WHEATON – For 50 of the League of Women Voters of Wheaton’s 58 years, Helen White has been a fixture at meetings, discussions and events.
The longtime resident joined the organization as a young mother in 1963. She had been employed by Encyclopedia Britannica for 11 years and was itching to get back to work.
“I was finding it kind of dull being home,” she said.
Born from a constant interest in politics and government, she has devoted herself to the League for the last five decades, said fellow member and former League president Jan Kay.
In honor of her service, White was honored by the League at its annual brunch Dec. 14.
Kay said White’s passion for government is emblematic of the League itself.
“She really believes in contributing to society, and she’s doing that through the League,” she said.
White fondly recalled past political participation, such as attending a march in Chicago’s Grant Park in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights – one of her favorite causes.
Another pet issue for White during her time in the League, she said, related to her work as a librarian at Glenbard South and West in Glen Ellyn – voter education and registration.
“If we don’t educate people, then maybe they won’t go out and vote or deliberate about how or why they’re going to vote,” she said. “It bothers me when the young people aren’t interested in government. I remember what my mother said – ‘Be sure you vote in every election, remember how long it took for women to get the right to vote.’”
White has enjoyed learning about and fighting against things that inhibit the voting process, such as closed primaries or restrictive voter registration laws, she said.
Attending voter registration drives at high schools remains “a thrill” for her.
“Their enthusiasm is encouraging,” she said. “Everybody has to get interested in what’s going on in government at all levels. We have only ourselves to blame if we don’t like something and things don’t turn out the way they should.”
Current League President Missey Wilhelm said White’s commitment to the League is meaningful.
After all these years, Wilhelm said, White remains “animated and activated” during meetings and serves on the League’s education committee. In 2009, White was honored with the Margret Hamilton Award. Named after the Wheaton League’s founder, the accolade is given to members who have contributed significantly to the group’s efforts.
“There are a lot of people who are involved in things and who do a lot of work. They help get a lot of different things done, show up for meetings and don’t get noticed as much,” Wilhelm said. “But it’s those people that really help League survive and do the important work we do, and I think that’s the kind of work that Helen did.”