June 12, 1925 – March 24, 2015
Listen to Betty’s First Encounters with the Institute
Joe and I were saddened today to learn of Betty’s passing earlier this week. Without having had much communication with her over the past few years, we have, and will continue to sense her presence and legacy each time we lay eyes on the blue cover of The Circle of Life book she so lovingly inspired and implemented. We have another Blue Book in our files that she may also have had a hand in shaping – the early promotional piece on the Global Band of Social Demonstration Projects, lo so many years ago.
Betty’s power was quiet and gentle, yet palpable. She was the first “keeper of archives,” painstakingly documenting the words of JWM, the breakthroughs in colleague exchanges at the 5 AM “Cubby Meetings,” and especially recording the last Centrum priors meetings with Joe in 1977 when he was very ill and was offering his final thoughts about our Order’s future.
Betty was the embodiment of impeccable style – not flamboyant style, but the style of radical intentionality. She commuted from Lake Forest in the dark of night to be present for the early morning sessions before Daily Office. She always knew where to find whatever document was needed; had at her fingertips highlighters, post-it notes, staples, whatever the task required; could provide on a dime a required agenda; agreed to follow-up on items and did so apparently effortlessly. But she was far more than an “administrative assistant”; she was the person who had a sense of the pulse of our Order’s leadership dynamic, and intuitively discerned operational contradictions and gently encouraged strategic corrections.
Beyond her role in our Order’s work, Betty was just “fun” to be with. She affirmed the “worth” of another by paying attention and listening, and in so doing, engaged most anyone she encountered in meaningful conversation. She had a great laugh and twinkling eyes that symbolized for me her radical affirmation of life and her decision to not take herself too seriously.
I know she deeply loved her family. In her Christmas cards she would always include a picture of all the progeny and their offspring with anecdotes on recent milestones and accomplishments.
May our dear colleague, Betty, go gently into the next chapter, and may we know she lived a full an unrepeatable life with us. Grace and peace,
~~ Marilyn and Joe Crocker
Anyone assigned to the Chicago Nexus must have Betty Pesek memories and stories. One of the delights of my life was traveling with Betty through the Philippines on a Global Women’s Forum trip. We started the trip in Manila and traveled south through Cebu and on to Davao. Betty, who was always impeccably dressed somehow managed to leave all her blouses, except the one she was wearing, in Manila before we left for Cebu. But Betty was unaffected. Sometimes she hand-washed the blouse before going to bed and let it dry overnight. Other times, she washed it during the day, put it back on and let the Philippine heat dry it on the run. On our way back to Chicago, someone from the Manila House met us at the airport as we changed planes and duly delivered Betty’s blouses. What a trooper! I loved being with her during that trip.
Of course, this story is simply one tiny vignette. Everyone who was ever a part of the Order or related to the Institute is indebted to Betty’s tireless work in Joe Mathews’ cubical, as she recorded notes and eventually made them available through files and books. In gratitude for all Betty did for all of us, In gratitude for the life of an amazing colleague.
~~ Doris Hahn
Betty was all that I admired in American women. I am most grateful to have known her and seen her gracious smile at me, and others. She had a genuine wit and confidence. We here in Australia honour the legacy of such a grace filled presence amongst us. Thank you Betty for all that you showed us and gave to each one of us. From the depths of my being,
~~ Isobel Bishop
Thank you, Betty. Thank you for caring about my sister and I when we were young. Thank you for treating us with respect. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for traveling with us when we were joining our parents in the Philippines. I appreciate the few adults I encountered in the Order who did not treat children like little soldiers. Betty was one of those for me.
Later, when my mother Ellery was in Chicago, Betty was one of my mother’s few friends. I don’t even know how few friends my mother had (she was shy and suspicious of many), but Betty was her friend. They worked together on editing “Circle of Life”. Thank you for being my mom’s friend. She deeply appreciated you in her life.
Deep appreciation and songs for your life, Betty. I send you big hugs from this place to the mystery. Amen.
~~ Jon Mark Elizondo
A lovely, loyal lady.
~~ Sarah Buss
Everyone has a story about Betty Pesek. She is all the things so many have given witness. I was impressed as she represented the Human Factor in the Mysterious Inner Sanctum; thank you for the feminine principle at work in corporate life.
While living at the project on Jeju Do, Beverly and I made the decision to take a sabbatical leave of absence in order to deal effectively with Wesley–our one child that did not accommodate himself very well to the Order Life; he had his own Order and his behavior in the Hartford House soon gave him a “Pass Go, but do not collect $200;” (meaning) he was assigned to the Pace Missississi Project. In the South, things were better, yet Wes was athletically unfulfilled.
The Order did not take too kindly to making this kind of decision. After all, the Order protected its global mission and the expectation for each member was to make a similar commitment! On arrival in Chicago who met us at the door of the ICA? Dear Betty. The welcome was genuine and warm. She gave us a couple of days to get acclimated. Then she lowered the boom. “The Boom” reminded me of a story of two men fighting with knives. The one made a sweep and said, “There! I gotcha.” The wounded member replies, “You missed me!” The first fighter replied, “Oh, yeah? Shake your head.”
Step 2 in this process was a Pesek Invitation to supper in the nearby Thai restaurant, and the pressure was on. Betty has the nicest way to deliver her “knife sweeps,” all of them presented in the softest maternal way. If a couple was to win, it was necessary for them to keep a common family goal before them. We did. We won!
Two and a half years later, we returned to the 5th City Program Center. I stood before the Sunday Night contextual Event to confess, “This is home!” Did Betty hold a grudge? Never–always she was the imperturbable in the midst of the “Sea of Tranquility.” Betty, we thank you for demonstrating what gracefulness looks like. Inner Peace,
~~ Bill and Beverly Salmon
Bright Betty, We Remember You
It is impossible for me to imagine a world without Betty Pesek.
Have you ever shared an office with Betty?
Betty—with a flair for adding artistry to the mundane? Just the right addition of gold, royal purple, bright red, deep blue to brighten the boring; to add sparkle to the shop-worn. Stirring up celebrations with multicolored bags and ribbons. Silently connecting with Spirit.
Have you ever been in the outtbacks of the world with Betty?
Betty— with her endearing smile and the twinkle in her eye, making friends across borders. Betty, gracefully treading through dust and mud, squeezing into over-crowded busses with eagerness and grace. Part Queen, part Princess, part Trooper.
Have you ever run into the Indomitable Spirit of Betty?
That spirit that took on gathering stories from across the world to artfully compose the book, The Circle of Life. She sculpted raw stories into a symphony of memories of her bold colleagues laced with humor, sorrow and joy. Can you imagine the grit that it took for Betty to bring her organizing genius to the initial task of sorting through piles of yellowed papers to help forge a Global Archives project—–or to guard and sort the papers of a prolific sage, turning them over in pristine order to an institution where they can live forward in the minds and hearts of students and seekers?
Have you ever identified with Bridging Betty? Born on one side of the tracks, and daring to cross over to the other? Appreciating the strengths of both sides, and using the gifts of one to meet the needs of the other. Can you imagine Betty telling her North Shore friends that she was going to take the train each day to a West Side across-the-tracks place, and therefore would not be available for tea? Can you imagine Betty recruiting these same friends for a weekend of study in a church basement, or a chance to make a safe haven for West Side children during riots, or beckoning these friends to a life of action sparking social justice?
Were you gifted to know Energetic Betty in her elder years? She set the bar high for keeping going—–creating notebooks that documented the stages of her life with news clippings and photos. Creating an archive on eldering. Betty—proud Mama and Grand mama of the spirited Pesek clan; and spark plug of her circle of elders. Replacing aging with saging, and then drifting into Spirit. Daring to let go.
Betty, when I think to add a touch of gold; when I’m prompted to dive into a mess to bring order; when I remember the gift of a wink and a smile; when I dare to cross bridges that might lead to dust, mud and quick sand——you are in my heart; you spark my spirit. You were there and here; and now you are everywhere.
A world without the spirit of Dear Betty? Such a drab world could not exist.
~~ Elise Packard
Girls named Betty and Pris
Betty was married to a Dentist. At 89, she died this week in Metro Chicago. A “sister” of hers who married a railroad man lives the sunset of her years in Kansas. Both were “girls” in the 60s. What brought them together was a human development project on the Westside of Chicago in a predominantly black community.
Let me get myself into the picture. On February 1967, a bunch of students from Kentucky drove with our sociology mentor who was once a professor to the then Police Commissioner of Chicago. Urban ministry in the secular city was the cutting edge of clerical engagement at the time and we looked at Chicago attempts of awakened Church people to serve the inner cities.
But in ’67, MLK Jr.’s was organizing groups to assert their rights to services then lawfully mandated to be available to the Negro community through the War on Poverty. We visited the Fifth City project that attempted to get the gifts of the cross-section of the inner city, the city proper, the suburb, and the exurb to form a new city community. “Weird” Caucasian folks wearing “navy blue habits”, crazy dreamers in my eyes at the time, staffed the Fifth City project on the Westside of Chicago and lived in the neighborhood’s dilapidated structures, delimiting a specific geography to zero in, deal with all the issues and all the people simultaneously, identify and make the community self-conscious of the deep underlying contradiction they struggled with, and keyed on symbols for tactics. The Fifth City’s Iron Man statue graces the community.
In the evening, we cruised in police cars to experience what the inner city was like. I remember a theatre called Chicago, not too far from where I spent considerable time later at the corner of Sheridan and Lawrence in a Gothic structure once occupied by Kemper Insurance and donated to the Ecumenical Institute (EI). It later housed the global staff of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) that I joined in 1972 when a voice from ’67 called and I discovered EI folks in one of our constantly flooded slums of Manila.
A couple of months after that fateful visit, Betty and Pris were with a group of city housewives introduced to the radical experiment on human expenditure that Fifth City was. Not too long after, they become members of a New Women’s Forum that met on a regular basis. A year after, MLK Jr. was assassinated, the Westside of Chicago lit bonfires. Betty and Pris’ group persisted to extending a helping hand to “the less fortunate” were told “No More” by the EI staff and were to let the resident staff and local community fend for themselves. Betty and Pris turned around and discovered that they, too, carried their own gender contradictions on self-esteem and self-confidence in a patriarchal society. The Global Women’s Forum was born.
Betty and Pris with their professional husbands and the group they were a part of called EI guardians fanned out around the globe in places like the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and Cebu in the Philippines, Kreuzberg in Berlin, enabling a Fifth City dynamic in every time zone across the planet including Indonesia’s Kelapa Dua, Venezuela’s Caño Negro, Peru’s Azpitia, Canada’s Vogar, Nigeria’s Ijede and India’s Maliwada in Maharashtra.
I won’t bother with Pris and Betty’s last names, though the former is a writer of good standing. Members of their kind, organized or as individuals are legion. They and their fellow volunteers nurse the present and hold the future in their hands.
~~ Jaime Vergara, printed in Saipan Tribune April 2, 2015
I LOVED Betty Pesek. She and I had so much fun together. When I would visit Chicago, I would see her coming down the hall and we would both stop, point at each other and laugh and laugh. That was our usual greeting. One summer I was put in charge of the decor for the building for the summer program. That was the same summer Betty was preparing for Kay and Geoff’s wedding. I would stop her in the hallway and say “Betty, don’t worry about a thing! We are your friends and we are going to help you. I have two funeral homes that have promised us all the flowers you will need for the wedding!” The next encounter: “Betty, don’t worry about a thing! We are your friends and we are going to help you. About those bridesmaids’ dresses, I have bolts of in-kind fabric coming in today and you can have your pick. The color maybe a little brighter than you had been thinking about, but it will be great. And who knows, maybe we will get lucky and they will give us some white for Kay’s dress. Isn’t this great!” And the next encounter: “Betty, don’t worry about a thing! We are your friends and we are going to help you. We have figured out how to do the reception. You know, we can decorate those in’kind sandwiches so no one will recognize them and we have lots.” And so it went. I am not so sure I would have made it through that summer without my friend Betty and all the fun she brought to my life. Oh, yes, of course there was all that work she did but I needed her fun.
~~ Joan Knutson