into the office, and said, what the hell are you doing here, and I said, I work here, what the hell are you doing here, and he said, oh, well, I’m vice president in charge of this office, and we both went, oh, ok. He turned around to the office manager and said do you have any idea how lucky you are that you have this woman working for you? It made everything different, immediately, for me, this tacit understanding that the broom wasn’t stuffed all the way up.

I’m not pessimistic [that our vision] will never come to pass - -I think it’s cyclical, I think the pendulum has swung the other way, that the generation of children that we have raised, when they get to be in their late 20s and early 30s will again pick it up and carry the banner and really impact -- so on that level I’m very optimistic. I truly believe our children know what’s really real, and as soon as they are ready to seize power, they’ll do it with a vengence. Not only did they have their parents’ idealism, but they have also been in the world and they’re working for Compac computers and ATT and ugly stuff, and they’re saying to themselves, as we said to ourselves in the 60s, hey wait a minute. It was foisted on us. They have chosen this. As we walked away from consumerism, they will too -- I truly believe they have our values in their guts and no matter what, when it gets really ugly they’re going to say fuck all this and walk away from it. Plus the economy is going to crash around us pretty quick -- Japan, it’s all going to come tumbling down here in a few years, and all these kids who make $70,000 are going to be out of work, and then what. They’re going to have to downsize their lives and find out what is really important to them, what they truly want, whether that brand new $50,000 car every other year is really important, or if putting food on their table and feeling a sense of self pride isn’t really more important.

The generation who is now in their mid-30s were raised by the generation just older than us, and that generation grew up in the 50s, and they’re very straight. Most of my cousins are at least a generation older than I am, and their kids in their 30s are the young excutives and young bulls, and they’re just out there, building quarter-million dollar homes, buying BMWs, -- I don’t buy anything new if I can help it. My concept of consumerism is, if you can find it used, it’s better. It’s recycling, dammit. The real deal. I do that as much as I possibly can.

I think the reason I haven’t left here is that I have found the greatest concentration of people of like mind here, and a whole lot very crazy people that make me feel normal - you’re allowed to be eccentric, even encouraged -- You don’t need a whole lot of money to live reasonably well here, so that craving for money, that desire, lessens. You can maintain a pretty decent lifestyle -- my friends in the city laugh at what it costs us to live here - the mortgage is $450 a month. It doesn’t matter - we could scrape together enough money no matter what to keep this house -- I can walk anywhere I want, I really don’t even need a car -- if it came down to it, I could grow a garden, raise vegetables -- I can survive here, easily. We have squeezed through several economic situations in this area and came through it with a very pleasant life. We still play with our friends -- instead of going out to eat, everybody has a pot luck. Everybody brings food, we party, play cards, listen to music, dance -- life is wonderful. You can have everything, as long as you can have the things that are important, the sense of community, the sense that you’re not tearing out each other’s guts to survive, no matter what. A lot of us talk about, and when we’re old, this is what we’re doing... I have a bunch of friends who bought land up on Beaver Lake -- there is a whole community being created of people who, in their late 40s and early 50s, that when it’s time, they’re all going to live together, farm together, take care of one another until we’re all dead, and then pass it on to our kids. It’s an old folks commune. We talk about it a lot, about when we get too old and feeble to take care of ourselves, do you want to be in a nursing home, or do you want to live with a bunch of friends, share the cooking and cleaning, and nursing, pool the Social Security, play bridge every Sunday night, live out our days then the way we’ve lived out our days. Say every day, god that was good. What more could you want? We’ve talked about lining up the rocking chairs, rolling joints, and passing the joints up and down -- I’ve told everybody that for my 70th birthday I want a walker so that I can go hear the Cate Brothers and still dance, cause they’ll still be playing.

This is a regional community. I have friends who live out on the Buffalo River -- we play with people out there, we have friends in Little Rock. I had a T’ai Chi teacher who lives in Boulder, and he said that this is one of the high places on the earth, that there was an energy here that made magic, and that was why he came back here and taught so much, because the earth had magic here. There is a peace, and when you walk down the street, people say “Hi” to you - -when you drive down the road and you pass a car, you wave -- or give the peace sign -- it’s an acknowledgment.

My nephew is thinking of moving here, and I told him, I walked into Wal-Mart the other day to buy some shrimp, and I had this conversation with this guy behind the counter, about travel. Out of the clear blue, very deeply satisfying, a wonderful conversation. We thanked each other.

I mean, I greet people every day with a hug and a kiss. Where else in this country do you greet people that way? There are people I’m friends with that it’s like, no no, not over the counter, I want full body contact -- come mere. I want to feel that energy, I want that body in my arms. friends. that full body contact, you don’t get that many places. you can’t see that in Chicago -- full body contact? That is a very fulfilling thing to me on a spiritual level, having physical contact with people -- I don’t know how I would have evolved any place else. There is no way of knowing that. But the people I am friends with would say about me, she’s always there with a hug -- if something is bad for them, I will put my body on theirs and give them my energy, plug into this. And when I’m having a bad day, that is the best thing in the world, when somebody just puts their body right there and says, hey, have some --zzzzt. Even if it’s just for a few minutes. I try to get it and give it as much as I can.

I go an exercise class, called NIA, neuro-intramuscular something - it’s a combination of yoga, tai chi, karate, dancing, breathing, laughing. I feel I’ve been blessed -- I tried to not put my own prejudice in the way, tried to step out -- I’ve tried to find the right thing to do. I have a sister three years younger than me, but she missed the whole thing. And her son is 28 yrs old, and he doesn’t have one clue - my sister never gave him the responsibility to figure it out. My kid, it was like from the time she was born, hey, you make your decisions, if they’re really bad, I’ll stop you -- and she’s got incredible values. I just say, darlin’ whatever makes you happy makes me happy, as long as you get up every morning with a song in your heart and pay your own goddamn way! Made dean’s list with 19 hours -- twice in one year...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


S. and I met in his office, comfortably but narrowly fitted between books, files, souvenirs, photos of his family, and plants. Born 1947, Massachusetts.

When I went to college in the mid-60s, I was aware of alternative lifestyles and the hippie movement, but it wasn’t until I graduated in ‘68 that I ever really did anything out of the ordinary. I did spend a couple of summers working in social service areas -- I was aware of the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam war -- I went to a few demonstrations while I was in college. Several midnight trips to Washington D.C. on buses. It was when I got out of college and entered the Vista program that I began to see things in a different way. All the males were under a great deal of pressure because of the draft, and Vista seemed a good alternative at the time, to give myself time to think about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and also to be of use to someone else, and at the same to avoid being drafted into a war I knew I didn’t want to participate in. I knew the war was the wrong thing. I applied for conscientious objector status, which was denied to me. Regardless, I was always totally against the war. We had quite a lot of discussion about it on campus, several professors were adamantly opposed, and they really encouraged us to think about it.

In my experience, marijuana wasn’t really prevalent at the college I went to, as much as alcohol. Drinking age was 18, and liquor was available and prevalent.

I had a vague idea of becoming a social worker, and I also wanted to use the language I had studied - Spanish -- some clear ideas of using language somehow. My family had owned a retail merchandise store, and that was the farthest thing from my mind, because my dad had spent his live slaving at that store, and that was a model I didn’t want to follow. He spent no time with his family. our relationship was always strained because he was working and he demanded that his children, regardless of what else they had planned, come and help him at the store. It was something I wanted to steer clear of. My dad was a very fine person, but one of my greatest regrets today is that I didn’t really get to know him. He died when I was 22. All thru those years when I was growing up, he was a wonderful provider, loyal to my mom, perfect as a father in almost every way, except he was driven to work. He did not spend time with his kids, or show us the value of a father/child relationship from the perspective of just spending time with us. That left a big hole.

At the time I served in Vista, there was a tremendous political upheaval in Chicago. It was the time of the Democratic convention in Chicago. There were all sorts of ethnic groups there, Indians, Puerto Ricans, hillbillies from the mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky who had come to Chicago to work after World War II and their children were my age and they would spend the week in the city and then take off for the mountains on the weekend and even they were politicized to some extent. There were poor people’s coalitions, welfare recipients coalitions, blacks, Puerto Ricans, every variety of human being active in some kind of organization, and that was the world that swallowed me up in ‘68, ‘70. The first year I worked in a mental health project in a very poor area of Chicago -- that’s where I met my wife. We were both Vista volunteers-- and in fact we had grown up 25 miles from each other, but met in Chicago -- very odd.

The mental health project where we worked there were a lot of chronically mentally ill who had been dislodged from the state mental hospitals and put into halfway houses, these old converted hotels, packed three to a room. The owners got a lot of money out of it. Our job was to re-integrate them into the community, provide them with activities, socialize them and do whatever we could to increase the chance that they wouldn’t be sent back to the state hospital. One woman had been on the wards of the state hospital for 40-50 years because she was crippled, and in those days, if you had someone who couldn’t walk, it was just as easy to put them in a sanitarium as to try to provide for them at home. and the surprising thing about her was that she was mentally clear, able to function and think, despite having been put in that hospital for all that time. She actually got her civil rights back and moved into her own apartment, and accessed social services that she needed. It was kind of fun to get to know her. I have an old Studs Terkel newspaper article that was written about her.

The 2nd year I worked in a much more political environment. There was a group called Uptown Coalition in that area of Chicago and they were trying to make improvement in the living conditions of the people there, and the project I worked on was a housing project. We were fighting urban removal by trying to determine who owned some of the huge apartment buildings there. The idea was that if we could get in touch with the owners and get them to consider selling to this coalition, then the coalition would encourage cooperative development in these buildings, give the tenants a sense of ownership. It was pretty much a failure. We did a lot of title research. There was a lot of conflict between the lower income people fighting for a little piece of the pie.

From there I went to California, looking for L. I spent a lot of time in Venice Beach. I didn’t work for awhile. I had never lived in California before, and the scene seemed like a permanent vacation. I ended up coming back to Boston to try to go to graduate school in social work, but I just couldn’t get myself to concentrate. I wanted to be of some help in society -- I didn’t want to forever be a beach bum, and I’d grown up in Boston and knew that the school of social work at Boston College was just a stone’s throw from the house I’d grown up in. But after a semester I left again. I was mildly interested in health reform and community health programs, had taken a few courses in California and had volunteered at a free health clinic, making myself useful.

I went back to California and L and I ended up in San Francisco together - ‘73 or so. I did these little jobs driving a truck around San Francisco. I put an ad in the paper that said man needs work, survival at stake, do anything -- all sorts of crazy people called me to do odd jobs. I wasn’t that great with my hands, but I could do rough stuff, moving things, fixing little things. and that’s when our daughter was born. Then I got a little more serious about things, realized I had a child to support. We moved to southern California to be closer to L’s sisters who were living there, and I got a job at a community college, and started thinking more seriously about grad school and health educ. I was working as an aide. We left there because L’s brother had a kidney transplant back in Massachusetts.

Coming back to California from Massachusetts afterwards, we stopped in Russellville Arkansas. Some friends of ours, who we’d met as Vista volunteers in Chicago, had moved to a community on the Mulberry River. I was told a whole group of people from Chicago moved down to live the country life and start a school for city kids, removed from all the urban pressures. I don’t think the Mulberry Farm project lasted too long. The people scattered to different parts of Arkansas. Our friends ended up in Russellville We stayed because the job I had in California evaporated, the mental health center in Russellville had just opened with a huge Mental Health Institute grant, and they were pulling people off the street to work there. My friend said given your situation, why don’t you go over there and see if you can get a job for a little while, save up some money, and decide where you want to go. I was interested in mental health, and when I went to the center, a lot of good people were working there, and they had the best interests of the area population at heart, and I got a job.

I’ll always remember seeing Russellville for the first time - the day after Richard Nixon resigned -- August. the humidity was so intense and it was so hot, I thought you could easily fry an egg on the street, and the city looked like a set for a movie, for ‘Last Picture Show’ a sleepy little town. I mean, the town didn’t attract me, it was the people I was meeting. Little did I know that the Ozark National Forest was just north of Russellville, that these gorgeous areas – beautiful creeks and waterfalls, camping areas, trails – were up there, and virtually nobody used them. I was amazed. I guess back then, and maybe it’s still true, it gets real hot in July and August, and people stay inside. So there was this whole world you could have to yourself, and it was just beautiful. It was the scenery that really attracted me. Every second we got, we’d drive up to recreation areas and explore. And we met people who were living in the country, and started building friendships, which made it a lot more attractive to stay.

I realized that people were so stigmatized by coming into a mental center and being considered crazy or emotionally disturbed that what was really lacking was some kind of healthy environment where people could come without that stigma and be accepted, interact with other people, and so the idea of starting a free school there in Russellville helped as an alternative. People were coming for day appointments and not being integrated into the community, being treated for a disturbance but not offered an alternative to isolation. I had been driving back and forth between Russellville and Little Rock to meet people on the wards of the state hospital who would be released back into the Russellville area and my job was to introduce them into the health center and its services, be a bridge between people who had ended up in the state mental hospital with very severe problems.

The free school developed to encourage anyone who wanted to teach a course or lead a class to do so and encourage others to sign up for these classes under the umbrella of the mental health center. We formed a little board, and twice a year or so we’d have a catalog of courses and it was wonderful. Even some of the people we considered patients offered to teach classes in cake decorating -- no one knew who was a mental health patient. You might walk into a Chinese cooking class -- ten people in the kitchen learning to do this -- and you might have a bank president there and somebody who just got released from the state hospital -- and nobody knew. All of the status and stigma was gone. It was really neat.

This was at the beginning of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and they put money into it. Ultimately I got a salary to do just that, and while I was doing that, a guy came by who was a professor from Fayetteville, who taught adult education courses at UALR. We talked and he said, there is a whole academic, scholarly interest in adult education/community education that you fit into, and if you’re ever interested in taking a course to learn more about what other people are doing, or if you want to work toward a degree, I teach this course... and that’s when I started learning more about adult/community education. I started working toward a grad degree in adult education. Ultimately, we moved to Fayetteville so I could finish this degree, and my wife could position herself to be able to go to El Paso to study at a maternity center to be a midwife.

I was interested in how adults process information, how they learn, what they do with it. I saw myself as someone who could be a resource for other people, maybe give people ideas and help them develop them wherever they were. It wasn’t a precise vision. but intellectually, I was interested in adult learning. I wanted to get the degree out of the way and see where I went from there.

Having kids was one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to me. As a parent and a father, I wanted to do it in a way that would help and my kids at the same time, maybe make up for the relationship I didn’t have with my dad. I loved being with kids. It turned me into a story teller. You’d sit there and try to entertain them with a story, and soon, you’re making up stories and other people say, hey, that’s a good story.

When it came to the point where we had both finished school and we had to decide where we were going, we decided Fayetteville was a nice place, a great little town. I got a job at the Economic Opportunity Agenda as a CETA worker -- helping low income people train for employment. A few months after I started work there, the woman who had hired me quit -- she had been the planner, wrote grants, did community organizing work, submitted reports. She said, you could do this. So I became the planner at EOA. I had no idea about what a community action agency was, where these things came from, even though they were part of the same poverty program that developed Vista. I learned about Headstart, job training programs, battered women’s shelter, children’s house, weatherization -- all these things that had sprung out of the EOA - farmers market - a lot of things had sprung up and become independent. EOA was a clearinghouse for ideas people had for economic development projects, community action, facing problems. Staff was supposed to work with local people to empower them. That was the original idea behind community action - a ‘60s idea - Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty.

I was really interested in the principles of community organization, where a person in a position like mine could talk with different groups of people and say what is it that needs to be done, let me be of help in focusing on what the problem is and how we might bring resources to bear to solve it -- human and financial resources. I got involved in a project at Winslow to help people decide what their priorities were and how to get there. They had a cannery -- several other projects -- it was wonderful to go down there and talk to people and participate in meetings and get involved in the life of the community, addressing different problems. Did the same thing in Johnson.

Then in south Fayetteville, I got involved in bringing people together, doing surveys of the needs. We formed an organization, the SE Fayetteville Community Action Committee. The first few projects were small, putting the city to put a footbridge over this creek so kids didn’t have to dip down into the creek to get to school. The city built a sidewalk along south Washington to Jefferson Elementary school - we did housepainting projects for elderly people and then along came a doctor who was working at the health dept. She heard about our organization and she said they’re a lot of health needs that are not being met, a lot of people falling through the cracks, the health dept is very limited on what it can do -- the dr’s don’t want to see these people because they have no health insurance. So this doctor, who had come from West Virginia, said if we would provide the building, solicit volunteers, get equipment, I’ll be the doctor, if you want to work with me to develop a free health center. That was the beginning of what became the NWA Health and Dental Clinic, which is a very viable organization. It followed community organization principles: you go to people, you talk about what they see as being needs, ask them to come together and talk about it as a group, build a sense of community, and then whatever people want to do, whatever they identify as an issue or problem, you help them to work on it. and at the same time, the group becomes kind of a political force.

I moved up thru the ranks at EOA. I became the director in ‘85, and I was doing a little of everything. I did that for 5 yars, but I never really liked it. It took me away from the front line work that I was used to doing -- I didn’t like not having my own project. I needed something I could call my own. I wasn’t much of an authority figure, and I never felt that comfortable doing it. Early on, we had been asked to do a survey by our main funding source on the needs of people in Washington County. That’s when the idea of the Single Parent Scholarship Fund came through. People gave me very common sense responses to the survey -- what do you do about poverty? help people get education and help them train for jobs. I was educated about the needs of women and children by talking with people who were working directly with single parents -- vo-tech, welfare department, anyone who had contact with single mothers -- and the occasional single father.

I came back to the realization that there are people in society who are almost invisible, who you could see at the grocery store with food stamps, buying food, see walking alone the street with little kids, having no transportation, you could see them in the welfare department waiting to see a social worker, but you never really know what’s going on in their lives because you’re not part of that world. And that awareness of what women go thru when their husbands leave them and don’t give them child support, don’t come and pay any attention to the kids, especially women who don’t have an education, don’t have work experience to be able to fend for herself. In talking with other people, I realized there are all these local services out there -- my eyes suddenly opened and I saw all these women coming into EOA and asking for food, utility payments, rent, every immediate crisis -- I really wanted to know what could be done over the long haul to help women so that they wouldn’t have to beg, so they wouldn’t be in this very embarrassing situation and having to find money. They were powerless.

If you have a bunch of kids and you don’t have money or family that can help and the father is not around, what do you do? You can battle the system, but I’m not sure you make enough progress just taking on the whole system that puts people in those situations. You have a lot more success with the individual, building her ability and skills to deal with the world at large, and then, incrementally, in different institutions within the system. One thing we had to immediately deal with when we started the scholarship fund was the food stamp program. Soon as you gave a scholarship to someone and that money was reported to the food stamp authorities, in that month that they got a check for $300 or whatever, they’d yank the food stamps. And why on earth would someone apply for a scholarship if she knew she was going to lose a very important part of her ability to feed her family. So we marched down to Little Rock and talked to this guy in charge of the food stamp program. Look, this makes no sense at all, to penalize someone for wanting to better herself, and discourage her from doing what she needs to do. He said, you’re right, it makes no sense at all. He figured out a way to get around that Catch-22. It was merely a matter of taking a problem and figuring out who you can talk to in a sensible way. I don’t know if it’s chutzpah on my part, or just a sense that we’re all reasonable, rational people, now let’s talk about these problems that we’ve created -- now let’s do something about it.

We did the single parent scholarship fund project for several years before I decided this was something I wanted to work on full time. I went to Bernise Jones, our matron saint, and said if she would be willing to put some money up to cover a salary and travel expenses and few other incidentals for a year, I would be willing to throw myself into an effort to develop a statewide network of single parent scholarship funds, what we had done very successfully in Washington and Benton counties, to see if the rest of the state would work with us. And she did.

So since May ‘90, we’ve been working statewide. It’s hard to take something created here, where we’re very fortunate to have such a community that values education, is concerned and caring about its people, and has the affluence to put resources where they can do a lot of good. You go across the state to some of the Delta areas, or southwest Arkansas, and you don’t find anywhere near the same attitude toward people, education, or optimism. Their economy is completely different.

There’s the whole racial thing in other parts of the state. When I’ve been in the delta, I’ve realized that underlying everything is this issue. People may not talk about it, but it’s there. When you try to bring people together, blacks and whites, they’re not used to working together. So it either becomes an all white thing, or an all black thing. In one county, people north of the river wouldn’t work with people south of the river -- an inheritance from before the Civil War! It’s incredible. In some places, it’s seen as another handout. They assign a lot of blame. But it’s been interesting, going around the state and meeting people who view things in different ways.

But there have been those who view things in similar ways, and in those counties we’ve been very successful. We started this program thinking that if each county starts a scholarship fund like we have, and they have leadership that is taking responsibility for it and ownership of it, then that’s what we should be building -- their ownership, their empowerment, their acceptance of this project as their own. So we offer matching grants to them, and they have to qualify by raising their part. When they do that, they get a lot of people involved in the scholarship program. Maybe some of these will be self-sustaining someday. We’d like to be just a support system.

There is a lot of interest in welfare reform among all these groups. But you have to understand that not all these groups sprang out of nothing. It might be part of an organization that does a lot of other things at the same time. For those people who work within the system -- the clients -- they are being encouraged and forced into low paying jobs -- they don’t have the education -- that’s what they qualify for. Whether they can move up within those employment situations, I don’t know. A lot of people have been scared off welfare entirely. The rules keep changing, discouragements are there rather than encouragement, like to go to school -- and for our students, many of them think, why do I need welfare -- they’re telling me to get off welfare -- I’ll just go get a job, I won’t have to bother with all their regulations. And for those who have been in school, dependent on welfare to get them through school, if they give up school, and go into these jobs, they may be in that situation all their lives.

I got involved in this TEA coalition, the welfare reform local constituencies the state is saying, come up with new ideas and there’ll still be money - Transitional Employment Assistance -- a new acronym for AFDC, with the emphasis on work. I participated in an effort to write, design a new program, which they’re calling the diploma project, asking for state funding, as opposed to federal and state funding, so that the person who qualifies for TEA won’t have to go to work. She can stay in school, get all her benefits -- monthly stipend, food stamps, medicaid, child care assistance, etc. -- as long as she is career focused, making progress in her education, maintaining a certain grade point average -- and she won’t have to go do those 25 hours of work. According to welfare regulations now, there’s a rule that you have to work at least 25 hours a week to keep this stipend - federal -- and Washington County adds another 5 hours a week -- all built in to get rid of people on the dole. And women with kids is the largest single group of poor people in this country.

I don’t know if there is anything anyone can do about the trend in society where families are not staying together -- for a variety of reasons. I cannot personally understand -- because of how I grew up in a very close knit family with a father who was very responsible, and I feel like I have been a responsible parent/father myself, and with a very deep love and affection for my children. And when I hear about men who just abandon their families, they don’t visit their children, they don’t do anything financially, emotionally, to care for the children that they have played a role in bringing to life, it’s just beyond me. I don’t understand how they could do that. I think if you grew up without the love of a parent or enough love or attention, as a male, and you’re not made to feel that people love you and you can love back, then it would be a lot easier when you become a parent to completely disregard your children and your wife. Otherwise, you would feel that emotion, that responsibility, toward the people that are closest to you.

We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries over the years, dozens of people, who have said ‘gee, I’ve heard about your program, how can I get something started in Kansas, Missouri, California, wherever -- but I’ve never heard one word from those people after we’ve told them how we got started and what it takes to open a program like this. I think just the intensity of fund raising and organizing and committee work and everything it takes to do this successfully puts people off. It’s like, where’s the big grant? I would think that people in other states would be able to do this kind of thing, if they just gave it a little thought. If there is something like this somewhere else, I never heard about it.

Every so often we’ll get some kind of communication from Hillary Clinton’s office. She was our founding board president in our state program when she was in Little Rock, until ‘92. She was very helpful. Every so often, she’ll send us a note and say would you please send info to so and so, or what do you think about doing something on a national level. We haven’t even got all the counties in Arkansas to do this thing. Out of 75 counties, we’ve only got 48. It’s too grandiose to think of going off to who knows where to tell other people to do it when we haven’t completed the job here. And it comes down to time. Time is a very precious commodity, and the more you’re off doing something with people out of state, traveling, on the phone, writing letters, or whatever, the less you’re doing in your own area.

I see programs like Habitat for Humanity springing up, and I have lots of respect for people in that program, and things like it. I think of the old barn raising concept when I think of the houses they build, or scholarships being given, because everybody has a role in it. Then, after someone gets educated, or you’ve helped someone build a house, you can see the results, and feel a sense -- I participated. I get a lot of reward for doing this sort of thing. I think we have accomplished something here.

Every time I get something like this graduation announcement, I think all right, she did it. she got there. And every time I’m out somewhere and run into someone we’ve helped who is working in a hospital or a bank or teaching, -- we have a professor at the university, by the way -- one of our scholarship recipients in the mid-80s -- 9th grade dropout, GED -- went and got her doctorate in sociology and is teaching at the university. You meet people like this and see them in their environment, and think -- it’s worth it. It works.

I think that the social movements that occurred in the ‘50s and ‘60s -- civil rights movements, the war – had a lot to do with the social consciousness that the ‘60s generation seems to hold. But I also think a lot of us who grew up in prosperity realized that there’s more to life than just making money and accumulating possessions and living in the suburbs and driving big cars and spending the weekend at the country club. I think we saw our parents as extremely hardworking but upwardly mobile people who accumulated things in order to assure themselves that they were ok -- and we didn’t need to do that because it was all before us. In a sense, it’s an intellectual rejection of materialism. We had it. And therefore we had the luxury of rejecting it. If you don’t have it, you want it all that much more. But if you’ve been educated in a liberal arts way and you’ve had the advantages of parents working very hard to join the middle class, giving you what you needed, then you can look at your own life and say, well, what can I do to make this life meaningful? If you’re lucky enough to marry somebody, to live with someone who shares those values, you can do it together -- make a life for yourselves together that provides the basic needs but also allows you to give it back. And if there are people at the lower end of the economic ladder who need people like us who have things to offer, then you’ve got opportunity to be of service.

The wealth of my upbringing had translated into a good education, a brain, an ethic, to be able to do this. We live in such an affluent, resource-filled society, that you can find a niche for yourself somewhere -- it’s not like India, where there’s a tiny, extremely affluent group, and a huge underclass. If you wake up in the morning and you’re happy, happy to see the sun rise, happy to see your wife or husband lying next to you, happy to be doing what the day promises for you, then I guess you’re in a good place, you’ve done what you’re supposed to do. I feel extremely fortunate to have found a place like Fayetteville where so many wonderful people of such a diverse nature -- people from everywhere else seem to have collected here. I’ve heard someone describe it as a national chakra, a national energy center.