By ann Butler
There are a number of activities during Women’s History Month in Durango, and one of my favorites is the Women’s Resource Center’s Extraordinary Women Awards. This year’s event was doubly special because it also was the center’s 30th anniversary.
This town is full of notable women, as honoree Missy Votel put it in far more colorful ways.
WRC Executive Director Christy Schaerer served as mistress of ceremonies at the packed March 9 event at the DoubleTree Hotel, and former executive directors Susan Lander and Mandy Mikulencak were on hand to present awards. Sponsors included Alpine Bank, the Durango DoubleTree Hotel, April’s Garden, Sunshine Gardens Senior Community and Comfort Keepers.
The evening started with a silent auction and time to catch up with friends old and new from 30 years of being the place where women – and some men – “go when they don’t know where to go.”
The center helped more than 1,600 people in 2016, connecting them to resources such as food, housing, employment opportunities and mental health and domestic violence support. For others, the WRC provides job coaching, emergency assistance through Womenade and low bono legal assistance for individuals dealing with divorce or custody issues. Staff and board members advocate for women’s issues, which are human issues. And because the fundamental goal for the organization is to help women become financially sustainable, the center awards scholarships for college and technical training.
Those numbers don’t include the center’s pioneering work in creating Girls to Women, Women to Girls, which has morphed into Keys to Success. The event helps eighth grade girls and boys prepare for the transition to high school. The WRC is piloting another event to help fifth grade girls prepare for middle school.
A busy group, indeed.
The organization, founded in 1987 to help a number of women who were recently divorced or widowed gain financial independence, served 200 women its first year.
I sat between two women who are descendants of early settlers here – Tammy Tyner, the program manager at the Women’s Resource Center, and Holly Zink, the owner of Sunnyside Farms Market, CFO of Sunnyside Meats and the keynote speaker for the evening. Between stories of growing up in Durango, we talked about Zink’s achievements, starting her business in a man’s world of meatpacking and merchandising when she was a young woman. (She’s still pretty young – but the older I get, the younger everyone looks.)
Zink told the appreciative crowd that she is a fifth-generation resident of La Plata County and a fifth-generation trailblazing woman, mentioning the matriarchs of the generations that preceded her here.
And then it was time for the main event, recognizing three women who live up to the title extraordinary, not only as businesswomen – this year’s theme – but as committed community members as well.
Honoree Kerry Siggins, the CEO of StoneAge WaterBlast Tools, was unable to attend because she had to be in Denver, but her mother, Sue Petranek, charmingly received the award on her daughter’s behalf. Siggins’ written notes included an homage to the women who have gone before us.
Gail Aalund, vice president of Wells Fargo Advisors, is also in the running for most dedicated supporter of the Women’s Resource Center. She was one of the first people I met covering the WRC when I began writing Neighbors about 17 years ago. And she’s been there and everywhere else since then.
Votel is the owner and editor of The Durango Telegraph – and a former editor of mine at the Herald. She gets credit for the best line of the evening: “You can’t swing a dead Subaru in this town without hitting an extraordinary woman!” (She’d edit out the exclamation point.)
All three were deserving of the honor and the standing ovation, too.
Visit www.wrcdurango.org to learn about the remaining Women’s History Month activities.
HHHGuests at the Women’s Resource Center also enjoyed viewing a display of some stand-outs from the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, including The Durango Herald’s late editor-in-chief, Morley Ballantine, and Sue Anschutz-Rogers, a philanthropist who has given a lot of money to nonprofits in Southwest Colorado and has been instrumental in founding Rural Philanthropy Days, which introduces Front Range funders to nonprofits around the state.
Susan Lander, who sits on the hall of fame board, encouraged attendees to consider nominating more women from La Plata County because of serious underrepresentation in the hall. Nomination forms and more information are available at www.cogreatwomen.org.
I can think of three women off the top of my head – Caroline Romney, founder of Durango’s first newspaper, which became part of The Durango Herald; Olga Little, a muleskinner who braved brutal conditions to deliver supplies to mining camps in the area; and Lavenia McCoy, who was not only an influential teacher at Sunnyside School and in Bayfield, but a core creator of Bayfield’s library, which was named the Best Small Library in the country in 2015. Or maybe Pearl Casias, a longtime leader of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe – see, no shortage of notable women.
Nominations take some time, and they are due by Aug. 1. I hope someone will take Lander’s challenge and show the rest of the state how amazing Southwest Colorado women are.
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