YWCA recognizes community’s pearls

About 275 attend annual awards luncheon

ROCK FALLS – The pearl is the gemstone that marks 30th anniversaries, and so aptly illustrated the theme of Thursday’s YWCA of the Sauk Valley’s 30th annual Women of Achievement Luncheon.

“We think of every attendee and every nominee and certainly every award winner over the years as a pearl,” said Carol Fitzgerald, executive director of the YWCA. “Pearls are beautiful and lustrous and shining and valuable, just as you all are.”

About 275 people attended the annual awards luncheon at Rock River Golf and Pool in Rock Falls.

Seven area women won awards, and 25 other nominees received certificates to mark their accomplishments.

Rosa De La Torre, 18, of Rock Falls, won the Young Woman of Tomorrow Award.

De La Torre is a member of Building Lasting Impressions That Never Die, a program at Rock Falls, Sterling, Dixon and Newman Central Catholic high schools that promotes diversity and tolerance and develops leadership skills.

When she started school, English was her second language, and tutors helped her develop her skills. In the future, she wants to speak up for those who can’t speak English, De La Torre said.

She plans to become the first in her family to get a college degree. Eventually, she wants to become a doctor and return to the area to serve the local Hispanic community.

“My motivation that keeps me going on is seeing young Hispanic women in our community and my desire to help them,” De La Torre said. “And also, my motivation is that God is by my side and he helps me; he gives me the strength to keep going.”

Linda Giesen received the Jane Reid Keefer Award for Professions and Education. Giesen, 60, of Dixon, is Sauk Valley Community College’s lone female professor in the criminal justice department.

She also was Lee County’s first female state’s attorney (and now is married to current Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon) and also was Illinois’ first female warden of a men’s prison, serving at Dixon Correctional Center when it opened in the early 1980s.

“I had been a warden before of a woman’s prison, so being a warden wasn’t new, but obviously it was a new setting and a new opportunity,” Giesen said. “People were curious about a woman being the warden, but it was a fabulous experience because it’s all about dealing with people.”

The award was “very humbling,” she said.

“It was a true honor being recognized, without even being given the award, and that’s just double, triple honor,” she said.

Barb Schwamberger, founder and president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Sauk Valley, was awarded the Crete Dillon Bowman Award for community leadership.

Schwamberger, 72, of Dixon, said she had no idea she was nominated and wasn’t told she would be attending the luncheon. She wore jeans and a T-shirt to the event.

“PFLAG became my passion, because my daughter is gay,” she said. “It has been my passion since 2005 and even before that. Sometimes when I’m tired, like I’ve been this week, I just need something to revive me, and let me tell you, this has done it.”

The luncheon raised about $7,000, which the YW will use to support domestic violence, sexual assault and anti-bullying programs, and diversity training, among other endeavors.

The winners

Barb Schwamberger, founder and president of PFLAG of the Sauk Valley, Crete Dillon Bowman Award for community leadership. Schwamberger is founder and president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Sauk Valley.

Linda Giesen and Giesen Law Offices, Jane Reid Keefer Award for Professions and Education; among other things, she was the first female warden at Dixon Correctional Center and Lee County’s first female state’s attorney.

Beth Lancaster, CGH Medical Center, L.L. Ely Award for Clerical Excellence for her work as administrative assistant to CGH’s top brass.

Lisa Higby LeFevre, owner of Distinctive Gardens in Dixon, and Brenda Slothower, Pearl Woods Award for Business and Industry. LeFevre helped establish Second Saturdays in Dixon, while Slothower was the first woman to enter Frantz Manufacturing’s plating and wastewater treatment operations.

Ana Salgado of Sauk Valley Community College, Louise Bittorf Sullivan Inspirational Woman Award for her efforts to empower Latino youth.

Rosa De La Torre, Rock Falls High School, Young Woman of Tomorrow Award. She is a member of Building Lasting Impressions That Never Die, and plans to become a doctor and practice in the Sauk Valley.

Go to www.ywca.org/saukvalley for more information on the YWCA of the Sauk Valley or to donate.