DIXON – Heroes are not just inspirational people we admire from afar. A hero lives in all of us, and the 275 women who attended the YWCA Women of Achievement Luncheon on Thursday at the Dixon Elks Club were challenged to find that persona.
Kathy Cecchetti, YWCA of the Sauk Valley board president, brought the theme to life with her performance of the song "Heroes". She closed the event with some lighthearted theatrics.
"This is me embracing my inner hero," Cecchetti said with a laugh, as she tossed a black cape around her shoulders. "I truly believe that recognition and acceptance of the hero in us brings our visions to life."
The most inspirational people on this day were the nominees and award winners in six categories.
Sandy Henrekin, former executive director of the Rock Falls Community Development Corp., received the Crete Dillon Bowman Award for community leadership.
Henrekin was a charter member of the economic development group that started in 2002. She was named director in 2007, and played a key role in efforts to develop the riverfront, before retiring this year. She also owned and operated Innovations in Rock Falls for nearly 25 years.
Henrekin said it was "pretty special" to be recognized for the leadership award in her final year with the Development Corp. While she admits it might be hard to watch the culmination of some of her efforts from afar, she is looking forward to the next chapter of her life.
"This job was 24/7, and after so many years in business, I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family and traveling," Henrekin said.
Pam Pfister, CEO of Morrison Community Hospital, won the Jane Reid Keefer Award for professions and education. Pfister has been with the hospital since 2002, and was named chief executive last November. She also is involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, is a tutor in the Morrison schools, and is on the Morrison Chamber of Commerce board. Pfister also was nominated for the award in 2012.
Betty Leslie, secretary at Lincoln Elementary School in Dixon, was selected as winner of the L.L. Ely Award for administrative professionals. Leslie was the State Board of Education non-certified employee of the year and one of its "Those Who Excel" award winners.
"Betty has done all this while surviving cancer and going through an array of treatments twice without missing work," presenter Denise McCaffrey said.
Mary Black, co-owner of the Morrison Super Wash, received the Pearl Woods Award for business and industry. She has been named chamber Entrepreneur of the Year and is active in United Way. She also is involved in a program that provides mammograms for low-income women, and donates hair to Locks of Love.
Black said she has been very fortunate to work with her husband, Bob, who has always been very supportive. She offered some advice for young women striving to achieve success.
"First and foremost, get as much education as possible," Black said. "Success is about knowing what's in your heart, understanding your passion, and standing by it."
The Louise Bittorf Sullivan Inspirational Woman Award recipient was Tammy Nelson, Rock Falls Police Department operations commander.
Nelson started as a telecommunications specialist and worked her way up through the department ranks. She became a patrol officer, sergeant, and telecommunications commander, before leading the patrol officers.
"Tammy is known for her listening skills and for treating fellow officers like family," Cecchetti said. "She has inspired other women to become officers and to excel."
Hayleigh Covella of Sterling was the winner of the Young Woman of Tomorrow Award. She is working on her master's degree in English. Through her work at the YWCA Career Center, Covella helps women further their careers by assisting with everything from resumes to attire.
Covella was sponsored by AmeriCorps, where she is a member.
"Hayleigh's quiet strength and leadership ability make her clients comfortable. ... She celebrates when they get jobs, as she really wants to make a difference," AmeriCorp said in its nomination letter.
The Women of Achievement Luncheon has been a fundraiser for YWCA of the Sauk Valley programs since 1982.
Women of Achievement nominees
Crete Dillon Bowman Award
Winner: Sandy Henrekin
Nominees: Catherine Gibson, Suellen Girard
Jane Reid Keefer Award
Winner: Pam Pfister
Nominees: Jill Adolph, Dana Considine, Amy Huffman-Grevengoed, Ermelinda Lewis, Kim Purvis, Melissa Ryan
L.L. Ely Award
Winner: Betty Leslie
Nominees: Kim Burge, Marcia Chapinski, Jane McCoy, Nicole Morgan, Joan Richards
Pearl Woods Award
Winner: Mary Black
Nominees: Sue Gerberi, Diane Ott
Louise Bittorf Sullivan Award
Winner: Tammy Nelson
Nominees: Mary Jean Derreberry, Margo Jakobs, Lori Kurtz, Barb Lauff
Young Woman of Tomorrow Award
Winner: Hayleigh Covella
Nominees: Charis Furgat, Katie Gvozdjak, Alexis Plumb, Ashly Regalado