Mary Ida Gardner
“It’s just another Botswana crisis” Mary Ida mumbled those words to herself, trying to draw on her sense of humor that had saved her so many times before. She’d thought, when she unscrambled the problem of a meeting place for her first YWCA Leadership Seminar for women from all over this small Southern African nation, that nothing else could go wrong. Now, she’d learned that the former national president had died and his funeral was the next day. The day of her seminar! The women would be torn between desire to honor him and loyalty to the meeting. Should she cancel? Reschedule? they were arriving in Maun (situated between the largest swamp in the world and the Kalahari Desert) from compounds all over the nation. Mary Ida looked over her notes hoping to glean a solution there. Her purpose was to train middle aged women officers in YWCA groups, to go back and train younger women to be leaders and improve efficiency in meetings and finances, upgrade health practices, and encourage education for women. As she read over her plans, she prayed for some way to still have the meeting. Instead, her heart leaped at the revelation she’d overlooked. She would introduce a new type of small group experience where they could not only discuss ideas but personal problems in meetings and in their lives. This would open ways to accomplish their other tasks. Mary Ida rose from her prayers and almost without thinking it through, marched to the city hall and asked that her women be a part of the funeral procession. Not only did she get a “yes” but also permission for them to carry the national banner of YWCA. All afternoon women arrived on foot or by cart and when each one learned all the plans for the next day, she laughed in happiness and joined the group’s joyful singing as they spread their bedrolls out on the grounds of the Nurses’ building. That night, Mary Ida stood quietly looking over the patchwork of many subdued colors placed together for the sleeping women. It seemed to her as one quilt. A unity of diverse women–now one. The next day’s seminar fulfilled her every dream. It shone in the eyes and smiles of the participants. And when they started the traditional shuffle dance-always used for goodbyes, Mary Ida danced along with them in joyful abandon.
Mary Ida rose from her prayers and almost without thinking it through, marched to the city hall and asked that her women be a part of the funeral procession
Mary Ida Gardner: U S National Staff of YWCA was sent to Botswana and Tanzania as part of World YWCA. Before becoming YWCA director in New Jersey, she taught Music, English, French in Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania. Service Director: Civilian Army-Korea; Ex. Dir. YWCA-Long Beach, CA; USA Staff(Presbyterian Church)-Director Minister in Education-Minority Institutions N Y; Consultant Adm. -Episcopal Church Ctr and Church World Service: Ethiopia; Director of Operations: Church World Service traveling extensively in Cuba, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Caribbean and Western Mediterranean. She retired to Pilgrim Place in 2000.
– by Constance Waddell