As if the audience at the YWCA Award Luncheon wasn’t aware, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend informed them that she came from “a political family.” The daughter of Senator Robert Kennedy and niece of President John F. Kennedy kept the jokes and inspiring words flowing in a candid and honest discussion on May 1. As the first female lieutenant governor of Maryland, Townsend understands the struggle some women face when in a position of leadership. When running for lieutenant governor, Townsend was asked how she would be able to care for her four children to which she responded by saying, “You didn’t ask my father this question and he had 10 children.” Describing the 21st century as “the century of women,” Townsend still acknowledged the challenges for women in leadership today. Shortly after her uncle was assassinated, her father’s advice was simply, “Be kind to others and work for your country,” something Townsend took to heart. “We often think that we’re alone, but we’re not. What the (YWCA) can do is build the community,” Townsend said. “What you’ve done here today is build a sense of friendship…congratulations and God bless you.”
The annual Leader Luncheon Awards honors seven women who’ve made outstanding contributions to the Peoria area community through diverse means. The awards include:
- Julia Proctor White Arts and Education Award—given to a woman who displays leadership in education or the arts.
- Edythe A. Cohen Business and Industry Award—given to a woman who exhibits leadership in a local business, not-for-profit organization or governmental body.
- Lydia Moss Bradley Communications Award—given to a woman who’s a leader in communications fields such as journalism, marketing or public relations.
- Eliza Pindell Community Service Award—given to a woman who displays leadership in civic, charitable, religious and other community activities.
- Valeska S. Hinton Human Rights Award—given to a woman who helps improve the quality of life in our community by advocating equal rights for all people.
- Mother M. Frances Krasse Professions Award—given to a woman who excels as a lawyer, doctor, nurse or other professional.
- YWCA Young Woman’s Community Service Award—given to a high school-aged woman who excels in the areas of leadership and community service.
In addition to these award winners, the principal of District 150’s Harrison School, Aurthur Mae Perkins, was recognized as the Legend Award Winner for 2007, an award that recognizes a past Leader Luncheon winner who continues to demonstrate outstanding accomplishments in her field and in service to the community. Perkins was the 2003 recipient of the Julia Proctor White Arts and Education award.
Julia Proctor White Arts & Education Award
Dr. Lori A. Russell-Chapin, professor of education and associate dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences at Bradley University, is dedicated to scholarly production. Four years ago, she produced a supervision demonstration CD with a graduate student that is currently the best-selling supervision demonstration in the country. Russell-Chapin also wrote a textbook that was published in June called Writing Your Own Grief Story: The Journey of Loss and Love and has co-authored a textbook on counseling and supervision which is due out in 2008. For the last two years she has lent her expertise to WMBD This Morning to give life advice to viewers. During her 20-year tenure at Bradley, she has initiated many projects including assisting Judge Jerelyn Maher with a new Illinois law which went into effect in January. Before the new law began—which mandates divorce mediation for all divorcing couples with children—she not only was trained as a family mediator but also created the curriculum for custody and visitation cases which achieved both court and judicial approval. Her work paved the road for 60 professional counselors and attorneys to receive necessary training through the Bradley University Family Mediation Certificate Program. “I would much rather have families make these decisions rather than the court,” Russell-Chapin said. “To be a part of a team where someone has a vision and we all get together and say, ‘We can make this happen’ and you have this end result because people who care and put it together—I love that collaborative piece, I think that’s how we thrive is by collaborating.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and teaching at the University of Wyoming and a master’s degree in counselor education from Eastern Montana College. She received her doctorate in philosophy in counselor education from the University of Wyoming.
Lydia Moss Bradley Communications Award
Becky Wood, the president and founder of The Service Station Advertising Agency, was recognized for her strong entrepreneurial leadership. After beginning in 1998, her company has provided advertising, marketing and design solutions to clients in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But it was her commitment to serve the community’s needs that has put her at the top of the heap. She is a member on various committees within the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, including the Board of Directors. She is Board Vice President for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Peoria County and a Board member of the Women’s Fund of Central Illinois. Using her media expertise, Wood was able to promote CASA’s services to the community. The mother of two organized a billboard campaign in the fall of 2005 and began a public awareness project for the non-profit group. She persuaded board members of a local billboard company to donate a portion of the cost for the project as well. By providing her staff and resources for CASA’s fundraising efforts, she helped to provide an advocate for each of the 62 children in CASA’s first year of operation. Now as CASA’s Board President, her entrepreneurial spirit will continue to improve the lives of abused and neglected children which CASA serves. “I will work very closely with the executive director, with associates and the board in managing and raising funds and awareness of CASA in Peoria County,” Wood said. “I really think my involvement on the Women’s Fund Board has helped me. There were a lot of mentors…who really have just impacted my desire to be involved in our community and make a difference.” Wood attended Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
Edythe A. Cohen Business & Industry Award
Dallis Howard-Crow is a senior vice president of administration and the chief human resources officer at Methodist Medical Center. She was part of an executive team which helped the hospital earn the 2006 Gold Award for Achievement of Excellence from the Lincoln Foundation for Performance Excellence. Under her leadership at Methodist since 2000, an employee philosophy was created which provides employees with a foundation for company expectations. By 2005, her implemented programs had drastically reduced employee turnover to nearly half of what it had been. She introduced the first-ever 401-k system-wide plan, which achieved a 94 percent enrollment, and increased tuition reimbursement participation by over 50 percent. In following her vision for life/work balance programs, she also introduced “It Pays to Be Healthy,” a wellness benefit program which incorporates exercise classes and on-site therapeutic massages. “I wanted to bring the culture alive to why we really exist as people,” Howard-Crow said. “I’m most proud of the many things our employees have been able to accomplish in our community. Each and every patient is very clearly known to be a person in the community, they are literally someone’s mother and sister; our employees take that so passionately.” A graduate of Arizona State University, Howard-Crow earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting. She later received an MBA in health administration from the University of Colorado. She began her career in the accounting field, later moving into the human resources profession.
Eliza Pindell Community Service Award
Kay McCord has had one top priority in her life—quietly serving others. Starting her career as a domestic engineer and CEO of the busy McCord household, her duties ranged from accounting services to conflict management. After the youngest of her children graduated from high school in 1997, she threw herself into the community she has been a part of for the last 40 years. Since 1990, she has been a Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary, member and in the past two years has spent more than 375 hours volunteering for the group. She has helped serve meals to Peoria residents as a volunteer for the “Lunch with Love” program and every Christmas is faithfully ringing a bell or packing toys for area families. Working through the local alumni chapter for the Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumni Foundation, she helped other chapters grow and build funds. She has also worked on the Illinois Central College Foundation Development Committee and Scholarship Selection Committee where she reviewed applications and even established scholarships to pay for continuing education. McCord helped start the Hult Health Education Center and served on its development committee. Meeting with people one-on-one or hosting events in her home, McCord has also supported the Heart of Illinois United Way. She recently joined the Board of Directors for Why Not Now? a non-profit organization which provides outdoor activities for children and adults with disabilities through Camp Big Sky. “(Volunteering) makes you so grateful for what you have and for just being able to give back to those who are not as fortunate. The most rewarding is that I’m able to do what I can do,” McCord said. “The award was just over the top. I’m so humbled and honored and certainly not deserving of it because there’s so many people in this community that contribute.”
Valeska S. Hinton Human Rights Award
Dr. Martha Willi is the medical director of Haiti Mission Connection Inc. Not only does she organize annual medical missions to Bodarie, Haiti, she has also joined the trips for the past eight years. On the trips she provides free eye care to area people. After retiring from her 30-year-old private opthamology practice, she dedicated herself to the volunteer group Haitain Connections and leads the fundraising efforts. “We’ve got a small medical clinic started and we’re hoping to get that on an ongoing footing. We’ve been supporting the wages of a nurse and supplies of the clinic,” Willi said. “I have learned from the people I served. You certainly learn a lot in the practical sense and the spiritual sense, despite all the poverty (Haitians) do know how to enjoy life.” In Peoria, Willi coordinates Haitian Connection volunteers, providing Sunday lunches at the Friendship House once a month to 100-150 homeless people. She was part of the kitchen crew at the Catholic Work House on Saratoga and transitioned her efforts to the Friendship House. Since 1973, Willi has been active in the Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women and served as president and vice president. She was also awarded NOW’s Betty Osborne Award for Community Service. Willi was a trainer and direct service volunteer for the first Peoria Rape Crisis Line, started in 1975, and served on its first Board of Directors in 1976. “For every person that gets recognized for an award, there are 20 people who are doing good work,” Willi said. She received her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in Chicago and her medical degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Mother M. Frances Krasse Professions Award
Judge Jerelyn Maher became the first female circuit judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court when she was appointed by the Supreme Court of Illinois to fill a vacancy in 2001. She is the presiding judge for the Family Law Division/Domestic Relations of Peoria County, hearing paternity cases as well as both civil and criminal cases. Her creation of the Tenth Judicial Circuit Visitation Center has allowed parents to exchange children for visitation and receive parenting education in a safe place. She was instrumental in a partnership with Bradley University which developed a family mediation certification program for professionals in central Illinois to help with child custody cases. She was also instrumental in creating a position for Tazewell County—Guardian Ad Litem—an attorney who represents children who witness domestic violence or are victims of domestic violence. She is currently the chair of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council for the Tenth Judicial Circuit and was given the Partners in Peace Award in 2002 for her efforts in preventing family violence. Maher was one of the first women in the Peoria area to concentrate on trial work. She is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association, Peoria Bar Association and a judicial liaison with Abraham Lincoln Inns of Court, over which she presided from 1998-1999. Maher is also on the faculty development committee and arranges lecturers and authors for judicial seminars. “I had such a wonderful childhood and I feel so honored to be a public servant that I feel it’s my duty to give back and make the profession as good as can be. It really was an honor (to win),” Maher said. “I think women should become involved so that young women can think anything’s possible. I consider myself a pioneer, if I’m not out there breaking glass ceilings then there’s a problem.” She graduated magna cum laude from Bradley University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduating from Loyola School of Law in Chicago, she began practicing law in Peoria.
YWCA Young Woman’s Community Service Award
Melissa Lynn Heim has consistently taken advanced classes throughout her four years at Richwoods High School and completed two college-level classes at Illinois Central College prior to her graduation in May. She was also one of 96 students in the country who received a perfect score of 36 on the ACT. For the past three years, Heim has traveled to an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico for week-long mission trips. Because she is fluent in Spanish, she often translates for the entire volunteer group including parents. While maintaining a 3.943 grade point average in high school, she also participated in band, cross-country, Earth club, Key club and Spanish club. As part of a mentoring program with Irving Primary School and her Peoria church, First United Methodist, Heim took the initiative to serve as a “buddy” and has mentored grade school children for the past four years. The 18-year-old also has volunteered for Neutral Ground, an HIV/AIDS assistance program which provides household and personal hygiene items for the program’s members. Her other volunteer efforts include: Stocking Stuffers, Jaycees Haunted House, Toys for Tots, Race for the Cure, Tsunami Relief Drive, canned food drives and the Salvation Army. “I took this advice, ‘You have to put yourself aside and put others in front of you and just deal with it.’ You (can) put that toward everything. My comfort is not the most important thing in the world,” Heim said. “At the luncheon, to see all of those outstanding women, it reminds you that there are always women trying to help you with what you’re trying to do.” She will be double majoring in biology and economics at Vanderbuilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and hopes to eventually work in neonatology. TPW