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.”

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

kathleen hewitt March 30, 2011 at

When my Aunt Helen learned of her Second Mile Award, she started to walk a little differently. She brought the essay, the award, the beautiful carving to selected events in her life, showing only people that she cared for. She’d wait for the right time and pull it all quietly, discreetly from her music bag. She worried a little that people would think she was ‘bragging’. That’s Helen. I could brag about her all day. Yes, I think she’s an inch taller.
Thank you Janet,

Janet Riehl April 4, 2011 at


I’m so happy to hear about the good effect of The Second Mile Award for your Aunt Helen. That’s so cute!

The Women of Inspiration Award came out of that. Aunt Helen would certainly be one for you and others in her life. What a great gal!

Janet Riehl

Janean Baird April 4, 2011 at

It was my pleasure to lend my hands and heart to “The Second Mile Award” and companion, “Women of Inspiration Award”. I enjoyed collaborating with you and honoring your father, my grandfather, in this way. It was a wonderful gift to him for his 95th. Then it became a gift that kept giving as the ripples from the initial award kept spreading good will and warm fuzzies across the country – even now. Love the phrase, “Our stories intertwine like trumpet vines climbing up a barn.” as you describe Kay Maupin, and can picture Grandpa giving Lee a shove/nudge her way all those years ago. Thank you for sharing your Inspirational Women with ALL of us!

Janet Riehl April 5, 2011 at

Thanks, Janean. You’re gorgeous certificates made our awards more meaningful. And, without our consultations on The Second Mile Award, I would have been at a loss to choose our winners.

“Our stories intertwine like trumpet vines climbing up a barn.” This is a sharp image for me from my childhood. Those orange blossoms against the weathered barn. They were perfect for slipping over my fingers and making witches fingers.

Auntie J.

Donna April 5, 2011 at

My Aunt Mary still talks about her certificate and the beautifully carved critter…I am surrounded by women of inspiration who have lived long lives…what a wonderful honor Janet

Marcy Burns April 5, 2011 at

It was a delightful and humbling experience to receive the award. I am especially glad if I have indeed inspired Janet though I readily confess I don’t quite understand how or why. We bonded via email and then the bond was confirmed when she visited me. Sometimes one is fortunate and a friendship is born just that way.
Take heart all you younger women. You need not fear aging. It is a blesssing to live long. The 80’s may be the best years of my life (but I can’t really tell you that until I’ve reached my 90’s, can I?)

Janet Riehl April 5, 2011 at

Yes, Daddy insisted that all the recipients of The Second Mile Award receive one of his whittled critters. He does it with two blades of his pocket knife. They take him at least two hours. It’s getting harder for him, at 95, to continue making them. He was glad to share one with your Aunt Mary.

Janet Riehl

Jenny April 6, 2011 at

I love this! I just wrote a blog post about Susan B Anthony which included this fabulous and inspirational quote from her:
• The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball — the further I am rolled the more I gain.~Susan B. Anthony
It’s time to return to the tradition of honoring our elders, so they too can recognize the empowerment in aging!

Janet Riehl April 6, 2011 at

You can tell by Marcy’s comments just how charming she is. And, strong, too. Marcy travels the world, keeps active with writing, peace and social justice work…and enjoying life. What’s not to inspire?
Thanks for the Susan B. Anthony quotation. America is entranced with the new-improved version, and the forever young. We need women to lead the way of how to age gracefully with strength.

Janet Riehl

Lynn Obermoeller July 6, 2012 at

Janet, that makes me want to award my own Aunt’s who I find very inspirational. I think I will sit down and write them all a letter today!

Burma Wilkins January 26, 2014 at

Janet, as always, you and your father being creative, loving and thoughtful. I must say, and probably don’t express it often enough, it is wonderful that you and Grace get together as often as you do. I am envious because Grace is so much fun. She is an inspiration to me as well. She is so well-read, current on issues and trends, my financial guru, a great mom and awesome in everyway. Love you.

Leave a Comment

Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Interviews Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category Writing Prompts Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category StoryMap Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Writing and Healing Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Scrapmoir Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Book Business Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category Memoir Journal Writing Category News Category News Category News Category