Enell Foerster was born in Brownsville, Texas but moved to Mexico City at a young age, where she spent most of her childhood. Her father worked for Pan-American Airways and was the author of many airline-related laws passed during that time. Foerster attended the University of Cincinnati in Ohio, where she met her future husband, Bernd. They soon moved to Troy, New York, where they had two sons and Bernd attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he later became dean. It was here that Foerster’s lifelong commitment to the League of Women Voters (LWV) was born.
“My husband proposed that I join the League,” says Foerster. “He had given a speech at a garden club meeting and one of the ladies had talked his ear off about the importance of LWV, so he came home and said I should do it. I’m glad I did.”
The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan group, focused around political issues. Members debate these issues and then find consensus regarding the policy under discussion. According to the national LWV website, the group has four main focuses: educating voters, registering voters, improving government, and improving elections.
Foerster’s grandmother was a suffragist, and helped found the YWCA in West Virginia. When asked why she chose to be active in LWV, she smiles and says, “I guess I can’t get away from it, it’s in my blood!”
Foerster, who has been an active member of LWV for 53 years, served in various officer positions in the organization, and is the current co-president of the Riley County chapter. Needless to say, voting matters to her and this civil activist is quite proud of her voting record. It is important, she says, to be active and to exercise one’s right to vote.
Foerster has only missed voting in one election in all these years, due to an illness that landed her in the hospital. “I tried to talk the nurses into letting me go vote, because this was before absentee ballots existed, but they wouldn’t let me.”
Foerster has fond memories of her years of involvement with the League. She met President Lyndon Johnson at a LWV conference, when he came to speak to the group about their recent work concerning housing. She was present when in 1975, the League voted to allow men to join their ranks – Foerster’s husband, Bernd, was one of the first ones to sign up.
“When we moved to Kansas, I thought I would take some time off, take a break,” says Foerster. “But Carol Chalmers, president of the state LWV and wife of the College of Arts and Sciences dean, John Chalmers, was waiting for me. A little while later, I was on the board of the local LWV chapter.”
Foerster credits this position for helping her get to know Kansas; as part of her new position, she drove all over Kansas, helping to organize events and establish new chapters. Foerster has been to all 50 states and says each one has its own unique beauty, even Kansas.
Bernd Foerster served as the dean of the College of Architecture, Planning, and Design here at Kansas State University for 13 years. During this time, Enell, not one to sit around or even sit still very often, set her sights on increasing political participation and awareness in Manhattan.
“A lot of students have become concerned about what is going on in this community,” says Foerster. “Many of them either don’t vote, or vote in their home county, but that may change.”
Foerster will do whatever it takes to get information about candidates out to voters and to educate community members about their options. Once, after not being able to reach a local candidate by email, she drove all the way into the outskirts of Manhattan to his house, and left a pile of papers stuck under a pumpkin on his front porch. “I’m a bulldog about these sort of things, I don’t let go. It is too important.”
Exercising your right to vote is vital, says Foerster. Those who claim their vote doesn’t count or that voting doesn’t matter dismay her.
“Yes, your vote counts, no matter what you vote. It lets people know that you are concerned, that they are being held accountable,” says Foerster, “It is our right. I am appalled and disappointed at what is going on, the ways candidates these days try to suppress votes and spread misinformation. The level of corruption we see now is awful.”
Foerster has arguably seen an election or two in her day; surprisingly, she claims she has never voted a straight party ballot. “I vote for the man,” she says, “not for the party. I vote for the man who will do the best for my community.”
It should matter less what others say we should do, and matter more what we can discover ourselves, says Foerster. “Look at each candidate with an open mind, not what mommy or daddy or brother and sister told you. Look at what candidates are saying and doing.”
When asked what advice Foerster would give to young children voting in the Kids Voting program the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (ICDD) hosts every election year, she says it is simple: “Listen, be observant, pay attention. Most importantly, vote!”
We better listen to her. After all, she does claim she’s a bulldog when it comes to these sorts of things.
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