I don't know that I've ever been so humbled.
This year I was asked by my good friend and mentor, Joy Duling, to be a part of the YWCA Leader Luncheon committee. In my role, I was to assist in the judging process for the nominees, write the winner biographies and read them at the luncheon, which was held today at the Pere Marquette.
"No problem," I said, even though I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than get up in front of a microphone, let alone stand before a room full of people.
What I wasn't prepared for, however, is how my awe and respect for these women I had the pleasure of writing about would overshadow (most) of the fear I had of public speaking.
Being in that room today was electrifying enough - if the degree of "Female Power" was measured in Fahrenheit it would have been a heat wave. Not only was I on the same stage as YWCA leaders such as Kath Conver and Pam Schubach, and met a wonderfully charming Dr. Joyce Shotick, but I had the honor of sitting next to the guest speaker, Marcia Wallace (depending on your generation, you either remember her as Bob Newhart's secretary or the voice of Bart Simpson's teacher, Edna Krabapple.)
I had a few minutes to quickly scan Marcia's book, entitled, "Don't Look Back, We're Not Going that Way", and learned that other than being a talented and funny lady, she's had her share of challenges in life - surviving breast cancer, then losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. She was as inspiring as her life, as shocking as her spiked red hair, and as hilarious as I remember her from her days on the Bob Newhart show.
But the real stars today were the recipients of these awards. Being present at the judging, I saw how any one of the nominees could have easily won each award - each one was as qualified as the next. I am glad I was not a judge. After the winners were determined, it was my job and the job of my co-chair, Dr. Shotick, to write the biographies of the women and announce that they had each won their respective awards.
While reading through each one of the nominations, I was instantly humbled by the tireless efforts of each of these amazing ladies:
Marjorie LaFont (Julia Proctor White Arts and Education Award), for her 38 years of nutrition education service and a continual desire and genuine passion for creating healthy lifestyles for our community’s children and families.
Brigitte Grant (Edith A. Cohen Business and Industry Award), for her vision and leadership that has helped guide the Children's Home to become one of the most reputable agencies in Illinois.
Kelly Stickelmaier (Lydia Moss Bradley Communications Award), whose spirit and charisma has morphed her original business concept into a shining example for small business in Central Illinois.
Marilyn Leyland (Eliza Pindell Community Service Award), a leader who has provided significant contributions to many community groups, and dedicated a great deal of time to numerous efforts which directly affect the quality of life for families throughout the Peoria area.
Pearly Bonds (Valeska S. Hinton Human Rights Award), for fighting – against incredible odds and great risk – for the desegregation of the public school system, equality in employment, and open housing and public accommodations laws in Peoria.
Dr. Kay Saving (Mother M. Frances Krosse Professionals Award), for being a passionate advocate for the region’s youth and for her work to establish a multi-disciplinary center to provide comprehensive prevention, education, research and treatment for abused children.
Elissa Whitney Chapin (Young Woman’s Community Service Award), for balancing being a scholar, an athlete, and singer as well as a compassionate and generous young person who shares her time and talents with various charitable organizations.
Such drive and ambition these women have. Such devotion and respect for this community and what we all want it to stand for. So much for us to look up to. To be so passionate about what you do and to have such an impact on your community - it's almost beyond words.
I salute these women - as well as all the nominees - for their outstanding contributions, and want them all to know that they are truly an inspiration for those that may be so compelled to someday follow in their footsteps. And I was undeniably honored to be in their presence today.