The Activism of Dee Rudolph and her Seacrest Sisterhoodby Sharon Rosen Leib April 26, 2017
“My kids were worried. My youngest daughter told me, ‘Mom, you’ve lost your fire,’” says Dee Rudolph, an 86-year-old resident of Seacrest Village, a Jewish retirement community in Encinitas. That changed last November. Donald Trump’s election reignited Rudolph’s internal spark.
“I was drifting and couldn’t see a purpose for my existence. Then along came Trump. He’s been a G-dsend for comedians and for me. I got so angry I had to do something,” she says. “Trump stands for fear and hate and knows how to stoke division. He is ruled by ego and I don’t like him having the nuclear codes.”
Rudolph doesn’t drive and, like many other Seacrest residents, occasionally relies on a walker to get around. These physical limitations made it difficult for Rudolph and her feminist Seacrest compatriots to attend the San Diego Women’s March, one of several that happened around the country on January 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration. So she and her friend Alice Morawetz, 88, decided to plan a Women’s March at Seacrest.
“About 40 of us, including a 103-year-old, marched with walkers, wheelchairs and canes around the building. Everyone had a lot of fun,” Rudolph recalls. Their activism landed them on San Diego’s NBC news affiliate that night and propelled them to local celebrity status.
Joshua Sherman, 32, Cultural Programs Manager at the Leichtag Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring vibrant Jewish life in coastal North San Diego County headquartered just up the street from Seacrest), saw the elderly Jewish activists on the news. Inspired by the Seacrest marchers’ resolve, Sherman and a friend hatched a plan to partner younger activists with the older women to help them continue their political engagement.
“We thought it would be great to include them in the next Women’s March action step of postcard writing,” Sherman says.
So he reached out to Rudolph. She embraced the idea of continuing her comrades’ activism via communal postcard writing sessions.
Sherman and the Leichtag Foundation provided the necessary materials – pens, postcards and address labels – and drummed up 10 volunteers on Facebook for the initial postcard-writing session on February 7. Local public news organization KPBS got wind of the event and broadcast coverage on both radio and television.
The first session was such a success that two more followed.
“Our future plan is to meet about once a month to write and vent. Any more than that and we might burnout,” Rudolph says. “I’m so thrilled with the wonderful and loving volunteers who come to help us. A lot of the ladies are interested in participating but worried they can’t write legibly anymore,” she says.
The volunteers – ranging in age from 13 to 75 – bring postage stamps and help the women affix them to postcards. They also make sure the women address and sign the cards properly.
The volunteers enjoy getting to know Seacrest’s feisty activists while they collaborate to produce a steady stream of Washington, D.C.-bound postcards.
“The volunteers all leave smiling and totally recharged,” says Sheman, who takes great pleasure seeing his vision of multigenerational activism come to fruition.
“I love listening to all the laughter when the women come up with funny things to write Trump,” says Debbie Kramer, 60, who volunteered and helped pen dozens of protest postcards at Seacrest.
“Seniors are my favorites. This is my second time here and I genuinely feel better about the state of the world after speaking to these women and hearing their stories,” says volunteer Mariah Christenson, 38.
Jenell Coker, Seacrest’s Director of Independent Living and Life Enrichment, said Seacrest as an institution doesn’t get involved in politics. However, she encourages Seacrest residents to remain engaged.
“The staff here makes room and offers support for all activities. I told the women this is their home and they could plan their own political activism,” Coker says. She assisted Rudolph by putting together a notebook with the names of Seacrest women who wanted to be involved. Coker said if some of the residents demonstrated interest in forming a Republican Club she’d help with that as well.
“I support our residents in any activities that keep them active and give them purpose to live longer, happier lives,” she says. So far, none of Seacrest’s conservative residents have taken steps to form their own political action committee.
According to Coker, Seacrest’s residents have done well at respecting each other’s political views.
“We had a little bit of blowback from the conservative residents when one of the more zealous activists passed out flyers about a postcard-writing event at dinner,” she remembers. Since then, residents have agreed not to discuss politics at the dinner table.
Rudolph remains mindful of the fact that a minority of Seacrest’s residents voted for Trump and don’t embrace the postcard-writing sessions. But she and her sister activists remain unbowed in their commitment to hold the President and his political cronies accountable. They’ve expanded their postcard writing to include missives to California’s Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris as well as their Congressman Darrell Issa. Rudolph didn’t mince words about Issa, a Republican who narrowly won reelection.
“He’s toast [next year],” she said while dashing off a postcard urging him to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Rudolph never considered herself a political activist until now. She grew up in the Rocky Mountains of Butte, Montana, the daughter of a Polish immigrant mother and a Russian immigrant father. Her parents owned and ran a men’s clothing store.
Newton Rudolph, a nice Jewish boy from Butte, first laid eyes on Dee when she was 9 and he was 13. When Newt left Butte to serve in the military, he told 15-year-old Dee he’d marry her after he returned. He kept his word. Shortly after Dee turned 18, she and Newt got married and settled down in Butte.
Dee gave birth to her first child, a boy named George, shortly before her 21st birthday. Three more children followed. Newt died suddenly, just months before their 50th wedding anniversary, when Dee was 68.
“I was so lucky to marry young and have 50 years with the love of my life. I was in shock for a year after he died,” she says.
Her daughter Connie, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, helped Dee pack up, sell the family home and move to a smaller home near her in Bozeman.
Five years ago, Dee decided she couldn’t take another winter in Montana. She has osteoporosis and was scared of falling and seriously injuring herself. Dee also longed to be near her youngest daughter Romi and her two young grandchildren who live in San Diego. She looked at several San Diego retirement homes that left her cold. When she opened the door to Seacrest she says she fell in love with the ambiance and atmosphere.
“I only had one Jewish girlfriend my whole life in Butte. Being at Seacrest has been such a revelation for me because now I’m with my own people. I don’t have to worry if a Yiddish word pops out of my mouth,” Rudolph says.
The Women’s March and ensuing activism have proven to be blessings for Rudolph and those who have joined in.
“The best part is the people we’ve met and the camaraderie we’ve developed. We’ve forged new friendships. I’m so proud of the Seacrest ladies because they are intelligent and willing to join the grassroots efforts,” Rudolph says.
She enjoys planning the postcard-writing events with Leichtag’s Sherman who she describes as “one of the most wonderful young men I’ve ever known.”
Rudolph and the other Seacrest activists have a growing legion of admirers. They’ve received 25 pieces of fan mail. One elderly woman wrote that she wants to move to Seacrest so she can join them. Women from around the country sent photos of their January 21st Marches to demonstrate solidarity. At the second postcard-writing event, a young female fan delivered a bouquet of flowers and a roll of postcard stamps with a note addressed to “My Favorite Activist Sisters.”
“They’ve inspired so many people. We think of people in their 80s and 90s as being frail, but these women are still really vibrant and active,” says Coker.
While enjoying their late-in-life fame, the Seacrest activists take greater pleasure in making their voices heard.
“We’re old ladies but we like to be part of the world too,” Rudolph says.
Her enthusiasm has launched hundreds of postcards into the corridors of power and is sure to inspire many more as the Trump era progresses. Rudolph’s four children and seven grandchildren are proud of her activism and leadership skills. They’re also thrilled by her renewed sense of purpose.
“This is my crowning glory. I’ve never had so much recognition and feedback before,” Rudolph says.
She hopes other seniors will get involved however they can.
“Please organize your own group and do something. It’s better than sitting on your fanny.”