From war-torn Europe to U.S. civic engagement
The eclectic decor of Veronica Tincher's retirement residence in Palo Alto reflects the diversity of her life experiences — and of her life rooted in the Midpeninsula.
Among the exotic bric-a-brac and European paintings, a pair of prominent watercolors grace the eastern wall of the living room. Impressionistic in style, they show scenes of the garden of her childhood home in Los Altos.
"I loved my mother's garden as a child — I would run around and pick the fruit off the cherry and peach trees," Tincher said.
The watercolors were done by a Hungarian friend of the family. Tincher was born of Hungarian parents who had moved to Koenigsberg, the capital of East Prussia, a small region east of Germany.
"The artist and my father were in the Austro-Hungarian army together during World War I," Tincher said.
Through the sponsorship of the Rockefeller and Jewish Community foundations, Tincher's family came to the states in 1934, living in St. Louis, Mo. In 1938, the family moved to Los Altos after her father, formerly a professor at the University of Koenigsberg, was invited to teach at Stanford University.
"We were lucky to leave East Prussia when we did — and it was only some years later when the Jews were rounded up. I was in Los Altos at the time and had become really Americanized. I was only a child. I didn't start thinking about what had happened until later, when I was university," she said.
It was after her first year at Stanford, during a six-month stay in Europe, that she underwent a life-changing experience.
"In 1948 I went to Hungary to see the family that had still survived. I went to see what happened to the people after the war."
She discovered that one of her uncles had been killed in a concentration camp, and another, along with his wife and daughter, had survived somehow.
"Hungary had been under siege for three months, and there wasn't a building that didn't have shell marks. Some people didn't have shoes or even clothing. There was no water or heating," she recalled.
These encounters helped mold Tincher's world view and, upon returning to the U.S., she felt a strong desire to actively engage with the issues around her.
"I was grateful for the opportunities that I have had in the U.S., and my time in Hungary made me want to reach out to the people around me."
After graduating from Stanford, she got married and settled in southern California with her husband. When their three children were in elementary school, Tincher, who also worked in research and administration at the University of Southern California, had more time to take an active role in politics.
"Wives played bridge or were interested in fashion shows, but those things didn't appeal to me," Tincher said. She was most interested in educating herself on national issues and in 1959 joined the League of Women Voters in Long Beach. The League, established in 1920 after women got the vote, focuses on advocacy, outreach and voter education.
"Just a few years ago the League commemorated my 50 years of involvement with them," she said, proudly. In addition to regular membership, Tincher has served on her local board and as president during the 1960s. After moving to Palo Alto in 1995, she joined the local branch, with which she is still active, and was president from 2004-06. She's also chaired the Santa Clara County Mental Health Board and volunteered with Legal Aide, AARP Tax Aide, Keddem Congregation and the Palo Alto Jewish Community Center.
Tincher said her proudest achievement was when she coordinated a campaign for a much-needed library in Long Beach.
"The building was old, falling apart and inefficient," she said noting that she had to convince City Hall to serve as the financing mechanism.
"The campaign involved not only organizing the League, but also the Chamber of Commerce, PTA, the school board and members of the community," she said.
"Finally when all was set, I pitched it to the City Council. It was accepted. Had I not done that, we wouldn't have had a new library. It was very satisfying."