Tribune Print Share Text

Determination proves positive

Lawyer and civil rights activist shares passion with Fox Run neighbors

Created date

June 23rd, 2014
man and woman sitting on a couch holding up magazines

In 1964, Allyn Carol Ravitz, who completed her undergraduate degree at Smith College, had recently married and decided she wanted to attend law school at the University of Michigan, where her new husband at the time was currently enrolled. Allyn says she had good grades and high test scores but was turned down for a scholarship.

“The dean said, ‘It’s nice that you want to begin law school and marriage at the same time, but the University of Michigan is not going to support that dual effort,’” Allyn says. “I had to put off law school for a number of years, but it turned out to be a blessing.”

Allyn didn’t let the double standard she encountered stop her from pursuing her goals. If anything, she was emboldened by that unfortunate experience. Allyn did, in fact, eventually graduate from the University of Delaware Law School in 1972, and she went on to build a rewarding career and an impressive list of accomplishments.

Blazing trails

In 1971, Allyn was the first lawyer in Michigan to jury try a sexual harassment case, and she won the case with an award of almost $190,000. She worked as a clerk for Michigan’s first all-women law firm. Allyn also was a founding member of the Feminist Credit Union—the first women’s credit union—and she helped draft legislation prohibiting credit discrimination on the basis of sex and marital status.

One of Allyn’s fondest memories from that era of the women’s rights movement is a fundraiser she helped organize to raise money for Michigan’s first battered women’s shelter. Gloria Steinem and Lily Tomlin both attended, and Flo Ballard, one of the founding members of the Supremes, showed up for a surprise performance.  

“She sang an a cappella version Helen Reddy’s ‘I am Woman,’”Allyn says. “It was just so moving because she put her soulful stamp on it.”

Allyn went on to raise three children and remained involved in feminist activism. In 1978, she was honored for her efforts as a recipient of the Detroit City Council’s Spirit of Detroit Award. 

“Had I gone to law school when I originally wanted to, I would have gone to work in a firm, and I wouldn’t have been able to donate as much time and effort to the women’s movement,” Allyn says. “I really made a contribution, and I will forever be proud of the work I did.”

While she’s now retired, Allyn remains as passionate about civil rights as she’s always been. She follows politics closely and donates money to organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. 

Recently, Allyn had the opportunity to share a little bit about her passion with her neighbors at Run, the Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich., where she lives with her husband Chuck Schmitter. A few months ago, she organized a showing of a documentary film about the history of the women’s movement in Michigan and around the U.S.

“We had a really good showing. I would say about 200 people came to see the movie,” Allyn says. “We handed out the music to ‘I am Woman’ so people could sing along.”

Opposites really do attract

Allyn says she and Chuck met later in life on an online dating site. Their relationship is the ultimate testament to the saying “opposites attract.” Allyn is a committed Democrat, while Chuck is a staunch Republican. She is Jewish, and he is Catholic. She’s involved in PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and he’s a member of the National Rifle Association. 

Allyn and Chuck are polar opposites right down to the magazines they read. She subscribes to The New Yorker, and he gets The National Review. Allyn says their divergent politics make for lively discussions and most certainly keep their relationship interesting.

“We make sure when arguments are escalating, one of us says, ‘Okay, let’s cut it off,’” Allyn says. “And we cancel each other out by the contributions we make to different organizations.”

For all of their differences, Allyn says she and Chuck have found some common ground in the arts. They both enjoy classical music and opera. Living at Fox Run, they have connected with several neighbors who share their interest. They go on frequent outings with friends from Fox Run to the Commerce Theatre for recorded showings of the opening nights of operas at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. 

“It’s amazing because it’s better than being at the Met. You get to see close-ups, behind-the-scenes interviews, and the changing of the sets,” Allyn says. “And you can have popcorn and Milk Duds while you watch.”

‘Still having a lot of fun’

When they’re at home at Fox Run, Allyn and Chuck have a full life and enjoy their retirement together. They previously lived in Wolverine Lake, Mich. At Fox Run, they selected a two-bedroom, Lincoln-style apartment home. The 1,400-square-foot floor plan features a grand master suite, two bathrooms, and a living area that easily houses their Steinway piano. 

Most evenings, Allyn says she and Chuck dine with friends at one of Fox Run’s on-site restaurants. She says dinner at Fox Run is a great time to get acquainted with their neighbors because they frequently sit with different people.

“The first night we were here, our neighbors invited us to have dinner with them, and they were chorus members,” Allyn says. “By the time dinner was over, Chuck and I had agreed to join the Fox Run choir.”

Allyn stays fit by doing Jazzercise classes and other group exercise classes at Fox Run’s on-site fitness center. She also participates in activities organized by the community’s Shalom Group for Jewish residents and is a member of the movie committee. Chuck belongs to the Resident Advisory Council and the Italian Club, which organizes events to celebrate Italian food, history, art, and culture.

“We are having a lot of fun,” Allyn says.