Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Thank you, Sharon, for all you given us...

Idaho Press-Tribune
Sharon Strauss sstrauss@idahopress.com
Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Prominent local Democrat dies

CANYON COUNTY — Just days after the largest Democratic caucus in Canyon County memory, local party activist Sharon Van Slyke died of cancer Sunday. In addition to her political work, Van Slyke has been lauded as a strong force for women and for her work to help children.

Van Slyke, 69, of Kuna, died Sunday after battling cancer. She resided at Karcher Estates rehabilitation center in Nampa at the time of her death. She lived for more than 20 years in rural Canyon County with her husband, Carl, before the couple moved to Kuna.

A matriarch of the Democratic party, Van Slyke spent a lifetime championing its causes. In particular, she advocated for a greater role for women in Idaho politics.

Van Slyke dedicated countless hours to the Idaho Democratic Women’s Caucus, holding positions both as the president and regional director. Her years of work positively impacted women politicians across the state, her fellow Democrats said.

“She was a very dedicated Democrat. She worked very hard for the party, not only for Canyon County but for the state as a whole,” said Nampa resident Mary Peck, who worked with Van Slyke for decades on Canyon County Democrat issues.

Under Van Slyke’s leadership, a candidate training module was developed by the caucus to help candidates of both genders run successful campaigns.

She also started “Dine and Dialogue with Democratic Divas,” a lunch forum that featured Democratic leaders and spotlighted issues.

When not advancing Democratic principles, she often held Democratic fundraisers at her home.

The Democratic Party was just one of Van Slyke’s many causes.

“Her claim to fame and the thing she enjoyed doing was being the birthing mother of various organizations,” her husband Carl told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “People would ask her what she did, and she would say she was a community activist.”

Among the organizations she helped bring to life were the local Interfaith Alliance, of which she was a founding member in 1998, and the Idaho Refugee Resettlement Program, where she formerly served as director.

She was a “founding mother” of the Idaho Women’s Network, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. She also served as president of the United Way of Canyon County.

“We were sad to hear of Sharon’s passing and deeply appreciated her efforts in the progressive movement,” said Idaho Women’s Network executive director Donna Wade.

Close to her heart was her affiliation with the Church Women United movement, where Van Slyke served on the national board.

Children’s advocacy was also her passion, and she played a key role in helping head up a campaign against childhood hunger with the Idaho Hunger Action Council, her husband said.

Her strong advocacy for children’s issues was inspired by the challenges she faced rearing her own daughter, who had epilepsy, Carl Van Slyke said. Over the years she served on a governor-appointed state youth council and was involved in various other child-advocacy causes, including the Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

“She was always interested in making the community a better place,” said Sally Zive, president and CEO of United Way of Treasure Valley, who first met Van Slyke in 1995. Van Slyke was a long-time United Way board member as well as the organization’s former Canyon County president. “She was one of these classic community volunteers. She just knew what needed to be done, and either recruited people to help her get things done or she got it done herself.”

Van Slyke’s health began to decline this fall after cancer was found in her stomach. Upon biopsy it was determined that it was breast cancer that had spread to her stomach.

Her husband Carl said that even as she grew weaker throughout the winter, “she still (had) that feisty attitude.”

Van Slyke wore her affiliation with the Democratic Party proudly, said those who knew her, despite an often uphill battle in Republican-dominated Canyon County.

Politics continued to be a mainstay in her life, even near the end. Van Slyke even had a life-size cut-out of Hillary Clinton in her hospital room, and the prop moved in with her at Karcher Estates.

“We have been watching Democratic politics on TV each day. We are just sorry that we were not able to participate in the Idaho Caucuses on Feb. 5,” Carl Van Slyke told friends via e-mail in the days before her passing.

In a 2005 interview, Van Slyke told the Idaho Press-Tribune that she hoped her legacy would be that she helped recruit and nurture a new generation of female politicians. “(R)ight now we have younger professional women who I firmly believe will be the senators, mayors and congress people as we progress into the next century,” Van Slyke said.

[I first met Sharon through the Center for New Directions in the early 90s. I was so thrilled to re-connect with her again via the Idaho Democratic Party... what a role model, what a star, what a DIVA! She has touched many lives and our world is a better place because she was here... -drp]

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