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A Humanist Departs : Fire Still Burns in Gentle Peace Activist--but the Years, Finally, Exact a Toll

July 07, 1988|ANDREA TROUTMAN

She is an unabashed humanist.

A color poster of the planet Earth hangs in the entryway of her Santa Paula home. She embraces visitors with a grip surprisingly strong for a 92-year-old, and sits as close to them as she can, reminding them "we're huddling for humanity."

An exuberant nude adorns a living room wall and a copy of Mother Jones magazine sits on the coffee table. Juanita Kallmeyer speaks spiritedly of the Rev. Jesse Jackson (she's a big fan) the bomb, youth and the future. She speaks more matter-of-factly about her impending move from the house from which she has dispensed poetry and propaganda, all in the name of peace, and become something of a symbol of grass-roots goodness over the last three decades.

"It's going to be tough leaving my home and relying on other people after taking care of the world all of these years," Kallmeyer said with a laugh. "I've always been so independent. But I'm programming my computer to think positively."

It already is.

Failing Eyesight

Kallmeyer, who is nearly blind, maintains a brisk, optimistic correspondence with leaders of the peace movement in the United States and the Soviet Union, with congressmen and college students and with like-minded Ventura County citizens she calls her "constituents."

She does not dwell on her troubles. Her husband, Dutch, died last March. Recently, she injured her back, and is occasionally jolted by shooting pains. Managing on her own is becoming a riskier proposition, so, in a couple of weeks, she'll take her leave of Santa Paula and move in with her daughter, Patricia Buck, a nurse in Whittier.

Friends, neighbors and community leaders say she'll be sorely missed.

"We'll miss her insight into the world's problems and her enthusiasm for sharing her beliefs," said Marianne Ratcliff, editor of the Santa Paula Daily Chronicle, in reference to the more than 150 poems, opinion pieces and letters by Kallmeyer that have been published in the Chronicle during the last 10 years.

"She calls here frequently to talk to the reporters and the editors . . . sometimes about new ideas she has, but often just to say 'thank you' for printing her poems and letters. We hope she'll send us more," Ratcliff added.

Until her recent back injury, Kallmeyer would get up long before dawn, writing her thoughts on paper or using a tape recorder to capture the words that would swirl in her head.

Then, at sunrise, she would put her intellectual tasks aside and put her body to work.

Dressed in a child's blanket-pajama suit, the 4-foot, 10-inch Kallmeyer would warm up with 300 bounces and twists on a homemade trampoline in her garage, jog several laps up and down her long gravel driveway, and finish up with a calisthenic routine indoors.

She credits the rigorous exercise with giving her the energy to pursue her favorite avocation--writing poetry laden with pleas for nuclear disarmament and an ecologically sound environment.

"We're running out of time," says Kallmeyer. "If we don't change our thinking soon, we're going to destroy this planet of ours."

While her message is hardly new, her presentation has drawn notice.

"A woman who's 92 years old, who's espousing peace and putting herself on the line in a very active way, even though she's subject to scorn and criticism and being dismissed, deserves to be listened to," says Carole Hemingway, a Los Angeles radio talk-show host who has read Kallmeyer's letters and poems on the air.

"Juanita Kallmeyer is saying something important and she says it well," Hemingway said. "She's the kind of person we should be listening to."

Dr. Bernard Lown, co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, offered her the same sort of testimonial.

Poetry Praised

"I was deeply moved by your letter," he wrote her in 1986. "The fortitude to continue the struggle at 90 is a testament of profound human commitment. . . . Your poems are a powerful means of organizing people, of reaching the uncommitted and of bringing the human family a mite closer. . . ."

Dr. E. Chazov, a peace activist in the Soviet Union, agreed.

"It is with deep gratitude and appreciation that I learned about your tireless efforts, at 90, to promote the noblest cause--world peace," he wrote in response to one of Kallmeyer's notes. "For me and my colleagues in the Soviet Committee of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, your endeavors are a source of inspiration and optimism."

The poetry she unleashes on a mailing list of about 40 peace activists, politicians, scientists, students, college administrators and friends makes its point in no uncertain terms:

"We know that peace-mongering is not very profitable,

But we'd better shine it up and make it more marketable

And hope that we see the light before we feel the heat,

For it won't be just the innocent and the weak.

We are all part of 'Mother Earth'--there's not time to fuss.

It used to be us and them--now there's only us."

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