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History of International Neighbors

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

By Dale


Last spring, International Neighbors celebrated 65 years by remembering our Founding Mothers:


Frankie Simonds helped organize the celebration with Robyn Frey.

Ann Staiger had a painting group in her home and was involved in many committees.

Barb Banet participated in the Film Group for over 40 years and organized our in-person registration

Martha Bhatia was president for 3 years and participated in the film group for over 40 years.

Helga Schacht got us on-line during her presidency.


Founding Mother Frankie Simonds speaks at our 60th Anniversary.

Shirley Axon is on the left and Shirley Wolfe and Ann Staiger on the right.


We also remembered those Founding Mothers who have passed on:


Marilyn Maassaivaig managed the Exchange in Pound House and participated until the end of her life.

Shirley Wolfe helped start the Friendship Cooperative Nursery so that children from other countries had a preschool when other preschools wouldn’t accept them and was active in Arbor Hills Tea Group until she passed away.


Shirley and volunteers helping at the nursery


Esther Dunham is credited with starting International Neighbors in 1958 by inviting some international women to tea. She had noticed that families from other countries were coming to Ann Arbor so the husbands could study and/or work here, but their wives were often alone and isolated. She recruited other Ann Arbor women who were interested in helping the wives because they had traveled abroad and knew how hard it was to live in a different country. Women offered their homes for Tea Groups, where women could get to know one another over tea. Other activities were soon initiated such as Book, Conversation and Discussion Groups.


UM had designated Pound House for international activities. IN women started the Pound House Exchange in 1959 where household items, baby equipment, winter coats and boots were collected to lend to families for their stay in Ann Arbor. In 1963, the IN guide “Living in Ann Arbor” was first published to share information about local places to go, local services and advice for members. Several years later, the guide was translated into Spanish. Over the years it was updated often until the internet provided similar information.

Until 1995, there was a Special Services coordinator who, among other things, referred the names of newcomers who were pregnant to the Visiting Nurses Association. The nurse would provide information during pregnancy and visit mom and the newborn after delivery.


Marilyn Maassaivaig helping at the furniture exchange


Many things have changed over the 65 years according to Alice Chambers, who named four specific things:


1) E-mail, which makes contacting group members easy, replacing phone calls and letters.

2) Hostesses used to pick up newcomers for activities, but now most members drive their own cars.

3) Hostesses used to have to send paper maps to members, which are no longer needed because of GPS.

4) Local yard sales now provide many items for families to use, so the Exchange is no longer needed


IN continues to edit a monthly Newsletter which, we hope, provides relevant information for our members, although now it is distributed via e-mail instead of the post office. We also continue to provide hospitality and friendship for women while we learn from each other: American and International women sharing and caring. Let’s work together to move International Neighbors into the future.



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Great newsletter!!

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