Servas Potluck in the New York/New Jersey Area
by Helga Smith and Charlotte Melville
Ever since the Servas Office moved to California we have had Servas potlucks in the NY/NJ area at an average of 8 per year. Our last event, hosted by the ever willing, most accommodating Paul and Isa Allersmeyer, was a special celebration not just with the usual Servas members and friends but particularly honoring two long-time Servas activists who both happened to turn 90 years old recently!
Phyllis Raulerson is an extraordinary lady whom we have come to admire and cherish in the Servas community. Even though she never traveled with Servas, she has been a host for more than 25 years, volunteer at the NY office in years past, and lately a reliable hostess for a potluck gathering in her lovely home in Leonia.
Phyllis started to travel relatively late in her life, only 30 years ago. However, she was never so much interested in the Western European cultures as in the remote and unusual places many of us have hardly even heard of. Nagaland, Manipur, Assam – how many people can even find those places on the map? Phillys went to Pakistan and Myanmar before anyone was even thinking of going there.
But she did not just go to those places for the sights. She volunteered for Earth Watch in Mexico and helped in a medical clinic in Mali. Visiting a military cemetery in East Asia she came across a quote that stayed in her mind “We gave our lives so that you may have yours”. Could have been said by any soldier who ever died in any war, and how profound it is at any time.
Phyllis’ house is like a museum, in fact, she calls it a work in progress. Her decorative talents are evident in every room; it is a privilege to be given the grand tour and hear some of the many stories that are behind every piece of art in her home.
Charlotte Melville remembers the Servas days of Reva King and Antonie Fried, not to mention the days of hiding host lists of the Eastern European countries and referring to everyone in Servas as her special friends which indeed they were.
She has been a host, traveler and interviewer for all these years. No matter which continent she traveled in, and she covered them all – whenever possible, Charlotte, and whomever she traveled with – one of her daughters or her cousin – would connect with Servas people around the world.
Charlotte served in the Marine Corps for two years during World War II and was stationed at the Marine Base at Camp Lejeune, N.C. One of her sons-in-law works for the State Department, so she delights in being “the oldest” Marine at the Marine Balls in November when she visits her daughter and son-in-law in the countries in which he is posted (Beijing 3 times, Tbilisi (the Republic of Georgia) once, and Budapest twice this November.
She worked several years as a committee person in Bristol, PA during many local and national elections, and was a supervisor for the OSCE in Bosnia during their elections in 1997 and 1998 (her daughter Ann worked there also during 1998 and afterwards they backpacked through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt for 2 months. Of the 100 countries in which she has traveled, Kashmir in India was the most interesting although she liked everywhere she went for various reasons – the people she met or the interesting sights she saw.
She and Ann also hitchhiked through Zimbabwe and South Africa for 6 weeks and stayed with all the Servas hosts on the Garden Route. Her other daughter and her husband spent 2 years in the Peace Corps in Libreville, Gabon and Charlotte traveled on an adventure trip by truck across Africa from London to Burkina Faso where she became sick and flew home 2 months into the trip. (The trip was to last 6 months and go 15,000 miles.) After recovering at home with double pneumonia and shingles, she returned to Africa and continued on the last month of the trip, met Ann and Linda with husband and travled back to Gabon with them.
Charlotte has delighted in filling her house with mementoes, jewelry, and art from all her travels. Being a member of Friendship Force of Southern New Jersey for about 20 years, she has hosted many of their members as well as those from Servas.
She continues to travel to friends in the States and with her children wherever they may be.
These two ladies are an inspiration for all of us. I surely hope I’ll be as energetic, curious and adventurous when/if I reach their age. Congratulations to both of you lovely ladies and may you have many more years of living live to its fullest.