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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bethany Buckle Treece Travels to Haight-Ashbury

Bethany Buckle Treece, a friend and an ex-student of mine, sent me some very interesting information about her work in San Francisco. I thought I might share her story with you so that you might better understand some very unique and valuable work she has done. Bethany was a student at Mount Vernon Nazarene College in Mount Vernon, Ohio, in 1991. The summer before her senior year, she and three other girls from Indiana and Tennessee were assigned by Mission to the Cities to work in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco, California. Bethany lived during that summer at 124 Lyon Street on the 4th floor of an old Victorian home known as the Oak Street House, a headquarters for several mission groups from various Christian colleges. On the 3rd floor several homeless men made their residence. Offices occupied the 2nd floor and a living area was housed on the 1st floor. The history of the counterculture of the '60s found many roots in the district.Haight-Ashbury's elaborately detailed, 19th-century multi-story wooden houses became a haven for hippies during the 1960s, due to the availability of cheap rooms and vacant properties for rent or sale in the district; property values had dropped in part because of the proposed freeway. The bohemian subculture that subsequently flourished there took root, and to a great extent, has remained to this day. San Francisco and the Haight gained a reputation as the center of illegal drug culture and rock-and-roll lifestyles by the mid '60s. By 1967, the neighborhood's fame chiefly rested on the fact that it became the haven for a number of important psychedelic rock performers. Artists like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Janis Joplin all lived a short distance from the famous intersection. Of course, the flower power movement also produced its own share of problems. Thousands of youth migrated to the Haight-Ashbury district, including many runaway teenagers, irrevocably altering the social structure of the neighborhood and the world's views of San Francisco as a city. This new population that had migrated to the Haight-Ashbury contributed to a growing medical crisis caused by increased drug use and lack of health insurance. In addition, the increase in population created a tremendous homeless problem in the district. Bethany worked at the Hamilton Family Center, Raphael House, SE Asian Youth Center, which opened during Thanksgiving week, 1977, conceived as the first shelter for children and families experiencing homelessness in Northern California One very clear memory Bethany possesses is her first day of work. She recalls, "The first day we (the girls) took a walk through the neighborhood, went back to the house and sat in a circle and cried. We thought for sure we were going to die there that summer." But, in a short time, she found her mission to be very spiritually rewarding despite the cultural shock she experienced. For example, one day one of the girls and Bethany fixed their hair as crazily as they could, dressed in mismatched wild clothing, and took a walk. She describes it as the only day someone didn't ask her, "Hey, where you from?" Bethany remembers a clothing store located a few blocks from her house featuring a hot pink dress in the display window. The dress had the "F word" in black letters all over it. Knowing she was a long way from the values and norms of her Lucasville, Ohio home, she remembers thinking at the time, "I'm not sure what occasion someone would buy it for, but you sure couldn't buy something like that in Scioto County!" Also, she recalls a drug lord in the neighborhood who dressed like Mickey Mouse (except for his skull & crossbones cane). And, he often had a young girl accompanying him on a leash dressed as Minnie. Having led a very rural, sheltered life, Bethany found her environment extremely challenging. She recalls, "I had to step over the homeless sleeping on our front porch on my way to work each day. I remember seeing used needles discarded on sidewalks, lots of sadness and hopelessness." Bethany began to get accustomed to the district. By the end of the summer, she loved many of the odd and desperate characters she had met. She states, "(It was a) GREAT experience that changed my life! I worked various places: childcare at a pitiful homeless shelter in the AM, then off to a very upscale one in the afternoon ran by nuns; childcare for babies born with AIDS; work with Hispanic youth; and lots of work with the homeless." And, she began to feel very blessed to share the love of Christ with many of Haight's downtrodden residents. She says, "Those homeless people who seemed so scary that first day became my friends and I eventually felt safer walking around because I knew they would help me if any trouble arose." Now, she fondly remembers all her work in Haight-Ashbury. Another important event happened during her college days. Bethany met her future husband Andy at MVNC where he worked with Mission to the Cities in an assignment in New York City. His bedroom window overlooked Times Square. I'm sure Andy has quite a tale of his own to relate. One very unique twist to Bethany's story is that her residence in San Francisco was next door to that (112 Lyon) of a very famous rock star, Janis Joplin. Joplin moved into the house in 1967 after getting tired of commune life in Marin County with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, at a time when she was merely part of a hot local act with no radio hits. While there, she perfected her stutter-talk style of blues singing and exploded into prominence with her now-legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, recalled Country Joe McDonald, who was a hit himself in Monterey. Until recently, legend had it that the 124 Lyon Street address, where Bethany lived, had been the home of Janis Joplin. And, the truth of this claim has supposedly been put to rest with the discovery of Janis's address of 112 Lyon on an old driver's license. Blame the mix up on rock 'n' roll's drug-hazed, over saturated history, especially when it comes to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. "It just shows how mythological the whole thing is,'' said Country Joe McDonald, who lived with Joplin on Lyon for three somewhat fuzzy months in the late '60s -- and at first recalled it as being the location of the rehab center, until deeper memories kicked in recently. "Before you know it, they'll just go by that street some day and say, `Janis lived somewhere in this three block area,' and leave it at that,'' said McDonald, who was Joplin's boyfriend in those days. "It's hilarious.'' "Maybe that's part of the rock God mystique,'' director of development Thomas Reynolds said yesterday. "After awhile, everyone believes these guys stayed everywhere. In fact, World Entertainment News in London called to say they heard Joan Baez lived in this house.'' Anyway, the social services organization that owns the mansion is not as embarrassed by the revelation as they could be. "Whether she lived here or not, our centre is still true to the spirit of the '60s in 'the Haight' in that it's all about people helping each other," said Thomas Reynolds, Director of Development Bethany Buckle Treece certainly has lived an experience most of us will never face. I admire her for her dedicated, unselfish work in one of America's most needy districts. With great mission programs like Mount Vernon Nazarene offers, Ohio can be very proud of the contributions its college students make to the betterment of our culture. Not bad for a conservative Southern Ohio young lady, do you think? What an honorable tie for our community to the remnants of the turbulent '60s and what a "long, strange trip" (to quote Jerry Garcia) that Bethany will always cherish. THANK YOU, BETHANY FOR ALL THE NOTES, INFORMATION AND INSPIRATION. GREAT STORY TO RESEARCH!
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