Our Unsung Heroines
A Woman of Strength: What can I say about Mrs. Greta Willis? She is an inspiring woman that speaks and walks positively through out her life. She donates her time and effort to youth to help change their lives. She steps out of her way to make sure everyone has an opportunity to move a step forward in the world, to make a change. She celebrates the decreasing of violence throughout the youth environment because she knows in her eyes there is a change.
Mrs. Greta is motivating, encouraging, open-hearted and more. She will never change her vibe and she will never forget about anyone. This lady is a HERO because of her style in caring and loving to others through her walk with God, with his angels following.
A strong Woman vs A Woman of Strength: A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape, but a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape. A strong woman isn’t afraid of anything but a woman of strength shows courage in the midst of her fear. A strong woman won’t let anyone get the best of her, but a woman of strength gives the best of herself to everyone. A strong woman makes mistakes and avoids the same in the future but a woman of strength realizes life mistakes can also be God’s blessings and capitalizes on them. A strong woman walks sure footed, but a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls. A woman of strength wears GRACE. A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey, but a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become STRONG.
Godly – Reacting – Example – Through – Actions: Spells “Greta”
Submitted by: Trashawn Mackey
Ernestine Shepherd is a Baltimore native who is the World Record Holder for Oldest female body builder. She will be 80 years young in June of 2016.
Ernestine “Ernie” Shepherd, at age 79, is a personal trainer, a professional model, a competitive body builder and happier and more fulfilled than she’s ever been in her life. In March of 2010, on state in Rome, Italy she was formally given the title of World’s Oldest Performing Female Body Builder (by Guinness World Records.)
Mrs. Shepherd is in better shape than most people, decades her junior. Up at 3 a.m. every morning, she spends her days running, lifting weights and working out. She also works as a certified personal trainer at her gym.
Feeling better than she did at 40, Bodybuilding Champion, Ernestine Shepherd, shows us that “being out of shape” as we age truly is merely an option – NOT a mandate! She is a role model not just for senior women everywhere, but for every one of us. Ernestine believes in encouragement, inspiration, and family support as she lives by her mantra, “Determined – Dedicated – Disciplined To Be Fit”
Submitted by: Dietra Johnson
My Unsung Heroine is my mother, Vivan Truax Harriman (1915-1990).
She was born the daughter of a coal miner in Shadyside, Ohio. Surviving the depression years, she kept an indomitable spirit in tact. She was the only sibling of four children to have the determination to gain a college education. She attended the two-year teachers’ college in Kent, Ohio (now Kent State University), where she earned her associate’s degree in education. She later completed her Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Maryland.
Her Career in education was pursued in the midst of raising two children and being “the wind beneath the wings” of a flourishing insurance claims man.
She worked tirelessly as a volunteer in her church in Annapolis, Maryland, as well as the Anne Arundel Medical Center. She continuously utilized her teaching skills as a pilot teacher for new curriculum in the Anne Arundel County Public School System. She was often called upon to in-service county educators and grant model lessons in her own classroom. She was a beloved first grade teacher for over thirty years!
Vivian Harriman will always be cherished as a loving, sacrificial mother, supportive wife, caring sister and daughter and an unsung heroine of her family as well as countless children who learned under her expert tutelage.
Submitted by: Cheryl Harriman Townshend
October 17, 2015
Medha Reddy has strived to give back to her community since her early elementary school years. By age nine, she was working with peers to decorate nursing homes during the holidays and to pack bag lunches for the homeless. This spirit of volunteerism earned her recognition by President George W. Bush at the 2009 Turkey Pardoning.
Her efforts to change her community for the better have only expanded with age. She has worked with the Mid-Atlantic Make-A-Wish Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Montgomery General Hospital, and her local Key Club, where she serves as Secretary.
Medha’s true passion, however, is serving as an advocate on behalf of her peers. She has recieved training from Youth Leadership Montgomery and Maryland Leadership Workshops. During her time at Maryland Leadership Workshops, Medha helped to develop the Student Bay Advisory Council under the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to allow students to design awareness and volunteer efforts which appeal to their peers and ensure the movement spreads into the next generation.
Medha has served as a representative of her peers in organizations ranging from Youth for National Change to Montgomery County Regional. In 2013, Governor Martin O’ Malley appointed her to serve as a member on Maryland Youth Advisory Councils, where she later served on the executive board.
Wanting to expand youth rights to participate in government and politics, Medha has also formed her own youth legislative councils. The Councils’ efforts earned them recognition by the International Future Problem Solving Organization. She continues to inspire her peers by serving as a public speaker and sharing her story and work.
Mrs. Monroe was the Vice President of Supplier Diversity and Vendor Development for Macy’s East. For three years, Mrs. Monroe helped women and minorities to do business with Macy’s. Cheryl was the first African American to open a new store in the history of Macy’s when she open the Macy’s in Wheaton, MD in 2005. Over her long career in retail, she has served on several boards and other civic groups in Maryland and New York while working for Macy’s.
Cheryl has received numerous awards from the Latina Community and the Women’s business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).Cheryl has done great work on behalf of women and minorities throughout the country and was born and raised in our great state of Maryland.
Submitted by: Gary F. Monroe
SP5, Ivory N. Sanders, served in the United State Army from January 1979 to January 1985. As one of the “Women in Military Service for America”, she is recognized in The Women’s Memorial database located at Arlington Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. Her service decorations include: Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
Ms. Sanders says “My military experience was worthwhile and beneficial. I visited locations around the United States and the world that I don’t believe I would have ventured to had it not been for my military career and contacts. I met lots of wonderful individuals from almost every part of the world. These introductions taught me to dispel stereotypes and appreciate all aspects of other cultures and lifestyles. I’ll cherish these memories for a lifetime!”
Although born in Syracuse, NY, Ms. Sanders calls Baltimore her “home town”.
Submitted by: I.N. Sanders
Martha Hart Johns MA is a Senior Program Manager in the Underage Drinking Training and Enforcement Center and finds time to teach educational and developmental psychology at Montgomery College in Rockville.
Martha started the Maryland V.I.P. (Volunteers in Probation) programs as well as helped design the first halfway house for young adult offenders in Montgomery County. She has worked for Montgomery County Public Schools as a School Psychologist doing special education and gifted assessments and providing support to teachers and principals around emotional handicapped and behaviorally challenging students.
As Director of Educational Theatre Program for Kaiser Permanente she wrote the conflict resolution curriculum R.A.V.E.S. (Real Alternative to Violence for Every Student) which was implemented in over 35 school districts and won awards from the DC Society for Dispute Resolution, and the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.
Martha chaired and coordinated Kaiser Permanente’s, Building Hope: Exploring Solutions to Youth Violence, conferences and initiative, bringing together national experts, youth and key community stakeholders, youth workers and parents to address violence in the Washington Metro Area in the 1990’s youth violence epidemic. She also served on President Clinton’s Task Force for After-School Time Programming.
Martha coaches acting at Broadway Artists Alliance in New York and plays the harp.
Submitted By: Kate Campbell Stevenson
Mabelle Fisher was a wife, mother, and grandmother who dedicated herself to those important roles. She had six grandchildren and was a treasure to them all. Describing “Mom Mom” in only those terms, however, tells just a fraction of her story. As well, she was a perpetual volunteer, skilled organizer, excellent cook, world traveler, avid animal lover, and cherished friend with a charming wit and deep faith.
In all these ways, she profoundly touched others’ lives. With all these habits, she was admired as a role model. For all who were fortunate to know her, she was their “Unsung Heroine”.
Submitted By: Kimberleigh Eagleston, Granddaughter
The Woman’s Industrial Exchange in Baltimore City began shortly after the Civil War in the home of Mrs. G. Harmon Brown, where women brought their handwork to be sold to local citizens and visitors. The Maryland State Legislator incorporated the organization in 1882 “For the purpose of endeavoring by sympathy and practical aid to encourage and help needy women to help themselves by procuring for them and establishing a sales room for the sale of Women’s Work.”
In 1887, The Exchange moved to its current location at 333 N. Charles Street. The Exchange sold Women’s handwork, operated a Tea Room which provided afternoon teas and suppers and gave instructions in needlework and cooking. Consignors sent goods from all over the country to be sold in the shop, a practice still carried on today.
Worcester Country School’s “Girls Mean Business” program’s purpose is to encourage girls to realize that they can succeed in fields traditionally dominated by men. Beginning at the middle school age, a decline in interest in mathematics, science, and technology is often seen among girls. This is the age during which girls experience problems with teamwork because of difficulties with peer relationships. “Girls Mean Business” attempts to tackle the problems of the middle school age girl by stressing teamwork, sharing knowledge, and setting career goals.
Girls are encouraged to set goals and to work hard in all school subjects. Through the GMB project, the girls have matured and they have taught their school and community that girls can be and will be leaders in fields such as mathematics, science, business, and technology.
Submitted by: Dr. Merle Marsh
Eusebia A. Geluz helped children safely cross the street near Green Valley Elementary School for twenty years. She loved the kids. After her own children were grown, she took on the job and “neat” uniform of a crossing guard, where she would see 350 children daily.
Geluz was proud that no children were injured while entrusted to her care. She personally prevented a sixth grader from being hit by a speeding car one wintry day. At age seventy, she retired. The students will always remember her. To them, “she’s still the same”.
Submitted by: Stephen Deane
For many years now, Patricia Maurer has introduced the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) to thousands of people around the State of Maryland and abroad through countless speaking engagements and numerous tours of the National Center for the Blind. As Director of Community Relations, a position she has held since 1988, Patricia responds to many telephone, letter, and email inquiries that come to the National Center for the Blind. In addition, Patricia coordinates some of the national activities regarding Braille literacy and childhood education for the blind.
In 2005, Patricia began serving as the Director of Reference for the Jacobus tenBroek Library, located in the NFB Jernigan Institute. In this capacity, she continues her work of educating individuals and groups. A member of the NFB since 1968, Patricia has served in many capacities. In 1985 she was elected to serve as Treasurer of the Greater Baltimore chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and continues in that capacity today. In 1979, she was appointed as a member of the Affiliate Action Committee for the National Federation of the Blind.
Patricia received the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland Kenneth Jernigan Award in 1997. Honors have come to her from outside of the Federation as well. In 2004, Patricia received the Volunteer of the Year Award in Baltimore, Maryland.
Submitted By: Judith Chwalow
Linda Shevitz, Educational Equity Specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education, is probably the nation’s finest education department-based professional in the arena of gender equity. Her inclusive approach and technical skill set have outlasted and outdistanced anyone for more than three decades.
Submitted by: Phyllis Lerner
Leslie Palmer will be forty years old in September 2010. She is creative, bright, energetic, kind, spiritual, persistant, funny, and gracious. The characteristic that makes her an “Unsung Hero”, however, is her patience.
For about ten years, Leslie has had multiple sclerosis. She uses a walker on the best days and needs to convert it to a wheelchair to be pushed on the “not-the-best” days. There are two sets of steps to scale just to get into her house. Some days, those legs just don’t want to work, but she never gives up; even when it takes us forty-five minutes to get her in the house. When she needs assistance, she is always extremely polite and treats the one helping with respect and charm.
Her life hasn’t turned out the way she planned. Leslie used to fly all over the country and world for her job. She can only feel that same exhilaration while driving the motorized scooter when we go shopping at Target. This is the one time she can feel independent. The rest of the time, she is patient.
Submitted by Linda Linzey
My mother, Gloria “Kay” Hughes, came to Baltimore in the early 70s to study opera and Music Education at Peabody. While studying the translations of the Italian operas, she was disgusted at how misogynistic many operas were and how women were portrayed as subservient, weak of spirit and physically fragile. Realizing she could never put her heart and soul into art that so demeaned her sex, she did what any young woman who enjoyed working with her hands would do. She became an electrical apprentice. After finishing apprentice training at the top of her class, she went to work with Benfield Electric as a commercial and residential electrical mechanic. In her job, she faced much sexism and doubts of her competency. This only drove her to work harder. Eventually, she became one of the first female master electricians in the State of Maryland. She is currently about to retire from Baltimore County Inspection and Permits as an inspector of 20 years.
Submitted by Jason Knauer
Lillian (Lil) Shevitz has been and continues to be a remarkable Unsung Heroine to her family and friends and colleagues. She is the magnet and center that keeps her extended family strongly connected. Born in 1919, she is the proud and loving mother of three children and their spouses, grandmother of five, and great-grandmother of four.
Lil’s career spanned decades working at the Washington D.C. headquarters of B’nai B’rith International, the largest Jewish organization in the world. As an assistant to both the Director of Hillel, with student chapters on college campuses around the nation, and to the Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith, she interacted with leaders both nationally and internationally. Through her work and personal outreach, she was well-known and respected by colleagues in many countries. While working in Washington, she demonstrated her personal courage and determination when she and her co-workers were held hostage in 1977 for days by terrorists at the B’nai B’rith Building. During the ordeal, she spoke out for hostages who were being mistreated and who had special needs.
Lil is the epitome of generosity and loving care for all whose lives she has touched and continues to touch on a daily basis. She is a role model “mom” not only to her own immediate family, but to the friends of her children. She is richly deserving of her contributions being acknowledged and of her praises being SUNG!
Submitted by Linda Shevitz
Sharon Faye Beazley was the true definition of an unsung hero. A business owner and former Bethlehem Steel employee, Sharon worked tirelessly for the betterment of her community for decades. She headed an active opposition group and co-chaired a legislative task force created to fight the installment of the LNG pipeline. Through this force Sharon helped protect the communities of Dundalk, Turner Station and the rest of Baltimore County from a company building a terminal on contaminated land in Sparrows Point and transporting natural gas from dangerous countries into the Baltimore County harbor.
“My mother always said, ‘People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do,'” said Lachelle Beazley-Scarlato, Sharon’s daughter. “And she did.”
Sharon received citations from Baltimore County government for her extensive volunteer efforts.
Submitted By: Diane Carliner
Edith”Jackie” Ronne, a Baltimore native, never expected to accompany her husband’s scientific expedition to Antarctica in 1947. Joining that excursion meant that she was the first American woman to land in the frozen south. Ronne insisted that the chief pilot’s wife, Jennie Darlington, go along as well and the two women helped calm many tense and argumentative times during their fifteen-month stay. Edith was the trip’s recorder and historian, describing the continent’s natural beauty in the book, “Antarctica’s First Lady.”
The trip was considered a scientific success, proving that Antarctica was all in one continent. Edith’s husband, Captain Ronne, named the newly discovered territory the Ronne Ice Shelf. Edith lectured widely and became president of the Society of Women Geographers.
Submitted by: Linda Shevitz and Jill Moss Greenberg
Ann Joice (1660-1735) was born in the West Indies and taken to England before she was brought, as a slave, to Prince George’s County, Maryland. Joice always adamantly maintained that she was actually an indentured servant. She had vociferously related her story to family and friends throughout her lifetime. This narrative was the inspiration to her great, great grandson, slave Charles Mahoney, to petition Maryland court in 1791 for his freedom, claiming that he was descended from a free woman.
In 1678, the document surfaced showing that Ann actually was an indentured servant. Her great, great grandson’s legal struggle to gain his freedom was important in the abolition movement. Ann Joice’s tenacity and vigorous objections to her imposed and incorrect social status were her legacy.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
The Baltimore Marriott Hunt Valley Inn ballroom was brightly decorated in pink and green linens and flowers as family members, a cross section of former elementary students, principals, church members, sorority members, neighbors and acquaintances from all walks of life paid tribute to a remarkable lady who celebrated her 90th birthday.
Charlotte Elizabeth Emma Holsey Harper, a product of the Baltimore Public School System, grew up on Druid Hill Avenue in the “Sugar Hill” area with four sisters. Her career spanned several decades of progressive positions from elementary teacher to vice principal to principal in the Baltimore City Public School System.
School Girls Unite, a group of Maryland middle and high school girls with a sister group in Mali, Africa, wrote and published a book based on their work supporting the sending of Malian girls to school. The book, Girls Gone Activist! How to Change the World Through Education, is a guidebook in French and English on effective organizing and working as change agents for social justice.
Clara Hamilton was ahead of her time, with her plan for what is now known as the Oak Hill Historic District in Hagerstown, MD. Four Washington County Technical High School students, Hanna Leizear, Heaven Burkhammer, Christine Johnson and Kenise Lewis , turned Clara’s idea into the documentary, “Hamilton Plants a Seed: The Garden City Movement of Hagerstown.” Their collaborative work won first place for high school documentary – group in the Washington County competition for Maryland History Day and was sent to the Maryland State Women’s History Project.
Submitted by: Rebecca Rush, with the Land and Cultural Preservation Fund
Dr. Beryl E. W. Williams, a Baltimorean, retired in 1981 as Dean of Continuing Education and Community outreach at Morgan State University after thirty-three/years of service and having taught in Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Maryland. As a volunteer, she was affiliated with the YWCA for over fifty-nine years and involved with the Baltimore Sister City Program with Gbarnga.
Dr. Williams is a very quiet, task oriented individual who is involved because, I believe, she views it as a natural part of living. She does not seek public attention for her work. She is a mentor for many of us.
Submitted by: Lisa B. Williams, Past President African American Women’s Caucus
My name is Sandra Pearsall from Baltimore City. I have a true success story of my own.
I am a 39 year old black female born and raised in Baltimore City. I come from a broken home with a long list of family problems. I attended public schools. My family and I lived from house to house and many times the houses was not even fit for living. There were times we did not have heat or electricity. I knew as a child this was not the way I wanted to continue to live. I had a dream and never gave up on it.
I faced even more obstacles as a teenager. I was living on my own from age 17. Even though I was an above average student I did not graduate high school.
I did not let that stop me. I had nothing. No money, no job, and no direction to go.
I decided that I need to make some major changes. I found a little fast food job where I worked hard from sun up to sun down. I was making $3.95 per hour, just a little above minimum wage. I knew even at that time I was at a dead end job. I continued to work hard for over the next 10 years.
In the year 2002, I really decided I wanted more out of life than working hard just to have no money at the end of the week. I started my research on real estate investing. Shortly after I was able to purchase 14 houses. I built my dream home in 2006.
Just on a part-time base I was able to increase my income more than any raise I would get from my job. My properties now bring in a yearly salary of over $110,000 per year. My rental income exceeds my total debt. I was able to quit my job at the age of 34. In 2006, I was awarded National Real Estate Investor of the year by George Ross, Donald Trump Mentor.
Real Estate has changed my life. I still remember the night waking up about 3 am, looking up at the ceiling saying to myself I have to do something to improve my life. I was tired of working so hard. I was tired of my employers telling me what I’m worth. I was tired of not spending time with the family. I was just tired of being tired. I do strongly believe that when you reach a certain point of being sick and tired. That’s when you will take action.
Investing a few hours a week in my spare time I was able to gain financial freedom.
What I have learned I want to pass along to motivated people just like myself. In order to be successful we first have to change our ways of thinking. If you live in a negative environment it’s not hard to develop a negative attitude. The downfall is a negative attitude leads to negative results. No matter how bad things may seem to be, keep a positive attitude to have a positive result in the end. I tell everyone If I can do it anyone can and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. To even personalize my story I was raped at 16 and it landed me pregnant. A few months later I had a miscarriage. It was like I was destine to fail. Faith and Belief kept me going. God has been good to me.
Even if it’s not real estate, focus on your future. It’s never too late.
Submitted by: Sandra Pearsall
For more than 42-years, Mrs. Draper has been the impetus of the broadcasting and print industry.
Award winning journalist and Baltimore native, Mrs. Draper began her career as a student correspondent at the Baltimore News American in which she was the only woman to work in all male environment.
Mrs. Draper spent 10 years as a local editor and reporter for the Baltimore Sun. She subsequently worked as an assignment manager and local show host at WJZ-TV, director of public affairs for the governor’s office and director of community affairs for the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
She joined WBAL-TV in 1991 as the public affairs manager and was promoted to public affairs director in 1992. In 1999, she was promoted to executive-in-charge of production.
She has rendered countless hours of support to thousands of aspiring journalists, public relations representatives, and business associates. She never says no and is always willing to help a person in need get to their next level of success.
Mrs. Draper helped me when no other person would. I worked for the National Aquarium in Baltimore for over 15 years and decided to pursue my dream of working as broadcaster. After I enrolled at the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland, my assignment was to interview someone at a television station. I chose Wanda Draper at WBAL-TV. She agreed and afterwards, I filled out an application into the Internship Program. I was accepted into the Internship Program in the TV News Department. I interned for about two months and was hired as an Assignment Editor and later promoted to Programming & Public Affairs under Wanda Draper’s leadership. I appreciate everything that she has done for me and everyone in the industry.
Submitted by: Justina Pollard
Many of us are indebted to the women who came to work in Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression. They went on to be wives of World War II soldiers and mothers of the Baby Boomers. My mother-in-law, Eleanor Mae Case Lott, was one of this vital group of pioneer women in the federal work force and first cohort of suburban moms. They are our unsung heroines.
Eleanor Mae Case was born in Lawrenceville, IL on August 10, 1917 to a farmer and his wife, Theodore and Lula Case. She was the youngest of their seven children. Her twin sister died at birth. Her family and neighbors spoke about what a high achiever she was. In 1932, Eleanor was the Illinois State champion in typing, representing Bridgeport Township High School. She was awarded the Governor Horner Trophy, a badge of honor, and a trip to the Chicago World’s Fair. Eleanor averaged straight A’s in elementary and high school, where she graduated at the age of 16 in the Class of 1934. As a sophomore, she led her high school honor roll with a 98% average. She was recipient of the American Legion Auxiliary School Award in Tracy Elementary School as “the girl voted by the student body as standing highest in honesty, cleanliness scholastic standing and loyalty.”
After high school graduation she moved to Washington, D.C. at the invitation of her older sister Cleo, starting as a GS- 1 clerk and rising to a GS- 9 administrative assistant during World War II. After the war, she joined her husband, Joseph Henry Lott, Jr. in war-torn Berlin, Germany, where he was part of the U.S. effort to restore Berlin’s infrastructure, especially food distribution. Eleanor and Joe returned to the U.S. from Berlin in late 1947 and, like many young couples who married in 1939 then were separated by military service, bought homes in the suburbs and started families.
In the early 1950s Washington, D.C. suburbs were more rural than urban. For Marylanders, Silver Spring was a small suburban community. Anything beyond University Boulevard and Colesville Road was country roads and farms. Public transportation was nil. If families had cars, there was only one, which dad took to work in the capital. Private telephones were just coming to families. Long distance calls were exorbitant. Like her peers, Eleanor had to adapt from being an independent, professional working woman to a wife and mother at home 24 hours a day with young children. Adult company during the day was limited to other moms at home and the milkman who delivered milk, eggs and bread twice a week. She was able to visit her family, still on the farm, once a year.
Over the decades, quietly and consistently she became the dependable neighbor, church volunteer, and the rock and anchor for her family. Suddenly widowed in 1981 she devoted her remaining years to nurturing her 3 children, their spouses, and especially her 6 grandchildren. She, like many of her cohort, outlived their husbands bravely and graciously facing the autumn of their years without a life partner for decadesand with all the frailties common to aging. After a tough and tenacious battle with various illnesses, Eleanor passed away on October 21, 2004 at the age of 87. She was buried next to her husband in the Lott Family Section of the United Church of Christ, Troutville, PA.
Submitted by: Juanita Tamayo Lott
Diana M. Bailey of Columbia, Md., has more than 30 years experience as an educator in Howard County and administrator with the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Currently, she works in the Division of Career & College Readiness to provide career development, workforce development, and transitional skills focused on youth in the juvenile justice system, returning to their schools, communities and employment.
An advocate for underrepresented populations in educational programs and the workforce, Diana Bailey has facilitated creative partnerships to better address the needs of employment readiness and re-entry programs.
In addition to her work at MSDE, she has served on the Maryland Commission for Women, as an advisory board member of the Howard County Women’s Giving Circle, and a board member of the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, among others.
She spearheaded the first “Girl Power” STEM Career Expo in Howard County, with assistance by the Howard County Women’s Giving Circle, where she was a member of the board, Maryland Space Business Roundtable, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which has become one of the primary partners of this event.
The STEM Expo continues to help empower girls to believe that science-based careers are within their reach. With women having been underrepresented in STEM and other higher salary careers throughout the years, it is important that girls are encouraged to pursue their interests. Diana believes that “with access people get to fly!”
Taken from an article published in The Maryland Women’s Journals (October/November 2010)
Dorothy Bloom Pollack (1913-1989) was the mainstay of our family and extended family, keeping our connections, traditions, and cultural heritage alive. Her parents came to America in the early 1900’s, escaping anti-Semitism in Russia. Much later, as an adult, Dorothy volunteered to work with Jewish immigrant children.
Her passion for international folk and ballroom dancing was infectious and she was a gifted dance teacher and avid supporter of local musical theater. A role model for always being open to new interests, Dorothy took her first piano and painting lessons when she was in her 70s. As a prolific knitter, she created items not for herself, but for others and shared her many hand-made gifts from the heart.
Dorothy’s unconditional love for her family and friends touched and supported all who were a part of her life. “May her memory be a blessing.”
Submitted by: Linda Pollack Shevitz
Sr. Katherine Nueslein passed October 14, 2010. She was a pioneer Sister of Mercy from Savannah, GA who came to Baltimore in the late 1970s. Her tireless efforts to change S.W. Baltimore City and the lives of the poor, diabled, and addicted had an incredible impact on so many lives. Her work to help the impoverished people of El Salvador took her mission to help the poor to an international level. She was a total inclusionist; never discounting the value of any human being she encountered. She founded St. Peter’s Adult Learning Center for intellectually disabled adults, Southwest Visions; a non profit housing organization in SW Baltimore; co founded The Hezekiah Movement to support people recovering from addiction and had her hands in so many other projects to help the poor. She, indeed, took the reputation of the Sisters of Mercy as “The Walking Nuns” as her personal mission as she worked in Baltimore City. The influence she had on lives ranged from the poorest to the well educated and the wealthy. She was truly a woman of great heart, mission, and change.
Submitted by: Nancy Van Horn
Miss Margaret Bradley Moss served as a dedicated educator in Anne Arundel County for 5 decades. A 1914 graduate of Annapolis High School, she started teaching at Severna Park Elementary School in the same year on a temporary teaching assignment. She continued teaching at Severna Park Elementary for nearly 50 years while simultaneously continuing her own education. She earned credits and certifications from Towson’s Teacher’s College (now Towson University), the University of Virginia, St. John’s College, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. She also became the principal at Severna Park Elementary School. Her students at Severna Park Elementary School remember her as an exceptional teacher and principal. She retired in 1967, at the age of 76. She has truly impacted the lives of many in the Severna Park community.
Submitted by: Jane Seiss
Mary Digges Lee (1745-1805) of Anne Arundel County was the wife of Maryland Federalist Governor Thomas Sim Lee. In 1779 George Washington appealed to Governor Lee for help to provide as many war materials as possible to faltering and destitute troops.
Mrs. Lee rallied Maryland women to give money and materials, including linen and uniform shirts for the troops and to help the war effort in any way possible. It is claimed that her efforts, along with those put forth by other states, raised the troops’ morale and enabled them to continue fighting. Her actions exemplified those of ingenious women during the war.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Shirley Mensch is my grand mom. She raised me and my sister. My grand mom is a strong woman. She has a very good heart. If I had the world, I would give her all of it, plus more! We love her so much I don’t know what I would do without her.
Submitted by: Tamira Jones
Sandra Almond-Cooper of the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council and Board Member of Friends of Druid Hill Park was named one of Baltimore’s Top Moms by Mayor Rawlings-Blake in 2010.
The Top Neighborhood Moms contest, which was founded by then-Council President Rawlings-Blake, the Mayor’s father, honored those dedicated women who have given selflessly to keep Baltimore’s neighborhoods better, safer and stronger. Ms. Almond-Cooper is someone who has given motherly love through her work for her community. She serves as an example of how one should live life and how to be a constructive member of a community.
Submitted by: Harriet Lynn
Nancy Wilson, of Talbot County, coordinated the Eastern Shore’s program for the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Ms. Wilson encouraged the development of social work skills in hundreds of people to improve services to citizens of the Shore, especially the underserved and unserved.
She deserves praise for assisting others in their professional growth. Nancy Wilson’s knowledge and skill as a community organizer have benefited innumerable local organizations.
Submitted by: Joyce M. Price, LCSW
Mary J. Corey, a 23-year veteran editor and writer at The Baltimore Sun, was promoted to the job of senior vice president and director of content, the news organization’s top editorial position. She will be the first woman in the 173-year history of The Sun to lead its newsroom, overseeing all print and digital news operations in a role that was long titled editor when The Sun delivered news only through the newspaper.
A former features editor and national correspondent who joined The Sun in 1987, Ms. Corey was named head of print a year ago and has led The Sun’s newsroom since March of 2010.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Ebonie Copeland is a leader at My Sister’s Place in Baltimore where she makes a big difference in the lives of its clients. She is truly a human spirit, walking in the Light of God’s purpose to help, motivate, inspire, encourage, and lift up homeless, abused women.
No matter how down I am, her workshops always make me feel better the rest of the day.
Ebonie is our unsung heroine because she is a blessing to our lives and to My Sister’s Place. She is a very wonderful, inspirational female.
Submitted by: Monica A. Herdy and Yavonia Myles
Jerdine Nolen is an award-winning children’s author and former elementary school teacher from Howard County, Md. She is the author of numerous picture books, 11 of which are currently in print. Her best-known books include Raising Dragons, illustrated by Elise Primavera, which received the Christopher Award, and Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm, illustrated by Mark Buehner, winner of the Kentucky Bluegrass Award. She and Kadir Nelson collaborated on Thunder Rose, which School Library Journal called “a wonderful tale of joy and love” and Hewitt Anderson’s Great Big Life, which received the Society of Illustrators’ Gold Medal.
Jerdine Nolen has recently released her first novel and latest book, Eliza’s Freedom Road: An Underground Railroad Diary. Geared towards middle-school readers, this historical fiction book written in a diary format tells the story of a 12-year-old slave named Eliza and her journey to freedom.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Catherine Gietka has been an entrepreneur and leader in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood for more than 35 years. Her confectionary store supported the surrounding community and never turned anyone away hungry regardless of their ability to pay.
She has been an active parishioner of Holy Rosary Church where she has been a member of the choir. In an effort to support her church, she has run bus trips for 50 years and has donated all of the proceeds. She has demonstrated her leadership ability while serving as President of the Third Order of St. Francis, the Polish Women’s Alliance of America (St. Ann’s Group 702), and the Mary’s Fund Foundation. She has worked as a judge with the Democratic Club of Maryland.
Ms. Gietka raised 3 children, 5 grandchildren and 7 great grandchildren, and authored her autobiography, Mother of $183 Million Winner.
She is bilingual – speaking both English and Polish. Her extensive travels have been both domestically and in Europe. She had bestowed upon her an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from St. Thomas Moore College.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
The Rev. Carrie M. Hopkins was born on October 23, 1906 to the late Richard and Rosa Stewart in Winton, North Carolina. She was called home on July 20, 1998 while in route to the United Baptist Ministers Evening Conference of Baltimore.
Only formally educated to what is now considered a junior high school level, Rev. Hopkins was a lifelong learner. Because education was important to her, she attended night school while in her forties and enjoyed reading out loud her whole life.
Baltimore became her home after traveling here to care for a sick relative. She fell in love and married the late Linzie Hopkins and one child, Agnes, was born of this union.
Her love for the Lord spanned 86 years. As a child, she would pretend to hold church services, a game that became a reality in adulthood. Overcoming ostracism, criticism, scorn and deceit, in the late 1950s, Carrie M. Hopkins became the first African-American female to be ordained as a minister by the Baptist Convention of Baltimore. “If you live a clean and Christian life and if the Lord has your life, He uses you for certain things.”
This is my grandmother. This woman was a rock. She helped so many people and didn’t have much herself.
Submitted by: Thomas B. Smith, Grandson
The Spirited Women of Baltimore awards named Sheela Murthy the Spirited Woman of 2010, celebrating an accomplished, spirited woman who acts as an example, leader and mentor in her community and profession. Sheela Murthy grew up in poverty in India, and studied law against her parent’s wishes. She moved to the United States in the 1980s and graduated from Harvard Law School. After practicing with major law firms in New York and Baltimore, she founded Murthy Law Firm, one of the world’s premier U.S. immigration law firms. (A liaison office is located in Chennai, India.) She is also sought after as a motivational speaker for her passion and unique perspectives on life as an immigrant, minority woman, and business leader.
Murthy believes in giving back to the community. She has been involved with a number of organizations, including the American Immigration Council, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, Jhpiego, and Stevenson University, and is active at the leadership level of the United Way of Central Maryland and United Way International. She and her husband have also started their own nonprofit organization, the MurthyNayak Foundation, to give to a range of projects in India and the United States.
She has received many awards and honors from the Baltimore Business Journal, The Daily Record, SmartCEO magazine, and other organizations, and was the recipient of the prestigious “Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009” award. She was also named the “2009 Philanthropist of the Year” by United Way Central Maryland.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Laura Neuman Volkman of Annapolis was named the 2010 Spirited Woman in Balance at the annual Spirited Women of Baltimore awards. At the age of 18, when she had just moved out of her parent’s home in Baltimore, she was tragically raped by an intruder who entered her apartment. Her case remained unsolved for almost 20 years, but because of her determination and continuous follow-up with police, her perpetrator was finally arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 15 years in jail. Since then, she has become an advocate for the rights of rape victims, and launched her own foundation to help get others to come forward and push their local police departments to have “cold cases” reopened. She also fought for the DNA Database Legislation for Maryland, which was enacted in 2008.
Professionally, she started her career as a customer service at T. Rowe Price, then went on to lead sales teams at technology companies, such as Digex, and, ultimately, became the CEO of Matrics, one of the most successful venture-backed companies in the mid-Atlantic region (which was acquired by Symbol Technologies). She served for many years on the board of Baltimore’s NAF High School and is currently on the board of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. She continues to speak about business throughout Maryland.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Amy Kleine of Baltimore was named the 2010 Spirited Women Rising, recognizing an up and coming, young woman, at the annual Spirited Women of Baltimore awards. As a program director at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, she oversees grants made by the foundation focused on homelessness, food security, economic assistance and access to primary healthcare. Dedicated to improving the quality of life of others in need, she has lived and worked in several countries, including Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru, Haiti, Morocco, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco for three years as a community health volunteer.
She is involved with the Baltimore Rowing Club and has helped to organize the annual Row Day for the community. Additionally, she has volunteered at My Sister’s Place, a day shelter for homeless women and their children in Baltimore. She also is involved with the initiative in Baltimore to increase access to healthy foods by working to allow food stamps to be used at farmers’ markets.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Christine Becker, Nancy Cash, Eve Georgiou, Thea Miles and Elizabeth Spargar – hairstylists at Ruffles of London Salon in the Glenmont Shopping Center in Wheaton, Maryland – had the courage and compassion to act on behalf of a client and for the good of society. In 2010, these women stepped in to save their elderly customer from losing her home and savings to an unscrupulous conman.
This rescue was possible because the Ruffles stylists really listened to their customer’s conversation during her weekly hair appointments. When the customer “confessed” that she and her husband had gotten lost trying to get home in their car one night and been helped by “a very nice young man,” Christine, her main stylist, was cheered by the possibility of the kindness of a stranger to her customer.
But over the next several months the stylists, while wanting to respect their customer’s autonomy, monitored events and pieced together a picture of what was happening. After the woman’s husband went to a nursing home, the man assumed increasing control of the woman’s life and the Ruffles stylists realized that they were their customer’s last line of defense – she had no family and the man was isolating her from friends. When the customer revealed she had given this man power of attorney and that he wanted to be placed on the deed to her house, the stylists collectively agreed that they had to intervene. They called County authorities, setting in motion a chain of events that led to the man’s arrest. A court-appointed lawyer estimated that the man had taken about $180,000. Only the intervention of the stylists stopped him from getting away with more.
These Unsung Heroines not only helped their customer, they stopped a conman from preying on the elderly and sparked a news story calling attention to an increasing problem in the County and the nation as the population ages.
Submitted by: Jill Brantley, Montgomery County NOW
The Unsung Heroine I’d like to mention is Ms. Carmen Johnson. A native of Prince George’s County, Ms. Johnson is a self made millionaire who chooses to give back to her community through her 501c-3 organization The Katie Able Foundation. We teach financial literacy to grades K-20 knowing that we’re making a difference and creating a better America.
Submitted by: Ronda Brunson
Patricia E. (Pat) Cornish, a longtime resident of Potomac, Maryland, now residing in St. Michael’s, Maryland, is one of these Unsung Heroines. While well-known among Business and Professional Women (BPW) members in Maryland, as well as nationwide, and known in other spheres for her many contributions, she remains “unsung” in most of our state.
Pat Cornish began her career as a as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill with the House of Representatives. After more than 30 years employed by major accounting firms, she began her own business, PEC Financial Consulting, in 2004. As founder, president and CEO of PEC Financial Consulting, she offers accounting and tax services, software installation and training, and consulting services. Her clients include personal service companies, doctors, dentists, law firms, nonprofit organizations, and retail stores.
Her interest in women’s issues and legislation led her to become involved in Business and Professional Women (BPW), an organization that works to empower women to achieve their full potential and partners with employers to build successful workplaces. She became involved locally with BPW before being elected national president of Business and Professional Women USA in 2000 – 2001.
Under her leadership, she developed a strategy to reposition corporate assets, created an investment policy, and initiated partnerships with Wyndham Hotels, Edward Jones and SBC Communications, resulting in a successful Social Security Summit that took place in Washington, D.C.
Pat also organized WOMENomics, a nationwide grassroots program designed to bring together local businesses, government, educational institutions, and civic organizations, to identify, act on, and resolve the everyday issues that challenge working women.
She was elected chair of the BPW Foundation Board of Trustees after a governance restructure, serving from 2003 – 2005. She spearheaded a major national survey and report titled “Workingwomen Speak Out.” The survey provided clear information on the interests and needs of working American women from various income levels and demographics. Questions dealt with workplace, security and quality of life concerns. Results were analyzed by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) and found that domestic issues were far more important to working women, providing clear information on the interests and needs of working women for both employers and policy makers.
Pat Cornish served for six years as a Commissioner with the Montgomery County Commission for Women. She was vice president, president for a two-year term, chair of the Women’s Legislative Briefing, and chair of the Status of Women in Montgomery County Committee producing the “2007 Status of Women Report,” which provided a compilation of objective data about the status of Montgomery County women.
Pat represented the National Association of Commissions for Women (NACW) on the board of the National Committee on Pay Equity and was appointed as a Commissioner to the Maryland Commission for Women, where she is currently vice president, legislation chair, and co-chair of the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame Selection Committee in 2010 in 2011. In addition, she serves on the board of the Fairfax Education Foundation is a member of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.
Pat Cornish is a mentor and inspiring role model for innumerable women — in Maryland and throughout the country.
Submitted by: Jill Moss Greenberg
Walesia is a sixteen year-old senior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, MD, where she has been a student in the QUEST program since 9th grade.
One of her favorite activities at school has included the Girl’s Rugby team where she played wing position. Walesia is Treasurer of the Junior Civitan club that focuses on environmental conservation and recycling, as well as a member of the National Honor Society. Every month, she spends weekends volunteering at the National Food Bank and and SHARE Food Network.
Outside of her school life, Walesia is very active in the community. She has been a public speaker since age 5, and has shared the stage with many luminaries in the entertainment, political, civic, academic, and professional arenas. She was awarded the Maryland’s Women of Tomorrow 1st Place Winner in 2006 and received a Governor’s Citation Certificate. She was recently Walesia Lynn Robinson-Cates was recently selected the winner of WomenTalk Live’s 2011 Girls Gone Great Scholarship Essay Contest. (Read her winning essay here.)
In addition, Walesia was honored to introduce three women inductees into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, including Billie Holiday, State Delegate Pauline Menes and Prasanna Nair, M.D.
She lives with her mother and two younger brothers, ages 14 and 12. They enjoy spending time together outside in their award-winning flower garden, bicycling around the neighborhood pond, and going to the movies with friends.
Walesia will be a freshman at the University of Maryland at College Park in the fall and is quite excited about it. Staying close to home, she looks forward to continuing her volunteer work for the Department of Human Resources: Maryland Commission for Women and the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Motivational speaker, vocalist and percussionist Gaynell Colburn has been playing the drums since age three. She has used her love of music to help disadvantaged youth through the work of her Telsie B. Howard Foundation, a tribute to her late grandmother. As part of the foundation’s work, Gaynell gives hundreds of performances a year in schools, churches, and hospitals, blending her considerable musical talents with hard-hitting motivational talks that empower youth as well as adults with the belief that they can rise above adversity to achieve excellence.
Gaynell’s love for music was evident at a very early age. She began playing percussion at the age of three, on homemade drums made from canister cans that her mother made for her. By the time she was 12, she was playing percussion professionally.
At age 16, Colburn was in an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver, which left her paralyzed from the waist down. But despite the challenges and obstacles that stood in Gaynell’s path, she went on to graduate from college and later earned a Ph.D. and an M.D. certification in Health Science and Pediatric Wellness. Colburn has worked with Stevie Wonder as a percussionist on the video My Eyes Don’t Cry, and performed the music for The Cosby Show Theme, The Cosby Show and The Cosby Album.
In 1984, Colburn was named Miss Wheelchair America and in 1998, she was received the Essence magazine award for her outstanding service to the community.
Submitted by: Maryland Women’s Heritage Center
Dr. Rothman is the founder of a pharmaceutical research firm that helped cure her daughter. In her honor, two new research buildings have been erected on Cameron Street in Silver Spring, MD.
Submitted by: Anonymous
Sharon Keiger works at the Samaritan Community. She helps families that are in need and are in crises. She was a woman who helped me get back on my feet after having a brain tumor removed. She gave me employment at Memorial Episcopal Church. She does a lot of work for the community and is so devoted to her job that she spends more time at work then at home.
Submitted by: Anonymous
Marie Bandiere is an inspiration and mentor to other women and was a trailblazer for professional women. In 1966, Ms. Bandiere was appointed the first woman Assistant Secretary of the Commercial Credit Company. Ms. Bandiere began her career with a subsidiary of the Commercial Credit Company in 1944.
This appointment as the first woman officer of the company was heavily publicized at the time, because as the modest Ms. Bandiere pointed out it was unusual for a woman to be in that position. “I am particularly pleased to be able to make this announcement, since Ms. Bandiere is the first woman to become an officer of Commercial Credit Co. We have hundreds of women in our employ, and without their loyal, conscientious and effective help, our company never would have reached its present stature,” said the then Chairman of the Board, Berthold Muecke, Jr.
The greatest challenge Ms. Bandiere experienced was having to be “thick-skinned when it was in my nature to be sensitive.” “The company thought I had more ability than I had confidence,” she said.
In retirement, Ms. Bandiere has volunteered countless hours for various organizations and agencies. Her favorite part of volunteering is “the people. I like to be around people and they become sort of like family.” Ms. Bandiere is truly a pioneer for career women everywhere.
Submitted by: Linda Shevitz
Vickie Marie Oliver-Lawson is a retired public school administrator, wife and mother of two. This Baltimore native is an alumnus of Morgan State University and Loyola College. She is listed among Who’s Who in the East and Who’s Who Among Business and Professional Women. Vickie was recently inducted into the Baltimore chapter of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women Clubs, Inc.
Over the years, Vickie has collaborated with other poets and been featured on various radio programs via the Internet including The Arts Have It, Thru the Cracks of Time and Vocalized Ink. Vickie’s poetry has also been featured several times on Baltimore’s WOLB, WCAO’s Instruments of Praise and Morgan State University’s WEAA radio programs.
Her first professionally published collection of poetry is entitled Vocal Moments, which was given favorable reviews by both Rawsistaz and Marguerite Press. Her second self-published collection of poetry is Timeless Influences, released in 2009. She writes children’s books and has self-published two titles: In the Quilting Tradition (2005) and Assata and the Secret of the Cowrie (2008).
Her work has been featured in several other publications, including Harford County’s Manorborn and a magazine produced in Poughkeepsie, NY called Get Wit’ It. Vickie also performed in two choreopoems at the Harlem Theater in NY entitled The Strength of Sisterly Love (2002) and Womenwording: Dueling Tongues (2004). She has performed her works in NC, MD, PA, NY and Washington, DC.
While her name is and was familiar to prominent political figures like Vice President Al Gore, Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, Congressman Steny Hoyer, C. Thomas McMillen, Governor Gerald Baliles, the late Geraldine Ferraro, the late Ambassador Pamela Harrison and numerous other local, state and national elected officials and candidates for her role in political fundraising, Arlene Berlin has never sought public recognition for her efforts and has been content to remain in the background. The only woman member of the Democratic National Committees Finance Board of Directors in the early 80s, she worked to bring donors into the Finance, Business and Small Business Councils of the party and was appointed Finance Vice Chair in 1983, which may have been an historical first.
To bring women into the fundraising process, she founded the Women’s Council (a $1000 donor council, now the Leadership Council) the first national fundraising effort targeted to major women donors throughout the country and opened the door to get women involved in the fundraising process. Other efforts such as Emily’s List were to follow but the Women’s Council remained the only $1000 contributor council for several years.
Ms. Berlin was a partner in Communique, a DC political affairs firm based in Washington, DC and also the owner of the Watermark Gallery in Annapolis. She also served as Public Information Officer of the Capital Area Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and played an instrumental role in taking the association national. One of the first women members of the National Press Club, she served as Editor of the Georgetown Crier and wrote feature articles for various publications.
Locally in the Annapolis area, Ms. Berlin was a founder and President of the Eastport Business Association and handled public relations efforts that launched the Eastport Yacht Club Lights Parade to a statewide award winning event. A contributing writer to Inside Annapolis Magazine for over six years, she also started the feature page for Spin Sheet. Continuing to assist women to serve in public office, she served as Chair of the Friends of Ellen Moyer and handled the fundraising aspects of Mayor Moyer’s first campaign.
While past the age for retirement, Arlene is currently serving as Director of Boards and Commissions for Anne Arundel County. She is a first to promote and ensure that women have a say and can make a difference. Arlene certainly knows how to provide a place for Women in leadership roles. I am honored to nominate her as an Unsung Heroine!
Submitted by: Theodora Schulman
JUST A FEW WORDS FOR MOMMA
By Stanley W. Rigby
I began this eulogy for my mother, Mrs. Mildred Rigby, on March 3, 2004, during the afternoon following the evening of her death. After a brief hospital stay we (my brothers Rodney, Brian and myself) had brought her home on Friday evening, relieved that she was back in our care. I was so hurt and angry that she was gone, and that no matter how I felt she couldn’t stay.
Some time around noon on Monday the 1st of March one of the doctors had told my sister, Cynthia, that he doesn’t make house calls. Her regular internist was away attending a funeral. He had left a young associate as his on call person. I had just given my sister the blues, insistent that I talk to this person. So when Momma was admitted to the Promised Land the next day, I felt that the doctor should be severely beaten, or subjected to harsh physical punishment for not making a more concerted effort to save her life. I wanted to ruin his career. There was probably very little he could have done, but I still felt he should have come. Hopefully maturity in the profession will give him a different outlook.
Momma had lived a long life in the care of her husband, and her children, and I thought it could continue on for just a little longer. Her ability to care for herself had long ago diminished. The song in her heart and the gleam in her eyes didn’t lie. She always knew she was with those who loved her most.
The first evening without her physical presence in the house left me with an odd and unfamiliar feeling. It also seemed that the dwelling itself was unsure of what to do without her. The temperature in the house wouldn’t stay comfortable. The humidity was gone. There was the smell of a vacant empty building. Without Momma’s spirit it’s not really the same home. I wanted to offer this at her home going celebration. I simply didn’t have the emotional stability to do it.
However, if I had, this is what I would have said:
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I give all honor, praise and glory to my God and to our God, Jehovah, the almighty living God, for extending to me His grace and His mercy.
I am fifty-six years old and truly a blessed man at this time. My mother is nearly eighty-three and a half years old, and only last night went to sleep in death, to join her husband, who was my father. I know his spirit waited for her in death as he had in life, and together they joined their ancestors in eternity. She had been here all of those years as my counselor, confidante, friend and treasurer. She was my guide and my spiritual compass. She directed me to the things that she thought mattered most, and tried to steer me away from hurt, harm and danger. Oh, I strayed at times, haven’t we all? But, my mother set my feet on a path that always pointed to goodness, kindness, humility, caring and compassion. At the same time she also suggested how to get along with people who didn’t have my interest at heart.
From my earliest days she would take me and my three brothers and sister behind her to Sunday School and to church. She let me know that I always had a friend in Jesus. I learned that no matter what the situation was that I was facing, I should never be too proud to look to God, humble myself and to seek His face. That I should confess any wrongs, ask for forgiveness and let it go. To look to a new beginning away from what had occurred. “He is faithful to forgive you,” she said.
My mother was born October 4, 1920. Her father died when she was seven years old. When she was nine she lost her mother, that person who always says, “Well, go on any how” or “Don’t worry, it will work out.” During her youth few Black women were able to attend school or college, and of those who did, many aspired to become teachers. Momma wanted to go to business school. She wanted to become a secretary. I heard her speak of missed opportunities and the lack of money. With the strength she found in her love of the church, her opportunity came. She proudly served as secretary of the Pastor’s Aid, and the Senior Choir #2 for many years. I suppose that’s why it became a part of her drill to her children, “Anything you want to do or be, you can” and “Don’t let other people discourage you.”
Momma was from the old school of womanhood. Intellectual pursuits were good for some people, but in her book that didn’t measure up to rearing one’s children with tender love and care. Her kitchen plaques tell it all, “My house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy” and “Kissin’ wears out, cookin don’t.” On the wall over the stove was a small spatula shaped, white cutting board imprinted with My Kitchen Prayer.
Bless this little kitchen, Lord…
May the meals I prepare be seasoned from above…
Bless those who enter in.
May they find but joy and peace and happiness there in.
She cooked everyday, each meal flavored with extra love and understanding. Her rolls, biscuits and sweet potato pies are legendary. She kept a spotless house. She washed tons of clothes and hung them in the sun to dry. She ironed everything from shirts to pillowcases, while listening to the old radio programs and gospel shows. Plus from time to time she magically turned a hard head into a soft behind.
One time when money was tight, she worked at the Fish Laundry on Pennsylvania Avenue. There were days, from time to time in the midst of girl talk, Momma said, when folks had told her, “Why don’t you go here or there. If I were you, I would do this or that.” She said her response was that she would not risk doing anything to cause her children to have to hang their heads in shame. Momma spent many a year mending snags, holes and tears in our “blue jeans”, and then when I was in high school, she graduated Carver High School with her second high school diploma, this time in Dressmaking. I
remember, in my last year of high school she instituted “every man for himself” Saturday evening dinner.
Momma set the greatest example a mother could set for her children. She has, in my life, been a standard by which I have judged other mothers. I have also measured what I like in women by what I saw in my mother. My mother, Miss Mildred (nmn) King, married my father on October 4, 1938, and the union lasted until his death on May 17, 2002. That was sixty-three and a half years. Those ol’ timers had God, a special kind of glue and each other. She was the woman mentioned in Proverbs Chapter 31 of the Holy Bible. Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. Proverbs also tells us that a man who finds a wife finds a good thing. Daddy hit the jackpot. I say without fear of contradiction, she lived one life. She had her husband and her children. There’s a special award for women who do that. It’s called God’s Medal of Honor. I won’t elevate my mother in death beyond what she was in life, but “A woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.”
In the late afternoon of her life Momma said, “One mother can take care of five children. How come five children can’t take care of one mother?” A smile and a great deal of pride prove she was wrong. It makes my heart feel glad that love and concern sometimes caused us, her children, to feel anger with one another over what was best for her care.
I thank God I was with her, in her very presence, flesh to flesh, in sound mind and body, when her spirit left to take it’s seat on the Ship of Zion. My ear to her breast I heard the last beats of her heart.
Everyone should die accompanied by someone they love, and who loves them.
I’m glad her choir robe is beside her. I know she’ll need it when she gets there. I will always remember Momma happily singing with the choir in her church. I cannot recall a period of time from my youngest days absent of Momma praying, attending church, or singing her favorite gospel songs and hymns. I know she now has her Golden Diadem, and she’s singing with the Heavenly Chorus.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A the funeral service, I said to her, into the open air, as she lay still and at rest, her skin shining and covered in pink and pearls, that I would strive to continue to be what she had hoped I would be and what I wanted to be… as close to what we together had sought for my life. I recognize that her spirit had long since crossed the Jordan River, and had entered into God’s Book of Life, and that it wasn’t really “Momma” I was talking to. But until that vessel that I know as Mildred K. Rigby was gone from my sight I could say anything to her I desired.
At the cemetery I looked down into the emptiness waiting for her beneath the lowering device. I could see the concrete lid of the vault holding my father’s remains. The sun had decided not to shine. The air was chilly. There was no breeze. Dampness hung in the air. The ground was wet and soggy, from the road to the gravesite itself. Such a sorrowful moment. Did the earth know she was coming? … I felt, “You’re together now forever. Your jobs have been well done. May you now, Rest in Peace.”
As we drove along the road leaving the cemetery, I looked over and saw her beautiful white casket…painted in lovely pink roses and lush green foliage, lowering into the ground. It was such an immediate understanding of why it never takes place in the presence of the family. I felt such a final conclusion to her physical presence in my life. It has now opened a door and lifted her spirit to a more lofty existence in me.
On March 24, 2004 I watched the presentation, by President George Bush, of the Congressional Gold Medal to Ms. Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women. It was a spectacular accordance with an abundance of astounding accolades addressed to Ms. Height. But there are so many Black females… mothers, sisters and daughters who have never reached the political notoriety of that level. Many of them stood in the background and simply supported husbands and children. They shaped the family, the rock of our community. And I thought, “But, who will celebrate them?” And then one of the many women who have been mentored by Ms. Height said, “African-American women seldom do what they want to do, but they always do what they have to do.” In that statement I was pleased that she had mentioned Momma. I could still love her, but now I could let her go. You see, Momma was an African-American woman who had done all of those necessary chores, and had also accomplished those things that pleased her heart.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So today and forever she will be in my memory and in the midst of my heart and soul.
She is now at peace and so am I…I am at peace with her soul and her spirit.
Submitted by: Stanley W. Rigby
Eliza Ann Benson (1836-1921) was born near St. Michaels, Maryland, not far from Harriet Tubman’s birthplace, yet Eliza’s valuable life took a very different path. “Free To Stay” by Nan Hayden Agle (granddaughter of Eliza’s slave owner), chronicles the many choices Eliza made when faced with adversity. Ultimately, she became “supermom” to the four minor orphaned children of her former owner. She challenged the Baltimore City Orphans Court to allow her custody and reared each to become educated professionals in their field of interest. Through her love, fortitude and dedication, she not only kept the family together but was the foundation for a lineage that continues to create artists, writers, professors, photographers and more. Eliza’s portrait hangs in the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland History and Culture and would be, I believe, a deserving candidate for recognition by your organization. Further, I believe the book, “Free To Stay” would be a great offering for your online store as well as on site. (I became a publisher to help keep Eliza’s story alive as the previous publisher, Zondervan, was no longer publishing inspirational books. A screenplay is in progress to give her story even a broader and diversified audience.)
Submitted by: Elaine Patterson
Polly J. Hanst is from Garrett County. All her life, she was active in 4-H programs where she assumed a leadership role as an adult. Polly was known for her rugged athleticism, riding on horseback or walking to many Home Extension 4-H Club and Farm Women’s Club meetings in the winter. Hanst was recognized by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of Garrett County for her work on women’s issues.
An accomplished wife, mother, and grandmother who has served as president of the PTA, AAUW, & Lutheran Church Women, and an active resource person who is willing to volunteer anywhere she can contribute to the interests of women, Polly J. Hanst is truly a very special lady!
Submitted by: Phyllis Trickett
Mildred Morris, my grandmother, is much on my mind even though she has been gone for many, many years. One of her favorite expressions was “Life is like a bowl of cherries, but watch out for the pits!”. She was a strong woman who influenced many. Once her mind was made up, it was singularly on track to complete the task. It was, to me, one of her most endearing and enduring characteristics.
My Grandmother was a heroine in my eyes. She may never have done anything to make the headlines, but she was a devoted and selfless woman who raised her family with love and encouragement. The basic values she passed on to all of us will never go out of style.
Submitted by: Margaret C. Collier
Mary Ruff Brush, owned and managed North Baltimore’s Broadview Apartments for sixty years at a time when it was very rare for women to do such things. Her father, stone mason John K. Ruff, had built the apartment house. Together, in 1950, they opened the 465-unit Broadview Apartments on 39th Street. It was the largest apartment house in Baltimore at the time. A few years after it was build, Mary moved into the twelfth floor and resided there until her death.
Submitted by: Harriet Lynn
Marietta Scully is my friend, neighbor and inspiration. She has supported me through difficult times as I care for my mother in my home and eventful times as I work in the field of cable TV, hosting “It’s A Woman’s World”.
Marietta Took care of her own ill husband for many years and has always kept my spirits up as we waited together for my mom to return from dialysis. She has suggested names of achieving women for me to interview, collected articles of possible interviewees, and has been a loyal viewer of my show. She has been my confidant, consultant, and idea person. I have always admired her and respected her strength, stability, independence, and forthrightness; and oh yes, that sharp memory, especially for names. I want nothing more than to have her as my inspiration and mentor.
Submitted by: Carolyn Bruna
Of the many elderly women I know, I most enjoy the delightful company of Margery Stulman. Margy participates in the same writing class I am in at the Myerberg Senior Center. Her writing and thoughts show wisdom of years, yet always exhibit a positive and cheerful attitude. She also participates in water color art classes.
A remarkable, independent person, Margery has a sweet disposition and shows friendliness, charm and magnetism. Though petite, she presents a giant personality. It is an opportunity and a great pleasure to be in her company.
Submitted by: Blanche Cohen Sachs (to The Beacon)
Jessica Cottrell was the 2008 winner of Woman Talk Live’s Girls Gone Great Scholarship Essay Contest. She was seventeen at the time, a senior at Patapsco High School and Center for Performing Arts in Dundalk, Baltimore County.
Ms. Cottrell enjoys art, shotography, history, and reading. She likes spending time with her family, friends, and animals and takes photos of everything. She is a volunteer and a babysitter
Jessica is “happy to be thought of as a girl who might influence other girls to be a Girl Gone Great”
Unsung Heroine Submission
If you would like to share the story of an unsung heroine in your life, please fill out the form below, accompanied by a photo, if available. We will be happy to preserve and transmit your story through the Heritage Center.
*Please note, it may take up to three weeks for your Unsung Heroine to be included online and/or at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center, so please be patient. The Maryland Women’s Heritage Center’s Unsung Heroine Committee reserves the right to edit content of all submissions to conform with space parameters.