Organization recognizes 8 women for their outstanding work

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Eight women were recognized by their peers at a reception Monday evening for their outstanding work in making a difference in the community.
The reception was hosted by Women in Tyler, which formed in 1999 with the purpose of celebrating Women's History Month in the community, said Judge Judith Guthrie, who is on the group's honoree committee.

To honor women, the Women in Tyler picks a theme and solicits candidates' names from its members and the community, Ms. Guthrie said. The ladies are invited as honored guests at a luncheon in March.

The eight women who fit this year's theme of "women who do amazing things" were invited to a reception at the McClendon House in Tyler to meet and greet with other influential women in the organization. This is the 14th year for the event.

Betty Edwards, 71, of Tyler, said she grew up in a low-income home and worked hard to gain an education. She graduated from Texas College with a degree in home economics and then from The University of Texas at Tyler with a degree in early childhood education.

"I always worked hard to help other people because I had a hard time," she said. "It's where my heart is."

Ms. Edwards said she worked as a home economics teacher and in day cares before she became the leader of North Tyler Day Nursery, which has worked for 74 years to provide a safe, educational day care for working parents attending college.

"It's a great honor," Ms. Edwards said. "I'm the type of person, whatever I do, I do it for the glory of God."

Dawn Franks, 51, of Bullard, was one of the co-founders of the East Texas Crisis Center, the Children's Advocacy Center and the United Way Nonprofit Development Center.

When it was formed in 1978, the crisis center only worked with women who were sexually abused or assaulted, Ms. Franks said.

"It was my sensitivity to the fact that there were no resources for women who had been sexually assaulted," she said of why she initially got involved with the organization.

Today she works with a nonprofit organization called Fourth Partner, helping philanthropists find and contribute to organizations that touch their hearts.

"I'm excited about being in such good company with other women I know and respect," she said.

Martha Berry, 64, of Tyler, is a nationally acclaimed Cherokee Indian bead artist, who taught herself the craft.

"I grew up at a time when it was not trending to be Native American," Mrs. Berry said. "I wanted to connect with my Cherokee ancestors."

Mrs. Berry said her grandmother, on the side of the family without Native American ancestry, taught her to embroider, and it was such a bonding experience that she wanted to reconnect with her ancestors through a craft they would have done -- beadwork.

Twenty years later, her work is displayed in museums across the nation and she divides her time teaching others the craft and doing research. She is credited with bring the lost form of art back to life.

Ella Tucker, 71, of Tyler, was honored for her impressive hat collection and vibrant personality.

"My mother started my hat collection when I was 12 years old, and I've been wearing hats ever since," she said. "I never thought it would lead to anything like this, though."

Ms. Tucker said she has at least 150 hats in her collection.

Dr. Jeanette Deas Calhoun said when her brother was diagnosed with HIV she helped him find resources to help with his care. She is now the executive director of East Texas CARES resource center, which helps HIV and AIDS patients connect to resources.

"There are other people in this community that need the services my brother found," she said. "If I can help in any way, I'm happy."

Dr. Calhoun said she loves the work she does.

"I'm here to say my clients have given me more than I ever gave them," she said.

Mary Ann Girard has spent the past 20 years working to improve the quality of early childhood education in Smith County. She is the head of Champions for Children, which is a resource to under funded daycares. The organization provides training, mentoring and curriculum, as well as a lending library of toys to various day cares in the county.

Ms. Girard, a former pre-school teacher, said often day care workers make minimum wages and have minimal benefits and training.

Dr. Syntha West, 74, is a counselor who works with children and families in the midst of a divorce for an organization called Putting Kids First. She said parents come to her classes to learn how to take care of their children during the transitional time.

Dr. West also travels as a motivational speaker, works with the Texas Senior America pageant and entertains the elderly.

"God has given me several talents of piano playing, baton twirling and dancing, and I like to use those gifts to entertain people who have given up on life or have thought after you reach a certain age things are over," she said. "That's certainly not the case."

Christy Roach, principal of Douglas Elementary School, was unable to attend the reception but was honored as well. Ms. Roach grew up two blocks from the school and dreamed of going to college and becoming a teacher, according to a news release from the organization. After she finished her bachelor's degree, she was offered a job teaching third grade at the school. After she finished her master's in education, she was promoted to assistant principal and has been principal for the past five years.

The luncheon honoring the eight women will be March 21 in the Tyler Rose Garden Center. Doors will open at 11 a.m., and the program will begin at 11:45 a.m. Tickets cost $25, and seats can be reserved by mailing the fee to Women in Tyler, P.O. Box 1432, Tyler, Texas 75710. Organizers said the reception typically sells out, so anyone wishing to attend should reserve a seat in advance.


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