Making Democracy Work

History of the LWV Sanibel

It All Started With A Failed Forum
By Carla Benninga, LWV Sanibel Founding President

The 2009 Sanibel City Council election year was pivotal in the history of the LWV Sanibel. That year, because there were more candidates than open positions, an island group organized a candidates' forum so Sanibel residents could meet the candidates, learn about their views, and become informed voters. Unfortunately the forum was not a success. Some of the candidates felt that it was a biased event and chose not to participate in the forum.

During the weeks that followed, some people wondered why there was no League of Women Voters on Sanibel to organize such debates -- the type of unbiased event that the League is known for nationally. A group of six local activist women had been thinking about this as well and met soon after the forum to consider solutions. Since Carla Benninga had been an LWV leader in the sixties and seventies, she was charged with finding out what the options were and how to go about starting a LWV unit on Sanibel. The group compiled an extensive file of information and enlisted help from the officers of the Florida LWV, including from Deirdre Macnab who was then State Membership Chair. Eventually, the original group became a core group of three women: Carla Benninga, Linda Kramer and Linda Robison.

Carla Benninga, Linda Kramer and Linda Robison working on documents to submit for League status, 2009.
Their decision to go ahead with the formation of the Sanibel League of Women Voters was strongly supported by the Florida LWV.

In the spring of 2009, Deirdre Macnab, who in the meantime had become President of the Florida LWV, along with the LWV State Membership Chair and the Executive Director, visited Sanibel to meet with the core group of activists. The meeting was extremely productive and educational. The local group learned how to form a LWV Members at Large (MAL) unit, which is the local league status that precedes becoming a LWV unit recognized by the LWV-US National Board. With summer approaching, the project was put on hold until the first meeting could be held in November of 2009. In the meantime the group was actively enlisting members for the MAL unit.

By the time of the first meeting in November 2009, the membership drive was successful with a number of women -- and men -- joining to help form the nascent Sanibel LWV and by then, the membership of the Board had increased to six. On November 10, 2009 the first general meeting of a proposed League group took place even though the organizers were not sure if anyone would attend. Deirdre MacNab had graciously accepted the invitation to be the speaker that afternoon. Over 50 Sanibellians showed up, with many completing membership applications that day. By January 2010 there were 67 members and seven Board Members with a number of programs for the rest of the season.

At that time the new local Board decided to apply for League MAL status. This involved assembling over 25 pages of documents, including, among many things, biographies of the officers and the establishment of bylaws. The packet had to be in duplicate, one packet for the LWV-Florida and one for the LWV-US. The League of Women Voters of Florida, at its March 21, 2010 Board Meeting announced that the Sanibel MAL unit of the Florida LWV had met all requirements to be recognized as a local League. This action was approved unanimously. Creation of the LWV Sanibel MAL unit could not have been accomplished without the help from the State League, especially from Deirdre Macnab who provided guidance every step along the way and Peg McGarity who was the State Executive Director at that time.

It was the State LWV's task to send all information to the National LWV. On June 11, 2010, the Sanibel group received the eagerly awaited announcement that the LWV of the United States, at its Board Meeting held at the convention in Atlanta, had recognized the former Sanibel MAL unit with full League status.

The LWV Sanibel, at its first annual meeting on April 7, 2010 elected the following members to its Board of Directors: Carla Benninga - President; Mary McLaughlin - Vice President; Linda Kramer - Secretary; Linda Robison - Treasurer; and Darlene Boda, Carolyn Gray, Martha Ponader, and Robert Winters as Directors at Large.

Subsequent presidents have been Mari Ehrhart, Barbara Joy Cooley, Robin Krivanek, and Robyn Cook.

In the spring of 2017, it will have been eight years since the first activists started to talk about forming an LWV Sanibel. The group has now grown to 80 members, 20% of whom are men. The group has learned a lot along the way, including from some mistakes as well as from many accomplishments.