News - Ivan and Kathie Filby Become American Citizens

Ivan and Kathie Filby Become American Citizens

Written by Dave Bell

Filby Citizenship 1Though they’ll never lose their accents – his endearing British inflections and her lilting Irish brogue – Ivan and Kathie Filby recently exchanged their ties with their homeland to become American citizens.

The president and first lady of Greenville College were under no compulsion to make the change, but simply felt that the time was right to solidify their ties with the land where they’ve lived and worked for more than a decade.

“We have solid passports and could’ve remained here as residents,” said Ivan. “But we decided that we wanted to identify with this country. It was a significant move, and not something we took lightly.”

For Kathie, readying herself for U.S. citizenship was a process.

“We’ve lived here for more than 10 years,” she said, “but it seemed to take me a long time to be comfortable here. In the early years, I needed to get back to Ireland every year. At some point during the past couple years, though, this started to feel like home in a way that it hadn’t for the first several years.”

Her ties to Greenville were growing, too. During Ivan’s first several years here, he served as business professor and dean of the Greenville College School of Business. Then, in 2012, he accepted a position as dean of the business school at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif. As they prepared to leave Greenville to move west, Kathie discovered that “the thought of leaving Greenville was incredibly distressing.”

Then, the following year, when Ivan was selected to return to Greenville College as president, she was overjoyed.

 “Ten years ago, when we were leaving Ireland, our pastor in Dublin told us that he felt the Lord was sending us to the U.S. as missionaries,” Kathie recalled. “We thought that was a nice thing for him to say, but we’d never thought of ourselves as missionaries; that sounds too grand. After living here for a time, we do have a sense that we’re called here. And what better way to celebrate that calling than to become citizens.”

For Ivan, the prospect of becoming a citizen began to crystalize when he delivered a Memorial Day speech in Greenville in May of 2014. In that address, he thanked American troops for helping to defend England during World War II.

“This was really not your war,” he told the crowd that Memorial Day, “but yet, part of the greatness of your country is that you have allowed your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, to be in military combat far from your soil.

“I became enormously grateful for the sacrifice and the gallantry of the American service men and women who gave themselves to bring freedom to my little turf in England.”

Filby Citizenship 2In recalling that Memorial Day, Ivan said that he “fell in love with this country in a new way.” He added: “In the process of thanking people, I suddenly realized that this is a really, really impressive country. And it moved from feeling thankful to wanting to be part of it.”

Thus, the decision was made – they were going to pursue citizenship. That process involved getting their paperwork in order, but also required them to study for an exam on American history and the structure of the government.

“In preparing for the examination, I became more aware of American history and key people than I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” said Kathie. “I now understand more about how the nation was formed.”

Ivan was struck by the ideological underpinnings of the U.S.

“The amazing thing about the United States and its constitution is that it was a nation founded on an idea – the idea of freedom, of possibility, purpose and self-government,” he said. “That’s remarkable; and very compelling.”

The Filbys’ two children – both born in the Republic of Ireland – are attending college in the U.S.  Samuel is a senior at Seattle Pacific, and Katie is a junior at Azusa Pacific. Katie has already become a U.S. citizen and Samuel is preparing to take that step soon.

Though the Filbys consider the process that led them to citizenship an educational and legal experience, the actual ceremony, which took place on Oct. 16 in O’Fallon, was much more emotional than they’d anticipated.

They went through the ceremony with 76 others, representing 29 countries, with the age of the participants ranging from 21 to 79. Because of the size of the group, the ceremony was held in a hotel ballroom rather than in a courtroom.

In the audience of about 300 watching the ceremony were several people from Greenville, including the Filbys’ pastor and his wife, the Rev. Doug and Margie Newton; Lisa Stephens, district chaplain of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and Annie Rice, Greenville College alum.

“The part I hadn’t anticipated came when the judge asked every new citizen to say a little bit about themselves – where they’re from and what citizenship means to them,” Ivan said.

“It was a very touching moment, and even Kathie became emotional when she stood up to speak. She was honoring the Lord for bringing us here and recognizing the struggle that some people had gone through to get here. She was caught off guard emotionally, and found it difficult to finish.”

Two things, in particular, struck Ivan during the ceremony.

“It was amazing how many people felt called here by God. I never would’ve thought that sentiment would come out in a ceremony like this, but many of them praised God for allowing that day to be possible.

“And the other thing that stood out was the struggles some of them had gone through prior to coming to the United States. They viewed becoming a citizen as a moment that changes their destiny in many ways; in fact, for some it had been a dream for generations in their family. It was very powerful. And I found myself leaving the ceremony very proud of the country we have now associated ourselves with.”

With the ceremony over and the naturalization process complete, Ivan hopes that the message of their new citizenship is clear.

“We hope that this says to our external constituents that we want to stay here,” he said. “We see ourselves as part of this country now. We want to be here for the long term.”

This story was published on November 25, 2015

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