'Grandmother' of south Washington County DFL recognized for years of campaign work
After nearly 40 years of volunteering on political campaigns, Alice Robinson was going to take a pass in 2010.
But the St. Paul Park woman, sensing her south Washington County DFL candidates needed help, hit the trail, knocking on doors and dropping campaign literature.
Robinson approached a home in South St. Paul to leave literature for Sen. Katie Sieben, but before she knew it she was knocked to the ground by a boxer. As in the dog breed. Robinson suffered bruising but no serious injuries.
"The dog just came right for me. It was so fast nobody could even think," said Robinson, now 82, recalling that the homeowners quickly came to her aid. She made sure to distribute her campaign literature despite the attack.
"I was thinking about that on Election Day (in 2010), that I should call them up and say, 'Did you vote?'"
While an isolated incident, Robinson's run-in with the dog was among anecdotes shared as evidence of her dedication to the DFL Party's cause. A veteran of many campaigns who has logged countless hours doing grunt work to help get Democrats elected, Robinson has been inducted into the Minnesota DFL Party Women's Hall of Fame. She was recognized Saturday at a Minneapolis banquet, and was part of a 2011 roster of statewide inductees that included Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the former Minnesota House speaker and 2010 gubernatorial candidate.
"That was a big surprise," Robinson said of her induction as a Woman of Distinction. She admitted that she did not even know her party had a Women's Hall of Fame, now in its 12th year.
Local Democrats said Robinson is a well-deserved recipient.
"She's unique just because of the long amount of time she's been involved and her enthusiasm for helping people and her willingness to do a lot of unglamorous work," said Sieben, for whom Robinson has volunteered.
Robinson's start in local DFL politics dates to 1972, when a candidate for the Legislature came knocking at her door. The candidate was Mike Sieben, Katie Sieben's father. He wowed Robinson and her husband, Byron, and they decided to help his campaign.
"From that, we got started," Robinson said.
What followed were nearly four decades of DFL Party activism and leadership at the local level. Robinson figures she has not worked every campaign in that time, but volunteered in most of them.
Mike Sieben said Robinson has done many different things to help candidates, including himself.
"It's very appropriate," he said of the award," because Alice is just an extraordinary person and (is) unselfish with her time to help make our area a better place."
She made phone calls, cooked for fundraisers, knocked on doors, built campaign signs before they were printed, marched in parades and took care of behind-the-scenes campaign work for a succession of Democrats who have run - and, in many cases - won elections in south Washington County. The list includes Mike Sieben and years later his daughter Katie, Bill Luther, Gerry Sikorski, Sharon Marko, Pat Beard, Jen Peterson and Karla Bigham.
"When I ran (in 2006), she was probably the second person I called when I was seeking the endorsement," Bigham, who served four years in the House, said of Robinson. "She really is somebody you need to have on your side to help organize you."
"She's like the grandmother of the local DFL," Bigham added.
Candidates turned to Robinson, a Grey Cloud Island Township native, because of her familiarity with the area and local political network. She organized the party's precinct caucuses and served as secretary for her DFL district.
"She's involved in the community, she knows nearly everyone," Katie Sieben said. "She cares about all people around here and just really works hard."
Mike Sieben said Robinson is equally deserving of praise for her dedication to local history. She is an active member of the South Washington Heritage Society.
Reflecting on her years as a political volunteer, Robinson said she thinks elections have become much more partisan and rely on too much money. Also, campaigning is easier now because of what can be accomplished on a computer, she said.
Technology could not have handled all of her campaign tasks, though. Robinson chuckled as she remembered door-knocking with Sikorski, a former state legislator and congressional candidate, in Cottage Grove years ago. Sikorski lost a contact lens and Robinson helped to sift through the weeds of a vacant lot in search of the lens. "We did find it," she said.
Robinson also remembers the big names in her party visiting south Washington County for bean-feed fundraisers, including at the old Cottage Grove community center.
"Hubert Humphrey would walk into the kitchen and thank the cooks," she said. "That was his thing."
Robinson said south Washington County has had a strong history of good female political candidates, as well as its share of strong party activists. That group includes Phyllis Jones and the late Mary Peek, both of Grey Cloud Island Township. Coincidentally, they too were recognized by the DFL Party for their work. "I'm in good company," Robinson said.