STEUBENVILLE - Eileen Krupinski's acknowledgment as Woman of the Year by the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio organization founded in 1931 has come and gone, but not her conviction that women need to be politically involved.
"If you're not happy with the way politics are going right now, which a lot of people aren't, get involved - get involved and see what kind of a change you can make. Everybody's got ideas. We need new ideas," Krupinski said.
"Politics affects all of us, so it's not just vote, but get involved," she emphasized.
HONORED — Eileen Krupinski of Steubenville, recognized as the Woman of the Year by the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio, remains committed to encouraging women to be politically involved. Her award included a photo of her when she served as president of the state organization from 2007-09.
-- Janice R. Kiaski
The Steubenville resident was singled out for the surprise honor at the spring convention of the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio that was held in Elyria. She has been a member of it since 1981 and from 2007-09 served as president of the organization that has approximately 400 members in about 30 clubs throughout the Buckeye State.
Another go-round of applause for the honor came more recently, however, at the 82nd-annual Federated Democratic Women of Ohio fall convention held in late September at the McKinley Grand Hotel in Canton. The Stark County Democratic Women served as host of that convention where the theme was "Celebrating Women Past, Present and Future." As part of special recognition given to past presidents of the state organization, Willa Wade, president of the Jefferson County Federated Democratic Women's Club that Krupinski also is involved in, applauded her peer.
Because of her state honor, Krupinski was tapped to lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Krupinski was chosen for the state award on several fronts, including her length of membership in the group and her service in it. She has been budget chair, legislative chair for a number of years and in office capacities to include second vice president, first vice president and then president.
She also organized seven conventions, the first one held in Steubenville.
"It was before the Holiday Inn was built," Krupinski reminisced. "They (attendees) stayed in dorm rooms at the university, and Dick Celeste was governor then. I worked on that convention held in Steubenville, and I joined the state organization at that point in time, so I've been a member for a number of years."
That Krupinski was an active member of the organization while serving as a state representative also distinguished her for the award.
"Very few women elected officials are active with the group," she said. "They belong, they hold a membership, but they don't come, and they don't participate," said Krupinski, who followed in her husband, Jerry's, footsteps in becoming a state representative.
The two have always been politically minded, politically involved, according to Krupinski.
Their first date, she notes with a chuckle, was to a Young Democrats dance.
"We've just been involved in politics our entire married life," she said. The couple will celebrate their 45th anniversary come May.
"Jerry was a past county commissioner for a term and a half and a past state representative, which at the time, state representative would have been Jefferson, Harrison and part of Tuscarawas counties," she said. "When he first ran, it was Jefferson and Harrison (counties), then it was redistricted and part of Tuscarawas County was added. His service was from 1987, and then he got term limited out in 2000."
That's when Eileen threw her hat in the proverbial ring.
"Then I ran in 2000 and served from 2001 to 2002, and then they redistricted again and took away Harrison and Tuscarawas counties and put in Belmont County," she said.
Krupinski said it was actually a friend of hers, a woman state representative from the Republican party, who encouraged her to run.
"When I was going with Jerry to help him after he had had his stroke, I was driving and while he was in session or something, I would sit in his office and do constituent work, and I was sitting at his desk, and Joy Pageant walked by and said, 'I think you ought to run for Jerry's seat.'"
Krupinski would later confess the seed to run for office already had been planted, that Pageant had merely "watered it."
Her husband was supportive. "He thought it was great. It was a role reversal for us, you know, because he would come to the office with me until he got really sick, and he did constituency work for me," she said. "He would give me advice. We didn't always agree, and everybody kept saying you have big shoes to fill but I said, 'No, I'm bringing my own shoes.'"
And while it was a woman who encouraged her to run, it also was a woman who gave her her first political contribution, a woman who was a member of the state organization, according to Krupinski, now an honorary life member of it.
Krupinski became a state representative and became involved with the state Democratic party. She also served as a state central committeewoman for about four terms "and that put me at the table at the state level. That put me on the executive committee of the state party, and at one point, I served on the screening committee for people who were running for statewide office. Not everyone gets to do that so I was able to screen the candidates who were running for statewide office then," she said.
"I also was privileged to be able to go to the National Democratic Convention as a delegate in Denver in 2008. I was a Hillary Clinton delegate. Barack Obama became our nominee," she said.
Obama accepted his nomination in a speech at INVESCO Field before a record-setting crowd that included Krupinski there to witness the party's first African-American nominee for president.
On the local level, Krupinski said it was actually in her home where the foundation was laid for what today is the Jefferson County Federated Democratic Women's Club.
That was around 1980.
Originally there were Democratic women's clubs all over the county, but as years passed, their membership dwindled, she said.
"They all just kind of fizzled. People got disinterested and got on with their lives doing other things," she said, explaining that it was her desire to unite Democratic women in an organization. Encouraged by the late Pete McKeegan, then chairman of the county Democratic party, a meeting was held. "They met in my living room, and we started what is now known as the Jefferson County Federated Democratic Women. It kind of combined Steubenville and Wintersville together, but we called it Wintersville," she said.
Asked why she feels so strongly about being involved politically, Krupinski said, "I just thought we needed to be involved. If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."
The phrase is one that Krupinski said she heard at a convention, and it makes sense. "If you're not at the table, meaning at the table of government, then whatever they throw your way, you don't have a voice," she said when asked for an interpretation of the expression.
Krupinski said the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio is made up of 10 regions. Jefferson is in Region 8, and Harrison is in Region 5.
Its purpose is to promote the Democratic caucus, "to work with, not for, but to work with the state party. We're a grassroots organization. We bring back the information to club presidents, and club presidents take it back to their groups and work on campaigns. We also try to promote women to run for office," she said.
"We are the boots on the ground, the grassroots level to get out there and make phone calls, go door to door," she said.
A souvenir brochure from the convention touches on the group's history.
"Something had to be done about it," it begins. "The 19th Amendment giving the vote to women had been passed more than 10 years before, and yet here in 1931, the women still stood outside the party doors, having little part in political organizations and none in shaping party policies," the bulletin insert notes.
"Nellie Taylor Ross, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, thought she had the answer - women must organize. Early in 1931, Mrs. Ross sent letters urging the forming of state clubs of Democratic women, with branches in every county, city and village.
"Bernice Pyke, then serving as Democratic National Committeewoman from Ohio, and Luetta Magruder, vice chairman of the state central committee, decided to call a meeting of all the state central committee to discuss the feasibility of such an organization in Ohio. It was called for July 28, 1931, at the Deshler-Wallick Hotel in Columbus.
"All were enthusiastic over the plan to organize our Democratic women into a statewide group," the history notes, ending with "Our policy of promoting the cause of the Democratic Party and uniting all Democrats has remained unchanged and steadfast."
Throughout her political involvement, one of the greatest joys for Krupinski and her husband has been going to schools to talk to students about government.
"Last year when our granddaughter Ava was in the first grade, we went to her class," she said of the experience where the pupils had a crack at passing their own law - banning homework.
"We had them pass their own law and let them go through the whole procedure. It was amazing," she said of the pupils' enthusiasm and interest.
Promoting that interest in politics, government and the Democratic process is part of that grassroots effort at the heart of the Federated Democratic Women of Ohio.
"Part of what I've done as a Democratic woman is to try to teach the younger generation."
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)