Priscilla's World | A Tribute to Betty
A Tribute to Betty

Another dear friend and colleague died this week. Betty Pesek and I first met on the west side of Chicago in April, 1967 at the Ecumenical Institute. Forty-eight years ago this month.

In early 1967, staff at the EI developed a tactic they called “the Trilogy” to further their strategy of recruiting and involving affluent suburban women in implementing the Ecumenical Institute’s plans for the future. Lyn Mathews and Addie Gregory were assigned to recruit women who had been RS-1 participants.

The Trilogy, three Wednesday luncheons in April were the first experience in the west-side ghetto for many. The women learned the story of 5th City, toured the neighborhood by bus, visited the Preschool and were blasted into a new awareness by the story of Charlie Stewart. About thirty women met together once a week during the spring probing new arenas of involvement for women. By the fall of 1967 we understood ourselves as the New Women’s Forum (NWF). 1968 began with an emphasis on the mission in 5th City.

Then in April the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. and subsequent riots rocked and scarred the community. Many of the women transported food to the west side and cared for Institute children in their homes during the period of the riots. Then the Ecumenical Institute Staff said a radical “no” to continued NWF active participation in 5th City. We continued to meet weekly in each other’s homes. We studied concerns in women’s lives as we read and dialogued. We became convinced that questions of self-esteem and self-confidence were key as women’s roles were shifting everywhere.

One afternoon four women (Betty Pesek and I plus two others ) enjoying a soft drink in an Eden’s Plaza drug store in Wilmette suddenly conceived of writing a seminar on the “new woman” to take to the globe. The course was developed as a tool to reach women worldwide. Over the next few years, Global Women’s Forum events were held throughout the United States, Asia, the Pacific and Europe.

Betty became my sister during those years.

Then during 1977 our son, Ben was participating in the community development project in Berlin’s Kreuzberg community. I took Mary to Berlin for spring break. We took Ben on a sight-seeing trip through Bavaria. We returned to Berlin and  I received a phone call from Betty Pesek, “As long as you are in Europe, can you lead six Global Women Seminars across Europe with Jane and Kate?”

” Betty, I have my fourteen year old daughter with me.”

“That’s ok, she can fly home and stay with us while you are gone.”

I think I gulped three times and then said, “I guess so.” Mary and I took the train to Amsterdam, enjoyed a McDonald’s Hamburger and she flew home on KLM. Betty played surrogate momma for the next three weeks.

We will all miss Betty Pesek … truly a woman of spirit.