SARASOTA — The Rev. Donald C. Thompson, of Bradenton, demonstrated for peace during the Vietnam war era and lost his job at a church in Las Vegas as a result. But the same people who fired him later told him he was right.
Patricia “Ahura” Finstad ,of Sarasota, started Ahura’s List in 2002 as a way people could share information locally of a spiritual, healing or consciousness-raising nature. It has run for more than 400 weeks. Nearly every Monday night at sunset, Finstad leads a tai chi group on Siesta Beach.
Russ Mahan, of Pelican Cove in Sarasota, has addressed issues of peace and justice his entire life, including years in Tanzania and Ghana, working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Mary Margaret “Mimi” McAdoo of Sarasota has been working for peace as a member of the Sarasota Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends nearly since its local inception. She also served on the Sarasota County School Board from 1970 to 1990.
These four peace workers were honored Sunday during the Third Annual Community Peace Picnic, sponsored by the Peace Education and Action Center, the Southwest Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice and Rising Tide International.
Roughly 100 guests and honorees dined on a mostly vegan feast while attended this “Honoring Our Elders” event at Rising Tide International on Swift Road in Sarasota.
The stories of the elders reveal that being a peace worker is tough and requires a thick skin and persistent nature. It’s not an easy road to take. But their stories also indicate there is a strong, lifelong, bond that develops between fellow workers for peace and that while rewards may be modest, they are richly savored.
A Methodist pastor who has served in Manatee County, Thompson said he was inspired by the simple lines uttered by angels in the Bible, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
“I took it literally to mean the angels telling us we should work for peace,” Thompson said.
Thompson studied non-violent philosophy with Dr. Martin Luther King in Atlanta.
“Martin told me, ‘Go to the suburbs and take the word of living together there,’ “ Thompson said.
In 1966, while serving as associate pastor of a Las Vegas church, he joined a demonstration for peace in Vietnam in front of the U.S. Post Office in downtown Las Vegas.
A newspaper reporter interviewed him on the street and asked, “Why would you make waves like this?” “I replied, ‘Because I believe in peace on earth, goodwill to men,’ ” Thompson said. “‘That’s my conscience.’”
He was soon let go at the church, whose members numbered many from nearby Nellis Air Force Base and other military installations.
But, decades later, he was invited back to a reunion and some of those who fired him told him he was right.
“I forgive and love those people,” Thompson said. “I even love one guy who told me, ‘Thompson, you were wrong then and you are wrong now.’”
Mahan, who is battling lung cancer, came to be honored despite being cared for by hospice. Local peace worker Andrew Hudson read Mahan’s speech because Mahan’s voice is too weak.
Hudson told a story that Mahan once found himself in the presence of Mother Teresa, the Catholic nun who devoted her life to issues of peace and feeding the hungry.
“She was asked, ‘How many people have you served?’” Hudson said. “She replied, ‘One at a time.’”
Mahan revealed that when he settled in Sarasota after a long career as a peace worker he thought he was done working for peace.
“How wrong I was,” he said through Hudson. “Southwest Florida has active and lasting peace groups, Code Pink, Florida Veterans for Common Sense, WSLR and WMNF. There are opportunities to be part of the peace community for all who are interested.”
Mahan also praised The Peace Education and Action Center, the event co-sponsor.
“I have never met or worked with a more dedicated and talented group,” Mahan wrote.
“When I was new in Sarasota I met Faith Fippinger and was introduced to Fogartyville Cafe and met Arlene Sweeting of Peace Center. Arlene is a facilitator for all who wish to join the struggle.”
Many in the crowd seemed moved by the speeches.
“These elders have done so much and this is their only reward,” said Shakti Marquis of Sarasota. “Their heart and their caring is all about peace. I found it very inspiring.”
Guests and honorees were also entertained by the guitar playing and vocals of Donna Marie Marcantonio and Hudson who performed, “The Mind Must Change” and “Somos El Barco.”
For more information, call Sharon Fitzpatrick at (941) 321-3072 or Sweeting at (941) 894-6469 or Sarasota’s First Presbyterian Church at 955-8119.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.