Marion Saunders 1908-1998 (Mary Anne Raywid)|
Domestic Violence Concurrence Meeting (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
Orientation Meeting for New Members (Grace Furukawa)
Hawaiian Annexation Anniversary Special
Better Government Volunteer Announcement
Marion Saunders 1908-1998
Marion and Allan Saunders founded the League of Women Voters of Honolulu in 1948. From that time on, Marion has been intimately involved in all aspects of the League. In 1965 she single-handedly visited Kauai and Hawaii and formed local chapters on both islands, enabling the formation of a State League for Hawaii so that we could have an equal voice on national issues.
Although she was nearing 90, Marion Saunders' determination to make the world a better place showed few signs of wearing down. She had made civic contributions in a number of areas - including civil rights, the United Nations, women's affairs - but for the last 25 years, education had been the major focus of her efforts. In recent months, she had continued these efforts of a quarter century to force education reform in island public schools; she had inspired and helped shape an Academy of Lifelong Learning at the University of Hawaii; and she ad led a small informal group seeking to save the East/West Center.
Over the years Marion's accomplishments have not been so much a matter of definitive battles and dramatic victories, as of continuous, dogged daily persistence. Wherever she had been, it could be counted on that she would be bulldogging it for constitutional principles. Thomas Jefferson warned us that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Throughout the more than 50 years that she had been in Hawaii, Marion had offered leadership in providing and rallying that vigilance.
1974 Marion Saunders ran successfully for the Board of Education and led the slate of successful candidates. She was re-elected once, then defeated for a third term, a victim of the dawning 1980's era of conservatism. While on the Board, she proved an active, thoughtful, and thoroughly independent member unwilling to be intimidated by the DOE bureaucracy. She served as vice-chair of the Board and often functioned within the group as a leader - but also sometimes as a minority and occasionally also as a lone dissenter.
Marion did not let her 1980 defeat for re-election to the school board end her efforts at school reform. If anything, she became even more determined to see improvement in the public school classrooms of Hawaii after leaving the Board. She returned to her earlier prominence in activities of the League of Women Voters, and activated an Education Committee that immediately launched the inquiry that must initiate any LWV commitment. The group studied the state of public education in Hawaii and found it dismaying. By 1985 it was ready to undertake a longterm project on "Revitalizing Public Education" which was adopted by the State League. The approach it had settled on was to stimulate reform via deliberate diversification of public schools, with students and their families choosing among them. Such a strategy was selected as a means to simultaneously stimulate program revision, improve school climate, decentralize the tightly regulated system, and empower the families to which individual schools would then be accountable.
Marion led the efforts of the reform group - with a successful statewide conference in 1986 introducing to the local public the strategy selected for achieving "Action in Education: A New Era in Hawaii.
The Education Committee, which Marion chaired until her death continued to study education issues and to inform the public about them - via publications, meetings, consultations - and Marion's testimony was often sought at Legislative hearings on education bills. Hers continued to be a muchrespected voice on school affairs throughout the community.
But education is not the sole area to which she had contributed, and the League of Women Voters was not the only organization to which she had lent her energies. The League had however been an enduring commitment. She also served as President of the Hawaii Personnel and Guidance Association and as Chairperson of the East-West Center's International Alumni Association. Over the years she was appointed to a Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (1971-74), named United Nations Chairperson for Hawaii (1975), and in 1985 was appointed to Hawaii's Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights, in which she served as a member until her death. In these multiple capacities, she helped write a handbook on Oahu's county government structure, successfully lobbied for city and county charter reform, successfully lobbied for construction of a new jail, organized a Zoo Festival, and organized countless community forums for discussion of current affairs and issues.
Marion's contributions and service have been acknowledged by a number of organizations and agencies in the community - by the Honolulu City Council, by the Soroptimists, by the Sertoma Club (which once made her "Woman of the Year in Government"), and by the American Federation of Teachers and the Young Women's Christian Association for community service. She also received the "Most Valuable Member" League of Women voters award, was named an Outstanding Alumna by both the East-West Center and her alma mater, University of New Mexico, and in 1994 she was designated a "Living Treasure of Hawaii" by the Hongwanji Temple of Honolulu. As the Sertoma Club had put it, she exemplifies their maxim, "Make life better for other people."
Surely few in Hawaii have shown greater determination to do so or contributed more. For more than 50 years, Marion Saunders struggled to expand the public arena to include more participants, to render Island government more democratic, and to enhance the lives of Hawaii's children by making its public schools both more humane and more effective.
She has left a huge void in the League of Women Voters. We will miss her sorely.
Mary Anne Raywid
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