Banning’s first woman mayor, former Gazette columnist, passes away

 

Else Brigitte Lange Page passed away of natural causes at her home in Banning on Dec. 3.

Known by her friends as Brigitte, she served on Banning’s city council from Oct. 23, 1975 (as an appointed replacement to councilman William Anderson, who resigned), won a four-year term and was elected by council as mayor in March 1976.

Page is credited as the founder of the former San Gorgonio Childcare Consortium, and established the San Gorgonio Hospital Foundation.

She was selected again as mayor in 1978; in April 1980, she ran for council again, winning another four-year term, and was elected by the council to serve as mayor in November 1982.

“She hated being called Else,” (pronounced “El-sa”) according to her daughter, Linda. “She made me swear that I wouldn’t have ‘Else’ on her tombstone,” which instead will read “E. Brigitte Page.”

Page was a faithful Lutheran, and was proud to call herself an American. She was born in Berlin, Germany on Sept. 16, 1924. Her father was an attorney and her mother was the principal of a school, where she also taught mathematics and chemistry. Page had a brother, Hermann, four years her senior.

Her childhood was idyllic until Hitler came to power in 1933. For years, terror reigned on her and her family, since her parents had never felt the need before the war to tell her that her mother was Jewish.

Unable to attend college, since the Nazis considered her a “non-person,” she entered business school. Her father had always told her that “numbers are the same all over the world.”

She became fluent in several languages, and was proficient in accounting, typing and shorthand. She worked in the Japanese Embassy in Berlin as a translator. After World War II, she got a job at the American Embassy in Berlin, and in the summer of 1946, she met a “crazy” American, 1st Lt. Wilbur (Bill) E. Page, in the 252nd Army Corps of Engineers, in which she was his boss.

Bill died in 2005.

She came to America on Sept. 9, 1947 on a War Bride quota, as the bride of Lt. Page, who had to pay $500 to immigration in case the marriage didn’t work out, so she could be “shipped” back to Germany.

They lived in upper New York State, and she got a job working at General Electric, beating out hundreds of applicants due to her proficiency in languages and knowledge of shorthand.

Page wrote a column in the Record Gazette for nearly 25 years, called “Brigitte’s Korner.”

She had a folksy style of writing. In her Jan. 22, 1991 column, for instance, she wrote about her “penchant to collect things,” such as Christmas package bows, rubber bands from newspapers, bottles, magazines, etc., making her a customer on a first-name basis at rummage sales. She called her habit “a throwback to World War II. During years of hardship we learned how to use every little bit, and ever since then I simply hate any kind of waste.”

She explained that, “My husband has a less polite description” of her habit. “He is so neat and organized that my various boxes and bags, all for good purposes are driving him up the wall. However, he does not say too much too often, as he is afraid that I might write an article about him. Sometimes he is really extremely witty and I would love to share some of his very best with you. But under the threat that I would never be able to write another article, if I did, I am careful and resist from doing it.”

In 1957, Bill’s health required them to move to a warmer climate. They chose the Pass area, since Bill’s mother and stepfather lived in Beaumont.

After she moved to Banning, Page did not slow down. She was co-owner and business manager of Page Auto Exchange/Page Datsun, which she and Bill began in 1957 as a used car dealership, adding Jeep and Datsun (now Nissan) in 1964. They sold the business in 1979.

She was involved in the American Field Service (now AFS International), serving as president in 1960-1968. She was a commissioner of the Riverside Housing Authority 1970-1973; co-chairwoman of Banning’s Redevelopment Agency Task Force in 1972-1973.

She became Banning’s first woman mayor after being elected to City Council from 1975-1984; she was also the first woman president of the Riverside County Mayors’ and Councilmen’s Conference 1978-1980. She was the founder of Riverside County Community Action Agency, having served two terms between 1980-1982 and 1980-1989. She was president of several organizations, having served on the Banning Repplier Park Association from 1974-1986; Riverside Transit Authority, 1980-1984; founder of the San Gorgonio Pass Hospital Foundation, 1982-1990 (was named board member emeritus 2001-2013); Riverside County National Date Festival, director 1984-1992; San Gorgonio Child Care Consortium, founding president 1981-1986, serving as its fiscal officer from 1981-1996, and was a board member emeritus until closure 2013; United Way Pass Area Committee, member 1986-1993; Banning 75th Anniversary Committee member 1988-1989; San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital Corp., board of directors treasurer 1990-1999, and board member emeritus, 1999-2013; “Vision 97” Capital Improvement Campaign, Women’s Wing at San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital 1997. She assisted the City of Banning to form a non-profit corporation for A. C. Dysart Park Association 1999.

She also received several honors and awards, including Banning’s Citizen of the Year from the Banning Chamber of Commerce in 1969; Daughters of the American Revolution Americanism Medal for Naturalized Citizen 1974; Mexican American Community Service Award 1976-1977; Outstanding C.A.P. World Women (California-Nevada Community Action Assn.) 1983; Volunteer of the Year, Riverside County 1986; Community Service Award, Anthropol’s Women’s Club, Banning 1987 and 1994; Bd. Of Supervisors Volunteer Service Award, Riverside County 1988; Woman of the Year, 68th Assembly District, State of California, Assemblyman Clute’s District) 1988; California Commission on the Status of Women, Riverside County Awardee for Cavalcade of Women 1991; Town and Gown, University of Redlands Honoree for Volunteerism 1992; San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital First Perfect Partner Award 1995; City of Banning’s Community Recognition Award 1999; and The City of Banning’s First “Ring of Honor” Recipient 2000.

Of all Brigitte’s contributions and awards, the one closest to her heart and the one she found most rewarding was the Soroptimist Club Federation, an organization of women helping women. She joined in 1959 and had been the governor of the Pacific Region, Soroptimist International of Americas, Inc. from 1970-1972. In addition, she had been the director of the Soroptimist Foundation of the Americas from 1984-1988. Through the club she traveled many roads in many countries, but her greatest joy was to be a co-founder (1981) of the Soroptimist House of Hope, a home for alcohol and chemically dependent women in Desert Hot Springs, which established a second home in Banning in 1989.

In addition, she was the fiscal officer and treasurer from 1981 until 2012 when she became president emeritus.

She is survived by stepdaughter Bobbi (Jack) Ferris, of El Cajon, from Bill’s previous marriage; son, Pastor Gary Page (Debbie) and daughter Linda, of Manchester, Mich.; as well as grandchildren Leah Page, Beth (Chris) Kaufield, and Zac (Lynae) Page; and numerous step-grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

Internment will be at the Riverside National Cemetery on Jan. 9, 2014, at 11 a.m.. and a celebration of her life is set for January 11th 2014, 11 a.m., 2014 at Life Point Church, presided by her son, Pastor Gary Page, with a reception following at the Banning Community Center. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Soroptimist House of Hope, P.O. Box 1055, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240.

As Operation Desert Storm was waning, in her Jan. 22 1991column, Page wrote, “Since I have to turn this article in about one week before it is published, I do not know as yet what is happening in the Middle East. We may be in an official war when you read this. It is hard to write something “light” with a heavy heart, but whatever happens, we have to go on and do our best — not just for ourselves, but for our country. God Bless America.”

The Record Gazette wrote a tribute to her in an editorial dated Sept. 5, 2003, after her last column was submitted.

In her column, she wrote, “My special thanks to all of you who enjoyed reading my sometimes feeble attempts at humor and to the present Record Gazette ownership and management for letting me ‘do my thing’ for so many years. In the language of my youth, ‘Auf Wiedersehen.’”

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net .

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