Quixote Center Reunion - Retrospective

On April 13 and 14, 2018, the Quixote Center Reunion gathered long-standing QC friends and former and current staff members to celebrate our shared history of pursuing impossible dreams. If it felt at times like a high school or college class reunion, there is a good reason. Since its founding 42 years ago, the Quixote Center has often functioned as a school where young, idealistic people learned about the nuts and bolts of working for peace and justice. They learned on the job how a nonprofit survives – developing programs and strategies for their implementation, creating budgets, forging alliances with partners, and (of course) fundraising, all with characteristic QC humor. We believed that the ability to laugh is key to surviving the grim realities of systemic injustice that can seem impossible to change. Thus, our mission statement:

A gathering of people who work and pray with laughter,

to reach for the stars that seem too distant to be touched,

or too dim to be worth the effort.

We try to be friends with people in need,

and to celebrate life with people

who believe that the struggle to be like Jesus

in building a world more justly loving

is worth the gift of our lives.

Of the approximately 130 people who have worked at the Center, some have died, others we cannot find, and a few have permanently parted ways. But the majority remain connected by a silken, unbreakable thread, and that connection was palpable at the reunion events.

On Friday evening, over 100 people gathered at the College Park Marriott for dinner and fun, some having travelled from as far away as Scotland, Nicaragua and the west coast. And it was fun – with wistful moments interwoven in the program.

The founders were present—Dolly Pomerleau and Maureen Fiedler in the flesh, and Bill Callahan in spirit, in song, and in the beautiful quilt made from his favorite t-shirts after his death. Samantha Hegre played the cello as people arrived. Frank DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry emceed both as himself and as Sancho. Mercy Coogan was the “Greek chorus” seeking to keep Sancho in line. Dolly Pomerleau welcomed everyone, and John Marchese, QC’s director, presented the Quixote Center of today with special emphasis on our new program "Activists in Residence." Bill d’Antonio read a poem he wrote as a tribute to QC co-founder, Bill Callahan. Maureen Fiedler, Jane Henderson, Shari Silberstein, Ketxu Amezua, and Tom Ricker shared their tributes on the major programs with which they worked.

Even Sancho, our two-faced, curmudgeonly computer persona was there, complaining and kvetching the whole time. 

And then we heard from Bill de Blasio, former Quixote Center employee and current mayor of New York City. His RSVP had been a "maybe" until two days before the event, when we were told he could be with us for "an hour." In reality, that hour stretched out for the whole evening. Taking advantage of Dolly's offer to speak, he remembered his interview at the Quixote Center (feeling out of place in a suit and tie) and his days organizing shipments of humanitarian aid for people in Nicaragua. He described organizing a softball league among solidarity groups in the DC area and the lesson he learned about the need to laugh, especially at ourselves. In this vein, the team was named “The Screaming Communist Iguanas,” and he concocted a plan to increase the popularity of justice work by opening a "Pizza and Justice" center. He spoke warmly of his colleagues, Bill Callahan, Dolly Pomerleau, and Maureen Fiedler, and he ended with a message of hope.

Apparently, a right-wing reporter infiltrated our reunion! At 9:47 p.m. he posted “Bill de Blasio was back to being just another comrade Friday night at an out-of-town reunion for a left-leaning social justice group that helps families sympathetic to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.” It’s nice not to be ignored!

Tom Ricker, joined by Andy Laken, performed an original song commenting on current events in the US.  Then the entertainment turned to Quixote Center history. Being fans of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…” we drew up stories from QC’s history leaving the audience to vote on which story was true. Two out of three scenarios were easily ferreted out – the third – not so much. Hosting this section was Heidi Siebentritt. The readers were Joe Izzo, Steve Brown, and Nancy Sulfridge.

To end the evening, we sang the Quixote anthem “The Impossible Dream” with gusto and a surprising degree of consensus on pitch. At 10:00 p.m., Bill de Blasio quietly slipped out for his four-hour ride back to New York. Attendees who were staying at the hotel had some time to reminisce and get reacquainted; the next day, we heard reports that some of the former staff were up until 2:00 a.m.!

Saturday, April 14, was reserved for a gathering of former staff. There were 35 people present – a few more than the 24 people who were expected. There were special gifts for these Questers. Walter Winfield, a former QC staff member living in Taiwan, couldn’t attend, but he put together a Quixote which we reproduced in the office. It included pictures and brief bios of all former staff we could locate, a list of people who were “camera shy” and those we could not find, a memorial list of those who have died, and a touching tribute to Bill Callahan, written by Walter. The second gift was a votive candle holder made by Dolly with a glaze that contained a sprinkling of Bill’s ashes. Everyone was genuinely touched by these presentations, some even teary.

The main event on Saturday was a round-robin. Everyone present spoke about their current work, and many gave touching tributes to how formative their time at the Center had been and how it has continued to impact their lives. Some remembered their surprise that, even though they were fresh out of college, Maureen, Bill and Dolly gave them equal voice in discussions and decision making. No one missed the sometimes-endless staff meetings!

By 2:30 p.m. folks meandered off to continue their lives with other friends, colleagues, and family, and to pursue their own work for justice, whether locally or globally.

The Reunion was successful because of the generous and talented people who helped shape it - special thanks to Carol Binstock, Mercy Coogan, Jessice DeCou, Mfon Edet, John Marchese, and Jocelyn Trainer, and to all who attended with their enthusiasm and happy hearts.

If you believe in miracles, this weekend was one.