One of Jane's Stories' most faithful members and volunteers, Gail Pflaster, Ed. D., 74, of St. Augustine and North Hatley, Quebec, Canada, passed away peacefully at her home in St. Augustine on May 13, 2012 after a long, brave battle with cancer.
Born in the Bronx and raised in New York City, she graduated from Hunter College and earned her doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. She worked as a teacher of the deaf in the NYC school system, later directed the Education of the Deaf Program at Hunter College, and continued her teaching career in the Psychology Department at John Abbott College in Quebec.
After retiring in 1998, she divided her time between North Hatley and St. Augustine, where she became involved in the arts community by writing poetry, story telling, square dancing, and advocating for the arts. She was an active member and participant in many organizations, including Jane's Stories' Florida Janes Writing Circle. She said of herself, "Never bored!"
In concert with the St. Johns Cultural Council, she created the Festival of Muses to celebrate Womens' History Month. In 2009 she founded the ROWITA Awards (Recognizing Outstanding Women In The Arts) to honor artistic achievements of women and recognize their contributions to the arts community. This year the Cultural Council re-named the award, The Dr. Gail Pflaster Recognizing Outstanding Women in the Arts Award. Gail's passion for writing resulted in "Furry Tales," a loving tribute to her animal companions over the years that is due for publication this week. She directed that a portion of the sale of her book go to the ROWITA, Jr. Award. In lieu of flowers, Gail made known her wish that donations may be made to: Jr. ROWITA Fellowships Fund, c/o St. Johns Cultural Council, 15 Old Mission Ave., St. Augustine, FL, 32084.
Born October 17, 1924, in Maucoupin County, IL, Clara Elizabeth Johnson, feminist, activist, writer, and beloved friend of Jane Stories, passed away of natural causes Friday, March 24, 2017. From the time she was a child, she asserted her substantial power. Anne Sheffield, a close friend and former president of the Illinois National Organization for Women, said, "She'd get in trouble with her parents because she was always trying to get out of doing the 'girl chores,' like baking cookies and cleaning the house, Once she was caught climbing to the top of a grain silo."
Getting and AA degree from Blackburn College, she moved to Peoria, IL to work at the United States Department of Agriculture as a chemist. According to her former daughter-in-law, Julia Takarada, she and all the women hired during World War II were required to sign a paper saying once hostilities ended she would be asked to relinquish her job to a returning soldier. When the war ended, though other women disappeared, she was not asked to leave. So, for four decades, she kept her head down and did her work, contributing to nearly a dozen scientific papers.
During her stay in Peoria, she volunteered with the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, Robert Ingersoll Society, and the American Atheists and Freedom from Religion Foundation. In the late ‘70s, she was an early board member of the Peoria rape crisis center and shelter for battered women. In 1974, she joined the Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) where she helped get the Equal Credit Opportunity and Fair Credit Reporting Acts passed, becoming the chapter president in the late ’70’s and early ‘80s. She even ran as a write-in candidate for Peoria’s Mayor in 1976. Joining Peoria Now, in 1974, Johnson worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, along with other feminist causes. During the 1980s, after retiring from the lab, she became the group's office manager. When she retired in 1984, she moved to Park Ridge, IL and worked as the office manager for the Illinois NOW.
Around 1990, Clara proposed and administered a Feminist Writers contest as a fundraiser for the Des Plaines/Park Ridge NOW Chapter which was successful on every level. JSPF Board Member Linda Mowry said, “Women’s stories—including difficult stories they had kept secret for years—were heard. The winners felt honored, appreciated and affirmed. And NOW used the proceeds for their on-going work in gender equality.
“Clara was an avid reader. In her childhood home there were two books, Ten Nights In a Bar Room and a bible, neither of which she found particularly interesting. Her one-room school had a library consisting of one bookcase. By the end of second grade she had read all of the books. Each year the teacher was allowed to purchase two books. But she had to read on the sly because her mother considered 'story books' a waste of time. The large bookcase in the living room of her Park Ridge apartment was a wonder—double-stacked, slightly bowed shelves held volumes of science, politics, philosophy, history, psychology, anthropology and fiction. Her coffee table was always laden with current reading, either from the public library or a feminist bookstore.”
Clara served as an editor for two-time JSPF President and author Glenda Bailey-Mershon’s Wild Dove Studio and Press; and from 1989-1999, she helped found and run Prairie Moon Book Store in Arlington Heights, IL. Prairie Moon was a feminist bookstore and woman-friendly space.
Her writing began when she was twelve, with a book she wrote on two Saturdays for her sister Florence. Over her lifetime, she added two unpublished novels, numerous short stories, dozens of letters to the editor and OpEd pieces. She contributed to Jane’s Stories: Anthology of Midwestern Writers and to the 1978 edition of Suppressed Herstory. She wrote the “Johnson Stories,” an intimate look at her family — just to name a fraction of her work.
Most likely, everyone remembers her best as Takarada described: ”She was a dynamo, She fought injustice whenever and wherever she encountered it."
In 2004, Clara was nominated by Kathleen Ann Reising to “National Women’s: Woman of the Hall.” In the citation, Reising quoted Clara’s son Gordon McGrew’s tribute to his mother for
her 75th birthday. She spend many hours reading to him, usually from books that were a little or a lot beyond his age: like Thor Heyerdahl when Gordon was 10. “She always had a good sense of humor and never stifled my creativity or eccentricities. She inspired my interest in science and social causes. I grew up with the feeling that woman at high levels in the workplace were a normal thing.” Like his mother, he became a chemist, and a feminist who escorts patients to his local women’s healthcare facility.
Reising concludes the nomination:
“In 1998, Clara and I traveled to Rochester and Seneca Falls, New York, for the National NOW Annual Convention and celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the First Women’s Rights Convention. She was the perfect companion for such a trip and her vast knowledge of women’s history enriched my experience at every stop. I have known Clara since we both joined Peoria NOW in 1974, and worked together on the Credit Task Force, raised money for the women’s shelter, worked for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and many other feminist causes. I think of her as my second mother, my mentor and cherished friend. I hope anyone who reads this has the joy and celebration of such a woman in her life.
“Clara Johnson should most definitely be included in the National Women’s Hall of Fame as an example of the thousands of unsung heroes.”
For those who can attend her memorial service, it will be held 1:00 p.m, June 3 at the Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge Avenue, Evanston, IL. Those who wish to donate in Clara’s name to Planned Parenthood go to this link: Secure.ppaction.org.
Clara was remembered:
4-13-2017 Chicago Tribune http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/ct-clara-johnson-obituary-20170411-story.html
and 4/19/2017 Peoria Star Journal editorial “Remember the Pioneers”