Posts Tagged ‘King Peggy’

Remembering When the Titans Met King Peggy

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

This blog post was written collaboratively by thirty-four 10th Grade Honors English students at Tuscarora High School in Frederick, Maryland, with edits by their teacher, Mr. Slaby. King Peggy visited Tuscarora High School on September 26, 2013.

For several weeks, our English class of energetic sophomores had been reading King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and How She Changed An African Village, co-written by Peggielene “Nana” Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Initially, some of us were excited to read it, but others would have preferred something else. However, when our teacher, Mr. Slaby, told us King Peggy was coming to visit our school, we were ecstatic. Most of us never thought we would meet a female king, and we started seeing the reading of her book differently. King Peggy wasn’t just a book about a woman making the world a better place; she was someone whom we could meet and learn about firsthand. With our newfound excitement, we finished the book, had some lively discussions, and prepared for her visit, wanting to make her time with our Tuscarora Titan community a memorable one. The class and the entire school had a lot of work to do, so we set to work.

To give King Peggy a warm welcome to Tuscarora High our whole class made her six banners which we hung in the green room of our drama department, close to the stage. Each banner consisted of a letter to her from each student, a comment about how her book affected him/her, a theme topic taken from the book along with a quote, and a decoration that had to do with King Peggy’s story. Also, to decorate the green room some of us drew pictures on the white board and wrote a welcome message on it, too. Here are a few of the banners we hung on the walls:







Also, on Main Street, the School’s central meeting space, Mr. Dan Neuland, our Art Department Chairperson, made some banners of his own inspired by the One Maryland One Book bookmarks supplied by the Maryland Humanities Council.

When King Peggy arrived at Tuscarora, over a dozen people, consisting of Principal Schlappal, Mr. Slaby, students, and members of the Titan Leading Ladies Club, greeted her. After shaking hands and smiling warmly with everyone, Mr. Slaby led Nana into the green room. We went into the auditorium to join over 400 of our classmates and teachers. THS percussion students drummed a tribal beat stage right, and we could hear some students who hadn’t yet read the book questioning, “Who’s King Peggy? What’s her story” Many of us who had read it wondered what she would be like in person. Would she come across the same as in her book? Would she sound strong and loving? Would she be funny?

Once everyone was inside the auditorium, the lights dimmed, and the drummers exited the stage. Silence fell on the crowd, as a stage light shone on Principal Schlappal standing where the drummers had been. As she welcomed Nana, the lights at stage left went up, illuminating the yellow armchair. Whatever silence there had been quickly changed to wild applause and cheers. We were about to meet a king!

From behind the fichus trees stage left, Nana emerged, walking to the yellow arm chair and sitting down in it.

“Good morning!” she said.

“Good morning!” echoed the audience. We were amazed that we were sitting in front of an African king! In a commanding yet gentle tone, King Peggy told us her story of how she became the king of Otuam, looking us in the eyes as though she were speaking directly to each of us. We sat on the edge of our seats. Many of us who had already read her book realized that her story felt more influential and heartfelt in person.

When she finished talking about the beginning of her journey, we all turned our heads to a screen at center stage to watch a slide show with pictures of her village. Now we could see all the changes that Peggy has brought to her village, the ones many of us had read about! In seeing these images, we appreciated both the little things we have, and the work she has done for her people such as bringing clean water to her village and working to establish a school. She also gave the girls among us more confidence in ourselves, saying that we don’t have to be a man to do great things.

While her presentation kept us all engaged, Nana then took our questions. Dozens of students lined up behind microphones to ask her everything from how she continues to help empower women in Otuam and surrounding villages to what happened to her 1992 Honda Accord. She gave excellent, heartfelt answers to every single one of the questions the students asked. Nana even made a point of sharing the news that Queen Latifah would be portraying her in an upcoming movie!

After the performance was over, and after Nana had signed some books to be given away later in the day, Mr. Slaby called our English class up to the stage. We were shocked! We approached Nana, and she had a big smile for us. We each shook her hand, and she was open to answering our many questions and taking photos with us, including this one in front of Mr. Neuland’s window display:

We walked away with a tremendous understanding of the book and a better appreciation for the things we take for granted living here in the United States. Our THS Book Club also just held a donation drive for Otuam, and more classes are now engaged in her book and in thinking of ways that they, too, can make a difference. While King Peggy is certainly an inspirational book, Nana herself is an overall amazingly generous, powerful, and gracious person. We thank the Maryland Humanities Council, Principal Schlappal, Tuscarora High School faculty and staff, and most importantly King Peggy herself for helping make our reading of King Peggy and our meeting of this real-life hero an experience we’ll never forget!

Photo credit: Dana Miletic, THS English Department Co-Chair.


A Fairytale Come True at the Library by Bill Peak

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

What can I tell you about Peggielene Bartels?  That she works as a secretary in Washington, D.C.?  That she is black?  That she drives a green 1992 Honda Accord?  That she talks to her car each morning on the way into work as if it were an old but unreliable friend she must coax into making its way just one more time down Rock Creek Parkway?  That she is a king?

That’s right, she is a king.  In 2008 (though by that time she had lived in the United States for 29 years and had long since become an American citizen), Peggielene Bartels received an entirely unexpected midnight call from her African homeland of Ghana.  Through an ancient ritual involving the pouring of special libations at a sacred shrine, it had been determined that “the ancestors” had selected her to be the new king of her native Otuam.

King Peggy is the true story of Peggielene Bartels’ ensuing relationship with her subjects and her native land.  It is also this year’s One Maryland One Book.  One Maryland One Book is the program of the Maryland Humanities Council in which people all across the state read the same book at the same time.  For six years now, I have read each and every One Maryland One Book, and I have to tell you, this year’s selection tells a story unlike anything I have ever read before.

King Peggy is at once a fairy tale come true, a study in human nature and the uses and abuses of power, and an inspirational (and often very funny) story of what one person with good intentions, strong faith, and a heart of gold can achieve.  For however appealing the prospect of waking up one day to find yourself the ruler of a foreign land, the reality, inevitably, turns out to be something less … and, in some ways, more … than a storybook romance.

When Peggielene returns to Otuam for her enthronement, she begins to suspect that the real reason her royal council has accepted the ancestors’ choice for king is that its members—coming from a culture where men traditionally hold sway over women—believe her selection means they can continue to use the fees and taxes they collect from Peggy’s subjects to feather their own nests.  For years now they have bamboozled Peggy’s weak and ineffectual predecessor, in the process enriching themselves while leaving the people of Otuam poor and dispirited.  But even as a secretary, Peggielene Bartels was never one to suffer fools gladly, and it turns out that being king hasn’t changed her attitude toward that particular type one little bit.

If you liked Alexander McCall Smith’s novels featuring the famed Botswanan lady detective, Mma Ramotswe, you’ll love King Peggy, for she is the real thing.

Bill Peak writes a monthly article for the Star-Democrat about working at the Talbot County Free Library. Thank you, Bill, for allowing us to reprint this in our blog—and for your thoughts about our 2013 One Maryland One Book Selection.


Life Lessons from King Peggy to a Twenty-Year-Old

Monday, August 26th, 2013

King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village is truly a read for both young and old, but what about the sometimes-forgotten-Generation Y? The late-teens to twenty-something’s of the world sometimes feel lost in the hustle-and-bustle of a book for all ages, but as not-kids-but-not-yet-total-adults, we arguably have the most to gain from King Peggy. The book teaches valuable life lessons to us kids in transition, and here are just a few lessons to learn from King Peggy to keep in mind as we struggle to find our paths into the future…

1.    Go forward, go humbly.
The story of a secretary in one night becoming King is amazing, but what makes King Peggy a household name, what keeps her story alive, and what is truly stunning is her humility. It seems that people are just as interested in her day-to-day life as they are in her kingship. She’s a king, but she kept her job as a secretary, filing papers and scheduling appointments? She chooses to live in her one-bedroom apartment, wear normal clothes, even wake up for her 9-5 job just like the rest of us? Well, yes. When she returns to her village, the people cook for her, clean for her, bow to her (even though she would rather they not, as she would rather them be comfortable so they can address the real issues), but she takes part in this for only one month of the year. As we see photos and videos of her walking the streets and sitting with her people in Otuam, she says that she did not become a King to sit in a palace, but “I want to pamper my people, not them pamper me,” says King Peggy in an interview with CNN. In that same interview, when asked what she wants the little girls who are watching to take away from this conversation, the first thing she says is, “I would like to advise them to be humble…because you don’t know where you will be in the future.”

2.    Take a leap.
One minute a secretary, the next a King. While this duty is rightfully hers, King Peggy had to make the tough decision to take on this task that most people would have brushed off as crazy, or too arduous to tackle. King Peggy had been working at the Ghanaian embassy as a secretary for thirty years when she got a call at 4:00am one morning that she could rule. Of course she never dreamed that this would happen, but she says, “I realized that on this earth, we all have a calling. We have to be ready to accept it because helping my people has really helped me a lot to know that I can really touch their lives,” adding “I would have really regretted it if I hadn’t accepted this calling.” So, here’s to those opportunities that pop up that we never thought we would consider…Take a chance, see where it leads. This is a time of life exploration so nothing is final, but, who knows, you could end up a king…or have Queen Latifah portray you in a movie.

3.    Be strong.
King Peggy faces obstacles as a ruler that we can only begin to grasp. The male chauvinism that she faced forced her to break down convention and reinvent the world’s idea of a King. She has brought consideration and compassion to her position, as she did not just inherit a kingdom; King Peggy was chosen to rule a lively and beautiful, yet impoverished, African village so that she could make a better life for the people—she is not allocating gold in Europe, she is currently working on bringing up-to-date toilets to Otuam. With wisdom, faith, and a stalwart moral compass, she has inspired countless people both in her village and touched by her story. Sometimes, our generation is overlooked, told to just get by in these trying times, to do what we are told in order to get further in life. It is time to trust the lessons King Peggy can teach us, and know that staying true to yourself, and even making some waves along the way, will be the sign of someone who will truly reach success. King Peggy truly believes that we must be morally strong, because if we are doing the best we can for our lives, life will be good to us. So have conviction, do what you believe is right, and life will give you all it has to offer.

4.    “If you give, you begin to live.”
I wish I could take credit for this catchy and prolific phrase, but I am glad to attribute it to my favorite artist, Dave Matthews, also a (South) African Native. Not to get quote-happy, but this could not be more perfectly aligned with King Peggy as she says, “I have to really work hard to help my people. I have to give myself to people to better their lives.” As a transitioning kid-to-adult, one can only imagine how many times I hear “Oh, you’re a Government and Politics major! So what do you want to do with that?” My everyday interviewers seem to think my response of “I don’t know, change the world?” is kitschy and cute, when, in fact, it is my all-too-real, lofty yet (possibly?) attainable light at the end of the tunnel that I tirelessly hope to continue working toward each day. King Peggy changes the world through her work in Otuam, by spending her only vacation time there, by waking up at 1:00am every day to call and check in on her people, and, perhaps most importantly, by sharing her story. I can only dream to give back as much as she has one day, I can only hope to impact people’s lives in this profound way, and I can only ask that Generation Y, Generation X, The Golden Generation, and everyone above and in between, join in giving a bit of ourselves each day, so that we all may begin to live.


Taylor Jachman

Taylor Jachman is a rising junior at the University of Maryland College Park where she studies government and politics.  Taylor served Maryland Humanities Council this summer at MHC as one of two Walter Sondheim Maryland Nonprofit Leadership interns, supporting both development and communications. King Peggy:  An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman is the 2013 One Maryland One Book.  Click here to learn more.


Asking Questions, Seeking Answers: Your Local Library May Just Transform the World

Monday, July 29th, 2013

by Morgan Miller, Elkton Central Library Branch Manager

Libraries don’t just answer questions, they ask them. They are the primary gathering places of the community and often, as in Cecil County, the only source of free educational and cultural learning opportunities. Libraries help their users formulate difficult questions that can ultimately lead to life changing answers.

Recently, our county has been talking about questions asked by a local retired trauma surgeon and his wife, who sought support from the Cecil County Public Library’s Small Business Information Center to launch and grow their business of developing cutting-edge medical training technology.  After a subsequent visit to the library, they checked out Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky, and wondered if their invention might have a humanitarian application.  Soon after, they adapted their business model to train village midwives in third world countries to perform caesarean deliveries, a procedure that could drastically decrease maternal mortality rates and save millions of lives.Wandering King Peggy

Click here to find out where free copies of King Peggy are wandering.

The Maryland Humanities Council’s One Maryland One Book reading and discussion program is another perfect example of how the Cecil County Public Library helps its community discuss important questions.  Last year’s discussions of The Cellist of Sarajevo and a visit with its author Steven Galloway led a crowded room of citizens, including many teens who use the library on a daily basis, to contemplate the meaning of war and who we would become if the anchors of society were set adrift.

  • Click here to find a One Maryland One Book program or discussion statewide this fall.
  • To listen to this and other “Humanities Connection” segments, click here.

This year’s [One Maryland One Book] selection, King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman, invites us to ask even more questions—questions of culture and gender differences, as well as personal questions of how we might respond when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.  Like the wise and often funny Mma Ramotswe of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, King Peggy has a talent for solving complicated problems.  And like the book Half the Sky, her story presents us with the uplifting possibility of real change.  When I read King Peggy, I was struck by how similar her story could be to so many of our own—going about her daily life, working to make ends meet and then faced with a huge turning point that grants the opportunity to change lives.  We don’t have to be born into royalty to bring hope and transformation to town.


I’m both blessed and challenged to serve my community through the Cecil County Public Library, a dynamic organization dedicated to education, workforce, and small business development within the region.  While we don’t struggle with issues like access to clean water and medical care such as in King Peggy, we do, like other areas in the state, have many people without jobs, a high school dropout rate we’re working to improve, and too many who go to bed hungry at the end of the day.  I’m excited to share King Peggy’s story because I believe it will provoke powerful questions on the local impacts we might achieve by applying similar courage, creativity, and sacrifice.  Even more, I’m excited to see what answers we’ll discover.


The following essay by Morgan Miller, Branch Manager at the Elkton Central Library, originally aired July 8 as a segment of “Humanities Connection” on WYPR, 88.1FMKing Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman is the 2013 One Maryland One Book.  Click here to make a tax-deductible donation in support of this program.