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October 13, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2004
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Emelia Rathbun, founder of Global Community, dies Emelia Rathbun, founder of Global Community, dies (October 13, 2004)

Emelia Lindeman Rathbun, a driving force behind the Palo Alto-based Creative Initiative and Global Community organization, died at her home Oct. 6 following a stroke three weeks earlier. She was 98.

"I've had a wonderful life," she told friends and family members shortly before her death, according to longtime friends and associates Virginia Fitton and Wileta Burch. Rathbun died peacefully at her Waverley Street home in the early morning hours, surrounded by family members.

She had suffered a minor stroke about two weeks before her death and told friends and family it was "time for me to die."

"I've lived almost a century and what a marvelous, fulfilling, fast life it has been," Rathbun reflected in a recent interview. "I lived on a hacienda, had tutors, rode horseback and in carriages, and sailed on ships whenever we came to America."

She was born on New Year's Day, 1906, in Colima, Mexico. Rathbun was the eldest of five children -- she had a brother and three sisters.

The family moved to San Jose in 1922, and she received a teaching credential from San Jose Normal School (predecessor to San Jose State University) in 1928 -- the same year she was chosen Rose Queen in San Jose's Fiesta de las Rosas. She taught first grade for a time at the former Mayfield School in Palo Alto.

She married Stanford law professor Harry J. Rathbun in 1931, creating a partnership that changed the lives of thousands of people in the Palo Alto/Stanford area and around the world -- using the group-dynamic approach to building a social-change organization.

Emelia initially was the driving force behind creation in 1962-63 of a woman's organization called Newsphere, based on the literary work of French priest/paleontologist/philosopher Teilhard de Chardin.

"We felt it was time for women to expand beyond the motherhood role," Burch recalled of the early launch of an arm of the women's movement -- separate and distinct from the more hard-edged feminism of the time.

"It was about the idea of being equal partners with men," Fitton added.

The group at first had no name, but was referred to only as "The Work," drawn from the "women's work and men's work" concept. It was dubbed Newsphere at a public launch in early 1963 at Foothill College. An early name for the effort was "Woman to Woman Build the Earth for the Children's Sake," a mouthful that became shortened to "Build the Earth."

In the early 1950s, the Rathbuns founded Sequoia Seminar, a retreat center in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where for more than 40 years they led seminars based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The movement became Creative Initiative in the 1960s, and at one time grew to involve several thousand members across the United States.

In the 1980s, the group spun off the Beyond War movement, a worldwide effort to convey the message that nuclear weapons had made all war obsolete. A "Beyond War Award" was presented to several world leaders for their arms control efforts.

Harry Rathbun died in 1987.

In 1992, the organization became the present Foundation for Global Community, with offices on High Street north of Lytton Avenue in downtown Palo Alto.

Rathbun is survived by a son, Richard of Palo Alto; a daughter, Juana Mueller of Huntington Beach; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15 at the First Congregational Church, Louis and Embarcadero roads, Palo Alto. The family requests that memorials be contributions to the Foundation for Global Community. -- Jay Thorwaldson


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