Vicki Nelson and I have pursued parallel professional and personal paths for nearly twenty years. We first met working on the New Bronson Hospital in the 1990’s; I worked for the primary design firm, Shepley Bulfinch; Vicki worked for our local Affiliate, Diekema Hamann in Kalamazoo. Over the years, Deikema Hamann’s healthcare expertise grew and they took ever larger responsibility for Bronson projects while my role evolved into conceptual planning and strategy; a successful collaboration on both sides. Vicki and I also shared common experiences raising children and working in developing countries: me in Haiti, Vicki in Guatemala. So it came as no surprise when we met for lunch in Kalamazoo during my post-retirement cycling adventure that Vickie told me she was retiring within the week. Tomorrow was much on her mind.
“I’m turning 60 and realized that my heart was less and less in the work of being a Principal in the firm. I was going through the process, giving my clients more than they expected, but I wanted the opportunity to do other things. I want days that aren’t scheduled. I have a list of things I want to do, but don’t feel pressed by it. They are just good opportunities.
“I’ve been to Guatemala eleven times, working primarily with a school that a nun started toward the end of the Civil War. Now I can be more involved. My partner Bruce has been involved in the school since 2003, when he first met Sister Celeste. He took her idea, was Director for a time, and turned it into a sustainable non-profit. He’s an estate attorney. That may not sound like a good venue for non-profit work, but he works with people who have lots of money and can sometimes suggest ways to distribute it beyond passing it down within a family.”
Vicki’s experiences in Guatemala mirror my own in Haiti in providing positive counterpoints to life in the United States. “There’s this guy who started a school in a bus terminal. The terminal is full of shoeshine boys and vendors whom he teaches between customers. His strategy is not just to impart information but identify the gaps in information. The boys learn to read from stories in books. The question the teacher asks is always, ‘Who’s not in the story’. The answer, of course, is shoeshine boys and people like them. This triggers the boys’ interest in writing, in telling their own stories.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“In part because we have to; we can’t keep consuming so much. Younger people don’t want all this stuff; they want to live in an urban setting and not have to drive.
“But also because the word connotes a positive attribute. We are so much heavier than we used to be: we are physically bigger; we occupy more square footage; we extract a larger environmental footprint. Everything is too big. Lighter will actually be better.”