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Interview with Elizabeth White Steelman, April 15, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Elizabeth White Steelman, April 15, 2008
Date:
April 15, 2008
Description:
Interview with Elizabeth Steelman, Wilmington native and active local community member. Here, Steelman discusses her personal and professional history, including her involvement with the Cucalorus Film Festival and her role in a program bringing Russians to witness U.S. business practices through the Rotary Club.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Steelman, Elizabeth White Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Malpass, Chris Date of Interview: 4/15/2008 Series: SENC Notables Length 90 minutes

 

Jones: Tuesday, April 15th 2008. And I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Oral History Project, and we're taping in Special Collections. Our interview guest today is Beth White Steelman, a long time Wilmington resident, a native actually, and she's active in many local organizations both as a volunteer and paid professional. Good afternoon Beth and thanks for coming to visit us.

Steelman: Well thank you.

Jones: The obvious thing is tell us a little bit about your history and family here in Wilmington.

Steelman: Okay, well the very first thing is that in Wilmington I was Beth Taylor. My family were Claudia and Bill Taylor and he owned Standard Paint and Hardware then at that time. So I was born here and I now live in the house that I say I was born in, but even in-- of my year-- you still were born in a hospital, so I was born at James Walker Memorial Hospital, which is I guess on the corner of about Rankin and oh Eighth or something like that, and was a candy striper there. And came home, got married, lived several places. My first husband is deceased, and came back to Wilmington in 1994. And my mother, this is a strange, strange tale; she was in the house by herself. My father just died, and the yard man quit. So my mother moved out. She said I can't take it anymore, I will go to Lakeshore Commons, and she did. And she said you don't want this house.

Jones: She just told you-- you were living in the house with her.

Steelman: No, no, because I was living-- well I was living in my grandfather's house. My step-grandmother had also recently died; 1994-1995 was not a very good year. And so I was keeping that house sort of with a person in it until it could be sold. But all of this was happening together. And I think mother really didn't see that there was something wrong with the chimney in the front room, I mean it looked a little damp, she didn't see that. And I thought, you know, my kids have moved around a lot. Or at least I thought it was a lot. And this is roots. This house is roots and at the time it was in-- it still is in the middle of Carolina Heights neighborhood, which some people would like to call downtown, but I will tell you, no. To me, past Fifth Street is no longer downtown although I realize that in the tourist horse-cart business, they go all the way to Seventh Street. So we were the first suburbia sort of overlay. And the houses are older, and yes it is like "The Money Pit" house, but it was our house. And my mother's accountant said, you don't want that house, you let your mother just sell that house and let her give you some money instead and go buy something you want. I said there's nothing else I want. I want this house. So I'm in that house, now Ben's in that house, as of this week four cats are in that house.

Jones: Tell me about the chimney in that house.

Steelman: Well that's the thing. The chimney in that house was put together probably with that shell and sand mixture. And at the time mother had-- and I think I could find him if I tried to get a chimney sweep or professionally to clean the chimney and he came and knocked on the front door and said, "Beth, I can't do it. That chimney's about to fall down and I have to build it from the bottom up." No wonder it was leaking. My daddy was in the paint business, it looks good when you paint brick. They had painted that chimney so many years it couldn't breathe. So of course this water was starting to come down through, and they had shut it up completely at the top because you know now they have those little steel houses, like little caps you can put on them.

Jones: To keep birds out.

Steelman: Right, well the first time a bird got down in there, that was all mother needed. It got sealed up. So of course it was just-- there was moisture everywhere. So I still look for any drips, any drips that I can find, thinking, oh God, if this house could tell tales. And I think it has a ghost, but all of us in Carolina Heights thinks we-- think we have a house with a ghost.

Jones: I keep hearing this from people who live there. But I think that's part of the charm.

Steelman: Well I think, I think that there is-- I don't-- I wouldn't say that I particularly believe in ghosts, but I do believe that you leave-- that there is energy.

Jones: Could be.

Steelman: Could be. And the cats can sense it. But they're used to it now. But when they first moved in and we first had cats it was-- they acted very strange. They would go and stay away from the closet where my mother's favorite long time Siamese had gone to sort of expire.

Jones: So there's the essence of another cat.

Steelman: Perhaps another dead cat. Isn't that something? (laughs)

Jones: When are you going to write your story about this house?

Steelman: I don't know.

Jones: Make a great story.

Steelman: I guess I could embellish it some.

Jones: Well of course you have to.

Steelman: I'd have to.

Jones: Yeah. Well anyway, so when did you move back?

Steelman: I moved back in about-- in 1994 from Oakridge, Tennessee. Both of my children-- I was a widow. Both of my children had finished high school. My son Walker at that time I guess was getting ready for graduate school, my daughter was going to Wake Forest, and the deal was if I would wait-- they really liked Oakridge, it was a fabulous school system, outstanding, yes. If I would stay, then they would move back with me. And I had been working for the Girl Scouts for about six years and they had a restructuring and I could see--

Jones: When you say working for the Girl Scouts as a volunteer?

Steelman: No, no, no. Professionally, I was working--

Jones: You were professional? That was in Oakridge?

Steelman: Yeah, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Well in Knoxville but we lived in Oakridge. I was their Marketing Communications Director. I handled the cookie sales, big time, $2 million, big time (laughs).

Jones: For the state of Tennessee?

Steelman: No, just that-- cookies are big business.

Jones: I know they are.

Steelman: And, no just for that region.

Jones: I have had my entire living room full of them and delivering them myself because the kid got sick.

Steelman: No, I didn't do that. But yes, I used to drive behind my daughter as she went from house to house in Oakridge to sell cookies. But by this time we had sold the house and were in an apartment. It was just, it was one of those things that, I got a job with the Chamber of Commerce in Knoxville right before I left but it was too late then. And so I came home, I had interviewed for jobs in Winston-Salem that obviously were not meant to be because one was with a donor service that I had had experience with as a volunteer. And they were creating the program and I was already through human resources and then a women moved into town with her husband who had directed a program in South Carolina and I thought, this job is for her, it's not for me to create, so. I just, like all Wilmington girls do, I just came home. And--

Jones: Because it was home.

Steelman: Because it was home. And, you know, I really didn't know what I was going to do. I was sort of in sticker shock. I mean I had been away for, by this time, 30 years. I mean I'd been in college and then married and my first husband was a physician and we'd gone through med school, and we'd gone through residency and moved around, and...

Jones: When you say we, you really mean we.

Steelman: We, Tom and me. And then we had three children and we lost one as a teenager. So there was all these sort of little blips along the way in life. You know, and then you bring it back and you think what am I going to do now? And I-- the first thing I found out about coming home to Wilmington was it was very hard to find a job. Jobs were not everywhere and I went to a job finding conference I think at Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church and the man stepped in front of the room and he said, I'm going to tell you all right now some of you are going to have to move because there is not going to be a job for you.

Jones: We heard that when we came down.

Steelman: You know, I thought gosh. So I think in the--

Jones: But you had a home with your mother at least.

Steelman: Well I had a-- yeah, I had a place to live. Or yes, not yeah, they'd get rid of that on Sandra Bullock on Miss Congeniality. Yeah, is not a word. I had a place to live and I think I started off in temp work. Blood pressure the best it's ever been, no brainer. A friend of mine that I was in Rotary with needed someone to market a--

Jones: Well, if you were in Rotary, you had to--

Steelman: I was in Rotary in Tennessee.

Jones: Okay so you transferred.

Steelman: I transferred. I had just joined Rotary and the person who had worked with the Girl Scouts. And he said, this is an organization you really must join, you need to do this. And I really didn't understand at that time what he meant. But I joined and I was only in two years, and I said I'm leaving and I'm going to Wilmington. And that group was a really great group about saying, hey, you know, the way they work you'd pay dues for a year and pay for your meal every time you went. You've paid your dues, we're going to give you this year to visit clubs in Wilmington and find-- and then we'll write a letter so that you can join a club. Well even-- well 10 years or 15 years ago you still had to have a job unless you were retired to be a Rotarian. And I remember Sarah Hall; they always say you'll remember your sponsor in Rotary. Sarah Hall was in the travel business and she said are you still interested, we have a classification for you. And it's advertising consultant. And so I went back--

Jones: For the cookie lady?

Steelman: Well, I think by that time I don't know whether I had started my P.R. Image business or not. Probably not, but they, they, yeah they had some sort of classification that would work. And so I joined and I really don't regret that.

Jones: Well which one did you join?

Steelman: Wilmington West Rotary.

Jones: And that was in '94 or '95?

Steelman: It was in '95.

Jones: They were new then?

Steelman: They were about, a little bit less than 10 years old. This will be our twentieth year in 2008-2009.

Jones: I should have known that since I did all of that entire collection.

Steelman: Well, that's-- those are not the kind of dates you remember. I keep having to look at it and think, how old are they anyway? It's still a pretty young club.

Jones: So this is Wilmington West, okay. And you're still a member of the same?

Steelman: I'm still-- I'm President this year.

Jones: Oh, excuse me.

Steelman: I am. I'm almost past President this year. But next-- it has taken a long time for me to realize how important Rotary is. And the impact that it had made upon my life, however I think there's some things in motion here. We left Kinston that was very provincial. And my kids went to Oakridge, Tennessee which is a city at the time, I mean it's not a thing to boast about, but to describe the town perhaps the highest number of PhDs per capita.

Jones: Oh, it had to be.

Steelman: And my kids were--

Jones: Several from Wilmington too.

Steelman: Well, you know, and I think my-- when I was living in Kinston I had thought about going back to school, my degree was in psychology, be a clinical psychologist and my first husband said, you don't want to do that. I mean, you know, you're going to have all these degrees that nobody else has of nothing to do with them. Well I got to Oakridge, Tennessee and went to a AAUW meeting and they were giving out prizes for who had two PhDs, who had two Masters, and I was sitting there with a BA in Psychology and Spanish and thinking, my gosh, but it was such an interesting group of people. And-- but very, very hard on the kids because I never really pushed grades at all. In fact, got into a huge fight with my daughter because I celebrated a B, and I'll tell you why. They both had gastro problems their senior year, they were not at the top of the class, but they still had 104 averages. They had an A plus-plus average and they were graduating and they, you know, I think the peer pressure there, it was in to be in one group. They were driven. And all of those kids had been driven and I don't really--

Jones: It's not necessary.

Steelman: It's necessary, but I don't regret the fact that we moved to Tennessee. I thought I would, that was my first husband's home and I thought, oh what a backwoods place, but East Tennessee is not backwoods. They had their act together, they--

Jones: I've been there.

Steelman: Well, so you know what I mean. It's-- Knoxville's a wonderful place. Would I go back there and live? No. I think I'm where I was meant to be planted, I think.

Jones: I think so with the-- living back in that leaky chimney house.

Steelman: Chimney house, which I fixed.

Jones: With the cat that makes appearances.

Steelman: Or that the other cats think do.

Jones: That's interesting as a mother of children attending that type of school, I imagine it was difficult for you as parents to have to-- how do you help a child with homework?

Steelman: I couldn't. Even if--

Jones: And this was not the norm. They got back into the real life. I'm sure they found out right away, of course they'd, what graduated from school there?

Steelman: Mm-hmm.

Jones: Yeah, they didn't find real life probably ever.

Steelman: Oh, they've, they've got real life. I think-- well they remember going to school in Kinston. And Kinston had just started that, I want to call it the Tip Program but I'm not so sure, it's a testing program and then they would go to Duke. And of course, and Walker tested into this program, his father never really went along with this thing, but I would push there. I said if this is something he can do, because I remember coming home from a conference with his fifth grade teacher in tears. My husband said, "What's the matter now?" I said, "Walker is performing on a twelfth grade level and I don't know what to do." And she said just keep him stimulated, especially socialized, you know, that sort of thing. And so by the time he got to Oakridge having gone to Duke, they had in place programs that they would bus a dozen or more children or students from junior high to the high school for math. So they already had an accelerated program in place if that was really what you wanted and now he's a PhD in Math at Cornell and doing research in gaming, writing gaming programs.

Jones: It was what he was meant to be.

Steelman: He was meant to do it. And he loves it. And I really don't think that would have ever happened-- I don't see that path happening if we had stayed in Kinston because his contemporaries are not driven.

Jones: I think you're absolutely right. We have a son, who was somewhat the same way, but he was also an athlete, and he was also a cut-up. And when he was in school, they kept moving him up a grade, thinking he needed stimulation. And finally we just stepped in and said, uh-uh, he needs to learn to get along with his peers. And then he can use that energy so, you know, it depends.

Steelman: I think you're right, you can keep moving.

Jones: But he was not in a situation where all the peers around him were smarter or whatever, you know, really.

Steelman: Or, yeah. But they all-- they still all played in the band or played sports or Walker stayed in Boy Scouts; was an Eagle Scout. I mean there were certain things that I thought were important. That music is important, my mother was a music major, church is important, and family. And-and I think Scouting was very important for me. I feel like I pushed my daughter through, we may be rambling here but, when she earned her Gold Award, which is at that time the highest award in Girl Scouts-- like the Eagle. They all had to make a presentation at the end and she wouldn't give me hers, she wouldn't talk about what she said, "I don't know if I can tell you this." She got up there and she said, "My mother sent me to camp when I was five years old." And this, and this, and this, and she got to the end and then she said, "And thank you." So I just thought, gosh, that it paid off some of the things that I kept, saying "I think this is important, I think this is important." And I think that also the move made my kids tremendously open. And I am very disturbed sometimes now that I'm back in Wilmington to know people and meet people and re-acquaint with people whose kids are not open at all.

Jones: It's the culture. It's the parents too.

Steelman: Well, I think it's the parents and it bothers me because I'm scared--

Jones: You want to be your kids best friends.

Steelman: Well, I don't know if it's that so much, but it's some the-- it's some of the racism I find, and I don't mean a black and white issue, I mean it can be the whole thing. Because I mean in addition to my daughters marrying someone from San Francisco whose parents have been here 28 years but are Chinese and are very, very established and don't need to really know English, although the son does of course. And then my son has just married someone who is a graduate student at Cornell who is Polish and has just gotten her, as they say their green card to stay here longer than her student visa. But I'm wondering, would this have happened if their lives, you know, if they hadn't taken them out of Kinston away from Wilmington. There was never a thought of coming back to Wilmington because my first husband was from Tennessee.

Jones: I wanted to ask you, did your children ever experience living in Wilmington?

Steelman: No. They did not. My son is very interested in the house that we're living in now, because it's his grandmother's. They have not ditched that, which makes me sort of proud, we own land here in Pender County, because my mother was a Foy [ph?], and all of that Poplar Grove area was Foy land, so there are a bunch of us owning little parcels out there. My passion, my real passion is the Coastal Land Trust. I sit on that board as the Development Director.

Jones: You're on that board?

Steelman: Mm-hmm. And I think our slogan is probably "Saving the Places you Love." I believe in planned growth.

Jones: Excuse me. On that board, excuse me, are you a Director or a President or a Chairman?

Steelman: I'm a Director and Chairman of the Development Committee.

Jones: Oh okay, okay.

Steelman: And, but most of-- and that's mostly my background just in fundraising I guess is how I'm there, but we have all of our land, all 138 acres of it under a conservation easement. And that doesn't mean that the kids can't ever build anything on it, there are caveats for that. But I came back and very early on participated in Leadership Wilmington and realized that there was a plan for growth in place because I've read it 20 years previously. Now that, now is like 1970, '77, that really we haven't followed. And I think some of the things that disturb us as Wilmingtonians the most when we talk about traffic, is because the plan was not followed.

Jones: Well was this under the leadership or mayor at that time of, what is his name, he had a nickname that was kind of funny.

Steelman: Buddy.

Jones: Yeah. Hey Buddy.

Steelman: I don't know. Hey Buddy.

Jones: Hey Buddy Wade.

Steelman: Wade. I don't know, but--

Jones: Because he did later leave, actually it was almost a thesis on what he tried to put in place start, and what he envisioned for Wilmington, and traffic was one of them-- the thing, one of the items.

Steelman: That's interesting, because I don't know who was-- I do know, I think that maybe a little bit later, but I'll tell you former mayor was on the committee and that was Ham Hicks. He was on the committee so it wasn't like he didn't know because he was part of the plan. So they knew. I think maybe we have a steamroller effect. Well, I came back to Wilmington and I loved all of the restaurants that the growth it brought. Just the-- being able to socialize.

Jones: They came after I-40 opened.

Steelman: Right.

Jones: That's when things went crazy.

Steelman: Well that's-- well, you know the people number of people I've met, especially women that I ask what brings you to Wilmington, well I just got out a map, and I put my hand here and I drove and I ended up here. And I'm thinking, gosh, I think I'd give it a little bit more thought than that. It is not inexpensive to live here. It's probably less expensive to live in the Research Triangle area.

Jones: It is. Cost of housing is less and positions pay more.

Steelman: Oh, absolutely.

Jones: No, it is. As a matter of fact, some of the most recent statistics I've seen that New Hanover County has about the highest per capita income in the state, we're a small county. But there are enough people who have the income to support that. I don't know if you-- if this is higher than Charlotte, but Charlotte's larger, so you know, how do you do this? It also has the highest per capita as far as educational degrees and level. So, you know, explain it to me, but I just learned through the Board of Elections, that New Hanover County now has 200,000 people. When they took the--

Steelman: I think I had heard that.

Jones: And I could not believe that.

Steelman: They're all out on College Road. Trust me, all 200,000. (laughs)

Jones: At one time.

Steelman: At one time. (laughs)

Jones: Well you came back because you had roots.

Steelman: And I had no place else to go.

Jones: Okay, but was there any place you ever wanted to go?

Steelman: I was very interested in going to Winston-Salem. I had gone to Salem College and I had also taken, also classes at Wake Forest. And I loved Winston- Salem. And I really thought-- and I had worked there for the Winston-Salem Journal when my first husband was in school. I was a newspaper person. And so I had some very, very positive experiences there. That was the one place I think I would have considered. And I didn't really look not to come back. I think the fact that...

Jones: You were drawn back here.

Steelman: I was drawn back by a couple of things. I think before my father died, the very last trip here, when he knew that I was not going to go back on staff at the Girl Scouts, because they didn't want to hire me back for whatever reason, because I wouldn't take a lesser job. I was tired of the whole thing; I wouldn't take a lesser job. Well I'm glad I didn't. And my father said to my daughter at the time, "Do you think your mother will come home?" and Foy said, "I think she will." He said, "Good." And those are the sort of things that sort of stick in your mind when you're making these decisions. They don't pop up right away, but--

Jones: Well, you were a woman who had resources both educational and you had a home to go to if you had to.

Steelman: I did. I call it the safety net, right. And I think every-- you can bloom when you have a safety net, when you have, you know, I know when my mother died, I've been-- and I sort of joke about the Claudia travel trust fund that we did some of our early traveling with, but, I mean she left me a safety net to explore having my own business, finding out what I liked about it, what I didn't like about it, moving.

Jones: Your own business at that time was?

Steelman: I had a P.R. consulting business.

Jones: Really?

Steelman: And that's--

Jones: In Wilmington?

Steelman: Uh-huh. It was called P.R. Image. And it started out with one client and it's like Ben will say, what I didn't give away to people who couldn't afford to pay me, I didn't charge enough for. My accountant would have said the same thing. But I felt that there were so many emerging businesses that needed really focus on marketing themselves. And sometimes I say I shouldn't be running my own business but, and that may be true, so when WHQR Public Radio several times approached me about would I come to work for them, and the timing was never right, the third time was the charm, and I said yes I will. I will. And I did.

Jones: You did? And when was that?

Steelman: That was in 1999, it was the year I married Ben but it was after I married him. But we met a WHQR. We met volunteering during the pledge drive.

Jones: Oh really?

Steelman: We did. So that will--

Jones: Did you know who he was or anything?

Steelman: I did not have a clue who he was. But everybody else knew who he was. And when I found out he worked for the newspaper, of course he'll see this but maybe this is not a surprise (laughs), I thought, you know, you cannot get through the door of that newspaper as a P.R. person. They won't talk to you, I don't understand it what is it. I could walk into the Knoxville Journal, three times as big, walk into the room, say where is so and so? Can I see her, and be led to the desk. Or either she wasn't there or whatever, but everybody had time. But no, everything was locked at the Star News. So I thought I'm going to get to know this person. So I called him up.

Jones: This is what you thought when you met him at WHQR volunteering?

Steelman: Exactly, exactly. So I called him up and I said, you know, I need to know a little bit more about how this newspaper works, can we get together for coffee or drinks or something?

Jones: Oh you brazen thing.

Steelman: Well, it gets better. He said, "Well I'm not free tomorrow night but I'm free for dinner the next night." And I went what? (laughs) How did we get to that? So we went to what was then O'Shaughnessy's [ph?], or maybe before then The Copper Penny, whatever it started at the beginning. And he just sort of looked at me all night. I'm thinking, why you looking at me?

Jones: Doesn't he do that to a lot of people?

Steelman: I guess, it scared the heck out of me. Yeah, and I think he knew what was going on all along. And so that was sort of the beginning of, you know, we went to a couple of Cinematiques and he had some other women friends that he liked and I thought, you know, this is a very interesting person.

Jones: You thought he was doing films-- I mean writing about the films and so forth as well as [inaudible]?

Steelman: Well that was our date. That ended up being our date for years and as long as he-- in the beginning we would go to a film, every Friday night, and he'd go back and write the review, and then when they wanted it in the Saturday paper, we'd go for lunch on Friday and film every Friday afternoon, even when I was at WHQR that was part of the plan. And then they switched and they went to wire reports and films that are not out or special things. So we don't go to the films every week anymore.

Jones: I ran into him one time, this is too funny, I ran into him one time it was several years ago. My daughter and my granddaughter were here. It was around Christmas time. And we went to an afternoon movie, it's the only time I ever get to go because-- out at Mayfair. And he was standing there in the lobby just looking around it was Ben, and so as we walked by I said, "Hi Ben." He said, like this, and I said, "This is my granddaughter, and he said I've met her because she-- you know, we raised her as my daughter." And then-- and just continued to look, so I said well, have a good afternoon. And he said, "Which film are you going to?" I almost bowled over and I forgot, and I told him. He said, "You may not enjoy it." I said, "Don't they send you these things so you can watch at home?" "Oh no, oh no, I have to go out and see them." And he just said, "Well hope you enjoy the afternoon." I can't remember, I think it was that geisha movie. I'm not sure which one.

Steelman: Okay, I didn't see that.

Jones: Anyway, and I remember thinking, every time I'd see his critique or review of a film after that I thought, he had to go to a stupid, stuffy, smelly theater to see it. They don't send them to him at home.

Steelman: Oh, but that's half the fun of it. And I used to love it when it was a big audience and the audience would type back-- talk back. Especially on some of the really-- like the Tyler Perry--

Jones: How do you sit through some of them.

Steelman: Well some of them were pretty bad. But then the audience got good. (laughs). But at the end of the year when the Academy Awards are coming around, they still send, they still send for your consideration to the house. Because they want you to write about them and they want to get the public in there and, you know, that sort of thing. So that-- it's still fun but we've cut back, I don't like that. We need to be out more, see more movies I think.

Jones: Okay, well this was just an aside that was, it was so typically Ben, I mean, he never cracked a smile or anything. But anyway, so I thought it was amusing, this was cute, how you met and carried on like that. How long was your courtship, if you have to call it that?

Steelman: Not very long. I mean that was-- mother was already deceased so let me think, '96 or '97 and we got married in '99.

Jones: Well, okay. That is too funny. And evidently, you both get along fine and you must have conversations together although I can't imagine.

Steelman: Well we do. Not as many, stuck on CSI right now (laughs). He loves that television show and I took forensic anthropology out at UNCW out here and I loved it. But he knew everything I knew from watching CSI. So I thought, well gosh, shouldn't tell Midori Albert there.

Jones: But he moved into the house you're in.

Steelman: He moved into the house and the garage that's in the back is now an eight stack library. It-- we redid it and he had to-- it's really library shelves and everything else, I'm not allowed in there, because I'm sure it's a mess. And it's stacked from floor to ceiling, but it's his. I don't clean it-- the only person that gets to go in there is the service heating person who looks at--

Jones: Consider yourself lucky.

Steelman: I know, I think so. But anyway, that's his place, he knows where every book he owns is, which is very-- it's, you know, there are other things that get lost, but.

Jones: Does he do his reading during the day if he watches CSI at night?

Steelman: He does, he does. He likes--

Jones: While you're out of the house?

Steelman: I'm out of the house and or he's at work or every Sunday after lunch we got out to eat, the Steelmans are there with their books. We have two books, we sit there and we read and we eat. I use to think that was strange but now I do it too so it's not strange anymore (laughs). I read better having met him, it's funny about life, you know, is it Gail Sheely or Sheehy?

Jones: Sheehy.

Steelman: That wrote Passages? I have never read the book, I feel like I've lived it though.

Jones: Well you should. You should also read her last book she wrote after her husband died. It's a masterpiece of thought, I don't agree with all of it, but still. I'm sure Ben read it though.

Steelman: Well not necessarily but, I'm often surprised--

Jones: Passages, when did that come out about 10, 12 years ago?

Steelman: Oh yes, and I think I was going through, you know, I had a son that died and then a husband that died and then a job that died, and then--

Jones: You know that was not good.

Steelman: No. You know, but this may seem very, very--

Jones: But it was meant to be.

Steelman: Well, that's the Presbyterian in me I guess.

Jones: You came out of it.

Steelman: But, well yeah, because-- well yes. And I don't know why I came out of it. I met a woman in the post office at Oakridge one day and after, I guess Tom and my son Stuart died within 18 months of each other, and she said, "How are you out here?" And I'm thinking why-- and she'd had a death. She said, how do you do this? And I'm thinking, how do you not? And every now and again I think of this favorite television show of my kids, Little House on the, I'm going to call it Little House on the Fairy, Little House on Prairie, Little House on the Prairie. She had all sorts of stuff go on. And she kept going.

Jones: Well you do.

Steelman: What's my excuse, I don't think that being-- I've never thought of myself as fragile.

Jones: You're not a martyr.

Steelman: I don't think so. I think there are other ways of being a martyr.

Jones: That are more fun.

Steelman: (laughs) Well, you know, nobody ever promises you a rose garden. And you don't know, I mean, I thought I was going to grow up and they'd put this into you at Salem; go to Salem, very first year before Betty Freidan came and spoke and freaked everybody out, they would say well you know, now so many percentage of you will marry doctors and lawyers when you get out. So we all had to be engaged when we got out.

Jones: [inaudible] a private girl's school.

Steelman: Well, so I did it. I got engaged before my last psychology oral and I was going to get married and I married a med student and put him through school. And you know, that was the way it was supposed to be. And a good friend of mine that did the same thing that was at Wilma Gray [ph?] when Tom was there has now moved back to Wilmington as a sort of retirement home for her husband. And their marriage is still alive and well and the-- we had babies in the hospital at Baptist Hospital together, and both of them are grown and they don't know each other now. But that's the path her life has taken and mine has sort of gone off and this unbelievable sort of-- I mean I'm not even the same person.

Jones: But don't you think you've had a more interesting life?

Steelman: Oh, absolutely.

Jones: And you've met more people and you've gone through various transformations...

Steelman: Well, yes, I mean--

Jones: ...that have kept you abreast of today, of what's happening today.

Steelman: Oh I credit Ben for that. I credit Ben for that because he's a brilliant person and I read better and I don't have to open the encyclopedias anymore. And sometimes I depend on some of my political knowledge, not views but knowledge from Ben. We have both been members, I mean registered members of both parties at any one time, at any one time. Politically we one time tried to decide what we were, were we conservative, liberal, and decided neither. We're sort of in the middle in a way. But we both have very open minds and I don't know where mine came from because I don't have-- or his either, our backgrounds are not to explore.

Jones: Where did Ben grow up?

Steelman: He grew up in Lewisburg, North Carolina.

Jones: So you're both North Carolinians.

Steelman: And went to a-- right, right. And he went to a private boy's high school because his parents were very much opposed to integration. And Ben's a little bit younger than I am. In fact, I think I was the last class-- one of the last two or three classes at New Hanover High School that was still integrated-- I mean segregated, I'm sorry. So things started to change after I left really and, you know, it was a very hard time when I was at the Winston-Salem Journal. That was a time of integration there, it was very tumultuous for the city, and I was in the editorial department at the time. And I remember that and then we moved on from there to Syracuse, New York where he did his residency and the kids were still young, and then started school in Kinston. So there's been a lot of social growth and coming back to Wilmington, and I'm-- I remember Eugenia Carr [ph?] who is still with the Winston-Salem Journal, and is from Wilmington, in fact her name is Eugenia Wadell Carr [ph?]. And I went to the Rainbow Café and Bookshop in Winston-Salem, she said here's this book by this man named Phillip Gerard. Now Claudia and Roslyn, those were the names of our mothers, would never tell you about this book. But you need to read it. And it was Cape Fear Rising.

Jones: Oh my gosh, yeah.

Steelman: It is Phillip, yeah, Phillip did that one. Wanted to be sure I had my authors right. And so I took that book and read it, and went whoa. And I got in the car while Daddy was-- Daddy had a heart attack, was in Charlotte, I was home, I can't remember why; it was very, very all convoluted. And drove around Wilmington to recreate this history that I never knew anything about and if I'm not mistaken, my grandfather was born in 1898, could that have been?

Jones: Could be.

Steelman: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, too late, because my mother was born in 1910, so 10, 95, 85 probably. Have to go out to Oakdale Cemetery and see what's on the tombstone. But you know, and there was a lot of history. And my great grandmother used to tell me the stories of the Charleston earthquake that the trees came up out of the ground; that must have been the late 1800s. And everything that went with that. I was here for Hurricane Hazel in 1954, in the house that I'm living in now.

Jones: I'm going to ask you what I have asked a number of people including my boyfriend. The man I married and live with.

Steelman: Sorry to say, are we disclosing something here?

Jones: No, no, no, I have asked him when we moved back, we were down looking at houses when there was two consecutive years of hurricanes. And I said, "You know, I'm just not too sure about all this." And he said, "Well I don't remember anything like this." I said, "Well, what happened during hurricane Hazel" and I named it. He said "I don't remember," I said, "Well what did people do? I don't know they just sat there on their front porch." He had no recollection. He said it's like a big wind, I never heard, and I would ask his friends the same thing. And I would get the same answer. "Well, it was just a big wind and a couple of trees would topple over," but they didn't seem to take it and nor did they have the time to prepare like we do now.

Steelman: No, but it was no big wind. I remember.

Jones: Well I know Hurricane Hazel was, I was--

Steelman: No I know, but I didn't-- no, I understand that, I mean I don't remember it as that. I remember it as a hurricane and of course my first because I was younger than 10. And my mother, Miss Be-prepared-for-everything that in her later years had one of these weather radios, she did have a Sterno stove, but my grandfather called and said, Claude you need to go next door to Dr. Coddington's [ph?] house, old Doctor Coddington Ferbet [ph?] lived next door. Because he has a brick house and it will be safer. So here-- and that was you could raise the windows or something so you wouldn't create a vacuum. So here this was going and going and we wanted to go outside. We went outside in the eye of the storm, and I can hear mother now, "Get back in here, it's going to start again any minute, you get back in this house." And then it got later and we went over to Doctor Coddington's [ph?] and ate ice cream. He loved ice cream. During this hurricane, well unbeknownst to me that my brother told me about years later, Hazel actually jarred our house off of its foundation. So in the second grade or so-- or maybe younger than that, seven years-- we moved to Mr. Sternberger's or a house that's no longer at the beach and stayed for a month, while the house was remodeled. And I think that was part of the remodeling was putting that house back together. But nothing, nothing was blown down. Now the-- my grandfather Foy was commodore of the yacht club that year and the yacht-- that yacht was pretty much destroyed on the beach.

Jones: I've heard about that.

Steelman: And I remember going to the kitchen supply store with my grandmother, whom I called Nanny, my mother used to leave me with her I bet about every Friday, shopping for the new dishes. And if you go down to the Yacht Club now, up on top of where they keep all the dishes, this one set of dishes with flowers around them. And those were the dishes that we bought to go back into the Yacht Club at that time. So I remember all of that.

Jones: I hope you write these things down.

Steelman: I haven't, I'm terrible, I'm not a (laughs) I'm not a journaler Ben journals.

Jones: Well for your kids, you know it's just part of the history.

Steelman: Well we do have my grandfather on tape, on video tape. He was quite a story teller and my mother would talk about being born in Scotts Hill and there was a-- he had a grocery store across the road, and they'd take her and put her under the counter in a box, that was her crib. I mean, we hear some things. And I think one of the really sad things about not talking to your grandparents and your parents before they get to be 80 is that--

Jones: When they're lucid.

Steelman: Right, because now there's things that I need to ask my mother like can you tell me one more time where the cut off thing is in the backyard for the sewer? Or I'd ask her other things. "That's not important, I don't remember." And see my Aunt Ina [ph?] is now the last person living and she at the, "you know, I really can't remember, it's not important." But it's important to us.

Jones: Well, it wasn't important because it was so mundane to them. It was just part of the scenery.

Steelman: But I'm finding that people remember different sorts of things. People who have lived here for a long time probably-- some of the people from my class remember more and seem to know more. I was telling someone today, they were talking about the-- going on the blooms or the arbor tour of Oakdale Cemetery. And when we were young, we rode our bikes in there all the time. We would picnic in there, of course that's not allowed now. But that was part of just growing up and riding bikes and biking in a park.

Jones: Well I always-- when I come down Market Street and when I get to, oh about Fifteenth, Sixteenth Street, I always have to tell myself, this is where the city limits used to be. And it's unbelievable, such a beautiful drive down Market. And it's just, it seems to me that it wasn't all that-- now I didn't grow up here, but I listened to my husband and friends, and they'd say well it was out of city. And this is where we used to play such and such. And this is where we built, we fought the Germans on dirt hills, and this is where we'd go in their little swampy areas and try to catch snakes and whatever. And I'm thinking, that wasn't that long ago. This has become a big city now. So it is important to write down or speak about these things because they will be forgotten.

Steelman: Well they will be because even now--

Jones: When you stop to think that just about all of Long Island and New Jersey lives here now.

Steelman: No, they live at Saint James Plantation.

Jones: Have they moved there now?

Steelman: From New Jersey, that's who they market to.

Jones: I thought Porter's Neck was just about all of New Jersey.

Steelman: Oh, I don't know about that. I don't know, I don't know.

Jones: They have no memories of this place.

Steelman: Well it used to be you really-- I can't remember how we got to the beach. And I'm-- this worries me a lot, that even I've forgotten that. I do remember that I was not here when the mall was built. I remember people leaving downtown.

Jones: All the hoopla about it.

Steelman: Right. And I remember all the businesses leaving downtown the first time to move out to Hanover Center, which probably was--

Jones: That was a biggie.

Steelman: Right. And then of course, probably in my neighborhood; Fifteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth Street, that little strip mall that's over there where the antique store is. That was probably one of the first shopping centers. Rowena Sidbury Hall was a child-- a physician of mine when I was growing up. My original physician was Doctor Sidbury.

Jones: Was he everybody's?

Steelman: I-I think he was the-- he and Doctor Koseruba [ph?] were probably the only guys in town, right.

Jones: Right and Koseruba just died...

Steelman: Just died and he was of course younger than Doctor Sidbury. But Rowena had her office about where the literacy office is now. The railroad tracks going down Sixteenth, and that was the end. You couldn't cross them because that was the end of the road.

Jones: Well my husband tells me stories of living outside the city limits, therefore they only got certain advantages and I--

Steelman: Where did he live?

Jones: Forest Hills.

Steelman: Oh (laughs). Gee, now I don't remember that and Wilbur and I are about, you know, we're not that different in age.

Jones: Probably about six, seven, eight years. But anyway, when he told me that one the first time I came here, I thought, you've got to be kidding. But anyway, this is interesting about Jocko [ph?]. What did you do about your consulting business?

Steelman: I closed it.

Jones: Quick, huh?

Steelman: I closed it. I was going to bring it home and have the front room turned into sort of the computer room and everything and about that time things were moving with WHQR was just-- and I thought, you know, I've got a couple of people that I need to let go and some other people that I'm winding up a project for them and the timing's right. So I let it go. But I keep doing it; I do it for other people in other ways.

Jones: What are you doing-- when I talked to you one day on the phone, Ben gave me your number and you were at Cucalorus Children's...

Steelman: Well it's the Cucalorus Film Foundation and that has been going on--

Jones: Spell that for me.

Steelman: C-U-C-A-L-O-R-U-S. It is--

Jones: And it was Cucalorus Films or Film Foundation?

Steelman: Film Foundation is the umbrella organization. It runs a Cucalorus Kid's Film Festival, that's what I was doing in March. And then in the fall, it has the Cucalorus Film Festival which is adult films. And essentially what I'm doing...

Jones: The kids film what?

Steelman: Festival.

Jones: Festival. Talk about that, what is the Kid's Film Festival.

Steelman: It's four days of-- for two days we bring in-- right now we're spotlighting fifth graders. Fifth grade classrooms, whoever wants to participate until we're full, we bring them in to Jingo's Playhouse, which is a micro theater that is owned by the Cucalorus Film Foundation or it's really owned by independent art company, but we rent out the space. And it's a 60 seat movie theater, very comfortable seats they came from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. They were donated from their auditorium when they redid it. And we bring in fifth graders and we show them age appropriate movies and we have directors there to discuss these movies. And our main emphasis is on media literacy.

Jones: Now, the movies that you show, are they made locally or is it just the discussion is filmed local theater people?

Steelman: They are-- some are made locally, but not all. We did bring in a director who had had a film that was entered and was shown at the Cucalorus Film Festival last year that was appropriate for the kids. We also brought in an animator who could show how you do animation, the kids loved it. He took digital pictures of their leaning or throwing and then he showed them on the screen how, he says we're lazy now with computers, but with a stick figure how you can make that and then how you will of course emboss that to put the clothes on them and everything else to go for animation. It's-- what you see is not always what's there. And I guess that's the over-- the buzzword for media literacy. So we do that and then we help them make their own film or their own animation. And the teachers love it.

Jones: Are these children specifically chosen or--

Steelman: The fifth graders, anybody that-- we have somebody that came from Snipes, they came from, oh gosh, I think we had some from Topsail, I can't remember but it's for whoever will and can get away to come.

Jones: Now this is funded by Cucalorus or?

Steelman: This is funded through grants that-- money that we write for. It's-- that particular program's funded through the North Carolina Arts Council Grass Roots. And then two days we have day camp that kids do pay to come to, so film day camp, it's not a two day camp, it's the same thing run two days. They come in the morning, they tour the studio, they have lunch, they watch movies, they make their own movie. They're divided into groups and each one of them has a prop, either a Cucalorus which is sort of a piece of equipment with designs in it that cast shadows on, you know, on the film. Or they could have-- if they have to act out the script and so for-- depending on the two days, you get two different movies that are made with the same props and the same scripts and they love it. They really get into it and it's been a good thing.

Jones: Do you ever do this with children who are autistic or special children?

Steelman: Yes. These children-- but not all by themselves, we do have some kids like this. Most-- some of them are homeschooled, some of them are not and they're part of the population that comes in. Homeschoolers also come, they love to come. They have an organization that I'm not familiar with enough to talk about, but we have a contact and she gets all of the home schooled kids together and they come. And then we do have some special populations. We had older special population come from Brunswick County for the film festival. Because we also have what we call student screenings which are high school screenings. And for that, I had kids come from Hoggard and Laney and oh gosh, I can't remember now. But we had two days of that and those films were fit-- picked out of the lineup of the festival that, you know, would be cleared for high school students from our point of view, not from the point of view today of what they see. But, you know, the language is okay, the film is okay.

Jones: Is this a volunteer job or are you--

Steelman: No, it's a contract job.

Jones: Well that's good. It sounds fascinating, the reason I asked you about autistic is because I do know that there are several avenues here in town they have found using autistic children and it kind of brings them out, it's good for them.

Steelman: This one child was unbelievable. He-- really high level of-- I don't know if he had Asperger's or not, really. We had two particular kids there, two kids that day with autism. And each one performed in a different manner. One was all into-- would get on an idea and keep saying it, that sort of thing.

Jones: No, that's not Asperger's.

Steelman: Okay. So, but yet he was-- they were oh golly, the director, this young person of course, these people come in they have no idea who's going to be in that audience, was absolutely fabulous with him. And using him creatively and structurally. His mother both years has come with him. But that is really a very neat thing because I know that when I was still in Tennessee that there was a-- and I don't know why I went. It must of have had something to do with the Chamber. But we went to an art show in a nursing home, the walls were-- but all of the art was done by children with special needs and I'm not sure whether it was mentally challenged, probably so, but the art was fabulous. It was just fabulous. So you know, I think this is a wonderful program.

Jones: It's a wonderful outlet for them.

Steelman: Yeah, and Cucalorus is wonderful. I think we just struggle to continue to get funding and to be recognized and do it, you know, and that's the way it is.

Jones: You know what, there is unfortunately there are so many good things going on, and so many needs, and so many nonprofits that it's-- you get swamped. And you hate to turn anybody down, but that's what it is.

Steelman: Well I think you sort of move from year to year if you can sort of balance it out but this has been a good experience for me because it was back, really making the match again. It's not as high pressured in a way but it is growing exponentially so the pressure's getting on a little bit to find more money and build the audience and all of that.

Jones: Tell me about your work with the Russians?

Steelman: Oh, the Russians.

Jones: The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.

Steelman: Well the Russians had a--

Jones: I have to say this because they must have enjoyed their visit, his highness, still gets emails from several of them, and he treasures them. And to read them is a riot.

Steelman: That's wonderful. Because the woman that stayed with us, I heard from her in the fall and have not heard from her since and wrote the consultant and said is everything all right with Marina. I've sent e-cards, she sent me one and I've written back but I haven't, you know, really received anything. But this was very, very strange and I mean you have to go way back.

Jones: Were you involved in the inception of this transfer?

Steelman: Yes.

Jones: Or this bringing this particular-- and I want to know how you particularly settled on the Russians, and I guess it was mostly in the insurance or business type.

Steelman: Right, okay. I'll try to make that brief.

Jones: No don't.

Steelman: Well, it goes way, way back almost.

Jones: Well, that's your call.

Steelman: Okay, it goes back to one night that we were sitting on the sofa and got one of these Betchart Expeditions travel things in the mail that said that the transit of Venus was going to be taking place in Siberia and they were offering a trip. And this would be...

Jones: Excuse me, the transfer of...

Steelman: Transit of Venus. Venus would cross the sun and you could see it for all four hours and we had been to Antarctica and I said, we will go to Siberia. So we did.

Jones: Who's we?

Steelman: Ben and I. We went to Siberia.

Jones: What a vacation spot.

Steelman: I know, by way of Moscow that was something else. The hotel we stayed in is the one they tore down.

Jones: When, what year was this?

Steelman: Oh gosh, about 2004 I think, about 2004.

Jones: Beth, I don't want to break this because it's too interesting, let's take a break so that Chris can change the tape.

Steelman: Oh dear, I've talked too much. (laughs)

Jones: No you haven't talked too much, no indeed. I want to hear about this because I know.

Steelman: Well I'll take it from beginning to end (laughs).

Jones: And not too many people are aware that, some are, but not everybody is aware of, they had been I think that-- and I hope that so many of them communicate with these Russians because their English is an absolute riot...

[tape change]

Jones: Tape two and we're talking to Beth White Steelman right now. We're talking about her going to Russia before the Russian's came to Wilmington. Okay, Beth, what year was it that you-- ?

Steelman: 2005, according to Ben. 2005, we went the first time. But the reason that I felt like I should check on my dates is that I think this started before then. A night that another-- how Betchart has found us, I don't know. They're in California. Betchart Expeditions, sent us this brochure to go to Antarctica. And I was probably into glass of wine number three, and said, "Antarctica. We need to go to Antarctica."

Jones: Everybody does.

Steelman: Everybody. So we sign up, we get there, we meet the people in Buenos Aires at the airport, or even the ones that we meet in Miami. And one of the team leaders says, "Why are you going?" I said, "I don't know. Because it's there." "Good answer." So off we go. Nobody ever tells me that the Drake Passage is the roughest water in the world, where the boat's just going like this.

Jones: Yes, it is.

Steelman: Well, that's probably why I won't go back, but I loved Antarctica. And the boat was a Russian vessel. It's not going to capsize in Antarctica and put you any lifeboats. Notice this latest little deal with people in lifeboats for 20 hours that weren't covered. I can't imagine. And the staff-- (phone rings) excuse me.

Jones: Go ahead.

Steelman: The staff fascinated me. The hotel staff was Swedish, but all of the captain and the-- you know, what do you call that? The people that were really working the-- running the boat--

Jones: Well, that's the ship's company.

Steelman: Yeah. Was all Russian. And of course, we couldn't understand them, they couldn't understand us. But we'd go up on the bridge, and they just seemed to have such an interesting sense of humor. So two years later, when this Betchart thing came in the mail again, that we could see the transit of Venus. And of course, Ben is an amateur astronomer, so that was the hook. (phone rings) I turned it off, excuse me. Ben's an amateur astronomer, and I saw this. And it was probably another summer or winter night. It must be winter, because I'm always hunkered down, and I'm thinking, "Siberia. We need to go to Siberia."

Jones: We need to go to Siberia.

Steelman: Absolutely. So we take off for Russia.

Jones: You didn't take the Trans-Siberian--

Steelman: No, we didn't. There were people on the trip that did. We met up with a group in Moscow and I won't go into that. But we went to Lake Baikal, and we were on a boat that used to bring logs down the lake. There were 20 of us on one boat, and 20 of us on the other, and we learned about the sights of Lake Baikal, in addition to seeing the transit of Venus. And it was a scientific type expedition. My bed wanted to go through the floor. It was an iron bed, and so I put my paperback book under it so it wouldn't. The Russians tried to come in and fix it in the middle of the night when I was asleep. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? Six Russians to fix this, so they just put this plate on top of the linoleum, and there the bed was. We had one bathroom, so I decided I would be in charge, and you had to queue up. So I set up this table in the hall--

Jones: How many people were on this boat?

Steelman: Twenty. But one couple, for some reason, had their own shower. They must have paid a lot more money. I don't know. Well, we--

Jones: I would've developed kidney trouble.

Steelman: Oh, no. No, no. It was so fabulous. It was so fabulous. There was a room that was a fourth the size of this that we ate in, had lectures in. We'd get off on some of the islands. I fell, and I never, ever, ever thought that Siberia would be so beautiful. The people were nothing like what I expected, because I grew up in the Cold War era.

Jones: Indoctrinated like this.

Steelman: Yeah. And Viktor, who was our-- at first, I thought, "Oh, I hope that the American representative from Betchart's on our boat." Well, no, it was the Russian representative from Irkutsk that was on our boat. I cried when I left.

Jones: Did you?

Steelman: I cried. I could hardly tell Viktor goodbye. I bought, on the shores of Lake Baikal, this doll, this authentic shaman doll that I've written about anthropology, that I carried across ten time zones, and I could not wait to go back. And we did the next year the Russian river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow.

Jones: Yeah, I have friends who've done that.

Steelman: Right, and I wish we'd gone the year that Dr. McCaffrey did it. I came home--

Jones: She just did it last year.

Steelman: She did it, but see, we'd already been, and that would be something that it's very tourista, whereas the other was not so. Although I would do it again, but not two years in a row. So that would have been 2006, about. In the meantime, after 2005, about that time, I quit my job at WHQR to come to UNCW to take Russian. So I came to take the Russian language, and then the Russian history. Then I took the anthropology course in shaman and witchcraft, for its relativity, and some of the pathways a little bit. And in the summer of 2006, I got a call from Jay Capener, who was coming in as district governor. And he had received a call from a rotary club in Cary. They were coming down to Wilmington with a group of Russians, with this program that they had. They were all in landscape architecture. They were going to meet down at the beach for lunch and would he go? He said, "No, but I know a couple that's very interested in Russia, Ben and Beth Steelman. They've been. They should go." We went with this group at the dockside. They had their cameras. They loved the water. They'd been at the beach. I understood a little of what they said, but not a lot, I mean, words here and there.

Jones: This must have been so different.

Steelman: I was just blown away. I thought, "Gosh, what a program." But there were two or three rotary clubs that had gotten together. And the weird thing was that that fall, our then president of Rotary, Nancy Wilcox, got a letter from the people who organized this, the Center for-- Center for Initiative. I've forgotten what it is, but in San Francisco, that had been going on for about 15 years. This program had originally been a State Department funded program, and the idea was to bring young entrepreneurs to the United States to teach them how we do business in a specific area for a month, and to build a stronger middle class economy. The hope being, with a stronger economy and middle class, we would help build a strong democracy. Nancy got this letter. She gave it to me. I really wanted to do it. I had no idea what was involved. She did not-- she was not as supportive of it. I think she probably knew the work. I showed it to Charlotte Hicks.

Jones: Oh well.

Steelman: Charlotte Hicks saw the business potential, because, I mean, Charlotte has already been invited to Russia to give seminars. I mean, I think she could see the big picture.

Jones: She could.

Steelman: So Charlotte headed the biggest portion of it, the business part. We had to sign on the dotted line, nine months to ten months before they ever came. So I wasn't even president of Rotary yet, and I knew it was going to hit into the fall of my year. Another one of our fellow Rotary-- and it's not a Rotary sponsored program, but it has a Rotary component. Rotary Clubs, you can have a church group and a Lions club and a Kiwanis club do it too, but the Rotarians have a huge presence. And it's because of this program that we now have a district in Russia. We did not have a Rotary district in Russia. It was in Helsinki for years and years, until a couple of years ago. And so this program has been very, very important, and the whole international scope of it has been great. Charlotte took it on. We realized that you have to have a main branch office for these things, and we don't, so we had to get funds to get them to Raleigh, to a workshop in Myrtle Beach. And then we brought the history. We knew some of the things they were interested in, going on the battleship with Wilbur, because of course, World War II is the Great Patriotic War. It's the Fatherland War, which I learned more about when I was struggling along in Russian history with Dr. McCaffrey. But these people came and we found home hosts for them. I'm finding more and more in Rotary, that people are not willing to open-- I don't care if you're Russian or French or Brazilian, it's hard to get people to home host. And we were asking for four weeks. We had some people that could split. It was a huge project with a Rotary Club that has 40 members at best, and absolutely very little money to put into it. So we did get a match from the district for a little bit of the money. And I think some of their English was a little bit better than others. Ben would say, Marina and Beth walked around the house all day long, laughing at the koti or the koshki. Those were the cats. And Marina taught us the way that they call cats in Russia. It's like, tss-tss-tss-tss. It scared the hell out of my cats. But I mean, that's the way they call their kitties. And I had my dictionary, she had her dictionary. She spent a lot of time on the front porch swing. She'd smoke a cigarette and we'd go out there and drink wine together, and we'd try to converse. Most of it was body language. Other people, Barbara Sullivan kept someone and her Russian is a lot better.

Jones: Really?

Steelman: Mm-hmm. Barbara was my tutor at the very beginning. I know her area right now is Spanish, but her Russian-- she went to Middlebury-- is excellent.

Jones: But they have dialects too, in Russian.

Steelman: They do, but pretty-- and ours span from St. Petersburg to one of our guys who came from where it's 35 below. It's in the upper part of Siberia on the west-- eastern part, going towards, you know, Japan. So their background--

Jones: Right around Vladivostok.

Steelman: Further than that. Further than that. And Marina was from Seresval [ph?]. I didn't pronounce it right, so it's not on the top of my head. It made a lasting impression. I think our Rotary Club asked a lot of political questions. What do they think about Mr. Putin? Whom they love, because he brings stability back to them. However he gets it there, they like it. The wife of the mayor of Moscow is one of the richest women in the world. I mean, you can see things emerging and you can see what they're going through.

Jones: Do they talk about their new upper class, their millionaire class?

Steelman: No, but I saw it. I saw it. I saw the gated communities that are huge. We don't have anything in Wilmington like this. And I think that's why these people-- oh, because Charlotte's in insurance, that's why we chose insurance. We could have chosen real estate, but we didn't have anybody in the Rotary Club that was willing to take this on. Real estate's up and coming. Of course, landscape architecture. They're landscaping these huge places. Graphic arts. There were other things. One thing we did not get to do, and I don't know how much conversation that Wilbur was able to have, because he did have the interpreter with her, and she was wonderful. Usually there's an interpreter and there's an interpreter team leader, and we should have really gotten together more in our homes to, as a group, to ask and answer questions. We were so busy doing other stuff, and--

Jones: But there's just so little time.

Steelman: There's little time, and we had this template. So I feel like, I know that when Marina left, her English was not really good, but she was translated on graduation night on my back porch steps, she said, you know, "I came here and I didn't know what to expect, but America is nothing like what I thought." And I realized, being of the Sputnik generation, that she probably expected what we expected. And we read an excellent book in history class, here at UNCW, on the Sputnik generation, on what they thought. And then we did interviews on what we thought for a paper. And all of this, it sounds sort of chaotic, but it wasn't. For me, it's coming full circle from the first trip to Siberia, to the first class at UNCW, to meeting these people.

Jones: Well, you did it the right way, Beth. Not everybody can do that, you know.

Steelman: Well, they probably can-- well, you mean about just quitting your job and taking a class?

Jones: Well, yeah, that's one thing.

Steelman: That was part of the safety net that I had.

Jones: And traveling three different times--

Steelman: Well, and that was the safety net too. I mean, I have to thank my mother, who never did this, and died, you know, loving to go to Florida, or whatever. Having gone to Bath, she loved the travel across country, but nothing like this, and I don't know that she would have, really. I think some--

Jones: Even for today, you are among the minority to go to these places, I think, from our country.

Steelman: I guess so. I think sometimes in Wilmington, we have a bunch of very well traveled people.

Jones: Well, we do, but do you think they come from elsewhere?

Steelman: Yes, they do.

Jones: They do. Even for the well traveled people, I have friends who travel every year, sometimes twice, somewhere. But I know people who've taken the river cruises. I know people who've taken trains and so forth. But to go to Siberia, to go to the Arctic, no, I don't know anybody who's done that. That's unusual.

Steelman: I never thought about that. I do know a lot of people here that refuse to leave New Hanover County, or we're worse the wear for it.

Jones: Oh, well forget them.

Steelman: Well, but some of them are in political power, and they need to move out just a little bit and see what's going on.

Jones: They need to have tournaments too, you go, so you've got to-- I mean, I've heard people. I know one man here who's never married. Grew up, is still living in the same house he was born in, blah, blah, blah. And he said, the first time I met him, which was 40 some years ago, and he said, "I will never, ever leave Wilmington," and he hasn't. It's unfortunate, he's been to Charlotte. It's unfortunate.

Steelman: That is unfortunate, because I don't think--

Jones: He's never married, he's never done anything.

Steelman: I don't think we can ever have world peace if we don't. And I know that sounds really trite, but--

Jones: No, it's not trite.

Steelman: Well, you know, I have my fluff shows, from Pretty Woman to Miss Congeniality to Ghost to Goonies that I watch-- "Baby Boom" that I watch over and over--

Jones: These are chick flicks.

Steelman: They are, but sometimes they have a message, and Miss Congeniality, when she did not want to say-- she said, "I'm for protection of women," this, that and the other, and everybody's looking at her. "And if anybody comes after my contestant, I'll kill them," and whatever. But she says, "And world peace." You know, and everybody claps.

Jones: Everybody has to say that.

Steelman: Yeah, everybody has to say that. But, you know, in today's world, when we're struggling so hard with everything, regardless. I mean, this is beyond politics. This is your next door neighbor, your country, the world is getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I mean, Ted Turner has turned it into a postage stamp, because of CNN. And so we know everything that we did not know when Hurricane Hazel came, you know. And so if we're going to understand these people, we've got to meet them. Now we're going to France in September, stretch. I know France is a tourist destination, but that is the one language we don't speak.

Jones: There are some parts of France people don't necessarily go to. They go see the usuals. You know, they go to Avignon, they go to Paris, of course. But there are other areas.

Steelman: Well, we just-- we can't go to any more auctions, because the last literacy auction we went to, we bid-- not the last, but the one before this-- bid on Chunky and Ida Hughes's house on the French Riviera, so we're going there.

Jones: Where is that?

Steelman: Antibes, or Antibés. Antibes, I think. But I still want to see Monet's garden.

Jones: You have to go at the right time.

Steelman: Right, and I may not be going at the right time.

Jones: And while you're in Normandy, do feast and eat and all that stuff.

Steelman: Weight Watchers will have to be put on hold.

Jones: No, it has to be put aside.

Steelman: But that's a little bit, I think, calmer, but we have a book, French for Dummies Ben has bought. Of course, we had to be prepared, so we have "French for Dummies" and "Speaking French." And all I can remember is Miss West at New Hanover High School, and it's like, "Qu'est-ce que vous le déjan-- dimanche?" What do you do on Sunday? "Moi, je m'ennuie." I'm not doing anything.

Jones: How was her accent?

Steelman: Just like that. "Qu'est-ce que vous--" Ooh lay-la. And I'm thinking, oh golly, I could do it. The Spanish was my major. The Russian, I can say, "zhe ne gavarootpa Russki," meaning, How are you, yeah, don't speak it very well.

Jones: Well, you've got your heads up on most people in this town. They don't speak it at all.

Steelman: Well, but I want to. But every now and then, I'll run into somebody and I'm real surprised. But it's been an adventure.

Jones: Tell me just how this ended up with the Russians? You heard from them but once, or something. But do you get a sense perhaps--?

Steelman: That we've made a difference?

Jones: Yeah.

Steelman: Oh god, yes.

Jones: And did they make a difference.

Steelman: Yes. Yes, they made a difference on everybody. And the sad part is, we had the last delegation. The woman who has been at the lynchpen of the funding is over 75 and is retiring. And I don't think that-- nothing against present government, just the way we're going-- I don't think the State Department's going to step back in.

Jones: I don't think.

Steelman: And I'm sure that the Russian government is going to fund this thing.

Jones: Well, not the way things are going.

Steelman: No, not the way things are going right now. So I feel like it is more important than ever that we have this, because, see sometimes it worries me. I'm so glad that's Wilbur's hearing, because I'm wondering where Marina's getting her email, is it being caught and not delivered because I'm an American? Now you get all panicked again, you know. But I don't think so.

Jones: You start playing name games. John le Carré, etc., etc. Just forget that.

Steelman: Well, I have to.

Jones: They come through. He gets them. He sends them to him occasionally.

Steelman: Well, I'm going to keep it up, because I think her very first one, she said, "I'm so glad to have an American friend across the sea." And I've sent her a snail mail card too. Nothing's come back, so I have to assume that it gets there. And I think some of the others, I think Charlotte will probably keep up. Some of the others probably not as faithful. But their lives have been changed and they still talk about it. Each person talks about each person.

Jones: Well, each one that he gets, they remember. They've sent photographs and they sent photos through the internet too. And he's found that-- he's enjoyed that immensely.

Steelman: Oh, I wish we had a digital camera so we could do that.

Jones: Let's just get on to one other thing, and I'll let you get back to your husband. You've told me about the changes you've seen. Talk about, if you would, if you'd care to, what you'd like to see happen in Wilmington, that's either a possibility, that's been talked about, or perhaps not even talked about? Take into consideration the growth and what we've got going on, and just some people say they're cutting down trees. Some people talk about no green space. Some people say close the doors, the traffic.

Steelman: I don't think we can ever close the doors. I think that there's a place for responsible development, and I think that some of this building needs to slow down. I think the economy's going to take care of that. I think some of these asphalt jungles need to be torn up and trees planted. I feel like that instead of just-- that you can park on gravel, you can park on grass, especially when you're not using up a huge parking lot. Particularly--

Jones: What about mass transit?

Steelman: I don't know if mass transit--

Jones: It won't work with downtown perhaps, without changing the--

Steelman: Well, they're trying to change the routes right now. I don't know enough to comment on that. Traffic is definitely a problem. The drivers are a bigger problem.

Jones: Yeah, they are.

Steelman: Just the way that people are driving, and I don't know if that's different in Wilmington or not, you know. I guess of all of the things, I'm very concerned about the development. And that's what's happened in the last few hurricanes. It's not that anything's any different. They're still blowing as hard, but they're blowing onto more real estate, which is running our insurance up, because there are more claims against what's happening. So I think that's one of the reasons that it's difficult to really live here. But I think we've got-- I get sick every time I go down 17th, or every time south 17th, and see another area of woodland under contract or up for sale. It's like, nothing green is sacred any more. And when I came home and went to a Vision 20/20 and found out that my land was on Fudge Creek, the only clean water shell fishing creek open in the county, I was determined that we would never sell that land to a golf course. And I kept that promise to myself, and I talked my mother into putting it under conservation easement. I talked my brother into it, and nobody regrets it, because you can go down the one road that we keep cleared, all the way to the water, and see wildlife. But now that's going to close up, because the Intracoastal Waterway, you know, that washes sand and it'll have to be dredged out. But now we've got, I think there's a "How clean are our creeks? The nature of creeks," something, Tuesday night at Bradley Creek School, because our creeks are dirty. And they're dirty because our infrastructure has-- I mean I am passionate about this. Our infrastructure has not kept up with our growth, which means we even didn't give a care, or that money was more important than doing it right.

Jones: Where do you lay the blame? It's not just the developers who want to do that. It's the people who are issuing permits, etc.

Steelman: I think the blame is everywhere.

Jones: I see all these little strip malls, and you can't get from one to the other without getting out in traffic and going round. Now someone mentioned that it was possibility a feasibility thing, to take a lot of these strip malls, which are half empty anyway, and turn them into-- open and exits-- turn them into developments for say widows, the aged.

Steelman: Just tearing down and rebuilding?

Jones: Well, or using some of the existing structures. It's there already. But why build other places when you've got only 50 percent of occupancy?

Steelman: I don't know, and I don't know enough about development, but I really think money rules. And I don't understand our city government. I don't understand our city council or our county commissioners. Especially our county commissioners, because that's who I had to deal with.

Jones: Well, there again, we need [inaudible].

Steelman: Yeah, and I-- you know, who wants to run for an office when you're, you know, beaten down so. But I really saw, when we tried very, very hard to stop that urgent care center, that's on the line of New Hanover and Pender County, because it's going to butt up against Fudge Creek. And I don't care how much new infrastructure they're going to put in for anything that's draining. There is such a thing as a water table, and that is a creek, and that is a hospital. It's a medical--

Jones: Facility.

Steelman: Facility, and they kept saying that the New Hanover Regional didn't know anything about it, didn't have anything to do with it. And it turned out that that was not really true, that it was just another way to get through the door. So how can you plan for the future when you don't know who the players are? And even if you know who the players are, how can there be any reasonable result? I'm just scared that there's not going to be a park left.

Jones: I learned something yesterday, Beth, and maybe it's something for you to look into, that a number of these spaces, commercial spaces, are actually owned by development corporations that are based in Maryland, based in New Jersey, based in Northern Virginia. This came up, I was at a board meeting yesterday, where they were looking for additional space to add on to what they've got for a domestic violence, for their vintage values. And they go through people who don't even live here.

Steelman: I think we had a time, and may still for all I know, just from what I've heard, that people were just buying up real estate down here for an investment, or they were going to flip it or whatever. Some people have sort of lost their shirts on it nowadays, but in this case, if they've got the money, and it's like a lost laid item in a grocery store, they can hold onto it till it comes back around again. We have somebody in our neighborhood that's let a house be vacant for eight years. And I finally went to a member of the city council, who I knew well, and I said, "He gets the yard cut before it's beyond code," I said, "but we could have drugs in that house."

Jones: Anything.

Steelman: And this is-- and I think we did. Now there's somebody tokenly living in there. But why does somebody do that? I mean, and why do we allow it? Why do we close our eyes to some things? But I honestly think that as long as we're going to add one more strip mall, one more high rise or one more housing development, then we're going to have a traffic problem, and we're going to have an infrastructure problem, because we obviously-- since whoever it is in the county can't do their math straight, and all that tax base got messed up, where's the money going to come from now to fix the sewer system, and how do you do that? I mean, don't people realize this is a wonderful place to live, but not if you're going on Bradley Creek, that you used to be able to kayak, and you are really paddling in shit. Literally. This is awful. I just never would have thought. I will not going swimming in the Intracoastal Waterway and I will not going swimming in the sound any more.

Jones: I don't blame you. I don't blame you at all.

Steelman: And we-- where we grew up, sail boating, sailing, swimming, diving off of Shin Creek. Those were days of my childhood.

Jones: Or Charlotte talk lively about those days.

Steelman: Oh gosh. But now, you look at the water and you think, "How did we ever allow this to happen?" Because we got so poor and we wanted Wilmington to grow so badly after the Atlantic coastline left.

Jones: See, this was the beginning of it all, till the committee of 100 met and started to bring businesses in. And then they began to see what a wonderful place this was, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Steelman: And then we fought very hard for I-40, because we weren't going to get it. It was going to go to Morehead and I can't remember what happened, who we convinced to bring it to Wilmington, instead of going to Morehead. And you're right, when it came to Wilmington, it opened up the floodgates from California, and you go straight to I-40, to Wilmington.

Jones: Isn't that something? San Bernardino, San whatever it is, it's right there.

Steelman: But would we like it as much if some of these people had not come?

Jones: No, I don't think as much would have been preserved or done, and that's one of the things.

Steelman: But these people that are coming, now this is like Oakridge, Tennessee, and on this I'll stop. The people that are coming are not coming with kids, and our schools are suffering. And I think-- I think our public education may be suffering a little bit, because people are just throwing up their arms with the discipline problem, which is nationwide. But all of our new growth, and people with money, and people that could get involved, are not doing it there.

Jones: Well, you're right, the bulk of the people are coming here to play. They're retiring earlier. They are retiring from Fortune 500-- they were with Fortune 500, mid, upper level groups. This is a place for them to play and enjoy the theater and the art. There's been a big boom, as you know, in the arts. But at the same time, it's become a place where your 30 and 40 somethings are coming. In the technology world, they can work out of their homes, four, five days a week, go up to Charlotte, Raleigh one day a week, fly up there even, sometimes a corporate plane, do their business that they have to, and everything is set up at home. They're back again. And they have children, and there's now a need for still another elementary school, and they're talking about yet another high school. So go figure. Somebody said, "Yes, let's build a flying bridge to Brunswick County, and let the people live over there and come to play in Wilmington downtown."

Steelman: Well, they do already somewhat.

Jones: Somewhat, yeah.

Steelman: Or now they're getting-- they're really rebuilding Wilmington down there. So there's the rest of our wetlands, and that's another whole discussion.

Jones: I know, I know. Beth, thanks for coming.

Steelman: Well, thank you. It's been a pleasure.

Jones: It's been really fun, and I've learned a lot. And I think, as you know, this is going to, the translation will go onto our website, but it will be available also to anybody out there who's doing research.

Steelman: Now that's scary.

Jones: No it's not, because you see, you are-- you make up a certain segment that is not the norm, and that's why you were asked, because you've got certain things to offer that the everyday person does not.

Steelman: You never would think that. If you have what you want, I am yours.

Jones: All right.

Steelman: Thank you, Carroll.

Jones: Tell Ben thank you. We'll return you to him.

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