Orlean Koehle

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I first heard about the legendary Phyllis Schlafly back in 1972 when she was leading the charge fighting the Equal Rights Amendment. My husband and I were living in Boston where he was doing graduate work at the Fletcher School of International Law and attending classes at Tufts and Harvard, the colleges that started the Fletcher School. Our LDS Church across the nation was asked by the leaders in Salt Lake City to get on board and support Phyllis and oppose the ERA. They had heard her speak in Utah and agreed with her analysis of provisions of the ERA that would harm the basic family structure and allow the mother to be removed from the home (such as if we had a draft then woman would be drafted into the military just like men). LOS leaders were told to especially speak out against the ERA in our women's organization known as the Relief Society. I was the Relief Society president of the Cambridge Ward, the LDS congregation for the greater Boston area, so I was given the charge to learn about Phyllis Schlafly and to give the women talking points against the ERA that Phyllis had written. In the process, I learned more about the demographics of our own congregation. I knew we had members who were liberal Harvard and Tuft University professors and we had members who were leaders in the conservative John Birch Society, whose headquarters then were in Belmont, Massachusetts, but now I learned firsthand that we also had some outspoken feminists, and they did not seem to appreciate the information that I was giving them. This caused me to do more research on the ERA, so I could better support my position.

However, in 1973, my husband graduated and accepted a job working for the German government, which took us to Germany for three years. During that time, I was so busy raising two children and trying to cope with learning a new language and culture and a new way of life, I totally forgot about the ERA and Phyllis Schlafly.

When we moved back to the United States in 1976, I began teaching school and having more children and eventually took a long leave of absence to raise them - six children in total. I was so involved in their lives and what was going on in the strange school system, that there was little time for anything else. In 1992, when my youngest son was in the 6th grade, I went back to teaching as a substitute, mainly to try to figure out what had happened to our schools? I also started a chapter of Parents Involved in Education that was mainly concerned with fighting the CLAS test in California. CLAS stands for California Learning Assessment System. We discovered this test was not assessing factual knowledge but testing attitudes to see how politically correct our students were. After a two year battle, we were able to get it stopped in California. Governor Pete Wilson threw it out in 1995.

A year later, 1996, I attended a home school conference in Salt Lake City and heard Gayle Ruzicka, the State President of Utah Eagle Forum, speak. I spoke to her afterwards and she updated me on Phyllis Schlafly and encouraged me to join Eagle Forum if I really wanted to know what was going on in education and really all other important subjects.

Launching our Eagle Forum Chapter: I began investigating Eagle Forum; I read the Phyllis Schlafly Report and the Education Reporter, and I discovered they really did have all the answers. In September of 1996, I invited Sandee Beckers, the State President of Eagle Forum of California to come and speak for us in Santa Rosa, and she officially launched our Sonoma County Eagle Forum chapter. She also asked me to become a member of her State Board and thus began my journey in Eagle Forum.

Meeting Phyllis Schlafly and Becoming her Roommate: I was asked by Sandee Beckers to attend a State board meeting the evening before she was holding an Eagle Forum State Conference in Sacramento in the Spring of 1997. Ysabel Johnson, one of our Vice Presidents for Sonoma County, drove with me. She dropped me off at the hotel for the board meeting, and I told her not to worry about coming and getting me, that I was sure someone there with a car could then take me to the Holiday Inn hotel where Ysabel and I were staying. At the meeting I briefly met Phyllis and shook her hand.

After the meeting, I was able to find someone going my way who dropped me off at the nearest Holiday Inn. However, when I went to sign in, I discovered there was no Ysabel Johnson registered. The hotel clerk was kind enough to call several other Holiday Inns, but to no avail, no Ysabel Johnson there either. I suggested a few other hotels that had Inn in their names. But again we had no luck.

I did not know what to do. This was before the age of cell phones, so there was no way to contact Ysabel and find out what hotel she was really in. She had my luggage, my makeup, my shoes, etc. I asked the hotel clerk to connect me to the Hyatt Hotel where Sandee Beckers was staying to see if she had heard from Ysabel or could suggest what I should do. But Sandee did not answer the phone call.

The only other person I knew who was staying at the Hyatt and maybe could tell me where Sandee was - was Phyllis. So I asked the exasperated hotel clerk if he could please call the Hyatt one more time and I asked to be connected to Phyllis Schlafly. She answered. I explained my dilemma and asked if she knew where I could find Sandee. She said that she was out finding a hotel room for Jane Russell, the famous movie star who was a friend of Phyllis's and was supposed to be staying at the hotel and attending the conference, but they had messed up and didn't have her registered. I thanked Phyllis and was about to hang up ,when she asked? "How soon can you be here?" I told her my hotel was about ten minutes away. She said, "Well, take a taxi, and if you can be here in fifteen minutes then you can be my roommate. I have a suite, and there is an extra bedroom." I thanked her, thanked the hotel clerk helping me, went outside, found a taxi, and fifteen minutes later I was knocking on the hotel room of Phyllis Schlafly.

I heard her voice say, "What's the password?" I had no idea what that was, but I tried my name, "Orlean Koehle." That worked. She opened the door and let me in. She said, "Here is your room, there's the bed, there's the bathroom. Goodnight!"

I thanked her and said "Goodnight." I washed out my underclothes and hung them up to dry and wrapped myself in a towel for pajamas and went to bed.

The next morning I was supposed to be at the conference at 7:00 to help get things set up. At 6:30 a.m., I heard the phone ring and Phyllis say, "Yes, she's here. I took her in last night." I assumed that was Ysabel trying to find me. I had already showered and got dressed in my same clothes from last night. Now that I knew she was awake. I gently knocked on her door and said, "Phyllis, I am sorry to disturb you, but would you mind very much if I could use your makeup?" She said,"Sure, come on in." As Iwas applying her makeup, she asked me questions about the battle we were having in Santa Rosa against the homosexual presentations coming into the schools that I had reported on the night before at the board meeting and gave me some good suggestions. I thanked her again for her kindness of taking in a poor wayfaring stranger, told her that Iwould see her later at the conference and said goodbye.

I was able to meet Ysabel before the conference began. She apologized that she had given me the wrong name of the hotel. She said that she had fallen asleep and did not know I was missing until early in the morning. That is when she called Sandee Beckers and tried to find me and Sandee told her to call Phyllis. She had brought my suitcase so I was able to quickly change and all turned out all right. I was also proudly able to tell everyone, "Guess who's makeup Iam wearing?"

A Guest in Phyllis Home: Three years later in 2001,Sandee Beckers had asked me to take over as the State President for Eagle Forum of California. After a week of praying about it, both my husband and I agreed that maybe that was what the Lord now was calling me to do. I attended the national conference in St. Louis, and stayed an extra day so that I could visit the Education Center and find out more about Eagle Forum and what would be expected of me. Phyllis found out that I was staying an extra day and rather than I stay all alone in the hotel, she invited me to be a guest in her home that Sunday evening. What an honor it was and what a gracious hostess she was! She fixed my favorite meal, salmon with rice and broccoli. John her son, came and had dinner with us and also played some beautiful classical music on the piano, which I understand he does every Sunday evening for her. She then had to finish her syndicated column that was to go out the next day, so she told me that I could use the other computer that she had in her office. I gladly did and sent out a message to all of our Eagle Forum members back in California - "Guess where I am and whose air I am breathing in the same room?"

Seeing Phyllis Bravely Endure Enormous Pain and not Complain when She Broke her Hip: In 2008, Phyllis was invited to speak for the Berkeley College Republicans. Her topic was the difference between Conservative Women and Feminists. About 20 Eagle Forum members attended as well. The room was packed, not one seat was empty. There was only one feminist of the old vintage protesting. She was out standing in the hall passing out her propaganda. Not many students were interested in taking it. Phyllis gave a wonderful talk, with her usual wit and wisdom. The audience loved her. Even those who maybe had a different political persuasion treated her with great respect in how they addressed her. I had tears come to my eyes watching their respect and obvious admiration for her.

One of the things that she said was that conservative women are not complainers. They do not wine and play the victim role. They take responsibility for their own actions, not blaming everything on everyone else and expecting the government to take care of them.

Then came the test of Phyllis's own words. After her talk and after meeting with lots of students who came up on the podium to speak to her, she turned to leave to have her picture taken with the Young Republicans. However, she did not see the step off the podium and fell, ending up breaking her hip. As the paramedics took her away lying on a gurney, she was not crying {I was, however.) She was bravely smiling her beautiful smile and waving goodbye to her admiring public.

She was in the hospital in Berkeley for three weeks before they transferred her back to her home in St. Louis. I and the Young Republicans and other Eagle Forum members visited her as often as we could. When we came, she did not speak or complain of her pain. She bravely smiled and asked us questions about our concerns. I remember a nurse asking me, "Who is that woman? She has not stopped writing ever since she came into the hospital." I told her she is a famous author and columnist who heads up a large, national organization, and has to continue to get her weekly columns out in spite of a broken hip.

To sum up my tribute to Phyllis Schlafly, I have known her first as a legend whom I admired from afar. Now that I now her personally I have discovered everything that I had heard of her to be true, and I have discovered even more wonderful qualities. She is brilliant with an amazing memory for details, names, and places. She is a very gifted writer and speaker who can persuade vast audiences, State legislators and church leaders to change their minds as they did with the Equal Rights Amendment. She is personable and kind and takes in a poor, wayfaring stranger and even shares her makeup with her. She is a gracious hostess and a wonderful cook. She is an outstanding leader who teaches leadership skills through her own example and then trusts in those under her to make correct decision on their own.

She is the epitome of everything she believes in and speaks of. She is conservative, Christian, pro-life, pro-family, pro-Constitution, pro-traditional marriage, pro-traditional values and is a virtuous women whom is described beautifully in Proverbs 31:10-31. Here are some of the quotes that describe her the most: "she is trusted by her husband; she will do him good all the days of her life; she works willingly with her hands; she rises early; she girds her loins with strength and strengthens her arms; her candle (light) does not go out at night; she stretches her hand out to the poor and the needy; strength and honor are her clothing; she opens her mouth with wisdom; in her tongue is the law of kindness; she takes good care of her household and is not idle; her children call her blessed; her husband also and he praises her; she fears the Lord; the fruit of her hands and her own works praise her. "

My congratulations to Phyllis who is turning 90 this year! May the Lord bless her and sustain her and may she have many more years on this earth. We need her and her wisdom and the great organization of Eagle Forum that she started back in 1972 and continues to lead.

Orlean Koehle, State President Eagle Forum of California

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