Jean Ranallo, the Sign Lady, on the now quiet streets of Englewood.
Dean M. Laux
Remembering The Lady Behind The Signs
Editor’s note: We were saddened to learn of the passing of Englewood’s “Peace Lady,” Jean Ranallo. She suffered a serious stroke as she was about to take her daily swim on January 8. She passed on January 11. Services will be held at 10am on April 21 at St. Raphael Catholic Church, Englewood.
As a tribute to Jean, we are reprinting this article, originally published on July 31, 2020. If you were to stand at a busy intersection in Englewood, waving a large sign in your hands, you’d expect at least some people to notice you. And Jean Ranallo can tell you it works. But she’s not competing with cigar store owners or restaurants for business. She just wants to get an important message across: She is “For Peace.” And she hopes to see our entire nation work toward that end. It takes a bold woman to stand alone among passing cars and people and make her plea. These days especially, the nation seems divided, and violence all too often accompanies any public display of opinion. So how did Jean get into this kind of activity, anyway? She was born in Hamilton, Ontario during World War II, and her family moved to Schenectady, N.Y. when she was five. Raised a Catholic, she says, “I was always opposed to the folly of war, and to the Washington politicians doing nothing about it.” Having read about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in school, “I was and am antinuclear,” she declares. During her high school years she was fascinated with the plight of the Hungarian refugees who fled to Germany, Austria and Yugoslavia during their revolution, put down savagely by the Soviets in 1956. She always liked history and languages, and she did both at SUNY-Albany, earning a bachelor of arts degree in German in 1965 and getting her master’s degree in German there two years later. That was just in time to take an interest in demonstrations against the Vietnam War that had begun in 1964 and continued, with increasing intensity, until the war ended in 1975. In 1967 Jean took a job as a teacher of German (and variously, history, English and Russian language as well) at Woonsocket High School in Rhode Island. “The Quakers in Rhode Island had a really good peace movement,” she says, “and we’d go to demonstrations in Providence, Boston, Hartford or New York. We’d hear of something, and my brother and sisters and I would pile into the car and go.” Jean was never an organizer or leader, just a participant, a member of the audience. “There was always something,” she recalls. “The Kent State shooting in 1970, peace in Central America after the murder of the Archbishop Romero in El Salvador in 1980, peace in the Middle East.” And Vietnam. Make no mistake: Jean was no flower girl. She was a respected teacher, “Miss Jones” to her students at Woonsocket High, where she taught for 23 years. The Germans would say she’s “Sprachbegabt,” gifted in languages. She has the fluency of a native in English and German, and can get by in Spanish, Hungarian, and Russian. Chinese? She studied it “a bit” before going there “in this millennium,” as she puts it. In fact, after taking early retirement from her teaching position in 1990, travel became one of her chief activities. First she moved to Florida, where “my parents had discovered Englewood in 1978,” she states. Then she was in Hungary in 1990-91, teaching English to local students. In 1992 she married Raymond Ranallo (now deceased), and thereafter they traveled extensively in Europe: Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, and Italy, among others. She also went to Russia and Ukraine in the winter of 1992 with a friend. Other trips were for other reasons. She went to Guatemala for an anthropology course and to Transylvania on a Fulbright grant. Trips to Mexico, Central America, Chile and Catalonia were with School of the Americas Watch and Code Pink, two peace advocacy groups. In retrospect, Jean says, “I am so glad that I was able to travel and can look back during these boring hours sheltering in place and recalling visits without masks.” After so many years as a peace advocate, the first time she became associated with a local peace organization was in 2003, after she had participated in a peace march in London. “When I came back, I wrote a couple of articles for the local papers on the peace march and also the demining (clearing of land mines) campaign in Croatia,” she recalls. That put her in touch with an organization known as EPIC: the Englewood Peace Initiative Coalition. “They were the heart and soul of our peace movement,” Jean says. “There were a few dozen members, and we started out carrying signs on Englewood Beach on Manasota Key.” When they moved their operations and their signs to the corner of Dearborn Street and Route 776, their numbers were down to about a dozen, as age had taken its toll. “From then on, the size of the group kept dwindling, and now I am pretty much the sole remaining member of EPIC,” Jean muses. But she keeps on. She puts in about three-and-a-half hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, moving from one corner of the Dearborn intersection to another to stay in the shade as much as possible. “I try to make eye contact with passersby,” she says. “People will wave to me, maybe honk their horn. One family asked to have their young son’s picture taken with me.” The immediate rewards are modest, although in 2020 the Englewood associates of a national group known as “The Indivisibles” honored her with an award and festivities at her favorite corner and at Elsie Quirk Library. The real reward comes in getting people to heed Abraham Lincoln’s warning: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” For the record, Jean has been waving her sign at the corner of Dearborn Street and Route 776 for 18 years now, and she has no plans to stop doing so anytime soon. Why would she? “It’s the only activity in town,” she says wryly, and there’s a lot of truth in that.