Jackson County School System Superintendent April Howard has been named Woman of the Year for 2021.
She was named by the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce at the annual luncheon on Nov. 17 at the Jefferson Civic Center.
Other nominees for the annual Woman of the Year award were: Tracie Bledsoe, executive director of Peace Place Inc., Jennifer Langston executive director of Reboot Jackson; and Michele Price executive director/owner of Visiting Angels/Hoschton.
“Thank you to the Jackson County community,” Dr. Howard said after being named. “To the ladies who were introduced before me (other nominees), I am in such good company, thank you for the work you do. You have a special place in my heart for the work that you do. I am humbled by this. I do my work every day because I am passionate about kids and making the community a better place. I look at the names before me (prior winners) and I stand on the shoulders of giants. They are people I have been I have had the privilege of working with for many years.”
Elizabeth Evans presented the nominees and announced the name of the recipient.
“The Woman of the Year Award honors the individuals who have achieved professional excellence, mentored, actively served the community and helped other females to reach their leadership potential,” she said. “Each of these women are truly making remarkable things happen in the community."
Tricia Massey also made opening remarks, stating, “To the nominees, you have already proven that you’ve made a positive impact in your community.”
Chamber president and CEO Jim Shaw said during his opening remarks, “This luncheon’s purpose is to honor, recognize and celebrate the advocates and champions who make a difference in Jackson County. Today’s nominees are examples to us all.”
Dylan Wilbanks, spoke on past recipients, stating, “It is my pleasure to recognize all the Woman of the Year award recipients. These 13 ladies are pinnacle examples of what it takes to be a Jackson County Woman of the Year.”
Past recipients have been: Martha Martin, 2008; Dee Lavender, 2009; diAna Kunz Huckins, 2010; Dr. Emily Howell, 2011; Annette Studivant, 2012; Theresa Kenerly, 2013; Tracy Jordan, 2014; Jennifer Scott; 2015; Linda Foster, 2016; Ali Merk, 2017; Sheriff Janis Mangum, 2018; April Sorrow, 2019; and Tricia Massey, 2020.
Tara Jernigan, introduced the guest speaker, Darlene Drew, who worked 32 years in the Department of Corrections, ending her career working as a warden for 11 years.
Drew was the first and only woman who served as warden of the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, which opened in 1902.
She spoke on how it wasn’t always easy being a woman serving in a leadership position but added that it is worth it to take that next step and seek the top role.
She asked the women, “Are you willing to be the change you want to see? I learned if I want to see the change, I have to be the change.”
It was then that she decided to apply for the position of warden in a federal penitentiary and she got the job.
She encouraged the women to “pray, prepare, prioritize and pause.”
Others on the program included Dr. Howell, who gave the invocation.