John Beyrle, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a Muskegon native, recently spoke to a sold out audience in Traverse City – an evening he described as “simply the best I’ve encountered anywhere” while traveling and lecturing the last two years.
Beyrle was in town for the kick-off of the International Affairs Forum’s (IAF) 20th season. For the last two decades, the local organization – an affiliate of the World Affairs Councils of America – has welcomed some of the most important voices in international affairs to the Traverse City community.
They include: James A. Baker, chief of staff to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, in 2003; David Broder, the late Washington Post political journalist in 2006 & 2009; and Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of India’s Mohandas Gandhi, in 2011.
This Thurs., Oct. 17, Michael Metrinko, a retired diplomat who spent 444 days as a hostage in Iran, will present “Iran and the United States: Time for a Reset?”
How do these prominent people on the international stage end up in Traverse City? It’s usually a connection to the area, says IAF board member and former diplomat Karen Puschel.
“The program has certainly benefitted from people having connections here,” she says, adding that both Baker and Broder were friends of a former editor at the Traverse City Record-Eagle.
Puschel and IAF co-chair and husband Jack Segal, also a former diplomat, moved to Traverse City a few years ago, and because of their backgrounds in foreign affairs quickly became involved in the organization. Today, Puschel says membership in the organization is up 20 percent and at an all-time high.
Of the many memorable guests and lectures, Puschel says the outpouring in the community to Gandhi’s grandson stands out for her.
“Kids were up on stage, people really responded to him,” she says. “He was so peaceful and calm. That really sticks out in my mind.”
For Segal, Feisal al-Istrabadi, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a key player during the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq, was exceptionally memorable. “He brought to this community a discussion of Iraq that was just fantastic,” Segal says.
Whether Russia, the Middle East, or Greece – bringing current foreign affairs within arm’s reach is critical not only for the general community but also for the businesses and organizations located here. With that in mind, the IAF will present “China Today: Competitor or Partner", the culminating event of its anniversary season on June 5-6, 2014.
The conference will showcase the ties that are rapidly expanding between northern Michigan and China in the areas of business, education – such as TCAPS’ development of a Chinese exchange program – and cultural exchanges, and topics will help northern Michigan better understand and benefit from these growing cross-Pacific ties.
“China is a big part of the global economy and even a community of our size can’t ignore it,” says board member and event chair Debbie Rough, who moved to Traverse City four years ago from Seoul, South Korea. “It’s nothing to be feared … but to develop an understanding.”
“Iran and the United States: Time for a Reset?” starts at 6 p.m. this Thursday at NMC’s Dennos Museum. $10 tickets are still available (995.1700) and attendees are encouraged to arrive early to be assured a seat. [UpNorth TV will also be providing a live webcast.] A special Founders reception honoring some original IAF board members, including Richard Grout, Harry Veeder and Paula Leinbach, starts at 5:15 p.m.