Good, often great things often come in small packages. Such is the case with Myrna Ann Adkins.
Ensconced in Denver she is known in vast swaths of the world for her life’s work of willingness to help people.
It’s been quite a ride for a small town girl from Twin Falls, Idaho. When she was a senior in college she hadn’t been farther east than Salt Lake City and further west than Portland, Oregon. And Myrna Ann might be the only person you know whose favorite vacation spot is in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
Luckily the small town values of honesty and helping people in need stayed with her.
She came to Denver in 1976 from Michigan where she had been attending graduate school
“When I was a senior in college, I went on my first travel abroad trip to Japan. My family likes to joke that I haven’t been home since.”
“In Japan I lived with a host family. It was amazing to be in another country where I didn’t speak the language. That opportunity impacted the rest of my life. I am still in touch with my ‘Japanese sister’ and others I met as part of that experience.”
She joined the Peace Corps in 1963 - 1965 and asked for the Philippines because thought it might be similar to Japan. It turns out it wasn’t. But it was a wonderful experience all the same. “We were living without electricity and without running water. We had a great outdoor toilet.” Those aren’t words you hear from everyone. “ It was a very deep outdoor toilet. I painted the toilet and locals thought I was crazy.”
Myrna Ann has hundreds of anecdotes from her overseas travels. One that stands out in particular was when she had disposed of a pie in the outdoor toilet (in the dark) and later as she came back and sat down in the dark, not knowing some of the pie was on the seat, it turned out she really did have ‘ants in her pants.’
After returning from the Peace Corps she was invited to be a Peace Corps trainer at Stanford for new volunteers. Then she went to get her master’s degree in Far Eastern Studies at The University of Michigan.
“My husband was transferred to Denver in 1976. When I told colleagues at The University that I was leaving, they couldn’t believe I was going to Denver. They said that no one there really knew there was anything internationally outside the Rocky Mountains. . I opened the phone books when I arrived to see what came up under “International”, and there was only 1 organization, not counting the International House of Pancakes,” Myrna Ann recounted. “Now Denver is a very international, multicultural city”.
“I had two little kids when I was asked by The Experiment in International Living – School for International Training to attend a meeting of that organization. During that meeting I met Bob and Barb Sample, founders of the Spring Institute.
At that time, there were a lot of refugees that were starting to come from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. A lot of the Hmong were coming and they posed a real challenge because their language wasn’t written down until 1954 and most had almost no experience with the English language.
“I accepted a 4 month position with the Spring Institute in 1980 to help develop a training program for newly arriving refugees. I ended up staying for 34 years and was named CEO in 1985,” Myrna Ann said. The influx of refugees coincided with the intercultural skills that Myrna Ann had gotten from her trips abroad and her skills at creating curriculum.
If there were a list of Who’s Who in Intercultural Learning, Myrna Ann would be at the top. An important facet of this work is increasing the understanding of American teachers and service providers with respect to the cultures of people that are coming to the United States, not knowing the language or culture, but wanting to learn.
Towards that end, she has provided cross-cultural communication training in Africa, Cambodia, all over the United States, Mongolia and more.
Myrna Ann is especially glad they were able to recognize that mental health was an issue for many refugees coming here, especially those fleeing war. This was before PTSD became known. Myrna Ann was planning Refugee Mental Health conferences for educators in the 1980’s.
Myrna Ann serves as the Vice-Chair of the Denver Sister Cities Mongolia group and has been to Mongolia more than 30 times, since her first trip in 1996. A number of Mongolian business and government officials studied at the Spring Institute. She knew one of the Presidents of Mongolia before he was President and before he knew how to speak English (courtesy of the Spring Institute).
In 2019, then President of Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga issued a decree on awarding Myrna Ann Adkins, a citizen of the United States of America, with the state high decoration of Mongolia—the Order of the Polar Star—in recognition of her valuable contribution to the development of bilateral friendly relations and cooperation
Chief of Staff to the President of Mongolia Z.Enkhbold presented the Polar Star award to Mryna Ann Adkins.
Greens and lemons from my son’s tree in California
Exercise, Tai Chi, walk in the woods and talk to the trees
When I find myself not willing to consider other’s opinions and points of view
The South Gobi in Mongolia and Fraser, Colorado
Who are your heroes?
Some of the refugees I have met; my daughter and son
My sister’s artwork
Playing the accordion
Lions Club of Denver, Denver Sister Cities International Exchange Programs, First Baptist Church of Denver, and of course the Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning