Dawn Rubbert passed away last Tuesday in St. Louis, MO. I met Dawn at St. Louis Friends Meeting in 2000 when Gladys and I moved to St. Louis to help take care of my mother after my father had died. In those days I made my living by repairing people’s houses and this is how I got to know her well. She owned a small house in Richmond Heights and like all houses sometimes it needed attention. I remember fixing the cause of water leaking into her basement, putting more insulation in her attic, and other minor repairs.
Dawn was the kind of Quaker that, rather than focusing only on the local meeting, looked to the larger Quaker community. Therefore she was involved with Blue River Quarterly Meeting, Illinois Yearly Meeting, American Friends Service Committee, and Friends General Conference. At FGC’s gathering in July each year she always volunteered for the task of arranging transportation and other needs for handicapped and elderly attendees. As a result she knew Quakers from all over the country and knew a considerable amount about Quaker issues beyond St. Louis Meeting. These contacts were extremely useful when Dawn began working to promote the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) and its programs.
Another fine attribute was that she was an excellent emailer and spent considerable amounts of time on Facebook with many of the F(f)riends she knew from all over the country.
Therefore around 2004 or 2005 when the AGLI was having a large number of workcampers and extended service volunteers (ESV – Dawn’s terminology), I asked her if she could help out with publicity, responding to the many questions from potential volunteers, and then guiding them through the process of raising the necessary funds and travelling to East Africa. I myself am an administrator and this was not my strong field as I tend to be too businesslike and abrupt. Dawn on the other hand had been a social worker so she was quite willing to engage in the sometimes lengthy process of counseling/accepting the workcamper/ESV. She was excellent at this.
I cannot remember ever having a disagreement or conflict with her. And there were lots of opportunities for such – people who were afraid to go to Africa, parents and family members who were afraid of Africa, moving the candidates though the AGLI process, Americans who were afraid to ask for financial support, and dealing with volunteers who were acting like “ugly Americans.” We worked well together because she was very consultative. Whenever a difficult or touchy issue arose she was straightforward in discussing how to deal with it and quite willing to follow through with what needed to be done. I remember in particular a young ESV in Kenya who was really abusing her placement there and antagonizing the local people. We discussed what we should do and finally, on Dawn’s suggestion, we decided that she call the clerk of the volunteer’s clearness committee to lay out the problem and ask her to tell the ESV to return to the US. This she accomplished with the necessary tact and the ESV returned before the scheduled time of her departure.
Another one her duties, that was behind the scenes, was to edit most of what AGLI sent out – PeaceWays-AGLI, my Reports from Kenya, funding proposals, and so on. A good number of times Dawn “saved” me from embarrassing mistakes – for example, typing “now” for “not” which completely changes the meaning of a sentence. Her more important editing skill was to edit articles written by AGLI’s African partners. On the one hand, it was necessary to make the writing understandable to Americans, but on the other to keep the authentic African voice. Dawn learned to do this with a fine, sensitive touch.
Dawn in 2012 at Chesikaki Friends School on Mt. Elgon in Kenya.
I am pleased that in 2012 Dawn was able to travel to Kenya to attend the World Gathering of Friends. She was able to meet many of the East Africans she had been communicating with for years plus, of course, being involved in a large gathering of Friends from throughout the world. She stayed at our house for about a week. As she had counseled so many others before she came to Kenya, she seemed to cherish the experience of being in Kenya.
In June when I was in the US, my son, Tommy, told me to call Dawn. This I did and found that she has just returned from her first dialysis session. As those who visited her in her last two months have reported, she was surprising cheerful and positive.
I know that she had other involvements outside of meeting, but I don’t know the details. After a lifetime of Quaker love for humans, may Dawn’s beautiful soul rest in peace.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783, in US: 301/765-4098
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/