The late Joan Daley Uebelhoer, who brought about much-needed change for area women, children, minorities and the poor and who was also a major contributor to the Fort Wayne feminist movement, has been announced as annual history winner of the 2012 Extra Mile award, according to Angelina Boungou, executive director of HearCare Connection Inc.
Few women have done as much for Fort Wayne's women's history, said Boungou, who had Uebelhoer as her women's studies professor at IPFW in 2006. Uebelhoer died last September at age 83.
“Joan … was chosen for the Extra Mile as a person who has had an impact on the lives of many,” Boungou said. “She left her legacy advocating for the rights of women, children and the poor.”
“She was also the director of child welfare services and really went the extra mile for kids in her charge,” Boungou said. “Most recently, she advocated for health care reform so that the widows, the poor, the children and the lesser of us would have the ability to have affordable access to health care. Joan encouraged her students to promote change and to stand up for this anytime there was a need, especially when it was challenging and no one else was willing.”
The Extra Mile Award, created in 2011 with Addie Bleekman Guildin as the first annual historical winner, is sponsored by HearCare Audiology and Indiana's News Center. A similar monthly award honors recipients for going above and beyond the ordinary to perform a service or invoke a change in humanity for the better. The annual historical award, which goes to Uebelhoer this year, is presented posthumously to someone who exemplifies putting words into action by serving his/her community with compassion, and who has left a lasting legacy.
Each month's honoree is spotlighted by Indiana News Center in a brief, inspirational video. Judging is done by a five-person panel each quarter, and annually, an awards banquet fundraiser honors these people.
“Joan was my mentor and my inspiration to be 'the entire woman I could be' as a mother to my son and as a voice for those less fortunate, especially survivors who were going through abusive relationships,” Boungou said. “She also said in class that, should any of us need it in protest defending women's or minorities' rights, that her phone would always be open for 24-hour access …”
Uebelhoer founded Herstory Library (aka The Hedge School, 2513 S. Calhoun St.), which is a women's history collection where research about the feminist movement in Indiana could be undertaken. A co-founder of Fort Wayne Feminists, the peace activist was also a FWCS schoolteacher, dean of students at Bishop Luers High School, comptroller of the Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp., Allen County auditor, former director of Planned Parenthood in Allen County and ex-director of the welfare department.
Uebelhoer, whose husband James Uebelhoer Sr. died in 2005, had five children, helped found Daybreak Children's Center and the Center for Nonviolence.
One of Uebelhoer's major accomplishments was starting the Women's Studies Program at IPFW, which was the first of its kind in Indiana and where she taught for more than 20 years.
According to a 2010 article in Senior Life newspaper, Uebelhoer explained how the Herstory Library came to be.
“In 2010, Mary Daly – a most beloved feminist theologian – made a speech in which she said when England took over Ireland the girls were not allowed to be educated,” said Uebelhoer, who also worked for the Junior League, where she developed day care for needy kids.
“So, the women took the girls into the hedges and taught them how to read and do math and about their 'her story.' She said it is about time to bring back the Hedge Schools since very little of women's 'her story' is taught. Thus, we named our library the Hedge School.”
Another of her IPFW students, Sara Patalita, worked with Uebelhoer to implement the first online course on Women's Studies, and taught the course for several years.
“I never tired of hearing Joan's stories,” said Patalita, an Allen County Public Library librarian. “With all the positions she held over the years, she saw a lot and was able to humorously relate encounters she'd had in order to educate others.”
According to Uebelhoer's daughter, Carol Uebelhoer of Otisco, her mother lived by her feminist philosophy of working very hard for equal rights for women.
“Also, Mother was unhappy with the way the Catholic Church treated women and because of that, she left that religion 40 years ago, but continued to live a very ethical and moral but secularized life after that,” said Carol Uebelhoer.
“When Mother was the auditor in the 1970s, she would let women who couldn't work full time job-share. This is something that women are more able to do today, but back then and in a government office, this was unheard of but Mother did it.
“Around the same time, when the County Commissioners would meet, they were in a room where the telephone was on the auditor's desk and it would ring during the meeting. The call was always for a commissioner who was a real estate agent, and he would take these calls during the commissioners' business meeting.
“This was a source of great irritation to Mother, who thought she and the commissioners were there to do Allen County business. She took the speaker out of the phone so that it wouldn't ring. A friend of hers made it into a necklace that Mother wore around her neck at the next meeting. When the phone didn't ring, the commissioner worried that he was missing calls and somehow noticed the necklace and demanded to know where she got that. Mother said that she got it at the Three Rivers Festival and had no idea what it was.
“The commissioners' meeting continued uninterrupted!”
“When I attended Joan's memorial service, I was once again astounded at all she accomplished in her life,” Patalita said. “Not everyone can be a Joan Uebelhoer, but it would sure be a better place if we all lived the way she did.
“She was dedicated to her family, to her friends, to her community and to the poor.
“Above all, Joan thought that everyone deserved to live a life of dignity.”