Dolores Kopel was my mother. She died in August at the age of 91. Here are some speeches that were given at the Celebration of Dolores Kopel’s life on September 25, 2009. This post contains excerpts from the remarks of Dottie Lamm (ex-First Lady Colorado), by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and me. In a 2008 congressional tribute, Rep. DeGette stated that Dolores (a 11-term representative) and Jerry (a former first lady from Colorado), were “the original power couple” long before dual careers became more popular or accepted in society. Cong. Rec. E1229 (June 12, 2008).
At jerrykopel.com, you can view the entire video of the Celebration as well as the Celebration program (with Dolores newspaper clips) The site also contains much more about Jerry and Dolores Kopel, including an archive of Jerry’s award-winning columns for the Colorado Statesman, in the years after he retired from the Colorado House of Representatives.
Each transcript below has been edited for clarity and accuracy.
Colorado First Lady Dottie Lamm
[Dottie Lamm was First Lady of Colorado during the three terms her late husband, Dick Lamm, served as Governor in 1975-87. She was and is a major political and civic actor in Colorado, in her own right.]
Dolores Kopel has been my wife since Dick Lamm joined Jerry Kopel in the Colorado Legislature. [In 1980]Dick asked me whether I would go door to door in support of Jerry. Although I’m not sure if he felt I was too experienced or Jerry needed assistance, I agreed to do so. His conversational and persuasive skills were invaluable to me, which have served me well on many tours throughout the years. Dolores became my colleague in door knocking and was my soulmate for many progressive causes.
Jerry and she practiced law for many years together, including a refresher course for potential lawyers. [Earlier,]Together, they worked as journalists. Jerry changed jobs even. [leaving journalism to become a lawyer]So they could have more quality time together. It was a marriage in partnership. They did this in their mid-fifties when many of us budding feminists were just beginning to understand it.
Dolores is a founder of the Foundress Movement. She graduated from DU in 1954 with the highest honors, even though CU Boulder didn’t admit women to their law school. However, unlike Sandra Day O’Connor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her gender did not prevent her from being employed by law firms. No problem for Dolores. It was just a matter of time before she started her own practice.
To close this tribute, Dolores: I just want to thank you for being a pioneer in behalf of women. Your example of a true partner marriage. Your community activism to benefit the dispossessed.
Rep. Diana DeGette
[Now the longest-serving congressperson in Colorado history, Diana DeGette served as Jerry Kopel’s campaign treasurer for his final two runs, in 1988 and 1990. When he retired from the state legislature in 1992, she was elected to fill his vacant seat, before winning her first U.S. House term in 1996.]
Already, I am so emotionally overwhelmed that I cannot speak.
As you know, our families have been connected for many, many decades. Dottie mentioned going door-to-door with Jerry. I recalled going door-to door with Jerry when I was a young lawyer and getting to know the entire family. We just wanted to express our condolences to David and Deirdre, as well as to Kathleen, Margaret and Andrew. Leno and we really are deeply sorry. Amazing mother, grandmother and family. This community is also suffering a terrible loss. Consider us a part of your family for life.
Dolores has been the subject of many conversations, but today I’d like to talk about her from my perspective as someone who was a Denver native and had known the Kopels for many years. Dolores was much more than a friend. Dolores was truly a trailblazer. Dolores, who was born on a Iowa cornfield farm near her childhood home, is a trailblazer. After moving to Colorado, Dolores attended Colorado Springs high school before enrolling at the University of Colorado. There she worked as a reporter at the college newspaper. That was where she met the man that would become her husband. [managing editor]Jerry Kopel
[When she was a junior at CU, CU Law discouraged her from applying]She was a woman. So she attended the University of Denver where she was the top of her class. At DU, she was the first female to be awarded the top grade-point average in her class. It wasn’t once because Dolores was the one, but two times. She was an academic star, graduated cum laude in 1954 and passed her bar exam. However, because she was female, not one firm in Colorado would hire. This is something I often think about with Dolores, and other people.
It was amazing. How did they get that intense desire for justice? Dolores Kopel is an extraordinary woman.
She was rejected by every law firm and she had no other options. What next? Her own law practice was born. A few years later her husband Jerry did the right thing for her and went to law school. Jerry attended DU Law School and graduated in the top 1%. Dolores joined Jerry at her law office after he graduated. They formed Kopel & Kopel, which became one of the leading bankruptcy firms in the country. Dolores and Jerry were clearly one of the most prominent power couples in America before they became fashionable.
She was named by President Carter in 1979 to be the U.S Bankruptcy Trustee for Kansas and Colorado districts. There she led reform efforts of our national trustee system. By the by, she was also the president of the Storage Tech bankruptcy. This bankruptcy was at the time the biggest.
Her memberships included the Colorado Bar Association’s Board of Governors and Colorado Real Estate Commission.
Dolores and Jerry were active at the same time, as she was building her career and raising a family. Park Hill, where she lived. [neighborhood in NE Denver.]She saw how discriminatory housing was in her neighborhood, and she joined the Park Hill Action Committee to help combat it.
For her whole life, she was a strong force within the Democratic Party in Colorado. Dolores won in a period when women were often marginalized.
My personal view is that Dolores paved the way for other women. When I was a young lawyer, I first saw Dolores’ leadership at the Bar Association. For young lawyers, like myself, there weren’t many female leaders in Colorado during those years. Dolores was only joined by some others like [U.S. District]Judge Zita Wineshienk [attorney]Brooke Wunnicke
They not only performed the extremely difficult duties of their job, but also became mentors to the next generation women leaders, like me. Dolores was a remarkable woman. I remember being impressed by her intelligence, dignity and her humility when I met her for the first time.
Then, after being involved in Jerry’s many reelections to the Colorado House I came to know her more. Yes, she was hard, but she also had a great sense of humor. Her grandchildren spoke so clearly about her warmth and caring nature.
As a friend, she was there to support you. Dolores was an example for women in professional fields like mine, she achieved success but still cared about her family and the community.
It was a platform she used to overcome barriers and advocate for change. Denver should be a home for everyone, she was determined.
She was our neighbor. We considered her a friend and she was the most extraordinary person you could meet.
She was a mentor and friend who I am proud to call my friend. She will be remembered for her quiet, yet unwavering influence on her son and grandchildren as well as her many friends.
Like in law school, you will assume that all of the reading has been completed. We will then move onto advanced topics. But unlike my mother I won’t be surprised if you don’t keep up with all the business and news sections. Denver Post.
Dolores first appeared in the paper on March 28, 1952 about a national scandal. Dolores’ words were a good summation of her life philosophy.
American comic strip hillbilly L’il Abner had been arguing for months about marrying Daisy Mae. L’il Abner, himself included, hoped there was a way he would avoid his impending nuptials.
A ceremony was held on the actual day of the union. Rocky Mountain News Reporter went to downtown and asked the people what they thought. He ran into a first-year law student.
Miss Dolores Blanke, 1350 Hudson St., argued that it was not worth arguing whether he should have or shouldn’t get married. Personally, I’m glad he did—marriage is a pretty good old institution.”
Recently, I found her notebook from high school for an assignment on life and home management. This was the only academic item she kept from high school.
“Rules for Mental Health
Keep looking forward.
Do not be satisfied with the simplest things.
Find out the real value of everything.
Follow the golden rule.
Keep a good sense of humor.
Facing facts was a good idea.
Her ambition was not to live a distinguished life. She was just looking to marry and have kids. . . to become a lawyer. She was therefore 2/3 normal for her age.
In other aspects, it is less. It was rare to find interfaith marriage at the time because she was a Methodist, Jerry was Jewish and she was a Methodist. She was a caring person.
When she was 21, she got married. However, she did not have her first baby until she was 28.
Before Graland’s first kindergarten day, I was unaware of the abnormality in my family. The teachers asked us all to sit in circles and tell each other about our fathers. The majority of the girls said their fathers had been doctors and businessmen. A majority of the boys believed their fathers to be policemen or firefighters. It was a long time until I understood the full extent of the fraud.
My first day at school was difficult because I knew my parents worked as lawyers in the Security Life Building. It was still a high-profile building.
I learned over the next year that it is perfectly normal for a father to be a lawyer and not for a mother to be a lawyer.
Dolores Kopel was a hard worker as a lawyer, civic representative, and administrator. However, her work schedule allowed for flexibility so that she could spend time at home, before and after school and on weekends.
One of my favorite things about my mother growing up was the fact that we were able to have meaningful and thoughtful conversations. I could ask her about all sorts of things—from world affairs to family events—and she’d give me a straightforward answer or explanation. Next, I would have some questions.
Dolores wasn’t a helicopter mom. My teenage self walked all around Downtown Denver alone. While my parents were working at American Bar Association meetings, I was able to do the same thing on vacation in Atlanta or Montreal.
It isn’t for everybody to mix a vacation and attending a bar conference. The Kopels certainly did.
Dolores Kopel, in her later years, took mini-vacations, including to Vail, for the Philharmonic, and to other cultural events. She also visited a number of cities, so she could attend annual stockholder meetings. Some of the expenses for shareholder meetings, like those paid by the American Bar Association, were tax-deductible.
The Cat in the Hat is one of our favorites books. “It’s fun to have fun, but you need to learn how to do it,” they say.
Dolores Blanke (Dolores Koplowitz), and Dolores Kopel had self-confidence. They would not have been able to make it if any one wasn’t so confident.
She wasn’t always certain about everything. As with every wife, mother and lawyer, there were many self-doubts.
Dolores, like her mother but less, was also a worrier and often too protective or controlling. Conflicts resulted from this.
It was good that she was rational and open to listening. The difficult part was convincing her to change from strong resistance to willing tolerance. For children and grandchildren, it did improve persuasive speaking skills.
She was able to discern when it was time for her to retreat in high-stakes circumstances. My most significant achievement was that she allowed me to go to boarding school in the 10th grade. According to the card, you should let go of anything that you don’t love.
Dolores, which means “sorrows”, is the word for Dolores. I will only mention three. Dolores was first appointed by President Carter to be the United States Trustee in the Districts for Colorado and Kansas. To ensure that the bankruptcy judges can concentrate on their cases, the Trustee was responsible for managing bankruptcy case administration. The pilot program proved so popular that it was adopted national.
Her Department of Justice awarded her the “Special Achievement Award” for sustained superior performance. So far, so good.
Reagan’s victory in 1980 was followed by a hostile administration to the newly-enacted Democratic programme. The U.S. won the election in 1980. The Trustee program was successful, although the Main Justice Building in DC tried to discredit it. Dolores fought the good fight to help pay tuition for her boys’ college.
Jerry’s final days were a more painful part of her life than Jerry’s passing. She had always admired Jerry’s brains when they were together in college. She stated, “He was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met.”
In August 2008, just two months after a Jerry & Dolores party at the Botanic Gardens, Jerry forgot the word for “newspaper.” His diagnosis was Parkinson’s disease. Things gradually declined over the next two-and-half years, with a steep decline at the end.
The troubles that old age brings are normal, but the loss of a child’s life is something not to be taken lightly. Stephen’s 1987 suicide left a deep wound in the heart.
Jerry was also happy to see their children grow up. It was the best thing that ever happened to her. Deirdre had many new in-laws, which allowed her to be a part if a larger family.
Jerry’s best advice was not verbally. It wasn’t for Jerry, but it is for me. The best advice was given by example. It was by example.
It was surprising to some that people were surprised that I held my own opinions on certain political issues. Dolores also had differing views about some issues than her parents and her grandchildren do, with some views that are different from the previous three generations. It was impossible to imagine that independent thinkers would emerge from a family started by Jerry and Dolores. Hank Williams Junior stated, “It’s a family legacy.”
We shared many common interests, including the value of civil liberties and good character among political leaders. Even though we sometimes disagreed over other subjects in lively discussions, she valued intellectual honesty as well as knowing the facts. Sometimes we would both change our minds.
Dolores had many opinions on certain topics, but she held firm to her beliefs. She was involved in politics until the end.
Jerry and Dolores together made so much more than just the sum of their parts. That is why it’s so great that they have been reunited.
Jerry is a well-known lawyer who everyone remembers. Dolores was his first love, but he wasn’t the smartest guy. In the middle of second grade, he had been promoted into third grade, for which he was intellectually but not socially or emotionally ready. After that, his grades plummeted, even at CU. His Dean at the Journalism School encouraged him to switch majors.
Dolores was his next date. He and Dolores went out six times in the following seven nights, after which they were back on their first date. To be exact, most of their dates were reading the morning edition of campus newspaper. The Gold and Silver. When he started working with Dolores’ team Jerry, his focus and work ethic changed completely.
Dolores was a great student before Jerry. Dolores would have been an excellent lawyer no matter what. But she went much further because she was part of Kopel & Kopel. Jerry was a key player in marketing their law practice and was able to see the bigger picture.
It was “us against the world” she fondly remembered about those early days. The “Us’ did quite well.
Reformed minister Steven Aeschbacher stated that Dolores had been buried a week ago and there was more justice.
Jerry claimed that his campaign brochures would have “An honest, decent voice” for him. That promise was kept by Jerry and Dolores.
Cornelius Blanke and Bess Blanke were her parents. They loved her unconditionally. Cornelius said that she was his daughter. ShouldBe a lawyer. Bess said to her that Dolores was only one in a million. Both were correct.