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10 Soroptimist's Women Of Distinction Award Winners Reflect On The Honor

10 Soroptimist's Women Of Distinction Award Winners Reflect On The Honor

by Kathleen Thieme Jul 2018 Also on Digital Edition

Each year, a group of women is nominated for Soroptimist’s Women of Distinction awards. Those who win consider the accolade to be a lifetime achievement. We caught up with past-honorees from more than two decades.

Elmira R. Gainey

— Civic/Professional, 1999

Gainey, a realtor for McAlister Properties LLC, was nominated for her civic engagement with the community in 1999. The Stuart resident has served on multiple boards and received many honors since her win. Her most recent acknowledgment was the East Stuart Partnership Trailblazer Award bestowed in 2017.

Why do you think you were nominated?

I was humbly honored to have received Jody Bond’s recommendation and nomination. We had served on the Children’s Services Council of Martin County for several years, and I knew her from other boards in the county. She undoubtedly felt that I was a worthy candidate for the honor.

What did you do after you received the award?

I have continued to serve on various boards and committees to make our community and state a better place for all of our citizens.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

I believe that we should work for the betterment of citizens and children in our community who are not able to help themselves. This is our hometown and everyone deserves to enjoy some of the benefits of the good life available here.

Janice Norman

— Volunteer, 2017

Norman is a Stuart resident and works as a realtor for Water Pointe Realty Group. Since her win in the volunteer category last year she hasn’t showed signs of slowing her community betterment efforts. In September Norman took on the role of president for the new non-profit Catch the Wave of Hope, which works to abolish human trafficking and provide a safe haven for victims.

Tell me about your WOD experience.

I was honored to be nominated in the volunteer category with a group of women who do an incredible amount of work volunteering in our community. The experience was exciting and humbling. I was very touched that my entire family was present at the event.

Who nominated you?

Kelly Bond Pelletier. I was very honored that she thought that I deserved to be nominated in this category with some pretty incredible women.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

Women who volunteer usually are not looking for recognition. They volunteer from the heart. So my advice is to men and women who know a woman who has a heart for volunteering, that “go-to woman” who tirelessly works either in the forefront or behind the scenes—nominate her. She is the woman who deserves this recognition. Even if you are not the winner, being nominated in this group of women is an honor by itself.

Mary-Jo Horton

— Volunteer, 1994

As a Florida native, Horton has dedicated much of her time over the years to institutions such as Martin Health System, Sunrise Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club of Martin County, Elliott Museum, The Arts Council and more. Now retired from her role as vice president of public affairs and human resources at Burdines (now Macy’s), the Palm City resident continues to leave her mark around town.

Who nominated you?

CEO Richmond Harman of Martin Memorial Health System Inc. nominated me. Indeed, I was surprised, honored and pleased.

Why do you think you were nominated?

Perhaps because at that time (late ’80s and early ’90s), so few women were recognized, elevated to executive business positions or appreciated for their community contributions.

What did you do after you received the award?

Thanked all who were responsible for considering my contributions as worthy of being the volunteer WOD. Then, I rolled up my sleeves, continued to work with the organizations that seemed to value my efforts and sought other avenues to which I could make a contribution.

Debra Duvall

— Volunteer, 2008

While she boasts impressive work as a real estate broker and partner at Water Pointe Realty Group, Duvall received the WOD honor a decade ago for her community work in Stuart. Since her win in 2008, she has served as chairman, co-chair, board member and committee member for institutions like the Elliott Museum, Enterprise Florida, Space Coast Florida and more.

Who nominated you?

[I was] nominated by the Realtor Association of Martin County. I was extremely surprised to win. There were many other deserving women that were nominated and more deserving of the award, I thought.

Tell me about the process.

I was humbled to have been honored and nominated four times before winning (2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008). Each time I truly felt it was an honor.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

While it is an honor to be nominated, the true value is in the giving of your time, talents and resources. We all make this community great by working together.

Kelly Bond Pelletier

— Business/Professional, 2010

Pelletier is the general manager and appraiser for her family’s company, Just Gold Jewelers. Before her 2010 win in the Business/Professional category, the Palm City resident had attended the WOD event for many years as a sponsor.

Who nominated you?

Patricia Altosino nominated me. I had been nominated in the past and was quite surprised that someone nominated me a second time. There are so many outstanding women in this community. It often takes two or three nominations to win.

Why do you think you were nominated?

We are large supporters of many of the non-profits in our community. We donate about $50,000 a year in gift certificates and jewelry for live and silent auctions. We also donate appraisal services if the local non-profits receive donated jewelry items and they need to know a value.

What did you do after you received the award? Cried a little and thanked my mom, Jody, for being such a great role model.

Nicki Schoonover

— Business/Professional, 2002

Schoonover is the human resource management and development consultant for her own firm, N. Schoonover & Associates Inc. She cites a mantra from Mother Teresa as her inspiration when contributing to her community: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Tell me about your WOD experience.

I participated in the judging process for a subsequent year’s event and had the honor of presenting the successor of the WOD in the same category the following year. I have attended most of the WOD ceremonies since 2002, and have collaborated with other colleagues in the nomination of women deserving of the recognition.

Were you surprised?

While I had surface knowledge of Soroptimist, I was not really familiar with the WOD awards. I remember feeling a little ambivalent about the nomination but was totally surprised that I was chosen as the recipient in the business/professional category that year.

What did you do after you received the award?

After the shock of my name being called, I remember feeling a rush of humility and honor to think that others felt I was worthy of such recognition. But as my time-sensitive, work-driven personality would surface, I believe I went back to work.

Thelma M. Washington

— Civic/Professional, 2015

While Washington serves as executive director at the Gertrude Walden Child Care Center, her influence and involvement doesn’t stop when the workday is done. The 2015 winner is recognized for her work with the homeless, health fairs, home repairs, parent programs, children programs and more.

Who nominated you, and were you surprised?

I was nominated by Jean Laws-Scott. In the past I was nominated by Commissioner Doug Smith. I was not surprised as I had been nominated before. However, each time the selection in my category was full of great powerful women, so I was surprised I won.

What did you do after you received the award?

After thinking “Wow, they are talking about me,” it made me step up and do more for my community, organizations and personal goals. I felt honored that all I do is valued by others.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

I was honored to be nominated. We have so many women in Martin County who do so much every day that it’s hard to select one person. We live in a giving and caring community that make all nominees Women of Distinction.

Susan “Sue” Dawson Whittington

— Volunteer, 2010

A Palm City resident, Whittington works as a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley. But the businesswoman won her 2010 WOD award in the volunteer space, due to her involvement in several organizations that benefit children.

Tell me about your WOD experience.

There was a lovely gathering of all the nominees and former winners, and when we arrived for the lunch, we got a special corsage or nametag. I felt appreciated, a little embarrassed over the attention and very special.

What did you do after you received the award?

I’m sure I turned red. And after lunch I went back to work and put my lovely award on my credenza.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

I never wanted to be nominated; I wanted to make a difference. When you are led to do the right thing for the right reason, people recognize that and want to make sure others do as well. So, be patient. There is nothing flattering about someone who wants to win an award, but there is something very flattering about someone being recognized with an award because of genuine service.

Suzy Hutcheson

— Civic, 2006

Hutcheson is the president and CEO of the non-profit organization Helping People Succeed. The Jensen Beach resident has impacted the lives of so many in her role, but she humbly says, “I always tell my staff that 50 percent of my job is taking credit for what they do.”

Tell me about your WOD experience.

Being nominated was a complete honor, but hearing my name as the WOD in the civic category was unbelievable. I actually sat in my seat until one of the people at my table said, “That’s you!” It was the year that videos were made about the honorees, and I was so humbled by the kind words.

Were you surprised?

While I knew I was being nominated, I never expected to win. I had been nominated a couple of times before, and they had to convince me to be nominated again.

What did you do after you received the award?

I was overwhelmed and thanked everyone at my table, called my family and, to this day, my award is prominently displayed in my office. I try to encourage women to accept being nominated and to nominate.

Lynne W. Spraker

— Business/Professional, 1998

Spraker is an attorney and partner for the law firm Spraker & Prinz, Attorneys at Law. As a Palm City resident, Spraker has been involved in a number of local boards, including the American Cancer Society, SafeSpace Inc. and the YMCA of Martin County.

Tell me about your WOD experience.

I was very honored and surprised to be the winner in this category. I had been a very active member in Soroptimist International of Stuart Inc., so I was familiar with the honor of being a nominee, but was truly humbled to be the winner among such other wonderful women nominated in this category.

Why do you think you were nominated?

I truly don’t know. When I moved to Stuart, I wanted to learn more about this fabulous area and community. I initially joined my local sorority alumnae group. I then became active in the local Chamber of Commerce, and was a graduate of LEADERship Martin County (Class of 1994). I eventually became president of our local County Estate Planning Council.

What is your advice to other women who want to be nominated?

Martin County is such a truly special place to call home. The more you give to this fabulous community, the more you will receive in return.