2009/04/04: Dinner planned in honor of the late Lea Zeldin


A potluck dinner is planned to honor and remember Lea Zeldin, a longtime Madison activist and well-known founder of the King Coalition Community Dinner who died Thursday at age 80 due to complications following a stroke. According to her obituary, a public memorial service will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. April 11 at the Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St.The memorial will include a “huge potluck” in Zeldin’s honor, “so please bring lots of good food to pass and lots of good memories to share,” the obituary said.Lea was our WNPj contact for Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. File photo credit/Michelle Stocker/The Capital Times: Lea Zeldin samples the white wine during a taste testing at the First Unitarian Society in this 2001 file photo.

Ruth Gundlach, who now coordinates the King Coalition Community Dinner, remembers working with Zeldin on the event since the mid-1980s.“It was always flying by the seat of our pants, putting this dinner together,” Gundlach said. But in the end, “it was so wonderful to see the dean of students sitting at the same table as homeless people,” she said of the free meal that brought together people from all walks of life. Zeldin’s goal in life was the help the downtrodden, especially by guiding women to where they could receive health care, Gundlach said. “She could be a thorn in people’s side and she was happy to be that thorn because I think she made people better,” Gundlach said. “I’m better for having known her.” Gloria Hawkins, who also worked with Zeldin on the community dinner and who has served on the Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition for about 18 years, said Zeldin strived “to make this a better world for all people.” “She worked hard in Madison and Dane County for all people,” Hawkins said. “My life was touched because she has been a part of it.” A full obituary follows: from Sunday’s State Journal. By GENA KITTNER 608-252-6139 gkittner@madison.com

Proud to be a radical: Madison activist Lea Zeldin dies at 80

John Nichols  —  4/04/2009 7:19 am

Lea Zeldin loved peace, civil rights, food and communicating, with the order of her passions shifting to meet the challenges of the moment.

An ardent civil rights advocate during the 1960s, she confronted Madison liberals with the message: It is not enough to say "tsk, tsk" about the segregated south; you need to address racism and intolerance here at home in Wisconsin. So she did, organizing a local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and, as a young mother with kids in tow, showing up for pickets and sit-ins at businesses that were not welcoming to all, including old Sears store on East Washington Avenue.

"The CORE group in Madison was very militant," Zeldin recalled in an interview several years ago. "In those days, anything you did upset the establishment."

Zeldin didn't mind upsetting the establishment, and eventually even some of the powerbrokers in town came to recognize that she was right.

As tensions rose in Wisconsin cities in the late 1960s -- with open housing marches in Milwaukee and a takeover of the state Capitol by welfare-rights activists -- Zeldin's recognition of the reality that it was not just the south that had issues proved prescient.

Zeldin, the founder of Madison's Dr. Martin Luther King Free Community Dinners -- a perfect merging of her political and culinary concerns -- has died at age 80, after suffering a stroke last week.

Appropriately for this boisterous figure on her left-leaning city's left wing, Zeldin did not fade away slowly or quietly.

When she suffered the stroke, she was working at WORT (89.9 FM), Madison's community radio station, where she has been a fixture for decades as a commentator on food, popular culture and the crisis of the moment. Zeldin, who helped organize a free clinic on Madison's east side in the 1960s, hosted a popular bi-weekly call-in show covering medical and related issues, "Health Writers." She was, as well, a frequent host of the station's popular "A Public Affair" program, where she interviewed local, state, national and international figures with a style that was warm and engaging if she thought her guest was right on the issues but edgy and challenging if she disagreed.

Fearless and provocative, Zeldin even challenged former student leader and Mayor Paul Soglin's radical credentials, suggesting at a 2004 forum that Soglin was more of a "politician" than an activist in the 1960s and 1970s.

Zeldin was with the activists. And she never thought the title "radical" was an insult.

She organized and marched against the Vietnam War and the wars that followed. She was usually front and center at public events, challenging crowds to push harder for peace. A co-chair of the Madison Branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, she was the longtime editor of the branch's thought-provoking newsletter. She also was a prime mover in publishing the Health Writers national newsletter, always promoting the principle that "health care should be free and paid for by tax dollars."

Zeldin was precise about her politics, but she was fun and freewheeling when the discussion turned to food. She adored the slow food movement, traveling to Italy to learn more about the international drive to combat the compromises of fast-food culture by preserving unique cuisines and cultures of distinct regions around the world.

Zeldin placed great faith in the transformative power of the communal meal. In the 1960s, she did not just distribute free and healthy food to those in need, she sat down and ate with them at potlucks.

More than a quarter century ago, Zeldin began inviting the whole community to an annual dinner to celebrate the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. These events evolved into the Dr. Martin Luther King Free Community Dinners, which continue to be organized by the King Coalition.

Zeldin was honored in 2007 with a Dane County Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recognition Award,

The nomination for the award observed, correctly, that, "Dr. King would have been proud to know Lea Zeldin, and would have held her as among the brightest examples of what an ordinary citizen can achieve, if we would lead a life of service, peace, and action, as he called us to do."

Honoring Zeldin's love of the communal meal, there will be a memorial potluck on Saturday, April 11th, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Labor Temple, 1602 S. Park St., followed by an opportunity to share memories. People are encouraged to bring a dish to pass.

Zeldin is survived by four sons, Stephen, Robin, Paul and Eric.

Lea Zeldin touched the lives of many in Madison and beyond. .......


John Nichols  —  4/04/2009 7:19 am