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Women of Distinction recognized
Pictured back row from left: Clare Bennett, Caitlin Andrews, and Holly Churchill. Front row from left, Renee Schofield, and Linda Gilson. Photo courtesy of Shawna Shotwell with Shotwell Photography

Daily News Staff Writer

Jane Goodall said, “What you do will make a difference — you just have to decide what kind of difference you will make.”

These words were spoken again on Saturday during the 2018 Women of Distinction event at Ted Ferry Civic Center, where community members gathered to recognize the difference that five local women have had in the lives of women and children in Ketchikan.

Caitlin Andrews, Clare Bennett, Holly Churchill, Linda Gilson and Renee Schofield were named the Women in Safe Homes 2018 Women of Distinction, and there was also a special posthumous recognition for Hattie Baumgartner.

According to WISH, a Woman of Distinction is a woman who demonstrates excellence, leadership and integrity in their field or community. They serve as role models for other women, as well as for tomorrow's leaders.

The honorees were all introduced by family members or friends, who explained why they were being honored; and then the honorees took the time to tell a few stories about their lives and their passions.

Andrews was the first to be honored, and is the youngest woman to ever be recognized as a WISH Woman of Distinction. Andrews is the social worker for all outpatient clinics at PeaceHealth Medical Group in Ketchikan; the vice president of First City Council on Cancer; and provides Mental Health First Aid training in Ketchikan through the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition.

She was nominated and introduced by her friend, Brittany Pope, who shared a personal event in her life that Andrews had a part in.

“In October, I got married, and the day after, I had a lump underneath my throat — so I'm going to be vulnerable right here,” Pope said as tears welled in her eyes. “They thought it was cancer, so after being poked and prodded, and doctor after doctor — thanks PeaceHealth, thanks Legacy and Creekside for seeing me — I was finally (given a) clear bill of health in February.”

Throughout the entire experience, Pope said Andrews was by her side. Not only is she “a great asset to the community,” but she became one of Pope's “greatest supporters.”

“She took time off work to sit with me when I was seeing the general surgeon, to hear probably bad or good news, because my husband had to work,” Pope said.

Pope added Andrews goes above and beyond for her friends — and people in the community.

Andrews was already crying as she made her way up to the podium to say a few words. She read aloud a poem about growing up in Ketchikan that she wrote for the occasion. Andrews moved away for college and graduate school and never thought she would come back, but she did about seven years ago.

“Values and skills forming me to be a woman on my own, planned from the beginning, aligned in the stars, meant for helping others, I'm setting the bar,” Andrews said, reading her poem.

“Ketchikan is unique, beautiful place on its own, I'm blessed to be back with a family of my own,” she continued. “From Arizona to Texas, back to Alaska, unsure of the path meant for me, now I'm here and I've been deemed a woman that I always hoped I'd be.”

Colin Patton and Bianca Jurczak took the microphone next to introduce Bennett. Patton is Bennett's son and Jurczak is her former student. According to WISH, Bennett has “devoted her heart to Ketchikan's theater, First City Players and her community,” and her “devotion to her students is monumental.”

Patton talked about the several organizations that his mother volunteers with, her time teaching at Ketchikan High School and Revilla Blended School and growing up in the “giant toy box” that is the backstage of a theater.

“This award, and as well as being recognized as a distinguished woman, couldn't happen at a better time in Clare's life,” Patton said. “This year, she gets ready to retire after three decades of being involved in the education and development of Ketchikan's minds — young and old.

“After all these years, a rest is well-earned; but knowing Clare … I have a feeling that's not in the cards,” he added.

Jurczak read a letter written by Pam Roth, who nominated Bennett for the award. Roth couldn't be at the event.

“Clare always exhibits kindness and compassion, and is an excellent example for anyone she meets,” Jurczak said, reading Roth's letter. “I have been with her on more than several occasions when a young person has run up to Clare with open arms and a smile on their face.”

Bennett said Ketchikan is the place that her two passions — theater and teaching — were pulled out of her and stretched in multiple directions. She said the First City made her into a person she never thought she'd be.

“I had the privilege to touch a lot of lives because this community demands it, or encourages it, or gives it to us,” Bennett said. “So while I feel proud to be here, I feel more that I'm a loving representative of what this community can do.”

Introducing Churchill was Merle Nancy-Hawkins. Churchill is active in women, men and children's issues through her Haida culture. She teaches classes on weaving, which “allows her to help individuals find themselves through art and experience positive energy,” WISH information states.

“I'm very privileged to be her friend and to work alongside her, and I'm very proud of her,” Nancy-Hawkins said. “The hat that I'm wearing today is made by Holly Churchill. She's a master weaver. She shares her arts. She's now learning Chilkat weaving.”

Churchill spoke about her time growing up, and becoming a cook on a fishing boat. She was taught a lesson at a young age to ask family members if they needed help with something — like cooking — which helped shape the life that she lives.

“It doesn't hurt to ask, and it doesn't hurt to be asked to do something,” Churchill said.

Gilson was honored next, and was introduced by her granddaughter Kirstie Hodel. Hodel is also the administrative assistant at WISH, and put the event together.

Gilson has been involved with the First City Council on Cancer for more than 25 years. She has helped raise more than $1.5 million to support Southern Southeast residents diagnosed with cancer. Gilson also volunteers with the First United Methodist Church, First City Homeless Services Day Shelter and the Blueberry Festival, among other organizations.

Hodel said since she can remember, Gilson has always been “one of those women who can sort of do it all.”

“Most of us, I know especially me, we are living a very fast-paced life, where we have jobs and families and our community pulling us in many different directions, and we struggle to find the time to balance everything,” Hodel said.

“Linda somehow always finds the time to balance all of it. She is able to be dedicated to her job, her family and her community,” Hodel continued, “and I believe that women like Linda are rare, and they're a huge asset to our lives and our community.”

Gilson said Ketchikan is a community where people can give back and help as much as they want, and said the community overwhelms her. She said it doesn't matter what people work on, someone will donate to it.

Schofield was the next woman honored, and she was introduced by her friend, Cindi Byrd. Schofield was in Hawaii and could not attend the event, so the award was accepted by her granddaughter, Amber Merfeld.

Schofield was instrumental in launching the Substance Abuse Task Force, and was integral in securing over a half million dollars in youth drug prevention funds to be used in Ketchikan. According to WISH information, Schofield has spent “countless hours teaching, learning and giving to keep our children safe.”

“Being a woman of distinction is being a friend and a support to people, and Renee epitomizes this,” Byrd said. “Renee helps people be the best version of themselves.”

Merfeld said she is thankful to share the moment with the women of distinction, who are “such great role models.”

Honoring the late Hattie Baumgartner was her mother, Andriana Moss; and sister, Naomi Michalsen. Both women received a standing ovation from the audience. Don Moss also prepared a slideshow containing pictures of Baumgartner smiling, laughing and enjoying life.

Baumgartner was a member of Ketchikan Indian Community, WISH, Baha'i Faith and the Special Olympics Bowling team, among other organizations; and she volunteered throughout the community.

“Hattie's life was all about family, and to Hattie, all of Ketchikan was her family,” Andriana Moss said. “Hattie was like a lighthouse, she emitted light to those around her; and like the beacon of light, she had a profound impact on many lives.”

Michalsen said Baumgartner spent every day as a non-judgemental person, and people couldn't be mad while in her presence. Michalsen said no matter how many medical issues her sister had, she always had a smile on her face.

“One of the things about Hattie was that she was a lover not a fighter — but her favorite movie was 'Rocky,'” Michalsen said.