SOUTH HAVEN | Glenda Owens described herself as a rather quiet, withdrawn and uninvolved person a few decades ago.
That was until 1979, when a daughter of one of her friends became involved in illegal drugs.
"I got really angry. I thought kids were supposed to be safe in school," she said.
The anger over the drug issue in Portage schools changed the timid young mother of three into an activist.
She met with school officials and the police. She told a friend he should run for School Board to do something about it. He told her, "You're so fired up, you do it."
Owens won her first School Board seat, representing South Haven, in 1980. Owens is retiring at the end of this year after serving on the board for 28 years.
Owens' longevity was not consecutive. She was defeated in 1996 by former Portage High School Principal Forrest Rhode, but was named his successor three years later when Rhode died of cancer.
"I did it because I thought I was making a difference," Owens said. "It has been such a part of my life. One of the greatest things it did was push me out of my comfort zone."
Owens said she tackled the job by educating herself on the issues, doing her own homework and then living by her motto.
"The greatest thing I've learned in this job is to do the right thing for the kids," she said. "It is never wrong when you do the right thing."
Being on the board has had its ups and downs. There were tough decisions, such as having to lay off teachers and shut down the elementary music, art and physical education programs.
"I really struggled with that," she said.
Another struggle came when teachers went on strike in 1988 and they picketed at her home and place of employment.
"That was a hard time. I was president that year, and I was not planning on running for re-election. Then again, I got mad again," Owens said. "They did what they had to do, and I did what I had to do."
Her tenure on the board has also brought her joy.
"There's the pride I feel when I drive down (U.S.) 6 and go past the high school or go past the elementary schools. There's the Portage community as a whole. One of the things I'm so proud of is we take care of each other," said Owens, who also served for a time as the director of Gabriel's Horn homeless shelter.
Owens said it is time to retire. Her husband of 48 years, Marv, has retired and the two want to travel.
But, she said, that doesn't mean she's going back to that quiet young woman of 30 years ago.
"If I feel strongly enough about an issue, I will pick up the phone and make a few calls," she said.