Lunch with Marjorie: On her way to making life better for others

I picked up Amanda Evens near Beloit College for her first visit to my favorite hangout in Beloit, Wis.—Bagels and More. We started with basics.

“I’m 19, Amanda Kay Evens,” she said.

“You use your middle name?”

“Not very often—that’s my grandma’s name,” she said.

“Will that be your stage name?” I asked.

“I’ve thought more about what I’m going to name my kids,” she laughed.

“Why a theater major?”

“I was taking a lot of acting classes in high school…really enjoyed it. But it (isn’t) I live, eat, breathe theater—it’s my passion,” she declares in affected dramatic voice. “I think I’m pretty good…I could be better. It’s something I want to work at.”

“You have a psychology minor,” I said.

“My uncle’s a veterinarian…he’ll do plays on the side,” she said. “I’ll get my Ph.D. in psychology, then do plays (on the side).”

Our breakfast consisted of Amanda’s fruity raspberry steamer and lox and bagel and my favorite, hazelnut latte with a cinnamon scone.

“This is a really good bakery. I wouldn’t expect this in a place like Beloit,” she commented.

Amanda is proud of her family.

“My parents are caring, but strict,” she said. “They gave me structure, told me no sometimes. It’s sad when parents can’t tell their kids no. Their kids grow up expecting everything in the world, and nothing’s ever going to please them again.”

“You have strong values,” I said.

“Yeah. I’m Catholic, but I’m not really religious,” she said. “I’m more spiritual. It’s more about faith than following the rules.”

We agreed college is an experimental time.

“I don’t think that means you can’t go to church,” she said. “You can experiment with good things, too.”

“You went to New Orleans last March?” I asked.

“I signed up for Doing Democracy: Citizenship and Service in a Post Katrina-9-11 World,” she said.

“You’re not a silly female,” I said.

“I know some stuff,” she said, flashing her winning smile. We found this organization called Common Ground Relief in New Orleans—that started right after the hurricane.”

They stayed at Art Egg Studios, a former egg factory turned into an art co-op.

“We stayed on cots in a big white tent in a parking lot by a loading dock,” she said. “Not all of the building had been completely gutted. They hadn’t done mold remediation…it wasn’t completely safe for us to be inside. You could see the water line, about 3 or 4 feet.”

They gutted one house for a man named Glenn who had bought his house two months before Katrina.

“We had to wear Tyvex suits, rubber gloves, rubber boots, respirators with filters and goggles,” she said. “Glenn was constantly, ‘Thank you, thank you.’”

Amanda has opinions about the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

“I did some research before I went,” she said. “When Jimmy Carter created (FEMA), it was sort of independent of the government, so it could react quickly. Then, it was absorbed into the system and a whole lot of stuff got screwed up. When Homeland Security was created, it was…splitting up FEMA’s responsibility between preparedness and response.”

She describes inequities.

“Places that had a lot of money or that didn’t have as much flooding like The French Quarter are totally fine. The 9th Ward…it looks like the hurricane went through yesterday…houses in the middle of the street, piles of debris everywhere, cars all over the place. It’s going to take so long. The process is really slow because there are still bodies that could be there.”

Her mom was scared for her being there, but proud.

“‘This is so awesome that you’re giving up your spring break to do this.’ Yeah, I wasn’t sleeping in every day at home or going out,” she said. “But I didn’t really feel I was making as big a sacrifice as everyone was making it out to be. I felt really awesome being there, being able to do what I was doing. I wasn’t really sacrificing so much. There’s so much more that needs to be done, so much more I could do. If everyone just did a little bit, it would make such a difference.”

“Do you have general advice for teens, parents?” I asked.

“Don’t spoil your kids, but support them,” she said. “It’s good to be the friend, but you need to be the parent first. Kids, try not to worry about what other people think. Be who you are. In grade school, I was the kid people made fun of all the time.”

“What would they make fun of?” I marveled that this blonde, blue-eyed, deep-thinking beauty had that history.

“I didn’t have a lot of friends,” she said. “I don’t want to ever make anyone feel the way people made me feel. But, the experiences made me a more compassionate person.”

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

From the Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2006, issue

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