Her personal file in the Deseret News Library is as thick as a governor's, but Esther Rosenblatt Landa was defined best by the song her daughter wrote for her on her 75th birthday - "The Lady Is a Champ."
The photo files show Landa's trademark cropped hair becoming silver over the decades as she piled up thousands of hours of volunteer work. Her list of accomplishments can be found in Who's Who and includes two presidential appointments, service on the State Board of Education and the two-term president of the National Council of Jewish Women.Landa's Salt Lake roots go back to before 1885 - she attended East High (after skipping a half grade twice) and then one year at the University of Utah. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland with a degree in English and did public relations work for the college. After receiving her master's degree from Mills College and collecting a Phi Beta Kappa key, she returned to Salt Lake City.
Landa became the first woman sportswriter for the Salt Lake Telegram and met her husband-to-be, Jerome J. Landa. Their marriage brought three children: Carol Landa, the assistant dean of the graduate division of the University of California San Francisco; Howard Landa, a Salt Lake attorney; and Terry Landa Vismantas, who is president of the National Council of Jewish Women: Northshore, Ill. There are five grandchildren.
Landa's lifelong love has been education. She said, "I was lucky to have received a wonderful education. I have an obligation to pay the community back for what I received." A three-time Salt Lake School Board member, Landa then was elected to the state board. She co-founded Project Head Start in Utah and acted as consultant in setting up Head Start projects in Western states on Indian reservations.
Landa's devotion to Israel and Jewish philanthropy is legendary. She recently returned from her 15th trip to Israel. She has helped found the Israeli Jewish International Program for Pre-School Young. The program is a type of Head Start approach to disadvantaged youngsters who need to be prepared for school.
In 1968 the NCJW established the Research Institute for Innovation in Education at Hebrew University. Landa said, "We needed to help the 3-to 5-year-olds in disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods, but we knew it would not work to bring them to a central place for teaching."
The research institute developed the program that deals not only with economic problems but with the gamut of difficulties immigrants face, especially Sephardic Jews from the North African countries. The culture, customs and language along with the tightknit family structure make assimilation into a democratic and technological country overwhelming.
Landa explained what the NCJW concluded: "The husbands have a lot of authority, so we realized that the key was to work through the mother (with the father's permission). We would survey a neighborhood and select a couple of receptive women. They would be trained and given the materials, educational toys, books and games. Then these neighborhood aides could call on mothers to train them to work with their children in the home."
When the program proved successful, the Israeli Ministry of Education picked it up, translating it into Arabic so it could be used in Arab schools as well. The program, with its misleading acronym, HIPPY, is now being used in seven or eight countries and in the United States as well.
Hilary Clinton, wife of the governor of Arkansas, heard about HIPPY and asked Arima Lombard, who travels the world for the NCJW setting up the program, if it could be done in Arkansas. It could.
Esther Landa has lived long enough to see the fruits of many of her labors. "At my stage of life it's nice to see that if you live long enough, a lot of things come together." Her work for disadvantaged Israeli children has come home as close as Colorado to help American children as well.
The Jewish woman who is loved by her Mormon friends for her ability to bring people together said, "There ought to be linkages between communities." She has served not only the people of her faith but the people of her community. In 1967 Phi Delta Kappa named Esther Rosenblatt Landa "Man of the Year" in Utah Education.
Ever the fund-raiser, Landa encouraged a "roast" in her honor. It's scheduled for Saturday, June 9, at 7 p.m. at the Red Lion Hotel. Tickets range from $35-$100 per person or $70 to $200 per couple. The program will include Scott Matheson, Barney Rosenblatt, Laury Cracroft, JoAnn Freed and Karen Shepherd as roasters. Proceeds from the roast will benefit not only the NCJW's many education projects but will also help fund the new Homeless Children's Foundation of Salt Lake City. For reservations, contact Celia Y. Weisman at 583-8628.
"The response to the roast has been phenomenal," said Weisman, roast chairwoman. "We've had people sending in contributions and wishing us well from Maine to California.
"Esther . . . was born into one of Salt Lake's most highly respected and wealthy families. She could have spent her life `having fun' on the golf course. Instead, she became an international leader in the struggle for human welfare and justice. For decades she served as a powerful and effective advocate for various peoples who face discrimination: women, children, the poor, the Jewish community.
"Esther is looked upon by the women and men who know her as a hero. She has done what all of us who care about the world wish we could do. And she has given us a wonderful role model," said Weisman.
When words and titles become unwieldly, one can simply say, "The Lady Is a Champ."