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Lonie Stimac heads to Kenya with Peace Corps
Lonie Stimac heads to Kenya with Peace Corps
Ex-state film manager heads to Kenya with Peace Corps
By EVE BYRON, IR Staff Writer - 04/21/03
Opening scene: Lonie Stimac is a second-grade student attending a Catholic school in Great Falls.
She tells a friend she's either going to be a nun in Africa when she grows up, or a dancer at the Miami Club in Black Eagle. Upon learning they dance topless at the club, the friend tells Stimac she'll probably be the only topless dancing nun in Africa.
Scene two: It's 35 years later and Stimac is relaxing in the Morning Light coffee shop in Helena. She's a sturdy, brown-haired woman of 43 with the air of an imp about her, and she smiles frequently as she discusses her newest anti-career move.
Despite her friend's prophecy, Stimac is not a nun, nor a dancer. But the compassion of the former, coupled with the latter's ability to move, will serve her well as Stimac embarks upon her next adventure - as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya, ministering to those touched by AIDS.
"I think of it as an adventure, but I know it's kind of foolhardy too," says Stimac, who for more than a decade had the job of promoting Montana as a place to film movies. "I'll be working with those orphaned by AIDS and women and children. … It will be depressing, but it's more depressing not to try to do something. I'm more afraid of not going than of going."
Scene Three: Flashback sequence.
It's a long journey for Stimac in more ways than one. After attending college in Missoula in the '80s, she earned a master's degree in communications from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. She started working on documentaries and commercials on the East Coast, but decided after a few years that she wanted to return to the West. She took a job with the Montana Film Office in 1989, and became manager of the state-run film office one year later.
The Helena-based job involved a lot of traveling to Los Angeles and New York, rubbing shoulders with producers and movie stars, touting the benefits of the Treasure State. But during this time, Stimac also started volunteering with the Red Cross.
"I wanted to do something for the greater good," she said. "I guess I'm a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, and I'm great in an emergency - I guess that comes from having five younger brothers."
Stimac also has two sisters. The eight siblings grew up with their parents and a grandmother in a two-bedroom home in Great Falls, where Stimac's father provided the children with sturdy shoes and her mother gave them wings.
Her first Red Cross assignment involved doing damage assessment and answering telephones during the floods in Montana in 1996. Next came Hurricane George in Mississippi, where Stimac and another volunteer drove an emergency response vehicle down south to help provide meals to people along the bayou who were without food or water.
"It was kind of funny, because we were driving along down there and I would shout at people "Would you like some food?" and no one answered. I didn't know what was going on until I started yelling "Y'all want some food" (said with a twang) and they came running. No one could understand me at first," she said, laughing again.
"It was funny, but it was a part of my education. I learned a lot about understanding people and what they do on a day-to-day basis, and how it's different - not better or worse, but different."
She helped out for the Red Cross on the 2000 fires, too, first in Helena and then in Missoula, using her vacation and comp days to take time off from her regular job.
"I realized I was torn between having to try to be responsible to others, and to doing my job for the state," Stimac said. "I did a lot of soul searching and decided maybe I had taken my office as far as I could and it was time to take the next step."
She wasn't rich, but also didn't have children or a husband to support, so Stimac held her breath and quit her job. Instead of donating her time, though, Stimac quickly was offered a new position as the interim director for the Association of Film Commissioners International.
She was able to take time off should a disaster occur, but more often found herself at events like the Cannes or Sundance film festivals.
Then terrorists crashed two planes into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
Stimac took the first plane possible to New York, working first at shelters, then at a respite center for rescuers at Ground Zero, then at a family service center on Staten Island.
She tells of trying to comfort a man who was sobbing after he had lost his livelihood and was told to come back the next day after a long day of standing in lines.
"Then my cell phone rang," she said. "I realized that I couldn't keep trying to split my focus. I knew this was ridiculous, and I had to make a change."
Six months later she did, quitting her job once again, but not knowing what she would pick up next or where the money would come from. As she pondered her future, the Peace Corps kept coming to the forefront.
"I liked their motto of 'Peace through understanding,'" Stimac said. "I thought it would be a piece of cake to get in, but I started the process in September and they didn't confirm that I was in until mid-February."
She'll be in Kenya by May 30, although she's not sure just yet where she'll stay for the following 27 months. But hey, life is an adventure.
Scene four: Back at the coffee shop
Stimac knows that not everyone has the time to help others and adds that people with more money than time, who make financial donations so that others can help, are an important part of the mix.
She's also quick to point out that those she really admires are the people who give a little bit every day, from Moe Wosepka at the Good Samaritan to the adults who greet students each morning at Helena Middle School.
"What better way to let kids in the community know someone cares about them. They are our future," Stimac said. "And if you can't volunteer your time or money, you can always spend time with your own kids and just read them a book.
"What I'm doing is so small compared to what parents do, raising kids, educating them and teaching them tolerance.
"I have two healthy parents, seven brothers and sisters and millions of friends. My leap has been pretty easy to make because I know I have a soft place to fall if this doesn't work out. That's what gives me the ability to do this - the many people supporting me on the back end."
Roll the credits, fade to black.
To learn more about the Peace Corps, check out the Web site at www. peacecorps. com.
Reporter Eve Byron can be reached at 447-4076 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:
This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?
Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."
In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.
Read the stories and leave your comments.