Feature Story: The Good Democrats
THE GOOD DEMOCRATS by Daniel Lowry
Barbara Hecker has a status. It’s a special label that she has earned through years of service. Barbara sits at her kitchen table and sorts through a big stack of white envelopes. Picture the perfect little sweet grandmother, with gray and white hair all neatly in place, and thin-rimmed glasses, a soft vest and stylish silver hoop earrings in her ears. She is hard at work along with her friend, Sue Turner, who is helping her with invitations to the next event for the Franklin County Democratic Woman’s Club.
Ask just about anyone who knows Barbara Hecker and they will repeat the same phrase: She’s a “good Democrat.”
“Barbara is a good Democrat,” says Sue Turner, picking up a roll of postage stamps.
Being a good Democrat is lofty praise. It’s something that Democrats use to describe hard-working and dedicated members of the party. There are a lot of good Democrats like Barbara who knock on doors, stuff envelopes, make phone calls and donate money.
“What I do have is time,” Barbara says with a kind, wide grin. “Time — not money, so I give all I can.”
She’s 84. At an age when the impermanence of life begins to smack you in the face with constant reminders of fatigue, aches and pains, she’s ready to give away the most precious resource of all: her time.
Barbara retired from Sears in 1993 and worked part time at a hotel and for the Legislative Research Commission during sessions, but now she is full-time volunteer.
Family is important. Her husband, Frank, passed away in 2005 from a heart attack. She has four kids, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. She gives of her time and she loves helping others. When she isn’t devoting time to her family, she’s helping other Democrats.
In the last week, she’s worked at three receptions, a chili dinner and a breakfast fundraiser. Her age may slow her down a little, but it sure isn’t stopping her.
“Now I’m limited to what I can do,” she says. “I miss walking the neighborhoods and knocking on doors.”
Keeping up with her is her friend Sue Turner, who Barbara describes as a good Democrat.
“She gives about every dime of her retirement check to campaign donations,” says Barbara. “She has a PHD in stuffing, stamping and sealing. You are lucky she’s not a Republican.”
Sue is president of the Franklin County Democratic Woman’s Club, which has about 100 members – and they are all good Democrats, who are always ready to donate their time and money; fix dinners, knock on doors or write and mail letters.
When it comes to knowing who’s who, Sue is hard to beat. She has met and discussed politics with President John F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter (when he was Governor of Georgia), President Bill Clinton, and many more. She has big, expressive eyes that light up when she talks about the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Sue and Barbara know age is catching up on them. They both talk about the importance of the young Democrats, and how crucial it is to have young, active members in the party.
They talk about people like Griffin Gillis. At 19 years old, Griffin is staring ahead at an endless road of possibilities. He’s studying political science and business at Georgetown College. He’s been involved in volunteering for Democrats since he was 11.
“I helped with a state representative race in 2008,” he says with a flash of straight, white teeth. “I’ve been a Democrat all my life.”
He takes time out of his studies to help with campaigns. He has worked on phone banks and knocked on doors for candidates, recruited other volunteers and helped organize events. For a six week period last fall he spent about three hours each Tuesday and Thursday making phone calls.
“I believe that these candidates can improve the lives of other Kentuckians,” he says. “I’d like to see a better future for our state.”
He would come in to the Kentucky Democratic Party headquarters for about five hours on Saturdays. He spent his own money on travel, meals and other expenses.
“My sister is a first grade teacher,” he says. “I’ve been in her classroom several times and I think every student should have the same opportunity, no matter their family income. Education is so important for a better future.”
“Griffin is a good Democrat,” says his friend, Charlotte Flanary. “He does all this work and doesn’t ask for anything in return.”
The phrase fits. No matter your age, if your motives are true and people know you aren’t in it for yourself but for the good of the party, you can achieve the status of “a good Democrat.”
Barbara Hecker sums it up perfectly: “They take care of people.”