“Put El Cerrito on the map in animal rights”
Rose Matychak Lernberg, 88, a founding member of both the California humane lobbying organization PawPAC and the Contra Costa Humane Society, died on June 6, 2016 at Chaparral House, a nursing home in Berkeley, California, where she had resided during three years of illness.
A resident of the neighboring community of El Cerrito for most of her life, Lernberg missed her July 2011 induction into the city Wall of Fame due to a previous illness, but was remembered by fellow Wall of Fame member Al Miller for having “put El Cerrito on the map in animal rights.”
El Cerrito Kennel Club
That was no small feat for a city which from 1932 to 1939 notoriously hosted the El Cerrito Kennel Club greyhound track, eventually closed after years of litigation led by then-California attorney general Earl Warren, later noted for his pro-civil rights votes as 14th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The El Cerrito Kennel Club stood, shuttered, for 20 years before it was redeveloped into a shopping center, but despite some efforts to reopen it, there was never another legal greyhound race in California, in part due to Rose Lernberg’s tireless lobbying.
“Child of immigrant parents”
Born in New York state, the then Rose Matychak graduated from the University of New York at Albany in 1947. She later worked for a time at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
“A child of immigrant parents, she spoke Russian fluently, and was very patriotic,” remembered niece Joyce Bates.
Recalled an East Bay Times obituary, “She had a career first in business management and then as a school librarian. She loved children, was an outstanding seamstress who knit many beautiful sweaters and will be fondly remembered for her prowess in the kitchen.”
But those were scarcely her most memorable accomplishments.
Married Ronald A. Lernberg
Rose Matychak became Rose Lernberg in 1958, marrying Ronald A. Lernberg, an Oakland-born 1951 graduate from the University of California in Berkeley. They relocated to El Cerrito in 1958, where both were active in Democratic Party politics throughout their 57-year marriage.
A longtime electrical engineer for Pacific Bell in San Francisco, Ronald Lernberg died at age 86 in 2013.
Contra Costa Humane Society
Rose Lernberg appears to have become involved in animal advocacy first with an organization called Stop Pets’ Annual Yield (SPAY), founded in 1971, and later with an anti-cruelty organization called the Animal Protection Bureau, formed in 1980. In 1991 Rose Lernberg helped to broker a merger of the two animal charities to create the Contra Costa Humane Society, headquartered in Pleasant Hill.
Rose Lernberg had by then already worked to advance pro-animal legislation for more than a dozen years. The Contra Costa Humane Society recognized her as Volunteer of the Year in 1998, and the State Humane Association of California’s honored her with a Humanitarian Award in 1999, “for her more than 20 years of volunteer service toward improving conditions for animals statewide,” wrote J.R. Deaton for the Contra Costa Times.
Summarized Deaton, “Lernberg has analyzed, tracked, and even helped write countless articles of state legislation for more than two decades. She has also provided legislative updates to organizations and individuals statewide,” on behalf of the State Humane Association, then based in Pacific Grove, representing more than 100 state humane organizations and animal control agencies.
Eric Mills, founder of the Oakland organization Action for Animals, recalled after the 2014 death of another PawPAC cofounder, Virginia Handley, that he “used to transport Gladys Sargent,” the third PawPAC cofounder, who lobbied until her at age 97, along with Handley and Rose Lernberg, “back and forth to the Capitol [in Sacramento] in my ’69 VW bug, all of them shouting at each other the whole way.”
It was at a birthday celebration for Mills, recalled Vacaville Reporter columnist Maite Kropp, that she last saw both Rose and Ronald Lernberg.
“I had not seen Rose in a couple of years,” wrote Kropp, “so after her gentle hug, I was elated that she remembered my beautiful black cat Hugo and my great Dane Pal. She drafted the first PAWPAC Voting Record of political leaders” in California and their votes, and she paid meticulous attention to details, long before a new generation of [paid] lobbyists came to Sacramento.”
“We stood together”
Added Animal Legal Defense Fund founder Joyce Tischler, “Those of us who remember Rose from Bay Area animal activism dating back to the 1970s, will always treasure her as a staunch, smart and good-hearted animal advocate. We stood together at many demonstrations and protests throughout the 1980s. We can thank Rose, Virginia Handley and Gladys Sargent for all of the excellent animal protection legislation passed in California back in the day.”