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John Florez: Sandy Peck: an example of community service

Published: Monday, Nov. 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

While she may have started off in her mother's footsteps, it was to her father's dinner-table talks that she returned. A history buff, her father had sparked in her a curiosity and interest about politics and government that guided her toward a lifetime commitment of caring about her country.

On Thursday, the Utah League of Women Voters (a community, volunteer organization that arms citizens with independent information to form their own opinion) will be honoring Sandy Peck, one of our great community leaders. She is their recently retired executive director who has been the driving force of the organization for almost 35 years. It goes to show, behind every good organization is a good woman, and so it is with the League of Women Voters of Utah. Since 1976, the nonpartisan organization has informed voters and played a vital role in making Utah's government work.

Sandy is the low-key, unassuming daughter of a gas station attendant and school teacher from Indiana who grew up during the Depression. She learned what it takes to be a good citizen at the dinner table from her father, who talked about history and the Constitution. It inspired her interest in government and politics. She went to college to become an elementary education teacher and later to earn a master's degree in social and philosophical foundations of education. Still, those dinner table talks stayed with her and kept drawing her back to history and government, confirming in her the commitment to inform people about the political process.

Sandy arrived in Salt Lake 40 years ago after her husband took a position at the University of Utah. She immediately turned to her passion: finding a way to contribute to her community. Her friend told her about the League of Women Voters. And the rest is history. She began as a volunteer in the office, later was paid as the executive director and today, almost 35 years later, is once again volunteering, as the executive director emeritus. She retired earlier this year but is still doing the legislative updates.

Sandy shows what it takes to make a volunteer organization work? — passion, persistence and commitment to a cause. The success of any organization is due to leaders who possess these qualities. It also requires leaders who set their egos aside and never lose sight of the organization's purpose. That personifies Sandy.

The League, which celebrated its 90th birthday this year, was founded in 1920 to help women carry out their new voting responsibilities. It was founded just months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Since then, the League has become a respected institution that has helped improve voter participation.

Sandy has continually worked to improve ways to keep the public informed about critical issues — like the upcoming vote on the proposed amendments to the Utah Constitution that she summarized on the League's web site. She also has conducted studies on vital issues, helped with voter registration and offered nonpartisan testimonies at legislative hearings. Under Sandy's leadership, the League has established itself as a key source of unbiased information, including one of its most recent projects, the daily, electronic updates about state legislative hearings.

Like all great leaders, Sandy brought the talent and commitment vital to the League of Women Voters of Utah. It truly is about meaning in life and passion for the things one cares about; if you love what you do, it isn't work. Sandy's talks with her father inspired her to pursue what was meaningful in her life, and this service benefits so many.

What would Sandy say? "Vote tomorrow!"

A Utah native, John Florez has founded several Hispanic civil rights organizations; been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served on more than 45 state, local and volunteer boards; and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and as a member of the commission on Hispanic education. E-mail: jdflorez@comcast.net

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