Yvonne Aasen – Gold Medalist at 81

Interview by Pearl Matibe

PEARL: Why did you join Toastmasters?

Yvonne: Years ago in the 1960s, I was a member of Toastmistress (women’s Toastmasters). No one wanted to be president and the group dissolved. I always wanted to get back into it and Carroll County Toastmasters was not far away, so I joined. I wanted to be comfortable speaking in public.

Last October I gave a toast at the wedding of my granddaughter. There were 150 guests. The toast was well received.

PEARL: Have you ever competed in a speech contest? If so When? Please share also an anecdote.

Yvonne: Yes, I competed in our humorous speech contest about four years ago. I won and went on to the next level but didn’t place. The last time I gave a humorous speech I disqualified myself by going one second over the time limit.

[Anecdote]: I live in a retirement community. Whenever an emergency vehicle gets near the campus, they turn their sirens off so as not to alarm the residents. One Saturday morning I was on my way home from a race in Annapolis. I was snacking on pretzels while driving–digging in the plastic bag with one hand while steering with the other. As I neared the campus, I noticed a county patrol car behind me.

“I think I’m supposed to pull over,”

I thought. I rolled down my window and a clean cut young police officer wearing a crisp blue uniform came to my window. “Are you all right?” he asked. I told him I was fine. He said I was weaving a little on the road and came close to a curb. He asked for my credentials and said he would be back. Another patrol car came and I thought I’m in big trouble now! The officer came back and told me I checked out okay and I was free to go. I told him I learned my lesson and would not eat and drive at the same time again.

As I neared the Village I mused, what if he had followed me all the way home? If he had followed me all the way home, I could have asked the CEO, he followed me home, can I keep him?

PEARL: When did you begin to run?

Yvonne: When I was 46, just turning 47. It was something I always wanted to do. My husband had a heart attack and part of his therapy was to increase his walking to four miles a day. I walked with him for six weeks and when I started running a few yards at a time, my legs were so weak I felt as if I would fall down at every step. I worked my way up to a quarter mile, a half mile, a whole mile, and the next spring I ran my first 10K.

PEARL: How does running in competitions compare to taking part in speech contests?

Yvonne: There is a lot of preparation.

There are pre-race and pre-speech jitters.

The frosting on the cake is winning an award.

If I don’t place, I can be a gracious loser and learn from the experience.

PEARL: What instilled a “competitive” spirit in you?

Yvonne: In a race, I wanted to catch up with the person ahead of me and pass him if I could. Actually, I don’t know if that qualifies in Toastmasters.

PEARL: Who is the best influencer in your life’s success?

Yvonne: I cannot name any one person or event. There were many influences; maybe it was acknowledging that I had the skill to develop.

PEARL: What has Toastmasters taught you about communicating and leading when you run?

Yvonne: Encouraging others. Saying a simple thank you when receiving an award or a compliment.

PEARL: Why do you stay in Toastmasters?

Yvonne: Improvement. Conversation. Friendship. Learning from others. Encouraging others as a speech evaluator. It helps me in communicating in a conversation and with communicating with my five children.

PEARL: Were you born a leader?

Yvonne: No. I was a very shy child but when I was in high school, I had parts in some plays and learned to project my voice. Perhaps for me, my gift is leading by example.

When I was in high school to this day in my mind’s eye I can still see the boys going to track practice. How I envied them, there was no track for girls and if there was, I may have been too shy to join. I couldn’t sing or play a musical instrument but I could run.

PEARL: What insight or perspective on communication and leadership would you like to share with the world beyond Westminster?

Yvonne: We would all be better off if we would do more listening than talking.

PEARL: Where did you grow up – tell us a little about your upbringing, your family, your family’s heritage?

Yvonne: I grew up on a farm in North Dakota during the Great Depression and eight-year drought of the 1930s. Rain and a degree of prosperity came in the 1940s. My parents were determined to send all four of us to high school, which must have been with some sacrifice on their part (we boarded in town during the week).

I recall that I entertained the family at the dinner table (noon time) by reading jokes from the Reader’s Digest. We had little contact with the outside world–we did get Time and Look magazines and a church magazine. We had battery powered radio for news and weather forecasts (we loved the comedy shows) newsreels at movies and a local weekly newspaper.

Our ethnic origin was Germans from Russia. My German forebears had immigrated to Russia under the Manifesto of Catharine the Great. My father was born in Katzbah, Bessarabia, Russia–which is now Ukraine. I have always regretted that I did not learn the German dialect. My father and grandmother (who lived with us) were fluent in German but my mother was born in North Dakota and grew up learning English so we spoke English at home. As an adult, a cousin once told me that their family thought we were stolz (proud) because we spoke English at home. That was not the case at all.