When Loretta Wendt joined the Jasper County League of Women Voters in January of 1954, little did she realize that more than 50 years later she would still be involved in the organization.
“Well, I had two young children and I was new to town and I thought, I need to do something or my brain is going to pop,” Loretta explained with a laugh.
“I knew about the League and I thought it’d be good for her to join an organization in the evening while I watched the kids,” Loretta’ husband, Wendell, added. “So I suggested she get involved.”
“One of the main things the League was doing at that time was getting people to register to vote by having drives,” Wendell said. “Those were the days when the League was exclusively women — they have men who are members now.”
Loretta’s involvement in the group wasn’t relegated solely to Newton — in fact, she was chosen to serve as a delegate to the National League of Women Voters Convention in 1964
“That was probably the highlight of her active role in the League,” Wendell said.
The trip to the convention in Pittsburgh marked another first for Loretta.
“That was in the early days of navigation and we traveled with a group of business men in their nice suits,” she said. “We flew to Pittsburgh, and it was my first time on an airplane.”
Loretta served as president of the League for two years — “almost everyone in League was president at one time,” Wendell joked — a leadership role which eventually led to her serving on the city’s planning and zoning committee.
“The most lasting result of Loretta being involved with the League of Women voters was her serving on the committee for rezoning here in Newton,” Wendell said.
“I was on that board for 22 years,” Loretta said. “I really, really enjoyed it.”
“She was the first women to ever serve on that board, too,” Wendell added.
One of the most lasting contributions Loretta made to the group, however, was her help in setting up candidate forums before local elections — an event that has gone on for over 40 years, according to Wendell.
“One of the most important things, in my opinion, the League has done was to set up these candidate meetings,” he said. “You could go out to City Hall and they’d ask the candidates questions.”
“Once we started them we just stayed with it,” Loretta added. “It was obvious that it helped people to go and listen to them speak and get an idea of what they were voting for.”
As issues — and not politics — stand at the heart of the League, Loretta’s contributions seem only fitting.
While 59 years as an LWV member is certainly an accomplishment, the couple is about to celebrate a milestone of their own.
“Next week, on May 15, we’ll have been married 70 years,” Wendell said, smiling to Loretta. “Looking back at every year, I can’t say that either of us regrets it.”
Staff writer Nicole Wiegand may be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or firstname.lastname@example.org