By AMANDA BEAM
Medals with pink ribbons adorned the necks of the five finalists for the Southern Indiana Woman of the Year award Friday. The ladies hugged and mingled at the dinner event where, at the end of the evening, the winner of the title was announced. The women had much more in common than just the medals. Each, in their own way, has gone above and beyond selflessly helping others. They have changed lives.
Sponsored by the News and Tribune, Kye’s and Elder Advisers, more than 130 people gathered to celebrate the accomplishments of these nominees at the 2012 Southern Indiana Woman of the Year Dinner at Kye’s in Jeffersonville. This year, Mary Engleman of New Albany, Pat Harrison of Floyd Knobs, Mary Kagin Kramer of Jeffersonville, Mary Ann Sodrel of New Albany, and Beth White of New Albany were recognized for their service to the community and abroad.
But, at the end of the day, only one of these extraordinary ladies could be called 2012 Woman of the Year. And this night, White, the physical therapist who has devoted her life to helping those who could not always help themselves, was awarded the honor.
“I want to say thank you to my husband for nominating me because I think that those you are closest with are those you influence first,” White said in her acceptance speech. “I also want to say thank you to the other ladies nominated. I’m very humbled to even be in the same room after listening to some of the wonderful achievements that each of these women has had.”
White has many accomplishments herself. Born and raised in New Albany, White started volunteering to help children with special needs during high school. After obtaining a degree in Physical Therapy, she began to work for the New Albany-Floyd County School Corporation. For the past 20 years, her work has extended far beyond the walls of the school. White has helped numerous children get the help they’ve needed, whether that aid consisted of new braces or a van with a medical lift.
Alongside her work with special needs kids, White also volunteers her time to her church, Northside Christian. She was one of the first people to help start the program Women In God’s Service there, where she also served on the Building Committee.
And then there’s her amazing community service. For the past 36 years, she’s dedicated countless hours to helping plan the local Harvest Homecoming festival. Currently, she serves as the vice president of the HHC booths.
For her honor, White received a 2012 Woman of the Year Plaque, a gift basket filled to the brim with items donated from local businesses, and a letter of commendation from State Sen. Ron Grooms.
“After learning more about you and all the services you offer to those in need for physical or emotional therapy, it is no surprise to me that you have been chosen for this honorable award given to a remarkable lady,” said Grooms as he read the letter. “It is my hope that you will serve as an example to other men and women in Southern Indiana and that you’ll always find joy in the countless hours and resources that you provide.”
In addition to recognizing outstanding women for their achievements, the event itself has helped give back to the community. All proceeds raised during the evening will benefit Jacob’s Well, a local charity that helps women in need.
“Jacobs Well will focus on the spiritual, emotional and physical well being of our participants. It will be a place where single women and single mothers with small children living in desperate situations can begin to rebuild their lives,” said Jacob’s Well founder Barbara Williar.
“Jacobs Well’s House of Hope will offer a structured and safe environment allowing them to be away from negative influences for the development of spiritual growth and healthy life skills,” she said.
Involvement with local charities and organizations was a running theme throughout the night. Every speaker, sponsor, presenter and honoree had donated their time to helping citizens of Southern Indiana. White sees how involvement in area activities can benefit the volunteer as well.
“I love my community. I love New Albany. I love Harvest Homecoming. I just feel blessed to be a part of this community,” White said.