The Detroit News'Fenceberrys' sustained gay network
October 2, 2006
In high spirits because the February day was warm, Jean Mayberry honked and waved at a neighbor, a woman she knew only as "Aleta, the lesbian down the street."
"She smiled at me, and I was hooked," recalls Jean, who was way too shy to introduce herself. So, she searched the Sioux City, Iowa, phonebook line by line until she spotted Aleta's address and discovered her last name: "Fenceroy." Jean threw a party to have an excuse to invite Aleta over.
By that summer of 1991, the two women, who were in their early 40s and had been resigned to spending the rest of their lives unattached, were very much a couple. Before long, even Aleta's grown kids took to calling them "The Fenceberrys."
Together, these remarkable women -- one a computer programmer, the other a jewelry store employee -- performed a priceless service, knitting gay people scattered all around the globe into a community as never before. What they did for hours on end, day after day, from 1996 to 2004, sounds simple enough: They distributed via email every newspaper article they could find about anything gay -- a court ruling, a celebrity coming-out story, a syndicated column, a hate crime.
For their devoted fans, the Fenceberrys became town criers, telling us far more than we could learn from the occasional gay article in our hometown papers. Or, to put it another way, Fenceberry readers -- whether a New York City gay-rights attorney or a closeted college student -- had been like the blind men touching the elephant, each knowing little more than what was within reach. The Fenceberrys' daily dispatches were quite literally eye-opening, revealing the enormous size and growing strength of the gay-rights movement.
An Iowa man had started the invaluable, free service when email was in its infancy. When he tired, Jean and Aleta picked up the baton and ran with it. Fenceberry readers, in turn, ran with what we learned from them, using it in our work as journalists, professors, historians, or activists, and using it in our lives to gain new confidence and perspective. But I, for one, too rarely said thanks for helping me connect the dots.
I've been thinking more than usual about the extraordinary good that truly devoted people can accomplish when they set their hearts to it: A recent email brought the sad news that Aleta has died at 57, after a short, brutal battle with cancer. The ripple effects from the Fenceberrys' good works will fan out forever.
Aleta understood that in the race to achieve full equality for those of us who are gay, each of us can carry the baton only so long. In the early years of the Fenceberry articles, Jean did the lion's share of the work because Aleta was in grad school.
But for most of the eight years, Aleta took the lead. In 2004, she decided that the Internet had matured enough for them to bow out.
"It's been a pleasure and an honor," Aleta said to The Washington Blade. "Nobody told us to do this. We just kind of started doing it. … The void will be filled by someone."
Now, someone is finishing the blanket that Aleta had been crocheting for her third grandbaby. Others are tilling the ground the Fenceberrys broke.
But they are not forgotten. And my heart goes out to Jean, who now calls herself "forever and proudly the 'berry' half of the Fenceberry family."\
Sioux City Journal
Omaha World Herald
| || || |
|Aleta Fenceroy died on September 23, 2006, after a 3 month battle with cancer. For the 57 years prior, she lived her life to the fullest. She raised two wonderful children and she was the proud and doting grandmother of three beautiful little girls. Aleta taught herself to play piano at a young age and then went on to get a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She was a church organist for thirty years, most notably at First Christian Church in Sioux City, IA. She traveled the world and lived with her children in Norway for four years. She was a pioneer in internet communication with a news service geared toward gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgendered people that was known as "Fenceberry." She was the accompanist for Omaha's only gay/lesbian chorus, The River City Mixed Chorus. She spoke on panels with GLSEN and PFLAG to help educate people about the lies and inequality that face the gay community, and she was a political activist for liberal causes. Aleta worked as a computer programmer with First Data Corp where she enjoyed many good friendships and had a profound love for her work. She leaves behind her unrecognized spouse of 15 years, Jean Mayberry; daughter, Michelle Walker R.N.; son-in-law, John Walker; granddaughters: Chloe, Ella and Teaghan of Higley, AZ; son, Major Jeremy Fenceroy USAF, currently stationed in Accra, Ghana; brother, Michael Ballard of Des Moines, IA; friends too numerous to mention. Aleta was a good daughter, mother, wife, worker, musician, friend, American, and a wonderful human being.|
A Memorial Potluck Celebration of Aleta's life will be held at First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass St. in Omaha, NE, on Friday, October 6 at 6:30 PM In lieu of flowers, Aleta wished donations either to the American Civil Liberties Union or to The River City Mixed Chorus at P.O. Box 3267, Omaha, NE
Lesbian activist Aleta Fenceroy dies
by Liz HighleymaThe Bay Area Reporter
Aleta Fenceroy, who for eight years operated the Fenceberry LGBT newswire with her partner Jean Mayberry, died Saturday, September 23, after a battle with cancer. She was 57.
Ms. Fenceroy was born December 27, 1948. She raised two children as a single mother on welfare while working part time and studying music. She attended Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, then received her master of fine arts degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
After working for the Iowa Department of Corrections for more than a decade, Ms. Fenceroy went back to school to earn an associate degree in computer programming in 1998. She then took a job in Omaha, Nebraska, as a programmer-analyst with First Data Resources.
Starting in the mid-1990s, Ms. Fenceroy and Mayberry operated the informal Fenceberry e-mail news service, which distributed LGBT news articles – sometimes dozens per day – to hundreds of subscribers worldwide. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
PASSAGE: Aleta Fenceroy
Windy City Times
Aleta Fenceroy, who, with her partner Jean Mayberry, founded the popular news service Fenceberry, passed away Sept. 23 of cancer at her home with family and friends by her side, PageOneQ.com reported. She was 57.
In the early days of the Internet, Fenceroy and Mayberry searched the Web and sent daily e-mails with links of interest to the LGBT community. Gradually, the duo sent increasing numbers of e-missives daily, each with the latest news. Their effort continued until they retired the list in 2004.
Fenceroy raised two children as a single mom while working part-time and going to college to earn a Master of Music Degree. She graduated from Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and received her Masters at the University of Minnesota. She was a church organist for 30 years, four of which were spent in Norway. Fenceroy worked for the State of Iowa Department of Corrections for over 15 years before going back to school to earn an Associate’s degree in computer programming in 1998. She then took a job in Omaha, Neb., with First Data Resources as an analyst/programmer and software writer. Outside of work, she loved solving puzzles, among other things.
In addition to Mayberry, Fenceroy leaves behind two children, Michelle and J.J., and three grandchildren: Chloe, Ella and Teaghan.
A memorial celebration of Fenceroy’s life has been planned and arrangements will be finalized pending family-related details. There will be no funeral and Fenceroy requested there be no flowers. Anyone wishing to make a donation should write a check to the American Civil Liberties Union.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Net activist Aleta Fenceroy dies
The AdvocatePlanet OutGay.Com
Aleta Fenceroy, a pioneering Internet activist who for eight years operated the Fenceberry LGBT newswire with her partner, Jean Mayberry, died September 23 of cancer at their home in Omaha. She was 57.
Fenceroy was a musician by avocation but a computer programmer by trade. Starting in the mid 1990s, she and Mayberry operated the informal Fenceberry e-mail news service, which distributed articles—sometimes dozens per day—to hundreds of subscribers worldwide on such issues as the Matthew Shepard killing.
"There wasn't access to the many newsgroups and endless search capabilities that now exist on the Internet," John Selig wrote on Fenceroy's online condolence book. "You...were the lifeblood of information within the gay community."
Every day for eight years, they would cull the Internet for gay-related news items, format the clips into e-mails, and send them to more than 1,000 activists and journalists who came to depend on the service to stay informed. As coverage of gay issues proliferated, Fenceberry's output expanded from one or two e-mails a day to as many as 10, sometimes including more than 50 stories. The two never received payment for their work.
"It was a way to be an activist without ever leaving my home," Fenceroy told The Advocate in 2004.
The two women, partners for 15 years, first published a small local print newsletter from their home in Iowa City, Iowa, according to San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter. When fellow Iowan Bill Stosine, who founded the electronic newswire in 1993, announced that he would no longer continue, Fenceroy and Mayberry stepped in, acquired his subscriber list, and renamed the newswire using a mash-up of their last names.
"She was dogged in her pursuit of answers," Mayberry told the Reporter. "Aleta was determined to hunt down the story, to get the news out, to defend her community, and to right the wrongs to the best of her ability."
The day the Massachusetts supreme judicial court opened the door to marriage equality, Fenceroy told the Southern Voice in 2004, she stayed home from work so her readers could be the first to hear the news.
The couple discontinued Fenceberry in July 2004, in part because AOL stopped allowing them to send out mass e-mail but mostly because the project had taken over their lives.
They stayed politically active, working for the John Kerry campaign in 2004. Fenceroy was diagnosed with cancer in June of this year.
A memorial celebration of Fenceroy's life is being planned. Donations in her memory may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union. A book of remembrance—online, as is fitting—is at http://goodbyaleta.blogspot.com/. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Aleta Fenceroy, co-founder of Fenceberry dies at age 57
Aleta Fenceroy, who with her partner Jean Mayberry, founded the popular news service, Fenceberry, died Saturday at her home with family and friends by her side. Fenceroy was been diagnosed with cancer three months ago. The couple founded the popular precursor to news services like PageOneQ.
In the Internet's early days, Fenceroy and Mayberry would scour the web and mail a daily email with links of interest to the LGBT community. As the web grew in scope, the daily email expanded to two, three or four emails a day, each with the latest news. Their effort continued until they retired the list in 2004.
"They were really groundbreaking in the area of Internet news aggregation," noted PageOneQ editor and publisher Michael Rogers, "Before anyone thought to create news spaces on the web for the lesbian and gay community, Aleta and Jean were there, moving news as fast as it was posted on the web."
The Advocate profiled the couple when they ended their mailing list. The article may be seen here.
Upon Aleta's death, Jean wrote and sent the following obituary about her partner's life.
Aleta Fenceroy 12/27/1948 - 9/23/2006
As most, if not all of you know, Aleta has been battling cancer since she was diagnosed on June 15th of this year.
I was blessed to be with Aleta at the end of her life. She died at home, in a hospital bed that I had set up in the dining room next to a big window so that she could look out at the garden. She lived just over 3 months after she was diagnosed with cancer, but she had many good days. Aleta died peacefully in the company of friends and family who loved her.
She had wonderful visits with her two children, Michelle and J.J., who flew in from Phoenix and Africa respectively. She was able to read to her granddaughters, Chloe and Ella, and hold the newest addition, little Teaghan.
And even though this was a terrible situation, we were able to take so many good things from it. The incredible support and love we felt from friends close by and far away really sustained us. We grew closer to each other and to our families. We found humor and learned lessons of courage and compassion from fellow cancer patients and their families. We learned to enjoy the little moments that make our days and our lives so precious.
Aleta raised two children on her own, a single mom on welfare, working part-time and going to college to earn a Master of Music Degree. She graduated from Morningside College in Sioux City, IA and received her Masters at the University Of Minnesota, in Minneapolis. She was a church organist for 30 years, 4 of which were spent in Norway. She worked for the State of Iowa Department of Corrections for over 15 years before going back to school to earn an Associates Degree in computer programming in 1998. She then took a job in Omaha, Nebraska with First Data Resources as an analyst/programmer and software writer. She LOVED her job. She loved solving puzzles, following trails and picking up clues and that was her favorite part of being a programmer.
She was dogged in her pursuit of answers at work and that is how she was in most aspects of her life. When she sunk her teeth into something, she didn't let go. Hence, 8 years of "Fenceberry Articles." Hour upon hour and day upon day were spent on the home computer. Aleta was determined to hunt down the story; to get the news out; to defend her community; and to right the wrongs to the best of her ability. And she did it with love, wit, dignity and charm. That is the way she lived her life and that is the way she died.
She will be terribly missed. She is terribly missed.
A memorial celebration of her life has been planned and arrangements will be finalized when her son knows on which dates he will be in Omaha. There will be no funeral. Aleta requested there be no flowers. Anyone wishing to make a donation should write a check to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Jean Mayberry - forever and proudly the berry half of the Fenceberry Family ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The Washington Blade
By Amy Cavanaugh
Sep. 29, 2006
Lesbian activist Aleta Fenceroy died of liver and lung cancer on Saturday, Sept. 23, at her home in Omaha, Neb., according to her partner, Jean Mayberry. Fenceroy and Mayberry produced the “Fenceberry Articles,” which for eight years informed e-mail subscribers about global gay issues. She was 57.
Fenceroy was born Dec. 27, 1948 in Princeton, Ill. and moved to Sioux City, Iowa as a young woman to attend Morningside College. She received a master’s degree in music from the University of Minnesota while working part time and raising two children as a single mother on welfare.
In addition to being a church organist for 30 years, Fenceroy worked at a minimum-security residential treatment facility for non-violent offenders operated by the state of Iowa’s department of corrections. In 1998, she earned an associate’s degree in computer programming and took a job with First Data Resources in Omaha, Neb., as an analyst/programmer and software writer.
Partners for 15 years, Fenceroy and Mayberry worked on “Fenceberry” from 1996 to 2004. Bill Stosine of Iowa City started a gay news e-mail service in 1993. When he stopped operating it in 1996, Fenceroy and Mayberry acquired his e-mail list and “Fenceberry” was born.
Mayberry did the majority of the work on the e-mail service for two years, while Fenceroy worked on her degree. The next year they worked on it equally, and Fenceroy took over for the last five years.
In 2004, the couple decided to stop “Fenceberry” because of the huge time commitment involved in producing it.
“When she sunk her teeth into something, she didn’t let go,” Mayberry said in a statement. “Hence, eight years of ‘Fenceberry Articles.’ Hour upon hour and day upon day were spent on the home computer. Aleta was determined to hunt down the story; to get the news out; to defend her community; and to right the wrongs to the best of her ability. And she did it with love, wit, dignity and charm. That is the way she lived her life and that is the way she died.”
Fenceroy is survived by two children, daughter Michelle Walker of Higley, Ariz., and Major Jeremy Fenceroy, known as J.J., based at the U.S. Embassy in Ghana, Africa. She also leaves three granddaughters, Chloe, Ella and Teaghan. There will be no funeral and arrangements for a memorial service are not yet finalized. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to make a donation should contribute to the American Civil Liberties Union, 888-567-ACLU or www.aclu.org.
Return to the top of this blog