League of Women Voters celebrates 50 years

For half a century, the League of Women Voters of Alpena County has been helping to educate the public on issues of importance to an informed Democracy. Its members have stayed committed to encouraging others to exercise their right vote and to get involved in government, sometimes reminding them that “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

The nonpartisan political group gathered last week to celebrate its 50th anniversary with a special banquet held at the Courtyard Restaurant. Current LWV President Pauline Buchner read several congratulatory letters, including correspondence from a couple of the organization’s first organizers and officers.

Among those on hand for the celebration were Vernie Nethercut and Dolly Zeller, two members who provided an impetus for the league’s early beginnings back in 1963.

Zeller and fellow member Leona Wisniewski shared some of the history of the local organization. Zeller said that the league first formed as a provisional league in September 1963, then a year later became an official chapter with the mandatory publication of a booklet about Alpena County. Copies of that informational booklet were on display at the banquet, along with updated versions created by members over the years.

Included in Wisniewski’s historical perspective were facts about the National LWV’s formation which occurred in 1920, six months before ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution that gave women the right to vote.

“It was decided then that education would be an important part of the league, and I think today we are still doing that,” Wisniewski said.

Over the years, the LWV has studied issues relevant on local, state and national levels. Their standard practice has always been to research and study the issues, present the information to the group as a whole and finally, to take an informed stand on those issues.

Particular viewpoints that the group formulates are then translated into action. That action can take the form of lobbying, letter writing campaigns or efforts to make the community more aware of an issue.

Members Marion Dunckel and Sue Maxwell shared about two particular LWV projects during last week’s gathering. Dunckel discussed one of the earliest projects tackled by the league, which involved the need for clean water. Maxwell talked about the development of Negwegon State Park in an environmentally sound fashion, an issue that has taken many years to resolve.

A skit from the league’s early days was put on by Marie Gilmet-Dully, Jane Speer, Kay Ogger, Pat Ahrens and Maxwell. It demonstrated in humorous fashion how the group operates when studying an issue.

Nethercut then recognized two honorees for the evening. Bill Speer, editor and publisher of The Alpena News, was given a 2014 Voter Service Award in appreciation of his and the newspaper’s long-standing support of LWV activities and dedicated efforts to informing the electorate.

Speer spoke briefly about the need for an informed society, the valuable partnership between the newspaper and the league, and the importance of disseminating truthful and solid information in today’s instantaneous social media world.

Diane Speer, lifestyles editor at The Alpena News, also was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for her work in informing the public about the activities of the league as well as many other community organizations.

Following the anniversary program and a meal, the league held its 2014 annual meeting.