Thursday, December 3, 2020

Orts, Revisited

I don’t know how many times I heard it. It was the summer of 1970. I was newly arrived in Decatur. I came as a free-lance community organizer, working the Torrence Park neighborhood.

During my first few weeks on the job, people kept saying it. “Fred, there’s this guy you need to meet, down at the First Christian Church. Name’s Ray Batman.” Finally I picked up the phone and arranged to drive my shaky pink Plymouth Valiant downtown to 441 North Church Street.

He greeted me at the door. We shook hands and wound our way down the hall to a cluttered storeroom in the basement. It was Dove’s first office, and he was its only employee. He and I had started our new jobs within days of each other at the tail end of June. We had that in common, and as it turned out, much more.

What he said that day stuck with me.

Memory is a tricky thing, and it’s been a very long time. But in my recollection, he introduced me to Dove something like this: “We’re a small bunch of white church folks, Fred. And our mission is to other folks like us. You see, racism is a white problem, not a black one. And if we’re ever gonna do anything about it, we need to work in the white community.”

That was gutsy. It was bold. I knew immediately that this guy got it, that here in front of me was a person of uncommon sense. And so he has proven to be, again and again – a person who can see a problem from a unique perspective and come up with an approach better than anyone else could have conceived. A person graced with vision and humor and kindness.

Back then sitting in his humble office, I know this was a guy I needed to know better. But little did I know that five years later I would become Dove’s third employee when Ray hired me. As 1975 opened, I trucked myself and a flourishing project for VISTA Volunteers from the then-defunct Torrence Park Citizens Committee a few blocks north to Dove’s second home in a small bungalow at 1112 East Locust Street.

And little did I know that three years after that, Ray would leave for a position managing Walter Scott Camp south of Effingham, and I would climb two flights of stairs to what had been Ray’s office in the attic and start a new job as executive director. Or that nine years later I would lure Ray back to Dove as its new finance director and genius-in-residence. Or that ten years after that I would take my leave, and Ray would resume his place as executive director.

And on that summer day in 1970, I could not have foreseen that, adding another 23 years, Ray and I would remain fast friends and confidants, that every week or so one of us would pick up his phone and we’d chat for an hour or so about all sorts of things, resolve none of them, and be okay with it.

If you’re counting, yes, that’s 50 years.

During that time, Dove has moved several times, from 1112 East Locust to 788 and 800 East Clay, and from Clay Street to its current headquarters at 302 South Union.

And while the organization has moved, one hopes it has kept its feet firmly planted in one place: in the daring mission that Ray laid out for it, to listen to uncommonly good sense, to prod, to poke, to be bold, and to take on the uneasy tasks. One hopes that Dove will always be proud to reflect the spirit of its founder.

(Fred Spannaus served Dove as a program director from 1975 to 1977 and as executive director from 1978 to 1997, and he has been an advisor to Homeward Bound for the past two decades. During his tenure as director, he wrote a column for DoveTales called “Orts.” If you must know, orts are scraps of food and a good end-of-game Scrabble play).

This original copy from the December 2020 DoveTales Newsletter for our "Anniversary Reflections" page. 

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