A look at where some of those protesting, commune-living 'hippies' are today

Nostalgia reigns supreme this summer as we approach a series of 50th anniversaries of pivotal moments in our history.

This summer San Francisco is commemorating the Summer of Love when the hippies arrived in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1967.

Closer to home the latest version of the Grateful Dead, known as Dead & Company, has concerts scheduled at Wrigley Field on June 30 and July 1, and Navy Pier is hosting “Exhibitionism,” an exhibit of Rolling Stones memorabilia, through July 30.

Next year and the years that follow will surely generate remembrances of such major events as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Chicago's 1968 Democratic National Convention, Woodstock and the shootings at Kent State, to name a few.

So what has happened to all of the people who were activists and hippies in those days? How have they lived their lives since those tumultuous years?

Here we take a look at five from the suburbs:

John Brennan of Mount Prospect, who worked to spread racial understanding all of his life and continues today.

Marci Buerger of Forest Lake, who lived for a year in a commune, coming away from that a strong feminist who had learned how to get along with and learn from people from different backgrounds.

Barb and Dave Corcoran of Des Plaines both began adulthood in religious vocations and have spent their lives protesting wars and the instruments of war.

Debi Borden of Westchester and formerly of Arlington Heights, who chanted for peace and joined the protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Today, she is increasing her activism by joining marches and seeking like-minded individuals to join forces with.

John Brennan

John Brennan of Mount Prospect has never stopped working for social and racial justice.

A native of Boston, Brennan was ordained a Paulist Catholic priest in 1959 and soon thereafter was sent to minister in Utah. That was where he had his first experience of being a member of a minority. Since so many residents of Utah are Mormons, Catholics are definitely in the minority there and that experience has stayed with Brennan ever since.

“The systems were just fixed against you if you weren't a Mormon,” he recalled.

During the years that followed, Brennan took an increasing interest in racism and social justice. In 1963, while serving in Chicago, he took part in his first protest march (to call for the firing of a Chicago Public Schools superintendent) and two years later he attended a talk by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was very impressed.

Soon, after he questioned his pastor telling the congregation that “Jesus said, 'My Country, Right or Wrong,'” he got transferred to Ohio State University's Newman Center, the Catholic organization for college students. His job was to be a sensitivity consultant who would help groups work more effectively together. It was at OSU that a major transformation took place in Brennan's life and thinking.

“There were so many rigid Catholics from the parishes around Cleveland and I enjoyed liberating their thinking,” Brennan said.

During his time at Ohio State, he sponsored an anti-Vietnam War speaker named Fr. Phillip Berrigan. He was the brother of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, one of the nation's leading anti-war activists who spent time in prison for his activities. He also joined an ecumenical group called “Clergy and Laity Against Vietnam” which let him get to know Protestant ministers for the first time.

He also agreed to speak against the Vietnam War from Ohio State's Oval “because I felt that it was the right thing to do.” Brennan also participated in a sit-in in front of the Ohio State Law School because students there felt the school was making no effort to recruit black students.

By this time, Brennan was ready to move on, so he left the priesthood in 1969 and went to New York City to work for Pan Am Airlines. Since he was a racial sensitivity expert, he dealt with issues like complaints from black Pan Am employees that they could not get advanced through the ranks. He eventually established a minority affairs department and got white supervisors and black workers talking.

In 1972 he moved to Chicago to take an affirmative action position with G.D. Searle and later with a Searle subsidiary. He married his wife, Charman, in 1974, had two children, a daughter and a son, and eventually established an independent human resources consulting practice.

In his spare time, Brennan continued to work toward fair trade with developing nations, such as Brazil, and put together racism workshops in which traditionally black Catholic parishes and traditionally white Catholic parishes were paired for discussion groups to bring about understanding. That movement recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

Fourteen years ago he also initiated a twice-a-year book discussion called Suburban Mosaic, coordinated by area libraries, schools and the Daily Herald. The idea was for citizens from all over the area to read and discuss the same book on a social and racial justice topic and discuss it. Suburban Mosaic eventually expanded to include six books for readers of all ages from preschool to adult.

“Suburban Mosaic is a movement, not an organization,” Brennan explained. In 2009 he received a Shining Star Award from the Village of Mount Prospect, largely for his work on Suburban Mosaic.

Brennan continues to seek social and racial justice at a grass-roots level. He has taken nine mission trips to Nicaragua with his daughter and son; he volunteers in a free clinic in Chicago; and he actively works to combat the micro-aggressions that women and minorities experience every day by actively greeting everyone he encounters, calling what he does “micro-affirmations.”

Marci Buerger

Marci Buerger lived on a small commune in upstate New York in 1970-71.

Marci Buerger of Forest Lake in Lake County spent a year on a small commune in Saranac, New York, in 1970-71 and came away a feminist. She remains a committed feminist today.

“I grew up in a Detroit suburb and after I graduated from high school, I desperately wanted to leave home, so when my cousin and his wife offered to let me live with them in upstate New York and study at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Plattsburgh, my parents agreed. What they didn't know was that my cousin and his wife had started a small commune and that is where I lived,” Buerger recalled.

Life on the commune was difficult. Money was tight, the old farmhouse they lived in had no central heat (but it did have electricity and some hot water) and they weren't sure how to keep everyone fed. The growing season so close to the Canadian border was short, so while they grew some of their own food, there wasn't a lot.

“It was a very trying environment and the conditions were primitive. I came from a middle class family and had lofty ambitions when I got there, but before long it became clear to me that I couldn't live like that long-term,” she explained.

“It was an awakening for me, however. I had to learn to share with others who weren't in my nuclear family and make do with what we had. I also learned to share ideas with people from totally different backgrounds,” Buerger continued.

She went to college during that year, did basic housekeeping, listened to music and involved herself in discussions of social and political issues.

“The most positive thing that came out of that year was that I became a feminist by participating in a consciousness-raising group and joined the National Organization for Women (NOW). I learned that the sisterhood of women is powerful and got involved in educating other women about women's issues like equal pay for equal work, gender roles, child care, birth control and the right to choose,” Buerger said. “We even participated in demonstrations on women's issues at the SUNY campus.”

“That was a very formative year for me. I became an adult while I was struggling and making sacrifices on that commune. But I learned that I could do anything. It is a very clear line in my memory,” she added.

At the end of that school year, Buerger returned home to Michigan and earned an art degree from Wayne State University because she knew that she wanted to be involved in a creative endeavor. She married a goldsmith and they had two sons that they raised to be feminists.

Buerger spent 25 years working as a jewelry designer before switching careers 17 years ago and becoming the adult program coordinator at the Mount Prospect Public Library. She continues to support women's issues and was pleased to see Hillary Clinton be able to run as a presidential candidate of a major political party.

“Much has changed since I was on that commune, but there is still work to be done,” she stated. “I did not participate in the Women's March this year, but I was very gratified to see the outpouring of involvement.”

Buerger has also expanded her advocacy interests to include environmental issues. She is careful to recycle and curtail waste at home and often books programs at the library which are aimed at educating patrons on climate change, zero waste homes, recycling and so forth.

Barb and Dave Corcoran

Dave Corcoran carrying a protest sign at the International March Against the Iraq War in front of White House.

Barb and Dave Corcoran of Des Plaines have been taking a stand against war and the instruments of war for decades. Both have been arrested scores of times and Dave has been imprisoned twice - for six months each time - for trespassing on federal property during protests.

Like John Brennan, the Corcorans began their adulthoods in Catholic religious communities. Dave was a parish priest in Ohio and Barb was a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, based in Cincinnati. She was a school principal in Lancaster, Ohio, when the two met.

In 1972 they both left their vocations and married. In those days they demonstrated against the arms race and even got hit with tear gas.

Dave continued to work in Catholic-related fields, spending four years as an office manager at the National Federation of Priests' Councils before landing a job as a chaplain at Loyola Medical Center in 1976. The couple eventually adopted three children from Korea.

As he neared retirement, Dave and Barb both became more and more involved in peace work, protesting (and sometimes being arrested) at the Oak Ridge nuclear facility in Tennessee, at a nuclear facility in Nevada, at Boeing headquarters in Chicago, in front of the Kluczynski federal building in Chicago, in front of the White House and many other places.

Beginning in 1998, they made an annual weekend trip to Fort Benning, Georgia, to protest the School of the Americas (SOA) which trained members of the military from South and Central American countries to intimidate and abuse their populations, according to the Corcorans. Dave and others would often dress in black shrouds and white masks, carry mock coffins and lay down on the ground to simulate the deaths they were accusing the U.S. military of causing.

In 2000, Dave and nine others were arrested on charges of crossing a line that the several thousand protesters were told not to cross and a judge in the federal court of that part of Georgia sentenced him to six months in the federal prison for men in Oxford, Wisconsin. Three years later, it happened again, this time with 25 others, and he was sentenced to another six months. Dave kept his job at Loyola the first time he was imprisoned, but the second time they encouraged him to retire and he did, then spending his free time visiting troubled parts of the world and protesting perceived wrongs in the United States.

“It was worth it. My conscience was telling me that these things were wrong and that I had to do something to stop it. I know I was where God wanted me to be and I would do it again if Barb and I still had our health. But she has a hard time walking and I now have Parkinson's, so we now work behind the scenes on our causes and volunteer every week at Misericordia,” Dave explained.

“He always saw what needed to be done and he did it. Even when he was still a priest, I remember him stirring up the parishioners about the war in Vietnam. Here was this gentle person telling them that we didn't need to be fighting the war we were fighting,” Barb recalled.

Debi Borden

Debi Borden, pictured at age 20, says she was a casual hippie then, but still managed to attend protests and chant for peace.

Debi Borden of Westchester, formerly of Arlington Heights, was a more mainstream, casual hippie. She took a break from activism to raise her daughter and pursue a successful career and now that she has retired, has taken up activism once again.

Borden grew up in a Catholic Republican family that lived in both Peoria and Detroit, moving to the Chicago area in time to spend her senior year of high school at Maine South.

As a lark, she participated in the protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 when she was only 16 and visiting Chicago to see a friend.

“We all enjoyed the times. We were chanting for peace and protesting about Watergate while enjoying outdoor rock festivals. We wore bell-bottoms and water buffalo sandals and had long hair,” Borden recalled.

In 1972, at the age of 20, she quit college and got married. She and her husband of 30 years had one daughter eight years later, but before that “we smoked a lot of dope, visited the national parks and became firmly entrenched in the middle class. We weren't very politically connected during those years.”

When her daughter was born, Borden was became a stay-at-home mom and, eventually, a Girl Scout leader, not returning to work until her daughter turned 10. She then worked for business organizations throughout her career.

Borden retired a year and a half ago and said that now that she has the time and money, she is getting involved in activism once again. She attended the Women's March and plans to attend the Gay Rights March. She is a member of the Sierra Club and contributes to the Wildlife Defense Fund and Best Friends Animal Shelter in Utah. She marched in the Crop Walk for Hunger and spent a day helping to clean up along the Chicago River.

“After the Women's March, my partner and I decided to join the Unitarian Church in Oak Park. We decided that we could not be this angry for four years and needed to spend time with like-minded, constructive people who didn't just want to rant and rave,” Borden explained.

“I look back fondly on the days when protests were more focused on the issues, instead of just calling people names. Back then, people disagreed with one another, but there wasn't the terrible animosity that there is today. We all need to realize that there is plenty to go around in this country and that if we are lucky enough to be privileged, we need to be ethical and care about others,” she added.

“I guess, as long as the people in D.C. are stupid, I will continue to protest,” Borden concluded.

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