Meet Our Members

Meet Leanna Breese, WACSC Board Member

Leanna Breese has made many contributions as a valuable Board member. We asked her to share highlights of her life and work with us. Leanna writes:

I grew up in Iowa City, Iowa. Intriguing places I wanted to see and experience seemed all too far away. I attended the University of Iowa, and the summer after my junior year I traveled, with a girl friend, to 13 European countries. That trip settled it — no way would I stay in Iowa after I graduated!

So, with a BBA in accounting, I moved to San Francisco — to me, the most European city in the US. I worked for Price Waterhouse (now Price Waterhouse Coopers) for six years, getting my CPA during that time. I wanted to stay in San Francisco, but with a company whose values and products I respected. I decided on Levi Strauss, and worked there for the next 23 years (along the way earning my MBA from UC Berkeley). At Levi’s, I moved from finance to operating divisions, and managed development and production for a number of products. But I wasn’t done traveling. In 1993 I went to Prague as General Manager of Levi Strauss International’s affiliate for the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

This was a truly fascinating time to be in Eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia had liberated itself peacefully from the Soviet Union in 1989, in what was termed the Velvet Revolution. There were a lot of entrepreneurial folks ready to make a difference as soon as the Soviets were gone.

When I arrived, Czechoslovakia was still a very supply-driven economy. The factories were manufacturing products solely to maximize their efficiencies, and consumers’ needs were simply not being considered. For example, if customers needed toilet paper, they had to buy a month’s supply at once because they wouldn’t see it on the shelves again for weeks. But by the time I left in 1997, that had totally changed, and retail supplies were readily abundant.

I took early retirement in 1997. By then I was married to a very special guy — Alec — whom I had been with for 10 years. We were ready to explore other countries and, full of energy, headed to Italy, where we lived for three months in Lucca, immersing ourselves in the wonderful Northern Italian life and language. From then on (until Covid19) we spent the better part of a month each year in Italy.

I became involved with WACSC because of Bob Kirk, who was president for many years. Bob was famous for recruiting volunteers. For example, I’d complained about not being able to get a reservation for a program on Vladimir Putin and the next thing I knew, I was Program Committee Chair! After seven years in that role we split the Chair position. Susan Standish took over the speaker acquisition role, and I focused on the venues and luncheon logistics, something I continued to do until the current pandemic required that we move our programs online.

I now enjoy the post of treasurer, a position I can do from anywhere, which is good because Alec and I go to Sarasota, Florida every winter. Two assistant treasurers, Jim Jepson and Tom Gemetti, make my job very easy, and I am grateful to them for donating their time and energy to our wonderful organization.

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Meet David Beckman, WACSC Board Member

David joined the Board last year, and agreed to share aspects of his life, and what being part of WACSC means to him. David writes:

I was born in Jamestown, New York, and in high school was involved in debate and student government, and elected Student Council president. Thus was born a keen interest in public life and events — how they’re shaped by people, politics and ideas. An equally strong fascination was with literature and writing. How would these two diverse interests find expression?

I went to Brown University on scholarship and majored in English, determined eventually to attain “the writing life,” whatever that meant to my 20-year old self. I couldn’t see any traditional career path, but that was okay — it was the 60s, and tradition was out the window. A bedrock conviction was that I would eventually work and live in the Big Apple — New York City.

After graduating from Brown with a BA, I went to the University of Edinburgh for a graduate degree, doing a thesis in the verse plays of William Butler Yeats. Did I mention that at Brown I had been bitten by the acting bug — bad? Playing the heroic Richmond in a production of “Richard III” had done it. (The speeches, the sword fight, the applause!) So on returning from Scotland I joined the National Shakespeare Company, where we toured all lower 48 states, mounting five plays over eight months. It was something of a fantasy interlude, but upon returning to New York, reality hit me broadside: The Viet Nam war raged, and my draft notice awaited.

I was (and am) deeply anti-war, and so I applied for Conscientious Objector status, and I got it. The requirement: I would do two years of civilian alternative service. More than fair. I performed my duty at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, during which time I did some needed soul-searching and emerged knowing that I had to return to what I’d always wanted — to write. I was 28.

Two years of odd jobs, a tiny walk-up apartment, experimental novels, and reams of unpublished poems prompted me to wake up one morning and say, enough! It’s time I got paid to write. But how? The answer: Advertising!

I went to work as a copywriter for Oglivy & Mather, getting trained in direct marketing and working on accounts like American Express, Cessna Aircraft and my favorites — the New York Public Library and the Museum of Modern Art. I loved it, and good things ensued: first and foremost I met, across a conference table, the love of my life, Sharon, and we married in 1981. Additionally, I had a very marketable writing skill. I was wooed by Time Inc. as a promotion writer, and rose to Promotion Director. And finally, with Sharon’s blessing (she had become a very successful marketer with Columbia House music) I turned to writing advertising freelance so I could have the time finally to write the poetry (three books), novels (one published) and plays (three produced) I always had in me.

Eventually came a series of terrible winters and the attacks of 9/11, and in 2003 Sharon and I surprised ourselves (and all our New York friends) and moved west to Sonoma County. Here, we bought our dream house, made many new friends while trying to keep our old ones, and took on a full slate of volunteer work, including raising puppies for Canine Companions, and going into maximum security prisons to facilitate conflict-resolution skills with inmates via the Alternatives to Violence Project.

We also became members of the World Affairs Council and, just last year, when the opportunity came to join the Board, I jumped at the chance to participate with wonderful people in helping bring speakers on all-important, pressing issues to Sonoma County. Something that high school boy from Jamestown approves of wholeheartedly.

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Meet Pat Givens, WACSC Board Member

Pat’s rich life and wide experience have made her an ideal World Affairs Council member and valued contributor to the Board. We asked her to share some life highlights with us. Pat writes:

From a very early age, I wanted to travel and see how other people lived. Perhaps this was because I was born in a tiny town — Leitchfield, Kentucky, population 600. I just knew there had to be a big wide world out there somewhere.

My family moved twice in the Midwest during my grammar and high school years. I graduated from the University of Kentucky with a degree in Social Work and married Bill, a West Pointer. Bill and I soon determined that military life was not for us, so he resigned his commission, and we moved to Berkeley, California, where our first child, Steve, was born. Later we moved to Concord, where our daughter Sage was born. But our family was destined to travel. Bill entered the U.S. Diplomatic Corps and soon we were sent to the American Embassy in Tokyo, Japan.

This was a dream come true, and learning about Japan, its history and customs became my mission in life. We lived in private housing away from the Embassy, and our family learned to speak Japanese and to thrive with Japanese neighbors and playmates. After seven years — and two more Givens children, Amy and Catherine — we returned stateside.

Though now in Washington, D.C., our life remained centered on Japan. Bill was assigned to the State Department’s Japan Desk and I was elected President of the Washington/Tokyo Women’s Club. So we were often invited to attend gatherings at the White House and at the Japanese Embassy to help with interpreting during Japan’s official visits. I look back on the period with great fondness. And on top of it all, we welcomed our fifth child, Ann.

Eventually Bill left the State Department and we moved to Boston, where we divorced. Needing to go to work full time, my experience in Japan came to the rescue. I became the Executive Director of the Japan Society of Boston. This was the era of Japan’s great economic success, so the Society was very active in cross-cultural activities. Fortuitously, the World Affairs Council of Boston and my office were in the same building.

After five years at the Japan Society I was invited by the Massachusetts State Government’s Office of International Trade to become Director of Asian Affairs, requiring frequent travel to — where else? — Japan, as well as to China, Taiwan, and South Korea.

In 1992 I was honored to receive (and this sounds embarrassingly lofty) the Imperial Decoration Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Government of Japan, recognizing my years of “promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between our two countries.” I guess that I’d come a long way from tiny Leitchfield, Kentucky.

During these busy years, Bob Nichols, Executive Director of the World Affairs Council of Boston, and I combined our lives and married. After a time Bob and I retired from our jobs and moved to Santa Rosa. We immediately sought membership in the World Affairs Council of Sonoma County.

Bob, who was very active in WACSC, passed away a few years back. As for me, I have continued to be active, and have served as WACSC President, Vice President, Secretary and in several other positions.

I have loved every minute of it!

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Meet Ben Stone, WACSC Board Member

Image of Ben Stone World Affairs Council of Sonoma County Board Member

Ben Stone was instrumental in starting the World Affairs Council in Sonoma County and, after a long hiatus, has rejoined the Board, for which we are all grateful. We asked him to share his experiences with us. Ben writes:

I was very pleased to be part of the original Board of the World Affairs Council of Sonoma County. As I reflected on writing this piece, I realized for the first time how one thing led to another in world affairs for me—and how lucky I’ve been!

I was born and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. At the age of 10, my mother got me a pen pal in England through the English-Speaking Union, which led me to my first interest in “foreign” countries and customs. Later, while I was in high school the Downtown Spokane Rotary Club invited local youth to apply to be a Rotary Exchange Student, and to my complete surprise I was selected. I was the first in my family to go to Europe, and was sent to a small city in the struggling industrial north of England. It turned out that I was the first Yank to visit there since the War, so I had lots of news interviews and presentations. It was a terrific experience.

After grad school I stayed in the Seattle area where I was asked to develop an international trade program for a small manufacturer. This was very rewarding, and I got to go on a U.S. government trade mission to the Philippines and one to El Salvador. It was instructive to witness “People Power” demonstrations in the Philippines, and sobering to see El Salvador in the midst of a civil war.

During this time I joined the Seattle World Trade Club and the Seattle World Affairs Council, both of which were terrific resources for the community.

Eventually I took a job in Sonoma County as the Economic Development Board (EDB) Director, with a focus on helping local businesses start and be more successful. To this end we started the North Bay World Trade Association to help small firms learn export techniques.

Also, to broaden local awareness of the larger world, a small committee came together to form the World Affairs Council of Sonoma County. Our first speaker was Ted Eliot, a recently retired U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. To my complete surprise, 300 people showed up, with some driving through a rainy evening from Mendocino County to hear him.

We had no real budget for the WACSC — everything was volunteer or donated, but it slowly took shape. As time went by and bad recessions came along, I had to leave the WACSC Board, but did follow its success over time.

A few years later I was surprised to learn that the WACSC chair had nominated me to participate in an Atlantic Council “Young Leaders Conference,” to be held in the Philippines and Taiwan. This was another marvelous experience, and on my own I went on to see Hong Kong, as it was due to be handed back to China later that year.

Then another opportunity arose — the chance to offer international students internships at the EDB through a Swiss exchange program that has continued for 20 years. One of our British interns, Oliver Davies, also became an intern for WACSC.

Last year I retired, and was honored to join the WACSC Board again. The progress that’s been made is simply amazing; WACSC now has a budget, active committees, terrific speakers, nearly 400 members — and much more! I look forward to being of further service to WACSC, perhaps developing some new ways to interest and involve local youth in world affairs.

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About Us

The World Affairs Council of Sonoma County (WACSC) is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization whose purpose is to promote study and public education in world affairs, and to contribute to improved international understanding and relations. Our programs feature knowledgeable speakers such as Ambassadors, international figures, journalists, academics, and business professionals.

Council programs provide participants the opportunity to meet and ask questions of people who shape world events in a variety of formats. Speaker programs sponsored by the Council are open both to members and the general public.

Founded in 1988 in Santa Rosa, the center of Sonoma wine country, we provide our community with approximately 20 speaker programs per year. We generally have 1 luncheon program and 1 evening program per month, occasional special programs, and an annual summer picnic for members. Our upcoming programs, updates, news and events are kept current on our Upcoming Programs page. Information on our Book Group can be found under Activities.

We are an all-volunteer Council governed by a working Board of Directors. Our officers are elected by the Board and serve as Board members in accordance with our bylaws. A list of our current leadership team is on the “Leadership” page of this website.

We are one of 98 independent World Affairs Councils in the United States affiliated with the World Affairs Councils of America (WACA)

We are one of the few operated entirely by unpaid volunteers. Our members come from all walks of life, and include former diplomats, foreign service officers, academics, professionals and business people. Regardless of background, all members share a lively interest in world affairs.

As a tax exempt educational organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, membership dues, charitable contributions and bequests to WACSC are tax deductible as provided by law.

Membership information and applications can be found on the Membership page of this website. To contact us, see the “Contact Us” page.

Many Thanks

We extend our thanks and gratitude to West County Net (Chris Frost) for their past and ongoing generous support of WACSC website.