It was my favorite photo from the Chicago Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Two sweet young girls were holding up signs they had clearly made themselves. One said “Treat Everybody Nice” and the other “Everybody Should be Treated =” – such a powerful message from such young messengers.
Such is the nature of social media friendships. They can wax and wane. But I still find it remarkable to feel close with someone I have never actually met.
Tons of people were taking their picture. Their message clearly touched a nerve in folks who came out to march. I wrote two blog posts about the march, The Women’s March: Why America Needs More Women in Charge in ChicagoNow on January 30, 2017, and Nevertheless, She Persisted in Huffington Post on February 10, 2017. Both featured the photo of the girls and their signs.
After seeing my blog post Nevertheless, She Persisted, I received emails from several women who recognized the children. Turns out, they were the then seven-year-old twin daughters of Andi Peinovich and Maria de la Calle and granddaughters of the late Marcy Wiersch Johnson. Their family was marching partly as a tribute to Marcy, a woman whose life embodied so much of the message of the Women’s March. Through these emails, I formed social media friendships with Marcy’s daughters and sisters. In the process, I identified with and grew to admire Marcy and later published A Random Photo and a Remarkable Woman in Huffington Post as a tribute to Marcy’s life.
Born on April 4, 1945, like me Marcy was on the cutting edge of what came to be known as the Baby Boomer generation. Her daughter Andi described her mother as “pretty amazing, definitely an original and not afraid to break the rules to stand up for what she felt was right.”
Andi’s wife, Maria, emailed me on behalf of what she called “the passionate Wiersch Clan,” describing Grandma Marcy as “a great woman and activist. I was always able to relate to her on this level and admired her passion for social justice. Andi and I are so very lucky to come from supportive families and also to have the help of powerful women to raise our girls.”
In an email I received from Marcy’s sister, Linda Segebrecht, I learned, “Marcy would have been so proud of her girls. Active parenting and activism were values she passed on.” Linda went on to share that Marcy was a women’s and civil rights advocate in the 1960s. Her life story embodies the journey of many of us from that era.
Another sister, Jodie Costello, wrote that Marcy came from a family of strong women who were a treasure trove of inspiring stories. Her paternal grandmother was the first female principal in the state of Minnesota when women in positions of authority in education were rare. President Ford honored her for her outstanding work in education. Her mother was a medical records administrator, having earned her degree back in the early 1940’s, when far fewer women than now were as well educated as she was. The women in Marcy’s family include medical and educational professionals, with a few business types in the mix. Above all, they are fiercely devoted to one another and to women’s rights.
One of the stories her sisters, Linda and Jodie, shared was that in 1964 Marcy was expelled from the nursing program at the Talmadge Memorial Hospital in Georgia for eating lunch with a fellow male nurses’ aide who happened to be black. Named for Eugene Talmadge, an avowed racist, the hospital was segregated and the simple act of sharing hamburgers and fries together was grounds for dismissal on trumped up charges. Marcy enrolled in nursing school at her mother’s alma mater, College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree in 1967. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Women are like tea bags – they never know how strong they are until they get in hot water.”
The 1970s found Marcy living in the Haight Asbury section of San Francisco and protesting against the war in Vietnam and for civil rights. In 1982, Marcy began her almost 30 year career as a neonatal intensive care nurse at San Francisco Children’s Hospital, retiring in 2012. Already the divorced single mother of Andi (mother of the children in the photo), Marcy went on to remarry, have bi-racial twins, and become a single parent again after divorcing their father.
By the 1980s, she was marching in Gay Pride parades, not knowing at that point that she was advocating on behalf of her daughter as well as all of the LBGTQ community. Marcy’s daughter and her partner were married as soon as it was legal to do so in New York City. They were all lucky to be in Washington, DC when the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage was legal everywhere. When Marcy’s family took pictures on the steps of the Supreme Court, no one dreamed they would have to be fighting this battle again in 2019.
Marcy was proud of her three children. Like her mother, Andi became a pediatric intensive care nurse in Chicago. Her other daughter, Amber, manages a restaurant in San Francisco. Her son Casey currently lives in Oakland, California where he joined the police department and participated the march there to honor his mother’s memory.
Marcy died of a brain aneurysm on May 5, 2015, just a month after her 70th birthday. Since that tragic loss, members of her family remark on a daily basis how upset she would have been to see the election of Donald Trump and its aftermath. Her daughter, Andi, described her mother as a sweet, compassionate woman and a bright light who affected so many people in such a rich way. In over 40 years of nursing, she touched the lives of countless babies and their families.
Marcy’s life story connected with me. Like so many women my age, Marcy’s life had many twists and turns, but nevertheless, she persisted. Through emails from several members of Marcy’s family, I formed virtual friendships. In the years since then, our correspondence has ended. Such is the nature of social media friendships. They can wax and wane. But I still find it remarkable to feel close with someone I have never actually met.
The Retrospect community of writers is a good example of this phenomenon. Reading contributors’ stories and the comments they make on mine has made virtual friendships that impact my life journey just as Marcy’s story did.
I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.
Wonderful example, Laurie, of a social media photo post and subsequent story connected you to a whole family of passionate advocates whom you relate to and admire, as we now can through this media network. Thanks for sharing this.
Thanks for reading and sharing, my virtual friend.
Wonderful story, Laurie. Guess my curmudgeonliness about Facebook and its ilk requires some tempering. Perhaps social media is like social drinking: good in moderation, not in excess, and one’s experience depends upon the company in which one indulges. Good company, good experience.
Good analogy. Thanks from the social drinker who appreciates a glass of wine now and then, and never alone.
Thanks, Laurie , for reminding us that social media can be for the good—and for fostering powerful relationships and memories. Beautifully written.
Yes, my friend. I think it helped us to reconnect.
Laurie, thank you for this wonderful story, and for the links to your columns in Chicago Now and the Huffington Post. I enjoyed reading all of them! Great to see the connections you made based on a picture on facebook and your two blog posts. Very inspirational! I’m so glad you shared them with us here.
I also like your response to Tom’s comment about social media being like social drinking – like you, I drink only occasionally and never alone.
Suzy, sorry I missed replying to your comment. I know I did it, but probably didn’t hit the “post comment” button. My bad. Thanks for seeing what a huge deal making these connections via Facebook (I wasn’t so down on it back then) was for me. One of Marcy’s sisters even sent me a story she had written, which was very good.
What a wonderful story about a friend in absentia! Imagine the labyrinth we could build if we all traced a single person’s path from a single graphic reference. How would we categorize your relationship with Marcy? Part of the third degree of separation.
For my part, I lived in San Francisco from 1967 until 1983 and, as an activist, musician, and political theater artist, my path might have crossed Marcy’s on that particular time/space continuum.
A note to the Retro editors: perhaps we could invent a prompt that would require us to trace and report on the life of a person unknown to us via our random social-media connections!
Thanks, Charles. What interesting concepts about how lives intersect and about knowing people through the randomness of social media connections.