Comments by NRLC's Ohlhoff
Rochester Area Right To Life
Presentation by Ernie Ohlhoff
National Right to Life Committee
at the LHHL 2005 Award Dinner for Gerry Oftedahl
I am deeply honored to be here tonight to pay tribute to one of your great local pro-life leaders. I consider myself personally blessed to have had the privilege of knowing and working with Geraldine Oftedahl for more than 16 years.
Every time I think about programs that honor individuals for their accomplishments, I end up feeling there are some things that are expected to be said, and then, there are those things, often forgotten, that ought to be said.
So in paying tribute to Gerry tonight, please let me
begin by mentioning those things that are expected and conclude with some of
the things that ought to be included.
Since Jann Armantrout has already described Gerry’s excellent leadership work here in Rochester, I will focus my comments on her work with New York State Right to Life and on the national level.
By supporting Gerry during the 8 years she served as president of New York State Right to Life Committee, you helped both the state and national pro-life movement in many ways.
To help you mentally visually the situation in 1988 let me try to set the stage:
In New York in 1988, there were many dedicated pro-life individuals and organizations who wanted to advance the pro-life cause through a variety of programs and projects.
As the newly elected president of New York State Right to Life, one of Gerry’s many challenges was to provide the leadership necessary to implement these goals. Fortunately, Gerry possessed the talents and skills that were needed at that important time.
One of Gerry’s strongest leadership talents is that she is an enabler. Someone who is a patient listener, slow to criticize, and able to set reasonable goals and priorities. Gerry, is also someone who, once having focused on a project, follows it doggedly through to completion regardless of the obstacles.
Under Gerry’s leadership a variety of projects were
undertaken to build and strengthen New York State Right to Life including:
1. Establishment of outreach efforts to help local affiliates build stronger local groups and start new affiliates in areas where none existed.
2. Development of a strong donor acquisition program which included direct mail and telemarketing fundraising.
3. Formulation of realistic strategies for New York State’s Political Action Committee
4. Enhancements to the state newsletter, which Gerry frequently wrote and edited herself.
The results were dramatic:
1. Over an 8 year period NYRTL’s budget increase 683% to almost 1 million dollars
2. The donor base increased from 8,000 to almost 34,000
3. In the 1992 election, NYRTL Political Action Committee in conjunction with National Right to Life PAC mailed and distributed nearly 1 million flyers
4. In the 1994 elections NYRTL State and Federal PACs were again heavily involved, endorsing 118 federal and state candidates with the following dramatic results:
a. 76% of endorsed candidates overall won (90 out of 118)
b. 92% of endorsed US Congressional candidates won
c. 88% of endorsed NY State Senate candidates won
d. 68% of endorsed NY State Assembly candidates won
Gerry’s leadership also included expanding and revitalizing a variety of lobbying and educational efforts on the state level.
The most successful was an educational campaign about
Partial Birth Abortion included a total of 346 TV spots reaching 5.3 million
homes on prime time cable news programs and numerous radio and print ads. The
spots were aired in five major markets including:
4 Rochester and
5. New York City
I could go on and on, with statistics, but I’m sure you get the picture. Geraldine Oftedahl is an outstanding pro-life leader who gave generously of her time and talents to Rochester Right to Life, New York State Right to Life Committee and the National Right to Life Committee. She has truly made an enormous contribution to the pro-life movement.
Please allow me to shift gears and mention some of those things that ought to be said at these events.
And I would like to begin by sharing a story about a little girl who shall remain nameless. But this story is important because it is through the eyes of children that we often see the unvarnished, un-rationalized truth about life and spiritually
It seems there was a Sunday school teacher who asked her first grade class to draw a picture of something very special to each of them. All of the children began drawing, but one little girl was working diligently, totally focused on her artwork. The teacher’s curiosity got the best of her and asked “Mary what are you drawing a picture of.” Mary answered, “ I’m drawing a picture of God.” The teacher said, “ But Mary, nobody knows what God looks like.” Undaunted, Mary replied, “Oh, but they will when I’m finished!”
The pro-life movement is very special, perhaps unique in all of history. All of us who are in this movement are a little like Mary. In a way God has given each of us an inspiration about the need to protect innocent human life - - precious children whom we will never see yet we know, without a doubt, are made in the image and likeness of God.
I believe that each person in the pro-life movement is involved because they have put aside their “normal” life to answer the call of God to work against the greatest evil of our time.
Our strategies differ, our talents and gifts differ, our personalities differ, but we all share the basic common value - the respect for innocent human life. Individually we are only one voice, united we multiply our strength many time by our numbers.
Being pro-life unites us in a special way.
We often argue (sometimes vehemently) over strategies and plans and programs, but we share a foundational belief that is rock solid. The level of commitment and trust runs deep in the pro-life movement. I was absolutely astounded by one of my first speaking engagements after accepting a full time position in the pro-life movement.
I arrived at a small airport in Idaho and was met by a man holding a sign with my name on it. He ushered me into his car, told me he was on his lunch hour and had to get back to work as soon as possible. He drove me to his home and handed me the keys to his house and his second car. He told me there was food in the refrigerator and to make myself at home. He then told me he and his wife would be home at 5:30 and we would go to dinner before our pro-life program that evening.
This man didn’t know me from Adam. My only credential was that someone in his pro-life group told him I was coming and needed a place to stay for the night.
And based on that alone, this fine couple opened their home to a perfect stranger.
And over the years that same trusting scenario happened over and over again.
When I first came to Rochester Gorge and Mary Lou Green opened their home to me and over the years I had the great pleasure of staying with them many many times.
I hope I have conveyed the sense that the pro-life movement for all its diversity is a living family in every sense of the word. We work together, we cry together, we argue together, we care for our sick, we bury our dead but most of all we endure.
Gerry Oftedahl and her patient, supportive, husband Ed are prime examples of true selfless pro-lifers.
Any pro-lifer who worked with Gerry quickly learned that she could be called at almost any hour of the day or night. And often when one called, she was still working on a newsletter, project, or some other pro-life activity.
Perhaps the words of the song entitled Here I Am, Lord by Dan Schutte best describe Gerry’s involvement
The song starts with the Lord asking....
I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard My people’s cry,
All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save.
I who make the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright,
Who will bear My Light to them?
Whom shall I send?
And then I believe Gerry’s answer was:
Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling the night.
I will go Lord, If you lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.
And that is why we are honoring Gerry tonight. She answered the call of God to work unselfishly for the unborn - no limitation, no excuses, no task too great no task too small - - just total commitment. And like the story about the little girl in Sunday School class I mentioned earlier, Gerry has helped all of us to see, in each other, the face of God.
Thank you and God Bless all of you
Updated on RARTL July, 2006
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