By Lauren Zeugner
SYRACUSE — Sara McNeal-Strahan-Lenfestey ran as a democratic contender for the Warsaw City Council last year. McNeal-Strahan-Lenfestey, a native of Warsaw, said what drove her to run for public office was seeing the same people in office for 20 years without a lot of progress.
That and the fact local leaders didn’t seem to be listening to the community regarding a round-a-bout project. “It frustrated me,” she said. “Nobody bothered to do the next step.”
So she ran for office. She said she found the experience humbling because she met a lot of people in the community who had the same cares and concerns she did. For example she participated in the Night of Hope and Recovery. “I was encouraged to see our mayor, our city council, our county sheriff talking about the issues,” she said.
“We should build up people from the inside,” she said as a way to address the addiction issue in the county. “We need to look at everyone as human. We’re all here working together,” she said.
After the election she began being offered a number of opportunities to continue serving the community. She was asked to join several boards such as the Beaman Home and One Warsaw. She was also invited to join the Morning Breakfast Optimist Group, whose message she really enjoys since its about helping kids. She said she was trying to get involved where she can in the community. She was also named a state delegate by the Kosciusko County Democrats.
After growing up in Warsaw, McNeal-Strahan-Lenfestey left, moving first to Texas and then to Fort Wayne. She said she wanted her son to grow up in a diverse multi-cultural environment where he would see people who looked like him and who would challenge him as well.
Today she works in Kendallville as a mental health technician in a residential group home. She works on the weekends and spends the week caring for her father full time.
At a time when the nation is dealing with how to address racial inequality, McNeal-Strahan-Lenfestey said she’s been very outspoken regarding Kosciusko County having outdated sun-downer laws still on the books. She’d like to see Warsaw and the county take the steps Goshen did years ago which was to take the old laws officially off the books and apologize for the harm they caused.
“It’s making your area look bad,” she said, explaining knowing those laws are still on the books may make people considering moving to the area reconsider their decision. She was recently doing research on Kosciusko County and found its namesake, Tadeusz Kosciuszko had actually left instructions in his will dedicating his U.S. assets to the education and freedom of U.S. slaves. Unfortunately the execution of his will proved difficult and the funds were not used as he intended.
“Would Kosciuszko be pleased that we have these (sun-downer) laws on our books?,” she asked. “Would he be pleased at what was done to Sojourner Truth in Silver Lake?” During a visit to Silver Lake in 1858 Truth faced a hostile crowd who accused her of being a man disguised as a woman and demanded she bare her breasts to women in the crowd.
McNeal-Strahan-Lenfestey was preparing to celebrate Juneteenth, the annual American holiday that celebrates the end of slavery and the accomplishments of black Americans, at the time of this interview. The city of Warsaw held a prayer vigil for all lives lost to racism.