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At the time of her death, Joan Uebelhoer was working to finish the Fort Wayne Hedge School, a women’s history library.

Champion of women’s rights dies

Uebelhoer remained activist weeks before her death at 83

Joan Daley Uebelhoer, a woman recognized both regionally and nationally as a tireless activist for women’s rights, died Saturday at age 83.

Family members said her death was unexpected but declined to give the cause of death.

Only a few weeks ago Uebelhoer was doing what she did best – attending a rally to protest a new reality show called “Stars Earn Stripes” because it “tried to make war look like a game show,” her daughter Martha Uebelhoer said.

Uebelhoer was born in Fort Wayne in 1928, the daughter of an Irish Catholic immigrant family. Her mother worked in a factory and her father was a union organizer.

A graduate of Central Catholic High School, she was the first one in her family to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree from Mount Mary College, Milwaukee, Wis., and a master’s degree from Saint Francis College (now the University of Saint Francis).

After marrying James Uebelhoer in 1953, she had four daughters and one son in the next 13 years while working as a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School, St. Henry’s Elementary School and Bishop Luers High School.

A co-founder of the Fort Wayne Feminists, she was also responsible for the first women’s study bachelor of arts program in the state at IPFW. She was the associate professor of the program from 1977 to 1989 and taught classes in some capacity until she was 80.

She was one of only three Democrats since 1930 to be elected to an Allen County office in the predominantly Republican area, winning the auditor’s seat in 1975 and serving four years.

While auditor, Uebelhoer refused to work with any banks that did not treat women equally in hiring or salary practices, her son James Uebelhoer said.

“It caused a lot of controversy,” he said.

She was a staunch pro-choice proponent and an antiwar activist, adding to her sometimes contentious profile.

Her impressive résumé included managing the Allen County office of the 1980 census, helping co-found Daybreak Crisis homes to provide short-term respite for children, serving as director of finances of Fort Wayne Public Transportation Company, director of Allen County Department of Welfare for almost 10 years and director of Planned Parenthood of Allen County from 1981 to 1985.

In 2009, Uebelhoer helped found the Fort Wayne Hedge School, a women’s history library on South Calhoun Street. She was trying to finish that project when she died.

Recognized in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Uebelhoer was one of 10 women given a Torchbearer Award from the Indiana Commission of Women in 2010 for “her continuous work to ensure that women had a voice when their rights and equality were jeopardized.”

Although her five children were sometimes leery of those who asked about their relationship to Joan Uebelhoer, they are proud of their mother and her accomplishments – all four of her daughters retained the Uebelhoer surname after marriage. “People were either with her or from the other side,” said Martha Uebelhoer. “And we never knew what we would encounter, but we were always so proud of her.”

Her mother always stressed higher education, even with a working class background. She and her career military husband managed to put all five children through college, Martha Uebelhoer said.

“She made it very clear to us that there was a lot more to the world than just us,” said Jim Uebelhoer. “We were taught to be aware of everyone, especially those who did not have as much as we did. That’s who she was – what she stood for.”

“Mom taught us that no matter how big or how important we became, to always remember there is someone we should be helping,” he said.