We need leaders and activists today like Dorothy Rupert

 We need leaders and activists today like Dorothy Rupert


With the world seemingly spinning out of control, I dedicate this column to former educator and state Sen. Dorothy Rupert, 95, for a life well-lived while making positive contributions to Colorado, the nation and the world.

The longtime Boulder resident vigorously supported public education, courageously tackled difficult legislative issues and traveled the globe to promote peace initiatives — and shows no signs of slowing down.

Jim Martin for the Camera
Jim Martin for the Camera

She served in Colorado’s Statehouse for 14 years — eight in the House of Representatives from 1986 to 1994 and six in the state Senate from 1995 to 2001. She was with the minority party most of those years.

She often would say, “If my progressive left voice is not heard, then the opposite right conservative voice will be thought of as moderate.”

She always had one foot in the establishment and the other foot in change advocacy.

Her nonpartisan attitude and ability to engage people from all walks of life were the hallmarks of her public service. For example, because of her, we now have laws to better protect women and children, and fairer state prison sentences.

She even was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, one of 40 U.S. women nominated that year.

I first met her as I was wandering the halls on my first day as a freshman at Fairview High School. Her unwavering smile and real concern for her students gave me comfort. Overall, she helped me as a student counselor and as an advisor when I was Head Boy my senior year.

Rupert was born in Meadow Grove, Nebraska, in 1926.

She wound up separated from her parents and lived in a children’s home during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Those experiences shaped her worldview and helped her establish life priorities.

Rupert went to Nebraska Wesleyan College in Lincoln, Nebraska, graduating in 1948 (later, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Colorado). Her husband returned home from World War II after he served five and a half years in the Navy, and they decided to move to Colorado.

They lived first in Thornton, where she served on the city council from 1958 to 1961, representing Ward 1. They eventually moved to Boulder, settling in the Table Mesa subdivision in the early 1960s, where they raised their children, Greg and Julie.

Dorothy spent over 35 years in public education in such roles as a substitute teacher, English teacher, physical education teacher, guidance counselor and Student Council advisor, helping countless students navigate their lives.

She was an activist. One example was when she helped start a Peace Corps school in Colombia in South America. She’s always maintained that activism was part of her DNA.

Gradually, she moved on from the educational world to politics — in her 60s. She believed there was no way to maintain democracy without a commitment to public education.

Dorothy built strong relationships with people and organizations throughout the state.

Her civic involvements are staggering. A partial list includes being president of the Colorado Counselors Association and being involved with Amnesty International, the National Organization of Women, the National Abortion Rights Action League, the American Association of University Women, the World International League for Peace and Freedom, and Women’s Actions for New Directions.

Dorothy also received the Daily Camera’s Lifetime Achievement Pacesetters Award in 2004 and is a recipient of a Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award.

One of her favorite sayings is, “A woman is like a snowflake. Alone she’ll melt, but with other women, she can stop traffic.”

Her career was a lifelong crusade to ensure that society met the needs of young people.

In 1966, she helped found Attention Homes, one of Boulder County’s oldest nonprofit organizations. It still provides residential treatment, counseling and safe shelter to youth.

While in the state Legislature, she focused on services for women and children, access to health care and education, the environment, prison reform, civil rights for minorities and crisis intervention for youth.

She tirelessly advocated creating a joint House-Senate committee on children and families but was unsuccessful in that endeavor.

We need more activists these days with Dorothy’s traits of commitment, passion and caring, with a never-give-up approach to life’s challenges. We all can learn from her.

She’s been a community treasure, an extraordinary woman who dedicated her life to making a difference, touching many people’s lives and promoting what was just, right and fair.

And a “Jill” of all trades: She conducted the wedding ceremony for Colorado U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and his wife.

She once said one of her greatest challenges was, “Maintaining hope in the face of global uncertainty about how human beings will figure out how to live on this Earth together.”

While she hasn’t pursued a traditional path in life and politics, she has shown us there are many ways to make a difference.

Dorothy Rupert is truly a woman for all seasons.

Jim Martin is at jimmartinesq@gmail.com.



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