Audrey Ayers

Audrey Ayres Memorial

June 21, 2008 Remarks by Carol Pierce

Audrey Ayres met the Ecumenical Institute in 1967, taking a weeknight course in religious studies which EI taught in cooperation with many suburban churches in the late 60’s

She then decided to participate in EI’s work in Fifth City, the west side community development project in which EI’s campus was located. This volunteer adventure lasted 34 years, ending in 2001 when Alzheimer’s made travel a difficult proposition.

EI’s west side location was far from Naperville. In 1971 EI moved to the north side of Chicago when the Kemper Insurance Company gave EI it’s 8-story office building. It made Audrey’s commute longer, but she continued splitting her week between Fifth City and the offices in Uptown. By that time the not-for-profit was working in countries across the world, and depending on the Chicago operation to be a support and training center.

What did Audrey do all those years? She served on the Board of Directors and was their secretary for more than a decade. She supported the Fifth City Preschool for many years, helping in every imaginable way. On the north side she worked in a support role for the ICA’s national finance operations She helped document the years of Local School Improvement Planning in Chicago’s public schools. Audrey participated in the creation of Leadership Options, a 2-week training in modern leadership methods. Just prior to the start of the first Leadership Options the director had heart surgery, so Audrey was part of a small group that made the program happen. She took part in ICA’s global meetings held every 4 years. The last one she attended was in 96 in Cairo, Egypt. She was part of the Archives angels, a group that drew together ICA archives from around the world and made sense of all that work. They produced a CD with select talks from our history. And the nature of what she could do changed – she helped the Conference Center vacuum and prepare for incoming groups; Audrey cared for the art work that covered 4 floors used by EI and ICA. And Audrey became known as the plant lady, taking tender care of plants on all 4 of those floors. In these days a few people began calling her ‘Saint Audrey’. At first she looked puzzled, then she smiled. She brought life to all of our space.

She helped with the gardening in the parking lot when the lot was repaved. The ICA received funding from the city and the state for recreating the lot as a model green space, using special bricks which allow rain water to go down to the water table. At the time of the dedication of the new lot, we presented Audrey with a brick engraved with her name in celebration of her many efforts to care for that space. One day while she was out working on the space around the lot, two small boys passed her by and then stopped to have an argument. They came back to Audrey and asked her if she was doing community service? Of course, she responded in the affirmative. The boys moved off again, but were in an even bigger argument before they got to the corner. They finally came back to ask her, “What did you do?” By sharing an image that you could choose to do community service (it didn’t have to be court ordered), that you could joyfully volunteer (it didn’t have to be punishment), undoubtedly changed the imagination of both of those young boys forever.

By 2001 it was decided that Audrey would no longer make the trip in to Chicago to volunteer. In 1997 Audrey began taking medication for Alzheimers, and began engaging some of our staff in memory exercises. Driving became difficult for her, and if it “takes a village” to raise a child it honestly “took a whole family” to get Audrey to her volunteer job. Putting her on a train here in Naperville, meeting her at Union Station, getting her on a bus that dropped her at EI’s building, or picking her up and dropping her off at our building - it took a lot of effort and support of her desire to continue as a volunteer. So I would like to formally thank her family for sharing her with us for all those years.

I want to share 3 things I can imagine Audrey enjoying. First, from a t-shirt –

“If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

Second -

Just remember, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything and the wrong way is to keep trying to make everybody else do it the right way. -- From Colonel Potter in M*A*S*H*

(Audrey came to watch MASH with me and my husband for a while.)

And third, I don’t know where this came from -

Life is not a journey to the grave With the intention of arriving safely In a pretty and well preserved body, But rather to skid in broadside, Thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!!!”

24 Jul 2008
Topic revision: r1 - 24 Jul 2008, GordonHarper
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