Women in Parks

Celebrating the Women who Contributed to the East Bay Regional Park District
August 26, 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. In recognition of this historic milestone, our Women in Parks webpage highlights some of the many women who contributed to the success of the Park District.

At the Park District's Women & Leadership Conference, which took place virtually in 2020, a Park District Archives Program presentation shared stories about some of the women staff and board members who broke down barriers and made significant milestones and contributions to the parks. Women in East Bay Regional Park's History - A Look Back [video]

Learn more about the women who have played an important role in the Park District’s history of protecting open space and connecting people with nature in the East Bay.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris
  • Congresswoman Barbara Lee
  • Sylvia McLaughlin
  • The Meyers Sisters
  • Georgette Morton
  • Ruth Orta
  • Traci Parent
  • Kathy Radke
  • Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt
  • Elsie Roemer
  • Carol Severin
  • Jean Siri
  • Wendy Takuda
  • Aileen Theile
  • Nancy Wenninger

  • Vice President Kamala HarrisVice President Kamala Harris
    Vice President Kamala Harris played a pivotal advocacy role for the Park District in 2013, when her vital efforts as then-Attorney General of California helped turn 3.89 acres of surplus federal property along McKay Avenue and adjacent to Crown Memorial State Beach in Alameda into public parklands. The federal government was pursuing a sale to a private developer and refused to consider a public benefit conveyance to the Park District. Attorney General Harris’s advocacy was instrumental in helping the Park District and ultimately the citizens of Alameda ensure that this property became part of the state park. Read the November 7, 2013 letter from Attorney General Harris that kicked off the multi-agency effort to rightfully retain the property for public use, and the Nov. 8, 2013 East Bay Times article Alameda: State Attorney General Harris weighs in on property near Crown Beach.

    Congresswoman Barbara LeeCongresswoman Barbara Lee
    US Representative

    When San Leandro Bay Regional Shoreline was renamed to Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline in 1992, Barbara Lee, co-chairing with EBRPD Board Director Doug Siden, convened at the park’s memorial grove to create a center that commemorated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to connect youth and families to Dr. King’s dream to end racism and fight for justice. The original location of the MLK Jr. Freedom Center was at the park’s Shoreline Center – it has since moved. EBRPD continues to partner and support the Freedom Center and the annual Barbara Lee and Elihu Harris Lecture Series. Congresswoman Lee is a staunch advocate for children’s rights, human rights, and environmental rights.

    Sylvia McLaughlin
    Save The Bay Co-founder
    One of the founders of Save The Bay, Sylvia McLaughlin was a true-spirited environmentalist and actively engaged community leader for many years. Through Sylvia’s work, the East Bay community now can enjoy a cleaner and healthier bay restored in many areas as thriving marshlands, sandy beaches, and parklands. In 2013, the Park District renamed Eastshore State Park in her honor. » McLaughlin Eastshore State Park
    Photo: David Sanger

    The Meyers SistersThe Meyers Sisters 
    In the early 1900s, Jeanette, Edith and Mildred Meyers would have been three young sisters found playing in the lush garden and estate that is now a part of Dry Creek/Pioneer Regional Parks in Hayward and Union City. During the early 1960s, the sisters fought the proposed Foothill Freeway with plans to bulldoze the Meyers home. The sisters were successful, and the bequest of the 1,200-acre property became part of the Park District by 1979. Edith was a prominent physician, while Mildred went on to follow in her father’s footsteps as an architect. Jeanette (in photo) devoted her time in taking care of the family estates and became active in many civic organizations.

    Georgette Morton Georgette Morton 
    EBRPD Office Administrator
    In 1931, Georgette Morton joined the campaign for the vote to establish an East Bay Regional Park District. Knowing her way around an office, her stellar clerical work landed her one of the first jobs at the Park District in 1934. Georgette was the sole office administrator for the Park District in its early founding years and worked at the main office that was located at Temescal Regional Recreation Area’s historic Beach House.

    Ruth Orta and FamilyRuth Orta (b. 1934), tribal chair and elder of the Him re-n of Ohlone, Bay Miwok and Plains Miwok, is passionate about her Jalquin/Saclan Bay Miwok/Ohlone heritage. She travels widely to speak about her people’s history and culture, as well as to participate in tribal events. Since 1996, Ruth has served the Park District as an “Ohlone Intern” and now cultural consultant, specializing in cooking acorn soup with heated stones in a basket, most notably at the annual Gathering of Ohlone Peoples at Coyote Hills Regional Park in Fremont. In keeping with the adage, “You’re never too old…,” Ruth has recently joined with other members of her extended, five-generation family to reignite Chochenyo, the ancestral Ohlone language of the region now known as the East Bay. It is worth noting that until 1924, four years after the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, Native Americans did not get the right to vote in this country. In some states, American Indians did not get the right to vote until even much later.

    Traci Parent
    Traci retired in 2008, and celebrated 35 years of working at EBRPD, many of the years were at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve. In her role as Supervising Naturalist, Traci was instrumental in transforming Black Diamond into a historic parkland, including the establishment of the first EBRPD archives repository and the historic restoration of the Rose Hill Cemetery. In 2011, Traci authored an invaluable book called “Rose Hill: A Comprehensive History of a Pioneer Cemetery” for descendants of the park’s former towns of Stewartville and Nortonville, and the families who lived there.

    Kathy RadkeKathy Radke
    In 2018, the Martinez Regional Shoreline was renamed in honor of Ted and Kathy Radke. Kathy Radke, alongside her husband, were active leaders on environmental issues, founding Contra Costa Ecology Action, Environmental Information, Citizens for Better Water Quality, and Friends of Alhambra Creek. Kathy was elected to the Martinez City Council in 1982 and served two four-year terms. She also served on the John Muir Health System Board, and later became a geriatric social worker. Ted Radke was the longest serving EBRPD Board Director from 1978-2014. » Radke Martinez Regional Shoreline

    Dr. Aurelia Henry ReinhardtDr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt
    EBRPD Board Director 1934-1945
    Among the many prominent leaders, both men and women, few compared to the stature of Dr. Aurelia Henry Reinhardt, President of Oakland’s Mills College from 1916 to 1943. Her clear vision and indomitable advocacy led to the founding of a Regional Park District in the East Bay. Serving on the first EBRPD Board, Dr. Reinhardt was recognized by her fellow Board members as “a valuable aid…that extended in the acquisition and development of the East Bay Regional Park District.” In addition to her inspirational lectures on social welfare, women’s rights, and international peace relations, she also avidly encouraged young women to pursue higher education She was equally passionate in protecting natural spaces for “the betterment of the human soul”. In 2019, the Redwood Regional Park was renamed in honor of Dr. Reinhardt. » Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park 
    Photo credit: Special Collections, F.W. Olin Library, Mills College

    Elsie Roemer
    At the south side of Crown Memorial State Beach, lies a small but important marshland named after conservationist Elsie Roemer, who in the 1970s advocated for the thousands of bird species that call the Elsie B. Roemer Bird Sanctuary home. Elsie conducted surveys of birds in Alameda and Oakland for decades, and spent a lifetime dedicating herself to saving wildlife and wetlands in Alameda. Through her record-keeping, organizing skills and diplomacy, she inspired her community in the preservation of local marshland in the wake of growing commercial and residential development of these areas.

    Carol SeverinCarol Severin
    EBRPD Board Director 1994-2017
    In receipt of the prestigious American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration Pugsley Award, Carol Severin was recognized as “one of the most inspirational and visionary benefactors of Parks and Recreation in the State of California.” Having a wide and successful career in parks and recreation, Board Director Severin led the Park District into establishing a full-service recreation department that has enriched the lives of the East Bay communities, including children and families, seniors, and disabled individuals. She was a promoter of being active and having healthy activities in the Regional Parks for all abilities – and instigated a public information campaign on “short loop” trails in the parks. The Jordan Pond Trail in Garin Regional Park was re-named the Carol Severin Short Loop Trail in her honor in 2018. 
    Photo credit: Rubiolo Photography

    Jean Siri Jean Siri
    EBRPD Board Director 1992-2006
    An environmentalist and civic leader, Jean Siri achieved a long and varied career in public advocacy. She was instrumental in her support for the founding of Save the San Francisco Bay. On the EBRPD Board, she was known for her sense of humor and forceful, yet effective, approach to issues. A strong advocate of the underserved communities, she championed access for all to the parks. Jean Siri was a driving force behind the development of two regional shoreline parks at Point Pinole and Point Isabel.

    Wendy Tokuda
    An award-winning journalist who worked as a prime-time anchor in local TV news for almost 40 years, Wendy Takuda is well-known at EBRPD for her volunteering in environmental restoration-removing invasive plants, planting natives and reducing fire risks in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. Wendy has also been an inspiring spokesperson for the Park District’s Healthy Parks Healthy People initiative by encouraging volunteerism in hands-on care of the parks, and visiting parks to experience physical, mental and social benefits.

    Aileen TheileAileen Theile
    EBRPD Fire Chief

    Chief Theile began her career at the Park District as a park ranger and joined the Fire Department in 1995 as an Industrial Firefighter. She was promoted to Fire Captain in 2012 and in 2018, she was the first woman to become Fire Chief at the Park District. She works alongside male firefighters as well as several female firefighters who have long worked in fuels management and fighting fires. During the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, Anne Scheer, Anne Rockwell, Annie Kenny, Britt Thorsnes and Bea Soria, as well as Park Supervisor Frances Heath - all longtime Park District employees - fought alongside their male counterparts with equal dedication and heroic urgency.

    Nancy WenningerNancy Wenninger
    Land Acquisition Manager and AGM

    In Nancy’s position as Land Acquisition Manager, beginning in 2000, she played a vital role in record acreage growth District-wide. She oversaw many large land acquisitions that equaled more than 21,500 acres, including Pleasanton Ridge Regional Park, Vasco Hills and Byron Vernal Pools. During her tenure, Nancy brought the Park District into the East Contra Costa Habitat Conservancy Plan, resulting in 7,800 acres of open space preserved forever. In 2010, Nancy was promoted to AGM of Land Acquisition. She retired in 2012.