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January 25, 2012
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The story of George and Irma

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — George LeBard is a man of many lives.The opening line of LeBard's book, “A School for Others,” begins: “When I first arrived in Belize, March 17, 1981, as a peace corps volunteer, I was thirty-one years old and struggling to survive. My life consisted of drinking, drugs and one-night stands.”The autobiographical book documents how LeBard battled violent drug lords, ruled over rapacious internal demons, learned to get along in a culture other than his own and subdued his own emotional fears — all while founding a high school that focused on practical education in an agricultural community.Many of the chapter titles of the book are short. Most are simply one word: Empowerment, Riot, Home, Victor, Independence, Crop, Women, Fire, Rain, Invasion, Mota, Globalization, Vision, Street Fight, Premonition, The Chief, Him or Me — and finally, Chapter 66 — Irma.George and Irma LeBard disagree on how they met, but George insists his memory is the correct version of the tale.Irma giggles when she hears George make this assertion. Then she leans over and, with a spark in her eye, says, “If you ask me the whole story it will be different than what he tells you.”Her mannerism suggests she thinks her version of the story is right.Regardless, they both agree as to how the affair worked out. After a traditional courtship in which the young couple was constantly chaperoned by Irma's family, George and Irma married in 1985 in a ceremony at the Yo Creek Catholic Church in Belize.He wore a tailored suit, and she wore a traditional white wedding gown with a veil that was long in both the front and back. More than two hundred guests attended, but only one person from the groom's home — a high school teacher turned friend — was able to make the ceremony.From then on, the story of George became the story of George and Irma.In 1998, the couple and their three children moved to the United States. George was soon hired as the executive director of the Tahoe-area hunger relief agency Project MANA, and Irma began working in the human services field.For the past 13 years, the two have been active participants in the nonprofit community along Tahoe's North Shore.“You know, coming here, I didn't think I would do as much as I did. I learned a lot,” said Irma. “I learned I could do more than I thought I could do.”Irma is bilingual, and when she arrived in the region, she began translating. She translated letters from and to school teachers, court documents, medical information and the like.The work was meaningful to her and soon she discovered a place for her skills at the Parasol Tahoe Community Foundation at the Donald W. Reynolds Community Non-Profit Center in Incline Village.“I had no formal training in human services when I started,” she said. “If you don't know the rules, it's easier.”George too found fulfilling work with Project MANA. And under his leadership, the regional nonprofit blossomed.He is especially proud of his involvement with a program called FACE — the Food and Companion Exchange. The service pairs aged and homebound people with volunteers who help with basic tasks.“These people don't have anyone calling them,” George said. “When they bond with a volunteer, they pull out of their apathy.”Both George and Irma are excited about returning to Belize, although their excitement is motivated by slightly different reasons.George will embark upon a new stage in life. He wants to write more books, maybe a cookbook. Irma is looking forward to reuniting with family; she will join her sisters in managing a sugar cane farm.“George is retiring,” she said. “I still have to work.”The couple will leave behind a community they have grown to love, three adult children and a beloved, three-legged family dog.“Nope, no grandchildren,” said George, who added jokingly: “If there were, I'd never get her to leave!”

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 25, 2012 04:43PM Published Jan 25, 2012 04:39PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.