Remembering Janet Strothman

Janet Strothman

photo by Marilyn Nasatir

Janet Strothman remembered the League in her will; she left us nearly $30,000, which arrived in the League office this summer. A longtime member, Janet died on September 9, 2020 at 93. Janet was an active and enthusiastic member who helped with many League activities; she was a regular office volunteer, worked on the monthly mailings of our newsletter, the Voter, registered voters, and participated in meetings. Suzanne Chun, who has worked in our office for many years, said, “Janet always came to help whenever I asked her and always came to our luncheons. She had a lovely wry sense of humor. I always enjoyed working with her.”

I remember Janet with great affection as a friend and near neighbor for many years and as a generous and hardworking staffer of our biggest public education and documentary project for the state League Education Fund, Cleaning Up Toxics.

In 1989, after the state League had completed a major research and policy project on how hazardous materials were stored and used in California, and after our small video team had produced and broadcast 3 documentaries at KTVU, Channel 2, our team proposed another public education and broadcast video project to the state League board. “Fine, if you can raise the money for it,” was the board’s doubt-filled response. We raised $125,000 from a range of companies and agencies so we could research, write and produce two half-hour videos. We relied on the large and knowledgable League committee from the hazardous waste study. Channel 44 in San Jose agreed to do the initial broadcasts; their news anchor, Jan Hutchins, agreed to be our on-air host. We hired an experienced cameraman and a sound technician, and, later, a lighting tech and then an expert editor.

I was anxious about keeping track of all this money that didn’t belong to me, so we hired a part-time bookkeeper to keep our accounts. And, by great good luck, Janet became the office manager for the project. Janet had retired as an elementary school teacher and librarian, but, although she had her school retirement, she still needed some social security quarters to be eligible for social security payments. She asked whether we could we hire her for minimum wage and pay her social security for enough hours so that she could become eligible for social security retirement payments. Absolutely! what a great arrangement for both of us! She got SS payments; the League got an outstanding near-volunteer.

Once or twice a week during our 20 days of shooting in Northern and Southern California, Janet would climb down her back steps, cross Summit Road, and walk down the steps to the door of my study, now our production office. She would pick up phone calls and gather and make sense of all the receipts and scribbled notes I dropped on her desk and send them off to the bookkeeper. She continued to keep our records in order as we edited and completed the two half hour video programs, ‘Cleaning Up Toxics at Home’ and ‘Cleaning Up Toxics in Business’, and a variety of press releases and informational handouts.

We could not have reached 100 television stations all over California without her. We sent announcements about the videos to all California Leagues. They approached their local waste management departments to find out when and where collections of hazardous household waste were scheduled and then went to their local public or commercial television stations to persuade them to run the two videos in coordination with the announcements of local hazardous waste collection events. Janet handled all the mailings. She sent the videos directly to the TV stations, and kept track of when the videos returned. (At that time, most Leaguers were not familiar with video formats or how stations used them.) Janet responded to anxious phone calls from other Leagues and solved any problems. Janet continued to be the backbone of the project when we raised additional money to expand it to Leagues all over the country. We reached an additional 100 Leagues in 100 cities during the later phase of the project. In 1992 we ended the project with a Final Report to the League board and our funders—mailed out by Janet Strothman, of course.

You can read about other aspects of Janet’s life in an excellent obituary from the San Francisco Chronicle.

–Nancy Bickel

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