About Jo Ivester

At the height of the civil rights movement, Jo Ivester’s father moved their family to the poorest county in the nation to start a medical clinic. She was 10 years old and the only white student in her class. In her memoir, The Outskirts of Hope: A Memoir of the 1960s Deep South (She Writes Press, April 2015), Ivester tells a very personal story of her family’s journey to the segregated American South.

After her time in Mound Bayou, Ivester went on to finish high school in Florida and attend Reed College. She then received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Later she graduated from Stanford University with an MBA..

She has worked for large organizations including the San Francisco Municipal Railway, where she served as a deputy general manager, and Applied Materials, where she ran a factory. She began to teach following the birth of her fourth child, first as a substitute math teacher and then as an adjunct professor at St. Edward’s University.

Ivester and her husband help teach a course each January at MIT and travel extensively. In her free time, she likes to hike and ski in the mountains and walk on the beach.

A Letter from Jo

My name is Jo Ivester.  I’m 58 years old and live in Texas.  My early years were spent in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where my father, Leon Kruger, ran his pediatrics practice from an office on the first floor of our home.  It was common to do that in the 1950s and 60s.  Our whole block was made up of physicians of one sort or another working from their homes – a dentist, an ophthalmologist, a foot doctor.  There were almost thirty children in the neighborhood and we all played blissfully together, unaware that our parents had created a highly unusual paradise.

That all changed in 1967 when my father quit his practice to become the medical director of a clinic in a small, all-black town deep in the cotton fields of Mississippi, about a hundred miles south of Memphis.  My mother, Aura, was stunned by his decision, although I didn’t know it at the time.  As a 10-year-old child, it never occurred to me to question her brave words that this would be a great adventure, that we were lucky to have a father who cared about service to humanity.  Bold words and I bought into them, totally and completely.

To the outside world, my parents had the perfect life, a strong marriage, four talented, handsome children, a large house in the suburbs, a partnership in managing both their home and his work.  But he was no longer satisfied, wanting to do something more with his professional life, something more demanding and fulfilling.  He wanted to serve on the S.S. Hope and sail around the world providing modern medical care where none existed.  Or move to Ethiopia where there were fewer doctors per capita than almost anyplace else in the world.  We didn’t know the term yet, but he sought tikkun olam, an ancient Hebrew phrase meaning “to repair the world.”  My mother supported his dreams, but she never really believed they would take her away from her home.

So why am I writing all of this?  I’m telling you about my parents so you’ll understand what led to the book I’ve just finished writing, “The Outskirts of Hope.”  You may recognize the title.  It’s a quote from Lyndon Johnson.  He said, “Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope – some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both.”  That’s how he introduced his War on Poverty back in 1964.  My father enlisted in that war and my mother followed him, bringing my two older brothers and me along for the ride.

Forty years later, my mother, then in her eighties, started a journal.  Every day she wrote for twenty minutes, sometimes writing about our time in Mississippi, but mostly recording all the family anecdotes, going back to the 1800s when her grandparents first emigrated to the U.S. from Eastern Europe.  After several years, she’d amassed a pile of handwritten notebooks a foot high.  My mother felt as if her task was complete at this point.  But that was just the beginning for me.

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NPR – Author’s Corner – Reading from Outskirts