November 21, 2002

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Local resident Faith Patterson, who is head of the AACW, says ‘we’re here to serve’ and ‘to make a difference.’

Faith Patterson—
Woman behind AACW’s big party

If Faith Patterson had her way, she’d give a big party each year in Yellow Springs so that everyone — regardless of race, age, social class or political persuasion — could get together and have a good time.

In fact, Patterson does give a big party each year — it’s called the AACW Blues Fest — and at this year’s packed event in September, she delighted in seeing people from all sides of recent local controversies enjoying themselves.

“The festival brought joy to my heart, to see people dancing together who I knew had been on different sides,” she said in a recent interview. “I just try to take my little piece of the world and make a difference.”

Patterson has been making a difference in her little piece of the world so well and so long that she was honored with a day in her honor, Faith Patterson Day, Sept. 7, which, according to the proclamation from the Village, “honors Patterson for her role in promoting an appreciation ofcultural diversity” and because “by her actions she has shown us how ‘everybody counts.’ ”

This summer, Patterson also brought home an award from the Dayton-based Culture Brings Communities, which recognized her volunteer efforts in promoting cultural diversity.

Her efforts to bring people together center on one theme, Patterson said.

“It’s all about celebrating each other,” she said. “That’s all I want to do.”

Currently, the African American Cross-Cultural Works (AACW) celebrates Yellow Springs diversity by organizing events such as the popular Blues Fest, the Dec. 26 celebration of Kwaanza and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” during which local residents open their homes to have dinner with those they don’t know. Having the opportunity to learn and honor those different from ourselves can only enrich us all, Patterson believes.

“We were made by the creator one and all,” she said. “When we celebrate each other it makes us all bigger and better.”

Patterson began her association with AACW — then African-American Cultural Week — 11 years ago, when an Antioch College student, John Simms, organized a week of activities honoring African-American culture. Because her daughter Karen, a cellist who then lived in Portland, Ore., was asked to participate, Patterson got involved, too.

The next year, when Simms left Yellow Springs, he turned over the responsibilities to Bill Chappelle, Patterson and several other local residents — and the group has been going strong ever since, fueled by the energies of Patterson, Chappelle’s widow, Joan, and many others.

It takes a lot of work to organize a successful blues festival, and the remnants of that work can be found on the cluttered dining room table of Patterson’s South College Street home, which she shares with her son, musician Nerak Roth Patterson, and his children, Erika and Nerak Jr. It’s a busy life — her son and his children moved in soon after the death of Patterson’s husband four years ago, and she happily helps care for her grandchildren — but Faith Patterson seems to thrive on busyness.

“I’m busier than I’ve ever been,” she said. “I’m so excited about life. I believe we’re here to serve, and once you find where your passion lies, you move forward and try to find ways to make a difference.”

Living in a multigenerational household brings back good memories for Patterson, who grew up in Petersburg, Va., where she and her mother lived with her grandparents after her parents divorced when she was very young. Having divorced parents was unusual then, Patterson said, but she never felt a stigma, only love from her grandparents and her mother, who worked as a teacher.

“I adored her,” said Patterson of her mother. “She was a patient woman, with deep spiritual beliefs, a woman who cared for all human beings. Everybody loved her. She was my best friend.”

But the daily life of an African-American child in a segregated world involved some frustration, and Patterson remembers the local movie theater, where she and her friends had to sit in the balcony, as well as local restaurants that were closed to blacks.

“A great part of all that was painful,” she said. “But you just have to let it go.”

Patterson found an example of letting go in her grandfather, who told her that before going to sleep each night she should “say a prayer and let go of any resentments. He said we need to start each day fresh because each day is a blessing.”

While she learned about forgiveness from her grandfather, Patterson learned spunkiness from her mother, who set an example of an independent woman. Patterson exhibited some of that independence when, as a high school student, she refused to take the required home economics classes and, instead, became the first girl in her school to take industrial arts.

“I already knew how to cook and bake and sew,” she said with a smile. “I wanted to learn how to hammer.”

Inspired by her mother, Patterson’s lifelong goal was to teach kindergarten, and she went on to study education at Bennett College in North Carolina.

The autumn of her senior year, Patterson attended a lecture at the home of her aunt, and that day her life changed. The lecturer was a handsome, articulate man called “Pat” Patterson, an Air Force officer. Although she was already engaged to be married, she felt drawn to Patterson, and when he called the next day to ask her out, she said yes. Soon her engagement was off, and she and her handsome lecturer planned to wed.

Her marriage to Patterson the following spring began a gypsy life, with the couple stationed in Maryland, Germany, Japan and Virginia, among other places. But every place they lived, Patterson found a job teaching, and before long she gave birth to her children, Karen, Eric and Nerak Roth.

In 1969, Pat Patterson was transferred to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. Soon, Faith Patterson said, people she met told her, “you have to see Yellow Springs — it’s you.”

Yellow Springs was her, and the family moved to a house on Omar Circle in 1969. But Patterson didn’t quite fit in — yet. As an officer’s wife, she was used to being “dressed to the nines,” always wearing a skirt or dress, with gloves, hat and stockings. But in the village, she realized, women favored more informal dress.

At one luncheon Patterson attended, local architect Louise Odiorne showed up in surprising attire.

“She was wearing jeans,” said Patterson. “After that I took off my stockings. I became free.”

Patterson’s happiness with her new home in Yellow Springs expanded when she began teaching kindergarten at the Antioch School, where she found like-minded educators who also didn’t think it was a good idea to force children to sit at desks. When her association with the Antioch School came to an end, Patterson began a preschool, Faith’s Place, in her home, partly in order to help care for her husband.

Patterson spent many years caring for her invalid husband, who died four years ago, and whom, she said, she misses every day. When he was on his death bed, someone asked if he didn’t get tired of his wife after so many years. His response, said Patterson, was one that she clearly shares — “Oh no,” he said. “There was never enough time.”

While she clearly misses her husband, Faith Patterson continues to find much joy in life. She keeps busy with her family, with the AACW, as a member of the village Human Relations Commission and with her church, Christ Episcopal Church in Xenia.

At an age when many are slowing down, Faith Patterson shows no signs of doing so.

“Time is running out,” she said. “I’ve got a lot to do in the days ahead.”

—Diane Chiddister