Longtime 'League' member takes voting to heart

2012-09-30T00:00:00Z Longtime 'League' member takes voting to heartTIM GALLAGHER tgallagher@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal
September 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

SIOUX CITY | Mary Jane Wille couldn't help but be civic-minded. She couldn't help but get involved. She came by her political activity honestly.

"I recall that when I was 4 or 5 years old, my mom went to town to get her hair cut and she came home with it in a bob," says Wille, 92. "I think being able to vote maybe led her to be more independent."

Just two decades after women earned the right to vote, Wille's mother, the late Beulah Henney, traveled to Chicago to the 1940 Democratic National Convention. She went there as a delegate.

"I also had an uncle in Congress, Dr. C.W. Henney, who was a member of the House of Representatives from Portage, Wis.," Wille says.

Dr. Henney, a Democrat, was raised at Dunlap, Iowa. Wille's mother, who had been a teacher before she began raising her family, served as co-chair of the Crawford county Democrats.

Wille, a 1937 graduate of Denison High School, worked in the Farm Security Administration office after high school, soon transferring to an FSA site in Ida Grove, Iowa. She and Carl Wille of Carroll, Iowa, wed in 1941, and he was soon off to serve the U.S. Army in World War II.

The couple returned to Carroll after the war, and would move to Sioux City in 1965. They raised two children.

Wille, who missed her first chance to vote in a Presidential election by three weeks, cast her first vote in the nation's top race in 1944, casting a ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She's not missed an election since.

"I joined the League of Women Voters in Carroll over 50 years ago," she says. "We had a class about government and people were asked to start a League (chapter) and I joined."

Wille has been involved ever since. She's also been inclined to tackle issues-oriented affairs, researching and visiting with locals who may be impacted by legislation.

"We campaigned for a change in how judges were elected in the 1950s," she says.

She helped being a lengthy study of Perry Creek flood control in the 1980s, if not before. With the work of the League of Women Voters before it, the city council in Sioux City voted to approve the Perry Creek Task Force to keep pushing for state and federal recognition of the matter.

Work ramped up after a devastating flood of Perry Creek in Sioux City during May 1990. The flood-control effort, pushed along by Sen. Tom Harkin, ramped toward completion when Harkin announced on July 9, 2008, that $3.8 million had been secured to help finish the effort.

The funds were used to help raise portions of the project to meet a revised definition of the 100-year flood.

"I have been working with Siouxlanders on the Perry Creek project since 1985 and know it will not only help prevent floods, but it will open a considerable area of Sioux City to improvements and economic development," Harkin said at the time.

And while the League of Women Voters is often associated with sponsorship of political debates, the Perry Creek project is the type of "nuts and bolts" work that always appealed to this League member.

Wille never held a League position on voter service, but she has helped to register voters and has worked on Election Day at various poll sites in Sioux City.

A registered Democrat, Wille is devout when it comes to reading and researching all candidates. She insists on voting for the person, not necessarily the party.

That mindset is in line with the League of Women Voters, an organization formed by women -- for women -- shortly after U.S. women earned the right to vote in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment.

"Women could now vote," Wille says, "and the thought was they must be educated to vote."


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