What a whirlwind these last few months have been! I can hardly believe that the summer has flown by so quickly. July began with preparations for the Summer National Gathering, a major event which draws members together for learning and fellowship at Olcott each year.
Many probably remember that the event has been called Summer School in the past and the familiar name still hangs on. However, our programming committee felt that the name Summer School may not sound appealing to the current generation and so finally agreed upon the new name of Summer National Gathering (SNG), with the hope that more attendees would be attracted to make the pilgrimage to connect with fellow seekers and to experience our national center.
This year, SNG was particularly dynamic and inspiring, partly because of the theme, Study, Service, and Sangha—with heavy emphasis on service—and partly due to the large contingent of international guests, who came to attend the Second International TOS Conference immediately following. Joy Mills, John Algeo, and Robert Elwood, our featured local speakers, were joined by Vic Hao Chin, President of the Philippines Section; C.V.K. Maithreya, President of TOS in Chennai, India, and a host of international TOS leaders. It was also our great pleasure to host Diana Chapotin, International Secretary of TOS, and her charming husband Michel.
The PowerPoint presentation about our pilgrimage in Tibet began the conference on an inspirational note. This still being Colonel Olcott’s year, John Algeo helped us to see him as a model for how we might approach life and service, with many shorter talks about service following during the week. A few notable events include: lively discussion groups, the very popular meditation classes, a boat tour of Chicago’s architecture, Indian dancers, fun night, and Diana Chapotin’s ubiquitous and delightful effervescence. Through it all a spirit of harmony and spiritual camaraderie pervaded the atmosphere.
We received accolades as a result of the combination of our excellent staff, capable presenters, and dedicated group of participants. An example of the impact SNG had this year can be found in the following quote from a note from Lorraine Christensen, Vice-President of the Canadian Theosophical Association:
Two weeks have now passed since we left Wheaton. We arrived safely home a few days ago, and are still walking on air. Our ten days at Olcott were extraordinary—a true experience of entering into Sangha, due to the brotherhood and harmony we felt with each of the wonderful people we met. Words fail me to even begin to express the happiness and gratitude we feel for those precious and memorable ten days. What a boost for us personally and most importantly, for the work of both the TS and the TOS.
During the last few months we have had several personnel changes. Beverly Porzelt began working at the publishing house in Customer Service; Dan Smolla recently joined the library staff; and Dan Noga, who had volunteered for several months in the Information Department, has now become the Membership Coordinator. As each of these positions interact directly with our membership, whenever you have the opportunity to speak with them, do welcome them to our family.
Additionally we have, serving as volunteers from Argentina, the lovely couple Juliana Cesano and Pablo Sender. Pablo and Juliana will be here until October 2008, working in many capacities in order to learn as much as they can before returning home to establish a permanently functioning Theosophical center in San Rafael. They have already proved themselves invaluable as staff members and will be of particular help in organizing the Inter-American Theosophical Federation meeting in September 2008.
Unfortunately, we had to say good-bye to Eulalia Diaz who is returning to Florida, and Leon Frankel who had volunteered in the kitchen for two years. Both had become fixtures in our residential community and will be missed.
August 16, the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, could not pass us by without an informal staff lunchtime memorabilia display, complete with screenings of old Elvis movies. I am grateful to Mark Roemmich and our social organizers who watch for opportunities of this kind of mini-celebration throughout the year as a way of developing our family spirit.
The weekend following the TOS convention, members of the TOS board and I participated in a retreat at the Center for Purposeful Living in Greensboro, NC. One of the workshops called “Becoming a Totally Responsible Person” was so applicable to the work of the TS, that when the opportunity unexpectedly arose to have them present it here, Olcott warmly welcomed them. Although the timing was tight, the five-hour workshop was attended by a majority of the staff along with TOS members and other interested persons.
Just when we thought things would settle down so that we might catch up with ourselves, we had two computer server crashes, so please forgive us if your e-mail to Olcott addresses bounced. As luck would have it, in the midst of repairs, a tornado whipped through our property, downing entire trees, clipping off treetops, and causing us to be without power in parts of the Olcott campus for over three days. Although it looked like a war zone, we were very fortunate that no one was hurt and no major property damage occurred. Our e-mail is now fully functional and secure, although, as you know there are not guarantees for every contingency.
At the time of this writing, David and I are preparing to travel to Charlotte, NC for his fiftieth high school reunion. (My goodness, can we be that old?) I also look forward to visiting family and the Charlotte Theosophical Study Center; a good way to end a busy summer.