Burning issues

Nancie Fadeley’s career supported women and the environment

Nancie Fadeley looks through papers, cards, reports and articles from her time with OWL, the only national organization that focuses on issues affecting the nation’s estimated 78 million women aged 40 and older.

Vanessa Salvia
Nancie Fadeley looks through papers, cards, reports and articles from her time with OWL, the only national organization that focuses on issues affecting the nation’s estimated 78 million women aged 40 and older.

Nancie Fadeley is 85, but she doesn’t look it or act it.

Her decade as an Oregon state representative and other years as a charter member and national board member of the Older Women’s League (OWL) are still right at the surface.

Although she’s not as active in the many causes she supports as she used to be, Fadeley still finds the time and energy to volunteer, keep herself aware of the issues, and take care of her sidekick, a rescue dog named Dexter who’s part Pomeranian and part Corgi.

“I feel very, very blessed,” she says, “And a lot of that is due to this,” she says, sweeping her arms over the table in her Eugene home, laden with papers, cards, reports and articles from her time with OWL, the only national organization that focuses on issues affecting the nation’s estimated 78 million women over 40 years of age. “My work with OWL made me aware of what I needed to think about for my future, and I was able to make some valuable, educated choices. And my kids sure know about the issues of women as they age because they have heard me talk about them for so many years.”

Nancie Peacocke was born in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of a Methodist preacher. She married Ed Fadeley in 1953 and they came to Eugene in 1954 so Ed could pursue law school. They are divorced, but had two children -- Charles, who also practices law, and Shira, a band teacher at Kelly Middle School.

Fadeley studied English as an undergraduate and earned a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Oregon. She taught at the old Lincoln School while Ed was in law school. Before her election to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1970, she served for 10 years as legislative staff.

Legislative action

She took cues from the burgeoning environmental awareness movement and is proud of her legacy of environmental legislation.

“The first Earth Day was in 1970,” she recalls. “Field burning was a huge issue back then. We had doctors testify, and Bill Bowerman and Steve Prefontaine (Oregon’s celebrated track coach and runner) told how field burning was making it hard for them to breathe when they ran, even though they were very healthy athletes.”

Her legislation helped scale down the amount of open field burning smoke that was getting trapped in the Willamette Valley, which she called the “dirty toe of the sock.”

In 1973, she chaired the House Environment and Land Use Committee, which voted out the pioneering, statewide land use planning legislation known as SB 100, or The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Act of 1973.

SB 100 prompted the formation of 1000 Friends of Oregon, a watchdog organization committed to defending and advocating responsible land-use. Later, she served on the Board of 1000 Friends.

In 1975, 1977 and 1979, Fadeley chaired both the House Environment and Energy committees.

“Along the way, I developed a friendship with OWL co-founders Tish Sommers and Laurie Shields, and older women’s rights became a significant concern to me,” she says. “The OWL founders coined the phrase ‘displaced homemakers,’ and I introduced the bill signed by Gov. Robert Straub which established displaced homemaker programs in Oregon.”

Displaced homemakers are women — or sometimes men — whose family responsibilities have limited their participation in the paid world of work.

“Widowhood, divorce or the failing health of the family wage earner can make it necessary for the displaced homemaker to go back to work, but re-entering the paid workforce can be extremely difficult,” she says.

After years of being out of the workplace, regardless of how skilled they were before, displaced homemakers may face pov-erty and lack of self-confidence due to their inability to get a job. Fadeley’s legislation, which passed in 1977, provided funding and services to help these displaced homemakers escape poverty and prepare for a new life.

“That was positively the easiest bill I ever sponsored,” Fadeley says. “When I’d ask other legislators to support it, they would interrupt me and say something like, ‘My mother is a wonderful woman, but ever since Dad died, she seems lost ...’ They immediately knew what I was talking about.”

Fadeley also has wonderful memories of working for Oregon’s landmark bottle bill, which passed in 1971 and requires re-funds on returnable beverage containers.

Her work with displaced homemakers sensitized her to their fears about medical bills. So she shepherded through the Oregon legislature a bill allowing former wives or dependent children to continue their health insurance coverage in a group plan for a limited time if they paid the premiums.

“That was about 35 years before ‘Obamacare,’ so it was extremely important to women and children who needed some time to continue being insured while they tried to work something else out,” she says.

OWL’s co-founder Sommers was successful in enabling former dependents in other states to use the option Oregonians had to continue their group insurance coverage. She talked her congresswoman into inserting that idea into must-pass legislation, the 1986 Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly called COBRA.

Women’s concerns

In 1981 after leaving the legislature, Fadeley went to work for KWAX, which was then a National Public Radio station in Eugene. In 1985 she became assistant provost at University of Oregon and, for a few years, was a loan executive at United Way.

Every year, OWL issues a Mother’s Day Report related to current concerns of women as they age.

“OWL has good reason for focusing on the challenges of growing older as a woman,” she says. “It really is different from growing older as a man.” The Eugene chapter of OWL is no longer active, but Fadeley hopes that if enough women reading this article become interested in the topic of aging as a woman, that chapter will be rekindled.

“There were some women who said they didn’t like the name “Older Women’s League,” Fadeley recalls. “They didn’t want to be called ‘older’ women, but Tish and Laurie said ‘No,’ we’re proud of being older women because that’s what we are.” Fadeley puts on her blue OWL sweatshirt and stands a little straighter, smoothing out the fabric so that all the words can be read.

Fadeley has saved many pieces of memorabilia she’s collected since becoming active in OWL, including copies of Mother’s Day cards OWL members have sent to Congress members bearing messages like, “Your mother didn’t raise you to let other mothers down,” or “Give them health!”

On each Mother’s Day, The Register-Guard often carries an op-ed written by Fadeley outlining the concerns addressed in that year’s Mother’s Day Report.

Many of those reports have focused on issues surrounding long-term care. She often quotes Sommers, who said, “Many men do give sensitive care to their aging family members or take care of children. But for women, it’s an expected duty.”

“I hope that these reports are a wake-up call to both men and women,” Fadeley says. “Only 4 percent of older adults reside in nursing homes. Most long-term care happens in the home, and is primarily provided by women, unpaid women.”

Fadeley remains active in her church, and is currently working to preserve archival materials documenting the church’s history. Her church is one of a number of local churches that welcome homeless families to spend their evenings and nights in the church during the school year. For two weeks in December when her church is hosting the homeless, she becomes a “gleaner” who gets food from FOOD for Lane County for their homeless guests.

“Every year when they ask if I want to be the gleaner again,” I say, ‘Oh, yes, can I please?’” her green eyes shining with joy. “It’s been very rewarding to be able to be a part of such a worthwhile project.”

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