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My Three Marilyns: Mentor Gems in Gold Town

1044188_10151723769193938_251267873_nI moved to a small town in the Sierra Foothills on a whim ten years ago.  Tired of the city life my husband and I decided to make the big move to a beautiful historic gold mining town in Northern California.  I moved to this community with the assumption that a small town has its limitations but I quickly discovered a bounty of resources and gems in my backyard.  It’s not gold I discovered but women in their golden years, 65 years and older. The community I live in, though small in size is surprisingly rich in other ways with a strong arts and culture vibe and nature at its best.  As a result our town attracts a significant senior population who come to retire or focus on phase 5 of their life.

My first discovery in living in a small town is that everyone is connected, two degrees of separation, so it’s not difficult to connect with local super stars.  Through my involvement in various women-supported organizations I’ve connected with an extraordinary group of women who have incredible accomplishments and are thrilled to share their wisdom and experience with upcoming generations. I am forever grateful to them for their support, perseverance and knowledge.  Many have become mentors to me.  I call them my three Marilyns.

381304_10151159915408938_1385816289_nMeet Marilyn Nyborg, Dr. Marilyn Chambliss & Marilyn Fowler.  These women are trailblazers who have paved the way for my generation and beyond.  They are truly everyday women doing extraordinary things.  Marilyn Nyborg is the co-founder of Gather the Women Global Matrix and Gather the Women of Nevada County and founder of Women Waking the World and holds over 45 years of connections in women’s leadership and women’s circles.  Marilyn has taught me the importance of connecting cross-generations and that you are never too old or young to make a change.  With over seventy years under her belt Marilyn is continuously exploring and implementing new projects and programs to enhance the lives of women and girls.  She just launched Women Waking the World in 2013!

31616_10200156929115622_1883412703_nWould you consider going back to school when you’re raising two teenagers and managing your career?  When Marilyn Chambliss initially went to college in her 20s women were encouraged to either be a homemaker, a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.  So that’s the path she took.  It wasn’t until she was in her 40s that she decided to return to school.  She set her standards high and attended Stanford University to obtain a Masters Degree followed by a PhD in Education.  She was actually advised to lie about her age (which she didn’t) when she applied to the university.  She went on to become a professor at the University of Maryland and has authored multiple textbooks around childhood learning.  Marilyn has taught me that sometimes we have to defy the rules and create new models even if we’re not following a societal norm.  As an officer for the Nevada County Democratic Women’s Club Marilyn has reinforced the importance that women must be politically engaged.  We actually co-led a presentation together around Eleanor Roosevelt and honoring those whose shoulders we stand on and came before us.

150461_10151492827173938_1433276464_nFinally, my third Marilyn mentor, Marilyn Fowler.  I connected with Marilyn F. through Marilyn Nyborg.  Marilyn Fowler actually resides in San Francisco but I wouldn’t have met her were it not for Marilyn Nyborg. She is the founder and president of the Women’s Intercultural Network (WIN) and has been connecting women across cultures for collective action for 30 years throughout the US., Central Valley and Indigenous communities of California, to villages in Afghanistan, Uganda, and Japan and beyond.   She also oversees CAWA – The California Women’s Agenda. This million women action network was the first policy mechanism to implement the 4th World Conference on Women, Beijing, China.   Marilyn is the gatekeeper of information when it comes to progressive political women. 

She brought me to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York as a delegate and has connected me with extraordinary women across the country.   I’ve learned from Marilyn that we must never forget the power of one voice and that hope, new discoveries and courage do not need to dissipate as we age.  If anything, the desire improve our world has only grown stronger with all of these women.

Who are your Marilyns you’d like to acknowledge this month?  I am grateful to all the women who’ve come before me and I cherish the connections I’ve made.   I can only hope that I will take risks to establish new models and systems to support women and girls just as my Marilyn mentors have.  Never underestimate a small town.  For what lies within it has the potential to make a big impact.

By Elisa Parker, Co-founder, CEO & host of See Jane Do


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