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Mardi Wormhoudt

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Mardi Wormhoudt, credited with "changing the face of Santa Cruz" during her twenty-one year tenure on the City Council and Board of Supervisors - particularly during her service as Mayor following the Loma Prieta earthquake - died on October 21, 2009 at her home in Santa Cruz with her family by her side. In addition to the indelible mark that Mardi made on Santa Cruz, she will be fondly remembered both for her sense of style and her fierce commitment to social justice and environmental protection.

Her children, Jonathan of New York City, and Lisa, Zachary, and Jacob of Santa Cruz survive her. She also leaves four grandchildren, Adam, Noah, Dylan and Israel of Santa Cruz, a brother Daniel Rolfs of Benicia, and a sister Mary McDevitt of Mill Valley. Her beloved husband Ken preceded her in death in 1997.

The daughter of Mary Jane and Daniel Rolfs, Mardi was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The family moved to Chicago when Mardi was four, then to Paso Robles, California, and eventually to San Francisco, where Mardi attended high school.

Mardi met her future husband Ken Wormhoudt in San Francisco. After marrying, they moved to Southern California where, as a young mother, Mardi received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy with highest honors from the California State University at Long Beach, and Ken practiced as a landscape architect. In 1975 they moved to Brookdale, and in 1979 to Santa Cruz.

Mardi became active in community affairs, serving as a member of the Bay View School Site Council, the Westside Health Center Board of Directors, and the Downtown Neighbors Association, prior to her election to the City Council in 1981.

In the hours immediately following the 1989 earthquake, Mardi is remembered for standing with families of those missing, injured and killed downtown. She shared their shock and disbelief, offering comfort, and emerging as the leader of a city that lay in rubble. She toured the devastation with political leaders and popular icons ranging from President George H.W. Bush to Mick Jagger, and including the Reverends Billy Graham and Jesse Jackson. But she kept her focus on how to bring together a community, with long-time divisions around issues of growth, development and equity, around the rebuilding of a downtown that "truly reflected everyone's values".

As the downtown came back, Mardi became the city's "forever mayor". Though she went on to serve twelve productive years on the County Board of Supervisors, she was frequently stopped and recognized as "the mayor" by many who remembered her visible leadership during the 1989 earthquake and recovery.

As a member of the Board of Supervisors from 1995 to 2007, Mardi also changed the face of the County, protecting thousands of acres of Santa Cruz's breathtaking north coast landscape by placing it in public ownership. She also shepherded reform of the juvenile justice system to broaden opportunities and prospects for more youth by engaging families and developing alternatives to incarceration

In recent years she traveled with friends to the Galapagos Islands, Viet Nam and Croatia, often visited her son Jonathan in New York City, and spent time with her family in Santa Cruz. She also taught a Community Studies course at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Although Mardi was very accomplished in the public and political arena, family and friends gave her the greatest joy.

A memorial celebration of Mardi's life will be held on November 7, 2009, 11:00 A.M., at UCSC, Stevenson Event Center.

Donations may be made in honor of Mardi to Gemma, a Program of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz, 501 Soquel Avenue, Suite E, Santa Cruz, CA 95062.

Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Nov. 1, 2009
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