Q. Tell us about your family.
A. My parents live in St. Paul, MN, as does my brother, Tom, and his wife and their six children. We spend a lot of time going to athletic games and theater events thanks to my talented nieces and nephews. My weekends give me great diversion! My younger brother, Joe, invented a cool retractable leash for dogs called the SmartLeash™. It has a braking mechanism that works like a seatbelt when a dog lurches at something like a squirrel. He won an award for best pet product of the year a few years ago. It’s saved my little dog a couple of times when she tried chasing loud cars and motorcycles. Both of my brothers are in the pet industry. (Tom has a five-state sales territory for a company that is based in Rhode Island.)
Q. How did you get involved with Billings?
A. Dr. John Billings spoke at a conference at a Catholic university near St. Cloud, MN, back in 1972. The local diocesan bishop, George Speltz, was in the audience, and he decided to bring the Billings Method™ to the Diocese of St. Cloud. He asked his family life director for someone he could send to a training. Fr. Ed Kraemer knew my parents, Dave and Kay Ek, as active volunteers and a couple who were committed to Church teaching. My mother was hesitant to commit because she had three fairly young children at the time. So, she and my dad said a rosary novena. Well, you can imagine that pretty much cemented the decision. Mary Hughes and her husband were another couple from the area who coordinated the marriage prep program. They joined my parents for the training in New Orleans, LA. The trainer was Mercedes Wilson, who developed the stickers we use today.
The two women had no idea until years later that it was the first-ever training held in the United States. Practically as soon as my mother returned to St. Cloud and word spread about this new method, it took off like wildfire. We would travel to various parishes on the weekends at the invitation of the pastors. It was fun as kids to have an adventure every weekend.
My mother was on a few national boards over the years. Throughout high school and college, I helped in the office. Eventually, I was working full-time with the local diocese. Then, in 1996, my mom was elected president of BOMA-USA. We had permission to house BOMA under the auspices of the St. Cloud diocesan NFP office. I was juggling a full-time position as NFP coordinator and the additional work of the national organization on top of that. Back in those days, the St. Cloud marriage prep course brought in huge numbers of new Billings clients each year. We sometimes had a 50% acceptance rate after a marriage prep weekend. I was doing a lot of the marriage prep instruction and follow-ups in addition to the other work. It was crazy! At the end of 2000, we decided to separate the national organization from the diocese. That’s when I became the first executive director, which was in January of 2001.
Q. What have been some of the highlights of your work?
A. Drs. John and Lyn Billings invited my parents and me to join them at their summer residence, about an hour outside of Melbourne, one year following a conference in Melbourne, Australia. It was Holy Week, and we will never forget getting up at 3 a.m. to drive down a long, winding, and narrow mountain path to get to an Easter Vigil Mass in a country parish. Afterward, there was a bonfire, and we had sweet rolls and tea in the rectory. We later learned that we were their last guests before they sold that home. We also visited their home in Melbourne a couple of times and had meals together. One evening they took us to a lovely restaurant where Dr. John ordered appetizers that included caviar. That was when my dad discovered he was very allergic to caviar! Dr. John quipped, “The next time you go to the doctor and they ask you what you are allergic to, you can say caviar!"
When visiting with the Drs. Billings, I found them to always be very interested in the work that was being done in the U.S., particularly in St. Cloud because our numbers were higher than anywhere in the country. They had a great sense of humor. I remember laughing with them a lot.
Drs. John and Lyn were guests of ours in St. Cloud more than once. In fact, they stayed in our home.
Q. That is fascinating that you had the Drs. Billings stay in your home. Have you had any other famous people in the NFP world as your guests?
A. Yes! Mostly the others were over for dinner and didn’t actually stay overnight. Some of them included Dr. Erik Odeblad of Umea, Sweden; Dr. Josef Roetzer of Austria (who developed the Sympto-Thermal Method); Dr. Hanna Klaus of Maryland (TeenSTAR developer); Marian and Jim Corkill of WOOMB in Melbourne, Australia; Dr. Mary Martin of Oklahoma; Dr. Richard Fehring of Wisconsin; Dr. Ruth Taylor (now deceased); Fr. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M, Cap. (a now-deceased theologian); Mary Pat Van Epps of Memphis, TN; Eileen Wood of Massachusetts (among other past and present board members along with quite a few others over the years.
Another highlight for me was having the privilege of meeting Saint John Paul II three times. The first time, my parents and I were invited to a private Mass in the papal summer residence outside of Rome. We were there at the invitation of Mercedes Wilson, whose daughter was being married the following day. She and the pope were good friends, so he offered a special Mass the day before the wedding. Another time, I presented the Holy Father a copy of the first edition of the book by BOMA called A Preachable Message. The next evening, we had a message waiting for us at the convent where we were staying, telling us that we were invited to Mass in his private chapel. There were about 35 of us. It was such a privilege!
Q. What have been some of the challenges with your work?
A. The ebb and flow of money throughout the years has been a challenge. I know this work is God’s work so I choose to trust that He will continue to help us. It’s exciting that we have added Craig Turczynski as our new Director of Development and Strategic Planning. He has great vision for our future. I am very hopeful having him be a part of the BOMA team.
Another challenge is some of the bias against the Billings Method™ that we have faced. I, like others, wish we had more published studies to confirm the effectiveness rates that we know are true. One time I was at a conference in Milwaukee, and the editor of a major medical journal was at the podium. Someone posed the question, “Why aren’t there more published studies on the Billings Method™?” His answer was a shrug and, “Well, we all know the Billings Method™ works!” I remember his words exactly. It felt great to hear him say that as I was sitting next to a colleague from another NFP method who tended to misrepresent our statistics.
BOMA-USA provides education and training for The Billings Ovulation Method® which is a natural method of fertility management that teaches you to recognize the body's natural signs of fertility.