At the 2023 YWCA Leadership Luncheon, Rhonda Olson, 2016-2017 board president (pictured, right), presented the Leader of Distinction Award. Following is the text of that presentation:
Every year at this luncheon, we honor someone who has exemplified the YWCA mission in their lives, with a focus on reaching out to, lifting up, and celebrating the lives and hopes of women, of children, and of diverse peoples.
Growing up a Midwest farm girl who changed universities and majors when she was told that women could not be band directors, our 2023 Leader of Distinction became a business major instead and worked as a buyer for a major retailer. Passing by a school one day, she realized that education was her passion, so she went back to school and became a teacher. For her, education was the way to build capacity and leadership, starting with young ones in elementary school.
She came to Walla Walla in 1969 and began a career in the public schools. She taught at Edison and Prospect Point, then moved on to the high school as a counselor and later, the Dean of Students with some other interesting assignments along the way including cheerleading coach, leader of the Wa Hi Exchange program in Yokohama Japan, and advisor to the Associated Student Body. Her life outside school was also incredibly full. Though she did not become a band director, it did not stop her from singing in choirs, ringing handbells, or playing the flute. Her leadership was sought and valued in every church she participated in, whether serving soup to community members looking for a warm meal or leading the church council. People knew her counsel was wise and that she was smart and thoughtful, a person of quiet strength, no drama, possessed of a delightful and engaging sense of humor. Said her daughters, “Mom has such a sense of joy being part of a team. She taught us how to value community service and engagement. Her wish for us, as was her mom’s for her, is a life of hopeful impact, doing things to help others and making a difference.
Her teacher’s schedule didn’t allow her to participate in a lot of community board work until her retirement, and when we heard she was retiring, the YWCA was ready. We reached out to her about board service, and this smart woman said “no,” not for a year. So we marked the calendar and asked her again a year later. She said yes, and instantly became an engaged board member, later serving as president. During her tenure she saw the YWCA expand services to Dayton and welcome a new generation of leaders, both staff and board. She also shared her talents with Children’s Home Society, serving on both the local and the statewide boards of that organization.
I want to close on a personal note. Our 2023 leader of distinction has that rare ability that is so in line with our luncheon’s theme today. She has the gift of being present to each person she is with, no matter who they are. And as her friend, I see it every time I am with her. She is a “best friend” to many of us in this room, her ability to make each of us feel uniquely valued is a true gift. Our community is blessed by her deep commitment to hopeful impact and to servant leadership.
Join me in celebrating our dear friend, Mary Lynne Schroeder, YWCA Leader of Distinction for 2023.