History will be made on January third when the first former Fairyland Personality will be sworn in as Oakland’s newest city council member, representing Montclair.  It was bound to happen, because apparently, to paraphrase a popular book, everything she needs to know she learned at Children’s Fairyland.

It was 1974, and a young Libby Schaaf auditioned for the coveted role of Fairyland’s Alice in Wonderland. The widely anticipated civic event was held in the basement of the (defunct) Liberty House department store, now the Rotunda building. Although she made it to the finals, she lost to a young lady that Libby admits had a better singing voice. Did Libby pick up her toys and go home? She did not. She was offered her choice of several different roles, and chose to be the park’s Cinderella for a year.

“It was a good decision,” she now recalls. Having two costumes, one with rags and the other a beautiful princess gown, allowed her to reflect the mood she was in on any particular day. “If I was feeling not so princess-y, I could grab the charcoal and go with cinders,” she laughs. So already Libby was learning how to deal with things that don’t go as planned, and how to make the best of things with a positive attitude.

Being a Fairyland Personality meant that you served as the park’s goodwill ambassador not only at the park, where you had to stay in character and relate to the littler kids, but also to represent Oakland and Fairyland at local parades, county fairs, and to local media. In her second year at the park Libby was Raggedy Ann, with her best friend Leslie Zimmerman serving as Andy. It was the park’s 25th anniversary, and there were even more opportunities to shine. “That was really my first taste of civic pride,” she recalls. That was when she also learned how to be a responsible and disciplined cast member, and how to be comfortable in front of a microphone and the public.

Libby also notes that she learned a couple more things from her stint at Fairyland. “You can’t let your evil stepsisters get you down,” she says, having just completed a bruising, city-wide race. “Stay positive, be kind to others, and you can live happily ever after.”

Libby’s nontraditional, but ultimately successful campaign included Thursday night family phone banks run out of her home, complete with two babysitters to watch the kids of her volunteers. Her own children, Lena (3) and Dominic (5) are getting just as good a  civics lesson as Libby herself did, when she campaigned at age 5 with her politically active mom for increased funding for the arts.

It may then be no coincidence that Libby’s favorite cause is the business of infusing creativity and expression into public school programs for children. She has served as a board member, and advocated strongly for Oakland’s Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA), a longtime partner of Fairyland’s.

The wonderful Burton Weber, who created the Fairyland Personalities program over half a century ago, once confided to me that his greatest pride was “his” kids who’d gone on to live lives of public service. So when Libby says that, “every job I’ve ever had has centered around making Oakland a better place,” I just know that Burton would be extremely pleased.

Oh, and what puppet show happened to open at Fairyland the same week Libby was elected? Cinderella, what else?


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One Response

  1. jay

    Is this an old article? For those out of the loop, scaaf is unfortunately being sworn in as mayor not city council.


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