A note to my friend

Last year the class of 1988 turned 50. I have to say, I still haven’t processed that one all the way. I have had a long history of referring to adults a generation before me as grownups. And I suppose that turning 50 means that I am one. And that means so are my classmates.

This week, one of my classmates, Sara Hemingway, was honored with one of the most prestigious awards in our community, the Girls Inc. Athena Award. Sara is more than a classmate. She has been my friend since I was 5. We first met in Mrs. Kulka’s first-grade class at Blessed Mother School.

Our lives have been woven together through the years. From walking up together at our First Communion as second graders, carpooling every morning to Owensboro Catholic High School until we got our licenses, being next to one another in line at our high school graduation, it seemed like we always ended up together. Her dad took us to see John Prine and the Everly Brothers and always had the latest and coolest albums that we would sneak and listen to after school before he was home from work. Her mom has been a mainstay in our lives, always pushing us and reminding us of the importance of our faith and of putting others first.

Years later, our oldest children graduated high school together.

There were shenanigans. Mostly instigated by me. And mostly out of the ear shot of principals. Sara was a much better student, with a much better attendance record. Hers was perfect. Mine was record-breaking (in missed days).

After high school, I was thrilled when Sara went to Brescia while she was transferring to Indiana University. The other of our threesome, Stephanie, was there on a semester layover. The band was back together for a while. There were shenanigans. Again, mostly instigated by me.

Sara has always been our rock. She planned the Bachelorette Party of the century for me; and then drove our crew home after hers.

Through family tragedies and joyous moments, when the chips are down, she will move mountains to be there. No matter what.

With all of our history, I have also been blessed to have a professional relationship with Sara. Her work through the Marilyn and William Young Foundation has made a deep and positive impact in so many areas of our community. She has the ability to see issues from a big-picture perspective and synthesize organizations and their needs to create solutions. She is a champion for nonprofits and the arts. She truly embodies the best of philanthropy professionals. She never seeks credit; she seeks results.

Beyond the workplace, she is a courageous advocate for vulnerable people. As a teen she volunteered tirelessly with children, seniors, home-bound or homeless. As time passed, she grew into a mother who continued to serve and who taught her children to serve as well.

As a fellow OPS mom, I watched her open her home to young people who needed a meal, a safe place to sleep or help with college forms and essays. She continues to open her heart to people, often to those who have no one to help them.

As we enter this next stage of life, we have been fortunate to find a group of women who are just a tad bit more seasoned than we. They continue to teach us that lifting others up with you is the true meaning and true joy of life, marriage, motherhood and work. They also help us toughen up when necessary. “Chin up, or the crown slips.” They know who they are.

When the Athena Award was launched here over 20 years ago by Girls Inc. and the Chamber, we did so for many reasons. A primary one at the time was to draw attention to women moving the community forward. Women often do not receive accolades — because they rarely seek them.

Sara, congratulations. Thank you for continuing to come up with new ways, new collaborations and ideas to make our hometown better for everyone. I truly believe you are not at the apex of your career yet — you are just getting started!

Thank you for sharing the journey with me. It’s been a great 45 years. I am proud to call you my friend.

By Candance Castlen Brake, President/CEO Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Messenger-Inquirer