The Central Oregon Coast Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) honored “Women Who Lead” during its annual celebration on Sunday, Nov. 11, at the Newport Performing Arts Center.
Among the hundreds of local women who are leaders, NOW chose several to honor for their commitment and action to better the lives of women and girls. Those honored were Heather Fortner, Joanne Kittel, Carol Van Strom, Jeanne St. John, Virginia Gibbs, Traci Flowers, Angie Sremba and Nancy Campbell Mead.
Heather Fortner, Toledo: artist, teacher, veteran.
Fortner is best known locally as the “fish artist.” She is world renowned for her gyotaku, Japanese fish prints created from real fish, ink and Japanese papers. She also works with seaweed, nature prints and eco dying. Students find her workshops joyful and inspiring. She has also authored a seaweed cookbook.
In addition, Fortner has been a foster mom for numerous animals to prepare them for permanent adoption. She is a marine biologist with a degree in natural sciences from the University of Hawaii. People may not know that she has been a deck hand, a commercial fisherman, and a first mate in the Merchant Marines. Her last service was in the Middle East during the Iraq War 2003.
Joanne Kittel, Yachats: advocate for human rights, environment, historian.
Kittel has been a tireless advocate of women’s rights and all who are vulnerable, especially indigenous people. She has volunteered with My Sisters’ Place, the Children’s Advocacy Center, Crossroads, Lincoln County Community Non-Violence Program and the Domestic Violence Council. She has chaired the Yachats Trail Committee. Along with her late husband, Norman, she developed the Amanda Trail on her own property to honor the legacy of a Native American woman who was forcibly relocated on the Oregon coast, and the Ya’Xaik (pronounced Ya-hike) Trail systems in south county. Her conservation passions have placed her in leadership roles with Lincoln Land Legacy and View the Future. She has donated a permanent conservation easement on 27 acres.
Professionally, Kittel is a trauma-based psychotherapist, which helped her research and write the historical truth about indigenous peoples on the Central Oregon Coast.
Carol Van Strum, Five Rivers Road: advocate for environmental and social justice, author.
Van Strum received the international David Bower Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the University of Oregon Public Interest Environmental Law Conference last March 2018. She has authored numerous books, including “A Bitter Fog,” which led to changes in national forest policy. She has received awards for her fierce activism to protect the environment and for her social justice work.
In the 1970s and 80s, Van Strum led the fight against use of Agent Orange in Lincoln County. She continues her work as a member of Lincoln County Community Rights to ban aerial pesticide spraying.
Her continued activism includes fighting the U.S. Navy’s attempts to weaponize coastal waters, national forests and other public lands for weapons testing and war games.
Jeanne St. John, Newport: human rights activist, educator, LGBTQ advocate.
St. John started her resistance activism in high school, fighting against the House Un-American Activities Committee. She helped lead the first statewide teachers union strike in Arizona to secure more school money. She did the same work to fund schools in California. Along with her colleague, Kae Bates, she also taught acupuncture for eight years to over 50,000 people in 40 states and internationally. An outcome from these workshops was being recruited to work for the Lincoln County School District and eventually becoming the principal of two schools. One curriculum she introduced in Lincoln County was the Olweus Anti-bullying program.
She and her wife, Kae Bates, led the establishment of the first PFLAG chapter (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), on the coast, following the suicide of a gay student at Newport High. St. John has been an early outspoken advocate and community educator for LGBTQ youth.
And she re-established and directed Newport Peace Village, a summer day camp to teach non-violent confrontation.
Virginia Gibbs, Newport: advocate for social justice and animal rights, author.
In Newport, Gibbs is recognized primarily for her advocacy for the Hispanic community. Before moving to Newport, she founded the Northern Iowa Humane Society, which is continuing as a successful animal shelter. She is a docent at Hatfield Marine Science Center, where she has a special fondness for octopuses. She is a professor emerita of Spanish.
Gibbs wrote “Shattered Dreams,” a true history of an ICE raid on an agricultural processing facility in Postville, Iowa. She is part of the national search to create a fair immigration system. She has been a large presence at Centro do Ayuda as a translator and as part of the Immigration Information Response Team.
Traci Flowers, Newport: homeless advocate.
Flowers is a passionate advocate for the homeless and the most vulnerable in the community. In her younger years, she was taught to give everyone a second chance, and maybe even a third or fourth chance. As a child, she would seek out classmates who were struggling or who needed a friend. She believes this is what has formed her call to service.
Five years ago, Flowers began running the hazardous weather shelter in the winter months. Last year, she began to serve in a larger way at “Grace Wins Haven” a day shelter and community resource center of which she is the founder and inspiration. It is a place for those who need a meal, a backpack, a computer terminal, a kind word, an address or a pair of dry socks.
Her dream is a permanent shelter to keep vulnerable community members safe in the most challenging situations. She believes charge can come with stability, grace and compassion.
Angie Sremba, Newport: marine science researcher, youth swim coach, mentor.
Sremba is starting her 10th year as coach for the Newport Swim Team. At the same time, she recently completed her Ph.D. through Oregon State University at Hatfield Marine Science Center last June. Her research has led her to explore the 20th century’s commercial whaling impact on South Atlantic great whale populations.
Under Sremba’s leadership, the Newport Swim Team has almost doubled to 50 swimmers in 2018 and has become competitive in the state. She was recognized as the Oregon School Athletics Association boys swim coach of the year. Seven of her athletes have gone on to collegiate swim teams, and several of her student athletes have returned to be Newport High School assistant coaches, playing forward the knowledge they learned from Sremba.
Nancy Campbell Mead
Campbell Mead was new to Lincoln County in 2012, when she rejuvenated the NOW chapter. Since then, the retired judge and lawyer from Portland has been an activist in health education, domestic violence, firearms regulation, the environment, Oregon’s Equal Rights Amendment and much more.
She led the formation of the nonprofit Central Coast NOW Foundation, which funds supportive actions for women and girls. She also works at state and national levels of NOW, plus serving on multiple boards including the Women’s Foundation of Oregon.
Campbell Mead graduated from Lewis and Clark with a law degree. This led to her appointment to the Washington County District Court in 1988. She was elected as a circuit court judge, where she served until she retired in 2006.
She considered one of her outstanding accomplishments to have bicycled across America from Bandon, Ore., to Yorktown, Va., at the age of 64.
Gov. Kate Brown awarded her Oregon Woman of the Year in 2017.
Information about Central Oregon Coast Chapter NOW can be found online at www.centraloregoncoastnow.org.