Distinguished Alumni: Ardythe Tiesenga, Class of 1949
Amy Bode

Fifty years! 

That is how long Ardythe Tiesenga (Class of ‘49) has faithfully led the Picture Lady Program at Timothy Christian Schools. Not only has her service impacted thousands of Timothy students over the last five decades, but also the parent volunteers who have developed deep meaningful friendships and a real sense of community as a Picture Lady volunteer. 

Relationship-focused is one of Timothy’s core values and Ardythe has undoubtedly been one of the single-most driving forces of creating a community for Timothy parents. “One of the things that was very important was welcoming women who are new to Timothy,” Ardythe says. “And making sure they felt affirmed and included. And so that’s how we developed a lot of friendships.” 

So it is with deep gratitude that we honor Ardythe Tiesenga as the Distinguished Alumni of the Year. 

The Picture Lady program is the longest running program at Timothy. It all started 50 years ago on the Cicero campus. Ardythe, who is an avid painter, had volunteered at a local public school, following a program that was developed by the Art Institute of Chicago. She wanted to bring the same program to Timothy, where all 5 of her children attended. With a blueprint of the program in place, she was able to rally enough volunteers to start a Picture Lady program at Timothy for kindergarten through 6th grade. Later it included middle school. 

God made all this gorgeous color in nature. And it's like an antidote to all the grief that we go through. It's encouraging. 

“I think that art is a part of our life,” Ardythe says. “It’s almost something magical that just wants to give expression to your feelings.” 

Volunteers were central to making the program work and from the very beginning Ardythe viewed it as an opportunity to enfold new members of the community. It seemed like a simple idea, but keeping the presentation time of Picture Lady consistent made all the difference and actually helped encourage working parents to volunteer.

If you talk to Ardthe, she’ll tell you a list of names of women who have helped throughout the years (notably Phyllis Stavenger, Meredythe Poltrock, her sister, and now co-leader Karen Myers). It’s a long list of women — many of whom are still connected because of the Picture Lady program. Over the years, Ardythe encouraged the volunteers to gather for coffee,and wrap-up sessions. Preschool children were always welcome to come with their moms. They weren’t just a group of volunteers — they were a true community! 

 “When I was working as a nurse, everyone knew I had to do Picture Lady on the second Friday of the month,” Ardythe says. “We were very affirming of all the women that were working, we have had a lot of teachers who have done it, we’ve had a lawyer, an opera singer, and interior designers. They would take a brief time out of their day, leave their job, and come to school. And so they were all accommodated one way or another.”

Ardythe is a nurse by training and worked at Elmhurst Hospital for many years. But it was art where she found beauty and a deep sense of God’s love. “God made all this gorgeous color in nature,” Ardythe says. “And it’s like an antidote to all the grief that we go through. It’s encouraging.” 

The Picture Lady program’s art collection has grown over the years and includes everything from cave paintings to modern art and abstract paintings. Each volunteer gets a painting and is encouraged to research it. Then once a month, the Picture Lady (or guy) visits a classroom with a classic painting and tells the students about the artist and interprets the painting. Then they tell the students about the philosophy of the painting, where the artist lived, how they were trained.

“This isn’t just, ‘Oh look, a pretty picture,’” Ardythe explains. “It’s like a complete history lesson.” 

But the Picture Lady program is so much more than that. It’s about inspiring students with art, showing them God’s great and vast love, and developing a community with friendships that span decades — all because Ardythe Tiesenga had a vision of bringing the Picture Lady Program to Timothy Christian Schools. 

  • alumni