VIDEO: Six Degrees of English
Members of the English Club talk about their friendship, England, and America.
VLOG: Jody and Marci talk about the July 2017 issue
Our July issue is on stands now! This month’s theme is “Freedom” and we are super excited about the stories in this issue. Pick up your copy today!
The Nursing Den: Happy Hideaway for Breastfeeding Moms
by Paula Redmann We’ve all seen “that look” on the face of a mother with a young child. You know, when she glances at her watch (yep, it’s time) and starts to re-arrange that slightly unhappy wee one on her hip. Timing is everything. Slightly unhappy could escalate into full-on irate. She grabs her 30-pound pack full of rescue and anti-fuss gear. Then, like a well-trained soldier, she surveys her surroundings—eyes up, down, across—in order to plan her next strategic move. And she asks herself, “Where can I go to breastfeed this child?” Mothers who breastfeed their children know the convenience, joy, and health benefits of their preferred choice of nutrition. It’s pretty easy at home. But out in public, the options and choices get tricky, and quite often, frustrating. Deidre Hillman thought that one of the places it shouldn’t be hard to breastfeed a child was at Dakota Zoo in Bismarck. “The zoo is all about families, so what could we do to provide a place for moms to go for privacy and comfort?” asks Deidre, a zoo board member and a mom to one-year old Harper. She approached the board and Dakota Zoo Director Terry Lincoln in January of this year with her “What if…..” idea. What if the zoo had a relaxed, clean, easily accessible place for moms to breastfeed their child? Thus began the quest for The Nursing Den. The zoo board voted to move forward and support the idea, set aside some money, and transform a building which was once a restroom, and then a butterfly house, into a cozy, den-like space. “The idea had been there for a few years, but then Deidre, a new mom, became the driving force to move this project to the forefront. Adding this new facility for the benefit of families is a plus for the zoo,” says Terry. “Not only do we embrace the idea of breastfeeding—we’re surrounded by our animals that do it all the time—but are particularly excited to be able to provide a comfortable and private area for this to be accomplished.” Deidre then rallied the troops. Enter Katie Logan, owner of Bump2Baby and member of the Bismarck Doula Community. Katie looked at the space and provided input on ways to “soften” it to provide not only two private feeding areas (think retail dressing rooms with comfy chairs and privacy curtains), but also an activity area for dads and toddlers to hang out while mom feeds the baby. The play space includes painted walls, (animals, of course, it’s the zoo!) toys, and snacks. “What excites me most about this project is that it focuses on the importance of breastfeeding by giving moms the space to comfortably sit down, cool off, and feed their babies. It just makes breastfeeding for as long as possible even easier,” Katie says. Paint, curtains, toys, chairs, sinks. The list of renovation needs grew a bit, and so did the price tag. Even with financial support from the zoo, Deidre knew some fundraising would help move the project along. That’s where Mandy Dietz came in. Mandy, Bismarck chiropractor and mom, came on board as a financial sponsor of The Nursing Den because of her experience as a breastfeeding mom. “It’s important that families have safe and comfortable places to feed their babies. I remember nursing my twins and having to sit on floors trying to nurse them and not get them covered in whatever was on the floor. Ick! There were times I had to go back to my car and nurse them in the back seat and miss out on all the activities. It was so frustrating and overwhelming,” remembers Mandy. Mandy says she is delighted to support this project and give back to the community to help families. Additional sponsors for The Nursing Den include Jones Physical Therapy, Heringer Dentistry, Steep Me A Cup of Tea, and a grant from the North Dakota Breastfeeding Coalition. “We now have enough funds for Phase II for this space, new flooring, which will be added this winter,” says Deidre. “I’m predicting a wonderful response from zoo visitors.” The building itself will have ample signage and the zoo maps will include the location of The Nursing Den so visitors know about the space and how it became a reality. Deidre says the interest, encouragement, collaboration, and conversation about The Nursing Den at Dakota Zoo has been reinforced from the very beginning by a support and advocacy group called The Bismarck Birth Collective. “It’s a community of moms, supporting moms.” Mission accomplished. At ease. The Nursing Den, located near the Prairie Dog viewing area at Dakota Zoo, opened June 23. Paula Redmann Paula Redmann is the Community Relations Manager for Bismarck Parks and Recreation District. She likes to run, walk, play, sing, putter in her yard, laugh with family and friends, and count her blessings. She married her high school sweetheart, Tom. They have two grown sons, Alex and Max.
Community Contributor: Team RWB
You’ve heard of veterans groups like the VFW and the Amvets, but have you heard of Team Red, White, and Blue? It’s a fairly new national organization and has been in North Dakota for about four years, thanks to Theresia (Hersch) Fode and her husband, Bob. Theresia shares more about Team RWB. Give us a little history of your organization. Team Red, White, and Blue (Team RWB) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Mike Erwin founded the organization in 2010 while he was a Captain in the Army. The mission of Team RWB is “to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.” In 2013, my husband Bob and I organized Team RWB in North Dakota. We had both been deployed twice with the North Dakota National Guard and were looking for something that could connect and help deployed service members back to their community or service family. We were seeing our battle buddies and others struggling with depression, suicide, and lack of purpose. In Bismarck this really didn’t just fit the mold for service members but it also affected their families and the communities that they lived in. We discovered Team RWB after a visit from one of Bob’s battle buddies from Texas. We did research, had two meetings, and the regional director finally told us to just do it. By December of 2014 we had over 400 members just in the Bismarck area. How are you different from other organizations like yours? Team RWB finds an opportunity to reconnect through social and physical activity. We have free workout classes, group run/walks, Tea with the Team, we do community service, and we also connect with our fellow Veterans from other campaigns. One of our biggest community events is a social in December at the Lights on Chestnut and our biggest physical event is our Old Glory Run/Walk/Ride/Stroll from Pioneer Park to the Global War on Terrorism Memorial at Fraine Barracks for the Remembrance Service on September 11th. We currently have chapters in Bismarck, Minot, Grand Forks, and Fargo. A chapter is coming soon in Dickinson. How can people contact you if they want to be involved or learn more? Email is the best way to contact our team. Theresia.firstname.lastname@example.org (Chapter Captain of Team RWB Bismarck) Michelle.email@example.com (Fitness Engagement Coordinator) Darcie.firstname.lastname@example.org (Veteran/Community Engagement Coordinator) Thea.email@example.com (Communication Coordinator) Austin.firstname.lastname@example.org (Team RWB Minot) How can people donate or get involved? There is no membership fee to join Team RWB. We encourage family and the community to join. They will receive a monthly newsletter via email with all events taking place. All events are free unless specified. Click here for more information. You can donate on our website as well, just select the “donate” tab for more information. What are your needs right now if someone would like to help? We are looking for community and veteran projects. Contact us if you have any suggestions!
Mind Shift: Hopes & Dreams for Beautiful Minds
by Marci Narum | Photography: Photos by Jacy Every mother dreams of the amazing things her children will do. She hopes they might use their gifts to change the world someday. Cortnee Jensen has hopes and dreams for three children, as the mother to Cael, 11, Kembri, eight, and Camden, four. But sometimes hopes fade and dreams are crushed, giving way to overwhelming fear and panic. That’s what happened right before Cael’s sixth birthday. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a developmental disability on the autism spectrum. The news was devastating for Cortnee and her husband, Ash. “Because, of course, the first thing you do as a parent who loves your child is go online and start doing research,” says Cortnee. “I saw things like ‘the vast majority of people with autism will never marry or have children, 80 to 85 percent are unemployed or seriously underemployed; it doesn’t matter where they fall on the spectrum.’ I panicked as a mom. My child will never know the type of happiness that I know—a wonderful marriage relationship, beautiful children; a life worth living based on my definition. As a parent all we want is for our children to be happy. To have meaningful lives. And I was looking at a future in which my child would maybe not have that.” UNIQUE ABILITIES When Cael was nine, Cortnee’s perspective about her son’s future began to change. She learned about a nonprofit organization in Fargo, North Dakota that doesn’t look at autism as a disability. Mind Shift sees individuals with high-functioning autism as people with unique abilities. “And I said, ‘Yes! That’s my child!’ My child is brilliantly smart. My child has a high level IQ. He can do electrical circuitry. And he’s nine. He has unique ability. I don’t know any other nine year olds who do what he does.” Cortnee began to see a glimmer of hope return for her son. HIRING & TRAINING SPECIALISTS Today, Cortnee works for Mind Shift. She speaks passionately with parents, business owners, and the public about the organization’s purpose and mission—to pair individuals who have unique abilities with partner businesses. She calls it a business/nonprofit hybrid. Mind Shift has a 501(c) 3 status; it relies on grants and private donations but the ultimate goal is to be a self-sustained organization. Cortnee stresses it is not a charity. She says it’s good business. “We are set up to be a benefit to the businesses we place people in. We’re not expecting companies to hire these people as a charity. We are saying these are people with skills that have business value to you.” Mind Shift hires and trains the individuals, known as “specialists” because of their highly-specialized skills and unique abilities. “We need their detail orientation and computer-like minds to do work that other people don’t necessarily want to do. The really detailed, focused work that they are uniquely qualified to do. There is still a lot of data and technology, and quality assurance testing for that technology in the workplace. We need people who can do that.” VALUED EMPLOYEES Mind Shift has placed 22 specialists in Fargo and Minneapolis. These are brief profiles of three in Fargo: Forrest: Diagnosed with autism at the age of 10, Forrest had always been told he was bright. But he says he never felt comfortable during interactions with other people. “…like there’s a big social rulebook that I never received,” Forrest explains. After graduation Forrest struggled to find and keep jobs. He became depressed and eventually homeless. Then he found Mind Shift. The agency hired and trained him, and connected him with Eide Bailly, which also received training to understand and respond to the behaviors of someone with a mind like Forrest’s. He has worked at the company for two years. “With the support I receive at Mind Shift, I don’t fear becoming unemployed, and I feel like a valued member of my workplace,” says Forrest. Alex: Alex is highly intelligent and possesses acute focus. He had hoped to attend college and pursue his dream of becoming a software designer. But because of his autism, Alex battles high anxiety, struggles to understand social rules, and needs to stick to a routine without changes. College didn’t work out. Nor did his job corralling carts for a major retailer. Alex’s parents wanted to see their son live a fulfilling life and follow his dream. He’s doing both since becoming a specialist and going to work for Appareo Systems as an assembler of high-end electrical components. “This means that I have successfully made a big step in my life and I feel proud to say that I am a working man,” says Alex. Heather: Typically, autism is diagnosed when a child is between the ages of three and five. Heather was diagnosed with borderline autism and ADHD when she was 13. She becomes agitated by certain textures, flashing lights, vibrations, and sounds. These sensory triggers make it extremely difficult for her to focus. Heather’s part-time jobs in the fast food and cleaning industries made it very difficult for her to enjoy a satisfying and successful work life. In January, Mind Shift paired Heather with Bell Bank, where she is scanning and indexing loans and other documents. “I have to be accurate and fast but I can still be me and make it as fun as possible,” says Heather. “I finally have a grown up job. I’m very happy there. I’m working at a place where the work is important and I feel like I’m making a difference.” HOPE RETURNS Cortnee says there are no solid statistics on the number of people diagnosed on the autism spectrum in North Dakota. But there is one statistic that she knows well, as Cael’s mother. “The suicide rate for people on the autism spectrum is nine times that of the normal population. They don’t have a place to feel valued oftentimes. They don’t have a place to feel part of something. And as a mother of a child on the spectrum that hits home,” says Cortnee, tears filling her eyes. “And we want them to have a place to shine and a place to fit in.” Cortnee says she can finally hope and dream for Cael’s future again. His gifts just might change the world. “My child isn’t done yet. None of us are done. And if we are willing to talk about these things and work together and lean on each other then we can learn and grow as a society, and value each other differently and better. Beyond that, what Mind Shift is specifically allowing is a space for the beautifully intelligent minds like my son’s, and Forrest’s, Alex’s, and Heather’s.” To see a gallery by Photos by Jacy, click here.
Oh Man, Because Guys Inspire Too: Tyler Auck
By Marci Narum The right message can make you look at life in the moment differently. Tyler Auck of Bismarck, North Dakota began to see life in a new way after making a fresh start on January 5, 2011. Today he shares this message with individuals by text, email, LinkedIn, and in person: I hope your day is filled with so much gratitude and beauty that tears of joy run down your cheeks. “The response I get back is truly amazing. And the people that have been put in my life, it’s mind blowing,” Tyler explains. “People from all over the world have been contacting me and telling me what this message has done for them. It does a lot for me to be able to do that. I want to help people.” Tyler has shared his message with about 8,000 people since he started three months ago. His goal is to reach 100,000 people. His determination stems from a lifetime of tears that were not the result of joy, but pain, loneliness, and despair. Tyler is a recovering addict. He started using drugs and alcohol when he was 14. He says he realizes now it was to cover up the pain of trauma which began very early in his life, and abuse that continued for many years. His life took many turns leading to trouble involving drugs, assaults, and robberies. He was arrested. He overdosed. He attempted suicide. “The consequences were never enough. It didn’t matter if I died. It would have been wonderful. The addict’s prayer is please, don’t let me wake up. Most addicts pray for that all the time. “As addicts we have this disease and it makes us do horrible things at times and makes us not the best people at times because we have to fuel that disease; we rob places, we hurt people. And we do those things to make our disease okay. That’s why I say, ‘love the people that are the hardest to love.’ We need to be loved. This needs to be looked at as a disease, just like any other disease. “Breaking down those stigmas is huge. And I can do it because I’ve been the one who is very hard to love. I’ve done all those things in my life—burglaries, assaults, lying, cheating, stealing; everything to fuel my addiction.” Tyler lives with PTSD and anxiety disorder as a result of his past. But he does not complain. “I call them my “broken gifts.” If I look at them the right way and use them the right way they’re good things. They come with some horrible side effects but they are some really good things to have—for me.” Life began to turn around for Tyler on January 5, 2011, his sobriety date. He was in treatment at Heartview Foundation in Bismarck. And life is good for Tyler now. He will graduate in May 2018 from Minot State University with his degree in addiction studies. He started an internship at Heartview in June and says he has decided to pursue his master’s degree. Tyler is married, has a two-year old son and 17-year old daughter with his wife, Amber. Not only does Tyler share his message with individuals each day, he also texts a picture of a flower daily to Amber. “I love flowers. That’s where I found my spirituality, in flowers. I worked at the capital for 10 years and I took care of the flowers. On breaks I would sit out in the peonies and I noticed everything blooming; the colors, the smells. Everything was screaming at me. I never did believe in God before, I always fought against it. But I found my Higher Power sitting there in the flowers. “We get our hearts broken throughout our life. People die, different things happen, pain sadness, and we get these cracks in our heart. I always say, ‘flowers grow in the cracks of my heart.’” Tyler plans to write a book in which he will share more details of his life and what he experienced. In the meantime, he is speaking to groups across the state, sharing his story of recovery, and working with law enforcement to combat the opioid problem. And he delivers those caring words every day, wanting others to discover what he has. “Recovery for me is beautiful. I get to be a dad. By going through all those things in my life, it gives me something. I wake up in the morning and take that first breath; it brings tears to my eyes. That’s it for me to breathe and cry. Because I get that chance. And that’s what those years of hell and pain have given me.” Contact Tyler on LinkedIn for information about speaking engagements
Dickinson’s Roughrider Days: Celebrating the Women Who Make it Happen
Article and photos by Stephanie Fong For those living in southwestern North Dakota, summer and the Fourth of July mean Dickinson’s Annual Roughrider Days Fair & Expo and all that comes with it—rodeos and reunions, derbies and downtown parades, carnivals and concerts, 4-H exhibits, and fireworks. A group of about 20 hard-working and fun-loving volunteers make up the Roughrider Commission, the organizing force behind one of the largest Independence Day celebrations in the Upper Midwest. And as the handful of female commission members point out, you don’t have to be a cowboy to sign up and pitch in. Lori Vernon got involved with Roughrider Days when she worked at the Dickinson Area Chamber of Commerce. “They held their meetings in our building, so I sat in on the meetings. Eventually I became the secretary, and then I joined the commission in 1992. I’ve pretty much been the secretary ever since!” Her favorite event of Roughrider Days is the rodeo, which will be held at the new Stark County Fairgrounds for the first time in 2017. “That’s the fun part—when people come out to the rodeo, kids are having fun, and we get to visit with the rodeo crew that comes back year after year. It’s like a family reunion.” Making it Happen After volunteering for many years, Michelle Kovash became a commission member in 2005 and served as president in 2013 and 2014. “The volunteers sacrifice a lot of their time to ensure it’s always a great event. From about May through July, most of our spare time is going toward the upcoming Roughrider Days,” explains Michelle. “It’s work nights at the arena, calling sponsors, counting this, painting that, cooking meals, delivering brochures. A lot of the volunteer work happens behind the scenes before the actual event.” When circumstances like weather throw a curveball at the committee, Michelle says everyone rallies. “No one fails. We make a decision together and we go for it.” Michelle explains that nothing would happen without local sponsors. “Most of our sponsors have been here from the start back in 1970. Originally, the event was put together by local businesses as a way to keep people in town over the Fourth of July.” Bringing Talents to the Table When it comes to adding new volunteers to the commission, talents and preferences are taken into consideration. “For example, we’re not going to assign you to be doing as much with the rodeo if you’re not an animal person,” Lori explains, as Michelle points to herself with a wink and a grimace. Kim Volk has always loved the parade because it’s a free, family-friendly event. Now Kim is in her second year as the parade chairperson. The popular downtown parade requires the coordination of over 100 entries and 50 volunteer workers, including the help of city police and other officials. “Even our dog knows when it’s Roughrider Days! We’re not home much, that’s for sure,” Kim laughs. Other women of the commission bring their talents where needed. LoAnn Wegh, owner of LoAnn’s Marketing, tackles the majority of the publicity. Lisa Heiser recruits and paints the faces of all the parade clowns each year. Lori is quick to compliment the men of the commission, who bring a wealth of talent and knowledge to the group. “Our guys do more work, in less time, than anyone I know. Not just the younger ones, all of them! And when we girls have an idea, there’s no ‘no’ from them, whether it’s building me a keel boat for the parade at the last minute or painting one of the rodeo bulls pink!” A Family Affair For commission members, joining the group is a commitment for their whole family and builds a lifetime of memories. “We’ve raised our kids over here [at Roughrider Days], kept an eye on each other’s children and watched out for each other.” Lori explains, “It’s been a great way to get them involved.” Commissioner Leon Kristianson’s daughter Nicole Kilwein is now a second-generation member of the Roughrider Commission. “Every memory I have of the Fourth of July is related to Roughrider Days,” she says. “I can’t imagine it any other way, so it was pretty much a no-brainer to join the commission.” And to Lori, who recently battled cancer, the entire commission is truly a family to her. “I’m very fortunate to have those around me that I do. I have a ton of brothers and sisters who have been very supportive.” To learn more about Dickinson’s Annual Roughrider Days Fair & Expo, check out their website at roughriderdaysfair.com. Stephanie Fong Stephanie Fong lives in Dickinson. Every year, she looks forward to seeing friends and family back in town for Roughrider Days, and she especially likes attending the headliner concert and the parade.
Six Degrees of English
by Tracie Bettenhausen | Photography: Photos by Jacy There is a group of women in Bismarck, North Dakota which has been meeting regularly since 1965. Yes, you read that right. Not every single one of them has been the same in the group all that time. But some of them have been. They’re all from England. Some of them were war brides, some simply married American soldiers. And some started as single women looking for adventure. They’re called The British Club. They were, individually, modern pioneers, hoping to settle down in love and family for a new life. Mostly, they come to the group through “six degrees of English.” They used to meet in one another’s homes, but after time, decided they’d rather let somebody else do the cooking and dishes. Today, they meet in the restaurant at the Ramkota Hotel. Here is a slice of their stories. Lilian Wilson grew up on the isle of White, off the south coast of England. She moved to the United States 71 years ago. But before that, before meeting the American GI who would become her husband, she was a member of the British Air Force during World War II. She worked as a plotter, stationed in an operations bunker 60 feet below the ground, recording the flights of enemy aircraft over London and southeast England. Her base was in charge of the British fighter planes that intercepted enemy bombers. As planes were recorded by radar along the coast, each were given numbers, which were then related to the plotters, where they were recorded on a large table map. Sitting above the map, others would watch where the plotters sited planes and send fighter aircraft orders. “There is something interesting in that this operations room, 60 feet below the ground, represented a good 70-odd steps. We had no elevator. We certainly had to run up and down,” she says. “I can’t see Winston Churchill marching up and down 70 steps.” When she was married, she joined with 2,000 other war brides and sailed on a ship to the United States. The trip took 10 days and they slept in the bunks once slept on by their soldiers. Liz Brocker grew up all over the world. Her father served in the British Army, she therefore educated in British boarding schools. She met her husband, an American soldier stationed in England, in the early 1980s. They had to ask permission of both the military and the state department for the marriage to be allowed. Because of the Cold War, there was a lot of concern about foreign wives, even of allied countries because it was suspected the marriage was only to get a green card. At Liz’s bachelorette party, her friends didn’t even have a drink. “There was nothing to celebrate. ‘You can do better than marrying an American,’ they said. I had the last laugh. They’re all divorced; I’m still married.” The couple moved to the Air Force Base in Grand Forks, North Dakota, for what Liz assumed would be a temporary stay. “I married a military man. I never expected to spend my entire life stuck at one base,” she says. “I didn’t know I’d be in America forever, but I knew I’d be with my husband.” Her husband eventually took a job with the Bismarck Police Department. “I was shopping in the mall, and one of my kids said, ‘Mom, I just heard another English lady,'” she says. “It turned out that her husband worked with my husband at the police department. And for months, others were telling each of them, ‘You should let your wife know that there’s another English wife in the department. So I met Ally, and Ally knew Sally, because Sally is a realtor and one of the police department moms was a realtor, and it all kind of turned out to be ‘six degrees of English.'” Anne Reynolds started her life as an American working as a nanny for a prima ballerina in the New York City Ballet. Her dream was to be a flight attendant, and in those days, flight attendants had to prove they could be away from home for a stretch. She met an English man, who knew a man who was originally from Mandan. They decided Bismarck-Mandan would be a good place to raise a family because of the wide open spaces and good school system. Their children, raised with two British parents, began to lose their accents when they started school, partly through a natural progression, and partly because they didn’t want to stand out. Anne was still a toddler when World War II came to an end. Her family lived in Kent, which was an area heavily damaged by German doodlebugs, or flying bombs. “My mom always said as long as you could hear the doodlebug, you were okay. But when its engine stopped, you had to run,” Anne says. “Once my family heard the doodlebug near our home. The engine stopped, and my mom grabbed me out of my pram and ran. When the bomb hit, it demolished the side of the house where my pram was. I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t heard it.” Hilda Michaelis came to Canada first with friends about 60 years ago. They had trained in England as nurses, and crossed the ocean for “a couple of years, just to see the place, really. See what was going on and what the people were like. None of us were married. We really had fun,” she says. Hilda met a British man, they married and eventually moved to the United States. She learned about the ladies group through her daughter, who works at Bismarck High School, where she and another “British daughter” got to talking and realized their mothers would like to meet. Sally Zimny and friends answered an advertisement for legal secretarial work in the United States. Forty-two years ago, they hopped a plane, airfare paid for by the hiring company. “If you break your (six month) contract, you’d have to pay them back,” she says. There was a shortage of secretaries and nurses in the United States. The friends flew into Chicago, where they’d be staying in apartments with other English women, mostly all nurses and secretaries. “When you get off the plane I just remember walking out of the airport and seeing these huge cars. I mean, they were 1976 cars, they were 30 feet long,” she says. “When my sister came over from London, and they had American cars in England at that time, she said, ‘You know, American cars aren’t as big here as they are in England.’ In England, they must look ginormous, and here they just fit in.” Bev Keesey was born in India, her father a soldier in the British Army. Bev had been trained as a midwife in England. “I wanted to go somewhere foreign like Thailand where the language and nursing diseases would be different. My friend wanted to go to America, and she won on the condition she would go to the country of my choosing afterwards,” Bev says. “That never happened. We arrived in Chicago, worked for six months, then bought a car. We traveled Route 66 until we ran out of money; that was in San Francisco. We had seen a hospital on the way to San Francisco in San Jose. We went back and said, ‘We’re here, can you use us?’ And they said, ‘Oh yes!'” That’s where Bev and her friends were introduced to American GIs, one who ended up being her husband. Bev says even though she spoke English, the way Americans use their words is quite different. “I remember having a boyfriend, and we had a day off, and he said he would take us to the science museum. And I said, ‘Okay, knock us up at 10.’ And he looked, and said, ‘I beg your pardon?'” she laughs. “And I remember Marjorie, in the middle of the cafeteria, saying ‘I’m going to go powder my puss.’ And everybody went silent. People were shocked, because, well, you know (she motions powdering her nose). Little things that you learn very quickly not to say ever again.” Ann Miller was one of the first members of The British Club. She says it started out as an official club of the Transatlantic Brides and Parents Association. Funds derived through membership paid for things like flowers delivered to members as congratulations or get well bouquets. Ann came to America in 1962 as a nanny for a family who had adopted children in Minneapolis. After a year, she went back to England. When the family had a third child 18 months later, she came back. “That’s when I met my husband. Toward the end of my time with the family, I had bought a ticket back to England. My husband was from Mandan, and he wanted to get married,” Ann says. “I told him to see if the travel agency would refund my money. They did, and I stayed.” She says The British Club was a lifeline. “We were living in a basement apartment,” Ann says. “The club gave me the choice between a baby shower, a playpen, or a stroller. I chose the stroller, and it was my ticket out of the apartment and being able to walk around.” Marie Elhard is another of the founding members of this group. Back in 1965, there were about 20 women who’d meet, dwindling over time to about eight to 10 women. They meet once a month, except for in the early years when they’d take summers off. Marie’s memories of England are tied directly to the war and bombing. She grew up in Liverpool. “I never liked where I lived, never. It was always ugly and buildings were bombed, and I hated where I lived,” she says. “The war started over there in ’39 and they started to bomb in ’40, and our house was bombed to the ground. And we had to be on people’s floors for quite some time, and then we got another place.” Her friends try to bring up the bright point. “But that’s where the Beatles are from!” one says. “Yes, but Liverpool was a town where they did the boat building, and where they had freighters,” Marie replies. “They didn’t announce how much we had been bombed because they didn’t want the enemy to have that information.” Lilian chimes in. “Where I lived, everyone was given a metal table so everyone could crawl under it if you were bombed. We were also given a gas mask as soon as the war began. Everybody got these boxes containing gas masks. You had to try it on and make sure you could breathe properly in it,” she says. “We also had a bayonet on the end of a stick, which was given to my mother because my father had died some years before. She was frightened to death of this bayonet and she hid it behind a door.” The women meet to talk about their lives in America today, and to reminisce over what they miss from home. But, especially for those whose life experience hold wartime, and for those whose trips to America were linked to the soldiers they fell in love with, World War II holds an intense set of memories. They meet to connect. “After 30-some years of being in America, I still think in English,” says Liz. “My idioms, my phraseology, my base reference point culturally is English. So is theirs. You don’t have to [translate phrases in your mind]. You can just talk.” To see more pictures taken by Photos by Jacy, click here. And to hear from some of the ladies, click here to see exclusive video. Tracie Bettenhausen Tracie Bettenhausen is a senior staff writer/editor at Basin Electric. She gives a warm home and regular meals to two once-foster, now-adopted kitties, Basil and Sweet Pea. She is a meditation wannabe who spends too much time on Twitter.
Gigi Wilz: Demonstrating Freedom, from North Dakota to NATO
by Jody Kerzman | Submitted Photos Two years into her job as commander of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovinia, Brigadier General Giselle “Gigi” Wilz still pinches herself to make sure she’s not dreaming. “I don’t know that I dreamed I’d be a general or commanding in Europe,” Gigi says. “My dad always knew though. He always said I was destined for great things, even when I didn’t realize it. I always just took things one day at a time but also was always looking for the next opportunity.” In 2015, the next opportunity was a big one: Gigi became the North Dakota Army National Guard’s first female general. Seven years earlier, she had also become the Guard’s first female colonel. “The special thing about being promoted to colonel was that my dad promoted me,” says Gigi. “He retired as a colonel, after being in the Guard for 38 years. He passed away right after I became colonel in 2008, so he never got to see me be promoted to brigadier general.” a woman in command Gigi grew up in Richardton, North Dakota, the fourth of six children. Her dad, Charles Wilz, and three of her brothers also served in the Army Guard. They all had a huge impact on Gigi’s career path. “I have three older brothers, a younger brother, and a younger sister. My family will tell you, that by the time I was 10 years old, I had my little sister and two girl cousins her same age marching around like they were in the military, and at that time I also had two older brothers in the National Guard too. It fascinated me. I remember when I was 16 years old I asked my dad how old I had to be to join. He told me I had to be 17. So a week after I turned 17, I joined the Guard.” Gigi enlisted with the 191st Military Police Company in Mandan. She was a part-time soldier while she finished high school and college, but after college she started working for the Guard full time. She earned her commission as a second lieutenant in 1986, served in the Gulf War, and held various leadership roles, including Chief of Staff of the North Dakota Army Guard. When she was promoted to brigadier general in 2015, Gigi was assigned a one year tour in Bosnia and Herzegovina to primarily work with local authorities on defense and security sector reform and command NATO forces operating in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is the first female commander within the NATO alliance. “When this came up, I have to admit, I was a little scared. But I got to bring an incredible team with me, a team I got to pick myself so I knew I had great people working for me,” she says. “I was the first female assigned to command a position within NATO structure. NATO is huge. It’s made up of 29 nations so being the first female in this position is mind boggling. I’ve been treated exceptionally well, with great respect. Since the war during the 90s, there have been 20 NATO commanders here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Initially I was this shiny new trophy. Everyone had to meet me to make sure it was true, that I was really a woman. They are used to seeing women in civilian roles, not in uniform.” Gigi points out Bosnia and Herzegovina’s minister of defense is a female and she says there are a lot of young female officers from other nations that come through her office. “These young women just look at me and ask, ‘How did you do it?’ Most of them have never met a female general before. It’s an opportunity for me to talk to them, to mentor them and quite honestly learn from them.” SPECIAL & SURREAL EXPERIENCES A year after her arrival in the Balkans, when many of her team members went home, Gigi agreed to stay for another year. She’s forever grateful she did, because in the second year of her deployment, she experienced another first. For the first time in her career, she had a female boss as the Joint Forces Commander in Naples. “Admiral Michelle Howard was vice chief of Naval Operations for the Navy before she took the command job here. She is the commander of U.S. Naval forces in Europe and Africa. She is an incredible boss. I’ve never worked for a female before. She mentors all the time and has an incredible leadership style. Her leadership style is very empowering. Having such a great boss has had a huge impact on me. In addition to her being my boss, I have had the great opportunity to do a couple gender-related events with her. Most militaries aren’t like the United States military and don’t offer women the same opportunities. Most countries have still not fully integrated women into their militaries, especially not at senior levels. I’ve done more than a dozen security and gender events all over the Balkans and Europe. We talk about the length of time it takes to gain experience, achieve rank as a female, the different opportunities available and how important women are to peace and security operations around the world.” Gigi says although she’s been deployed before, this deployment was different. Her day-to-day duties centered around defense and security reform at the very strategic level; in many ways, she wore a diplomat hat, more often than her military hat. “I met with the minister of defense every couple of weeks and her chief of defense. I spent time with the members of the presidency, the minister of security, the ambassadors from other nations that are assigned here,” she explains. “I had the opportunity to meet the secretary of the Navy early in my deployment and I was invited to dinner with the secretary and the three members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency. That night, the secretary became ill and wasn’t able to join us for dinner. The U.S. ambassador rearranged the seating arrangement at the last minute and I was told, ‘General Wilz, you’ll be sitting across from the chair of the presidency.’ That was my initiation into the diplomatic scene. I was sitting there thinking, ‘I’m just a small town girl from North Dakota in a strange country having dinner with the president of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What have I gotten myself into?’ “I had experiences like that every week. Once I was talking to former President Clinton at an event and was interrupted to meet the president of Slovenia. I can’t make this stuff up. I questioned what I was doing there several times!” BACK IN THE LAND OF THE FREE After two years in Bosnia, General Wilz is now back home in North Dakota. “It is bittersweet. I made some incredible friends there and being involved in the political and military landscape really felt like I was making a difference. We’re not done there yet. But my time is done. At least for now.” Gigi will take 45 days off, and then wait to see if she gets another assignment. If the Guard doesn’t reassign her she says she’ll think about retiring. “I turned 50 during this deployment so retirement is an option, but I’m not sure I’m ready. For one thing, I’d have to pick out what to wear everyday! Wearing a uniform is easier than choosing outfits,” she says with a laugh. “I might have to learn to drive again. I had a driver and a security team everywhere I went in the Region. The food in Bosnia was incredible, not as incredible as the people though. They are open, friendly, and kind. But the food was amazing too. Still, I missed a good hamburger straight off the grill. The beef is a little different there. And more than anything, I’ve missed my family. I made good friends over the past two years, but there’s something about coming home that allows you to just be you, be who you are outside of the uniform. Over there, I was always Ma’am or General. I am ready to have the freedom to just be Gigi.” Freedom is not something Gigi takes lightly. In fact, it’s what has kept her going year after year, deployment after deployment. “The idea that I was part of something that is bigger than me. The United States has been a part of nation building time and time again. We did it after World War II, after the fall of the wall, and it’s what we’re doing in the Balkans. We are demonstrating the freedom that we enjoy in America.”
By Noreen Keesey I come from a family of quiet patriots. We do not fly flags outside of our homes or throw big celebrations on the Fourth of July. We do believe in defending freedom and serving our country. My father served in the Navy and retired from the Air Force. He was, as far as we know, a third generation military man. His father and grandfather both served in the Navy. My mother’s father, maternal grandfather, and three uncles all served in the British Imperial Army. Mom’s dad was killed in action when she was just four years old. When my dad was six, he lived in Honolulu, Hawaii. My grandfather was stationed on the U.S.S. San Francisco which, in December of 1941, was in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for cleaning and overhaul. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, sparking the entry of the United States into World War II. Many times over the years, we heard about Dad’s vague memories of that day and he was quite proud of Grandpa’s service on the U.S.S. San Francisco. Dad was a reluctant traveller but had an avid interest in history; he always said that one day he would like to visit the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument to pay his respects to those who served and lost their lives that Bev and Phil Keesey day. A few years ago, my parents were considering a trip in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. There was one clear desired destination: Hawaii. The problem turned out to be that my parents wanted to celebrate with family and it was not possible for us all to travel at that time. Instead of an anniversary trip, there was a small celebration with friends and family. Years passed, quickly as they do, and soon my mother was celebrating a big birthday. (She would not be pleased if I mentioned which one.) My father was, using his own description, old. Both being in good health and getting around well, I knew we needed to plan a family trip before travel got difficult for them. On April 21, 2017, my parents, my children, and I boarded a plane bound for Oahu where we would meet up with my sister. We had no definitive plans for what we were going to do, with one exception: we were going to visit the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. The U.S.S. Arizona was sunk in the harbor and serves as a gravesite for Sailors who were unable to escape the battleship. A sign of the bonds that form during military service is the fact that there are burials conducted at the memorial for service members who wish to be laid to rest with their shipmates. The memorial is a solemn, beautiful place to honor those who were killed in service to our country. That day, spent in learning and reverence, was the highlight of Dad’s trip to Hawaii. Two weeks after returning from vacation, my dad died. It was quick and quite unexpected, leaving my family in shock and grief. A small comfort is that we were able to share such a meaningful experience with him before he left us. So shortly after paying his respects to the fallen at Pearl Harbor, family and friends paid their respects to him as he received military funeral honors at the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetery. A week after Dad’s passing, mom found a poem that he had written for his funeral. The final words were “Celebrate life and be happy.” We will, Dad. We were taught well. Noreen Keesey Noreen is a leadership coach and trainer who also served in the North Dakota National Guard. She shares her father’s love of reading and learning and celebrates life through travel, time with friends, and unapologetic laughter.
Look What She Did: Pat Vannett
In 2003, Pan Vannett of Mandan, North Dakota joined the International Association of Lions Club through a local Mandan Lions Club. Now she’s making history as her district’s first female candidate for International Director of the association. Pat’s multiple district includes North and South Dakota and Saskatchewan. Pat will travel to Chicago for the election at the Lions Clubs International Convention. The association has 1.4 million members from over 200 countries. Only 34 members from around the world are selected for the board. “Each local Lions Club is dedicated to serving our communities and the world through our humanitarian service,” says Pat. One of the most well known services of the Lions Club is the collection of used eyeglasses, which started in 1925 when Helen Keller asked the organization to be knights for the blind. “We collect and sort old eyeglasses, read the prescriptions and then redistribute them.” Upon election, Pat will serve a two year term on the board, which includes serving on committees and visiting and speaking to Lions across North America. It is a volunteer position. “It’s not always about how much money you can make in this world but more about what kind of a difference you can make. Since this position provides me with an opportunity to make a difference in the world, I am happy to do it.”
Look What She Did: Sue Balcom
“These kids nowadays.” That’s a phrase author Sue Balcom heard over and over as she gathered interviews for her latest book, “Women Behind the Plow.” The book, published by the Tri-County Tourism Alliance, honors the unrecognized contribution of women who grew up or lived on farms in Logan, McIntosh, and Emmons counties. “They didn’t get any recognition at the time. I found a photo that had ‘Mr. and Mrs. John Dockter’ on the back of it and I thought what a shame that the woman’s name wasn’t even written on the back of a photo. This book is a way to showcase and recognize some of those women.” The women in the book are now in their 80s and late 90s, but they remember their days on the farm like they were yesterday. “Most of them were just tickled pink to tell their stories,” Sue says. “If we don’t write these stories down, they will be lost forever. This is the last generation that lived without electricity. Their stories are fabulous. Their days were long and they all speak so fondly of life on the farm and of having 15 brothers and sisters. Things will never be that way again. This book gives us a window into what life used to be like.” “Women Behind the Plow” can be purchased at the North Dakota Heritage Center, the Germans from Russia library at NDSU, and online at dakotabooknet.com. There is a companion photo exhibit at the North Dakota Heritage Center though the end of July.