Can’t stop marveling about these women

JENNAYE DERGE/Durango Herald

The Women’s Resource Center honored, from left, Missy Crawford Rodey, Linda Mannix and Danielle Enea at its Extraordinary Women Luncheon Friday at the Henry Strater Theatre.

There’s no shortage of extraordinary women in this community, so the Women’s Resource Center had its work cut out for it when trying to decide who to select for its Extraordinary Women Character, Courage and Commitment awards.

I’d say they knocked it out of the park with their choices, with the awards given Friday at the Extraordinary Women Luncheon at the Henry Strater Theatre in front of a sold-out crowd of men and women.

Linda Mannix, who is most publicly known for her work on Snowdown – not just the Follies and Do’s and Don’ts Luncheon but being a key player in the entire event since the very beginning – has also been a force of nature in organizing the Cowboy Poetry Gathering, a four-day extravaganza that brings in performers and audience members from all over the country to town. She was presented the character award.

Because Mannix never misses a chance to dress up, she arrived in the persona of Katherine Hepburn, fresh off a trip down the Animas River with “Bogie” on the African Queen, saying she not only has character, she is a character. Truer words were never spoken.

Karren Little and Christine Rachlin, who work with her on organizing the 25-year-old gathering, lauded her in the nomination for not only juggling countless details year after year but for always doing it with a smile.

Marsha Porter-Norton nominated Missy Crawford Rodey for the category of commitment. Rodey’s contributions to this community began pretty much the first day she and her husband, Glenn, moved to La Plata County to retire. In Missy’s case, retirement didn’t take.

Almost immediately, she became the executive director of United Way of Southwest Colorado, a post she held from 2000 to 2003. During those years, Operation Healthy Communities held a summit on the needs of our area, and at the top of the list was the charge to form a citizens’ group to analyze local health-care offerings, determine where the greatest needs were and work to fill the holes.

The ultimate result was the Citizens Health Advisory Council, which Rodey co-founded with Porter-Norton. Rodey has been a member since 2001 and is currently the chairwoman, a position she picked up after serving as president of the Mercy Regional Medical Center Board of Directors until December. (She is still a board member and has been since 2007.)

More than anything, Rodey brings time, expertise and tremendous leadership skills to anything she agrees to do, and her commitment to ensure access to health care for all has made us a healthier community.

Three women who are pretty extraordinary themselves for their contributions to our community nominated Danielle Enea, the youngest of the three honorees. Debra Parmenter, Gina Piccoli and Beth Drum told a story that shows Enea has shown more courage in her young life than most of us can imagine mustering.

Her mother died after a long and painful illness when Enea was 15, and she found herself, as the oldest of three sisters, raising her younger siblings. At 19, she went away to college, then realized her father’s debilitating depression meant he couldn’t care for her sisters, so she left Seton College, became her sisters’ legal guardian and raised them while working and attending college part time.

After Enea moved to Durango with her husband, Frank, her younger sister, Gena Rych, came soon after, finding a job at Alpine Bank. The sisters were soon seen all over town together, until December 2010, when Rych was one of four people killed in a plane crash near Silverton.

Anyone who has lost a loved one in such a shocking manner, particularly one who had her whole life ahead of her, knows that the grief can be overwhelming and paralyzing. But Enea is working her way through it by raising money in her sister’s name after creating the Gena Rych Foundation and organizing a 5K-run to begin endowing it. And the Women’s Resource Center, which Rych had joined, has been the recipient of the monies raised.

Many people go through hard times and loss – that’s the cost of living and loving – but Enea has found ways to turn that loss into something good.

The lunch also saw the return of three of the WRC’s founders – Nora Tracy, Irma Hofmann and Mary Lou Falkenstein – who came in large part to honor the fourth award recipient of the day, Judith Aitken. Aitken was involved in the earliest days of the WRC among many other contributions to our community and, indeed, our country. Sadly, Aitken died at age 90 a week earlier, but she knew she had received the center’s first ever Lifetime Achievement Award before her death.

There was an interesting, and unintended, recurring theme for the day. Part-time Durango resident Maj. Gen. Kathy Thomas was the keynote speaker, and she was accompanied by her 93-year-old mother, Julie Thomas, who was a member of the Women’s Appointed for Emergency Service, or WAVES, during World War II.

She turned out to be the first of several mothers mentioned who had served during the war.

Susan Lander’s mother served in the Canadian army and was one of only five women to achieve the rank of sergeant major.

Paulette Church’s mother had served as a quartermaster in the Marines at Camp Lejeune during the war and never acknowledged it publicly until she was visiting her daughter in Durango and they attended the Melodrama in the very theater where we were all sitting. During the olio acts, the hymns of all the branches of the military were played, and she finally stood to be honored for what she had done.

Which begs the question: Did the daughters grow up to be extraordinary women and leaders because their mothers had been part of that generation of women who served their countries in the military? It would make an interesting case study, wouldn’t it?

Kudos to the organizers – Drum, Lander, Pamela Hasterok, Nancy Stoffer, WRC Executive Director Liz Mora and WRC Director of Memberships and Special Events Jamie Wienk.

Attendees left heartened that young women are getting the message, too. Three students from Animas High School, Molly Black, Ellie Ellis and Hannah Martens, were on hand to see what their foremothers were up to.

We never take enough time to tell people we appreciate what they do, and this luncheon was the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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These folks born under the sign of Pisces are looking forward to a special day – Bethany Bieth, Robert Ludwig, Jane Pearson, Taylor Bray, Gisele Pansze, Cathy Roberts, Judy Johnson, Andrew Webb, Christopher Blevins, Joan Sippy, Valerie Schwiderski, Guyneth Zimmerman, August Kidd, Maddy Duran, Georgia Patcheck, Rachel Gilpin, Rachel Harrison, Tami Hoffner, Fletcher Holtgrieve, Judy Johnson, Lance Hamlin, Riley Roessler, Avery Trammell and Sophia Ottman.

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Basking in the sun for their March anniversaries are Jerry and Sara Davis and Brandon and Sara Rolph.

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