October 9, 2002 - Idaho Journal : South Africa RPCV Kay Merriam is President of the Idaho League of Women Voters

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South Africa RPCV Kay Merriam is President of the Idaho League of Women Voters

Read and comment on this story from the Idaho Journal on Kay Merriam , 70, the president of the League of Women Voters, Idaho, who joined the Peace Corps and went to South Africa four years ago at:

Area political activist is passionate about life*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Area political activist is passionate about life

By Jana Peterson - Journal Web Editor

Caption: League of Women Voters Idaho chapter President, Kay Merriam, is passionate about myriad political issues as well as living life to its fullest as she has managed to do in her 70 year life so far.

POCATELLO — Kay Merriam figures her biggest failing is her wide array of interests.

“I love to learn new things and I love to be going in many different directions,” she said. “I guess I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

At 70, Merriam is probably as far from slowing down as she’s ever been. Currently the president of the League of Women Voters, Idaho, for the second time, she’s been busy for months studying the issue of judicial independence. An interview with Merriam is also intense. Her wavy white hair framing a face that goes from pleased to frustrated to laughter throughout the interview, Merriam in conversation moves from one passion to another.

Judicial independence. Travel. The environment. Education. Personality types.

A lifelong traveler, Merriam has been to 40 countries in her life, many of them more than once. She grew up in California and attended UCLA as an undergraduate, then traveled in Europe for a year before coming back to the States to teach. She moved to Pocatello with her husband John in 1964. He died in 1973 in a boating accident, of hypothermia.

There is a mountain peak in the White Clouds named after him. Then-Governor Andrus and Senator Church asked Kay to choose one in honor of the work her economics teacher husband had done to stop a smelting company coming into the White Clouds.

Kay Merriam never remarried, choosing instead to raise her two daughters on her own. They lived in Pocatello, then moved to Connecticut so Merriam could get her doctoral degree in curriculum and instruction. Although she loved Connecticut, Merriam said Pocatello has always pulled her back, no matter how far away she goes.

Her relationship with Idaho (and Pocatello) is a tumultuous one. She loves “the natural attributes of the area” and her house off Johnny Creek with its remarkable view. She has good friends here, but she doesn’t always love the prevailing attitudes.

“When we first moved here, both John and I felt that Idaho was on the verge of change,” she said. “It was very exciting to us.”

She laughs.

“It’s now 38 years later, and I still think Idaho’s on the verge of change,” she went on, explaining where she sees the change. “I see a greater appreciation for new ideas (like environmentally conscious industry and sustainable communities) to make Idaho an even better place to live.”

In her lifetime, Merriam has been a teacher, run her own non-profit business called Project Turnaround — for high school dropouts who need a fresh start — and given workshops around the country and the world on personality types as well as gifted and talented education. She started Pocatello’s gifted and talented program in 1974. She was on the local school board for six years, and the county planning and zoning commission for 15 years. She joined the Peace Corps and went to South Africa four years ago.

She has, in her own words, often been the “token liberal” on various boards and organizations — a title she would never have ascribed to herself before moving to Idaho.

“My husband and I both discovered that those things we held as self-evident were rather startling here and aside from the mainstream,” she said. “But I’m not a wild person at all.”

In her current role as president of the League of Women Voters of Idaho, Merriam can satisfy both her own passion for learning as well as her desire to educate.

“The most important thing that many of us can do is become more aware of the what’s going on in the world, and then employ critical thinking to come up with our own thoughts — rather than waiting for the Reader’s Digest version,” she said. “People need to be challenged — and challenge themselves — more.”

Editor’s Note: A story on the issue of judicial independence and why the League is studying it will appear in a future edition of the Journal.

What is the League of Women Voters?

First, it’s not just a club for women, although it started out that way in 1920.

From the beginning, the League has been an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believe citizens should play a critical role in advocacy. It was then, and is now, a nonpartisan organization. League founders believed maintaining a nonpartisan status would protect the fledgling organization from becoming mired in the party politics of the day.

The stated mission of the LWV is to encourage the informed and active participation of citizens in government, to work to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and to influence public policy through education and advocacy.

One way they do that locally is by organizing voter registration drives, such as the one just wrapping up in Pocatello that saw League members signing up voters at Kmart, the Bengalfest and the Farmer’s Market over the past month.

Another way is by thoroughly researching issues such as judicial independence, diversity, campaign finance and election reform and making the results of their research available to the public.

To find out more about the local LWV chapter, contact Jane Streubel at 233-9235.

Kay Merriam

Job: President of the League of Women Voters, Idaho.

Family: Husband John, deceased; two daughters, both grown, Kyle and Jennifer.

Other ventures: Served on the Bannock County Planning and Zoning Commission from 1984 to 1999, chair for 11 years; served on District 25 School Board for 1988-1994; been involved in other organizations, too numerous to mention.

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