Richard Jaeggi. Photo by Julie Wiatt.
BY BILL BROWN
[UPDATED 5/28/14] Richard Jaeggi, community activist, Gandhi Brigade Youth Media founder and executive director, and former Voice columnist, passed away Saturday morning, May 25, due to complications after surgery. Jaeggi fell ill over the May 10-11 weekend and underwent surgery for a brain tumor the following Tuesday, according to Jaeggi family statements. He was 60.
Founded in 2005 the non-profit Gandhi Brigade uses “video and other digital media as a tool to engage young people in the life of their community and to use the power of communication to transform the world,” according to the website.
Richard Jaeggi. Photo by Diana Kohn.
In his Gandhi Brigade bio Jaeggi wrote, “Before devoting myself full time to the building of the Gandhi Brigade I ran several community technology centers in Washington DC. I have made a living as a cabinet maker, a carpenter, a network administrator, a construction employment trainer, and as a cook on an oil supply boat. I spent two years in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer where I met my wife.
“I like to make things, swim, ride my bicycle on the local trails, and throw goofy parties that often involve fire. I am married to Yoshiko Zenfuku and have three children, Lisa, Daniel, and Isaac. I have lived in Silver Spring for 16 years and care deeply about my community.” Born in New Brunswick, NJ, he moved to the Washington DC region in 1986.
Prior to the Gandhi Brigade he worked in Washington DC in the field of community technology; first at For Love of Children where he set up the New Technology Center and then at the Howard University Center for Urban Progress where he set up technology centers at Cardozo High School and the Park Morton housing complex. After earning a Masters degree in Religious Studies he served in Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer where he helped build village water systems. He met his wife Yoshiko there.
Yoshiko and Richard Jaeggi. Photo by Isaac Jaeggi.
He took a four year sabbatical as a self-employed cabinetmaker and a stint as a network administrator. He was also the director of Tallahassee Habitat for Humanity and later a co-founder of Skill Builders, a construction training program at Manna.
He was active in civic and church groups: the Christ Congregational Church Board of Social Witness – as co-chair (’08-’10), the Silver Spring Town Center Steering Committee (’01-’05), the Presidents Council of Silver Spring Civics Associations, as coordinator (’01-’03)
He was also a member of the Town Center Working Group (’00), vice president of the Indian Spring Civic Association vice president (’99-’03), member of the Community, Arts, and Facilities subcommittee of the Silver Spring Steering Committee (’97), member of the Economic Subcommittee of the Silver Spring Development Steering Committee (’96), and co-founder of the Silver Spring Neighborhood Arts Project (’95).
Jaeggi with the “Book of Turf” he made for people to say their goodbyes to the artificial turf. The turf was a temporary covering until the Silver Spring community center and plaza could be built, but the public grew to love it. Photo by Julie Wiatt.
Jaeggi wrote a Voice column about his home town Silver Spring “The Big Acorn.” He ended the column around the time he got involved in youth issues and the Gandhi Brigade.
In his August 2005 column entitled “Three Heroes” he wrote about his rolemodels. “And so it is that I, a man entering the last third of his life, continue to steer my life, for better or worse, according to the patterns set by this odd pantheon of heroes: a terrorist, a madman, and a religious fanatic.”
He admired Robin Hood, he said, for his “audacity wit, and a flagrant disregard for authority.” His “madman” hero was “Señor Don Quixote, who determined that the only life worth living was one of uncompromising service to the highest ideals.”
But Mahatma Gandhi had a “place of honor in my pantheon of heroes.” He wrote,”Gandhi a pacifist, was anything but passive. He was a warrior pure and simple—and a fighter for truth and justice.”
A memorial service to celebrate his life and honor his memory will be held Saturday, June 7th, 10:00 AM at Christ Congregational Church in Silver Spring, 9525 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD. In a statement posted on the Ghandi Brigade’s Facebook page the family said they will attend the Gandhi Brigade’s Youth Media Festival this Saturday, May 31, and ask “those who feel moved to come participate, donate or just enjoy the event that my father worked so hard to organize for his community and it’s youth should please feel free to do so.”
Word of his passing spread across Facebook over the 3-day weekend. At-large county councilmember Marc Elrich posted the news on his page, calling Jaeggi “a tireless champion for children” and a “wonderful advocate.”
Photo by Isaac Jaeggi.
Elrich wrote “I don’t think I ever saw him not smiling, and he was infectiously enthusiastic and passionate about this labor of love he’d embarked on.”
He notes Jaeggi’s party-with-fire aspect, also “And then there was the amazing ball of fire making it’s way through this Rube Goldberg contraption he and his buddies made, that marked the New Year with a glorious fire that went off in the back yard.”
Jaeggi’s and the Ghandi Brigade’s Facebook pages filled with posts expressing sorrow, shock, and homage.