NORTH BEND — On Saturday evening, the Zonta Club of Coos Bay Area recognized former state senator Joanne Verger as the 2019 celebrity.
The event was dubbed as “Zonta’s Greatest Show” to celebrate Zonta International’s 100 years of empowering women. Verger inspired the room as she was honored, having spent 50 years in public service both in Coos County and in Salem.
Women gather at a table Saturday during the annual Zonta Club of the Coos Bay Area dinner Saturday at the The Mill Casino-Hotel in North Bend.…
She was the face of the Easter Seal Telethon after moving to the southern Oregon coast with her late husband to open a car dealership, but got her start in politics after being elected to the Coos Bay City Council in 1990. From there, she went on to become the first female mayor of Coos Bay, serving four terms, and then was elected as an Oregon State Representative in 2001. In 2004 to 2012, Verger served as an Oregon State Senator.
She was a longtime advocate for women and children, having supported the first anti-human trafficking legislation passed by the Oregon Senate, and was an original member of the Legislative Anti-Trafficking Task Force.
As for being elected as Zonta’s 2019 celebrity, she told The World it was a wonderful recognition, especially coming from Zonta.
“This is a wonderful organization of empowering women and doing what they always wanted to be and do,” Verger said, adding that she hopes to spread the message that if someone wants to save the world, they can’t do it alone.
“If you want to save the world and take all the hate away and turn prejudice and bias around, you can’t do it as an individual,” she said. “Many people have to give you that voice, put you in a position where you are able to grab the opportunity when it presents itself. That is the only way. No one does this by themselves. It’s impossible.”
Zonta’s local president, Genelle Hanken, said the event was the area’s 21st annual dinner. The celebrity aspect began when it was still a catered meal at various locations. These celebrities were always well-known people from the community, usually mayors or lawyers, but also unsung heroes.
Past celebrities include the Erbele Family, Judge Paula Bechtold and Zonta Life Members.
As for Verger, Hanken met her years ago after watching her on the Easter Seal Telethon and went on to support her in campaign efforts.
“She is an old school politician when things were kinder and gentler, when people talked to each other and listened,” Hanken said. “She is genteel and diplomatic. We crave that and wish we had that back.”