Lifetime LWVLA Members (50+ years) gather at the June Social to celebrate Wisconsin's first-in-the-nation ratification of the 19th Amendment. Back (l-r): Sharon Imes, Shirley Haas, Monica Lazere, Marilyn McElligott. Front (l-r): Signe Schroeder, Rachel Gundersen, Carol Gundersen.
Reflections of the Past 50 Years
by Sharon Imes
The League today is, in some ways, quite different from the League I joined some 50 years ago. I became a member of League when I first moved to La Crosse, after a friend recommended it as an organization I might like. The League, then, met in small study groups and I was interested in the La Crosse school system since I had one son who was starting school and expecting a second child. At that time, the schools needed help. I still remember the one of the high school science text books talked of the refrigerator as the great new invention. It was 1969! At the time the school district budget was determined by the City Council. A group of leaguers gathered together to study the problems in the school district and to work toward making it fiscally independent and to elect a board which would decide the needs of the system.
The study group was one of many – environmental issues, voters’ rights to name a few. We had child care for our meetings which typically lasted two or more hours. We also worked on fundraising and went out and solicited support from the community. With the help of Carroll Gundersen (known as senior since she had a daughter-in-law, also Carol, as a member of League too) we learned how to make calls on community leaders. Carroll was on the national board at one time. I remember her saying during training, you should not be embarrassed or afraid to ask for money for an organization in which you strongly believe.
In addition to asking for money, one of our members, Dea Oleson, talked us into selling cream puffs at the annual Oktoberfest Heritage Night and, yearly, for many years, several of us gathered at her home to make cream puffs which we kept frozen in our freezers until they were sold at the Oktoberfest event.
Because we met and socialized in the study groups and other events, we became close and good friends. Many of them remain my close friends yet today. Among them are Rachel Gundersen, Pat Roslansky, Joyce Arthur, Maureen Kinney and Ellen Frantz. There were others too who have since deceased. They were Carroll Gundersen, Jean Marck and Dee Peacock.
League is a great organization and accomplishes a lot of good. I am glad to be a member.
Remembering League Members as Local Leaders
by Joyce Arthur
I arrived in La Crosse with husband, Bob, about to start teaching at UW-L. a new baby about to join us (Sept. 6, 1969), and two black cats. With due haste, we purchased our first house ever, and the next task was to find an intellectually challenging environment in our new Midwest home.
The previous year, we had lived on Long Island, NY, and the local LWV president lived across the street. School busing, voter registration, and candidate forums were on the league docket and a new neighbor was not to be missed as a potential volunteer.
League meetings at the time were mornings, afternoons, and evenings in small (5-10 member) groups which met in members’ homes or local churchs. The morning ”units” had child care. Many of us were then stay-at-home moms and welcomed having adult conversations with other active and interesting women. Rachel Gundersen, then president was a mentor to many of us. Often Jean Marck and Bev Mach presented materials before consensus on issues. So we had some remarkable women from whom to learn and with whom to interact.
Education, Environmental Quality (particularly water, air and soil), Voter Education/ Candidate Forums, and Voter Rights studies were prominent topics. Non-partisanship for all league presentations was strictly adhered to and questions began to arise as to the extent of same for not just the board members but also members. Soon members began to run for local offices… Shirley Holman and I for the La Crosse County Board, Margaret Larson for School Board, and Sharon Imes for Mayor. Shirley Haas became the first woman La Crosse City Council member. Betty Gundersen was the first woman elected to the county board… and although a league member she was not a board member and never blinked twice about running for an elected office.
The hottest issue in 1969-70 was the establishment of an independent school board budget to be approved by an elected school board. Before this time, the education budget was part of the city council’s domain.
Newbies such as Sharon Imes and I got to work with senior and seasoned Leaguers such as Marian Ramlow and Peg Fish. They were an indomitable and dogged team for the city “fathers” to face!
Personally, membership in the LWV led to lifelong friendships. We learned, worked, and took action together and had a great time meeting and strategizing for a couple hours every other week from September until May. I can still remember who came, what interested them, as well as their perspectives on various issues. League was a great introduction on how to organize, how to present material for action (resolutions for local government), how to run a meeting, and most of all... how to get present material such that folks not interested in the same issues, whether the general public or the media, would pay attention and help promote our positions.
It has been a good run and I am proud to say the LWV does a fantastic job…. and half a century later, I still find it a vibrant group!
Joyce Arthur (then referred to in the membership book as Mrs. Robert Arthur)!