Peace Pilgrim Statue Dedication Article


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Published on 11/18/2000, THE PRESS OF ATLANTIC CITY

Our local Peace Pilgrim will be honored in Central America

By BETT NORCROSS McCOY

A permanent public testament to a local woman's quest for peace and to the worldwide appeal of her message will be unveiled Sunday in Central America -- miles from her Atlantic County birthplace and nearly 20 years after her death.

The woman, Mildred Norman Ryder (1908-1981), known from age 44 only as Peace Pilgrim, will be honored with a life-size bronze statue installed on the campus of the United Nations University for Peace located near San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

Peace Pilgrim's basic message was a simple one: "Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth and hatred with love."- She shared it and other insights with anyone who listened as she walked across the country six times - between 1953 and her death in a head-on crash in 1981 while being shuttled to a speaking engagement in Indiana. But her teachings continue to inspire people throughout the world.

The statue, created by renowned Costa Rican sculptor Fernando Calvo, is being installed as part of a yearlong initiative called "Costa Rica 2000: New Millennium of Peace," which has featured a series of events highlighting peace.

Why Costa Rica? "Costa Rica is the first and only country in the world to unilaterally abolish its army, more than 50 years ago," said Mary Stuckey Newswanger, Peace Pilgrim project coordinator. Newswanger, a longtime peace activist formerly on staff with the American Friends Service Committee, worked in Philadelphia before moving to Monteverde, Costa Rica, about 10 years ago. Monteverde was founded in a rurla mountainous area in 1950 by 11 Quaker families.

Peace Pilgrim, who relied solely on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter, was an independent promoter of peace during her back-and-forth nationwide travels. But she had been affiliated with various Quaker groups in the years she spent preparing herself for her mission.

Galloway Township resident Helene Norman Young, Peace Pilgrim's 84-year-old sister, is attending the commemorative ceremony at the university and related events in Costa Rica courtesy of a supporter of Peace Pilgrim's teachings. "I am very honored and grateful to the woman who is sponsoring me. Her name is Elinore Detiger. I haven't ever met her, but I hope to when I get there ... . All of this is really overwhelming," Young said recently from her Cologne home.

Young will be accompanied by Barbara Reynolds and Reynolds' daughter, Erin Bumgarner, 16, both of the Smithville section of Galloway Township. Reynolds became intrigued by Young's sister when she read "Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Works in Her Own Words," a compilation of Peace Pilgrim's writings, which was in the library of the Quaker Friends Meeting group Reynolds attends in Absecon Highlands, Galloway Township.

Reynolds was so impressed by the book that she tracked Young down through the Cologne post office, which was where Peace Pilgrim's mail went during her travels (and sometimes still does) and was where Young, who kept her sister's identity secret during her lifetime, picked it up for her.

Reynolds and Young developed a friendship and now share their affinity for Peace Pilgrim's teachings and for bike riding. Their Costa Rican trip developed because organizers of the statue project had e-mailed Reynolds to ask her to notify Young that Detiger would sponsor Young's trip.

One thing led to another and Reynolds, director of Free To Be child-care center at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, Galloway Township, decided to go too. "I had always wanted to go to Costa Rica. In fact, I planned to go with Stockton students sometime," she said recently. (The Stockton group goes to study animal and plant life, she said.)

By the way, Detiger, Young's benefactor, is an international peace worker and one of the "many individual people" involved in the statue project, Newswanger said in an e-mail interview recently.

Here's a summary of the statue's serendipitous genesis, as Newswanger explained it. Of course there was a lot more to it than this, but you'll get the idea.

Robert Muller, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations and chancellor emeritus of the U.N. University for Peace, originated the idea several years ago. He wanted to honor individuals who "dedicated their life's work to world peace." Newswanger first heard about the possibility of the statue from Ann Rush, who runs the all-volunteer Friends of Peace Pilgrim organization with her husband, John Rush, in California. Newswanger had contacted them about getting some Peace Pilgrim books that the Quakers in Monteverde wanted to distribute to schoolteachers in Nicaragua.

Sometime later, Newswanger contacted the Rushes to find out how to reach Jemila Ericson, a North Carolina woman who portrays Peace Pilgrim for Living History projects. Newswanger wanted to invite her to speak to children at the Monteverde Friends School. She learned then that the statue project had been abandoned because the $30,000 price quoted for it was too costly.

But soon after that, things started falling into place: Ericson agreed to go to Costa Rica as Peace Pilgrim, Calvo agreed to make the statue for $18,000, and officials at the small United Nations University for Peace, known as UPAZ in Spanish, approved of the statue's placement there.

Newswanger said the setting is perfect.

UPAZ, founded in the west San Jose suburb of Ciudad Colon in 1980, "is the world's only United Nations-sanctioned learning center dedicated to peace studies," a May 2000 article in The Tico Times, a Costa Rican newspaper, said. The university, which offers a doctorate in Communications for Peace and a master's program in Environmental Resources and Peace, "receives no funding from the U.N., but depends on contributions from international organizations," the article says. Its five-year plan focuses on energizing its funding efforts, expanding its programs and developing "internationally recognized peace research programs." Funding for the bronze statue is separate from the university's development plans.

The statue, incidentally, is actually larger than life. "Peace Pilgrim was 5 feet 2 inches tall. Calvo made the statue 5 feet 4 inches tall, as it will not be on a pedestal but simply placed at ground level, as she herself walked the earth with no distinction between herself and those around her," Newswanger said. It depicts her wearing her trademark tunic, which was emblazoned with her adopted name on the front and mileage count on the back. (When she passed the 25,000-mile mark in 1964, she stopped counting miles.)

The Atlantic County contingent - Young, Reynolds and Bumgarner - was scheduled to leave New Jersey Thursday and will return Wednesday.

Carlos Cardenas, of Honduras, will be at the ceremony representing the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947. Newswanger said the AFSC "formally considered" nominating Peace Pilgrim for a Nobel Peace Prize posthumously in 2001, but decided against it.

"It has never been awarded posthumously, not even to Mahatma Gandhi," Newswanger said, "We fully realize why they decided they couldn't not nominate Peace Pilgrim, even though the idea was worthwhile and extremely timely." Regardless of the outcome of the nomination request, the prospect "gave an incredible energy and dynamic for our organizing the (statue) project," she said.

Others attending the event - besides our local trio, the Rushes and Ericson - include: Cheryl Canfield, longtime friend of Peace Pilgrim; Bruce Nichols, who created the Friends of Peace Pilgrim's Web site; Mayte Picco-Kline, who translated the Peace Pilgrim book into Spanish; and Erika Muhlenberg, who hosted Peace Pilgrim in her home when Peace Pilgrim spoke at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania in 1963 (Swarthmore's library houses a comprehensive Peace Collection).

"I am very excited about all of these people coming together for this one purpose," Reynolds said.

Young also is thrilled about the trip and is impressed by the continued attention given her sister's personal mission for peace. "She died almost 20 years ago and the interest is still growing ... We (the family) knew she crisscrossed the country for peace, and I forwarded her mail to her, but when she was home, she spent all of her time writing or speaking to different groups. I never realized what an impact she had until after she was gone," Young said.

Newswanger said the project was worth all the work. "It will make an enduring contribution, hopefully inspiring peacemakers for decades to come."

(To make a tax-exempt contribution toward the cost of the statue and related events, send a check to: Peace Pilgrim Project, c/o Cheryl Canfield, 20135 Pine Mountain Drive, Groveland, Calif. 95321.

For more information about the Friends of Peace Pilgrim, call the Rushes in California at (909) 927-7678 or visit www.peacepilgrim.org.

To learn more about UPAZ, visit www.upeace.org .

 

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