Gladys Otto of Newton has been a member of The League of Women Voters for 59 years, taking part in and helping to create nearly two-thirds of the organization’s history since its inception in 1920.
It began as a social escape for a young mother of two; an opportunity for her to get out and meet other like-minded individuals after her, her husband, George Otto, and their two children moved to Newton.
She didn’t know anyone from the area when she moved to Jasper County. After asking around town, she decided the League would be a good opportunity for her and she joined immediately.
“When I first joined, I didn’t know much about government issues. I’d heard quite a bit, but I hadn’t taken the time to educate myself on the issues,” Gladys Otto said. “That’s what the League helped to encourage.”
According to the website for the non-partisan organization, it stresses the idea of getting to know your candidate rather than merely voting along party lines or because of 30- to 90- second pre-packaged media messages or photo opportunities.
The organization encourages delving deeper than slogans and the image of a campaign to get to the platform and substance of what the candidate’s stances are.
This vote education has been the primary benefit for Gladys Otto, whose political stances have shifted and evolved over the years to reflect her personal beliefs rather than any outward influence.
“Our group is at its best when we have an even mix of Democrats and Republicans,” Gladys Otto said. “The balance helps the discussion more … A lot of the time you can’t be sure what party someone belongs to unless you see them at party events. We focus on issues instead.”
Gladys Otto only hopes that everyone who engages in the act of voting can take the time to familiarize him or herself with what is going on. She knows people who still believe in the idea of a woman voting along the lines of her husband’s or parents’ politics and the idea horrifies her.
Thankfully, her own husband is extremely supportive. In 1973 the charter of the League of Women Voter’s was expanded to allow men into the organization. After years of attending meetings and events, and being interested in the organization, George Otto joined a little over five years ago making them one of several member couples in Jasper County’s chapter.
Gladys Otto stresses that it is important not to be in awe of your elected officials either, and to recognize that they aren’t larger than life. She says that members of the league enjoy the idea of being on a first-name basis with their representatives, a relationship dynamic that she enjoys with State Representative Dan Kelley from District 29.
Kelley, who has been a member of The League of Women Voters since around 2006, values how well rounded the league is.
“The League does an excellent job of presenting both sides of every argument. They’re a great group of people to discuss the issues of the day with,” Kelley said. “A very important bedrock value of the league is diversity and the wide variety of opinions and backgrounds that people bring to the table. The more variety of voices involved in these conversations, the better.”
Kelley said that he knows the League both as a member, and as an elected official. At the capitol, he has always found them to be a very effective lobbying force.
While Gladys isn’t as involved in the League as she used to be, she still attends most of the meetings and events. She foresees a strong future for the League, particularly in Jasper County, but she hopes that the organization can draw more young people in over the coming years.