FLAGS, FLOWERS AND PHILOSOPHY – A street view of Suzi and Dave Van Ness’s Newport home, where she changes inspirational signs she creates every Friday to raise spirits during the pandemic.

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IT IS EASY to lose track of time since the Covid-19 pandemic forced drastic changes in the lives of Americans. But one way to count the weeks in Newport is by the inspirational signs that Suzi Van Ness posts every Friday in the big picture window of her Fifth Ward home.

Sign Number 7 made its on-time appearance May 15, and reflects the grit of Amelia Earhart, the record-setting aviator and feminist, who remains in the popular mind as a 39-year-old pioneer – her age when her plane vanished 83 years ago.

The quotation Van Ness opted to use and attributed to Earhart:

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”

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Since What’s Up Newp last updated our chronicles of her window-billboard displays, Van Ness has posted three other messages:

  • “Dancing is the poetry of the foot.” – John Dryden.
  • “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”  – John Wooden.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou.
A RECORD-SETTING aviator and an early feminist, Amelia Earhart disappeared in a round-the-world flight in 1937. She was 39, and her fate remains a mystery.

AMELIA EARHART, posted May 15

“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”

Van Ness began her displays April 3, determined to lift the spirts of those walking or driving by her and her husband, David’s home at 65 Carroll Ave., a busy street passing Murphy Field near Rogers High School that ends at Ocean Drive.

Van Ness’s latest choice reflects Earhart’s fierce determination to advance the horizons of women, as well as aviation, which in the early decades of the 20th Century still was in its formative stages.

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean on a trip from Canada to Northern Ireland. That also made her the first woman or man to fly across the Atlantic Ocean two times. 

There were many other “firsts.” She was the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States, coast-to-coast, and she was the first person fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, crossing the Pacific Ocean to Oakland, California.

The irony of her challenge to naysayers, reflected in the quotation posted by Van Ness, is her final – and interrupted – flight in 1937, a tragedy combined with mystery that immortalized her. 

AMELIA EARHART, in a 1923 photograph for her pilot’s license. CREDIT: Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons license.

Earhart was attempting the longest around-the-world flight to date in a twin-engine plane, accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan. They had completed the bulk of their route by July 2, when they left New Guinea for tiny Howland Island, a 2,556-mile flight. From there, Earhart and Noonan planned to fly to Honolulu, followed by a July Fourth Pacific crossing to Oakland, California, where the trip began May 20.

The last radio signals were received from her plane by the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which had been positioned off the Pacific’s Howland Island to support the flight, including providing radio guidance to the island. Final messages from the plane noted that, as expected on the long flight, they were running low on fuel. A massive 17-day search failed to find the plane, as have numerous subsequent efforts, which have added to Earhart’s legend.

“She never reached her fortieth birthday, but in her brief life, Amelia Earhart became a record-breaking female aviator whose international fame improved public acceptance of aviation and paved the way for other women in commercial flight,” says an introduction to her online biography by the National Women’s History Museum.

Asked why she chose this quotation for her latest window message –whether because of the theme or because she admires Earhart – Suzi Van Ness says: “Actually, both.” A retired art teacher, Van Ness creates the signs at her home studio.

JOHN DRYDEN was England’s first poet laureate.

JOHN DRYDEN, posted on May 8

“Dancing is the poetry of the foot.”

Dryden was the United Kingdom’s first poet laureate. A playwright and critic, he died in 1700 at the age of 68.

“What better way to describe dancing!” Van Ness says of her selected quotation.

JOHN WOODEN was the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins championship basketball teams and was widely respected in the sports world and beyond for his views on success.

JOHN WOODEN, posted May 1

“Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

A legendary basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, and a record that included 88 consecutive winning games. Wooden’s insights and philosophy into personal and professional success were widely admired within and beyond the sports world. He died in 2010 at age 99.

“I think it’s a good reminder to work with what we have and not get stuck on things we can’t control,” Van Ness says of her selected quotation.

MAYA ANGELOU was a poet, civil rights leader and author. She read her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President Bill Clinton. 

MAYA ANGELOU, posted April 24

“Try and be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

Angelou was a poet, civil rights advocate, actress and author of books, including a memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” During the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, she recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” She died in 2014 at the age of 86.

The quotation is from the introduction to her 2008 book of essays “Letter To My Daughter,” a consciously ironic title since she had a son, but no daughter. The book focused on advice to women for whom Angelou was a role model.

Van Ness, who heard Angelou give a talk at Salem State College, describes her as “an amazing woman.”

NUMBER 7 in a series of weekly postings in the window of Suzi and Dave Van Ness’ home at 65 Carroll Ave. in Newport, which are intended to raise the spirits of passersby during the Covid-19 crisis.

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