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portraits of hope and change

Everett Ressler

Everett Ressler Anyone who was a member of the campus community during the late 1960s remembers Everett Ressler (C 70) as a student leader with a can-do optimistic personality that was contagious. His wife Phyllis (C 72) remembers those years as "exciting times of tremendous change on campus. The world was open and new things were possible."

One amazing weekend (December 1969) will long be remembered as a high-water mark of campus unity and striving to achieve a common goal—to raise more than $110,000 by Monday's deadline or risk losing an essential federal construction grant to build the new Hartzler Library. Everett was one of the student leaders at the center of the successful "Library Drive" which caught the imagination of the nation and garnered positive press attention at a time when other campuses were divided and contentious.

Everett's spark of leadership and creative collaboration continued to grow in the 35 intervening years. After graduating, he remained in the Harrisonburg area long enough to help start Homes Foundation (a community initiative to build affordable housing, long before Habitat for Humanity was formed). He also provided leadership to Rivendell, a residence home for youth with special needs.

After a term of service in Ethiopia with Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, he and his wife remained in that country with another Christian relief agency to help with famine assistance. That was the start of their family's global trajectory, finding them in many roles of service in countries as distant as Thailand, Kenya and France, where they now live.

Everett's work for the last 30 years involved organizational training and planning response efforts to various global catastrophies, whether man-made or natural. His particular expertise is refugees, and more specifically, unaccompanied children (orphans). He was a consultant to several arms of the United Nations, including United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before moving to a senior position with UNICEF's office of emergency programs.

Jack Rutt (C 72), Everett's roomate for a year at EMU, has stayed in touch with Everett and his family through the years. He notes that Everett "has developed a unique methodology of planning for disasters that focuses on the accomplishments of local leaders. He believes in enabling organizations at the grassroots level and working through them. He rarely discusses his accomplishements."

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"I do know he's traveled to just about every major global hot spot multiple times," he continued, "and has literally escaped death on several occasions. I am convinced that his expertise, leveraged through thousands of others in training and planning sessions, has saved hundreds of thousands from death caused by starvation and lack of shelter in catastrophies caused by wars and natural disasters."

In a phone interview from their home near Geneva, Switzerland, his wife Phyllis emphasized that even when situations look their grimmest, "you will also find a resilient strength of the human spirit that is truly inspiring."

"That's what you miss," she said, "if the only window you have into that global catastrophe is through televised reports on CNN. And it's seeing the best of mankind, even when surrounded by the worst, that gives you the hope of optimism and the grace to continue."