Sunday, March 8, 1998
Sarah Blanken
Common sense approach gets things done

BY JIM KNIPPENBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer

1997 Women of the Year
Sarah Blanken (right) chats with Northern Kentucky University students Jorge Marcano, left, 17 of Venezuela, and Monicah Gikiri, 23, of Kenya at an international coffee.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |

It's all so simple to Sarah Blanken: "You just see what needs to be done and you do it. It's a common sense thing, really."

That "common sense thing" has taken Ms. Blanken to:

  • Washington to wage war on hard-core pornography.

  • Frankfort, Ky., to confer on women's issues.

  • The heart of Northern Kentucky power circles to plot the area's future.

  • Local arts groups and hospitals.

  • The forefront of several women's groups.

Sarah Blanken, 70, of Florence, mother of four and grandmother of four, was married 46 years and divorced in 1993 at age 66.

"At that point, I moved here to shape my life. I didn't know what it would be or what I would do, so I looked around, saw things that needed to be done and asked, 'What talents do I have? Can I make any kind of contribution.'

"I don't mind telling you, I was scared witless. But you have to take risks, and even if you fail, you still learn from the failure. You learn to do it differently next time.

"But I kept thinking, 'I can do this. And I will do it'."

And so she did.

Sarah Blanken
  • Birthplace: Clay, Pa.
  • Residence: Florence.
  • Activities: Member, Kentucky Commission on Women; co-founder, Northern Kentucky Women's Forum; founder, Enough is Enough; member, Forward Quest Task Force on Futuristic Governance; board of directors, Dinsmore Homestead Foundation; Kentucky representative to the Executive Service Corps of Cincinnati; president, Florence Women's Club; president, St. Luke West Hospital Auxiliary.
  • Family: Divorced; four children, four grandchildren.
  • Education: Graduate, Hershey High School, 1946; one year Hershey Junior College.
  • Best advice received: ''Everything I've learned has been by example, by the way my mother and grandmother lived their lives.''
  • By the time she moved to Florence, Ms. Blanken was already an experienced leader. She had worked with the Rev. Jerry Kirk founding and helping run the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families and the Religious Alliance Against Pornography. She also organized a women's war on porn. That was in 1990,when she had an idea and began making calls to Washington power circles, inviting female leaders to meet and discuss pornography as it relates to women and children.

    The meeting was so successful it led to formation of Enough is Enough, a tiny group of determined women who raised their voices so effectively it became a national organization with thousands of members.

    "It's considered a mainstream group," Ms. Blanken says. "I'm old enough to know that there are opinions way over here, and opinions way over there, but the solution is somewhere in the middle. "Enough is Enough is the middle. We're not talking about Playboy here, we're talking about violence and torture, degradation. Our position is that yes, maybe people have a right to sell certain things, but you, as a community, also have a right to protest it." Her work with Enough led from one thing led to another: The Boone County Republican party. Florence Women's Club. An assortment of commissions and panels, including Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton's Kentucky Commission on Women.

    "I consider myself a true feminist," she says. "I'm not radical, and I'm certainly not angry. I believe men and women have to respect each other and work together. I want the best for women and men, and I guess that puts me in the middle again.

    "But it's also true that women of my generation were always so busy making everyone else happy, we didn't have time to make ourselves happy.

    "Somehow, I managed to break through and that has been tremendously fulfilling for me."

    Fulfilling, but so time consuming she seldom has time to kick off her shoes and lounge around her large white living room filled with plants, floral prints and a wall of glass overlooking the woods and the small stream meandering behind her condo.

    "I had to have something overlooking the woods. It's the country girl in me."

    Country girl? In Florence? "Oh no, I was born in Clay, Pa., and grew up in Hershey. I went to a one-room school in Pennsylvania Dutch country and I never knew for a minute we were poor.

    "Those are my roots, and I treasure them.

    "And yes, sometimes I do curl up in a robe and slippers, just me and my cat, Barney. But not too often."

    One of the things keeping her from too much lounging is her family. Out of the dozens of letters nominating her for Woman of the Year, more than half refer to her as "mother, grandmother, friend and community leader."

    "I think that's correct. My family does come first, always. But there's always time to fit in something more.

    "I was raised with a strong work ethic and I guess that's never going to change. I wouldn't even want it to.

    "At my age? I think it's wonderful to be able to give something back."

    Juanita M. Adams | Rebecca Bechhold | Sarah Blanken | Shannon Carter
    Susan S. Friedlander | Barbara Gould | Margaret Richards | Susan Tew
    Judith Van Ginkel | Kathy Wade
    Cover | Introduction | Previous winners