In Memoriam: Yolanda Retter '70

Activist, Archivist and Scholar

YOLANDA RETTER '70, an activist, archivist and scholar who devoted the last four decades to raising the visibility of lesbians and minorities and preserving their history, died August 18, 2007 at her home in Van Nuys, California, after a brief illness.

“Yolanda was surrounded by the women she chose and was very peacefulódeservedly so. Everyone knows she left a legacy,” Yolanda's longtime partner Leslie Golden Stampler said. “She left many with broken hearts but hopefully not broken spirits. Very few people are without a Yoli story to tell. No one would say ‘Yoli, who?’”

After graduating from Pitzer College with a degree in sociology, Yolanda worked briefly as a prison guard at the California Institution for Women in Corona and managed a halfway house for displaced women in Los Angeles.

“When it was close to her graduation, Yolanda told me that she planned to work as a guard at the California Institution for Women,” Madeline Pinsky Walker '73 recalled. “At first I was taken aback, thinking what a tough situation she was putting herself into. Then I thought, if anyone can do it, Yolanda can. I think of that as a summary of her life—if Yolanda set her mind on something, she would get it done. I'm glad I had a chance to know her.”

Yolanda also learned cabinetmaking and became a licensed airplane mechanic before returning to school in the '80s to earn master's degrees in library science and social work from the University of California, Los Angeles. At the University of New Mexico, she received a doctorate in American Studies.

Yolanda was a pivotal advocate for lesbians during the early years of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. She helped organize lesbian history repositories at the University of Southern California, University of California, Los Angeles and in West Hollywood. For the last four years, she was the librarian and archivist for the UCLA Chicano Studies Resource Center, where she was instrumental in expanding holdings related to Latinas as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

A memorial service was held on September 29, 2007, at Metropolitan Community Church in West Hollywood. “I was there out of respect for and in recognition of the amazing way her life exemplified Pitzer College values: scholarship, freedom, creativity, leadership and social responsibility,” Lauri Devine '71 said. “Yolanda lived these things. She really made a mark, and an important one.”

Morgan Stewart '70 (formerly Marylynne Slayen), a close friend of Yolanda's, shared these words that Yolanda wrote before her surgery: “Don't fantasize, don't catastrophize, donít even publicize. As the Beatles (and others) have put it, all you need is love. So send plenty of that. Keep it spiritual.”