Historian Mary Meeker honored for leadership

Each year the YWCA recognizes an individual who has not only made a difference in our community but also has upheld our mission in life and work. Because  the recipient wasn’t able to be with us at the Luncheon, Executive Director Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin swore the crowd to secrecy, asking them to consider this surprise for Mary a SECRET mission.

 A leader of distinction

It isn’t hard to understand why the YWCA 2016 Leader of Distinction Award went to Mary Meeker.

Mary joined the YWCA board in the 1970s. One of Mary’s first missions was to figure out why the Ice Chalet’s electricity bill was so high. She was also curious about the purpose of a little switch on the wall of the Ice Chalet. After months of checking out crawl spaces, tracing wiring diagrams, and talking to electricians, she found her answer, turned the switch to “off,” and the power bills were a lot more in line with estimates.

But that was only the beginning.  Forty plus years later, Mary is still helping the YWCA as our chief archivist and history detective, a role she plays for many groups in town, including Walla Walla 2020, a civic group for whom Mary provides research reports about historic properties. In the 1980s, she led Operation SMART, a YWCA program to help middle school girls get excited about math and science.  In the 1990s, she served on the buildings and grounds committee and played a big role in analyzing YWCA facility needs, work that led to the decision to embark on a major remodel and capital campaign.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mary was in the leadership of the YWCA capital campaign, helping to raise $3.2 million for a major overhaul of YWCA buildings.

Even though it sounds like she spent every waking hour at the YWCA, Mary was also a huge presence in the public schools, chairing a successful school levy, leading the Berney school science fair, advocating for the formation of the Explorers program, teaching Junior Great Books, and serving on countless school committees.  She started a Walla Walla branch of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation and volunteered for years as a juvenile diabetes educator.

‘Secret’ mission accomplished

On Thursday, May 19, Kamna Shastri, our student archivist, asked Mary to stop in to help identify some photos. While they poured over old photos, we began playing a video of the Luncheon award presentation. Meanwhile, we were secretly recording Mary so you could see  her reaction when her name was read.  Join us and a couple of Mary’s good friends to watch her receive this well-deserved acknowledgement of her contributions to life in our community.

View two minutes of highlights from the award presentation: Mary’s surprise!