Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Dawn Zehr, I’m 41 and I was raised in New Jersey. I studied psychology at a small Christian college in Pennsylvania, where the country and the world were opened up to me through various opportunities for travel. My first two summers of college were spent largely on the interstates of the eastern half of the U.S. in a big blue van, playing Rook and singing as a member of a six-voice music ministry team for the college. Before my senior year, I boarded my first airplane and headed to Amsterdam, where I volunteered at a youth hostel for six weeks and hopped trains throughout Europe. I closed out my college career with a post-graduation choir tour to England, Scotland and Wales. My first job was with a refugee resettlement agency, and I loved it. I was a federal matching grant coordinator and caseworker. Often I was the first to welcome newly arrived refugees at the airport, and at the time the majority of them were pouring in from the former Yugoslavia. I also worked with Iraqi Kurds, Kosovar Albanians and Africans.
My nomadic adulthood adventures began in 2000 when I married Duane in July and moved from Pennsylvania to Missoula, Montana four weeks later. Since then, I have lost count of the number of moving trucks we have rented and address changes we have made. We have lived in the far northeastern corner of Montana on the High Line; in Fort Benton; spent a year in Chicagoland for Duane’s graduate work; had a brief but wonderful summer living in Duane’s home town in rural Indiana. We spent hard summers working on guest ranches in Wyoming and West Yellowstone. Finally in 2009, we turned the truck west again and landed in Helena, where we eventually bought a house and gleefully burned our moving boxes.
We have one son who is eleven, and last year we dug our roots here even deeper by adopting a dog. We also have chickens, but sadly, the number of chickens living in our back yard has fluctuated due to the aforementioned dog and her eager curiosity towards anything with wings.
I studied photography years ago and enjoy macro and people photography. I appreciate being challenged musically and singing a wide repertoire of fine choral works as a member of the Helena Symphony Chorale. I have a notebook in which I keep a running list of books I’ve read since 2006. I enjoy scrapbooking and cardmaking, and I gave up quilting after a frustrating years-long attempt that resulted in a pile of half-finished quilts.
Throughout my life, my jobs have included fast food, scooping ice cream, nannying, singing. I have been a church secretary, job coach, caseworker, kindergarten aid, photographer, helper in a dental office, obituary writer, and more recently, I have been providing childcare for two sweet little girls who have captured my heart and my love forever.
Your photo here is taken in front of the Cathedral of St. Helena. Tell us about why this location means something to you.
In March 2013, my husband, son and I were brought into full communion with the Catholic Church. The long and arduous pathway from our devout evangelical upbringings to Rome had begun years before we moved to Helena. Since discovering the richness of the Catholic faith, I have been able to settle into myself and my sense of self-purpose in a way I had never known. Simply put, I am home. The road has not been without difficulty or loss, but I have never looked back. I am grateful to have had the blessing of receiving my initial sacraments as a Catholic at the Easter Vigil in our beautiful Cathedral of St. Helena, and to have witnessed our son’s Baptism that same night. Later that year, I began writing about my faith transformation as a Catholic convert in a blog, which can be found at www.rosyfingeredawn.wordpress.com.
What is your favorite time of day?
I love that window of time in the morning after the coffee is just poured, the sun is rising and the day is before me, expectant and full of possibility.
What is one of your favorite quotes?
As much as I would love to make myself look really intellectual by quoting some philosopher or poet, I must admit that the literary and filmmaking masterpieces most frequently quoted in my daily life are John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany (UNSPEAKABLE OUTRAGE) and Napoleon Dynamite (Yesss). Oh, and a particular delight is achieved by deliberately misquoting Legolas from The Lord of the Rings to my son when there’s an especially beautiful sunset. (“The sky – it is red. Blood has been shed this day.” “Mom! That’s NOT what he said!”)
Who from your past has most influenced who you are today and how?
I would have to say that my husband Duane has played a significant role in my life as I’ve grown into the more mature, thoughtful, focused person I am today. He has been a steadfast example of patience, selflessness, wisdom, and integrity for the past 16 years of my life, and I am grateful for his daily and consistent display of the utmost character.
What was the last movie, TV show or book that really impacted you and why?
I have become fascinated by the life and spirituality of St. Pope John Paul. His personal story of suffering and deep faith is exceedingly compelling. I enjoyed Peggy Noonan’s John Paul the Great and Jason Evert’s St. John Paul the Great: His Five Loves. Both books reveal a profoundly prayerful man of great intellect, humor, and a genuine love for people. I am inspired by the way he lived his Christian faith and interacted with people.
Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
I can’t decide between Italy (specifically Rome) and the Holy Land (Israel). And pretty much every place ever featured on PBS’ Nature.
Who is one of your favorite authors and why?
Because I like to discover new authors and books, I haven’t really become particularly attached to a single author. My Favorite Book of All Time, A Prayer for Owen Meany, is the only book I’ve really loved of John Irving’s. A glance on my bookshelves reveals that the books I tend to own and read more than once are those written by C.S. Lewis, Ruth Reichl (former food critic of LA Times and NY Times) and surprisingly, Robin Hobb, a female author whose books are my first and only foray into the fantasy genre. Now that I think about it, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books and the first two in his Space Trilogy have likely been some of the most compelling books of my adulthood; I never tire of the worlds and characters he creates in his stories and of their encounters with Aslan, or God, which are always transformational. Over the years, my family has listened to every one of Ralph Moody’s books on CD as we travel. I enjoy a good biography. I also really get into hard-to-believe true survival stories, particularly during World War 2.
Describe one of your happiest memories.
Besides my wedding day and the birth of my son, one of my happiest memories is the night of Easter Vigil 2013, as we waited outside the Cathedral in the growing darkness for the service to begin. It was approaching 9:00 pm and there was a bonfire outside; all of us soon-to-be-Catholics were gathered around it in hushed expectation. Suddenly we turned around to face the doors to the church, and people were all around us, spilling out from inside the church. We processed into the church through the front doors, holding candles and making our way into the church to the sound of a single voice, chanting. It was late at night, the church was lit only by the candles people were holding, and we nervously – but happily – awaited the beautiful age-old ritual of Easter Vigil that would be the fulfillment of years of prayerful preparation. Finally, after the joy of seeing my son brought into new life in Christ through baptism, and all three of us were confirmed together, the most anticipated moment of my journey came. I will never forget the eagerness with which I approached our bishop, and the radiance of my face as I received my Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. My first Holy Communion as a Catholic is one of my most cherished and happiest memories.
How would your friends describe you?
I hope they see me as faithful, thoughtful and genuine. My friends know that when I say I will pray for them, I can be counted on to follow through faithfully, tirelessly and persistently.
What do you value most in a friendship?
Donuts from Van’s. Dropped off at my home. Seriously, the people I consider my truest, dearest friends are invested in my life and my family; pray for me; share a mutual trust; and bring me donuts.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be?
The ability to fly.
If you could give 18 year old Dawn a piece of advice, what would it be?
Slow down – think before you speak, act, or make decisions. Develop self-discipline. Look outside of yourself.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee, but after 2 p.m. it’s gotta be decaf.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate. Ghirardelli 60% Bittersweet.
Introvert or extrovert?
Introvert. I prefer small, intimate gatherings of friends. Afterwards, I can go home and curl up on the couch with my book and the single finished quilt in my house.
Rural or urban?
I’ve lived in the suburbs of Chicago and Philadelphia and I’ve lived in the desolate plains of northeastern Montana in a community that numbered in the hundreds. I prefer rural life, but my ideal would be to live in a small town within reasonable driving distance of a big city.
Dress up or dress down?
Cats or dogs?
Sunrise or sunset?
Detailed or abstract?
Classic or modern?
Call or text?
Depends on how much social interaction I’ve already had that day and whether I’m into a good book. See “Introvert or extrovert” response above.
Fiction or non-fiction?
Salty or Sweet?
What do you love most about Montana?
I love the encompassing beauty of Montana, which I found in different measures in different parts of the state. Yes, there is beauty in Froid, Montana. I never tire of looking out my front windows and marveling at the mountains surrounding me. I love seeing a golden eagle and/or a bald eagle on my way home from the grocery store. I love the vastness of Montana. I love the big sky and sunshine. I love the openness of people and the laid-back culture of Montana. As an east coast city girl, I do not take for granted the grand, majestic and open skyline of Montana. I get to live in a place that millions of people pay thousands of dollars to come see – maybe once in their lives – as a tourist. How cool is that?
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
After my son was born, I lost my fertility. The hardest ongoing struggle for the past eleven years has been the emotional roller coaster of infertility. Five years ago, we began the uncertain road toward adoption, only to feel rejected, disappointed and helpless at every step of the journey. After four very long years of waiting to be chosen for a placement, we are unsure about our family’s direction in the matter of adoption. To realize that all of our efforts to add to our family have failed is a really lousy place to be, and it’s hard to let go of the expectations and hopes we had for our family.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
I am grateful for the many and varied experiences I have been allowed in my adult life. I often find myself reflecting on how fortunate I am to have experienced so many things, both satisfying and challenging. I can say I’ve led a trail ride on horses into the wilderness outside of Yellowstone and spent a whole summer exploring and getting to know one of the country’s most popular national parks. I’ve known what it’s like to live in a town of 200 where the nearest city of any significant size is in Canada, and the people in the post office ask you about your interests because they have seen the kinds of magazines you subscribe to. I have floated and fished the Madison River! I have camped in the snow in Yellowstone, where I first heard coyotes yipping in the distance. I have snowmobiled through a real ghost town. I have endured the long and agonizing hours of waiting in a silent hospital room while my husband underwent an emergency brain surgery. I have cross-country skied in the moonlight on Christmas Day. I have stood underneath the Redwoods in wonder and found full sand dollars in the sand of the Pacific Ocean. I have been to the Swiss Alps. I have carried a child in my womb, felt him move inside me, and given birth. I have delighted in the live music of some of the world’s finest musicians – I heard Chris Martin (principle trumpet player) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play Mahler 5! I had the opportunity to sing and act in an opera. I had the opportunity to meet one of my young adulthood heroes, Elisabeth Elliot. I could go on and on. Having lived in so many places has allowed me to develop an attitude of adventure, and I value all the experiences I have enjoyed since marrying Duane and moving to Montana.
Through all of our moves and transitions, I have consistently been given wonderful, deep and lasting friendships to help me through difficult and lonely times. For that I am profoundly grateful.