January was an up and down month temperature-wise. Returning from the embracing warmth of India, David and I were met with the bracing bitter cold of Chicago. Moreover, the ups and downs continued as there were several different times the temperatures reached almost 50°F, only to be followed by bitter cold or snow and ice storms. The only good thing about the fluctuations was that the icy walks and driveways thoroughly thawed before the next onslaught.
In addition to cold weather, the end of the year brought a critical time for decision making. Our contract with National Book Network (NBN), the book distributor for our publishing house came up for renewal. In the last few years, and particularly the most recent one, our book sales slumped far below what had been expected based on the great books we produced and on past experience. After reviewing the options, we determined that it was worth going through the difficult transition period to change to Publishers Group West (PGW), one of the fastest growing distributors in the industry. The transition, which involves moving our stock from NBN’s warehouses to those of PGW as well as adjusting our accounts, will be complete by the end of June. So our publishing staff is facing a challenging spring.
Besides the fluctuating weather, we have had some fluctuations in staff. We have been very fortunate to locate several quality local people to fill in some of our staffing holes. Barbara Prescott, the new assistant editor for book publishing, works closely with publishing manager Sharron Dorr in compiling and proofing manuscripts. Kathy Kozak recently filled a long vacant position—that of public relations/graphic image coordinator. Nicole Gombotz has joined the BookShop staff as a part-time employee. Emily Mullen, our dynamo publicist for the past three years, left to seek her fortune in the corporate world. Amid tears and good wishes, she told us how much Theosophy and our community had changed her life for the better.
A serendipitous romance between marketing manager Nicole Krier and acquisitions editor Richard Smoley bloomed in the dead of winter. Nicole returned from the holidays sporting an engagement ring and the publishing staff celebrated the occasion with several parties the most recent of which included sledding. We hope that the perfect sledding conditions for the party were an auspicious sign for a happy future for this beaming couple. Love must be in the air as John Cianciosi of our grounds and maintenance department proposed to TPH administrative assistant Christine Pomeroy over a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner. Needless to say, Christine was happy to accept his proposal and is wearing an engagement ring now, too!
Budget figures and board reports filled our heads the past few months as we prepared for the February board meetings. The board members worked long hours, reviewing programs and discussing policy issues. In reviewing the Capital Fund Campaign, we were heartened to realize how many of our members are lending their support, with donations and ongoing pledges. A Visioning Task Force, chaired by Mo Michel was created to work during the spring and early summer in order to bring a proposal to the July board meetings. As we move into the twenty-first century, this kind of future visioning and long range planning will be essential to help us stay in touch with the times and to be a positive and dynamic force in our world.
As a reward for their dedication and service, David and I treated the board members to a local Wheaton Drama performance of I Hate Hamlet. Working together, along with our little respites of relaxation, builds strong relationships over the terms of board members and contributes to building that nucleus of brotherhood which must be at the very core of all the Society does. We are fortunate to have these fine people serving in this capacity and each one on the board is fortunate to have the opportunity to work closely with fellow Theosophists around the country. This was the last board meeting for Chris Richardson, Sylvia Knowles, and Joe Gullo. Hats off to all three of you and thank you for your good service!
Immediately following national board meetings, the Theosophical Order of Service (TOS) held its second annual midwinter board meeting at Olcott in order to take advantage of the presence of its out-of-town members. Tim Boyd, TOS president, led the board through enthusiastic discussions in planning for service projects, effectively working with TOS/TSA Liaisons, and the upcoming “Totally Responsible Person” seminar scheduled for May 30-31. This is the first installment in a series of “Service Training” workshops. Anyone interested in TOS work can view the website at www.theoservice.org .
Having been blessed with the joys of a beautiful National Center as well as the responsibilities that go along with that, the staff has made a particular effort to see our facilities well used. The weekend Zen retreats, Theravada Buddhist Retreats, an interfaith prayer group, and a healing retreat have brought many new people through our doors and generated additional revenue. Our weekly classes have expanded to include book studies and other discussion groups. There is rarely and evening without one or more activities, many of which result from the initiative of our creative staff. Most recently, in recognition of the value of social interaction on the order of Madame Blavatsky’s occasional evening gathering called a soirée, the Friends of Olcott, a new organization to benefit the H. S. Olcott Memorial Library, orchestrated a Saturday night Open Mic Soirée in January with musical performances and poetry recitations.
The Open Mic Soirée featured talented staff members Juliana Cesano and Dan Smolla, along with Dan’s friend, Dave Lombardi as the band, Just Another Bird. Jake and Emily Barry, children of a family on campus, recited poetry, and Dan Noga read his original poetic creations. The potluck refreshments, placemats to draw on, and board games created a fun-filled mix and mingle evening. A small cover charge raised $70 for “Friends of Olcott” while also serving to generate new friends and strengthen old ones.
The February 23rd Soirée was combined with a Hoodie Hoo Dance, where all were encouraged to wear bright or loud colored clothes—all the better to scare away old man winter in order to bring on an earlier spring. From the pictures, I hope you can catch the wonderful community building spirit that these activities generated—thanks especially to Marina Maestas, Dan Smolla, and Corey Bard, our library staff.
February ended with David Bland heading to Holyoke, Massachusetts for the PTSD Veterans’ conference with Ed Tick, and me to North Carolina to check on my mother, Butter Johnson.