Perhaps the first signs came Jan. 5, when fellow Columbia County school board members picked Roxanne Whitaker to again serve as the boards chairman. The next day, county commissioners chose Diane Ford as vice-chairman, her first time ascending to the leadership role since her election to that body more than a decade ago.
Are these leadership posts a sign that, for Columbia County, 2004 is the Year of the Women? Maybe. There certainly are plenty of women gaining recognition for their leadership, and the year is still young.
Leading the group is Mary Sanders, the distinguished retired Columbia County educator and the only black woman ever elected to the school board - indeed, shes the only African-American in modern history elected to any post in Columbia County.
Last week, following The News-Times Black History Month profile that highlighted Sanders 55 years of service to children in the public school system, county commissioners proclaimed Feb. 17 Mary Elizabeth Sanders Day.
There are a number of people whove made Columbia County what it is, says former Columbia County School Superintendent Tucker Vaughn. Mary Sanders is a giant.
From her humble roots in Harlem to her first post as a teacher in a one-room McDuffie County schoolhouse, Sanders devoted her life to educating children.
Her focus was necessarily black children in an era when schools were separate and decidedly unequal, but it went much further; after World War II, she recognized that many veterans coming back from battle had seen the world but were still functionally illiterate; with the help of former Superin-tendent John Pierce Blanchard - himself an education icon - Sanders started night classes for vets.
Her service eventually led to leadership posts, until Sanders retired in 1988 as principal of North Harlem Elementary, where the library was long ago named in her honor. She later was elected to a single term on the school board. Now 90 and still energetic, Sanders continues to shine as a beacon of faith in God and as a believer in the possibilities of young children - setting lofty standards everyone should follow.
Monday kicks off Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia, and nowhere is a community more ready than in Columbia County - declared two years ago as a nationally recognized Storm-Ready Community, thanks to the work of Columbia County Emer-gency Services Director Pam Tucker.
If there is anyone who works harder at her job than Tucker, wed like to see them. During the Jan. 26 ice storm, for example, Tucker seemed to be everywhere at once, all day and night, keeping the media and the public posted on changes in weather conditions.
Its a credit to her high-profile efforts that she even is sometimes criticized for not doing enough; the community perception of her do-everything nature lends itself to the unrealistic expectation that shes actually responsible for everything.
There are many things Tucker shepherds in her job, which includes oversight of animal control and the countys senior programs. Shes especially shined in recent months in helping mold a series of agreements that will lead to tremendous improvements in fire service for Columbia County citizens.
This week, the anniversary of last years tornado that struck Columbia County, really puts Tucker in her storm-watching element. But she doesnt just put one week of the year into helping keep Columbia County citizens safe; its a year-round job, and our county owes a debt of gratitude to Tucker for her tireless efforts.
As one of the founders of the Its Spooky to be Hungry food drive, Evelyn Browne has worked more than eight years to collect food for the Golden Harvest Food Bank while building relationships in a caring community.
What started with three women going door-to-door in three Columbia County subdivisions has now expanded to 130 neighborhoods, seven counties and two states. The drive last year brought in 62,000 pounds of food and $32,000 in donations, making it the largest drive for Golden Harvest.
Perhaps the most important number, though, is 1,600. Thats how many volunteers now participate in what began with just three women, exemplifying the name of Spookys parent organization: Big Changes Start Small.
The all-volunteer group has now earned recognition as one of 10 honorees in USA Weekend magazines Make a Difference Day program, along with a check for $10,000.
By the way: Its the second time a big prize has come Brownes way; in 2002 she was honored as the national award winner in the Dannon yogurt companys Families Feeding America program, bringing in $10,000 for Golden Harvest and $1,000 for herself - which she promptly donated to Spooky.
Big changes do indeed start small, and with people like Browne, those changes improve a community.
There are more, too:
Rev. Carolyn Moore, the glowingly positive pastor of the new Mosaic United Methodist Church. Who else could admit getting a speeding ticket and thank the deputy for giving her an invitation to slow down? More of us should slow down today for Mosaics first morning service at the Evans High School theater, and for subsequent community outreach as Moore seeks the unchurched.
Beth Roberson, Columbia Countys special events coordinator. Named last week as the countys Employee of the Month, Roberson brings sunshine into every room she enters and is the kind of person for whom the Employee of the Month plaque could hang deservedly all year. Robersons organizational skills and friendly demeanor are behind virtually every community event in the county, and the evidence of her efforts is in the increasing success of these celebrations.
Marilyn Heuer, Columbia Countys project manager. Heuer deserves not just accolades but a medal for guiding the nearly two-year process to come up with a new, improved county logo. The county has, understandably, taken heat for the expense of the branding project that included the search for a new logo. Heuer hung in there and worked with marketing companies and artists, and then with school officials to take the designs to a vote by high-school students. We now have an attractive logo for the county - and it was designed by a woman: Lynn Forbes of Martinez.
This is an election year, with contentious battles between what are likely to be mostly male candidates. If any of those hopefuls want advice on leadership, we could certainly commend to them some distinguished Columbia County women to emulate.
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