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League Treasures Series: Barbara Knapp

Ann Patton | Published on 8/10/2023
League Treasure
Barbara Knapp: Celebrating 74 years in her adopted America 

The Orange County League and its activities have been so personally meaningful and vital to our community that some members have continued their commitment over decades. To salute them, the Membership and History committees this spring began a series of profiles of our long-time members so we can find inspiration in their stories and get to know one another better. Today’s profile of Barbara Knapp was written by Ann Patton.

Barbara Knapp was just 9 years old when her widowed mother took her and her sister Vivienne on a wild adventure: “We left our homeland, war-torn London, England, and set sail for seven days to cross the Atlantic to whatever was in our future in America,” Barbara remembers.

“I remember wearing gas masks and hiding from air raids during World War II,” she said. Her father, a squadron commander in the Royal Air Force, was killed in the war. Life was tough; her mother supported her little family by working as a seamstress at home.

“In 1949 Mum made the decision to leave the sadness behind,“ Barbara said. Her mother brought them to the United States to join her aunt, a war bride in America. The family embarked on the great adventure with only $200. “I have always been very grateful that I ended up here,” Barbara said.

It was her yearning to pay back a debt to her adopted nation that prompted Barbara to join the League of Women Voters forty years ago. That record qualifies her for an elite cadre of “League Treasures” who have committed more than a quarter-century of their lives to working with the LWV.

Barbara was looking for substance and meaning in her busy life as a young working mother.  “I knew I had to give back to the community, even while I was working. And I’ve always thought being able to vote is the best gift,” she said. 

She believes strongly that if you join, you work.  She volunteered to manage LWVOC enrollment records, which she did for many years, proving her willingness to tackle nuts-and-bolts tasks that keep the LWV functioning.
Her husband Jim joined the LWV, too, and they worked together as a solid team. The League offered them the chance to work on voter education, under leadership of the late Carol Davis, and natural resources, with Chuck O’Neal. She served on the Board of Directors while Michelle Levy and Sandra Powers were co-presidents. All four are legendary mentors. Barbara also spent years working with the Education Committee.

In recent years, Barbara has focused on the Membership Committee, which she co-chairs with Pat Grierson. This is the group that keeps the LWVOC functioning well and on track. 

You most likely know her as the smiling redhead at Membership’s greeting table for LWVOC events, where she staffs the “trouble table,” resolving any problems that arise.

In exchange for her many contributions, the LWV has repaid her well, in memorable relationships and in the satisfaction of working with this respected organization to support democracy. “When you sit at Lake Eola and register 30 new voters, you feel good, knowing you did something to help the country,” she said. 

In the 1970s, the girls and their mother visited London again. England was still recovering; it took many decades to recover from the war. “I can’t imagine what our lives would have been like there,” Barbara said.  She is grateful for the “wild adventure” of her life in America.

Barbara has a word of advice for others: “Join and participate.  Be a part of it. That’s where you get the satisfaction, and in return you get the joy of working with these remarkable people, who are just wonderful.” 


Barbara Knapp 

Barbara Knapp (left) and her sister Vivienne, 
ages 9 and 7, leaving England for America.

Barbara Knapp: “Life is a wild adventure.”