Citation for Long and Valued Service to the Assembly, 2015

Frank and Barbara Somers


JULY 19, 2015

Every summer we come to the Assembly hoping and expecting that things will be as wonderful as in each year before – believing that whether we need re-creation or recreation, chances to teach or to be taught, days to make decisions or to go with the flow – all these things will be here for us.  That they are here is because of the many people who volunteer their time and their ideas to the Assembly.  Some of our wonderful volunteers represent clans of many generations, some have “married in,” and some have more recently come and become irreplaceable members of the Assembly extended family.  But all have in common a love of the CSA and a desire to help it flourish.  Each year the Citations Committee has the good fortune to recognize exceptional volunteers and to remind all of us that the reason the Assembly is the place we love is because of the support given by many over the years.

This year we are pleased to present the Citation for Long and Valued Service to the Assembly to a couple – Barbara and Frank Somers.  Let me tell you a bit about them.

R.J. Bennett first came to the Assembly in 1905 from the Northside of Chicago where he had been active in the Congregational Church and the YMCA.  A wholesale grocer who had been burned out in the Chicago fire, his creditors had offered to accept reduced payment, but he demonstrated the combination of rigorous ethics and entrepreneurship that would later benefit the Assembly and he rebuilt his business with such success that he paid back all his creditors with interest.  Involved with the CSA here in Pilgrim from its beginning, when there was a need for more permanent structures than tents he provided the major funding both for the Dining Hall and for the auditorium named the Bennett Auditorium, that preceded this Meeting House.  
His great-granddaughter, Barbara Brownell, grew up in Kalamazoo.  She would spend two weeks each summer with her grandparents, Bessie and Will Bennett, in the cottage built by R.J. Bennett in 1915 - on Standish Road at the S. Shore Road.  Those years of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s were quieter years at the Assembly with no phones, few cars, and lots of family time.  In recent years when they were remodeling the old cottage the family almost didn’t put in a dishwasher because, Barbara recalled, “That’s when I talked with my grandmother – doing the dishes.” (Note: they put it in anyway.)

Barbara enrolled at Northwestern University where she was an English major, a member of Tri Delta sorority, and a fan of the football team that went to the Rose Bowl in her senior year!  After graduation she lived with three sorority sisters in Chicago and worked in advertising – in the early “Mad Men” years!

Meanwhile, Frank Somers was growing up on a farm in Illinois.  After his freshman year at the University of Illinois he joined the army and spent 3 years with a mortar battalion in Europe during WWII, returning a decorated veteran in 1945.  He went back to the University of Illinois on the GI Bill.  During the summer of 1947 he visited Kalamazoo with his roommate and, in the wonderful way of serendipity, his roommate had a friend who knew a girl named Barbara Brownell.  At the end of summer, back in school, Frank would hitchhike from Champaign to Chicago on the weekends – he says that wearing a buddy’s glamorous Air Corps jacket seemed to get him rides faster than wearing his own jacket.  When he graduated he went to Kalamazoo and got a job with The Sutherland Paper Company – staying with them through several changes of ownership for 40 years.

Frank and Barbara were married in 1951 and spent much of their married life being sent from place to place by the company as Frank advanced in management.  They lived in Pittsburgh, Omaha, Des Moines, Kansas City, Saratoga (CA) – and each of their 4 children was born in a different place.  Finally they were able to move back to Michigan and at last could spend more time in the place that for them, as for so many of us, was more home than any other place.

With a big porch looking over the lake it was inevitable that over time their garage would fill with things that float – paddleboards, kayaks, motorboats – and they loved swimming and the beach.

Barbara’s service to the Assembly has always been the quiet kind that can be overlooked – unless you are working with her.  That’s when you realize how much she cares about the Assembly, how much time she’s given, and how much she has contributed.  She was a long time volunteer with the Women’s Association, helping with all the many services it has provided through the years, as well as serving on its board, and she has spent many many years on the Membership Committee – meeting every week of every summer, offering an open, welcoming, and thoughtful perspective from her long experience.  
Frank brought his energy and his business experience to this Assembly that he had come to see as a welcoming home.  He was on the Property Management committee for years as member and chair, served on the Board of Trustees as vice-president and a member of the Executive Committee; he was a member of the Long Range Planning committee for several years and for 16 years was on Bud Strong’s famous Septic System Review committee.

We always make the point that there are many ways in which individuals provide dedicated service to the Assembly – through committees, through highly visible activities, and through being mindfully present, helping when help is needed and contributing thoughtful critiques and ideas as new ways of doing things are proposed.  Frank and Barbara Somers represent all those things while contributing greatly to the level of civil discourse that will help the CSA continue to be the place called ”home” by future generations.  Those who have shared time with them over the years have long noted and appreciated the quiet but significant ways in which they have enriched the lives of all of us.

Barbara and Frank – we’re delighted to recognize your contributions to the Congregational Summer Assembly with this Citation.  Your names have been placed on the plaque at the back of the Meeting House and members of the congregation can greet you outside after the service.

2007 and earlier - Past Recipients of the Citation for Service to the Assembly

1979 - George Gibson

1980 - Mary Sherwood Hill

1981 - Catherine Stebbins

1982 - Emilie Williams

1983 - Jean and Russ Petrick

1984 - Joe Reeve

1985 - Norman Johnson

1986 - Agnete Hunt

1988 - Laurence Van Tuyl

1989 - A. Ray Cartlidge

1992 - Lucile and John Hawley

1993 - Charles (Bud) French

1994 - Katy and Hugh Gosnell

1995 - Eileen and Karl Rauschert

1995 - Evelyn Walter

1996 - Elsie and Bob Walton

1997 - Betsy Petersen

1998 - Arthur (Bud) Strong

1999 - Marjorie Pearsall-Groenwald

2000 - Doris and Dave Robertson

2001 - Jane and Telfer Mook

2002 - Lou Pray

2003 - Russell Freeburg

2004 - Bill Dahman

2006 - Kent Murmann

2007 - Jim and Luanne Buzzell

Citation for Long and Valued Service to the Assembly, 2011


AUGUST 7, 2011

Each year the Citations Committee reflects on the generous sharing of time and talent by members of our community and introduces one of those individuals to you.  Sometimes we learn of contributions that are quiet and behind the scenes – sometimes they are out where everyone is aware of them.  In the process we discover many things about what makes the Congregational Summer Assembly such a special place for all of us – and one of these things is how the concept of service to the community is a family value that is carried out from generation to generation.

The person we recognize this morning spends so many hours of each summer here in the Meeting House that a lot of people think she’s part of the paid staff.  And she is so closely identified with music that many people have no idea how much she does and has done here that has been totally unconnected to music. So I look forward to telling you more about her – MARILYN STIMSON WINTER.

It’s impossible to tell the story of Marilyn’s involvement in the Assembly without acknowledging her parents, Dr Edward Stimson and Emily Maclean Stimson.  They were larger than life in more than height and and are rightly seen as the role models for their three daughters – Kay, Marjorie, and Marilyn -  in representing what the Assembly is all about.

Marilyn was born the youngest of the three in Cincinnati, OH.  As her father accepted the call from Presbyterian churches in new cities the family moved to Galesburg, IL; Sioux City, IA; back to Cincinnati; and, finally, when Marilyn was 10, to Omaha, NB, where they remained.  A cheerleader in high school, Marilyn went on to Northwestern University where she was on the Pep Squad.  Anyone watching her get scores of children engaged during operetta practices can see that as a natural progression.  Who hasn’t heard this:  clap clapclap clap clap – clap clap? At the beginning of her junior year Marilyn transferred to Occidental College in Los Angeles where she went into music, stayed for a Masters in Voice with a Minor in Theater, and met Brian Winter.  Together they continued their education in music at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.  Marilyn taught 4th grade while also earning her second Master’s Degree, in Vocal Performance, at Illinois.  Then followed Enid, Oklahoma, and several years of traveling in a kind of educational triangle:  Illinois, the University of Arizona, and Alma, MI – with both of them teaching and continuing work on their Doctor of Musical Arts in Voice programs.  Brian completed his in 1981 and Marilyn in 1982.  In 1983 they moved to Austin, Texas, where he was Director of music at the Methodist Church. Marilyn conducted 5 choirs at the Presbyterian Church and taught grades 1-6 plus  K – 12 vocal music.  In 1999 they moved to Severna Park, MD, where they have lived ever since.

That was a lot of activity out in the “real world.”  What about the Congregational Summer Assembly – our real world?  In the mid-40’s Dr. Stimson and Dr. John Lukens were both Presbyterian ministers in Cincinnati and were friends.  The Stimsons had vacationed in the Charlevoix area but were looking for a summer location more suited to the children.  Dr. Lukens had told Dr. Stimson many times how great the CSA was.  As Ruthie Lukens tells it, one summer morning in 1946 she and her parents were sitting at the table in the cottage, when all of a sudden they heard loud steps clumping across the porch, and a huge booming voice saying, “We’re here!”  Needless to say, her parents were panic stricken, especially her mother, thinking he meant “We’re here – to stay – with you”– in their small cottage!  Actually the Stimsons had rented a cottage – and beautiful Crystal Lake plus the atmosphere at the Assembly immediately captured them.  The next year they rented one of the Steele cottages and were “July people” for several summers before buying the last lot available on the east side of M-22.  In following summers they sort of camped out in the very basic structure that was erected while Dr. Stimson completed much of the work himself.

That began the real involvement in CSA activities – in operettas, Stunt Nights, and plays: “Cinderella,” “Ojibway Legend,” “Smokey Mountain,” “The Night of January 16th.”  Marilyn worked as a waitress in the Dining Hall and, after it closed, at the Crystal View when it served sit-down meals.  She also worked as Mr. Pope’s assistant in the Post Office.

During her college years she helped Emilie Williams with “Hiawatha,” teaching the children the music; and with the Monday night children’s dancing – subbing for Emilie at the piano on occasion.  She started singing in the CSA Choir at age 11 and sang many offertory solos and duets over the years.  After her marriage she and Brian also did recitals for the Assembly community as their daughters were to do later.  She worked on children’s operetta costumes for several years, then took on the Music Director’s role with Pandora in 1986.   For many years she either sang a major role, did the conducting or was the musical director of the adult operettas: “The Gondoliers,” “ Brigadoon,” “Flower Drum Song,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “ Oliver” (in which, as the undertaker’s wife, she fell into the coffin!).  Marilyn has always been one to take her work very seriously and herself very lightly which is a wonderful pairing of qualities – so no one who saw “Road to Dunsinane” can ever forget her “heroic soprano” presentation of Lady MacBeth in gold breastplate and horned helmet.  Recently, in what she calls her “post ingénue period,” she played the wonderfully comic role of Sister Mary Regina, the Mother Superior, in both presentations of “Nunsense.”

While she has been the Music Director of many adult operettas, her first love has been being Music Director of the children’s operettas which she has continued to do since 1986.  For the last 25 years you have been able to find her every day during the 2 weeks before the show, working not only with the whole cast but with individuals and small groups – giving the equivalent of hundreds of mini private voice lessons – encouraging the timid, calming the anxious,  developing the abilities and the self esteem of the novices.  It has been a wonderful gift to all of us and to all of our children.  What the casual observer might describe as a form of masochism Marilyn describes as “just fun.”  In her words “It’s just fun to help people do things they never thought they could do.” And in recent years she has also started writing new songs to add to the shows.

But Marilyn has always had a deep feeling of responsibility for the non-musical side of the Assembly – those tasks that keep things running and that both reflect and direct the way our values and mission are carried out day by day as a community.  She was on the Youth Committee for several years and was instrumental in first providing a Staff Dinner in thanks and appreciation for their work.  During the years of the big teen dances she sacrificed her hearing to act as a chaperone.  Marilyn served on the Board of Trustees and was Vice President of the Board.  She has been a member of the By-Laws Committee for many years.  And she provides a long institutional memory for the Membership Committee having served as a committee member, as the committee chairman, and now again as a member.  Even when she is in the midst of rehearsals she comes to the weekly meetings and is never at a loss for words.

So, Marilyn, your parents represented for you what the Assembly is about – but over the years you have represented for hundreds of young people what it means to serve the community you are part of with joy.  Your name has been engraved on the plaque at the back of the Meeting House and everyone can thank you personally after the service.