By M. M. DONALDSON
Partners for Transit (P4T) has a new ally. Barrier Busters members voted unanimously to pledge support to P4T, during their monthly meeting in November. Representing more than 50 member agencies that provide social services, Barrier Busters is a key partner.
P4T is actively recruiting community partnerships with the upcoming spring millage to expand the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority services. It had 21 endorsers until receiving the commitment from Barrier Busters, a program under the Office of Community and Economic Development through Washtenaw County, whose members coordinate community services through their network.
Many of the Barrier Busters member agencies have clients who are dependent on public transportation. Those who use public transportation will have expanded services if the proposed millage passes.
P4T is recommending expansion of hours and routes to the AAATA and is not the only entity pursing greater transportation infrastructure. Ypsilanti Township recently joined the AAATA by unanimous vote by the Ann Arbor City Council. The City of Ypsilanti was accepted in June.
The Ypsilanti municipalities will now have voting rights with the AAATA. Transit services provided in both areas were formerly through a contract agreement.
Art featuring Pluto is the latest in Washtenaw’s renowned collection
By MARIA RIGOU
NEW ORLEANS – Washtenaw Community College has a new star in its hallways. And it used to be a planet.
“Feeling Sorry for Pluto,” by New Orleans-based artist Chris Roberts-Antieau, is stealing the spotlight in the LA building. The piece of art was acquired by Julia Gleich, Production Center manager, who took over the art collection after Judith Hommel retired from WCC two years ago.
Roberts-Antieau, formerly of Ann Arbor, works with a technique called fabric appliqué. It consists of cutting fabric in specific shapes and then layering them and sewing them together to form a complete picture.
“I took seventh-grade Home Economics and never stopped,” Roberts-Antieau said. “I always liked to draw, so they merged (into one thing).”
WCC is host to “roughly 130 pieces of art” that are part of its art collection with a combined worth of about $300,000, Gleich estimated.
“There was some money donated to buy art,” Gleich said. “And so thanks to this person, we bought Pluto.”
Roberts-Antieau’s work ranges from $390 up to $12,000.
“There is a bit for everyone,” said Heidi Hendrick, New Orleans-based gallery director. “Her mid-point is around $2,000-$4,000. Pluto was $1,900.”
“Felling Sorry for Pluto” is displayed on the first floor of the LA building, where the science classes take place.
Not so much.
“We like to buy work from artists who live in Washtenaw County or have a connection to it,” Gleich said. “We also try to make them educational, so this piece fit the criteria.”
Over the last few decades, there was been a lot of controversy surrounding Pluto. Several years ago, Pluto was removed from the Solar System as a planet, explained Roberts-Antieau.
Pluto and its moons are now known to be a large example of a collection of objects called the Kuiper Belt. There are an estimated 70,000 icy objects with the same composition as Pluto in the Kuiper Belt, according to Universe Today.
“It was arbitrary and silly (when Pluto was removed from the Solar System),” said Roberts-Antieau. “So I did a commentary with my art.”
The Michigan-born artist has been exhibiting her creations at the Ann Arbor Art Fair since 1988, Hendrick said.
Roberts-Antieau never went to college. The artist took one class at Eastern Michigan University and explains that she “had a bad experience there.”
“College is not my thing,” she said. “I am completely self-taught; I listen to my voice.
“My parents always taught me that anything is possible, and I’ve seen that come true: I’ve been able to follow my calling, I love what I do, but I work real hard.”
For Gleich, Roberts-Antieau is a clear example of a person who wanted to do something and did it. She persevered, even when others were negative about her art.
“Chris took one college class and left it three weeks into it,” said Stephen Kerr, one of Roberts-Antieau’s closest friends and a gallery consultant. “She is completely self-taught and self-made. She never looks back. She is always moving forward.”
In April 2014, Roberts-Antieau will be part of the Annual Smithsonian Craft Show at the National Building Museum, a juried show and sale of fine American craft, where only five other artists share her category.
“I would say she is very well-known,” Gleich said. “She has been doing art her whole life and has been getting better and better.”
So good, in fact, that former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, own some of her work. And renowned singer-songwriter Tom Waits raves about her on Facebook.
Now anyone passing though the halls of the LA building can see the “Pluto” piece and understand why.
By ERIC GARANT
Class starts in five minutes. You’re stuck in traffic, with no hope of getting there on time. If you take US-23 to get to the college, odds are this situation sounds familiar.
Change appears to be on the way, though.
A proposal for repairs to the highway in 2016 includes a plan to widen its shoulders between M-14 and M-36 for use during peak hours under a system called active traffic management. This would expand US-23 from four lanes to six in this area during times of heavy traffic.
Intelligent Transportation System hardware, including cameras and electronic message boards, would be installed and controlled remotely by Michigan Department of Transportation officials, allowing it to open and close the shoulder to vehicles as traffic dictates.
MDOT spokeswoman Kari Arend said the system would be the first of its kind in Michigan. She added that the project, which is estimated to cost more than $60 million, would be paid for largely by federal funds, but that more sources of funding still need to be identified.
Current conditions of the road have many students frustrated and looking forward to the change.
“I absolutely support it beyond a shadow of a doubt. (US-23 is) absolutely outrageous,” said Josh Markus, a 26-year-old business major from Whitmore Lake. “It’s almost impossible to get here on time for my 9 o’clock class. Whether I leave at 8 or 8:40, I’m here at least five minutes late.”
“I used to (take US-23). I take Platt now. It’s a lot less crowded. I think that would be very helpful,” said Cary Ellis, 19, a liberal arts transfer from Clinton.
Repairs will also be made throughout the 17-mile-long US-23 corridor that runs from I-96 to M-14.
A 2009 study by MDOT found that 19 of the 21 bridges in the corridor did not meet current standards. These bridges were constructed between 1957 and 1962 with a typical design life of 40 years.
Though he prefaced his statement by saying that Washtenaw Community College does not have an official stance on the US-23 expansion, Director of Government and Media Relations Jason Morgan acknowledged that, “Any effort to make it easier for our students to get to the college and get home is seen as a positive for the college.”
By MARIA RIGOU
Washtenaw Community College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Tuesday to exempt the college’s taxes from capture by the Corridor Improvement Authority in Pittsfield Township.
Representatives from Pittsfield Township presented the project at the Nov. 12 board meeting. The township is trying to raise $30 million over 20 years for the State Street Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA). It would require capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including $2.9 million from WCC that would have come from the millage assigned to education by voters.
“When we tell voters we are going to do something with the money, we are going to do it,” board Vice-Chair Patrick McLean said. “This proposal doesn’t meet the threshold.”
Other board members agreed with McLean’s statement.
“The money that (the college) receives for education is best spent on education,” board Secretary Mark Freeman said. “We need to use the money for our students because it is our mission.”
By NATALIE WRIGHT
The days of wasting time and money on credits that don’t transfer may soon be over.
The Michigan Transfer Agreement, which will take effect fall 2014, guarantees that a block of general education credits will transfer to any public university in Michigan.
It is the first statewide initiative to streamline the transfer process since 1973 and will be the first ever to be received by every public school in the state.
The MTA will replace the 40-year-old Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers (MACRAO) transfer agreement, MACRAO President-elect John Meldrum said.
While the MACRAO agreement has only been accepted by a handful of universities, every four-year and two-year school in Michigan has agreed to sign on to the MTA, according to Meldrum, who is also an assistant dean and registrar at Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
In essence, the MTA won’t be much different from the MACRAO agreement, but the fact that it will be universally accepted makes a world of difference, said Pat Cygnar, director of community relations at Eastern Michigan University, and EMU’s representative on the MTA committee.
“Unfortunately, we live in a state where there is no uniform higher education authority,” said Paula Welmers, a Counselor at North Central Michigan College and another member of the MTA committee.
Unlike many other states, there is no streamlined process for students who wish to transfer, Welmers said, and this makes the system inefficient for students, often wasting their time and money.
The MTA is very good news for Washtenaw students, Vice President of Student and Academic Services Linda Blakey said. It means that students will have all of the information about what will or will not transfer up front, which they really deserve as the consumer, she said.
The idea for the MTA was generated by the state legislature, Meldrum said.
In 2012 the Community College Appropriations Bill included boilerplate language that called for the creation of a 14-member committee to “develop a process to improve the transferability of core college courses…”
The committee was composed of five representatives from community colleges, five representatives from universities and four legislators. The school representatives were chosen regionally. Since it was established, the committee has been working to reach compromises.
Its goal: to draft an agreement which no school can take exception to in the future.
It’s important to recognize what a huge accomplishment this agreement is, Cygnar said.
In the first committee meeting, some of the university representatives were against the agreement and didn’t think it was a possibility for their schools, she said, but after a few more meetings they got on board.
“I think they realized that it really does make it easier for everyone,” she said.
In the last four decades, a lot of the universities have not accepted the MACRAO agreement, she said. And many MACRAO-receiving institutions have created provisos, or exceptions, to the agreement, Meldrum said. A university might accept the agreement but require a student retake one or more of the courses.
The basis of the MTA is to begin with a universal agreement, so that universities will have no reason to create these provisos, eliminating the surprises and subsequent frustration for students when they are ready to transfer.
The MTA will transfer as a block, with no course-by-course transfer process, Meldrum said.
“This means that when you transfer, hopefully you won’t have to take any more gen-ed classes. Your tuition dollars and time can go to junior- and senior-level classes,” Welmers said.
But while the MTA is guaranteed to transfer, universities can still require higher-level gen-eds, especially major-specific ones, Meldrum said.
“It doesn’t preclude institutions from having additional requirements, but they cannot nit-pick at those block courses,” he said.
While it will make the process of transferring simpler, some students may find the requirements of the MTA more challenging than the MACRAO agreement.
With the MACRAO agreement, grades in all of the courses had to average at least a 2.0. In the MTA, a student must achieve at least a 2.0 in each course, Meldrum said.
In the MACRAO agreement, you could avoid math; in the MTA you cannot.
“We haven’t quite nailed down the level of math that will be required,” Welmers said. “The universities want college-level algebra, the community colleges want intermediate level.”
And an additional science requirement has also been added to the MTA.
Students may have to work a little harder for the new agreement, Welmers said, but they can know that it’s worthwhile because it’s guaranteed to count.
“If you feel like your feet are being held to the fire a little bit, that’s how it’s going to be at the university level anyway. So you might as well adjust and learn at the community college while it’s cheaper,” she said.
For students who have been working towards transferring with the MACRAO agreement, there will probably be some overlap before the MACRAO is eliminated, Meldrum said.
There is still a lot of work to be done before the rollout next fall, but the committee and the schools are on track to make it happen, Meldrum said.
On Nov. 27, the final outline for the MTA will be published on the MACRAO website, he said.
The next step is for all of the school presidents to officially sign on by Feb. 1, but they have all approved the agreement and given their intention to sign, Meldrum said.
On March 1 everything will be finalized.
“That’s when we’re going to go into full detail on how to implement the rollout,” he said.
In May, there will be regional academic adviser training.
In the fall, life for transfer students gets a lot easier.
By M. M. Donaldson
President Obama addresses the issues with the healthcare.gov website in a press conference Nov. 14th.
People are desperate for information on the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, yet a large number do not understand they are one in the same, adding to the mass confusion.
Looking for answers, approximately 350 people packed the Michigan League Ballroom on Nov. 4 for the “ObamaCare: hearsay or fact, a symposium on the communication of the Affordable Care Act.”
The panel, that discussed how the health care law changes are being communicated, was sponsored by the Knight-Wallace Fellows at Michigan, Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, and Michigan Radio.
The professionals are confused
The panelists, including health-policy experts and journalists, examined what critics describe as the “debacle” surrounding the unveiling of the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplace website.
“People are confused,” said Julie Rovner, health policy correspondent for NPR.
She referred to her article “5 myths about the Affordable Health Care Act,” recently published on poynter.org. In it, she cites surveys where people even believe the ACA has been repealed or overturned.
Journalist Steven Brill was also in attendance via Skype. He is the author of a novella-sized article, “Bitter pill: why medical bills are killing us,” published in the March 4, 2013 issue of TIME.
The ACA is “impossible to read and impossible to understand,” Brill said.
The people are confused
Despite the description of the conference, “symposium on the communication ,” many audience members complained during a cookies and coffee break that they were not gaining any specific information, but rather hearing more arguments.
“Where do you go?” asked audience member, Mary Medley-Fields. A senior administrative assistant at the University of Michigan, she came to learn “more about what the Affordable Care Act is rather than the communication of it.”
Acknowledging that her employer sponsored health care will not be affected, she described being very fortunate. Regardless, she attended, knowing there are many things about the ACA she does not understand.
Medley-Fields was hoping to gain information to help enroll her brother-in-law who has no income and no health coverage. With no primary care to manage his high blood pressure, she is hopeful he will somehow qualify.
“If there are other health issues, we don’t know,” Medley-Fields said.
Health care professionals earnest in assisting their clients also attended the conference to gain more knowledge.
“We’re working on understanding and communicating more effectively to our 90,000-plus members, the impact of Affordable Care Act,” said Marsha Manning, manager of medical benefits and strategy at U-M.
Most of them will not see much change in their coverage she said.
Confusion of coverage
Everyone is watching the ACA closely, looking for immediate information to do immediate comparisons, according to Heather Howard, policy keynote speaker for the conference and director of the State Health Reform Assistance Network, which assists states with ACA implementation.
“The Affordable Care Act is more than a website,” Howard said.
Since the launch of the site, every move by the administration has been scrutinized, leaving no room to learn from mistakes.
The media reporting the stories are taking a beating, and trust has become an issue. Journalists are being blamed for getting caught up in politics over policy.
But not all the panelists agreed that communication was the problem.
The government “lied to the U.S., now you want to lie to the U.S. more effectively?” asked Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute. He complained that the panelists selected were stack with those in support of the ACA.
Sarah Kliff, covering health policy for The Washington Post, compared the ACA chaos similar to the uncertainty of the unknown with the launch of Medicare Part D, during the George W. Bush administration.
Confusion of names
“I hate the fact that people call it Obamacare,” Medley-Fields said. “It’s confusing for people who aren’t aware.”
“The press now describes it as such,” Kliff said, referring to Obamacare. “The president has embraced it.”
The official name is “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” Understanding the policies, rules and expectations becomes muddled when politics have skewed the Name.
“It’s a politically charged term,” Kliff said. “The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare, people don’t realize they are the same.”
Dr. John Ayanian, director of the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at U-M, compared Obamacare to Romneycare, the health care policy instituted in Massachusetts when Mitt Romney was governor there.
Higher rates of confusion
Some of the media have sensationalized people who think they are going pay more on the open marketplace than they currently do for their health care coverage.
“A good place for consumers to go and get an idea what their subsidies may be is the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Premium Calculator,” said Nichole VanBlaricum, community resource navigator with the Washtenaw Health Plan. She explained that various sites, that are not the official Marketplace site, do not calculate tax subsides. With each person or family possibly qualifying for a variety of subsidies, the advertised premiums are higher than what they will actually pay.
There is no escaping the statistical overload and theoretical rhetoric amassed on the ACA in all forms of media.
“I can’t articulate what I feel,” said Olivia Alford, 27, school of public health student at U-M.
Confusion may not be any worse than boredom, while apathy may be dangerous.
State Rep. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) hosted a town hall meeting on the ACA on Oct. 24 at Washtenaw Community College.
“The ideal situation is everyone is so educated,” was Zemke’s response to the low attendance.
Citizens say they want facts, but are reserved until they see the ACA being deliberated. A lively debate evolved from the panelists, accented by audience participation, reflecting their feelings.
It started with Ayanian emphasizing mammograms and pap smear screenings are important in finding other health issues.
“You have to screen so many, it doesn’t save money,” Cannon countered. He said health care expansion targeting specific issues such as mammograms or high blood pressure is wasteful because doctors “over diagnose, misdiagnose.”
The savings are greater, Cannon argued, when treatment was for acute sickness compared to screening.
“The insurance industry benefits when the government forces people to buy its products,” Cannon continued. “It makes them (the insurance companies) lazy and wasteful.”
Hope for the future
There is a little truth in every joke that makes it funny. Johathan Cohn, senior editor at The New Republic and author of “Sick: The Untold Story of America’s Health Care Crisis,” has been working right along in the health care policy trenches. He thinks those working on the ACA will need to be treated for “Exhaustion, high blood pressure and PTSD.”
Among them is Krista Nordberg, director of enrollment and advocacy services at the Washtenaw Health Plan.
“I’ve been a little discouraged and worried,” Nordberg said. She had a completely different outlook after having a conference call with President Obama in October. As a certified application counselor, Nordberg was reassured by the president that the Affordable Care Act was a step in profoundly opening up health care access.
Nordberg and her coworkers have been able to help several people sign up through the website.
“When it does work, it is awesome.” Nordberg said. “Just be patient, you don’t need to go on it today. In the next week or two, the whole experience will be better.”
The confusion is likely to be ongoing as communication between the federal government and the 50 different states interpret how the Marketplace exchange will be delivered. Adding to the confusion, the states had the choice of whether or not to expand Medicaid.
“That’s what the senate wanted,” said Rovner, regarding the states having choices. “Can’t put that genie back in the bottle.”
$2.9 million in educational funds could be put to use for road renovation
By MARIA RIGOU
At their next meeting, Washtenaw Community College trustees will decide whether to spend $2.9 million of taxpayer money for road improvement instead of educating its students.
The potentially contentious issues surfaced at the Nov. 12 board meeting, when CFO Bill Johnson gave a presentation to the board analyzing the impact of the expenditure. It followed a briefing by representatives from Pittsfield Township, which is trying to raise $30 million over 20 years for the State Street Corridor Improvement Authority (CIA). It would require capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including WCC.
If trustees approve the expenditure, WCC faces backlash from voters who assign their millage dollars to education. On the contrary, if the proposal is declined, it could potentially strain relationships with the township.
Dick Carlisle, planning consultant, Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services and Mandy Grewal, supervisor and other employees from Pittsfield Township described the project to the board and the improvement it would fund between the I-94 interchange and Michigan Avenue.
WCC has the option to opt out of this proposal by no later than Dec. 6. However, if the college decides to invest, WCC will be locked in for 20 years.
The authority would capture taxes from taxing entities associated with the township in order to complete the project. Under the CIA’s tax increment financing plan, 50 percent of the increase in taxable value would be captured to fund the CIA project. Taxes for the project would otherwise go to those tax-levying entities, representatives said.
Act 331 of the Michigan Community College Act limits the types of investment that the college can take part in with money from the General, Building and Debt Retirement funds in some cases, according to Johnson’s presentation.
The argument in favor of the project, as explained by Director of Government and Media Relations Jason Morgan, is that the improvements on the corridor will increase revenue on the township and that that will directly affect the amount of money that WCC will receive from those taxes.
Email the WCC Board of trustees at email@example.com
Last of a decorated Web Services team takes a parting shot
By NATALIE WRIGHT
When Mike Wilkinson recently left his position at Washtenaw Community College to film a documentary about rock climbing in India, he threw a few stones at the school.
Wilkinson, who worked as a Web Multimedia Developer for six years, is the latest in a string of employees to leave since Web Services was moved to the Marketing Department from the Information Technology Department last fall.
Bryan Freeman, who was hired as the director of Web Services last February, said that all but one of the five remaining employees are new hires. The department used to have nine employees, Wilkinson said, and they were an award-winning team.
In a Human Resources questionnaire Wilkinson filled out on his last day, Nov. 1, he cited a lack of support from the Marketing supervisors and continued outsourcing of Web development as reasons why the department “went south” since the move.
“I received very little support or interest from supervisors, and from their supervisors,” he wrote. “Every single person above me changed, and the projects and workflow became interrupted and ultimately lost… In my opinion, this (the department change) was a terrible move on the college’s part, and assets were undervalued and rarely utilized.”
Wendy Lawson, vice president of Advancement, defended the move, saying that having Web Services as a part of Marketing is the “best practice” and is more common across the country.
Lawson acknowledged, however, that there have been some struggles in the process.
“Change is always difficult but I think we tried to make it as painless as possible,” she said.
As far as the Marketing Department “under-utilizing” the college’s resources, as Wilkinson charged, there is a staunch disagreement.
Last April, The Voice reported on the controversy over outsourcing. Sources said that contracts with Sunny Media and Uproar Communications involved work that could have been done by in-house talent. Administrators denied this.
The school is now working with a company called Biznet, Wilkinson said, and Freeman confirmed this.
“The work that we’re doing with Biznet is ongoing site development,” Freeman said. “They’re taking the older-looking pages and refreshing them so that the whole website has one consistent look.”
It’s not that the work could not be done by in-house talent, he said, but that the school just doesn’t have the resources to get it done in a timely manner.
“It’s about where we’re placing our priorities,” Freeman said. “All of the technical stuff, the big projects, those are being done internally.”
After this swift turnover, Web Services is focused on looking forward, Lawson said.
And Wilkinson is looking forward, too.
Soon, he will be travelling to India to film a documentary called “Ascending India: Bringing Rock Climbing Home.”
The film will follow the journey of Sujay Kawale, who is helping to develop India’s first government-financed rock-climbing area.
Wilkinson, also an avid climber, hopes to premier the documentary at film festivals in Ann Arbor next summer.
Additional reporting by Staff Writer Eric Garant
By JAMES SAOUD
Mike Ball and fellow musicians performed at last April’s Concert for Lost Voices at Towsley Auditorium.
Students at Washtenaw Community College can find plenty of ways to blow through $15 on a Saturday night. But this weekend, instead of a six-pack of craft beer or a ticket to the latest 3D blockbuster, your $15 can help turn a teenager’s life around.
Lost Voices is a program that helps at-risk youth express themselves through music. On Saturday, Nov. 23, folk musicians will perform songs written by incarcerated youth to help raise money for the program.
The Concert for Lost Voices will be held in the Towsley Auditorium. Doors open at 6 p.m. and musicians will take the stage at 7 p.m. The event will include performances from musicians including Josh White Jr., Kitty Donohoe, the Rev. Robert Jones and the founder of the Lost Voices program, Mike Ball.
Ball, 62, of Whitmore Lake, founded the Lost Voices program in 2007. A man of many hats, Ball has dedicated much of his recent years to his work with incarcerated youth while balancing time between careers as an author, humorist and folk musician. When Ball explained the intention of his program to a group of incarcerated young men at W.J. Maxey Boys Training School he said it was, “to let the world know that you guys are worth saving. You guys are worth paying attention to.”
First, Ball holds a small concert to introduce the teenagers to folk music, a relationship that Lost Voices collaborator Josh White Jr. describes as “a bad marriage.”
Then, a series of workshops are held where the teens are encouraged to bring their own poetry, song lyrics or simple ideas to share.
Ball, along with an ensemble of folk musicians, then turn the students’ concepts into full songs that they will perform in front of their peers at the end of the workshop.
“At the end of the workshop, we rehearse all of these and then we put them on stage,” Ball explained. “We do these concerts with them in front. We support them.”
Footage from April 2013′s concert for Lost Voices
One of Ball’s most memorable moments from the program was when one of the teenager’s psychologists told him he learned more about the teen in 2 1/2 minutes on stage than in the 2 1/2 years he spent in his office.
Because the at-risk kids cannot perform at the concerts held at WCC, Ball invites plenty of talented musicians to help spread the songs these teens have written. Josh White Jr., who is one of Ball’s most frequent collaborators with the Lost Voice program, says he found it challenging to put music to the boys’ words.
However, after learning more about these teenagers’ pasts, he found a new light.
“You can’t count somebody out because of a mistake they made once when they were younger,” White said. “Listen to what they’re thinking. They’re not thinking about robbing you when they get out, they’re thinking about making things better.”
This will be the third time the concert is held at the Towsley Auditorium.
“Everyone we’ve dealt with at the college has been great,” Ball said, “and it’s a wonderful facility.”
The concerts at WCC act as one of the biggest fundraisers for Ball’s Lost Voices program and help to keep it running.
One of the participants of the program described the experience as giving him a “different outlook on music.”
“I’m not really the type of person to get up in front of a bunch of people and do something,” another said, “and this kind of gave me that opportunity.”
Additional reporting by Ben Platko and Audra Meagher.
What: Concert for Lost Voices
When: Saturday November 23rd at 6 p.m
Where: Towsley Auditorium
- At the door Tickets – $25
Kennedy cousin recalls a wonderful life – and death of a president
By ROBERT CONRADI
Living 64 years in Ann Arbor has not erased her Boston accent. It’s evident when she says her name, “Mahnee.” Mrs. Margaret Louise Devine has been called Marnee since her birth in 1926. Her mother was Margaret Louise Kennedy, the sister of Joe Kennedy. John F. Kennedy was her cousin.
She has fond memories of summer gatherings with her extended family in Hyannis Port on the Cape. Her Uncle Joe had purchased a summer home there.
“And of course my Aunt Rose was a big believer in family being together and so she made a real job of bringing all the cousins down and our families rented places close,” Devine said.
Curiously Devine’s entry into politics began with tea parties, tea parties that may have changed history.
Many people note the import role television played in John F. Kennedy’s election, but fewer recognize the significant role of women. The driving force in this outreach to women was Polly Fitzgerald.
Pauline (Polly) Fitzgerald was a cousin to the Kennedys by marriage. She began working with John Kennedy for his senate runs against Henry Cabot Lodge. She organized tea parties for women where they could meet the candidate. These teas have been credited with enabling Kennedy’s election as senator in Massachusetts.
When Kennedy decided to seek the presidency, he again called on Polly. The plan this time was to organize broader receptions featuring the Kennedy women.
“I do remember that Bobby thought it wouldn’t work,” Mrs. Fitzgerald explained in a recorded interview on August 19, 1967, which has been archived in the John F. Kennedy Library Oral History Program.
“He said, ‘who will come to see the president’s sisters and his sisters-in-law? Perhaps his mother, yes.’ But he couldn’t believe that anyone would come to meet the other women in the family. Maybe he wouldn’t like me to tell that. Anyway I persuaded him that they would, and they did.”
Fitzgerald remembered Robert Kennedy saying, “Why don’t you stay in Washington this time and get six friends of yours who worked for the president before to come and help in the campaign and have them do the traveling?”
One of the women called upon was Marnee Devine.
“When they called me and asked me would I come and work for them, they said ‘we need a first cousin in the Middle West and would you come and help us.’”
Devine was hesitant, having four young children to care for at the time, but her husband said, “Go for it; do it,” and so she did.
Devine had great respect for strong female leaders like Fitzgerald.
“She had a real sense of politics, way before her time,” she said, “or maybe the ideas that we all had but hadn’t been able to voice.”
Devine organized receptions in various places in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. She recalls one featuring Kennedy sister Pat held at the Michigan Union in Ann Arbor and another with sister Eunice elsewhere in Michigan. Hundreds of ladies attended these affairs dressed in their finest.
Years later, Devine worked for the tragically truncated presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. This time she went to California. She remembers a meeting where Robert’s friend Andy Williams performed. It was not much later that Robert Kennedy was murdered.
Mrs. Devine grew up in Winthrop on Boston Harbor facing the location of Logan International Airport, before it had been built. Later her family moved inland to Waban on the west side of Boston.
She attended high school at Sacred Heart School in Rhode Island. It was a boarding school for girls only. She went on to college at Sacred Heart of Manhattanville in inner city New York.
“My Aunt Rose had gone there to school,” Devine said, “and various of my cousins went there too.” It was what was expected in a staunch Irish Catholic family.
She enjoyed visits with Aunt Rose and Uncle Joe. After she was married she was always thrilled to be invited to their winter place in Palm Beach.
“I had a great rapport with both of them and the kids. It was quite unusual and when I look back on it, I see how fortunate I was to have really a great rapport with Jack and Bobby when he was running.”
Where were you on the day John Kennedy was assassinated? This event so shocked the nation that most people alive at the time remember it vividly.
“I was lying down for a nap because I had just found out I was pregnant with our son John, said Devine.
“And the phone rang and I answered it and it was a friend of mine who worked for the New York Stock Exchange. And so he told me and I said, ‘oh well you must be wrong.’ I said, ‘that can’t be true.’”
A little later her husband John Devine, an Ann Arbor attorney, confirmed the devastating news. That evening they were called from the White House and asked to come to Washington D.C. for a mass the following morning. They could not, but they arrived the next day, Sunday, in time for the Monday funeral.
There was a family reception afterward and the room was full of world leaders. John Devine was awed to find himself standing shoulder to shoulder with dignitaries.
Devine’s life was very full even apart from the Kennedy connection. Her husband John was also a charismatic figure.
“John was a great lawyer, and took good care of St. Joe’s (Hospital), Devine said. “He was their attorney for a hundred years, all the years they were really growing.”
John was so highly respected in Ann Arbor that Marnee encouraged him to run for senator, though he never did.
The Devines produced five children and 13 grandchildren. Their children are distributed between Chicago, Washington D.C. and Michigan.
“Our life has been I think kind of one success story after another,” Devine said. “I really have been very very fortunate.”