Laurie Cooper of the League of Women Voters of the Pasadena Area took her place among national role models when she accepted the 2015 Older American of the Year Award for Sierra Madre at a celebration on May 8, 2015.
The award is part of Older Americans Month, which was begun 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy to celebrate contributions to our communities and nation by people 65 and older. The federal Administration on Community Living (ACL) supports and encourages Older Americans Month. This year the theme, “Get into the Act,” recognizes how older adults are taking charge of their health, getting engaged in their communities, and making a positive impact in the lives of others.
Laurie, 97 (she received word of the award on her birthday), got into the act right after college and never left. She has been committed to community service her entire adult life. “She epitomizes a lifetime spent as a caring, responsible, and active citizen,” says Fran Garbaccio, a winner of the award in 2010.
Continuing to host the East Unit of the League of Women Voters of Pasadena Area each month, Laurie is a lifelong League member who has promoted collaboration between citizen groups and city government. “Laurie has spent countless hours speaking with thoughtful precision to the city council, city commission, and other community groups on behalf of issues she felt impacted the health, beauty, and responsible operation of our community,” reports the Mountain Views News.
She encourages all people to learn, listen, speak carefully, and work together for mutual solutions, according to her nomination by the Sierra Madre Environmental Coalition (SMEAC). As president of SMEAC for twelve years, she sustained its homegrown recycling center begun when recycling was a new concept and which won an award in 1985 as the best recycling center in Southern California. Not only did this award bring acclaim, it also brought the city significant savings in its efforts to meet government-required refuse diversion, according to the Mountain Views News. She also took an active role in the creation and stewardship of Bailey Canyon Wilderness Park, as well as serving as a docent for SMEAC’s Nature Awareness program in the schools.
Before moving to Sierra Madre in the late 1940s, Laurie worked for a company that built an oil pipeline from the Arctic to the Yukon during World War II. After nine months in the Arctic, she worked for the Red Cross in Santa Monica, Hawaii, Guam, and Kwajalein, a small island that housed the command centers for the Bikini Atoll atom bomb tests. Sent next to Germany, she met and married Dick Cooper, a civilian working for the Army. They honeymooned in Czechoslovakia, after which she worked at the Army Supply Depot during the Berlin airlift.
Her home is filled with treasures and maps from her travels to 66 countries and every continent except Antarctica. “She’s an amazing woman who has been an active member of Philanthropic Educational Organization for 75 years,” says Sharon Mullenix, past president of LWV Pasadena Area. “She just keeps going and going.”
Photo by Jacquie Pergola for the Mountain Views News.
When I joined the League of Women Voters 32 years ago, the first thing I did was volunteer to present the pros and cons of the ballot measures. I thought it would be a great way to learn more about the ballot measures and help me overcome my fear of public speaking. I was successful on both counts.
Not only did I overcome my fear of public speaking, my continued volunteer work in the League helped me grow in many other ways. My League experience has taught important skills such as teamwork, diplomacy, project management, event planning and budgeting – all of which have enhanced my professional career over the years.
I owe a lot to the League in terms of my personal and professional growth, but also in terms of the long-lasting friendships with the wonderful, intelligent and dedicated individuals I have met over the years. It has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life.
Yes, it’s true that many of us join the League because we believe deeply in voter rights and voter education. As the daughter of a high school civics teacher, that’s certainly a big part of why I joined the League. But the issue I am most passionate about is education.
This is why I was so pleased to get involved with the LWVUS study on The Federal Role in Education a few years ago. As a local League education chair, I helped our League study that issue so we’d be ready for the consensus questions. A highlight of my League life was attending national convention and confirming their board vote to support the positions that came out of that study. So, you can imagine how thrilled I am to now be preparing for LWVC’s upcoming study on Public Higher Education in California. I feel like I’m just tying on my track shoes one more time for this other fascinating study on education.
Other Leaguers are as passionate as I am about other issues, like water, housing, and juvenile justice. A strength of the League is that we have a vehicle for joining with others who have interests and expertise in various issues, and that we can use that vehicle to help all the people in California learn about these issues that are so important to the health of our state.
Nicole Williams, a new LWVSF member, lets us in on her motivations for joining the League. Thank you for sharing your story, Nicole; we’re lucky to have you!
“There are many issues I want to spend my life addressing–violence against women, pay equity, public education, equal access, welfare and poverty, mass incarceration, structural racism and sexism, military reform, homophobia and heterosexism, freedom of information, the role of the media, and the list goes on.
Caring about so many intersecting social issues means that It is not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems we face in this country and the many paths there are to tackling them. Two years out of graduate school, I was feeling particularly disconnected from the social justice work I had embraced during my 6 years of higher education in journalism, social work and women’s studies. Then, I received an email about volunteering for the League of Women Voters. It hit me.
The one thing that has and will always connect the complex and evolving set of issues I care about is the political process. I have voted in every election since I turned 18, not only out of respect for our foremothers who risked their lives and livelihood for our right to be full citizens, but because I believe deeply in my ability and that of others to affect change through voting.
One of my favorite authors, Audre Lorde, wrote: “Your silence will not protect you.” Democracy depends on our voices. When wading through the multitude of information and misinformation put out during local, state and national elections, the League has always been a touchstone for me. Its willingness to stand against the pressures of lobbyists and provide visible and vocal leadership through its voting resources, endorsements, campaigns and participation in political forums mirrors my own commitment to never shutting up when something needs to be said nor sitting down when something needs to be done.
I can’t wait to get started as a volunteer and support an organization that has been a guiding light for me and many others.”
Generations of Public Service: A Pioneering Spirit
The League's foundational commitment to thoughtful politics and a well managed government align with my beliefs, career and heritage.
I am often asked why I joined the League of Women Voters. The question has always struck me as funny because I find it hard to imagine a more natural fit. I joined the League of Women Voters of Glendale Burbank in 2011 and I spent several years working on redistricting in California. The League was always a champion for the reform our system needed. More deeply, the League's foundational commitment to thoughtful politics and a well managed government align with my beliefs, career and heritage.
My family prides itself on public service. My mother served as a policy analyst turned elementary school teacher and my father pioneered innovative new sources of local water supplies. My great grandmother was also a trailblazer in California, as one of the first women to graduate from Cal and then an early (albeit failed) candidate for state assembly. Today, we face a different set of problems but the underlying challenge of making democracy work has not changed. I'd argue that the work of the League is more needed than ever.
My hometown of Los Angeles serves as an ideal example. Outside groups from around the country pour millions of dollars into school board races but turnout barely reaches the double digits. Such apathy and cynicism is beyond tragic. In my work as a Director of the Los Angeles Education Partnership, I have seen firsthand how inequality of opportunity eats at the heart of our democracy. That experience has solidified my belief that we urgently need a new progressive movement to engage voters that is grounded in the League's timeless principles of political reform and well managed government.
Consider the current state of education. Today’s public schools would be largely familiar to my great-grandmother. She would find that the professional bureaucracy put in place during the original progressive era still forms the backbone of our government’s organizational infrastructure. She would find public comment periods still taking place in person and government regulations still driven by the logic of physical documentation. Combined with the all too familiar pattern to “do more with less” in the aftermath of the Great Recession, this stasis creates a compelling case for innovation in government.
These ideas may strike some as boldly new. Yet that pioneering spirit couldn't be more Californian -- a point I make in my (ponderous throat clearing) book A New California Dream. That's why I joined League, why I feel honored to serve on the state board, and why being a part of this organization seems so natural. Every generation must earn the privileges of democracy, and as an Atwater, I intend to do my part.
Getting Started in League: What an Education! What an Impact!
I became a member of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco (LWVSF) in 1977, almost immediately after graduating from the CORO Women’s Program. The CORO program is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to train “ethical, diverse civic leaders nationwide.”
I took the CORO training because I was very interested in pursuing a career in governmental policy. However, I still had four children at home. Joining the League as a volunteer rather than working in the public sector provided a terrific education for me. Fortunately for me as it turned out, there were several studies underway, one of which was the Water Study of the League of Women Voters of California (LWVC). The study was completed in 1979 and led to the Water Position that is still guiding League action on the state level.
Local, Regional, State Leadership
During my presidency of the LWVSF (1979-81), California was in a water crisis—very similar to the situation we see today. A drought-prone state with the largest population in the U. S. will always find managing water resources a challenge. After completing my term as president, I found that the Water Study had captured my interest. I became active with the LWV Bay Area Water Committee, and later served with Polly Smith as LWVC Water Co-Director, carrying the water portfolio for the LWVC. I still carry the portfolio of off-board Program Director for Water for the LWVC. Polly (LWV Marin County) is deceased but I still miss her sage advice and our long talks about water issues of all sorts.
During the 1980s, Polly and I attended the sessions of California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which has the power to set flow standards for the San Francisco—Sacramento/San Joaquin Bay Delta. Our League water position calls for strong environmental protections to ensure enough freshwater flows to the Bay-Delta to sustain the health of this largest estuary on the West Coast. The State Board hearings were important since it is this arena in which the standards are set. Consequently, Polly and I spent many hours in Sacramento.
Those of us concerned with the need to protect the environment of the Bay-Delta estuary argued before the SWRCB that the large freshwater diversions for agricultural and urban users should be cut back. During the long and complex history of these water battles before the SWRCB, there were several attempts to reach consensus among the stakeholder interests—urban, agricultural, and environmental. One of these consensus attempts led to the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the urban water agencies and environmental interests. The MOU was signed in 1991 and created a list of Best Management Practices for urban water conservation that urban water agency signatories agreed to implement, under certain conditions. I was part of those negotiations, which led to the formation of the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC). I served on the Steering Committee for the CUWCC as the representative of the LWVC for many years, and was succeeded by Wendy Phillips.
- HIGHLIGHT: Roberta was recognized as a "2012 Excellence Award Winner" by the CUWCC.
Another resource-intensive arena in which I was active was the CALFED Bay-Delta process and the Council which oversaw the process. This state-federal council was formed in 1995, again as a result of intense negotiations over how much freshwater would flow through the Bay-Delta to the ocean. The Council included representatives of state and federal agencies and stakeholders from agricultural, urban, and environmental sectors. I represented the LWVC and was part of the environmental bloc.
To explain, CALFED was an effort to coordinate the many state (CAL) and federal (FED) agencies that have a role in managing California’s water resources. The goal was to produce a comprehensive water management plan for the state. In 2000, this work culminated in a Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD approved a long-term plan for restoring ecological health and improving water management in the Bay-Delta system.
The CALFED process has since morphed into the current attempt to forge another agreement on how to manage California’s water resources. In late 2009, a water legislation package was the result.
What is Happening Today?
To implement this legislation, a gigantic many-billion dollar water bond is expected to go before the voters in November of 2014. The LWVC at this minute is examining how we might provide objective information on the water bond’s complex issues that will confront the voters in November. We also hope that several local Leagues will sponsor educational forums on the water bond. As you can see, issues on water management will always be an important part of the League’s work. Learn more on our water page.
What About Fame and Fortune on Stage?
In conclusion, I continue to be an active member of the League of Women Voters and credit the League with my education on many public issues, but particularly in the water management arena. On a final note, I took up tap dancing--a childhood dream of mine-- after completing my LWVSF presidency in the 1980s, but, alas, nothing has come of that brief fling at show biz.
Lasting Friendships: Age 95 (2013)
And now more years have passed and I am "just a member". I'll be 95 in September, so have become less able to carry on. Over the years, the communications within our League have gone from mimeograph, to cut stencils with a hand operated printer, to electric printer, to the age of computers. Hooray! Now if only the progress of the people in playing their roles as citizens were as improved (ie registering to vote and VOTING, as well as attending forums and learning about qualifications of candidates and pro-and-con presentations regarding measures presented to the voters).
As a special bonus I have met many wonderful people and made lasting friendships in this organization.
An earlier message from Evelyn: Celebrating Over 50 Years in the League: Age 89
A friend invited me to attend some meetings and, as I am a political "junkie", I went and was thoroughly "hooked". I was, at first, not used to listening and being unbiased. Since then, I have met many wonderful people and have served in several offices.
Now, at 89, I can no longer do as much as I once did. I answer the phone for our League and direct the caller to the proper person, if I cannot answer the question. I send out dues notices, collect them from our post box and deposit them in the bank, then take the information to our current treasurer.
Yesterday, I attended a lunch meeting with speakers from our two cities and our Voter Service Chair. I sat there stunned as I was presented a lovely gift with the good wishes of my fellow Leaguers.
- 2007, Evelyn Lundstrom, LWV Cupertino-Sunnyvale
The League of Women Voters is a wonderful organization for men and women of all ages. No matter how much time you have available, or the skills you offer, or the experience you want to gain - you can find a home in the League! You will be appreciated for what you have to offer.
I joined League after I was married and moved to Redding, a then small town in northern California. I felt that I became much better informed about the issues locally, which was also true when we moved to Eugene, Ore. for a couple of years while my husband went to graduate school. When we moved to Chico, California I became more active, which eventually led to being the Natural Resources chair with emphasis on Land Use and Water, as well as an Observer to the Bidwell Park and Playground Commission.
Being an observer is one facet of League. Public officials hold the League in great esteem for their impartiality and in depth knowledge of issues.
What Is A League Observer?
At the time I was working, had a ten year old and my husband and I were building our careers, I felt that there was something missing. I had done all the right things; college, a stint as a VISTA (domestic Peace Corps) Volunteer, work in both the non-profit and business world, marriage, and a kid. Having been raised in a very political family, I was tracking what was going on, but I was not involved in any way in making a difference. I was leading "the unexamined life."
So I examined my life and decided that what I was doing, although perfectly fine, was not, as we say in League, "making a difference." Through friends who were already League members and working on community issues, I joined.
Yes, I was asked!
Those very same friends from thirty years ago are still my friends. We are still working together on community issues (some of the issues are the same ones as thirty years ago!) We have, together, made that all important difference many, many times. Now retired, I served a term on the State Board and returned to be President again of my local League.
League has fulfilled my desire to contribute; has added life-long friendships; and has kept me more than busy for thirty years. I am making a difference, and when I examine my life, I am not just satisfied, but very proud to be a League member!
I grew up in a household where everything was fair game for discussion at the dinner table. Religion, art, politics and football were all hotly debated topics on a regular basis (along with whether we had to eat our carrots or not.) As a result, I believed then, and still do today, that we are all free to have our own opinion and that discussing it in a public forum is not only the right thing to do, it is the “might of the innocent” thing to do.
As a young adult, I was fortunate enough to travel to other parts of the world and took that opportunity to have a broader discussion about things like democracy, the United States status in the world (good or bad depending on which President was in power) and what we offered as a generation. These topics were on our minds in a large, looming way at the time.
I eventually settled in San Francisco and stumbled onto the League of Women Voters. I was delighted to learn that the League was doing the very same thing with a broad demographic of people on board. Women and men of different nationalities, religions, political beliefs and geographic boundaries have come together because they believe in the discourse of democracy as well as protecting its outcomes through a fair system that allows us all to vote.
The League has helped me continue to participate in a non-partisan political discourse. This is particularly important now as issues increasingly cross the ideological boundaries of party membership in our current globalized, post 9/11 era. The United States and the World are much too complex to be tied down to a one-party view. League members are willing to discuss and remark on the issues, leaving their personal political affiliations at the door. This is an enlightened point of view for a nearly 100-year-old organization.
Does membership in the League and the discussions that happen there make a difference? You bet it does! That is why I became involved and stay involved.