This month, our community celebrated the 20th Athena Award presentation. The event that Girl’s Inc. and our Chamber began two decades ago was started in an effort to bring recognition to women’s contributions in our community and inspire the upcoming generations to get involved and make a difference.
Each year, there seems to be a different lesson offered. This year, Tish Correa-Osborne of Girl’s Inc. delivered two poignant messages.
She reminded the audience that the spirit of the Athena Award goes beyond the women who are making headlines, who are running for office, who are leaders in medicine, business and other professions. Celebrating those women and their success is critical to our future. But celebrating the tens of thousands of women who power our region, who are working behind the scenes to drive our economy, to serve the voiceless, the sick, the vulnerable, is equally important. These unsung heroes in our midst are making a difference each day. And they do so without fanfare, without trophies and without large compensation packages.
Just a snapshot of our community tells the story of local women in the workforce. Owensboro Health employees more than 4,000 individuals, and 81.66 percent of those employees are female. The same trend extends to our school systems, where around 79 percent of the 1,000-plus teachers are women.
Additionally, more than 95 percent of staff and leaders in our nonprofits are women.
This doesn’t include the women in our financial sectors, small businesses, agriculture, our food service industry, clothing, aesthetics, manufacturing and trades and the other medical health-related fields.
The other point that Correa-Osborne made in her remarks was a reminder that we all need to thank the women who have influenced us and touched our lives. As I sat at the table and looked across the room, there were many I could have thanked that day. Actually, there were too many to thank in the midst of the record-breaking crowd. But when I reflected later, I realized that Tish’s first reminder really became the second reminder. There are women throughout my life who have made a lasting impact without fanfare and, many times, without appreciation — teachers, cafeteria workers, school secretaries, the Ursuline Sisters, my aunts, my grandmothers and, most importantly, my mom.
At 18, my mom turned down a full scholarship as a first-generation college student in order to marry her high school sweetheart and live on a Marine Corps base until he returned from his third tour in Vietnam. She started back to college with two young children and went to school full time while making the Dean’s List each time (something my dad, who never attended college, was very proud of). She managed to cook dinner for us every night. If for some reason she couldn’t cook, her mom would cook for us.
After she graduated, she taught elementary school for more than 30 years. Through those years, she woke up by 5 every morning, worked all day, made dinner every night and then continued to work until bedtime on school work. And the next day, she started again.
In the summer, we raised vegetables to can and freeze and tobacco to supplement college tuition. She never stopped.
When Dad become ill at 55, mom did not take sick time until he received a terminal diagnosis. She did not want to leave her second-graders until she absolutely had to.
I never heard her complain or pity our circumstances. She powered through and did it with strength “because that is just what we do.”
And now that she is retired from teaching, she is doing something for others several times a day either through community volunteering or taking care of her children – mostly me – or her grandchildren.
Owensboro is full of women who have worked just as hard and as long as my mom, never expecting recognition.
To mom and to the women in Owensboro who put others first every day …
By Candance Castlen Brake Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO