Litsie Indergand Awarded the Peg Capron Social Justice Award

Litsie Indergand was awarded the Peg Capron Social Justice Award at the Service on September 17. Susan Owicki wrote the following biography for the occasion:

I have the fun of telling you a bit about the contributions that have led to Litsie’s award today. I say “a bit” because there just isn’t enough time to cover the many kinds of social justice work she has undertaken. I will highlight one area – her work with the homeless.

There’s lots more, including Abode Services, the United Nations Association, Peninsula Interfaith Action, the League of Women Voters, two terms as a Palo Alto Human Relations Commissioner, plus UUCPA activities. If you want to know more – she’s writing her memoirs, and I bet she would share them!

First, a little personal history. Litsie was born in Vienna, the only child of Jewish parents. She says she has cared about social justice “forever.” She credits her father, who taught her with his words and his example. Very sadly, he died when she was 10.

When she was 12, Litsie had her own experience of homelessness under terrifying circumstances. It was Kristallnacht – the night when the Nazis ruthlessly rounded up Jews in Germany and Austria. Litsie and her mother were imprisoned. They were released after one night, but couldn’t return to their home – the Nazis kept the keys. They lived on the cold November streets for weeks, until friends took them in.

They knew they had to leave Austria. Litsie told her mother that they must go to either Israel or the U.S. (She was already determined and persistent, one might even say stubborn. Those traits have played no small part in her accomplishments.)

It was a harrowing trip – you can ask her for the story. Eventually they reached San Francisco and made a life there.

Litsie made two important discoveries in San Francisco. First, while delivering messages in Letterman Hospital, she met John Indergand. He was in a full body cast, recovering from the war wounds that ultimately led him to receive the Purple Heart and other medals. They have been together since.

Second was the Unitarian church. John and Litsie wanted their daughter to have an answer when people asked where she went to church. Luckily for us, a friend pointed them towards the Unitarians. Litsie was attracted by the social justice orientation.

John and Litsie came to Palo Alto in 1997. They quickly joined UUCPA, and Litsie got on the Social Justice Committee, where she had the pleasure of working with Peg Capron. In two years, she was President of the Board. (She seems to have a habit of ending up as a Board Member or President wherever she goes.)

During her presidency, she convinced the congregation that it was safe to host homeless people in our church for one month a year – and so we have Hotel de Zink. [continued]

the BULLETIN 4 September 24, 2017

Soon after her arrival, Litsie was volunteering for the Urban Ministry’s homeless drop-in center. After it was flooded in 1998, she and two Stanford faculty formed the Community Working Group to create a safe place for the homeless. At first, they looked for a storefront. Litsie walked all over Palo Alto searching for space. She faced rejection everywhere — no one wanted to rent to the homeless. At last, she heard of a woman who owned two parcels of land at the north end of Palo Alto. With Litsie’s involvement in negotiation and fund-raising, the land was acquired, and the Opportunity Center was built. It has now served the homeless for ten years.

I’ll mention one last piece of Litsie’s work with the homeless – Undie Sunday. After the flooding, Litsie saw the displaced homeless men and asked what she could do to help. She was told, “See those men over there. They’re wearing blue jeans without any underwear and it’s pretty miserable.” Litsie thought, “I could do something about that at church.” When she presented her idea to the congregation, she began “If anyone here is wearing underwear, raise your hand.” I don’t know how many people raised their hands, but Undie Sunday has been a holiday institution at UUCPA for years.

— Susan Owicki