March 15, 2004, a group of demonstrators gathered at the Seneca County Courthouse to protest the start of the war in Iraq. Initiated by members of Tiffin Area Pax Christi USA, that first vigil turned into a weekly event, usually at 4:30 p.m.
Three women, Mary Lily and Phyllis Putnam of Tiffin and Jean Cossey of Carey, have faithfully appeared at least 30 minutes every Friday afternoon for the past eight years.
"Actually, I had gone a couple times up to Toledo, because they had somebody that was standing with signs. Then we started here, so I came down here," Lily said.
Phyllis Putnam (from left), Mary Lily and Jean Cossey stand in the summer sun during one of their many Friday protests.
In January 2011, the group suspended its weekly vigils. Last fall's troop reduction, the imminent demolition of the courthouse and the women's advancing age all were factors in the decision.
"Even before they started (demolition), we decided we had other ways we could try to influence policy," Lily said."We've been pretty active, but the three of us that were on the corner, we're all retired. Two of us are in our 80s. So it just feels like it's time to work another way."
Putnam's husband, Leon, documented the women's efforts with photographs, about once a month, through all seasons of the year.
To the Community:
Some of us, members of the Tiffin Area Pax Christi USA, have been keeping a weekly vigil at the corner in front of the Seneca County Courthouse since the beginning of the Iraq war, nine years ago.
We stood with signs urging peace, an end to wars and the return of our troops. We write this for those who wonder where we are now.
Our Pax Christi chapter began doing this and other actions in 2003. We hosted speakers such as Sister Helen Prejean (author of "Dead Man Walking") and Detroit Bishop (and peace activist) Thomas Gumbleton. We observed the tragedy of the 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and sponsored a day of non-violence training.
We also sponsored the conference, "Israel, Palestine/Pathways to Peace."
Over the years, we have worked to educate ourselves on the many issues that affect the common good. We continue to want to do something actively to promote peace in the world.
As our bodies grow older, we still have the desire to work for peace and justice, each of us according to how we are most effective.
We continue to write letters to legislators and look for other ways to make peaceful changes. The war has not ended, as problems continue in Afghanistan and drone warfare increases there and in many countries.
There are other serious issues to be addressed: the failure to close Guantanamo Bay, the passing of the (alarming) National Defense Authorization Act, the injustice in Palestine, and the ongoing damage to our environment.
Pax Christi meetings are monthly at 7 p.m. the third Thursday at St. Francis Spirituality Center, 200 St. Francis Ave., Tiffin. All are welcome. This is an ecumenical group of different ages with no dues and no pressure to act in a certain way. We just try to support each other in finding our voice for peace, and we thank those who have supported us the past nine years.
Putnam said having the support of their spouses was important. The weekly vigils began at noon March 15, 2004. By November, the group decided to gather from 4:40-5:30 p.m.
With the demonstrations ended, the women have been looking at the photos and recalling what they learned from their experiences.
"In the beginning, we had a lot of people that were very angry at us, and we had comments coming out of the cars," she said. "The other thing I remember is, people thought we were against the troops, that we weren't supporting the troops.
"When people would stop and we could dialogue with them, we could explain what our position was in regard to peace. We were supporting the troops. We didn't want them over there; we wanted them home. I remember that very well. People were very emotional in the very beginning, especially young men," Putnam said.
When people did stop to talk, they often became upset, so the protestors tried to listen respectfully and respond calmly.
The women estimated about 30 people, some from Fremont, Fostoria and Carey, made their own signs and participated in the demonstrations.
Mary Catherine Phillips and her husband were regulars for the first two years or so, but they had to withdraw. Several Franciscan sisters from the Tiffin convent also joined the vigils when they could. One of them was Sister Paulette Schroeder, who served three years on the Christian Peacemaker Team in Israel.
"I've just appreciated all the people who came over the years and stood with us. They came at different times. Some would only be there a few weeks or once in awhile. It wasn't just us," Cossey said.
But often, the women did not have any company on the corner, so they passed time in conversation with one another.
Putnam recalled bundling against the cold with thermal underwear, hooded coats, boots and gloves.
"We got to know each other quite well, I think, because you're standing there for an hour and you talk about a lot of different things. I think there was a bond there, especially the three of us," Putnam said.
"We really enjoyed each other's conversation and fellowship through the years. It's been a good thing," Lily added.
As the women aged, they reduced the hour-long vigils to 30 minutes, especially in the winter.
Cossey said she only had two signs over all the years. The most recent one read, "Fruit trees and seeds - not bullets."
"I made that one and just kept it. It was getting pretty beat up," Cossey said. "I never minded going over there. I felt like I was supposed to do it, but I also really enjoyed the time we had together on the corner. It was wonderful."
The three friends plan to stay connected through Pax Christi. They have concluded not every citizen drives through downtown Tiffin on Friday afternoons, so the protests were not visible to everyone, nor were they observed by many policymakers.
The trio composed a letter to the community (below) explaining their plans to seek other avenues to promote peace.
"It was quite an experience to do that as many years as we did. But as the years went by, we had signs that said 'Honk for Peace,' we had more people honking," Putnam said. "Friday afternoons, we always went down there. Now, we don't
go down there. Something's missing out of our lives."