The Theosophical Society in America

Local Groups

October 2012

Septermber - October 2009

Betty BlandThe new membership database went live in late August. This may not sound very exciting, but in fact the new software will greatly enhance member services in our responses and communications, as well as reporting. Dan Noga (Membership) and George Makarov (IT) spent a lot of time working with data conversion and exploring the new capabilities. The improved flexibility of the database allows members to set up automatic quarterly payments for dues in order to reduce the bite out of personal budgets, and also to reduce the chance of lapsed membership.

After Labor Day, the fall programs began in earnest with a most successful TheosoFest. The one-day open house offered continuous programming and vendor booths with food, crafts, divination, healing, environmental, and community services. This year’s TheosoFest drew a record crowd of 1600.

For two Saturday mornings in September, staff volunteered at environmental projects—one for a major community paper shredding effort and the other at DuPage County’s first ever Green Fair , an environmental awareness event. Thirty percent of our staff participated, fulfilling our last requirement for earning our “Earth Flag,” a community award for being environmentally conscious in our operations.

  Theosofest

 

 
Theosofest

Besant Cleveland Lodge

 

In late September I traveled to Minneapolis and Cleveland as a part of the board’s Visioning Project. While in Cleveland, I also gave a public talk on “Discovering the Secrets of Akasha.” Cleveland has a very nice facility and dynamic group.

Art Miccio,, Dianna Dusek, Barbara Pierce,
Frank Vedegys, and Betty Bland
   

In early October, David and I drove the big red truck out to Montana to visit with Warren Schwartz and returned with two distinctive specimens of petrified wood found on his land. Warren has donated these pieces to Olcott, where they have been strategically placed, adding interest to our western entrance and the Quest Book Shop landscape, providing a unique link with the wide open spaces of the northern Great Plains.

 

Petrified Rock

Although our personnel situation remained stable but tight, we did have one change.  After working as editorial assistant for a year at Olcott, Idarmis Rodriguez moved to Krotona in California to provide much needed work in their offices. We wish her happiness in her new place of service.

Eleven supportive and interested staff and seekers accompanied Dan Noga, who spoke at the Back to the Future exhibit at Loyola University’s Museum of Art in Chicago in September. He highlighted the influence of Theosophy on painter Wassily Kandinsky, as well as on modern artists Alfred Jensen, Charmion von Wiegand, and Simon Gouverneur, whose work was on display.

As the colder October winds began swirling around us, we had a few end of the season outdoor activities. Tree-planting donations provided the funds for an additional ten specimen trees, which our staff rallied around to plant. And one almost Indian summer day brought out a small but hard-working group of volunteers to ready the grounds for the winter months ahead. Thirty barrels of leaves and garden debris collected made a nice layer over the compost site, which lay dormant while our kitchen and dining room were being renovated.

The ShawdowIn late October, staff contributed elbow grease and manpower during the dining room and kitchen demolition in late October. Because of the unavailability of the dining hall, the October Special Spooky Soirée organized by the Friends of Olcott took place in the eerily decorated Olcott Library. The Olcott Drama Troupe, made up of Olcott staff and other volunteers, began practicing for its fall season back in September. This great bonding experience develops latent skills and provides enjoyable community entertainment. The troupe’s premier performance of an episode of the old radio show The Shadow was perfect entertainment for the evening, which was rounded out by musical performances, tales of terror, and trivia fun and games.

 

 

March - April 2006

Betty Bland

The appearance of two new life forms at Olcott brought hopes for spring. In late March, the first shoots of tulip leaves poked through the barren earth, and two baby owls made their debut in the pines near the Blands’ cottage. Those two harbingers of spring, plus a few sunny days generated dreams of warm breezes and gentle walks. Mark Roemmich arranged for the spring tune-up of the mowers, so they will be ready for Jeff Gresko and Chris Bolger to ride when the lawns need to be cut.

Another new life was launched with the release of Ed Abdill’s new book, The Secret Gateway. As a part of his promotional tour, Ed gave a program at Olcott, which was followed by a book signing. With the recognizable influence of Fritz and Dora Kunz, and Emily Sellon, Ed has done a wonderful job of distilling the essence of Theosophical concepts into a readable text for today’s market.

I took a quick trip to Memphis, Tennessee, in early March, to speak and visit with the members of the lodge there. During Burton Callicott’s time the lodge had flourished, but in the several years since his passing the members have been struggling. It is the age-old truth that local work depends on the few strong, dedicated individuals. The lodge has the dedicated individuals, but they are scrambling to fill the void left by one so well-versed in Theosophy and respected for his living testimony. About fifteen gathered for the meeting—one of whom had discovered the Society recently via the internet. The discussions brought them new optimism for their future.

In mid-March, I received a call from Bernie Stamm, a former president of the Columbus, Ohio Lodge, now in pralaya. He stopped by to deliver a few remaining pictures that had come into his possession, which he felt should be in our archives. In this way treasures from one lodge can be preserved and possibly shared with a new lodge when appropriate.The Theosophical Publishing House recently ran across a file of several prints of early leaders in the Society. In case these might be of interest to new groups who have the dedicated space to hang them, we will be selling them for just a dollar apiece at our Summer National Gathering. In addition to contemporary decorations, historic posters and pictures can add interest and definition to the identity of a group.

Anu Naresh began work as my new administrative assistant in mid-April. Although she was originally from a more southern part of India, she attended high school at the Annie Besant School in Chennai. She says that our motto “There is No Religion Higher than Truth” was drummed into their heads throughout those years, but she did not really discover Theosophy as an interest until this past year. She has lived in the United States for almost eight years, and resides in a nearby town. Whenever you are in touch, please give her greetings and a warm welcome to the team.

 

 

March - April 2007

Betty Bland

Surely we must have entered the Age of Aquarius (the water bearer) by now, as some of the endless calculations would have it. An abundant flow of water problems has plagued us all winter from melting snow finding its way through our roofing, to eighty-year old plumbing giving way in places, and in our latest adventure, a water main bursting just outside of the Quest Book Shop. This was a particularly nasty one since the water appeared in one place, while the actual break was in another. So, after much digging through the frozen tundra and gushes of ice everywhere during our frigid early weeks of March, the leak was finally found and repaired.

Now that we are finally seeing a few signs of spring, such as our all green St. Patrick’s Day lunch, it is hard to believe that just a few short weeks ago I was outdoors trying to chip the three-inch layer of ice that made our sidewalk and all areas around it a treacherous sheet of ice. It was so cold that salt only created a slightly melted layer on top—making it all the easier to slip. But by now, that too seems a distant past. These kinds of mishaps can occur any time with an older facility, but in the overall scheme of things they are a small price to pay for the privilege secured for the Society by early members to have such a treasure as its National Center.

As a result of a Thursday night public program we had last fall, “A Dialogue and Discussion of Faith,” we have developed a cooperative relationship with an Interfaith Peace Prayers group, so that on occasional Friday evenings, when our auditorium is available, they may meet here at Olcott. These gatherings, led by Mazher F. Ahmed, a gentle Islamic woman who has dedicated herself to being a peaceful force in the community, bring new and interested people through our doors, and contribute to the spiritual energy of peace that we try to foster here.

David Bland and several of our staff are getting geared up for Social Action as Spiritual Practice, our Southeast Regional Conference to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, November 9-11. These regional conferences are proving to be beneficial in generating new members as well as strengthening the groups in the geographic proximity of the conference. If you have local members who would like to be involved or think this kind of event would work well in your area, I would be glad to hear from you. Eventually, we hope to hold the conferences in all the major areas of the country.

With barely a month’s notice we were able to pull together details and publicity to host a program with Marilyn Youngbird, a Native American healer, speaking on building peace within that it might manifest in the outer world. Marilyn was a featured presenter at our Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference last year, and our effort on such short notice was experimental to see if we could mobilize quickly to take advantage of her being in the area. The staff supper for her, as well as the presentation that followed, were successful and provided the opportunity for some of our local people to experience Marilyn’s beautiful nature and talent for weaving her life stories in a way that inspired one to work for inner and outer peace.

Toward the end of April the Theosophical Publishing House had another “CD Stuffing Party” where staff and volunteers all worked together in the warehouse inserting the companion audio CD into the back of a newly released book, Magical Christianity: The Power of Symbols for Spiritual Renewal by Coleston Brown, which is due to be released in June. In addition to a new chapter on the Divine Feminine, this revised edition also includes an experiential meditation at the end of each chapter and a CD of guided meditations to bring readers more deeply into the transformative power of Christian symbolism.

April concluded with a trip to Rio Rancho and Santa Fe, New Mexico, two new study centers in their fledgling stage. The Rio Rancho group held a special meeting in order to take advantage of the timing. Tim Donovan, the secretary of the group, receives supportive encouragement from Fr. Milton Shaw who graciously allows the group to meet in the Our Lady Queen of Angels Liberal Catholic Church. Their large meeting hall with good parking availability makes for a pleasant venue. The program generated enthusiasm for the group and resulted in brisk book sales.

In Santa Fe, I attended a planning board meeting and gave a presentation in a public meeting space at the Vitamin Cottage. I also was a guest at the local community college radio station, KSFR, where I was interviewed by Rev. Phil on his radio talk show “Words of the Prophet.” The Santa Fe group discovered that it was my birthday and so treated me to a brief tour of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and a little birthday dinner gathering at Hispano Hacienda, an historic Spanish hacienda turned restaurant and gift shop, in Chimayo. The special pleasure of visiting with the prioress of a Carmelite community in Santa Fe rounded out the visit. With never a dull moment, I was also able to use my airport waiting time to have a pleasant in-depth meeting with renowned violinist, Carmelo de los Santos, a third generation Theosophist from Brazil, who now resides in New Mexico. Carmelo was returning from a business trip to Salt Lake City.

Now, a few days later, having recovered from my late night return flight, I join a number of our members in anticipation and preparations for our upcoming trip to Tibet. My next diary will provide some glimpses of our Asian adventure.

 

March - April 2005

Betty Bland

Autumn is usually the time for completions, so I’d like to observe in this issue a completion that actually took place this past spring. Our eight-month project of renovating the Mills Building to relocate the publishing offices and expand the Quest Bookshop has been accomplished. Christopher Dixon, our bookshop manager, was excited about the new space but not the prospects of all the aches and pains of moving everything in our well-stocked retail space. Yet, the transition went remarkably smoothly with very little disruption thanks to good contractors and hardworking staff. The new bookshop serves as a welcoming gateway to the north side of the Olcott property. We hope many of you will get to visit and appreciate its ambience. If you spend a few extra dollars, so much the better!

My whirlwind trip by plane, train, and automobile in early April gave me a chance to visit with quite a few members in the northeast. After making a presentation for the Surya Study Center in Westfield, New Jersey, a most pleasant train ride brought me to the Washington, DC Lodge. Then it was on to Providence, Rhode Island, and by the time I reached the final destination of the Springfield, Massachusetts Lodge in Chicopee, I was definitely ready for a break. However, it was a privilege and pleasure to visit with these groups, each of which is a unique and special building block of our Society.

In mid-April David and I attended the memorial service at the Seattle Lodge for Johnny Kunz, a long time member and friend. While there we met with several key members concerning future plans for a northwestern regional conference in the fall of 2006. This conference and the one being planned for the Mid-Atlantic States in the spring of 2006 are the cornerstone of our explorations for new ways to promote membership and support the local groups. We also had the bonus of being able to attend the lodge’s Saturday interfaith seminar on spiritual breath and chant with Jamal Rahman (Sufi) and Rabbi Ted Falcon. These two have obviously done the work and are committed to interfaith dialog and peace.

The Fourth Kern Lecture and Seminar with Don Campbell author of The Mozart Effect, was held at the end of April. Don’s amazingly rich background in both his primary field of music theory, performance, and conducting, as well as his lifelong exploration of spirituality, came together in the wonderfully effective, experiential program. The Olcott School of Theosophy incorporated Don’s musical talents with the visual arts presented by Tom and Susan Ockerse in such a way that all participants left with a more sensitized eye and ear for the patterns and beauty around us.

During the first week of May, the Theosophical Publishing House staff celebrated the completion of the Mills Building makeover with a pizza picnic on the grounds. Sharron Dorr crowned David Bland, the Society’s project manager for the venture, with a hard hat topped by a paper crown. All expressed appreciation for the assistance from the Sellon Charitable Trust which has made this transformation possible.

Since the Theosophical Society in America is a membership organization with an elected board of directors and national officers, the recent triennial national elections mark an important beginning and ending in the cycles of our administration. During April and early May the specially marked ballot envelopes arrived on a steady basis. Then on the appointed day, May 11, the national secretary met with several local independent members to carefully open and tally the votes. I take this opportunity to welcome to the new Board, which will officially begin in July, the following officers (besides myself continuing as president):

Vice President—Barbara Hebert
Eastern District Directors—Sylvia Knowles and Carol Ward
Central District Directors—Christopher Richardson and Elwin Barrett
Western District Directors—Joseph Gullo and Nelda Samarel

This is also a time to express appreciation to those who have served so well but who are now rotating off the board—Vice President Robert Ellwood and Directors Minor Lile, Brant Jackson, and Tom Ockerse. They served with dedication, and I give to each special thanks for sharing their time and expertise for the benefit of the Society.

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