Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #191. First published in the St. Cloud Times online June 6, 2023, in print June 25 (both late dates fault of the Times)

“Building hope, Coming home.” Both of these life-affirming and community-confirming projects were on full display May 25 when Anna Marie’s Alliance launched the final public phase of its ambitious and timely capital campaign. (Disclosure: I’m on the campaign steering committee.) For more than four decades Anna Marie’s has been a shelter from domestic abuse and a launching pad for hope, providing a place where women and their children can learn what home without violence can be.

Anna Marie’s Alliance has set a national standard for comprehensiveness, through partnerships in the community – its program includes basic safety, health care, childcare, and employment support, educating police officers and challenging the criminal justice system. Its Center for Family Peace is harbinger of “a world free of relationship abuse.”

More about current activities and plans shortly. First, accompany me on a spelunking expedition in St. Cloud Times archives. With an institution as firmly established and notable as Anna Marie’s Alliance, it’s tempting to think it has always been that way.

Back in the late 1970s it was widely assumed that domestic violence, even if it was a problem somewhere else, certainly wasn’t here in central Minnesota. It wasn’t spoken about, was seldom reported. When a Shelter for Battered Women was first proposed, some voices were heard saying there was only one such case they knew about, or maybe as many as four. In Sept. 1978 the St. Cloud Area League of Women Voters sponsored a panel: “Battered Women. Yes. It Is Happening Here.”

Women connected to the St. Cloud Area Women’s Center incorporated the Task Force on Battered Women as an independent nonprofit in October 1978. Their efforts generated at least 75 stories in the newspaper between 1978 and 1980 – 11 in the month of March 1979 alone, including the appearance of nearly 400 people – men as well as women – at a St. Cloud City Council meeting on Mar. 19.

Headlines in 1978 and 1979 register the battle lines. A sampling: “St. Cloud should fund shelter,” wrote the Times’s editorial page editor. “Tie vote denies women’s shelter.” “Society stands by while battering goes on, and on.” “Shelter conflict parties to meet.” A poll: “Women’s shelter enjoys support.” “Shelter fund delay under fire.” “Battered women join in plea for more funding.”

There were familiar disputes: how to use federal and state funds; how the plight of battered women and their children stacks up against other public demands; a fact-finding committee was criticized for a closed-door meeting.

Making my way through the paper’s column inches (nearly a football field’s worth, I suspect), I came across two items that help explain the grand story that Anna Marie’s Alliance has become.

One, by Times staff writer Dave Daley, dated Aug. 14, 1980, two years into the saga, is headlined, “New spirit at city hall.” The gist: “From a 3 to 3 tie in March last year – a tie that denied battered women supporters money they wanted for a shelter – the St. Cloud City Council Monday last week voted 6 to 1 to fund the battered women’s cause.” Daley credits the advocates with “a well-orchestrated campaign to win public and council approval for their request. Radio commentaries, newspaper columns, private letters to council members – all were part of what turned out to be a highly successful game plan.”

The other story, from a year earlier, May 30, 1979, is headlined, “Director named for local women’s shelter.” If anything can be called providential, the task force’s choice of Maxine Barnett qualifies. For 33 years as executive director of what began as Woman House, and in 2000 became Anna Marie’s (named for the mother of major donor Dan Whalen), Maxine tirelessly, persistently, persuasively made the case for building hope and coming home for women and children. She made connections with other nonprofits, schools, law enforcement, health care, and businesses, believing in her heart and head that it really does take a whole village.

The current capital campaign for $2.5 million, of which 65% is already raised, will fund additional space, and refashioning of prior space, for apartment rather than dormitory dwelling, to provide realistic transitional living to traumatized women and their children moving ahead to healthy lives. The nine family apartments and six single apartments will be a far cry from 1979, when on one night eight women with their 13 children crowded into the three-bedroom Woman House.

A special element of the campaign is $250,000 for the Maxine Barnett Courtyard, a place for the kind of relaxed renewal that is impossible in the midst of abuse. Its name will alert those who use it to one of this area’s true heroes.

I encourage you to visit and add your contribution to “Building hope, Coming home.” If you’re so inclined, please specify the Maxine Barnett Courtyard, as well-deserved a tribute as I’ve ever heard of.