Celebrating Women’s History Month

­Women’s History Month has a rather fleeting history of its own.

According to the WHM website, Congress approved a Women’s History Week in 1981 and, six years later, in response to a petition from the National Women’s History Project, authorized legislation designating March as Women’s History Month. Every year since, we have tapped these 31 days to celebrate women and their specific achievements over the course of American history.

SCA applied our own filter to this important commemoration by asking colleagues and alumni to reveal the women who had the greatest impact on their lives. Here are just some of their stories.

Kathy Bonavist, Chair, Board of Directors

I could list one name a day and keep myself occupied for a lifetime. 

As a young woman, I was humbled and inspired by incredibly brave women like plumber Irena Sendler who secreted infants out of the Warsaw ghetto, and Harriet Tubman who led 13 missions along the Underground Railroad. And there is my mother, who taught me great compassion and taught me to look at the world through others eyes. 

For the most part, the women who catch my breath and challenge my personal integrity are the unspoken heroes amongst us. I am inspired on a daily basis by women of grit and grace. Women who overcome. Women who often go unnoticed and certainly unthanked are the greatest heroes amongst us. 

Deidra Goodwin, Alumni Council

My mother is definitely someone who inspires me. She’s gone from pushing limits as a member of the United States Army, but now has branched into pushing her limits in the outdoors. She’s always been the person cheering on my adventures, but now I’m cheering on hers (and sometimes joining them).

Dave Kurapka, Alumni Council

I have been inspired by a number of women who have accomplished amazing things against extraordinary odds, but if I was to highlight one woman in particular it is my grandmother, Geraldine Kurapka. She was a nurse who cared for polio victims and later when the vaccine was developed distributed it to mostly poor children in the south. She died in the early 1980s but I know she would be doing the same now with COVID. She also loved nature, especially gardening and plants, a passion she passed on to me, for which I am grateful. 

Elyria Little, Alumni Council

When I was eight, my grandmother was my very first client. I organized her desk drawers before I even knew professional organizing would be part of my career path. Vera Rubin discovered the evidence for dark matter and earned the National Medal of Science — and, in choosing not to belittle the quirky things that interested her grandchild — she affirmed that following my own interests was a valid, worthwhile, and fulfilling way to live, work, and play.

Stephanie Meeks, CEO & President

Reflecting on International Women’s Day, I am reminded of all the women on whose shoulders I stand: my mother and grandmothers, sisters and aunts. It is hard to choose among these to say who is the most inspiring but, time and again, I am drawn to the story of a forbear, my great-great-grandmother, Ingaborg Hammer.

When my father’s ancestors came to the United States from Norway in 1869, my great-great-grandparents and their eight children lived in a dugout on the Kansas prairie, literally underground, for twelve years. Anytime I am having a bad day at the office, I think of Ingaborg raising those eight children in the cold of winter and think: if she could do that, I can do this! Across the generations, her example of adaptability, courage, and fortitude inspires and sustains me. 

Like many women before her and still today, her efforts were largely unrecognized. But I believe her pioneering spirit, grit, and determination were passed down to me, and so, in a very real way, continue to shape the country she came to call her own.  

Dr. Mamie Parker, Vice Chair, Board of Directors

It is said that the two things that your ancestors can give you are roots and wings to grow. I was born the same year that Liz Putnam brought SCA to the world. My birth mother, an outdoors woman, introduced me to Mother Earth. This leading lady definitely had the greatest influence on my life.

Rod Rolett, Alumni Council

Ms. Brown, my college advisor (together with Dr. Wirtz, Department of Zoology), helped me create an independent environmental studies major, years before Pomona developed a formal program. She taught me the value of interdisciplinary critical thinking and how to make connections across far-flung domains. She supervised my thesis on the competing demands to preserve and log old growth redwoods in northern California. We examined how to reconcile those demands from the perspective of science, economics, sociology, government and commerce.             

Kristen Schulte, Alumni Council

Liz Vogel (above right), the former operations director for SCA National Conservation Crews, has greatly influenced my conversation career path. She mentored me through many opportunities with the Student Conservation Association. Liz helped me develop into the leader that I am today through these opportunities. And now, I’m a momma, and she continues to be a source of wisdom and support.

Liz Putnam, Founding President

One of the most important persons who helped shape my life was my mother, Elizabeth. She started her life as a one-pound preemie in 1900. Sadly, her 2 lb. twin didn’t make it. At that time, there was only one incubator available and Mom, being the smallest, got it. 
 
In spite of many serious health challenges later in life, she was one of the most positive, patient, and giving persons I have ever known. Mom loved the natural world and adventure, joining family horse pack and backpack trips into the wilderness. I learned from her courage, loved her sense of humor, and followed her advice: “we only go through life once,” she’d say, “so don’t waste it.” 
 
She spoke four languages, had a lovely singing voice, never asked for quarter, and gave service in any way she could. She was an amazing woman, a great team player and, along with my father, deeply impacted my life.
 
(Photo: a young Liz with her mother, brother Robin, and father E. Sanderson Cushman)
 
We hope you celebrate and recognize all the important women in your life in March and every day. For without these fearless females, so much less would be possible.

For more information about this event, visit the Women’s History Month website.