Harpoon Notes for February 6, 2019

President Greg rang the Rotary bell. All stood to sing a spirited “Star-Spangled Banner,” taking their tempo cues from our dashing, bowler-hatted Immediate Past President, John Ackenhusen. As the Anthem’s final notes faded into the ballroom firmament, Norma Sarkar came forward to deliver the Inspiration. “My message today has to do with Positive Aging,” she began. “But what is it to live our lives in a positive way? We need positive relationships, self-awareness, an ability to accept change, and to stay physically active: to keep our brains active; to adopt a healthy lifestyle; to stay ‘involved’; to cultivate positive emotions…Don’t sweat the small stuff! As Robert Waldinger said: ‘Youth is a gift of nature but aging is a work of art.'”

Past President Downs Herold then took the podium to lead us in song. With the accompaniment of John Ackenhusen, the assembly launched into “Smile and the World Smiles with You,” and “Wait Till the Sun Shines, Millie.” President Greg welcomed everyone, and thanked the volunteers. Among visiting Rotarians was a member from Puerto Rico: “Willie Lee is here from Puerto Rico, which makes no sense,” Greg quipped as he exchanged club flags with Willie. Other guests included Alex Santoro, introduced by Joanne Pierson: “He’s checking us out, so I’ve been assigned to recruit him!” Barbara Eichmuller introduced Sandy Kouckler: “Sandy’s a fiber artist, and is here to celebrate Millie’s birthday.” And Don Deatrick asked us to welcome Jack Mesh, “and I’d like to say hi to our speaker, Abbie Lawrence-Jacobsen, who’s a good friend.” John Ackenhusen introduced his wife, Ruthie, and explained that “we’ll be moving to Poulsbo, Washington, which is an old Norwegian fishing town with brightly-colored houses, one of which we own now.” John then brandished a Poulsbo Rotary flag and gave it to Greg. Prominent at its center was a golden Viking longship, the sight of which made Frode swiftly grasp at an invisible oar — reveling, no doubt, in his forebears’ collective memory of coastal raids and booty (the old definition), of the humiliation of Celtic civilization, and the sackings of Whitby and Lindisfarne.

Our Rotarian of Honor, Millie Danielson, introduced her daughter, Lisa, “who is helping me out.” At that point the room erupted in a heartfelt “Happy Birthday to You,” for this was Millie’s (supposed) ninety-sixth birthday. Whether you believe the number or not, Millie is clearly the epitome of Dr. Waldinger’s observation. Trays of sliced cake were distributed round the room, with many a Rotarian feigning the generous act of ‘saving a few steps for a table-mate’ so as to secure another piece.

Greg made the announcement that this year’s Golf and Tennis Outing will take place September 9th. Anyone who would like to join the Committee, or otherwise help out in the preparations in some way, are encouraged to contact the Committee.

Downs returned to the podium for a special event. “Rotary International has only established one membership classification that could be considered an award. It is called Senior Active or Active-Exempt, and what it does is excuse that member from the meeting attendance requirement. It is ‘earned’ when the total of a member’s age [is added to] the number of years they have have been a member, and that totals 85.” Downs then explained the evolution of the Paul Harris Fellowship from an award given to members “for their exemplary service to the Club and community,” to one “earned” monetarily. As a solution to fill the merit gap, the Club created “the Distinguished Service Award in the early 1990s and has been presenting 3-5 DSAs annually” ever since. He then described the “initiation of Emeritus classification as a way to recognize long-time Rotary members before their health and/or relocations ended their membership.” Millie, Downs pointed out, “was the first female member to receive the Emeritus award…in March of 2015.” He then cited Millie’s incredible involvement in the life of the Club and the Ann Arbor community. Among her achievements — studying at EMU to “prepare to become an art teacher in Detroit; teaching at summer camps designed for polio survivors…to serving on several boards in the Ann Arbor cultural scene, including the Michigan Theatre, Performance Network, UM Museum of Art and the Musical Society.” Along the way she “also produced (with husband Lee’s assistance) a set of twins (Lisa and Michael) and…[later] son Chris….” All this while becoming the most renowned fiber artist in the Ann Arbor-Detroit region! One work, “a fiber cross, hangs in a church in Bethlehem,” Downs noted. [After skipping a bit — Downs’ complete address should be reproduced in Harpoon later — he came to the emotional conclusion] “I feel blessed to be able to present you [turning to Millie, who now joined him at the podium] with this Rotary Club of Ann Arbor Distinguished Service Award.” Downs went on to read the plaque citation: “‘For giving her talents as an artist extraordinaire to enriching and aiding the community around her.'” Well done, Downs, and bravo, Millie!

Along with Millie, the assembly extended their warm Happy Birthdays to our other members celebrating this week — Chris McMullen, Tony Derezinski, PP Collyer Smith, Bob Pehlke, and Dawn Johnson (who also accepted birthday wishes for Mr. Lincoln).

Radio Free Rotary: Our inimitable Steve Schram, Executive Director and otherwise ‘head honcho’ (a la Bing Crosby) at Michigan Radio, came up next to deliver “the Ann Arbor Rotary’s ‘News You Can Use.’ President Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday night. In opening his 82-minute speech to the nation, Mr. Trump began by optimistically playing up ‘a new opportunity in American politics, if only we have the courage to seize it…Many more topics were covered in the speech, including, as the president noted, the record number of women in Congress, to which Democrats gave a standing ovation — and they began shouting ‘USA!'” Closer to home, Steve noted that the rough winter weather through the Midwest could put “many school districts in a bind later this year because of excessive snow days.” He pointed out that Michigan districts are required to “offer a minimum of 180 days of instruction.” Then the sad news: “Rep. Debbie Dingell announced today that she is home with her husband, former Michigan Rep. John Dingell, who has been in failing health. Rep. Dingell announced on Twitter that she was ‘home with John and we have entered a new phase. He is my love and we have been a team for nearly 40 years.'” Everyone in the room probably thought of the innumerable times they have seen John or Debbie at the July 4th parade in Ann Arbor, or making a breezy but totally engaged appearance at a RCAA event, such as the inaugural “Stories of Service,” at Hill, or at Touch-A-Truck. Steve’s tone said it all — many heartfelt thanks to a departed friend. Steve did end, however, on an upbeat note: “Earlier this week in Lansing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a reorganization of state government she said is largely aimed at ensuring safe drinking water for Michigan residents and fighting climate change.”

Speaker: John Huber graciously introduced our speaker, Dr. Abbie Lawrence-Jacobsen: “It is one thing to think about change — to ponder it, to talk about it, to weigh it in one’s mind. It is quite another to engage in change, to roll up one’s shirtsleeves, to get involved — to make it happen…and author Bryan Stevenson has said it many times — the first step to being a change agent is to ‘get proximate’ — to get close to the issues we are trying to address….

“Dr. Abbie Lawrence-Jacobsen has done just that. In 2016 she met with refugees to engage in a ‘Photovoice’ project, a research method that allows traditionally marginalized populations to become recorders, researchers, and potential catalysts for social change….”

“i am delighted to be here,” Dr. Lawrence-Jacobsen began. She informed her audience that “Photovoice” was made possible by the support of Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County. She had approached the organization “because it is the only agency permitted to resettle people fleeing war-torn areas around the world…the refugees don’t have to be Jewish — they help anyone!” As she conceived the project, Photovoice would serve as a vehicle by which refugees (“many from the civil war in Syria”) could assimilate into our community by coming to grips with their experiences. “Photovoice — the taking of photographs of their homes and neighborhoods, and the exhibition — has a therapeutic aspect. YOU are the expert on your own life. By photographing your experiences, you can tell your story.” This serves two purposes: to help explain to the ‘refugee-photojournalist’ how and why he/she got here in the first place, and as a shoehorn into the new community and culture here. “They [the photographers] collaborated about choosing what pictures went into the exhibit.” Then, a brilliant idea: instead of the usual informational one-way street of exhibition plaques that ‘explain’ the work for the visitor, “we put up sticky notes next to the photos,” so visitors could leave their comments. And most of the comments provide moral support to the refugees. A number of the photographs displayed on the screen by our speaker were incredibly moving. For instance, a child, seated on the floor of her unfurnished apartment, doing her homework by lamplight; a twenty year-old man, also studying, but about to go off to work at night; an interior, strewn with furniture, pillows, magazines: the haphazard domestic detritus that makes a home; self-portraits taken on the street — artists proud of their accomplishment, of surviving, of finding freedom through vulnerability. Dr. Lawrence-Jacobsen closed with the description of parents who, rather than enroll their children in an Arabic-speaking school, choose instead an English-speaking one. These photos chronicle mighty endeavors; small stories that stand for big things; relentless, tender, laughing, private, herculean strivings toward assimilation.

Greg concluded the meeting by thanking our speaker, then sharing one of his famous quotes: “Life is like a bicycle. If you stop pedaling, you fall over.”

Congratulations again, to our Rotarian Extraordinaire, Millie Danielson!!