After Council, life goes on for Marianne MacQueen
- Published: January 31, 2024
On a glacial Monday afternoon with single-digit temperatures, the pool at the Antioch College Wellness Center was downright tropical. A senior splashed in the water alongside a giggly grandchild. A seasoned swimmer breast-stroked up and down the lanes.
Clutching a red rescue buoy and watching with keen vigilance over all the aquatic goings-on was new lifeguard and former Village Council member Marianne MacQueen.
She began working at the Wellness Center’s pool earlier this month, using time that would previously have been spent carrying out a different kind of public service: After 10 years on Council, MacQueen decided not to run for re-election in last November’s contest, choosing instead to step away from the group at age 78.
Since Council reconvened in 2024 without MacQueen, the lifelong Yellow Springs resident has spent her January days looking back and looking ahead — even beyond her new aquamarine workplace.
The News caught up with MacQueen earlier this month in her Davis Street home to see how retirement was treating her.
“During that decade when I was on Council, I made it my life’s work,” she said. “I had the time, the wherewithal. But now, I have the time — a very varied schedule — for the Wellness Center. That’s my next project: trying to do whatever I can to support that place.”
And that’s what it’s been for MacQueen all along: a lifetime of projects.
She hails from Niles, a quintessential rustbelt town in Northeast Ohio. MacQueen got a biology degree from the College of Wooster, then later, a master’s in education from Vanderbilt University. As she put it, she got a couple teaching gigs — “Decided I didn’t want to do that,” — got married and wound up working at Vanderbilt’s hospital.
“I was in college in the ’60s,” MacQueen said. “What an amazing time. There was a certain idealism that we all got caught up in. Then, we all thought things could be different, more peaceful and loving.”
During that time, her husband, Roy Talbert, was in graduate school — a “history buff,” MacQueen described, who was interested in utopianism. Talbert’s advisor suggested looking into Arthur E. Morgan, former Antioch College president, community organizer, engineer and author.
“Roy would come up to Yellow Springs to talk to Morgan and read his work,” MacQueen said. “While I didn’t join him that often, I still read the Yellow Springs News. It’s what made me fall in love with the village and want to eventually move here.”
MacQueen and her husband had some time before permanently relocating to Yellow Springs. Eschewing the front line in Vietnam, Talbert took a job at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where the pair would soon rear their newborn son, Matthew. After two years in D.C., the young family followed Talbert’s infatuation with utopias to rural Arkansas, where they lived on various farms and communes — eventually meeting longtime Yellow Springer Don Hollister.
1972 rolled around and it was time to move to Yellow Springs. MacQueen said, “When I moved here, it felt like I had come home.”
“We stayed in what would eventually become the Dharma Center,” MacQueen said. “Roy and I separated very quickly, then there I was, in Yellow Springs with a 1-year-old child.”
As MacQueen recalled, the idealism of the ’60s kept lapping on her early days in the village. In her proto-Buddhist home, she rented spaces to Antioch students for $25 a room. She fell into Arthur Morgan’s Community Service organization — what would eventually become Community Solutions, then later, Agraria Center for Regenerative Practice — working part-time alongside Arthur Morgan, writing articles and taking calls about communes.
“At the time, it was the hub to learn about communes and small-town living,” MacQueen said.
Also around that time, MacQueen started the Community Infant Center — a 3-and-under alternative to the Children’s Center, which at the time, only accepted children 4 and older — on the ground floor of Antioch’s Birch Hall.
The years kept turning and MacQueen kept digging into the village.
She lived in a tipi, picked up carpentry and worked as a cook at The Restaurant — a former diner on Glen Street — making Hungarian cheese-filled coffee cakes “to die for,” Restaurant owner Ken Simon once told the News. She fell in love and began living with longtime local Moya Shea.
All was well until 1976, when her life changed: She lost custody of then 5-year-old Matthew and lost the right to see him more than once a year — partly because she was living with another woman.
MacQueen and several local women enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to eventually take the case to the Virginia Supreme Court, to ultimately, after five arduous years, overturn a wrongful adoption and win back custody of her son.
“That was a pivotal experience in my life,” MacQueen said. “Seriously, a major life-changing experience. It’s what got me interested in conflict resolution.”
The custodial battle was a bitter waste of time and energy, MacQueen said, and in its aftermath, she wanted to learn how to facilitate more productive interpersonal and, on a larger scale, communitywide reconciliation. Essentially, she wanted to learn how to mediate.
MacQueen entered one of Ohio’s first mediation certification programs at Antioch McGregor, eventually getting a degree in conflict resolution. She became coordinator of a resolution-based organization, eventually known as “O-Come On,” and helped grow programs for what is now the Ohio Commission on Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management.
In 1990, MacQueen helped start and directed the Village Mediation Program — doing carpentry all the while. She acted as director for six years.
“Dealing with community conflicts — that’s where my interest lay,” MacQueen said. “We held community forums about the police, forums on whether the Village should buy the [Center for Business and Education] land — which was a ‘no’ at the time — and affordable housing and more.”
But, as she said, her mediation program wasn’t as effective at resolving community conflicts or facilitating stakeholder meetings as she would have liked.
Nevertheless, the Yellow Springs sun kept rising on MacQueen. In 1996, she returned to Community Service to assume the role of director — a move that provoked long-lasting aspirations of sustainability, environmental justice and a growing interest in a community land trust model for affordable housing.
Already president of the Greene County Fair Housing Board, MacQueen became one of the first board members of Home, Inc., then, in 2003, she was hired as the director of the local affordable housing nonprofit.
As she told the News, her ascension into that role was largely motivated by a contentious discourse within the village over the future of Glass Farm: whether it should be developed for housing or left alone.
“That whole thing became very, very nasty,” MacQueen said. “It was probably the worst community conflict we’ve had since I’ve lived in Yellow Springs. It’s what motivated me to shift to Home, Inc. I felt like what had happened was so wrong. I wanted the organization to succeed.”
MacQueen saw to that.
She directed the organization for 10 years, creating what she described as a “foothold,” for her successor, Emily Seibel, and other members of the affordable housing nonprofit to continue her mission: housing for all in Yellow Springs, irrespective of socioeconomic status or circumstance.
A decade later, MacQueen turned her eyes to Village Council. She handily won a seat at the dais in a 2013 election, and began what would be a nearly 10-year tenure at the beginning of 2014.
“I had always thought about running,” she said. “I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate if I still worked for Home, Inc., so when I retired, I made a go for it.”
MacQueen said her overarching goals over the last decade on Council were straightforward: to create far-reaching affordable housing opportunities in Yellow Springs, engender more accountability and transparency from the police department, and to focus more on environmental and sustainability efforts.
To wit: In 2014, MacQueen reconstituted the relatively defunct Environmental Commission, noting the growing number of environmental issues coming before Council. In keeping with her progressive housing agenda, she voted affirmatively in several pivotal Council decisions that ultimately greenlit more single- and multifamily options in the village.
As for local policing: “I think our department and the work Council has done over the years has been successful in shifting the department into what it is now,” MacQueen said. “I’ve been through a lot of police chiefs, and a lot of technological changes in how policing happens, but I’m pleased with where we are now.”
Looking back on her past decade of her time on Council, MacQueen said she’s proud of what she’s been able to accomplish with the group. Still, she said she sometimes felt hampered in her efforts by “structural” restrictions and an occasional breakdown of communication between Village staff and Council.
For example, Sunshine Laws — Ohio’s public records and open meetings laws that prohibit, among several things, Council members’ ability to convene or discuss matters of governance outside of formal meetings — can sometimes “disempower” Council, MacQueen believes.
“When you have five people — five Council members — who make really important decisions in the community, they need a good amount of time to think about those decisions beforehand,” she said. “If they can’t do some of that thinking and conversing outside of meetings, then that limits the whole functionality of Council.”
She continued: “Then there’s the relationship between [Village] staff and Council. Staff are the ones who know what’s really happening — they’re the professionals on the ground. There must be intentionality and a structure in which the right amount of information gets to Council from staff — and that’s an occasional barrier to our decision-making.”
Now on the other side of her tenure, MacQueen has had the time to reflect on both her contributions to local government and how she’s angling to continue her contributions to Yellow Springs. Her focus is still on the environment — our warming world and the village’s place within it — by supporting local sustainability efforts, as well as fostering the small-town and progressive values that attracted her to Yellow Springs half a century ago.
“I committed myself to this place,” she said. “While I understand that there are those who enjoy and find value in moving from place to place, I decided to be rooted — that means to me that if there are things I don’t like about the place, I either just accept them or work to change them.”
She said she resists the pulls of cynicism and believes that Yellow Springs — despite its relative shortcomings in providing as much affordable housing as she would like, its political squabbles, shifting economy and litany of changes that dismay some — will continue to be a place worth fighting for.
Yellow Springs has accepted her through it all, she said: as a young tipi-dwelling single mother, a cook and carpenter, a champion for housing, a board member of several nonprofits and organizations, a Council member and a lesbian.
“That’s one change I feel doesn’t get talked about enough: When I moved here, there were only a handful of lesbians in Yellow Springs,” MacQueen said. “Now look at it. It’s blossomed. There have to be over a hundred lesbians here, and I think that’s because we live in such an accepting place. I’ve never felt prejudice here.”
Nowadays, a month after ceding her Council seat, MacQueen can be seen poolside several days a week at the Wellness Center.
As ever, she’s still looking after her community members. She’s still making sure they’re safe and happy just as she’s always done — and been — in Yellow Springs.