Decades of activism designated for honor

Decades of activism designated for honor

CHAMPAIGN — When the nurses of Champaign's old Burnham City Hospital were fighting to form a union and went out on strike, and some lost their jobs for good, Janet Anderson was one of them.

When Anderson saw the need for countywide public health services, she not only worked to help get voter approval, she ran for the Champaign County Board herself to help carry out voters' wishes.

And those are just two of the contributions that have made the now 82-year-old retired nurse an activist to honor in the eyes of Champaign County Health Care Consumers, which plans to give Anderson its Lifetime Achievement Award on April 15.

It's not an honor the organization conveys every year, because this award recognizes someone for a body of work over a lifetime. Since 2002, Anderson will be just the fourth person to receive the lifetime achievement award from Health Care Consumers, according to Claudia Lennhoff, its executive director.

Lennhoff said she first encountered Anderson when Anderson got involved helping with Health Care Consumers' campaign for countywide public health, and she said Anderson had a major influence on her own work as a health care advocate.

There was so much opposition on the county board to the public health campaign, Lennhoff recalled, "Jan decided to run for the county board because she wanted to see it through. She's one of the few people I know who really went into public office out of a calling to public service. She had no aspirations to public office. She saw it as a job she could do."

Lennhoff describes Anderson as a caring, tenacious and determined person, and said it was also Anderson who helped her understand that working conditions for health care professionals are important to the care that patients receive.

"She is unassuming, and doesn't have much of an ego, and people, I think, don't see her coming," Lennhoff said.

Banished from Burnham

Anderson grew up in Berwick, Pa., in a family of four siblings, her mom a homemaker and her dad a steelworker.

She studied to become a registered nurse at the former Williamsport Hospital School in her native state and met her husband, Ansel Anderson, early in her nursing years when he stopped by a softball game she was attending at a state mental hospital where she was working.

"He liked to tell the story that he picked me up at the state mental hospital," she recalled with a smile.

She and her husband were married in 1955, and they first came to Champaign-Urbana in 1957 when Mr. Anderson, who died a year ago, chose the University of Illinois to pursue a doctorate in physics. The Andersons made their home in Champaign, with Mr. Anderson becoming a longtime physics professor at the UI and eventually head of the physics department.

Janet Anderson first worked briefly as a nurse for Carle until a few months before the first of their two children was born. She later worked as a nurse at Burnham during a turbulent period in its history. The nurses tried to form a committee to establish nursing protocols, she recalled.

"We were accused of wanting to administer the hospital," she said.

The nurses also fought to gain recognition as a collective bargaining unit under the Illinois Nurses Association. Anderson recalled signing a membership card, and going out on strike along with other nurses after one was fired. The strike that took place in the spring and early summer of 1970 didn't end favorably for the union effort, and Anderson said she and several other nurses lost their jobs.

Anderson went to work in private nursing after that, and then worked for 17 years in the office of an independent local physician, Dr. Charles Shepardson.

No slowing down

She first got involved working for countywide public health services because she believed restaurant inspections and child immunizations should be available to all. And in most of the state, she said, public health districts were already countywide.

She ran for the Champaign County Board in 2000, and served through 2012. She first ran as a Democrat in a district that was 60 percent Republican, and wound up the top vote-getter, she said. On the county board, she put her health background to work, serving as the liaison to the county mental health board and also serving five years on the county nursing home board.

Anderson has also helped serve her church, First United Methodist, in Champaign as a member of its mission committee and for a decade as an organizer of the church's annual CROP Walk to benefit hunger programs. She remains active in the United Methodist Women and part of Church Women United, recently becoming the group's treasurer.

Anderson said her husband was diagnosed a year before his death with the same bone marrow cancer, multiple myeloma, that she was diagnosed with in 2011 and has been undergoing treatment for ever since.

She's also been recovering from a broken arm since last October, and is using a walker to help her balance these days, but enjoys getting out and spending time seeing her family.

Her grandkids are all in their 20s and she has great-grandchildren ranging in age from 11 months to 6.

"I feel very lucky to have a lot of them close by," she said.

Anderson hasn't been driving a lot since her arm injury, she said, but is looking forward to getting back behind the wheel again more.

"I'm still trying to do as much as I can," she said.

Anderson file

Favorite pastime: She loves to read. Two recent favorites are Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild" and "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown.

Family: She has one surviving son, Alan Anderson of Rantoul, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her daughter, Gail Mann, died in 2013.

Keeping watch: She spent years as part of the observer corps for the League of Women Voters, helping keep government transparent by attending Champaign City Council and Parkland College Board meetings.

Honor roll

Champaign County Health Care Consumers will celebrate 39 years of community organizing at an awards dinner on April 15 at Hawthorn Suites, Champaign. This year's honorees:

Henrietta DeBoer Volunteer of the Year: Ellie Fujimoto and Serena Hou.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Janet Anderson.

Lester Pritchard Citizen Leadership Award: Jennifer Knapp, executive director and founder of Community Choices.

Harry J. Baker Community Service Award: Champaign-Urbana Canteen Run.

Illinois Disciples Foundation Movement Building Award: AgeOptions.

John Lee Johnson Social Justice Award: 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign leaders MD Pelmore, Ebbie Cook, Magnolia Cook, Eileen Oldham, Sandra Jackson and Jerry "JB" Lewis.

Golden Bedpan Dis-service Award: Will go to either Gov. Bruce Rauner of former pharma CEO Martin Shkreli, depending on the results of a public vote.

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pattsi wrote on April 06, 2016 at 7:04 am

Tip of the hat to Jan.