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Verdell & Jim De Yarman

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Every wall and corner of Jim and Verdell De Yarman’s house is testimony to their longtime commitment to Riverwest. Framed pictures of family and friends, gifts and souvenirs from international houseguests and Jim’s landscape paintings decorate the nooks and crannies. Seated in their living room, Jim, a retired machinist, and Verdell, a lifelong activist and volunteer, talk about their lives in Riverwest, where they have lived for 56 years. They have two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Verdell, a “professional volunteer,” as Jim calls her, has volunteered everywhere from Head Start to the Performing Arts Center. She holds a list on which she’s jotted down her neighborhood activities in the last five-and-a-half decades, glancing down every once in a while. “I had to put my efforts into changing the world,” she says of her volunteer work. “I don’t get paid and wouldn’t want to.” These days, she spends much of her time at the Peace Action Center, organizing marches and handing out peace buttons. Her passion is peace and civil rights activism, says Verdell, whose brother was killed in World War II. She has been arrested twice at demonstrations, but has no apologies about her beliefs. Jim’s passions include building kites and model airplanes. “That’s what I was doing when I wasn’t working,” he says, recalling that his hobby stems from Depression-era hobby shops. He also paints landscapes, inspired by TV painter Bill Alexander. Jim and Verdell are founders of the Kite Society of Wisconsin and occasionally run kite building workshops at local schools. The De Yarmans’ lengthy marriage and residence in Riverwest gives them a good deal of insight and advice for Riverwest’s younger residents. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Verdell of the neighborhood. “It’s a diverse community, with global people, young people.” The biggest problems in Riverwest, Jim says, is traffic congestion on the corner of Locust and Humboldt and expensive condos that don’t reflect Riverwest’s architecture “I don’t understand the thinking of city zoning,” he adds, shaking his head. Traffic aside, the De Yarmans are satisfied with the neighborhood. Over the years, they have welcomed many international residents as houseguests. “We have a global home,” adds Verdell. “If you can’t travel, bring the world into your home.” Jim and Verdell glance at each other occasionally as they talk. Here’s what they have to say, chucking, about their long marriage:”We’re both active. We don’t stifle each other,” says Jim. “I’m always out there with a placard, but we respect differences of opinion,” adds Verdell. She recently had back surgery, she says, and she and Jim sleep in different rooms. In the morning, however, she goes into Jim’s room, lies beside him and they talk about whatever is on their minds — anything from global politics to family. (“She wakes me up!” laughs Jim) On religion: “Religion has become such a terrible thing, for economic wars, religious wars,” says Verdell. She and her husband have left organized religion behind. “You can be a good person without being connected to a religion,” she says. “The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount — that’s all you need.” As for advice for Riverwest’s younger residents, Verdell says, “The most important part of life is children and grandchildren. I taught my grandchildren a lot about my peace work and included them in my activism.” We live in a sports and competition minded society, she says, so promoting education over competition is a must. “Include kids in the things that you do,” she suggests. “Children should learn to find something to do for somebody else.”
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