Kokua Council president always spoke her mind
By Helen Altonn
Ruth Ellen Lindenberg: She remained active in health, social and consumer issues
She had lived independently until a few weeks before her death and remained active in social, health and consumer issues, said the Rev. Sam Cox, a longtime friend and community associate.
She was working on a report to give as president of the social advocacy group Kokua Council at its next meeting May 24, he said. Instead, her life will be celebrated at the meeting at 11:30 a.m. at Harris United Methodist Church.
"If I were to describe an advocate, she would be it," said Rep. Dennis Arakaki (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley), House Health Committee chairman.
"She had not only the intelligence, but she had the passion for people, and I think she knew how to express the need of people. ... Throughout the years I have known her, she has always been an advocate for people who had no voice."
She was admired for speaking her mind, Arakaki said, adding that her presence was keenly felt at the Legislature.
"I know for sure that she made a difference on the issues. I think a lot of other people looked to her for leadership as well. She was a real role model. We're really going to miss her."
Cox said Lindenberg "was very outspoken. It sometimes got her into hot water, but she went ahead anyway."
In 1999, for example, the AARP's regional office fired her from its Hawaii lobbying committee when her views supporting assisted suicide were published in the Star-Bulletin. Supporters denounced the action as a violation of her civil rights.
Lindenberg had been an AARP volunteer for about seven years and was named AARP's Volunteer of the Year in Hawaii in January 1999.
"We picked her up immediately, and she become president of Kokua Council," Cox said.
Lindenberg was born in Eden, N.Y., where she attended a one-room country school and was one of four in her high school graduating class. She earned her bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1930 with a sociology major and went to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work.
She became a medical social worker in teaching hospitals at the University of Chicago Hospitals and Montifiore Hospital in Pittsburgh, working with patients and families and community programs.
She and her husband "Lindy," who died in 1985, moved to Rochester, N.Y., where he directed the Baden Street Settlement House and she directed the Mental Health Council.
She later became a tenured professor at Cleveland State University, helping to establish a baccalaureate social work and rehabilitation program.
The couple moved here in 1971, and Lindenberg plunged into community activities, including the Welfare and Employment Rights Commission and the AARP State Legislative Committee, serving as state chairwoman in 1992. She also was active in the Legal Aid Society, the Honolulu Community-Media Council, American Civil Liberties Union, Hawaii Coalition for Health and the National Association of Social Workers-Hawaii, which gave her its first Social Worker of the Year Award in 1985.
She was "a fixture" at the Legislature, Cox said, testifying on auto insurance reforms, patients' rights and more health coverage for the uninsured.
She often expressed her opinions in a column in the Star-Bulletin and frequently wrote letters to the editor on subjects ranging from fluoridation to regulation of health insurance rates.
She explained in a recent Star-Bulletin interview that the Kokua Council has changed its focus from seniors to people of all ages because "we realized some issues are intergenerational."
Survivors include a daughter, Sue McClelland, of Spokane, Wash.; daughter-in-law Catherine Strachan Lindenberg, of Seattle and Costa Rica; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Her son, Marc, who was dean of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, died in 2002.
She was Episcopalian but did not want a formal funeral, said Cox, a retired United Methodist minister.
Family and friends will hold a private celebration of her life at 4 p.m. May 23 in the condo social room at 1350 Ala Moana. She asked that any donations be sent to the Kokua Council at Harris Methodist Church, 20 S. Vineyard Blvd.
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