Kirkwood resident Jane Towater's long history of dedication to racial justice and community service has been recognized with countless honors, most recently the "Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan" award given by St. Andrew's Center.
During her tenure as the Associate National Executive Director of the YWCA USA (Young Women's Christian Association), Towater worked both nationally and internationally for women's equality and for the elimination of racism.
"I certainly didn't do it by myself," said Towater, who at 87 years young is still an outspoken dynamo. "I worked alongside the late civil rights leader and YWCA Racial Justice Director Dorothy Height on a variety of national projects. I learned from her.
"I highly recommend her book, 'Open Wide the Gates of Freedom,' which describes the Freedom Summer in Mississippi and being at Martin Luther King Jr.'s side during the March on Washington. She also talks about our projects in the book."
Among Towater's YWCA projects: constructing a school for girls and women in Turkey; providing milk cows for families in Africa; encouraging equal rights for women in countries with repressive governments.
Following freedom fighter Nelson Mandela's release from prison, Towater explored the many needs of non-profit organizations in South Africa that worked for a peaceful transition from the long years of apartheid.
"The YWCA was in 91 countries when I was an associate director, and in many of those countries we were dealing with basic human needs, not recreation," said Towater. "It was a matter of helping people to survive."
Towater served with the YWCA from 1968 to 1995, although she remains with the organization as a consultant and volunteer.
Prior to joining the YWCA, Towater also played an instrumental role in developing the groundwork for inner-city street theater in Detroit following the violent civil disturbances in the city in the 1960s.
Early in her career, Towater was the youngest executive director ever of the Girl Scout Council in Tennessee in the 1950s. While with the Girl Scout organization, she built a multi-racial board and worked to integrate the organization's many camp offerings.
Today, the "Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan" continues to address human rights issues as a volunteer with the YWCA. She is also involved with Junior League Sustainer Council and active with the Women's Society of Washington University.
Saddened by Ferguson
A transplant from Jackson, Tenn., and now a proud St. Louisan, Towater said what we have learned in the aftermath of events in Ferguson shows we have a long way to go on the civil rights front. Among her observations:
• "We have got to stop profiling. We see people of a different color, or with a different religion, or from a different neighborhood, and we make faulty assumptions. We have to end profiling.
• "We don't have enough people who are disturbed by the inequality and the injustice in our society. If everything in our own backyard seems okay, then we are satisfied with the status quo.
• "We are on a counterproductive cycle in this country in that we only react to problems when there is disorder or a disturbance. Then, we wake up. We need to be fully open and honest about our situations all the time.
• "We have too many hate groups in this country. I belong to Southern Poverty Law Center, which has identified hate groups all over America and a number of them in Missouri. We need to stand up to hatred."
As a leader herself on women's and racial issues, Towater is not shy about offering up some viewpoints on current American political leadership.
"I think President Obama is an American citizen who is doing the best he can do," said Towater. "What he has done is not enough. I think when we get down the road a few years from his presidency, we will realize just how much racism came out during the time of the first black President."
On the battle that has already commenced for the U.S. Presidency for 2016, Towater is shaking her head like many Americans over developments with both political parties.
"It's all about Donald Trump now. On Trump, I don't like his personality, his showmanship, his methodology," said Towater. "But to his credit, he has brought up things no one wants to really talk about.
"One of those things is how much money is in politics and how it buys what contributors want," said Towater. "He has put down politicians on both sides about this, and he wants everyone to know he has so much money he cannot be bought."
Many Needs To Address
For one of the richest countries in the world, Towater said America and states like Missouri have a lot of needs, whether in the area of health care, helping the homeless and working with the abused. She praises the work of the YWCA in addressing the needs.
"We have had a housing program to rescue the people out on the street," said Towater. "We have had aid for education to help young mothers trying to balance jobs and school, and health care programs for their kids.
"Right here in Missouri, one out of seven women has suffered from some form of sexual abuse in their lives," said Towater. "The YWCA is providing programs to address that."
Even at 87, Towater finds the wherewithal to volunteer in the organization's programs. She said people over 65 in America still have plenty of years to contribute to a better America, and the retirement years don't have to be all about bridge and dominoes.
The over-65 population in America will rise from 12 percent in 2000 to almost 20 percent in 2030. Towater said there is plenty of untapped talent, energy and enthusiasm in that age bracket.
"That's why I am looking forward to seeing who will be chosen as the 2015 "Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan," said the 2104 Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan from Kirkwood.
The 2015 honoree will be awarded at a 6 p.m. dinner on Nov. 15 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. For information call 436-9090 or the email: email@example.com.