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Memories and Surprises from the LLLI Conference

Mary Hurt
LLLI Public Relations Associate
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 4, August-September 2002 p. 86-87.

“The Founders, I never tire of them—never! They have meant so much to me,” said longtime Leader and inveterate LLLI Conference attendee Verna Gremaud, when explaining why she enjoys LLLI Conferences. Verna continued, “I choose the Continuing Education sessions first because that’s where I get new information, since I am still active in helping mothers with breastfeeding questions. The CE sessions are always in-depth and helpful.” A Leader from Overland, Missouri, USA, Verna led her first LLL meeting in the late summer of 1962 and is one of the Leaders who has attended almost every LLLI Conference.

Verna always participated in fundraising activities to help her get to the LLLI Conferences. She said her Groups held plant sales, giant rummage sales, and wonderful summer picnics that are now fond memories for her and her 13 grown children.

It all began in 1964 when another Missouri, USA Leader, Charlotte Peskin, encouraged Verna to attend the first LLLI Conference at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, USA. That year Verna and a group of Leaders, babies in arms, took the train from St. Louis, Missouri, USA to Chicago. Charlotte sparked the fundraising efforts for the Conference and encouraged Verna and the other Leaders to attend. Since Verna has rarely missed an LLLI Conference, she comments that it is easier to count the LLLI Conferences she has missed than the ones she has attended.

Verna enjoys each Conference because of the “…Wonderful people, the parents, the babies, and being with like-minded people. Of course the speakers are also wonderful.” One session she remembers in particular was led by Marian Tompson. It was about when you decide to have your last baby. “We had to pass the tissues around for that one!”

At the LLLI Conference in Chicago in 2001, Verna enjoyed hearing the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. David Satcher, speak in support of breastfeeding. She commented, “It was such a struggle years ago believing in what we did. One of the reasons I have stayed around so long in La Leche League is that it is a vindication of what we believed in.”

Verna remembered being chastised by her first pediatrician for not starting her young baby on solids. Forty years ago La Leche League was the only one encouraging exclusive breastfeeding and a later start in solids. Today, research confirms the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the World Health Organization encourages exclusive breastfeeding for about six months.

Verna has spent most of her years of active leading with the Overland, Missouri, USA Group and is active in phone counseling, community outreach, and is part of Missouri’s Coordinating Council. She also assists with the World Walk for Breastfeeding, LLL exhibits at a local baby store, and helps with an LLL neighborhood baby contest. As far as her involvement with LLL, Verna said that her LLL work is “not work at all...it is my heart and soul.” She is plans to attend the LLLI Conference in San Francisco, California, USA July 3-6, 2003.

Experienced Leaders are not the only ones who enjoy LLLI Conferences. The 2001 Chicago Conference marked the first International Conference that celebrated new Leaders—those who had been accredited since the last LLLI Conference. “Being immersed in an LLL atmosphere for three days was sensational,” said Helene Barr, new Leader from Timmins Ontario, Canada. She said, “The hotel was like a mini-world where everyone was breastfeeding—in the elevators, at the meetings, everywhere. It was like being part of a breastfeeding world for three days. There were so many mothers from different cultures, all caring about breastfeeding.”

Helene continued, “At the banquet I had my photograph taken with Japanese singers and dancers. The photo was later published in our local paper. Everything was brand new to me because it was the first time I had ever been to the United States. There were so many good sessions, and it was hard for me to choose. I really enjoyed hearing Dr. William and Martha Sears, Barbara Coloroso, and Dr. McKenna speak. The Conference was so empowering.
Helene also enjoyed meeting with the Founders. She said when she first recognized some of them at registration, she could hardly believe it and exclaimed, “Oh my, it’s the Founders!” They were all kind and approachable.

As a new Leader accredited since the 1999 LLLI Conference, Helene was one of the first to sign up for lunch with a Founder. She and her daughter, Hazel, sat with Marian Tompson at a luncheon. Helene commented, “The lunch with a Founder and walking in the parade with the Board of Directors made me feel special.”

Newly accredited Leaders also had the chance of signing up for a free raffle of books at the Press Room. There, Helene ran into Founder Mary Ann Kerwin. “She was so gracious, and she shook and held my hand the whole time we were talking. It was fantastic.”

Helene remarked that she enjoyed participating in the many Conference activities designed to celebrate new Leaders. These included walking in with the Board of Directors in the Parade of Nations, a thank-you gift, a ribbon, and a chance at a special new Leader scholarship.

When asked what she would tell others about attending a La Leche League International Conference, Helene said, “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you will never forget.”

The LLLI Conference is an opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a breastfeeding-friendly world, to hear the latest in breastfeeding information and parenting, and to see the seven Founders and the Board of Directors. Plan today to add your diversity to our strength as we present La Leche League International’s 18th Breastfeeding Conference: Strength Through Diversity: Creating One Breastfeeding World, July 3-6, 2003, San Francisco, California, USA.

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