One year ago I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.
Now more than ever, the topics covered in this edition are critically important and relevant in our polarized world. Pervasive virtual communication has left many people feeling isolated, lonely and struggling to communicate effectively.
Areas of focus include: Communication, Toastmasters, Veterans, Agile, Health and Science.
What impressed me most about Dave Von Tersch was his dedication and loyalty to fellow veterans, friends, and the members of the community. Dave’s commitment to and passion for the Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64, where he was an active member since 2013, was evident in the long list of volunteer roles and leadership positions he held.
Dave helped to organize and support so many important events including ceremonies for Flag Day, 4th of July, Memorial and Veterans Day, the spring Easter Parade, Evolution of the Flag, the annual Winterfest and Color Guard and Honor Guard for countless school, community and funeral events. He also assisted in the installation and dedication of the new flagpole and flags at the Ahwatukee Recreation Center (ARC).
Dave was a true servant leader who could be counted on to lend a helping hand and served as the Post 64 Sergeant at Arms for many years.
I first met Dave when he was the Color Guard Commander in 2018 and greatly appreciated how he enthusiastically led us with strong and confident “forward, march” “column left, march”, “right face”, “present arms” commands. He was serious and earnest when it came to proper flag protocol and etiquette and took to heart the solemn and crucial obligation to honor and respect our fallen comrades.
Another vivid memory I have of Dave Von Tersch is from Flag Day 2019 when he bravely and tirelessly endured extreme heat and large flames to ensure the proper disposal of unserviceable US flags. This was the first time I had ever witnessed such a ceremony and I was in awe of Dave’s strength, commitment, and respect for our nation’s banner.
On a personal level, Dave was born in Sioux City, Iowa and was one of eight kids. He had a twin sister and his childhood nickname was Dutch. Dave married the love of his life, Jean (Jeannie) and they spent 22 wonderful years together before she passed from Alzheimer’s. He is survived by his two daughters, Lara Clagett and Stephanie Jones, step children Shirley Archuletta, Darci Strang and Toby Ellis, his sister Jeanette (Nettie) Graham, and three brothers, Sid, Tim and James Von Tersch.
Dave loved to dance, play cards, and tell silly jokes. He could often be found dancing up a storm at the many Winterfest and Oktoberfest events at the ARC!
From May 1970 to May 1976 Dave served on Active Duty in the US Navy and achieved the rank of Petty Officer Second Class (E-5) Machinist Mate. He received the Silver Dolphins badge and served on the USS Sunfish SSN-649, a Sturgeon-Class Nuclear Attack Submarine.
After his six years in the Navy, Dave worked thirty years in technical positions such as Test Engineer supporting Agilent 3070 In-Circuit and Takaya 94xx Flying Probe test systems.
Dave was a proud military Veteran and enjoyed serving his community.
In April 2022, Dave attended his last Spring Easter Parade and proudly marched alongside the Post 64 Color Guard for a good portion of the route. Dave was a strong man who took his responsibilities and obligations seriously. He kept active for as long as he was able and he never quit. His fortitude was unfaltering.
Dave Von Tersch embodied the mission and values of the American Legion by continually advocating patriotism, honor, and duty to his fellow veterans. He was committed to selfless service to his friends, family, and community and will always be deeply respected by those who had the privilege of knowing him.
The US Navy motto is Not Self but Country (Non sibi sed patriae) and Dave certainly lived by these words.
Toastmasters International is losing more than clubs and members- it is losing its magic! The nonprofit organization has 1,400 fewer clubs than it did in 2019. As a result, there are 82,000 fewer people receiving the benefits of the educational programs.
The mindset of virus avoidance and remote meetings is taking its toll. In person meetings, training and contests are the exception while virtual events are the rule in 2022.
Many members are dissatisfied with the distant and disconnected experience of Zoom meetings and especially virtual contests at the area, division, and district levels.
Delivering a humorous speech without a live audience is no laughing matter. The lack of body language cues, emotion and feedback makes it hard for the speaker to connect and adjust to the audience’s reactions. The lack of energy can add an extra burden to the speaker.
A long-time Distinguished Toastmaster in Arizona recently shared this in an email, “Live entertainment in the Toastmaster world seems to be coming to an end. The winter contests have been eliminated and now the Spring contests in 2023 are virtual.” This dedicated mentor and coach joins hundreds of people in expressing their frustration with the lack of live audience speaking opportunities at Toastmasters.
Nature abhors a vacuum and the live-speaking gap will be filled by other groups. The desire and demand for direct, in-person events is raising in 2022 and a growing number of clubs and people in Arizona are organizing to meet the challenge. Innovative and creative ideas are being implemented to provide large-scale speaking experiences and competitions. Once such event will be held on Oct.11, 2022 at the Tempe Improv where 8 finalists will perform in a humorous speech competition. The laughter, fun and festivities are free and open to the public and is not an official Toastmaster contest. Click here for tickets to the event.
I have attended this high energy and boisterous competition for three years and am happy that the tradition continues.
Twenty-eight years ago, I joined Toastmasters for the communication and leadership training but I stayed for the friends and the connections.
I love the positive energy, support, and camaraderie of the clubs and had no idea that the program and the people would have such a profound impact on course of my life. The last two decades have been an amazing experience of growth, experimentation and achievement.
Some of my best friends were met at Toastmaster meetings in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California. These close bonds would never have been made had I only attended meetings through a zoom portal.
I am still active in three clubs in the Phoenix area but worry that some of the great power and magic of Toastmasters is being lost as fewer and fewer in-person training sessions, leadership conferences and contests are being held.
The value of live language connections should not be underestimated and Toastmasters Districts across the country should strive to meet the needs of all of its members.
I strongly believe that the benefits are of the strong educational programs are not fully realized when a speaker and an evaluator never get to meet and talk in person before or after the meeting.
Virtual Toastmasters is falling flat and can be energized by creative and innovative leaders who think out the box to find in-person and hybrid event options.
Laughter is the best medicine and can be the prescription for what ails lagging club and membership numbers.
Energy, excitement, engagement and enthusiasm can all be recaptured.
Commitment, connection, confidence and coaching can be reinvigorated.
I watched the award-winning speech twice, first with my right brain and then with my left.
The first time I viewed the 2022 World Champion of Public Speaking, Cyril Junior Dim, I sat back and enjoyed the story, the humor and the emotional drama. The impactful message resonated with me and inspired to write this article. My creative mind was activated.
During my second observation of the speech entitled “Ndini”, I used my left brain to analyze the structure, word usage, and delivery techniques. Click here to view the speech.
It is with both sides of my brain (with help from my corpus callosum) that I write this article.
The foundational phrase of the winning Toastmasters speech by Mr. Dim was “This is me” which translates to Ndini in the Bantu language Shona. The repetition of this powerful message struck a chord in me and caused me to reflect on my own family and identity.
Cyril Dim wove a powerful story around self-acceptance, family and tradition as he reflected on his middle name which came from this father’s language. He boldly asked the audience, “Have you ever hated or been ashamed about some aspect of yourself?” I wasn’t proud of my answer to that question but knew that this was an important topic and worthy of further contemplation.
I suppose that before I can proclaim “This is me!”, I need to ask “Who am I?”.
More than a result of the human reproductive process of my mother and father, I am a Heinz 57 blend of genes and traits from my ancestors from numerous countries across Europe (UK, France, Germany and Italy). I am also a US citizen who represents the values and ethics of my family and friends. My parents and home environment growing up surely shaped me and made me into the woman I am today.
I love and respect my parents and wish they hadn’t left the earth so soon.
Who I am is strong and solid thanks to the love, support and encourage of my parents, my siblings and extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins.
My foundation is a resilient and durable patchwork quilt of genetics, experiences, traditions, and values.
I lived at home with my parents until I graduated from college and received a US Army commission. In retrospect, I should have spent more time with my parents and thanked them more for all that they sacrificed for me but, like most adolescents
I didn’t appreciate what I had. During my teenaged years, I wasn’t as proud of my Mom as I should have been and was often embarrassed by her hearing impairment and her simple words. It pains me to think of how badly I treated her when she couldn’t understand me. My impatience and rudeness were horrible, and I am embarrassed by my immature and selfish behavior. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and was married that I fully appreciated who my parents were.
Like Cyril Dim, I came to embrace and be proud of my family name and my parents’ values. I know that they are responsible for my strong foundation, my work ethic, and my patriotic spirit.
The words below were read to me recently by my Yoga Therapy coach, Nancy Martch, and truly hit the mark on idea of Ndini- This is Me.
Every time I spend a few days away from home in a house surrounded by green trees, I get the urge to write. I’m not sure if it’s the clean air, the amazing views or the lack of distractions that prompts my literary desire to share my thoughts with you but here I go.
It could be the fact that I’m staying in a charming AirBnB in Prescott, AZ with my husband Steve and the owners from France have an amazing collection of books. Our bibliophile hosts feel like family to me as I view the many family photos on the white walls. I can feel the love and joy they get from cooking and sharing meals with their children and their friends.
As a recent and neophyte author, I have an immense appreciation for prolific and complex writers like Tom Clancy, Dan Brown and Michael Crichton. The main wall in the master bedroom has a large bookcase filled with pages of an adventure and intrigue. I could feel the emotion emanating from the titles on the spines.
So what is my story to share with you? Why would you be interested in my thoughts and experiences as I type these words from a wooden deck over looking the city of Prescott?
A large hawk just landed on top of a telephone pole about 50 meters from me. He hung our and watched me for a while and then flew off. Sometimes I wish I could be weightless and fly.
The morning air is clean and cool and crisp. My hands are getting cold as I type so I just grabbed my large, white ceramic mug of hot green tea and took a healthy sip. I look up again at the baby blue sky, the green and brown mountain horizon and feel a sense of serenity and gratitude. I feel happy to be able to share my thoughts and photos of this lovely place.
I feel connected with the trees and the birds and it brings me comfort and relief. I feel connected to the warm family that owns this home and as a result my own family in New Jersey is close in my heart and mind. I miss them dearly and look forward to my trip to see them in a few weeks.
The elevation of this property is 5,790 ft and I’m a facing due west at 270 degrees. My mind and senses are open to new input and information and I’m happy to chronicle my journey and share it with you.
I hope you have enjoyed my short and simple story of birds, words and green trees from Arizona.
I served as a Platoon Leader in the 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division during the first Gulf War. We deployed from Ft Hood, TX in October 1990 to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq for the short ground war in February 1991.
At age 23, it was strange and unsettling to spend Christmas away from my family and in the middle of the desert. The night skies were amazingly dark and full of more stars than I had ever seen. The occasional camel sighting did remind we of the three wise men headed to Bethlehem.
The last panel in Doonesbury cartoon below made me laugh. I found this newspaper clipping in my journal from 1990. I didn’t remember having it and probably haven’t seen it in over 30 years.
KR: At the end of your first interview, we left off talking about Operation Desert Storm. What I would like to ask you about first today is, what are your recollections of Operation Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq?
BS: I think the biggest memory and impact was in January of 1991. We had been in Saudi Arabia since October, just sitting, waiting for the invasion. We were in northern Saudi Arabia. I just remember when the ground war kicked off. We didn’t have any news. We didn’t have TV or radio like have today, but I do remember seeing and hearing these–they were called MLRS [multiple launch rocket system]–these rockets, and they went off many at a time, and the lights, just watching these rockets take off, knowing they were going north into Iraq as we attacked, and just thinking, “Wow, how much destruction and/or death is occurring at the end of that?” It was really bizarre and surreal, but that was the only thing I remember and I saw at the time. It was scary that first night. We didn’t know if we were going to get attacked with Scud missiles that had chemical or nuclear/biological weapons. We were mostly scared of chemicals at the time, but it could have been biological. [Editor’s Note: On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a campaign of air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.]
I do remember the first night, and that was really the only night that I slept in my mask, my gas mask, and the full protective gear. It wasn’t too hot. It was January, luckily.
KR: Were there any religious services when you were in Saudi Arabia or Iraq? Were there chaplains around to do religious services or counseling?
BS: In Saudi Arabia, we were told to not have any outward displays of religion, Christianity, Judaism. We did, in our tents, have some Christmas [trees], but, again, it wasn’t [extensive]. There were chaplains, but, again, they were told to not put their insignia on their uniform. As I recall, the officers that were chaplains would have their rank on one side and then you would have your unit on the other, but I think they had either a cross [or] Star of David, and they were told to cover those. I don’t recall ever talking to a chaplain, seeing them. I suppose, if it was needed and someone needed counseling, we could have called into the DMAIN, the centralized rear command, and asked for it, but we didn’t need it. The same for doctors and nurses and medical. I’m sure these support units were there if we needed them, but I didn’t interact with them either. We were forward operations.
For women, we were in the frontlines with our communication vans. In fact, there were Iraqi soldiers surrendering to some of the units that were in my platoon, and it was a woman that they surrendered to. She was the sergeant of this little remote radio tower. It was her and three other soldiers who were men, but Iraqi soliders surrendered to them. For me, I was like, “Wow, a Muslim man from Iraq just surrendered to a woman, an American woman.” That was kind of interesting.
KR: My next question you have touched upon a little bit in some other questions that we have asked you. Once Operation Desert Storm was being launched and the invasion of Iraq, what were your experiences like and the experiences of your unit?
BS: Once the big launch in January occurred, we left our base, where we had been for many months in northern Saudi, and we convoyed north into southern Iraq. We left in the middle of the night. I just remember driving in this huge–it was a deuce and a half–a two-and-a-half-ton truck, very, very uncomfortable, for hours just driving north (20+ hours), but it was pretty exciting, because we knew this was the big thing we’d been waiting for. We’re traveling, and it’s exciting because we’re seeing other tanks and units from Britain and other countries alongside us traveling in the same direction. Then, we got to a location, and we stopped. This was where we were going to set up our communications. I only have one picture from the whole war. There was a burned-out military–it looked like a tank and it was an Iraqi tank and there were dead Iraqi soldiers on the ground. It was taken out by a U.S. missile or an Apache. My soldiers had to call and get body bags and put them in. I made a decision that I didn’t want to see the bodies, the corpses, because I didn’t want it to stick in my mind. I didn’t go near it, but we set up camp maybe a hundred meters away from that. It was kind of creepy to be there. We were there thirty, forty days. We stayed there, and it wasn’t long before we won the war decisively. We were all told, “Okay, time to go home now.”
More stories and memories to come in my next blog.
I am excited to announce that in October 2022, I will be inducted into the Rutgers Oral History Archives- ROHA (https://oralhistory.rutgers.edu/) in New Brunswick, NJ. This is a great honor as my story will be documented and included with the accounts from hundreds of fellow veterans from the conflicts of WWII, Korea, Persian Gulf War, Cold War and Afghanistan.
In April 2022, two strong and articulate women from the Department of History at my alma mater, Rutgers University, interviewed me about my family history, campus ROTC life, and military experience in the Gulf War.
A bit about ROHA from their website:
Since 1994, the Rutgers Oral History Archives (ROHA) has been recording the life narratives of:
Alumni and/or New Jersey residents who served during times of conflict
People with a story to tell about New Jersey’s rich social and cultural history
Men and women who helped shape the history of Rutgers University
ROHA’s digital archive features 1,202 life course oral history interviews and over 32,000 pages of fully text-searchable transcripts.
Here’s the cover page of the first interview transcript.
RUTGERS, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW JERSEY
AN INTERVIEW WITH BRENDA SMULL
RUTGERS ORAL HISTORY ARCHIVES
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY
KATHRYN TRACY RIZZI
APRIL 12, 2022
Below is an excerpt of my response to a question about my experience during Operation Desert Storm:
“I was there for about ten months. Saudi Arabia and Iraq, in those months, there were seasons where there were monsoon rains and winds. I’ll never forget, one time, I’m in my tent, and a huge windstorm came. It literally blew the tent off me, and it’s just me on a cot in the middle of the desert. That was quite interesting. Everything you owned was in two duffel bags, so you didn’t have a whole lot of clothing. We did have services that occasionally helped launder our clothes, but, oftentimes, we would wear the same pants for days, and I did not take a shower every day. Then, when we went into Iraq, water was limited. I remember, I went thirty days without a shower. As a woman, that wasn’t as ideal. We had birdbaths, but for anybody who’s been camping, birdbaths are good for like two or three days. Thirty days is a whole other experience. Again, I was young. I survived. It wasn’t that bad, but it was just very uncomfortable. Your body doesn’t stop doing what it does, even though you’re at war in the middle of a desert. That was that experience. That’s why I was always envious [that] the Air Force people were in buildings, at least most of them were, and I didn’t get to be in any buildings.
At the end, when we were leaving the country in April 1991, we went to Khobar Towers, which is actually famous because later, a few years after I was there, there was a big bombing there. Khobar Towers were in Saudi Arabia, there was a big bombing, and I believe some were killed and injured. I was only there for a week or two before they flew us back home. That’s the story about that. [Editor’s Note: On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb detonated near the Khobar Tower housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing nineteen members of the U.S. Air Force and injuring over four hundred American and coalition military personnel. The Khobar Towers housed coalition forces engaged in Operation Southern Watch, the no-fly zone operation in Southern Iraq after the Gulf War of 1990-1991.]”
One of the things I love about Toastmaster meetings is the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives and stories from club members with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and political affiliations. For some, Toastmasters may be the only place where members are exposed to viewpoints that differ from their own.
In July 2022, I witnessed two very different presentations while attending two community Toastmaster clubs in Phoenix, Arizona. The speeches also had many similarities, as both were well presented, dynamic and passionate. The speakers were intelligent, successful and respected baby boomers whom I know and admire.
The topics of the speeches were socially charged ideas given from the presenters’ point of view and frame of reference. Based on the size and diversity of the audience, it was probable that not everyone agreed with the premise and points of talk.
What impressed me most about these specific Toastmaster meetings was the high quality and neutrality of the formal speech evaluations. Providing verbal feedback on a topic that you may not agree with is not easy and the club members accomplished this should be praised and respected. The Speech Evaluators did an outstanding job of providing quality input on the delivery and structure of the speech while avoiding judgmental statements on the content of the presentation. They took the high road and made me very proud to be a Toastmaster.
I felt strongly about this topic in October 2016 and published a blog entitled “Objective Evaluations in a Polarized World”. In this article, I emphasized that “the ability to give objective and neutral feedback on another person’s speech is hard enough without the many external and internal factors influencing us. Pesky things like human nature, emotions, personal biases, insecurities, extreme political views, polarization of opinions and what I call the “siloed, echo chambers” of social media”.
Now more than ever, my advice from six years ago on giving objective evaluation is important and relevant.
Below were my key recommendations:
Remember that as a speech evaluator, you are there to observe and provide neutral and constructive feedback, recommendations and suggestions on the basic tenants and techniques of effective communication and public speaking.
Focus on the Delivery and Structure of the presentation with specific examples.
When commenting on the Impact of a speech (especially if you disagree with the content), try to set aside your personal emotions and biases and look at and assess the overall audience response to the speech.
Honestly ask yourself if the topic/point of the speech is clouding your ability to provide positive and objective feedback on the Delivery and Impact. If it is, then:
Try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who supports the topic and reflect on how they would respond to the speech.
Run a “What if” scenario in your mind by replacing the content of the speech with something that you agree with and see how you would view and analyze it.
Open your mind, take off your biased filters and focus on how the speaker is connecting, delivering and making their point.
Ask yourself: Was the speaker able to motivate, educate, influence or inspire?
The purpose of your evaluation is to encourage and help club member improve and develop strong communication skills, not to impose your views, values and opinions about the subject matter.
Skeptical about Public Health Officials’ Guidance: Definitely
After receiving four injections in my arm in 2021, I wasn’t too excited to get a fifth shot in my shoulder this past week.
I experienced a good bit of trepidation as I entered my doctor’s office in Phoenix, Arizona. The plan was to get a corticosteroid injected into my shoulder capsule (bursa) to help with the pain and immobility I have been suffering with since the beginning of 2022.
Like millions of people around the world, I received three doses of the mRNA vaccine in 2021. My frozen shoulder started shortly after 12/28/21, when the Wal-Green’s pharmacist administered a flu shot and a COVID booster shot in the same arm. While I don’t know if these shots were the direct cause of my shoulder issue, the location and the timing are awfully coincidental. At this point, I am in no hurry to get another mRNA vaccine in any arm until there are longer-term, controlled, randomized studies conducted.
So now, after seven months of physical therapy, yoga, massage, chiropractic adjustments, healthy eating and oral medication, I am giving corticosteroids injections into my shoulder a shot.
Healing from frozen shoulder is a long and frustrating mind game and I hope that this latest treatment helps me get past the plateau I have hit.
It’s so good to be sitting on the porch of a cute, cozy cabin and reflect on what is important in life. Health, family and friends top the list of most valued gifts.
Spending time in the greenery of nature is soothing to my soul and my morning walk did me good. This fun sign below caught my eye and got me thinking. What do I want and how do I plan to get it? Where should I go and why? So many questions are swirling in my mind.
The cabin I’m staying in is small and quaint. There is no Wi-Fi or Internet and uploading the photo above took over 5 minutes. During the time I waited, I thought more about what I wanted to share here with you. It slowed me down even more to reflect and creatively choose my words.
Here are some of my answers to the questions:
What: Calm my mind and heal my shoulder
Where: In the woods of Arizona
Why: Life is short and I want to alleviate the pain
How: Appreciating the beauty of the verdant trees and the sounds of the birds.
Getting away from the day-to-day grind of work and chores is a wonderful treat. Strong and simple – just the way I like it!
So many of us are hurting right now, physically and emotionally, and my wish is that you can take a moment for yourself and ask- Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.
The honest answers may be your best sign post to get you moving in the right direction.