October 12, 2020 2:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Interview by Catherine Tondelli

What road led you to Rome?

A complete stranger I met on the beach in Nice led me to Rome! It was the summer of 1963 while I was on break from the university when we met. I had been travelling around Europe as most American students at that age but Italy had not been on my itinerary.

I had an enchanting invitation from a woman from Oregon whom I met while sunning myself on the beautiful beaches in Nice. She persuaded me to accompany her to Rome and on a whim, I took off with her. I thought hey why not?

We jumped on the train for Rome and arrived early in the morning. A quick breakfast of a freshly baked cornetto and a cappuccino at Termini got my sugar level energy going. I hopped on the number 64 bus and after 20 minutes of looking at what seemed like an open museum I got off at a piazza that was filled with people, statues and fountains and thought I just landed in wonderland. I knew I would be back in Rome.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us?

I'm a gypsy at heart, the one passion in my life is travel, and I have had the great good fortune to roam the world before mass tourism took off, when there was serious diversity in cultures and when it was safe to travel. My fascination with cultural diversity has never waned.

Tell us a bit about your childhood, family life?

My childhood, as the oldest of three girls, was a happy and tranquil one, protected and privileged, a little country elementary school – Hickory Grove – in the Detroit suburbs and one of the best high schools in the state of Michigan. I was very fortunate.

My sisters and I are second generation Americans, our maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States from the Austro-Hungarian Empire (today Slovakia) the first day of WWI to join her cousin, who had proposed marriage.

There was lots of strudel and goulash and pork roast on our dinner table and polkas and gypsy violin music played on the record player. Mom spoke and wrote four three Slovak languages but sadly never passed them on to us children.

How did you find AWAR?

Through the friendship of an AWAR member, I learned about AWAR almost 8 years ago shortly after my second retirement when time was suddenly at less of a premium. My AWAR favorite events were the garden parties to kick off the AWAR year. The events were always in some enchanting place in Rome with women who have become dear friends of mine.

What was the most spontaneous thing you have ever done?

I know this sounds crazy but one hot summer day in Cuernavaca, Mexico, while travelling with a back packing adventurous group of Italians, my boyfriend of 6 years and I decided to leave the pack and get married! For $10 it was a done deal, in Spanish with the mayor officiating and the hunchbacked jailer serving as witness!

Can you share a brief snippet of your career or some of the things that you are most proud of in your lifetime?

After graduating, I left cold Michigan for warm California and was fortunate to get a job teaching although the inner city junior high school was a difficult one. I was 21 years old and some of the students were 15 and 16 years old and of mixed ethnicities who had repeated grades. On my first day, I asked my first class to stand for the pledge of allegiance, but I turned out to be the only one reciting it. They told me they would only pledge their allegiance to the Mexican flag! Let’s say teaching in this school was challenging, but after hard work, and gaining the respect of the students and most importantly the gang leaders, I had a successful program and they excelled. It was the most difficult and at the same time most rewarding year of my life.

After a couple of years teaching, I decided to return to Rome to join that man I had met on the train years before and to live. With no money, no job, and not speaking Italian, it was not easy getting established. I landed a job calculating land usage of the cities of Tripoli and Bengazi for an American international architectural studio. Clients included the King of Libya and the Shah of Iran. Subsequently I worked for the family-run Marshall Field of Chicago publishing enterprise in Rome, for the multinational Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Corp. in human resources, for FAO of the United Nations in publishing for community forestry, and most recently at IFAD as publications consultant.

What word sums you up or is your power word?

It would be eclectic. Eclectic, the value in deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. I strongly feel that variety is the spice of life. This goes for types of music, food, fashion, language, and customs. I love Thai, Viet Namese, Italian and Persian food; jazz, symphonic and country music; Armani and Klein fashion, the Italian and French languages, Passover, Easter and Ramadan holidays. It’s all good, and makes life interesting.

What's your all-time favourite memory living in Rome?

I have many but one fond memory was living in Trastevere in the 1980s, where Marcello Mastroianni was a frequent visitor to the horsetrack betting place below the apartment, where Commandatore Filipetti toasted coffee in the window of his shop below our place, where my elderly neighbors in the building Signora Calo and Signora Rossi who had raised large families in their two-room flats, one child bedded on the kitchen table, one child below the kitchen table, wherever there was space – took me under their wing.

How do you share AWAR’s vision and mission?

Through participation in the AWAR cultural and social activities each of us makes good friends whom we can count on for support and enrichment, many of these friends being from diverse backgrounds and cultures. And it goes without saying being with co-nationals from time to time feels so good too, especially at holiday time when we might be missing home!

Who was your biggest inspiration in your life and why?

My mother was my inspiration. She was an exceptionally strong and determined person with a strong work ethic, whose great sense of humor made her many longstanding friends. She was a part-time paid employee in a medical studio until the day she died at age 93, procuring through various government programs special magnifying equipment and working tools to assist her in her almost total blindness.

What would you change if you could about your life?

I would have had a second child. Our daughter is an only child and would have benefited from a sibling, as I would have.

What advice would you give to future generations?

Save the planet now!

What keeps you a member of AWAR?

The social networking and friendships are what I find valuable in being an AWAR member. In addition, interesting and memorable cultural, educational, and social events and activities are organized for the membership, sometimes to places which are not easily accessible to the general public, e.g. the Italian foreign ministry art collection, SAID chocolate factory, Museum of an Ancient Roman Stadium, Thanksgiving dinner in special venues, etc.

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