April 17, 2016

My Mom, the 101-Year-Old Activist

So I settle in with a nice cup of coffee, open my local paper today, Sunday, and turn to the lead editorial and I read....


Chico resident Lois Van der Leun is 101 years old. In a century of living, she never felt a need to get up and speak at a Chico City Council meeting — until Thursday.

She has been a Chico resident (and E-R subscriber) since 1963. When the council started talking about massive changes to The Esplanade, she wrote a letter to the editor last month urging citizens to rally against changing “our beautiful, gorgeous boulevard.”

She showed up at the council meeting earlier this month, ready to share her opinion, but when the meeting ran late into the night, she left, like many people that night.

Undeterred, she was there for part two of the meeting Thursday night.

She was easily recognizable. She was the one in the bright green T-shirt with three words on the front: “Save The Esplanade.”

She had four of them made and gave the others to friends. The saying caught on. Another one of Thursday’s speakers echoed her words — “Save The Esplanade” — at the podium and got a round of applause.

When Van der Leun’s name was called to speak, somebody offered to bring her the microphone so she wouldn’t have to walk to the podium. She would have none of that.

She made her points, then added, “I had some more to say but I can’t remember it all — because I’m old, I guess.”

And then: “As you can see, I’m not for changing anything on The Esplanade. See my T-shirt? ... I’m hoping nothing happens to it. OK?”

With that she walked back up to her seat as the audience applauded.

Full disclosure: I’ve known Van der Leun for a decade. A retired teacher, she was a volunteer at my kids’ school, the beloved “Grandma Lois.” She somehow still remembers their names. I want to be like her when I grow up.

There were a lot of people like her at the meeting Thursday — longtime Chico residents who don’t normally show up at meetings, but felt they had to for this topic. The vast majority of speakers were older residents with fond memories and a sense of history. The “Don’t mess with The Esplanade” crowd made a strong showing.

They didn’t want changes. They wanted police to enforce the law on running red lights. They wanted bicyclists to use designated bike routes like Oleander Avenue. They wanted Chico High School to improve drop-off and pick-up zones to address the congestion it creates. They wanted pedestrians to stop being oblivious.

There were a lot of ways to fix The Esplanade without tearing it apart, they said.

Then the council tore it apart.

Most of the changes were no big deal. Increasing the crosswalk time for pedestrians, creating pedestrian refuges in the median of The Esplanade and building a two-lane bike path in the old railroad right-of-way were all easy options to approve.

Putting two roundabouts on The Esplanade near Chico High will be the decision that haunts the four councilors who voted for it because it changes the historic nature of the street much more than a bike path or a crosswalk.

Longtime resident Nancy’s Lindahl’s letter in Thursday’s newspaper hit home with me. “If The Esplanade was a natural phenomenon like, say, Bidwell Park, we would teach our children to respect it, preserve it, go around it, adapt to it and not disturb it. We would consider it part of our unique heritage, which it is.”

For a little while longer anyway.

I called Van der Leun the next morning. She was visiting with a friend, talking about the council’s decision. I told her I was stunned. She said she wasn’t.

“I knew it would play out that way,” she said. “The minute they hire a consultant to make all those drawings, they’ve already decided.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

“Personally,” she said, “I think it should go to the ballot. Citizens should be able to vote on something so important, but I don’t know if anybody will go to the trouble of challenging it.

“I know I don’t have the energy,” she said.

David Little: Longtime residents can’t make the save on The Esplanade

Posted by gerardvanderleun at April 17, 2016 8:43 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.


Posted by: ghostsniper at April 18, 2016 4:44 AM

Apple. Tree. May there be many more occasions.

Posted by: Punditarian at April 18, 2016 4:58 AM

Great story and typical ending for what has become an epidemic of out of control government. The political corruption apparent in DC starts at the city council level and moves upward as does floating scum.

Posted by: Terry at April 18, 2016 7:30 AM

Whenever I am in doubt, I consult the dictionary.

adjective uk /mæɡˈnɪf.ɪ.sənt/ us /mæɡˈnɪf.ə.sənt/
very good, ​beautiful, or ​deserving to be ​admired

That about covers it.

Posted by: Sippican at April 18, 2016 8:39 AM

Go get 'em, Mom!

Proud of her and kindles the civic fire.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at April 18, 2016 10:20 AM

Conservative: Keeping and maintaining that which has been built or decided upon previously, preventing change for the sake of change, causing thought to be taken before action.
A century of experience and wisdom is ignored in favor of a hired consultant who does not live in the community, has no experience, and will take the money and be gone, never having to live with the consequences of the decision.
I would let the council members know that their names will be remembered at the next election, and their opponents, no matter who they are, will get the votes of those who tried to Save the Esplanade.
Elected officials do not like to hear you will support their opponent. Really.


Say hi to your mom. Mine is gone 25 years ago last week, and she would have been 98 this August.

Posted by: tomw at April 18, 2016 10:25 AM

Good for your mom.

Posted by: Bradoplata (@bradoplata) at April 18, 2016 10:48 AM

The cap says it all. Feisty.

"Do NOT sass me, Sonny. Now go to your room."

"Hey, I don't even know you, Lady."

"A minor point. Now go to your room and think about your disgraceful behavior."

[aside. "Tough lady, but I bet her kid loves her a lot."]

Posted by: Lance de Boyle at April 18, 2016 10:50 AM

No wonder you seem so young. It's genetic.

Posted by: baldilocks at April 18, 2016 10:59 AM


Posted by: Amazed at April 18, 2016 11:03 AM

Tell her that it wouldn't matter if it was on the ballot, even if they voted against it. All you have to do is lookup Columbia River Crossing

We need a new bridge to replace the I-5 bridge between Vancouver WA and Portland. The elected officials came up with an expensive project, complete with light rail (which we've voted against before). We voted against the bridge and light rail again. It still won't die. The only thing saving us is that the bridge is too low to allow for river boat traffic and the Corps of Engineers won't let it be built. (The consultants have made big dollars, including the current mayor. He ran on a "no tolls bridge" campaign to get elected. Then he started calling for tolls. )

Posted by: Teri pittman at April 18, 2016 1:36 PM

The Dowager Dutchess, Lady Van der Leun.

Now buckle down and start playing tennis, we've got a long way to go. And by the way, today is my birthday, and I'm older than you. Again.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at April 18, 2016 5:35 PM

GVDL, you are so blessed. I know you thank God every day, and you should.

Posted by: Browncoat at April 18, 2016 7:15 PM

Ain't she a doozy! My love to her.

Posted by: Fontessa at April 18, 2016 8:32 PM

What a treasure! I smile each time you note her activities here on AD. She is a magnificent lady!

Posted by: DeAnn at April 19, 2016 5:28 AM

WE are all too damn civilized.

Posted by: John The River at April 19, 2016 12:50 PM

Bravo to your mother!!!

You must be so proud, Gerard.

Posted by: Daphne at April 20, 2016 4:16 PM

Great story Gerard.

My grandmother was a teacher also. Her 100th birthday was a public event in her small town in Idaho. A man in his 70s, a former student, brought her an apple as a birthday gift.

Posted by: Clinton at April 23, 2016 3:19 AM