Award the Women of Inspiration in Your Life by Janet Grace Riehl

by Matilda Butler on March 30, 2011

catnav-rosies-daughters-activePost #10 – Women’s Memoirs, Rosie the Riveter – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

Today is the next to last day of Women’s History Month. We celebrate it by sharing Janet Grace Riehl’s story of Women of Inspiration. In our collective memoir, Rosie’s Daughters, Kendra and I began our own exploration in documenting the lives of ordinary women who are actually extraordinary. Janet has gone one step beyond us. She has created an award to honor women who have inspired her.

Which women have inspired you? Read what Janet writes about six special women in her life and then consider ways you’d like to thank the women that matter to you. You don’t have to write a memoir. You don’t have to have an award. There are many ways to honor wonderful women. Use your own creativity and special talents to remember women in your personal history — not just during March but all year long.


Award the Women of Inspiration in Your Life!
By Janet Grace Riehl

Sure, I admire and am inspired by famous women. But, the women who influence me most won’t have movies made about their lives based on a bestselling book. They are ordinary women who live their lives in an extraordinary way. They are all in their 80s and 90s, and light the way to the kind of old woman I want to be. Their lives reassure me that it’s going to be okay as I grow older. If they can age gracefully, crack jokes, continue their creative work, love life and those around them—why, then, so can I.

Last fall to celebrate my father’s 95th birthday, I established The Second Mile Award to honor Elders 75 years and older who have lived lives of dignity, character, creativity, and connection to community. I wanted younger people to meet older people who defy stereotypes. I wanted older people to know they made a difference. I wasn’t looking for someone with trophies falling off a mantelpiece. I wanted to recognize “good solid good people”.

Because I spend so much time with my father, I live a good part of my life in the world of old people. So I was surprised to discover what a struggle folks had to find someone 75 years or older to nominate. Shoot! I could think of at least half a dozen women I’d happily have nominated. In the end, I did—through setting up “Women of Inspiration” as a companion award to the Second Mile project.

Who are these six Women of Inspiration? Each of them were married and cared for their husbands during long illnesses. Five are now widows, who reshaped their lives with even greater vigor. All but one woman live in Illinois. Strangely, even the woman who lives in California has connections with our community.

Grace Madison, 86, the mother of a school chum, lives up to her name “Grace” in every way. She’s funny, politically active, and brilliant. She bakes cookies and cakes her friends and family cannot stop eating. She’s written a history of her church reaching back to the 1800s, and is now starting a family story collection. We share weight loss tips, and go shopping together. Then we set the world right while drinking tea.

Lois Lock, mid-80s, is a slim dynamo in demand as a seamstress in her town. She’s the head of the Jersey County Historical Society—one of the places my father’s books and papers are archived. She’s been a friend of our family for 60 years. Recently she started a project to reclaim a local cemetery. She galvanized a small crew, and wasn’t shy about getting her own hands in the dirt to weed, plant, and build a new fence.

Kay Maupin, late 80s, has been a friend of our family since Pop was a boy. Our stories intertwine like trumpet vines climbing up a barn. In fact at a square dance it was my father’s firm push that propelled Lee Maupin across the dance floor to Kay’s arm—and into a long marriage. Kay and her sons now run a pick-your-own blueberry farm in Otterville. There’s no one more down to earth than Kay. Instead of bringing yet another cake after my mother died, Kay sparked our appetites with fresh asparagus from her farm.

Genie Keller, early-90s, stands straight and strong dressed in tailored clothes. Her family history runs deep in the nearby hamlet of Elsah. Pop met her only a decade ago when they exchanged local history lore. Genie’s a fine poet. Two of her poems are published in our anthology Worth Remembering: The Poetry of Our Heritage: A Family and Friends Poetry Anthology … and Some of the History

Eileen Cunningham, 90, [] is an elegant beauty at any age. She’s written a series of books about life in Greene County. Eileen grew up on a farm in the lower Illinois River valley. She later farmed with her husband and worked as a nurse. In honor of the peacock farm they once owned, peacock feathers are a motif in her clothing, jewelry, and home décor.

Marcy Burns, mid80s, lives in Oxnard, California. We met when she reviewed my book Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary. When she and my father became email pals, they found connections with both Alton, Illinois (our nearest town), and Camp Robinson, Arkansas (where my father did his Army basic training). Marcy reads Sightlines once a year. That’s all any author could ask for. I’ve been her guest in California where we walked by the sea side. Marcy linked me to the editor of The Spirit of a Woman: Stories to Empower and Inspire.

The awards were a family affair. My niece made beautiful certificates for The Second Mile and Women of Inspiration awards. My father carved some of his critters to share. We both signed the awards. I was able to deliver most of the Women of Inspiration Awards in person. Each woman was surprised, delighted, and overcome with emotion.

Lois Lock’s response says it best. “Why me?” she asked. “What have I done to earn such an award? To have been watched all these years and not knowing you were being watched as to your actions toward others. I’ll never forget this afternoon.”

All too often we neglect to say “Thank you.” All too often, the best things aren’t said until the person’s not there to hear. It’s so much more satisfying to say now, while the person is living, “You matter to me. Your life—however ordinary it seems to you—is extraordinary to me. You are a Woman of Inspiration.”

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