Bill Sayenga’s father died when he was just four years old, leaving behind his mother, Marie, and his older sister Louise.
In order to support her family, Marie (pictured in 1964 in the player above) found a job with the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, recorder of deeds office as a secretary, but her pay — about a dollar an hour and just over $2,000 a year — was miserable. Although it allowed her to provide a home for her family, the money was only enough for them to just get by.
For 11 years Marie worked at the recorder of deeds’ office, and according to Louise, she hated it. But for all that the job lacked, it did provide Marie with insights into the inner workings of her local government. She recognized the need for change and in 1949, Marie ran for tax collector in the borough of Bethel.
Being both a woman and a Democrat made her a long shot. For over 50 years, men had been elected tax collector, and for the previous 24, Merle Long held the office. Marie lost that first race, but in 1953 she made a second run and unseated Long by just nine votes.
Marie would hold onto the job for the next 24 years, winning five subsequent elections. In 1973, in her final race, she received more votes than anyone else on the ballot running for any office in the borough.
Marie died in February 1993 at the age of 83.
Bill came to StoryCorps with Marie’s granddaughter, Ellen Riek (pictured above), to remember their family’s influential and powerful matriarch.
Originally aired May 20, 2016, on NPR’s Morning Edition.