Eva Launer


Obituary: Eva Launer was there with time and money

  • Article by: MAURA LERNER
  • Star Tribune
  • February 15, 2012 - 10:34 PM

Eva Launer didn't go looking for trouble. But she didn't shy away from it -- whether it was marching in anti-war demonstrations or facing house arrest during a safari in Africa.

Launer, a world traveler who devoted her life to progressive causes, died on Feb. 9, her 88th birthday. She had Alzheimer's disease.

"The way she approached everything was, it was an adventure," said Mary Schertler, a longtime friend. "She was fearless."

Launer, a native of St. Paul, was a social worker and mother of four who was drawn into her era's struggles against discrimination and poverty. In the 1960s, she led Parents for Integrated Education, a group that worked to promote racial desegregation in the St. Paul public schools. She also marched in Washington, D.C., against the Vietnam War with her draft-age son.

If there was a progressive cause or candidate, she was there with her time and her money, said daughter Cynthia Launer. "She was just very passionate about these sorts of issues."

Eva Launer, who married Robert Launer in 1946, juggled her family, career and volunteer work with a lifelong love of traveling. She and her husband became known for exotic trips that sometimes got them into unexpected trouble.

In 1977, the Launers took their youngest son, Michael, then a sixth-grader, to Tanzania for a photo safari, just as a border war flared up with Kenya. The first night, they found themselves under house arrest at their hotel. "My dad had just gone jogging," Michael Launer remembered, and came back to say the hotel had been taken over by the Tanzanian military. "They weren't letting anyone leave."

A few days later, all the foreigners were ordered to leave in a caravan of cars accompanied by armed soldiers. His mother, however, "didn't want anyone with a gun in the car," so she told her son to lie down and act like he was deathly ill. "It worked," Michael Launer said; the soldiers left them alone. Eventually, they reached an airport, where they flew to safety. His mother, he said, "never showed she was ever worried." She later looked back on it as a "another crazy thing that happened in her travels."

Eva Launer also served on the board of the St. Paul Jewish Community Center and took part in a 2000 humanitarian mission to Cuba.

This week, Michael Launer said, a friend shared a telling story about his mother. Once, she was stopped for speeding near her home in Highland Park. She told the police officer that she regularly sped down that block, so "you better give me two tickets."

She had "a very strong moral compass," her son said.

In addition to Cynthia and Michael Launer, she is survived by her husband, Robert; brother Herman Birnberg, son Richard Launer, daughter Susan Launer Johnson, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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