The English-Speaking Union

News and Events

2023 Annual Conference

English-Speaking Union Annual Conference 2023

Blueprint for Growth: Unity of Purpose

Kansas City, Missouri
October 20-22, 2023

The ESU 2023 General Conference, themed "Blueprint for Growth: Unity of Purpose" took place in in Kansas City, MO, from October 20 to 22, 2023. 

Our gracious host, the Kansas City Branch, deserves all the credit for the success of the event.  Special thanks go to Branch President Ben Martin, former ESU National Board Member and former Kansas City Branch President Jeffrey Schnabel, and the volunteers for their hard work to make this conference such a memorable and enriching experience for all participants.

The conference came on the heels of the ESU International Council Meeting (ICM) earlier in October hosted by ESU France in Paris. The ICM is an annual gathering of delegates from all International English-Speaking Unions spanning the globe from Albania to Yemen. During the many conversations and presentations in Paris, I was struck by the remarkable commonality of challenges facing all English-Speaking Unions. It became evident that the themes of leadership development, membership growth, and program relevance resonate globally, transcending geographical boundaries.  Our shared agenda reflects the importance to seek partnerships with like-minded organizations to foster growth, to use technology to reach new constituents, to strengthen programs for life-long learners and to emphasize mission-driven programs that improve communication skills as a tool for mutual understanding and personal success.

During the 2023 Annual Conference we had three very busy days to delve into these issues and have fun.

Photos from the Annual Conference Plenary Sessions 

The plenary session on Saturday morning, October 21, was led by our friend and advisor, Rev. Renee LiaBraaten, who for the past couple of years has been helping us to chart a path toward growth by strengthening our membership, reaching new constituents and making our programs even more impactful. The ESU will achieve "unity of purpose" only when we collaborate to create new ideas, share best practices and address the challenges we face. 

The interactive and highly informative session featured panel discussions with ESU Branch, National Board and Staff members on raising our organization's profile, aligning our programs with the evolving dynamics of society, encouraging volunteerism, and forging new partnerships. The conversations revolved around adapting our offerings to address contemporary needs and challenges in order to ensure that the ESU remains a vital resource in an ever-changing world.

A series of breakout sessions, organized with the help of Renee LiaBraaten and Jeff Schnabel allowed us to engage in in-depth discussions and share innovative practices that work.

During the Annual General Meeting on Sunday, October 22, the ESU Board and leadership presented a series of reports on our activities and programs in the past year.  Susan Ferris, Chair of the Nominating Committee introduced a slate of five excellent new Board Members who were unanimously elected. Another five Board Members were re-elected for a new two-year term. 

ESU treasurer Noel Sloan reported on the ESU 2023-2024 budget and most recent audit and responded to questions. President and Executive Director Karen Karpowich and Education Program Directors Rona Weitz and Alice Uhl shared exciting news about the ESU's educational, scholarship, and cultural-exchange programs for students, teachers, English-language learners and ESU members.

During the luncheon that followed the annual general meeting, Jane Easton, Director-General of the ESU of the Commonwealth - Dartmouth House, brought greetings from our friends across the Atlantic. We were also treated to a lively presentation by Maryfrances Wager, Missouri Poet Laureate (2021-2023), who read some of her poems and spoke about her artistic journey and her work to encourage young creators in their endeavors.

But the Annual General Conference wasn't just hard work. We saw old friends, made new ones and enjoyed the exciting cultural and social program offered by our hosts. 

Kansas City, Missouri, or "KC" as the locals affectionately call it, provided the perfect setting for a wonderful experience. Known for its thriving jazz and food scene, this city offered us a unique fusion of history, culture and fun. 

Tour of the WWI Museum in Kansas City

After a lively meet-and-greet over mimosas and nibbles during the conference registration in the early afternoon on Friday, October 20, we all were treated to a visit to the World War I Museum. The lecture and guided tour served as a poignant reminder of the historical context in which the English-Speaking Union was founded. 

The ESU National Patron Reception

During the welcoming dinner that same night we recognized a number of individuals for their leadership within their Branches with the 2023 ESU Membership Recognition Awards.   

The Membership Recognition Awards grew out of a grassroots initiative to develop a culture of appreciation and recognition at the ESU. A committee was formed to accept nominations and identify the honorees. I want to thank the members of the committee Dr. Karen Blair-Brand, Paul Boghosian, Judith Francis, David Grissett, Barbara Hughes, Susan Philips, William Kennedy, Charles Maddrey, Kate Nitzken and Dr. Julia C. Van de Water, for their diligent work.

The National Excellence in Leadership Award for extraordinary leadership and long-term service was bestowed on Kate Nitzken, President of the Kentucky Branch since 2009. 

The 2023 ESU Lifetime Achievement Award recognized Manning Pattillo for his 47-year-long commitment to the ESU and the Atlanta Branch. 

During the evening, several individuals were recognized by their Branches for outstanding services and support to the ESU mission including Bonnie Resinski from the Central Pennsylvania and Sally Bold Frick from the Sandhill's Branch.

The third individual to be acknowledged was Paul Whitty, former President of ESU Kentucky – a well-deserved tribute to his unwavering support and dedication to the Kentucky Branch's scholarship and education initiatives. It was with heavy hearts that we received the news of Mr. Whitty's passing shortly after the conference. His profound impact and legacy within the ESU community will be remembered with deep appreciation and fondness, and his spirit will continue to inspire our work. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his loved ones during this difficult time.

Tour of the Hallmark Museum

A guided visit to the Hallmark Visitors Center on Saturday afternoon, facilitated by ESU Board member and Hallmark Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jon Sichel, was a heartwarming experience. Surrounded by the creativity and artistry that Hallmark is renowned for, we couldn't help but be inspired and uplifted. The displays and exhibits, centered on the themes of love, compassion, and celebration, gave us a sense of warmth and optimism. 

Another conference highlight was the traditional ESU National Patron Reception on Saturday, October 21. This annual event honors the ESU National Patrons, our most generous and loyal members.

The event was held at the Pierpont's restaurant in the historic Kansas City Union Station, an iconic landmark with rich history and major architectural significance. Keynote speaker Timothy Riley, Director and Chief Curator of America's National Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO, talked about Sir Winston Churchill's ability to deploy the power of the English language as a political and diplomatic weapon at home and abroad. 

Our Patrons received two special gifts that evening. The first, from America's Churchill Museum, was a piece of the Berlin Wall, a tangible reminder of the triumph of democracy and freedom over tyranny and repression.

The second gift was more lighthearted – a signed copy of Classical Shindig: Amateur Artistry from the Simple to the Sublime, a book by our Chairman Dr. Quinn Peeper and his husband Mr. Michael Harold wrote in order to share with everyone their love of bringing people together for festivities and enjoyment.  The book, a three-year-long project, has been a labor of love for both of the authors and is filled with stories, recipes and photos that showcase the abundance of Michael and Quinn's nineteenth century New Orleans home. 

Two more guided tours wrapped up the conference program – a walking tour of the Country Club Plaza, a picturesque shopping and entertainment district, known for its Spanish-inspired architecture complete with beautiful fountains, sculptures, and romantic lighting; and the Kansas City Gangster Tour of historic sites, speakeasies and locations associated with infamous mob activities from the city's intriguing past.

And those who were able to spend an additional day in KC enjoyed guided tours to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum and the renowned Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

As it is customary, the dates of the 2024 ESU Annual General Conference were announced – the conference will take place in Cleveland, OH, hosted by our Cleveland Branch from October 18 to 21, 2024. The conference will be of special significance because it will coincide with the 2024 ESU International Council Meeting. We are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome our friends from around the globe to Cleveland next year.