Wellesley '67 President’s Letter
December 21, 2023
The Winter Solstice
Last year I wrote to you in December, and talked about shortening days, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the overload of the holiday season. This was my first end-of-year letter to you as your new class president and I think I shared these concerns with you as a way for you to know me better, and also because some of you may find the holidays fraught as well.
This year is very different. The horrific October 7 attack by Hamas on Israeli citizens was shocking, and from its onset, I believe, it clearly mattered that we pay attention to this region in a way we might not have before. I spent the aftermath of that day reading and listening to the news, following the work of President Biden as he and his very capable staff navigated a response. I was proud of his decision to offer his condolences to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in person right after the attack and his message of restraint. Biden understood, of course, that there would be a military response.
By now, the war between Hamas and Israel has unfolded in terrible ways. There is so much suffering without a clear end point in sight. The loss of civilian life, particularly that of children, is overwhelming. And meanwhile there is also a wide range of response in our country, reflected in often dramatic ways on college campuses. Antisemitic acts have skyrocketed and Islamophobia is also on the rise.
You may well be struggling with the same question that I have. Is there something we can do?
Soon after October 7, a classmate forwarded to a group of us a text message her son had sent to his contact list. “Reach out,” he told us. “Your Jewish friends are hurting and they need to hear from you.” He was right. I began reaching out more deliberately and people were so anxious to talk, to cry, to mourn. And they still are. Yesterday a friend and I were having coffee. She is one of the first people I reached out to. She said to me, “I’ve always been Jewish. But now I feel like I’m a Jew and that means something different.”
Beyond reaching out and listening, we can try to become better informed. Some current college students have been accused of taking sides without really understanding the full history of the Middle East conflict, but why would they know? Most of us weren’t taught any of this history in school and I wonder if any of it is routinely covered now. A few years ago, my local League of Women Voters book club read The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan, which tells the story of Israel and Palestine since 1948, giving crucial information about all of the region’s inhabitants. Even watching the film Exodus, or re-reading the Leon Uris book by the same title, could give something of a refresher course about the formation of Israel.
We can pay attention to what is happening at Wellesley and see if we can be supportive there. I’ve been extremely impressed by President Paula Johnson’s update letters which show both moral and intellectual clarity. In her December 16 letter she explains why the Wellesley administration and Board of Trustees will not make a statement that “criticism of the state of Israel and of Zionism is not an expression of antisemitism” as some faculty had requested. The final paragraph of her letter is succinct and powerful:
We recognize that this is a very difficult time in the world and we are all deeply pained by the loss of innocent civilian lives in Gaza and Israel. But at times like this it is even more important that we strive to build an inclusive community that values free expression and recognizes the inherent dignity of different lived experiences.
Finally, if we wish, we can share financial resources dedicated to bringing students together to do the kind of listening and talking that President Johnson believes is of such value to Wellesley students. While I sent a gift earmarked for Hillel, sending a gift designated for interfaith work or other kinds of student gatherings like workshops and retreats is also possible.
I hope you find sources of joy in this holiday season, and at this dark time, both literally and for so many living in Israel and Palestine right now. I think sometimes we feel guilty about enjoying the bounty of our own lives when we know there is much suffering elsewhere. I believe that we need to sustain ourselves, which better equips us to be helpful in sustaining others.
A quick reminder that our next Sunshine conversation is February 1, 2024 5:00 p.m. EST and you can find terrific past conversations at our class website at https://alum.wellesley.edu/class-of-1967. Click on Events/Mini-Reunions and then Past to see the links.
Wellesley ’67 President’s Letter
August 6, 2023
Summer is still alive and well in the Midwest, and yet students all over the country are heading back to school. No more, “first day after Labor Day” as the start of the new school year for many of the country’s students. As a teacher myself for many years, I heard the adage “the three best things about teaching are June, July, and August” and I did enjoy these months, although I spent a fair amount of time preparing for the coming school year. I assume I would have adjusted to an August start to school, but I admit to being glad I never had to make that adjustment.
Before I leave the subject of summer, I want to commiserate with those of you who have had serious weather crises recently, and I know it’s a lot of you. And it’s happening all over the world. Meteorologists are being straightforward about the impact of climate change and I know there’s a huge amount of worry. Moving beyond worry to action is clearly something we need to take on and I know a lot of us have begun doing more than we have done in the past, but it seems the need to do a lot more is upon us. Let me know if you think this is a subject we should take on in more depth in class discussions.
On a purely positive note, memories of our class trip to Washington, DC in May are still with me. Before I go any further, let me thank the local planning committee:
Leesa Heydenreich Campbell (Chair)
Gretchen Smith Bolton (Treasurer)
Betsy Osborne Bond
Erry Johnson (an honorary local
Pamela Hyde Smith
Rhoda Morss Trooboff
Ann Armstrong VanDusen
Judy Kohn Cohen (Communciations)
Dorothy Furber Byers (Web Administrator)
Over forty of us showed up with enthusiasm and excitement, and we were never disappointed. Of course the company was grand! That was never in doubt. And the team of planners—and don’t forget they started planning this trip pre-COVID—had very high standards.
They expected us to have a wide range of interests and wanted us to know the city they all love. I spend a lot of time in DC since my daughter and her family live there but on this trip I went places I had not visited before. (In fairness to the realities of my DC experiences, I spend a lot of time at soccer games, often in Virginia or Maryland!)
- Many of us stayed in the Cosmos Club, and it was absolutely delightful! The pictures that adorn the walls indicate the important Washingtonians who are and have been members and I’m sure we all felt very lucky to be in such company as we walked by the gallery of famous folks.
- Pamela Hyde Smith welcomed us to Washington with a lovely gathering in her home; then the following day she guided us in a museum which she knows extraordinarily well—the National Museum of Asian Art, which is part of the Smithsonian. The museum comprises works from cultures stretching from the Middle East to Japan and reaching 4,000 years back in time.
- That same day we had a self-guided visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and even for those of us who have visited before, it was a powerful experience.
- Our Tuesday night dinner at Zaytinya, part of the ThinkFoodGroup created by Chef Jose Andres, was festive and delicious! It was followed by a lovely bus tour of the National Mall by night.
- Wednesday we toured Hillwood Estate in the morning and marveled at the home and collections of Marjorie Merriweather Post, internationally known businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and collector. The afternoon was a tour of the Washington National Cathedral where we learned about the gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and Bethlehem organ in the crypt.
- Thursday we toured the Glenstone Museum, a new contemporary art museum in Potomac, Maryland, which comprises both buildings and extensive grounds with art installations. The museum was founded by Mitchell Rales and curated by his wife, Wellesley alumna Emily Wei Rales, ’98.
- Our Thursday day evening banquet was held in the Cosmos club and was delicious, and extremely informative because we heard a presentation by Betsy Griffith, ’69, on her book Formidable: American Women and the Fight for Equality: 1920-2020. She had a lot of ground to cover and she did it superbly!
And while I’m on the subject, Erry let me know recently that there is a great opportunity to get the kindle version of this book for a special price during August. See the information below:
Here's the Amazon kindle link: https://www.amazon.com/Formidable-American-Women-Equality-1920-2020-ebook/dp/B09JPJC33W/ref=sr_1_1?crid=7O1FIFCVMTFW&keywords=formidable+american+women+and+the+fight+for+equality+1920-2020&qid=1691175704&sprefix=Formidable%3A+Wo%2Caps%2C84&sr=8-1
I also want to share some additional information from the Planning Committee which might be useful to you if you are contemplating a trip to DC:
Additional Places to Explore – If You Have Extra Time in DC
Near the Cosmos Club:
Phillips Collection https://www.phillipscollection.org/
The National Geographic Museum https://www.nationalgeographic.org/society/visit-our-museum
Anderson House https://www.societyofthecincinnati.org/
Heurich House Museum http://heurichhouse.org/
On a nice day, stroll along Embassy Row up to the British Embassy.
On the Mall, within minutes of the Museum of African American History and Culture:
The National Museum of American History https://americanhistory.si.edu/
The National Holocaust Memorial Museum https://www.ushmm.org/
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (don’t miss the Mark Bradford!)
Close to the White House:
The Renwick Gallery https://americanart.si.edu/
Planet Word Museum (new in 2020) https://planetwordmuseum.org/
Between the White House and the Capitol:
The National Building Museum https://www.nbm.org/
Georgetown: Oak Hill Cemetery https://www.oakhillcemeterydc.org/
Dumbarton Oaks Museum and Gardens https://www.doaks.org/
Arlington: Military Women's Memorial at the ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery https://womensmemorial.org/
And lots more…
DC Reading List
- Wellesley Alum and DC Historian Jane Freundel Levey (’75), and her husband, DC journalist Bob Levey, have written many articles chronicling aspects of local DC history. Together they published Washington Album: A Pictorial History of the Nation's Capital. 2000. It’s no longer in print but is available online https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/1930691009.
- Estella M. Chung, Director of Collections, Hillwood Estate: Marjorie Merriweather Post: The Life Behind the Luxury. 2019
- Cokie Roberts: Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848–1868. HarperCollins. 2015.
Fiction (from Washington Wellesley Club’s Literary Circle reading list):
- Henry Adams. Democracy
- Dinaw Mengistu. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
- George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo
Also, here is a list of recommended restaurants:
Dinner on Your Own – Some Possibilities Near the Cosmos Club
- Tatte Bakery & Café – 2 locations:
- 1200 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
- 1301 Connecticut Avenue, NW
- La Tomate – 1701 Connecticut Avenue, NW
- Annabelle – 2132 Florida Avenue, NW
- Pizzeria Paradiso – 2003 P Street, NW
- Sura (Thai) – 2016 P Street, NW
- Lebanese Taverna – 2641 Connecticut Avenue, NW – Uber or Red Line metro
- Sababa – 3311 Connecticut Avenue, NW (Israeli but not kosher) – Uber or Red Line metro
- Bistrot du Coin – 1738 Connecticut Avenue, NW – just north of Dupont Circle
- Rumi’s Kitchen – 640 L Street, NW
- Rasika West End – 1190 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
- Cosmos Club itself – the most convenient!
I ate at Rasika and it was fabulous!
Two more matters: First a thank you to Class Fund Representative, Vivian Witkind Davis, for reminding us to support Wellesley before the end of its fiscal year. Her letters to us reflected both her comfortable way with words (both of her books are fantastic, incidentally) and her commitment to Wellesley.
Finally, I want add one more personal note which is to say how much I enjoyed being Grace Pachman Allison’s interviewer at our most recent Sunshine Conversation. She and I had an initial conversation/practice session at the Cosmos Club and then talked a couple more times, including as we worked with Judy Cohen to do final preparation for the actual Sunshine conversation. All of the conversations over the past few years have been absolutely terrific and I want to be sure both subjects and interviewers know how much we appreciate the time that goes into planning these presentations.
I always love hearing from you!
Wellesley ’67 President’s Letter
May 1, 2023
At our last Sunshine conversation reference was made to the arrival of spring, and, as I recall, I mentioned that we had NOT yet seen much spring in the Chicago area. But even though I am still sometimes wearing my winter jacket to walk the dog (with gloves and hat in pockets just in case) I am walking amidst tulips, daffodils, flowering trees, and the surest sign of spring in my community of Lake Forest, the return of the lawn service trucks.
You may recall that in my winter letter to you, I noted the challenge of shortening days. But I sit here now at 7:20 P.M. and there is pink in the western sky, which I can see clearly through the still-mostly-leafless trees in our woods. And of course, this means days getting longer, which is wonderful for those of us who crave outside time as crucial to our survival. Let me add a book recommendation to this comment. Several years ago, I read The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative and I loved it. The author, Florence Williams, a contributing editor to Outside magazine, makes a strong case, with data, on how being outside greatly improves the quality of our lives.
I’m going to do a brief pivot here and talk for a minute about survival and quality of life of another sort. On November 11 of 2022, I became an independent candidate for mayor of Lake Forest. Some of you know that I have long been active in my community, serving on the Cemetery Commission for 6 years, as alderman for 6 years, and for many years being active in leadership for public-private partnerships. While I have served in a number of non-profit roles during my adult life, recently much of my service has been focused in my community.
For 88 years, we have had a Caucus system in Lake Forest. It was created in part, I think, so that a very Republican community could have a nonpartisan group to recommend city government officials for election, and for appointment to boards and commissions. The system has worked pretty well, I think, occasionally challenged by independent candidates, but mostly doing a solid job, particularly of regularly vetting @150 candidates for positions on Lake Forest boards and commissions.
But in November 2022, things sort of fell apart. The Caucus by-laws require that the Caucus Committee (43 members, including 9 from each of 4 wards and 7 officers) must create a slate to propose for a spring municipal election. The Caucus bylaws state that the slate must be ratified by Caucus members (all Lake Forest residents who are registered to vote). That ratification vote was called for November 9 but it was clear to many of us that not very many people in Lake Forest even know they are members of the Caucus. Usually fewer than 100 people show up for this vote. On November 9, 510 people showed up and 2/3 of them did not approve of the proposed candidate for mayor, although the other candidates were all approved.
This was unprecedented. The bylaws were not clear on what should happen if the proposed slate was not ratified, so the Caucus leadership decided to just double down on their originally proposed candidate for mayor. While the Caucus Committee (that 43 member group, or at least the 7 members in leadership) claimed to have a legal opinion which said they could do whatever they wanted, although later, when challenged, this turned out to be untrue. There was no formal legal opinion. So the doubling down continued.
Meanwhile, I was asked by many people to consider a mayoral run as an independent, opposing the Caucus sponsored candidate. I had been a Caucus finalist for mayor (actually, a finalist for the second time). My husband Frank and I talked it over and decided that we would undertake this run. We have financially supported organizations focused on ensuring democracy in the US for some time. We had not expected to bring this concern to bear in our home community but when the opportunity arose, we took it on.
So, from November 11 (when I said yes to a run) until April 4, we reshaped our lives around a run for office. When I was a candidate for alderman, there had never been an opponent. Now, I was the opponent. We hired some seasoned staff, including an election lawyer and a media consultant, and said a full throated “thank-you” to all the volunteer support that mobilized. People we hadn’t met circulated my petitions, and more recently that was also true of homes sporting PrueforLakeForest yard signs.
Let me jump to April 4. I did not win the election, but I made a solid showing of 40+ %. The Caucus has had such a lock on elections for so long, that this was a pretty startling result. What actually happened during the campaign was conversations with many voters, affirming that they liked being able to weigh in on local issues with both candidates and each other. Over and over, I heard, from both new residents (1500 homes were sold during COVID) and long- time residents like Frank and me, the same thing: We love living in Lake Forest but we think there are things we can do better. This was simply not a common conversation because elections for mayor virtually never include more than one candidate.
Am I disappointed by the result? I have to say yes because I saw so much opportunity for greater community engagement, and real urgency around the need for more transparency in almost all government work. At the same time, I think we moved the needle on the benefits of questioning some of our city practices and urgency around public discussions about what we can do better.
I met wonderful people during the campaign, deepened some existing relationships, and felt that I was doing work of real consequence. At the same time, the opposition did and said some pretty awful things, and it took me a while to accept that this was how they were going to conduct their campaign. (I use the word their because the Caucus and the candidate, Randy Tack, became pretty interchangeable.) While I was complimented regularly for “bravery in standing up for what was right” and for “keeping to the high road” I was stunned by much of the negativity that was directed my way. One friend said her mother told her “Always take the high road, it’s so much less crowded.” But when I told this story to another friend he said, “Yes, but don’t get a flat tire there—there’s no one to help you change it.”
Frank and I have no regrets about undertaking this campaign. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was purposeful, and very interesting, work. But it was work. I always felt if I had a few minutes to spare, I should be catching up on thank you notes, or standing outside our local grocery store meeting people, or ringing doorbells or…. But it was always more exhilarating than it was exhausting and, candidly, a source of real pride.
What happens next? When I got a call recently from the guy in our City’s Community Development Department about whether he should return yard signs to us, or recycle them, I was quick to say “recycle.” Frank and I agreed that we could do this intensively for 5-6 months, but that was enough. What we will do going forward is urge choice in future campaigns and encourage/support candidates. I can’t fully predict what future elections will be like, but I can say that I don’t think we will go back to “business as usual.” I sure hope not.
And I get my life back. My role as your class president was never in doubt. I want to be sure you know that. I had committed to our extraordinary class leadership team that serving as class president is a high priority. I look forward to next week’s gathering in Washington, and other occasions on Zoom and in person.
And I have to admit to being hopeful about trying some new things as well. Should we think about creating our own class book club on Zoom at which we discuss the book together in real time? Should we do something cooking/food related? And what about other interest group gatherings?! I anticipate that after next week’s mini-reunion multiple ideas will bubble up and we’ll run those by you and see what sounds good.
Meanwhile, happy spring! And thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your president.
It seems unlikely that I am the only ’67 classmate who has mixed feelings about this holiday period. I certainly love the gathering aspects, especially with family and friends I haven’t seen for awhile. Once Thanksgiving is over and the holiday season moves into full swing, I know that I will overextend, get too little sleep, become anxious about what I had hoped to do and might not be able to get done. I try to take time to relax, walk, breathe, read, but sometimes those things seem less important than the list I have created. If there are expectations about what I will be doing at Christmas, it’s because I put those expectations in motion years and years ago.
An example: Decades ago, a Wellesley Magazine had an article about homemade gingerbread houses. A friend used the recipe and plans from the article and thought they were excellent, so I tried one. When it turned out well, though taking a lot of effort, a homemade gingerbread house became a Christmas tradition. It wasn’t essential, of course, but at some level it seemed so to me. On at least one occasion, exasperated by all I had to do, I said “And we haven’t even done the G**D*** gingerbread house yet.” It isn’t that my kids never heard me swear, but to swear about a gingerbread house seemed to be a new low.
There is often joy in this period, but it is never free standing. That’s probably true with most things in life, certainly when talking about a period that extends for at least a month or so. The to-do list is always nearby, and the laundry and grocery shopping, and cooking still need to be done as well.
But it turns out that something else is definitely at play, and I was deep into adulthood before I realized it. I am impacted by the darkness of this time.
I can’t remember when we learned that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing, and often needs real treatment. In my case, this low-spirits-as-the-days-get-shorter experience seems so slow moving that it creeps up on me. And, for years, I just assumed it related to my often overfull plate.
In fact, humans have been finding ways to deal with the impending Winter Solstice “from the very beginning” as Susan Cooper says in a postscript to the extraordinary picture book she wrote in 2020 and which is illustrated by Carson Ellis. Even if you don’t have a lapsitter with whom to share this book, I cannot recommend it highly enough just to read on your own or to an adult you love. It’s beautiful in every regard. You may know Susan Cooper’s work with the Christmas Revels (www.revels.org) which some of you have been fortunate enough to experience in person, I’m sure. I started loving the Christmas Revels with a cassette tape, and now well worn CDs.
The Shortest Day, by Susan Cooper
And so the shortest day came, and the year died.
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing, behind us—listen!
All the long echoes sing the same delight
This shortest day
As promise wakens in the sleeping land.
They carol, feast, give thanks.
And dearly love their friends, and hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
I’ll share one more poem with you, one I wrote years and years ago when I was fully grown up and just beginning to understand what the darker days meant to me.
Waiting for the Solstice: Winter. December 20, 2004
That some year
Will just keep
I’m a teacher,
For God’s sake.
I know about
The earth’s rotation
And tilting on its axis,
There it is.
The days have definitely
Been getting shorter.
We watch it happen.
A sunset now
Is the afternoon’s
Too early for a glass of wine,
When the summer solstice comes
I may note it
No big deal.
I need the days to start getting longer
It feels visceral,
Like needing food, or sleep.
And I think they will.
If there was any
That this wouldn’t happen,
I am confident the news
Would be covered
In The New York Times
Or on NPR.
It’s only one more day—
I think I can make it.
One more day.
I remember when I read this poem to my then-therapist (the grief specialist I began seeing after my sister was killed in 1999) he laughed, and nodded affirmation. Good traits in a therapist.
To you all, I wish happy holidays doing whatever makes you most joyful. And when joy seems unavailable, I wish you quiet, peace, books, and the ability to ask for help when you need it. We all need it sometimes.
Dear Sunshine Classmates,
My message here will be brief and focused on the single theme of gratitude.
Profound thanks to the class leaders who took us from our 50th Reunion to the 55th! In no other five year span, I believe, did so much change in our lives. The pandemic took all of our lives in unexpected directions, and required some serious pivoting in terms of how we gathered as a class. And our officers figured it all out!
Thanks, too, to the indomitable Reunion team who didn’t really know until a bit before the Reunion that we would gather in person. And how wonderful it was to be able to do so! The 55th Reunion book, Shining On, is an extraordinary report on our lives, and has a place of prominence now on my desk. The event itself was filled with stories, laughter, tears, music—wonderful music!—and farewells to classmates we have lost. And real hugs!
Finally, thank you for giving me the privilege of serving as your president for the next five years, and to the team who is joining me.
By my next letter, I hope to have some detail about what will be happening as the fall unfolds. Please feel free to reach out to me on any subject!
Prue Richardson Beidler