PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Last Thursday evening at Pittsburg State University, I rubbed elbows with some amazing women, as I do in early December each year.
I was attending the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual recognition of the coming year’s “Women of Distinction” recipients.
This time, though, I wasn’t carrying a notepad or camera, which felt odd. I was among the 12.
Each fall, a committee reads through nominations and is tasked with choosing a dozen women to be featured in the coming year’s calendar, a true community collaboration. Longtime master portrait photographer Don Runyon, of Treasured Images, takes their portraits; Devon Gorman at the chamber crafts their biographies; Pitt Craft Printing assembles and prints it all; and businesses underwrite it, which means it’s distributed free.
Having lived here for 43 years, I’ve had plenty of inspiring females as role models. Many of them have been chosen as Women of Distinction in past years; many have gone unofficially recognized but continue to make a difference. It was, therefore, plenty humbling to be included in such a group.
Interestingly, all the other recipients told me they felt the same way. None felt they were deserving of special recognition. None felt that what they do should get accolades.
Bette Lessen, city clerk for Arma and a tireless advocate of protecting unwanted pets, said she was “surprised to be rewarded for doing something I love and feel passionate about.”
So said Stephanie Webb, a manager at Mosaic, which serves people with intellectual disabilities. She’s also a leader in several community organizations, contributing volunteer hours and helping with fundraising efforts, but she downplayed her list of credentials.
Other distinguished women included several about whom I have written or have known, like Lori Fleming, the first female judge for the 11th Judicial District in Kansas who has served Big Brothers Big Sisters of Crawford County and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.
Tammy Nagel, the city clerk for Pittsburg, volunteers with Hearts and Hammers, the American Red Cross and United Way, and each year helps organize the Elks Student Government Day.
Denise Grasso and Bonnie Crossland, both of whom I worked with at the Education Service Center at Greenbush, have dedicated themselves to ensuring that children have equal opportunities for educational success in many different capacities, from the classroom to school boards to PTO fundraisers.
Cathy Lee Arcuino, once a globe-trotting Peace Corps volunteer, now heads up PSU’s International Programs and Services and puts on an international Thanksgiving each year at her home.
Lynette Olson, provost and vice president of academic affairs at PSU, has been recognized at local, state and national levels for her leadership and accomplishments.
I enjoyed meeting for the first time Cristy Mitchell, who works for Blue Cross Blue Shield, serves as event chairwoman for the Crawford County Relay for Life, and has served Project Warmth and the Horn of Plenty Food Drive, among other things.
Also new to me was Tina Marie Browning, dietary manager at Via Christi Village. She helps Wesley House with holiday meals and is actively involved in several health-related county fundraisers.
And Krista Smith, a nurse at the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, has provided resources to more than 200 families in the area.
What incredible and dedicated women.
As for me, well, I’m just a mom, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a journalist, a community member who tries each day to be the best version of those titles I can be. Some days it works, and some days I need to try harder. But I am proud and honored to be 2014’s “April,” my favorite month.
A sincere thank-you to whomever thought me worthy for nomination, and congratulations to my fellow honorees.
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