E&E RPCVs Group News

 Say it isn’t so: Marian Beil steps down as E&E RPCV President.

Sorry, it is so, and action is required.

by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 1963–65),
Board member of the E&E RPCVs

Marian slings chika with a Habitat for Humanity build in Debre Berhan, 2010

Marian slings chika with a Habitat for Humanity build in Debre Berhan, 2010

IT WAS ONE OF THOSE announcements that we all knew would come sooner or later, but when it did come, we still were a bit shocked and very disappointed. In June, Marian Haley Beil (Debre Berhan 1962–64), who founded E&E RPCVs and has served tirelessly as its president, treasurer,  database manager, and website and blog designer/manager, for nearly 25 years; and as editor and publisher of the print “Herald,” designer and lay out person for the online “Herald,” and manager of our Facebook page for some of those years, announced that she was stepping down.

It’s hard to think of the E&E RPCVs without Marian at its head. It’s a bit like the Yankees without Jetter. Or “The Daily Show” without Jon Stewart. There hasn’t been much that has been done by E&E RPCV over the years that happened without Marian’s direction, and hard work. “Marian is E&E RPCVs,” says Leo Cecchini (Asmara 1962-64), a long time E&E RPCV Board member.  “The organization and the person are one.”

But as Marian explained in her letter of resignation to the Board, recent unpleasant encounters with some overly demanding RPCVs had disheartened her. “I’m a volunteer. [The effort] has required a huge amount of work, and I wasn’t interested in taking any shit.” So after all those years of volunteer work on behalf of E&E RPCVs — and putting up with a fair amount of grief from fellow RPCVs who can be a quarrelsome bunch — Marian decided it was time to call it a day.

Marian being Marian, is not completely cutting her ties with the RPCV community. She will continue to the layout, proofreading and photo editing for the HERALD, a publication she regards as the glue of the organization.

Marian’s decision comes at a pivotal moment in the history of the E&E RPCVs. It’s time for generational change. In the last year or so, three members of the Board — all having served as PCVs during the 1960s —have stepped down leaving unfilled vacancies. They are: Nancy Horn (Addis 1966–68), who had ably managed the RPCV Legacy Program — a cornerstone of our current efforts — for some years, and Don and Jackie Schlenger (Woldiya 1966–68). Calls for younger RPCVs to join the Board and take over the leadership of the organization have been heard by only one RPCV from groups serving from 1995 to 1999, and from the newest groups that began serving in 2007  — Karen Glover Preskey (Agaro 2007–09). The Board membership has declined as well.

So the Board wishes to renew its efforts to recruit some new members – and indeed find a person who might serve as President of the group. In short, we need volunteers. Below you’ll find details of how to volunteer for the Board. This is an opportunity for RPCVs to help the group fulfill the Third Goal of Peace Corps to bring the Peace Corps experience back home, and continue to nurture the wonderful relationships with our fellow RPCVs, former students and host-country co-workers and friends.

Getting things going
Which is precisely what Marian has done for all these years. Marian Haley was a math teacher in Debre Bahan in that first group of PCVs who went to Ethiopia in 1962. When she returned to the U.S. she worked at Peace Corps headquarters from 1965 to 1969, and taught in the training program of Ethiopia IV.

In 1968 she married Donald Beil, an RPCV from Somalia, and ultimately moved to Rochester, NY, raised a family, became a fiber artist – and tended her beloved garden.

Like many of us, she kept in contact with her old friends from Ethiopia. In 1986 stacks of information were collected at a reunion of Ethiopia RPCVs held in Washington D.C.: addresses, biographical material, lists of PCVs. “I had an early Mac,” explains Marian, a computer geek before the term was coined, “so I took the material and started a database. I began tracking down people. I collected old mug books. It just kind of grew.”

Today much of that data base is on line at eerpcv.org and allows anyone to trace old PCVs. Marian has collected other material that is not on line, but is invaluable in running the group. She’s good at keeping secrets: while working for Peace Corps staff in Washington she had access to all PC’s personal files. No Snowdon leaker she, not then, not now. Her work assembling Ethiopia/Eritrea records was a labor of love involving long hours of largely unappreciated work.

In 1990 she joined the board of the National Peace Corps Association and with a group of friends launched an Ethiopia country–of–service group of RPCVs which she named — not without controversy considering that the Eritrean insurgency was at a full boil — Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs.

Ultimately she became president. She did it all: for many years she produced the HERALD by herself. She organized conferences for Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs, juggling room reservations, cajoling speakers to talk for free, hauling soft drinks (and not-so-soft drinks) to the hospitality room. All the while dealing with dissension within the E&E community. RPCVs can be difficult. Dueling with RPCVs rather makes the Iran nuclear negotiations look simple. Marian is John Kerry, but with a nicer smile and a cheery laugh.

Marian’s E&E RPCV
E&E RRPV prospered under Marian. It had its fingers in many pies. In its early days before the Internet, says Marian, “The HERALD had the only complete compilation of Ethiopian news available.” They read and clipped it at the State Department. There were conferences/reunions every few years in places like Los Angeles, Washington DC, and Chicago. Thanks to the database and “The Herald” for promotion of these events, our group regularly has had the largest attendance of any other country-of-service RPCV groups at national conferences.

Says Dane Smith (Asmara 1963-65), a former president of the National Peace Corps Association, “Marian [was] the determined and steady leader who, with the support of a few others, forged E & E RPCVs into one of the strongest and most influential country of service groups.”

One of a number of E&E RPCVs projects
Over the years, says Marian, “People come up to me saying: ‘I have a good idea for you.’” They wanted the group to do some kind of   project in Ethiopia or Eritrea. Thus began the E&E RPCVs’ RPCV Legacy Program designed to assist those people to make their ideas a reality. Working with an attorney, she got E&E RPCV designated a 501(c)3 organization by the IRS, and established the Legacy Program so that now RPCVs with the good ideas can manage their project, promote it with the group, fund it and get support — with critical tax deductions — under the guise of the E&E RPCV.

Not directly related to the E&E RPCVs, but in its spirit, she and John Coyne (Addis 1962-64) started a program to promote and encourage Peace Corps writers, and there are many, some famous, many not so much. John, as editor and she as published, began producing the “Peace Corps Writers” newsletter in 1989, which morphed into the blog Peace Corps Worldwide. In addition she has managed the  Peace Corps Writers imprint  that has published more than 50 books by Peace Corps writers.

A call for action
Everybody remembers the Super Volunteers in our group, those high achieving folks who mastered Amharic irregular verbs, and set up a community health center while teaching 40 hours a week. Well, says John Coyne, who has worked with Marian for years, “Marian is certainly one of Peace Corps greatest Super RPCVs.”

Now all that Super RPCV good work — The HERALD, the Legacy program, the data base, the conferences, the bonds among all of us who have served in Ethiopia and Eritrea — is in jeopardy.

A new group of people is needed to take over E&E RPCV, or it may simply fade away into the forgotten corners of the Internet and boxes of yellowing memorabilia.

The Board wishes to renew its efforts to recruit some new members. Ultimately we need a person — possibly a team of two or three (replacing Marian is a big job) — to serve as President of the group and move it on, and someone to manage the RPCV Legacy Program.

Anyone interested in serving on the Board of E&E RPCV, please electronically raise your hand by sending an email to Leo Cecchini, vice president of the Board, at leo@cecchini.org.

We all thank you.

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