Local Women’s Rights Activist Remembered

michael-j.-arvizu
el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">MICHAEL J. ARVIZU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Glendale Community College
and staff gathered in
Kreider Hall on Jan. 9 to honor
the memory of women’s rights
advocate and three-time GCC
Board of Trustee member Rae
Berry. Berry, a former La
Crescenta resident, died Dec. 3
in Yuma, Ariz., of pneumonia.
She was 86.

Berry served on the GCC
board from 1983 until her
retirement in 1995. But by that
time, Berry had roughly 60 years
of work experience under her
belt. Many of Berry’s life
struggles and accomplishments
are recorded in an oral essay,
titled “I Never Asked
Permission: The Life of Rae
Berry,” written by former GCC
professor of history and gender
issues Deborah Dentler, in 1995.

“I became interested in
interviewing Rae Berry, and
writing the story of her life,
when I stood in the back of the
room observing her retirement
party,” wrote Dentler.

“I loved
the stories she told that day. Here
was a person who’d lived the
very things I teach about. Here
was someone whose story should
be told.”Dentler says she was
privileged to have spent 30-plus
hours interviewing Berry.

Berry was born Rachel
McMaster on Sept. 24, 1917, in
Berryville, Ark., about 200 miles north of Little Rock. She was the
youngest of four surviving
children.

During World War II, on the
advice of her future husband and
welder, Dave, she enrolled in
welding school and later
acquired a job at Western Pipe &
Steel Company where she made
icebreaker ships, welding the
hulls of the ships from huge
sheets of steel.

“I love welding,”Berry said
during her interviews with
Dentler. “Like
my mother
always said, I’m
not afraid of the
devil himself.”
A l t h o u g h
welding was
men’s work at
the time, she
says she did not
feel discriminated
against
because of her
closeness with
her brother Alan.
He gave her the
experience she
needed to coexist with her male
co-workers.

Berry and Dave married on
Jan. 5, 1944, with Berry seeing
Dave off to war three days later.
By 1945, Dave had returned and
promptly set up a shop as a
welder.

Berry left work and became a
housewife. However, this
experience was short-lived because she did not take well to
being domesticated. ” I wanted to
be married, not dead,.” she said.

Berry and Dave moved to La
Crescenta in 1950. Berry worked
for Pacific Telephone for 25
years and retired in 1972 as a
training supervisor in the
personnel department.

The 1970s marked the
beginning of Berry’s advocacy
for women’s rights, becoming
Glendale’s leader in this fight.

She became president of the
board of Glendale’s YWCA in
1975. During her tenure, Berry
initiated many YWCAprograms,
including a women’s resource
center established after Berry’s
successful efforts to hold an
Equity Day in
Glendale in 1976.

Berry was also
responsible for
e s t a b l i s h i n g
the YWCA’s
childcare centers
and domestic
v i o l e n c e
programs. Her
most recent
effort was in
1991 when she
founded the
Greater Glendale
Child Care
Council, in
which she served for three years.
Berry served on the Crescenta
Valley Water District board from
1976 to 1993, with two terms as
president. She was responsible
for eliminating the use of wells
and septic tanks in the Crescenta
Valley.

Berry served one term as
president of the GCC board of
trustees in 1985. Throughout her
tenure she fiercely opposed
budget cuts and was involved in
the effort to appoint history
professor John A. Davitt as
president in 1985.

Berry also served on the
Glendale College Foundation for
one year in 1985 and was
responsible for establishing the
foundation endowment fund. In
addition, she helped to create the
college’s women’s athletics
programs.

“I can never share with you all
of the accomplishments of Rae
Berry in all those years that she
was at the college,” said
professor of history Peggy
Renner.

“She did all the work at the
college as a volunteer. She really
believed that after she had
finished her gainful work, she
had a job to do, that she would
volunteer her time and her
energy. But after all of that time
and energy, she never asked to
see a check made out in her
name.”

GCC trustee Victor I. King
said, “She was always trying to
make things better.” He added,
“She was always energetic.”

Berry moved to Yuma to live
with her nephew after her health
began to fail after her retirement
from the GCC board. Berry
spent the last three years living
in a retirement community. She
passed away at a local hospital.

“She was the most remarkable
person and somebody that will
be missed at the college and
missed by me,”said Davitt,
holding back a tear. “When she
moved to Yuma, there was a void
here, and her memory will
continue on.”