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updated: 4/29/2014 5:30 AM

Elgin woman, 90, volunteers for more than 50 years

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  • Myra Becker, 90, of Elgin has been volunteering for more than 50 years, including with the League of Women Voters, the YWCA Elgin and the now-closed Larkin Center in Elgin.

       Myra Becker, 90, of Elgin has been volunteering for more than 50 years, including with the League of Women Voters, the YWCA Elgin and the now-closed Larkin Center in Elgin.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Myra Becker, 90, of Elgin, said her causes are women's empowerment, mental health and voters' rights. She has been volunteering for more than 50 years.

       Myra Becker, 90, of Elgin, said her causes are women's empowerment, mental health and voters' rights. She has been volunteering for more than 50 years.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 

After more than 50 years as a volunteer, Myra Becker says it's finally time to slow down.

But listening to the Elgin woman's conviction about her causes -- women's empowerment, mental health, voters' rights -- it's hard to imagine she'll follow through.

"I'm just a firm believer in volunteers," Becker said. "There's lots of needs out here. Find the one you believe in and is closest to your causes and get involved."

Becker, who turned 90 on April 4, will be honored with a lifetime achievement award by the YWCA Elgin at the agency's 31st leader luncheon May 8. The Elgin City Council also recognized her last week with a proclamation.

YWCA Elgin CEO Julia McClendon said Becker has been a true role model.

She has been involved with the YWCA since 1981, including serving as board president, and was instrumental in pushing for a comprehensive child care program, McClendon said.

"When I first met her 12 years ago, I thought, 'I think I just met one of the smartest people in the world,'" she said. "She never once puts you on the spot, but by the time you're done talking to her, you know what she wants you to do."

Becker grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to Elgin in 1965 with her late husband, Morton.

While he worked as a psychologist for Elgin Area School District U-46, she worked as a speech and language therapist, retiring from Community Unit District 300 in 1985.

Becker got involved with the League of Women Voters about 1958, while taking a few years off work to raise her young children, she said.

Women's empowerment has been a longtime cause of hers, Becker said.

"Women outlive their men, so they are going to be independent and alone in all likelihood," she said. "They need to know their finances. They need to know how to do it on their own and have the resources and the training and the education."

Becker said she worries about the fate of all nonprofits, whose state funding has dwindled in recent years.

A major blow was the closure of the Larkin Center in Elgin last October, said Becker, who served on its board. The mental health care agency closed due to financial difficulties.

"It was devastating to board people who worked hard to save it, the staff that tried to do the same thing, and also to the clients, which are the most important thing," she said. "I haven't recovered yet."

She chastised laws across the nation that make it harder for people to vote, such as voter ID laws, she said.

"At my age, if I were to find my birth certificate, I am sure the courthouse is burned down or flooded out. It's just ridiculous," she said. "We should make it easier (to vote). We should get everyone to get people to vote, no matter which way they vote."

No matter one's beliefs, one must respect anyone who runs for office, Becker says.

"(Politicians) open themselves up to lots of hassles and criticism, and hopefully -- I'm enough of an idealist to think -- they are sincere and doing their best."

Becker is "a petite dynamo," said Carol Grom, a board member for the League of Women Voters of the Elgin Area.

"She is a fountain of knowledge. She knows the history, she knows the issues," Grom said.

"She is just a wonderful, wonderful woman. She's been so active in the community. She is just a tireless, tireless activist."

Still, it's time for others to take the reins, Becker said.

"The boards I've served on, they all heard what I think. They don't need to hear it again from me," she said. "They need to have young people come and replace me, and come with new ideas and new ways of doing things."

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