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Good friends Frankie and Ann Staiger

By Frankie S.

I came to Ann Arbor from New York in 1968 to marry my husband, Scott. I was 36 years old; it was mid-winter and my new hometown seemed drab and dull. I knew no one other than Scott and after living in New York for 10 years, it was a big let down. So, probably like many of you reading this, I was rescued by International Neighbors through an invitation to join a Tea Group - mine was Angell.

I was a former teacher of high-school English and a professional health educator who had traveled widely in the U.S. and was, as well, someone who had spent three months in Europe in 1952 and again in 1957. I had learned repeatedly the importance of local offers of hospitality and assistance to one’s understanding of local culture, language and customs. And even survival.

IN soon became an organization in which I could repay the kindness and support native citizens had given me as a young traveler. Additionally, I began to make new friends, and eventually, to be useful to foreign women as a leader for English Conversation and Discussion groups, and as an editor and contributor to the organization’s printed publication “Living in Ann Arbor”. In the early 1970’s, we had an Exchange Center where our temporary visitors could borrow used items such as kitchen implements, lamps, small tables, or even baby strollers. I remember helping to open up the Pound House on the UofM campus on a monthly basis for browsers, users and donors. At that time, we worked closely with the University’s International Center but never at its direction.

Before long, I became a member of the IN Board and introduced the idea of a Fall reception to create a starting point for the program year, a concept of welcoming that had been important to me as an educator. As more foreign women arrived in Ann Arbor in the 1970’s, we grew in numbers with national women as “hostess” and foreign women as “guests”. Today we have several hundred women from over 80 countries who are regular participants in a variety of activities that provide assistance and promote concepts of national individuality, always embraced by deeply felt friendship. And our mailing list still carries over 900 names and addresses, worldwide, of continuing friends and contacts.

At some point in my earliest decade, I served as International Neighbors president with Ann Staiger as vice-president, and that solidified a friendship now 50 years long. Later, she became president and I went to work at Michigan Medicine, and my time with IN became limited.

When I retired in May of 1997, I attended the Annual Meeting for the first time in many years. The slate of Officers and Chairs was presented, but I noticed there was no president on the list. When the Nominating Committee Chair returned to her seat, which happened to be next to me, I whispered to her: “No President?” She whispered back: “Right”. I whispered: “Why?” She whispered: “No one will do it. Why don’t you?”

I sat there astounded, newly retired, and just given the greatest gift - a chance to be a part of International Neighbors again. So, I whispered back: “Perhaps. Could we meet and talk about it? And what’s your name?” She whispered back to me: “It’s a deal. And my name is Jolanta Nowak.”

Frankie and Marilyn Maaseidvaag

By any standard, IN has been an especially unique organization. It has no local address; no telephone number; no headquarters; no membership dues; no men; and no rule book, though there are By-Laws that clarify all of this. The 21st century has given it a place in the world wide web. It has existed financially on donations gathered once a year prior to the Fall Open House and on the charitable support over the years of such organizations as the Ann Arbor Community Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Zion Lutheran Church and the Japan Business Society of Detroit Foundation.

Let us, as international sisters, rejoice in the uniqueness and the privilege it is to be part of such a daring concept… now 65 years old.

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