Volunteering and service started early in Jean Wallace’s life and have produced a continually recurring thread. “Right out of college, Dave and I went off to the Peace Corps in India. We were young and stupid. We didn’t have any skills. But, we both had a spirit of service.
“It was the Vietnam War. Until recently, America hasn’t looked as bad as at that time. We wanted to make a personal statement.
“Part of it was the adventure and the learning. We got more out of the program than the people in India did. Still, I think we made a difference.
“We constructed a community building and several wells and I taught sewing. David introduced wheat as a crop for the dry season and taught locals how to repair the diesel pumps that he got to irrigate. The Indians we worked with had never seen white people before and they were still used to the caste system. Here we were, a young white couple with no children. Everyone had children but us.
“We helped them begin to think outside the box. They did the same for us. We did do some things that counted in a data kind of way, but the real results were elsewhere.”
“Dave and I always had the absolute desire to serve despite our differences in families and growing up environments. (Five girls in Jean’s family and three boys in the Wallace family.) We both had decided to join the Peace Corps before we . Became a couple. I actually knew David in high school and college as a friend. The Peace Corps gave us the ‘out-of-tribe experience’ which taught us a new way to look at the world. Like recognizing the similarities between people as well as honoring differences. Finding connectedness with humanity and the rest of the world. Seeing that the way that we live has an effect on the world and not just the family unit.
“We came back from India and were very different. The Peace Corps changed all of us volunteers significantly.
“Our lives would have been much different if we hadn’t done the Peace Corps and gone to India. For example, we probably wouldn’t have moved to rural Ryegate. We had no electricity or water for thirteen years when we were raising our four children. We took bucket baths. It was a step up from India, but not like regular America. Still, it was awesome. When the light (lantern) went out, we went to bed. It was a much different experience than most western families had. Living as we did fostered real family interdependence.”
Jean Wallace didn’t have much opportunity for volunteering when she was raising a family. Life changed when the children left home. Interestingly, the Wallaces moved to their new, modern home just a few months before their youngest child went off to college.
Wallace sees her volunteering in a little different vein than some see their own. “I don’t have much experience with volunteer organizations. In the Peace Corps, we didn’t have much oversight. We were really pretty much on our own. I was only a member of Kiwanis for a few years. Dave has been involved for fifteen. I like to take my interests and skills and see how I can fit them into active programs.”
Jean was Guidance Counselor at HHS from 1996 to 2002. During that period, she got the Partnership for Youth going with the help of two Vista Volunteers after attending the Governor’s Summit on Youth. PFY has promoted family activities in an alcohol and drug-free environment: dances, game nights, etc. She continues as Chair of the PFY.
In 2002, she wrote a 21st Century Grant to create the After School and Summer School programs and a half-time job. (The half-time job usually took up Jean’s full-time hours.) The After School Program gives children in Grades 1 to 6 hands-on learning and home work help opportunities four afternoons per week. The Summer School Program is hands-on as well and is open to the same age group for six weeks of half day sessions. Extended library hours are also part of the 21st Century Grant. Kim Misner has recently taken over the After School Program under Jean’s guidance. Wallace will help Kim write for a new grant from OPI to continue the programs beyond to 2008.
Jean’s favorite volunteer program and one of which she is especially proud is the Key Club and its Mentors. “We used to have eight to ten students involved in Key Club. Now, we have fifty. The kids love to mentor. Volunteering, in general, among the high school students has really expanded. The last year I was counselor, twenty seniors earned 800-900 volunteer hours. I’m sure the classes are still volunteering like that but I don’t keep those figures anymore.”
After the Summer School Program finished each summer, Jean took time for her special work of doing workshops called Live the Leap with her sister Kathleen. “They’re retreats for women designed to help them along their spiritual path.”
Recently retired, Jean says, “I’m absolutely loving retirement. The reason is that I can set my own schedule. The first time since my children were born. I’m changing habits. I’m writing almost every day. I can get down to Billings and see my mom and spell my sister who keeps an eye on her most of the time. Then, I can take off for trips like the one to Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Dave Wallace was born there.)” Goddard is a training center for astronauts and Jean gets to attend her own training with the Federation of Galaxy Explorers there in November.
“I couldn’t do those things when I was running the After School Program. I’ve been working on my books for years. But now, I really have time for different creative pursuits than school. And, I love being in my house during the day. The sun shines and the rainbows start to spin around the room.
“One thing I found: I don’t clean any more than I used to.
“I still volunteer at the movie theater and with FOGE. We have two programs this year. Grade school and junior high. Patrick McLaughlin was so enthusiastic that we just needed to keep him interested and then we found two other seventh graders that are equally excited about FoGE.
“I’m reworking my script and rewriting my book called Creating Angel. Doing a movie script helped refocus my ideas.”
Jean’s first book was called Games of Eden. She’s sure, “There’s another one in there,” waiting to come out.
“Last month, we shot off rockets (in the FOGE group). One shot up 1700 feet into the air. It was just crazy and fun. In the past, I wouldn’t have had time to go to Billings to get bigger and better rockets.”
Jean Wallace was the first FOGE Mission Team Leader in the state. When she returns from her trip to Goddard Space Center, she will be training new MTLs in Montana.
As life unfolds for Jean Wallace after retirement, she has remarked a number of times about Montanan Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations One School at a Time which tells about his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “It has stirred up that desire for both Dave and me go out again and do, like we did in the Peace Corps. I’m looking around at different possibilities. The big deal with me is to be doing the work I love to do. It would be nice if all of us could do that.”
The Wallaces are just back from an official trip to Florida for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Having worked as Mission Team Leader for the Federation of Galaxy Explorers, Jean was one of three in the country who were selected to attend a VIP viewing of the shuttle launch on October 23. Jean and Dave watched liftoff from a distance of three miles and stayed in a nearby hotel with other NASA guests in a block of rooms reserved by Boeing.
Dave said, “It was incredible. Eight and a half million pounds of thrust to launch the shuttle. The ship was ten miles down range and it was still wiggling our pantlegs.”
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is one of FOGE’s sponsors. The Wallaces have steered the new program locally over the last year through the 21st Century Grant. Five other schools in Montana are following their lead. Through the Federation of Galaxy Explorers program, students work with hands-on space and science learning and have a great time along the way.