You’d be amazed at the places in this world where Kathi and "Woody" Wood pop up – and how much good they do here at home.
Missoula’s 2015 Peacekeepers of the Year are amazing connectors, says Betsy Mulligan-Dague of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.
“They’re like little adapters. They get the world together.”
Quick story: The Woods were in Palmerston North, Missoula’s sister city in New Zealand, though how many of us knew that?
This was three years ago, on their most recent of many trips to New Zealand, but their first visit to “Palmy.”
The bus from Auckland was met by a Kiwi woman who had just stayed with them in Montana.
“Everybody says, 'Oh, Missoula!’ ” Kathi said last week. “They know us and we were treated like royalty.”
Before long, the Woods were receiving gifts and shaking hands with the mayor, who has a Monte Dolack print hanging in his office. They accepted a rare invitation to a marae, a Maori communal place of worship and fellowship. They were told in advance they should have something prepared, so they studied up.
“Well, we do have YouTube,” Woody said.
So there they were, two native Philadelphians and their young Kiwi host, treating the Maoris of Palmy to a rousing a cappella rendition of the Montana state song.
“We sang ‘Montana, Montana, glory of the West ...’ ” said Kathi. “It was kind of like our greeting to them.”
“If peace is created as we break down barriers and work to understand and appreciate others, then Kathi and Woody truly lead the effort,” Mulligan-Dague wrote last week.
The news release came on behalf of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and the Missoula Peace Quilters, announcing the winners of the Peacemaker of the Year award.
The Woods will be formally feted from 1-3 p.m. April 26, a Sunday, at the 29th Peacemakers celebration at Christ the King Church, 1400 Gerald Ave. Everyone is invited to join the celebration of a couple whose marriage turned 55 last November, for what Mulligan-Dague called “their lifetime of commitment to a better and more peaceful, connected world.”
She said the Woods were chosen in a quicker-than-usual vote in October. They had to sit on the exciting news until a week or so ago. When they flew into Phnom Penh in late October they swore to secrecy their friend Chhunny, a former house guest in Missoula. Chhunny is one of five Cambodians the Woods have come to know by “adopting” fellows from the international empowerment program through the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana. Chhunny spent 14 years in a monastery before he came to UM.
“They do that to get an education,” Woody Wood said. “The only way most Cambodians can learn English is through the monastery. Otherwise they can’t afford to go to a private school.”
Now the Woods have more exciting news to share. While in Cambodia, Chhunny invited them to his old monastery, where they received a special blessing from the Buddhist master teacher. Both were presented wristbands of red yarn that they’re to wear until they fall off. Five months later, neither has.
With Chhunny’s help, Kathi invited the master to Missoula.
“He does this, and the master’s eyes light up, so guess what?” she said. “We think they’re coming the first week in May, the monk and Chhunny, and the monastery will pay Chhunny’s way as an interpreter.”
Woody and Kathi Wood grew up in greater Philadelphia, went to the same high school and, after marrying in 1959, lived in the Philly suburb of Lansdowne, Pennsylvania. They didn’t know it, but just around the corner Betsy Mulligan was turning 2.
The Woods were both Presbyterians and they married in a Presbyterian Church. But by their early 30s, both hungered for something different.
“We did the search and went to a Quaker meeting and that was the end of our search,” Woody said.
They’re part of a quiet but active Religious Society of Friends in Missoula. It’s only a bit of irony that Kathi spent most of her working-for-pay career hiring people to be crooks.
She contracted with the federal law enforcement training center in Brunswick, Georgia, which aside from the FBI was the only such school in the U.S. at the time. Kathi provided people to serve as foils for law enforcement trainees.
“I hired the bad guys, but they couldn’t really be bad,” she said. “It was a fine line there, believe me.”
And she loved it.
“I had the best job in the world. I did it for 20 years and went from a group of maybe 20 role players to 200 by the time I retired in 1998,” she said.
Woody left a career in sales to start his own desktop publishing business. He eventually burned out, sold it and went to work for his wife keeping the books.
“Kathi and I are completely different in a lot of ways, so we couldn’t work together,” he said with a laugh. “So she worked at the installation and I had an office at home. We got along great.”
His first taste of Missoula was when the old St. Patrick Hospital was demolished in 1999. Son Gregg had just taken a job in Missoula and was project manager on the Broadway Building.
“I’d never heard of Missoula until he got a job here,” Woody said. “He calls up one day and says, ‘Dad, you’ve gotta come out and watch this.’ So I did.”
Two years later, the Woods were living in Missoula and they’re determined not to leave, at least for good. Mulligan-Dague said there are few Missoula nonprofits with any sort of connection to peace and justice that the Woods have not played roles in.
Gregg, now code compliance director for the city, was already a member of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, and his parents say they naturally gravitated to the center on the Hip Strip on South Higgins Avenue.
“We’re Quakers, so it was kind of like what we do,” said Kathi, who helps keep the books and membership database at the Peace Center, among many other things. Woody serves in whatever role he’s needed, including bartender at the annual fall fundraiser.
Even before they moved to town, they signed up for Missoula Aging Services’ RSVP program. Kathi immediately got in involved in “Caring Circle,” which supported the elderly living at home.
Woody, whose given name is Glenn, serves in an early facilitator’s role for the Montana Innocence Project. He’s active in UM’s MOLLI lifelong learning program and at Destination Missoula’s Welcome Center, and they’re both involved in the intergenerational program at the UM pharmacy school, teaching budding druggists how to interact with the elderly.
The list goes on, to Family Promise Missoula and the Peaceknitters, to the Farm-to-Market Program to the Missoula Demonstration Project and far beyond.
Suffice it to say that in the oft-anonymous world of volunteerism in Missoula, the Woods are quiet superstars.
For Kathi, it’s in her blood. She was one of six children in a Philadelphia family in which her mother seemed always to be going somewhere to help someone, and her father was driving her.
“I think I just grew up with that,” Kathi Wood said. “The other thing is I hate conflict of any kind. And so I’ll work very hard to avoid conflict. That’s where my nonviolence and my passive peacemaking come in, I would say.”
As for Woody: “Plain and simple, I love it. If it’s in my makeup or what, I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it.”
One final story.
Kathi Wood was at the Rankin Center’s weekly Peaceknitters last month when a woman named Jenny mentioned she was looking for somewhere different and meaningful to take her family for Thanksgiving.
Kathi told her about the work ProNica does in Nicaragua. She showed photos of the garbage dump in Managua around which a community lives while the schools go begging for basic necessities.
“This is what poverty really is,” Wood said. “The year we were there (in the late 1990s) the money raised was going to be for a stove, so they could cook meals for the children while in a preschool.”
Within a week, Jenny had connected with ProNica, which agreed to design a tour to Nicaragua.
“So she’s got her tickets flying into Managua over Thanksgiving with the kids and her husband,” Kathi said last week. “It’s just amazing.”
For Mulligan-Dague it’s a story that illustrates what’s special about the Woods.
“It’s not only their work around the world,” she said, “but to come back and find someone like Jenny to make that connection, to light a fire with others so that they connect with and want to do that kind of work. I think that’s just remarkable.”