Mary Anderson is secretary for the program for Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security, which is located in the Armory. Anderson started with ACDIS when it was created in 1978. She and her husband, Don Saupe, a professor emeritus of horticulture, live in a large historic home in Homer. She has three grown sons and he has three grown sons, and between them they have 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Where was the ACDIS office located in 1978, when it was created?
We were in a closet in Lincoln Hall. Literally. We started on a shoestring with just nothing. It was exciting seeing it get started, and it still is an exciting place to work.
What was exciting about it?
Back in ’78 the threat of nuclear war and nuclear devastation was headline news – everybody was talking about it. It was very prominent. I think the threat is still as big today as it was then, but other things overshadow it. This office is focusing on all the major issues in front of the whole world and it’s very exciting.
How have you learned so much about the topics yourself? Outside reading or work on projects?
We put out a lot of publications – books and articles – and I work on formatting them so I get a chance to read most of what goes through this office. And we have scholars who come for weeks, months or years to study with us, and we hold conferences and workshops. I’ve been privileged to travel to India and Nepal and be involved in those conferences, and last summer I attended a class in India.
So you’ve made two trips to India?
The first conference was in Katmandu, Nepal, a relatively neutral area in a larger region. It was a four-day conference. That was in 1992.
It was really fascinating. It’s a whole different world and I don’t think anybody can understand what that culture is like unless you’ve been there. So it opened up a whole other lifestyle to me.
Tell me about your most recent trip.
That was in May, to do two weeks of a summer course at Panchgani, India, which is a British hill station about 120 miles from Bombay. There were 18 students, mostly from the UI. It was a beautiful place – the prettiest place I’ve ever seen in India.
Tell me about your background.
Well, I’ve lived in Champaign-Urbana since I was 5. I grew up here and raised my children here. I went to the UI for a semester and then stopped and had kids and then went back and got a degree in interior design in 1992. But that was made possible by working at the UI and getting tuition assistance.
Why did you get a degree in interior design and then keep on working at ACDIS?
I didn’t feel that competent in the field to go out and just leave the security of this job behind. I was still raising kids and getting them through college, and this [job] offered benefits that I wasn’t confident I could have in a job in interior design. But I did a little part-time work – I worked for Habitat for Humanity and I did an internship with the Small Homes Council.
Do you like your job as a secretary?
I never thought I’d be a secretary. Sitting behind a desk in an office all day didn’t really appeal to me. But this job is different because you get to meet all these wonderful people and you get involved in all kinds of other activities, other than sitting in front of a computer. The activities are so varied I’m doing a different thing every day. I couldn’t really give you a job description.
How has this changed your life?
Oh, it’s just opened up everything. It’s made it so much more interesting and broadened everything. You’re not closeted in a little Midwest town. You get to see how countries interact and how people in different countries interact and you get to know them and learn about them. I can’t put a word to it. It’s just opened up so much. My interests have expanded tremendously.
What do you when you’re not working at ACDIS?
I very much enjoy painting. So does Don, so it’s a joint activity. We’ve hosted foreign students and visitors to campus through the International Hospitality Committee and the Intensive English Institute. We were linked with a Korean couple two years ago, and that lady happens to be a painter. She initiated a once-a-week get-together to paint.
We spend a lot of time with my mother who is 93 and living independently in Champaign.
And I like to be outside very much and I enjoy sports, especially baseball. I play softball and bowl with the C-U Church League. I ski with my sisters in Colorado once a year. We cycle in and around Homer and we’ve done some other trails. I keep a bike in a garage in Urbana and I ride to work.
All the time. I like it. I enjoy being outdoors so I like having that opportunity. Plus it’s so convenient. It’s so much better than fiddling with cars and parking and all that.
Do you ride to work in the winter too?
Oh yes. All the time. I don’t do ice. But rain is no problem as long as it isn’t a downpour.
You’re probably close to being able to retire?
Yes, next year. I’m going to see what else I can do. See if I can do anything with interior design. Play with my grandkids. And work with Habitat for Humanity. Don and I also plan to volunteer at a Christian retreat center in Washington state.