A political powerhouse in Evanston since the 1960s, Alberta (Albe) Johnson Lauterbach (1922-2012) passed away in her sleep August 31 at age 90. She was the wife of William “Ned” Lauterbach; the mother of Steve, Stew, Christine, Katherine and Amy; and a tireless Democratic leader who helped shape Evanston in ways that most residents don’t realize.
In the third ward, Albe ran successful aldermanic campaigns in the 1960s, 70s and 80s for James B. Moran, Joan Connor and, of course, her husband Ned. She was also a key campaign advisor to third-ward aldermen Sue Brady, Beth Davis and Adele Neems and to ninth-ward aldermen Maxine Lange, Don Borah and Donna Gerson.
City-wide, she managed the campaign for Jay Lytle’s first mayoral run. Boy, did she ever, remembers the candidate’s wife, Bonnie Lytle. “She let me know early on, that meant that I would be doing a lot of ‘canvassing.’”
She found out what canvassing meant when Albe gave her her marching orders, to go house to house, apartment to apartment, and visit every home in the 8th and 9th wards. “I received my political baptism by fire,” she says, “and worked those wards for the next three months.” Jay Lytle served as mayor for two terms.
“For decades, Albe’s endorsement to run for office was seen as an essential first step for any Democratic candidate,” says Sue Brady. “Always, always, you checked in with Albe and Ned to see if you should run. They would tell you if you had paid your dues and had a large enough base. Then Albe would lay it out, telling you what you needed to do to get elected.”
Brady ran unopposed in her re-election bid and she recalls “telling Albe I was relieved because now I didn’t have to campaign. Albe gave me this disappointed look and said, ‘Of course, you do. You owe it to your constituents.’ Then she set up a schedule of doorbell ringing, which you know I had to follow.”
That’s how Don Borah sees it, too. “I don’t remember what offices Albe held,” Borah said, “but back in the 1970s, she was the Democratic Party of Evanston. And when she said come, it wasn’t a request. It was an order. She was a masterful organizer.”
Albe relied on the door-to-door, grassroots approach she learned while working on campaigns for State Rep. Harold Katz, U.S. Congressman Abner Mikva and gubernatorial candidate Paul Simon and U. S. Senator Dick Durbin. Sen. Durbin even paid Albe a visit at The Mather last year.
That wouldn’t surprise Evanston mayor, Liz Tisdahl. She says,”Every time I saw him, Richard Durbin used to ask me ‘How’s Albe?’ He’s not the only one who could not have a conversation about the city of Evanston without asking about Albe. I will miss those conversations.”
Albe was born and reared in Joliet. She went to Antioch College in Ohio, where she met and fell in love with Ned Lauterbach. They graduated and got married in 1945 and moved to Rogers Park. Albe worked as a bacteriologist at Quaker Oats, but only until her first baby was born in 1948.
She didn’t go back to work outside the home until she joined the development department of Evanston Hospital. Of course, she’d been working all along, raising the kids, knitting, sewing and turning her hand to politics. She wound up a paid staff member in the Paul Simon and the Adlai Stevenson III U.S. senatorial campaigns. That’s where she got to know Abner Mikva; and when he moved to Evanston in the early 1970s, that’s when the Democratic party here really took off, Donna Gerson says.
Albe not only helped organize the Democratic party, she liked to organize parties. She She and next-door neighbors, Paul and Audrey Gaynor, threw a backyard fundraiser in 2004 for Barack Obama. That was before the primary making him the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, “back when he was just a guy with a funny name,” says former Ald. Don Borah.
Sue Brady remembers another backyard get-together at Albe’s. ”The invitation said it was for ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ About 50 people came from two generations, the parents and their children who came back to live in Evanston.
“Living in Evanston was special to Albe,” Brady says. “Her love for Evanston surpassed even her yellow-dog feelings for the Democratic party.”
Maybe not so much when she first moved here in 1961. Back then Evanston was still a staunch Republican town. It took until 1964 for a Democratic presidential candidate to win the Evanston vote.
Albe was among those who worked hard to make that happen. Although Ned was often seen as “the schmoozer and Albe as the taskmaster,” says Sue Brady, “that’s because she made us toe the line, but she was also idealistic, devoted and fun.”
“She was multi-dimensional,” says Don Borah, “vital, smart, sarcastic, master of the zinger, but she was also our moral compass, fair-minded and loving. She showed up with a meal when my mother died.”
In 2010, the city recognized the contributions Albe and Ned made to Evanston with an honorary street named for them on Forest near where they had lived at 708 and 651 for almost 50 years. It was called Lauterbach Way.
Their daughter Katherine says Albe had truly taken to heart the charge of Horace Mann, Antioch’s first president. These words adorned the Mann monument on campus: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Katherine said her mother had died content, knowing she had, indeed, “given back to her community.”
On her 90th birthday, Albe told her family she was “ready to go.” She said, “I pray every night the Lord my soul to take … and to get Obama elected.” A memorial is planned for November 18 with a time and place in Evanston to be announced.