Seventy-five years after its founding, the Fresno chapter of the League of Women Voters focuses on many of the same issues it began with in those early years.
Fresno chapter president Nyla Zender looked through six decades of monthly newsletters to plan a tribute to well-known local activist Rosellen Kershaw, a member who died in September, and marveled at just how little the organization’s focus has changed since its inception.
“Water was a big issue in the ’50s,” Zender said. “The league was a supporter of vocational and technical education then, and that’s still a focus for us. Air quality, government transparency – we’ve had faithful people who have worked on these for 70-plus years.”
On Monday the league’s Fresno chapter will mark its 75th anniversary. The event also will honor longtime members and look back at a long history of public service in Fresno County.
Zender, who has been a member for about 35 years, also noticed a few obvious differences.
“We no longer refer to members like Rosellen as Mrs. Michael Kershaw,” she said with a chuckle. “Babysitting used to be offered at meetings at two different times, so women who worked could also participate.”
At its core, Zender said, the league focuses on advocacy and education in three major areas: government, natural resources and social policies. Although it is tied to the state and national leagues, the Fresno chapter has shifted most of its efforts toward local issues including city planning, education, land and water use.
According to former president Francine Farber, the League of Women Voters of Fresno is the third-oldest such group in the state.
The league has a thorough process for adopting positions on these key issues, Zender said. It commissions studies on a particular topic, such as the city of Fresno’s current general plan, and studies them before polling its 150 members. A consensus is reached and the organization as a whole then turns to monitoring local agencies to ensure they comply with the law and stick to their promises.
League members attend all local school board meetings and report back to the group. One member serves on Fresno County’s committee on behavioral health. It also reports local concerns to the state and national leagues.
Radley Reep, one of the league’s longest-serving male members at 28 years, said this process gives league members knowledge on a wide variety of issues.
“Because they have such great expertise with a lot of disciplines and are willing to share, I can get a very well-rounded education on our community through them,” he said.
Despite its name, Reep said, voter education is actually a small part of what the league does. Because of its knowledge and well-respected history, the league has a considerable influence on public policy.
“They are conscientious and caring, but also thorough and persistent when it comes to results,” Reep said. “They get things done.”
Hanna Krebs, the league’s longest-serving member, said voter outreach and education has been her favorite part of the organization since joining in 1959. The 78-year-old is one of three members who will be recognized Monday for more than 50 years of service in the league.
“Our basic purpose is the same: Try to inform the public and create more civic involvement,” said Krebs, whose late husband, John, was a Fresno County supervisor in the 1960s and a U.S. congressman for what was then the 17th Congressional District in the 1970s.
Although Krebs has been active in partisan politics over the years, she said she always has respected and appreciated the league’s nonpartisan approach to local government.
League of Women Voters of Fresno 75th Anniversary Gala
▪ April 18 at 6 p.m. at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater
▪ $45 per person, $400 for a table of 10, $320 for a table of eight
▪ Speaker Karen Humphrey: Fresno’s first female mayor, first female news anchor and former city councilwoman