Eight amazing community leaders were honored at the YWCA Wheeling's Tribute to Women event Monday evening, April 26.
Presenters of the awards shared inspiring stories of how the eight honored women have improved their communities and workplaces. The seven living honorees were humbled by the attention, but also offered words of wisdom for all those in the audience.
Presenter Kathy Vani cited honoree Susie Baker's commitment to McNinch Elementary School in Marshall County and her "constant involvement" as a parent volunteer. In each instance, Baker "took it one step further," from volunteer to leader and coordinator, Vani recalled.
Vani noted that when Baker - who grew up in a family of 11 children - started the Back to School Fun Fair in Marshall County nine years ago, "Susie knew what it was like to go to school on the first day without the basics, starting already behind." Vani remarked, "She is a true blessing."
In turn, Baker - who waited eight days before calling to accept the award because she thought the notification letter was "a mistake" - called attention to the other women in the room who have made the Fun Fair work. She also thanked her family, saying, "I have a husband and three sons who have given up for my dreams."
Bonnie Anderson Brunner introduced her childhood friend, honoree Margaret Brennan, citing Brennan's deep commitment to preserving the history and buildings "that put us in touch with the city's past." Reciting a list of organizations in which Brennan has been involved, Brunner remarked, "As you can see, she is one busy lady." Brunner quipped that friends who go on car trips with Brennan learn soon "to be prepared to stop at every historical marker."
Describing herself "as one who tries to look back through the eyes of history," Brennan noted that the YWCA Wheeling stands on the site of St. James Catholic Church, built in 1826, on land provided by the Zane family, and she mentioned Louise Butler Reed, founder of the YWCA in Wheeling. Brennan said she was "honored to stand in the shadows of so many grand women in our community."
Lisa Allen introduced her "mentor, mother and friend," honoree Roslyn Lando, as a woman who taught her children "the importance of family, the importance of independence and the importance of giving valuable time to assist others."
In the Lando household, "Equality was just understood. We have no right to judge anyone else," Allen said. "We were taught to be wise and we learned to defend the defenseless."
Saying she was "truly humbled" by the honor, Lando said that when she became a YWCA board member, she was "overwhelmed" by the scope of its programs, which "just keep growing and growing."
Co-presenter Roanne Burech observed that honoree Kris Molnar worked her way through the ranks to the presidency of WesBanco Wheeling, demonstrating her intelligence, professional style and management skills along the way. She said Molnar has taken women under her wings, encouraging them "to speak up and to challenge and to be heard." Co-presenter Mary Ruth Cilles noted that Molnar is a cancer survivor, "a champion of many causes" and "a woman of character and high morals."
Molnar responded that she "had to make myself memorable" as she shared her talents with others. She urged women in the audience to "strive to make yourelf memorable."
Bill Hogan paid tribute to his sister, the late Kathleen Hogan Schenk, who was honored posthumously, noting, "All the good that Kay did, no one person really knows. Different people know different pieces (of her generosity)." He said that Schenk, the mother of six daughters, was the "chief emotional officer in the family corporation" and maintained "not only an open-door policy, but also an open-arms policy."
Introducing honoree Darlene Stradwick, Tim Cogan commented, "Darlene is the person who gets involved because she knows she can make a difference. She's worked tirelessly behind the scenes for many organizations." Through her work with the Health and Sciences and Technology Academy, she has helped more than 100 youth get into college, he said.
Exemplifyng her commitment to those youth, Stradwick explained that she had to leave the YWCA affair early in order to attend the academy students' senior presentations.
Stradwick recalled that "my community service began one day riding on a city bus" when another passenger made a disparaging remark about efforts to repair the Elks playground in East Wheeling. "No one should say a child doesn't deserve a place to play," she commented.
I had the pleasure of introducing my friend and colleague, Gladys Van Horne, honored for her media work and community service. Van Horne said her involvement with the YWCA started when, as a high school student, she collected money at a movie theater to help those afflicted with polio. "That was my introduction to service, and I am so happy that the YWCA has just been such an integral part of my life," she said. "It's always been a pleasure to serve and to help."
Karen Recht introduced her friend and neighbor, honoree Gail "Boatsie" Van Vranken, who founded Boatsie's Boxes in 2004 to provide comfort supplies to every branch of the U.S. military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The program now serves 20,000 troops and provides support to several medical units in both countries, Recht said.
Van Vranken said she shared the honor with her son, Patrick, who asked her to send some supplies to his wounded buddies in a Baghdad hospital. She also cited the help of her daughters, Jenny, Jean and Leah; her husband, Jim, who is "Mr. Boatsie behind the scenes," and project coordinator Janell Loh. She added, "The ultimate honor goes to our men and women in the military and the families left behind."
Linda Comins can be reached via e-mail at: Comins@news-register.net