“If a person is going to engage in significant social change, they must accept the fact that they will be in the struggle for a lifetime. Nothing that is sustainable will happen quickly or without long-term engagement.”
Meet Alan Houseman ’65, whose parting words to an audience of Oberlin alumni in September reflect all too well his own career battle: fighting for the rights of low-income Americans. Equal justice under law, he says, requires equal access to the justice system. But there is a huge gap, he adds, between the legal needs of low-income people and the resources to help them.
“A recent study showed that at least 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans are not being met,” says Alan, a longtime advocate of legal aid for all people. As executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) in Washington, DC, he has a mission to improve the economic security, education, and employment prospects of low-income families and individuals and to assure access to the civil justice system for those who can’t otherwise afford an attorney.
In honor of his advocacy work, Alan was awarded the Alumni Association’s 2006 Distinguished Achievement Award, presented during the Alumni Council’s fall dinner and awards ceremony in September. In presenting the award, Awards Committee Chair Bill Bradford ’76 said: “It is an important thing when one has found his life’s passion. However, it is another thing to use that passion to make a difference, and Alan has done just that. Be it on a local, state, or national level, Alan has truly been a champion of providing legal services to low-income individuals and minorities.”
After graduating from New York University’s School of Law, Alan moved to Detroit, where he worked with a legal aid program and as counsel to the West Side Mothers Welfare Rights Organization. He then expanded services on a statewide level as director of Michigan Legal Service, which provided legal assistance on welfare, consumer, housing, and other issues affecting low-income persons.
Nationally, Alan went on to form the legal committee of the National Welfare Rights Organization and lobbied to create the Legal Services Corporation, created by Congress to provide civil legal aid to low-income persons. He also invested time in DC as a lobbyist for Action for Legal Rights. In 1976, he became director of the Research Institute on Legal Assistance, where, until 1982, he oversaw training and advocacy programs and fostered new venues of practice for civil legal aid lawyers. Alan is married to Susan Margolis Houseman ’66.
Gideon Schein’s longtime service to Oberlin probably warrants him a paycheck by now. Winner of the Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Award, he has volunteered since the early 1980s with the career services office, where he’s served as a mentor and assisted students with their career choices, and with the admissions office, serving as an admissions representative and paving the way for prospective students. He served as vice president and president of his 1968 reunion class, was instrumental in planning his cluster’s 30th reunion in 1998, and presided over his cluster’s reunion gift committee. During a New York City fundraiser in 1984, Gideon was influential in raising a large sum of money for Oberlin, and he was later involved with The New Oberlin Century Campaign. With a master’s degree in theater and an MBA in marketing and film finance from Columbia University, Gideon has worked as a producer, director, writer, and translator for the theater, opera, music theatre, film, and television. He is a partner with Gossamer Films and a founding partner of Eddy and Schein, helping senior citizens to manage their financial, legal, and health insurance matters.
As a biopsychology major at Oberlin, Laura Wendell had no reason to foresee a future career in library science. But when the villagers of Yikpa in Togo, West Africa, expressed the need for a local library instead of better fishing ponds, Laura, a Peace Corps volunteer at the time, got to work seeking out book donations. With a grant from the Friends of Togo, plus donations from the United States Embassy library and others, the village’s first library opened with 200 books, which, amazingly, circulated 2,000 times that first month. Today, Laura is founder of the World Library Partnership, a support organization for people trying to start libraries around the world. She established a “sister library” program (think sister cities), which allows established libraries to help and share with libraries in need, and she wrote a manual on how to start a library that has been translated into French, Spanish, and Idonesian. The World Library Partnership also created “Inform the World,” a volunteer program that trains librarians and sends them to areas in the world. In recognition of a career that exemplifies Oberlin’s values, Laura was awarded the 2006 Certificate of Appreciation.
Admissions Coordinator of the Year Andy Rowan, as the sole coordinator for the central New Jersey area, keeps student recruitment efforts running smoothly. “Andy is a natural for this volunteer job: he is always enthusiastic, he finds alumni to conduct interviews or attend college fairs, and he is a terrific manager of the volunteer recruiters in the Princeton area,” says Assistant Director of Admissions Joshua Levy ’94. “A devoted member of the Admissions Advisory Committee, Andy regularly returns to campus to offer insights into how we can strengthen our recruiting efforts around the country.” Andy lives in Trenton, where he is director of the New Jersey Office of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and an instructor at Rutgers.
Presented with the Class President of the Year Award was Andy Goldner, a loyal alumnus and dedicated class officer who was determined to entice the largest possible group of 1956 classmates back to campus for their 50th reunion last May. “His enthusiasm was invaluable in planning a successful weekend of activities and events in which more than 130 classmates participated,” says Alumni Association Executive Director Laura Gobbi ’91. “We appreciate the enormous amount of time he volunteered in leading his fantastic planning committee in the effort of reconnecting friends with each other and with Oberlin.” A retired University of Arizona professor, Andy lives in Grants Pass, Oregon.
Class Agent of the Year Bruce Breslauer used e-mail messages and “extra pushes” to convince his 35th reunion class to give more generously, even after reunion weekend. “Bruce and his co-class agent, Linda Kirwin, were particularly impressive in their coordination and teamwork,” says Donna Ancypa Holmes ’91, assistant director of the Oberlin Fund. “Their approach to the class agent role can serve as a model for Oberlin’s expanding class and decade agent fundraising efforts.” Bruce, who lives in Helena, Montana, is an orientation and mobility specialist for the State of Montana.
Regional Coordinator of the Year Megan Cutnaw Bedo worked tirelessly to help plan events for the Oberlin Club of Cleveland—even while expecting her own prospective Obie (Class of 2028). “Megan’s energy, dedication, and love for Oberlin has invigorated our local alumni population,” says Paul Wolansky, director of alumni outreach and education. “Oberlin is fortunate to have this individual representing us right in our own Northeast Ohio backyard.” Megan, who lives in Amherst, Ohio, works as a patient servicing leader at Human Arc.
Also honored in September were retiring members of the Alumni Council’s Executive Board.