June Mann Averyt

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2006

COURAGE
for a woman who, facing active opposition,
backed an unpopular cause in which she deeply believed:

June Mann Averyt

An individual sleeping in a doorway or bumming a cigarette in a church parking lot or pushing a beat-up grocery cart toward an abandoned building prompts most of us to shake our heads at the overwhelming problem of homelessness. We wonder about the person’s plight and debate whether we should do something.

June Averyt looks past the questions and just sees a potential friend.

A true advocate for people living on the street, her work goes beyond advocacy: She pursues personal relationships with people most of the rest of us fear or shun.

Pat Morgan, executive director of Partners for the Homeless and a social services colleague, put it this way: “June Averyt has her Ph.D. in social welfare, but it should really read as a doctorate of philosophy in homelessness as this has been her major focus for years. June does more than study homelessness and homeless people. She literally devotes her life to developing relationships with street-dwelling people with severe and persistent mental illness, chronic substance abuse problems, and/or dual diagnoses of mental illness and substance abuse. She uses trust to persuade them to accept housing and non-traditional services.”

June’s postgraduate work began at the University of Georgia, where she obtained a Master of Social Work in 1993. As she worked toward her doctorate, she amassed a variety of educational and work experiences in Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York and Tennessee. Internships with the Georgia legislature and Jewish Federation of Atlanta put her in a position to affect legislation and allocate grants. A four-year fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Psychiatry provided the opportunity to study mental health policies and to do ground-breaking research. She has taught, performed research, published articles and made many professional presentations. Her career took her to Manhattan where she worked for The Samaritans of New York, including three years as executive director. From 2000 to 2002, she worked as director of social services for the Salvation Army in Memphis, starting four new programs in 18 months.

Winning her doctorate degree came at the same time that June decided to fully pursue her interest in the homeless. She joined an ad-hoc movement among Midtown churches seeking to help the homeless. After two years of study the coalition launched a new nonprofit called Door of Hope and hired June as executive director.

Door of Hope’s mission is to provide a welcoming place where people on the streets can learn healthy living skills and build positive relationships. June calls it servanthood in action. That, according to Pat Morgan, describes June to a “T.”

“She puts people in her car, takes them to appointments, to apply for housing or just to their favorite haunts. When the people she has befriended become too ill to sleep outdoors in freezing weather, she has been known to open her home to some of the most fragile.” That’s true, says June’s husband Murray McKay, who married June two years ago on Valentine’s Day. “Taking someone in may be unusual, but it doesn’t seem extraordinary to us. We focus on
the fact that the person needs help.”

Murray says June’s work amounts to a religious calling. He adds that June had perfect models in her parents, both of whom spent time and fortune helping the needy and the mentally ill.

June Averyt left Door of Hope in 2011 and founded Outreach, Housing & Community.

Joan Fulenwider Strong

Women of Achievement
2006

HERITAGE
for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

Joan Fulenwider Strong

Born in 1907, Joan Fulenwider Strong spent the next 92 years living a full life at a fast pace, contributing to her community, working in her family’s business and raising a family.

In 1920 when Joan was 13, her family started a business, National Pressed Steel. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she joined the family business in 1938 at the age of 31. She served as president of Mental Health in Industry, a group in which was the only woman.

At the time of her death she was still active as a financial consultant and Vice President of National Pressed Steel. Not content to merely working as an executive in the steel company and raising her family, Joan became active in many civic organizations. By the time she entered local politics she’d been selected as one of Woman’s Home Companion ten national Women of the Year and as Woman of the Year by La Sertoma International.

From 1960 through 1967, Joan served in the Tennessee House of Representatives. During that time she cosponsored legislation to restore civil rights to the mentally ill and cosponsored the repeal of the so-called “Monkey Law” which prohibited the teaching of evolution in Tennessee public schools. A member of the Memphis/ Shelby County Safety Council, she worked for a law requiring newly manufactured cars have seat belts.

Joan worked during Mayor Ingram’s administration to get HUD programs and activities established in Memphis. She worked diligently with foreign students to assist them in getting their education. After World War II, she helped over 450 Holocaust survivors and displaced persons relocate to Memphis and the surrounding area. Joan always spoke her mind and said that she had “no reservations” about legislating consolidation of city and county schools and city and county taxes, issues that we’re still discussing.

Joan was a woman of tremendous energy. An article in the Press Scimitar in the spring of 1960 says, “In her spare time she looks after two Arkansas Delta Farms of 1,500 acres….. Mrs. Strong seems to manufacture spare time and is also active in the National USO and serves on the boards of the YWCA, the City Beautiful Commission, and was the Pilot Clubs Woman of the Year.

Joan had a lighter side as well. She loved hats. Her collection of over 450 hats included antique hats for women as well as a few hats for men. She is quoted again in the Press Scimitar as saying, “Hats are Good For Health.” She was pleased to make presentations on the topic and would bring along as many at 75 hats to display during these sessions. Her advise to women: “If you’re depressed, go out and buy yourself a new hat. It will make you feel better.”

As Joan Strong grew older, she maintained her energy and enthusiasm for life. She enjoyed celebrating her birthdays with bold feats. At age 83 she spent the night roaming the streets of Memphis on a motorcycle. At 85 she glided in an ultralight. She was quick to spin tales of family and about Memphis. She even knew Elvis and spoke of him as a “dear boy.”

She passed away in 1998. Joan Fulenwider Strong lived a life that is an example to us all. She served her community through hard work, consistent effort and with good humor and for that we honor her tonight.

Virginia “Ginger” Ralston

Women of Achievement
2006

STEADFASTNESS
for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Virginia “Ginger” Ralston

A native of Missouri, Ginger Ralston was born in Waynesville, raised in Lebanon and attended college in Springfield. She became “Ginger” the summer before her junior year while working a summer job with her friend Stella. Stella gave them both nicknames and Virginia liked Ginger so well that she’s been Ginger ever since.

She and her husband moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1955, where they lived for the next thirty years. There Ginger raised their three sons, was PTA president and worked diligently for the American Association of University Women and her local garden club.

While raising her family, she decided to follow in the footsteps of her maternal grandmother and her mother and enter the world of property management. When her grandfather died, her grandmother was left with four young children and no income. To support her family, she built three houses to rent to boarders. Her mother inherited one of the houses, which she in turn managed, resulting in college money for Ginger. After Ginger’s youngest child started to school, she bought a lot, built a 24-unit apartment building, which was soon followed by another.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Ginger became active in women’s political issues. That was the year that she discovered that her favorite aunt, Fairy, had died because of the lack of safe and legal abortion. Told by her doctor to avoid the condition, Aunt Fairy had two difficult and dangerous pregnancies resulting in two children. The third pregnancy resulted in this beloved aunt’s death. Ginger was at the university when this happened and never knew what had happened. When she heard the story in 1991 the political became personal and Ginger became actively pro-choice and actively involved in women’s issues.

Since that time Ginger has worked tirelessly for the AAUW, the Women’s Political Caucus and the Unitarian Women’s Alliance, Women of Achievement and the Public Issues Forum. Ginger became well known as someone who could be counted on to be present – and representing multiple organizations – at any significant gathering focused on women’s issues and women’s needs.

Quoting a letter of support from City Council member Carol Chumley, “Mrs. Ralston’s boundless energy, enthusiasm and advocacy for women are remarkable. She is not often out-front but is always working diligently and steadfastly behind the scenes….She is probably the most knowledgeable person in Shelby County regarding the voting records of elected officials and positions taken by candidates for public office on issues affecting women and families.”

Many of us can attest to that. When we open our email accounts we’re very likely to find a message from Ginger updating us on the issues and providing contact information so that our voices can be heard by decisions makers at all levels.

Perre MacFarland Magness

Women of Achievement
2006

VISION
for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs
led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Perre MacFarland Magness

Perre MacFarland Magness has used her passion for history and her skill as a writer to document the essential roles women have played in the life and times of Memphis and the Mid-south.

Some little-known, some legendary, all fascinating, the women’s stories were part of Perre’s 16-year collection of area history for a weekly column in The Commercial Appeal called “Past Times.”

Those columns, written from 1987 to 2003, were inspiration for several Women of Achievement Heritage nominations and awards through the years and were compiled in 1994 in one of Perre’s six books, called Past Times: Stories of Early Memphis.

This devotion to history began for Perre during a childhood spent in Columbia, Tennessee, in a home built in 1854. It deepened as a student at Vassar College, where, she says, “the general emphasis was that women could do anything,” and during graduate studies at Vanderbilt University.

She wrote book reviews for the Nashville Banner’s well-respected book editor, Mary Douglas. “I graduated the year Bette Friedan’s book (The Feminine Mystique) was published. Miss Mary knew I was literary…She gave me all these books about women having nervous breakdowns, being so unhappy. It’s amazing that a) I ever married and b) that I ever read anything else.”

She did marry in 1965 and moved west with what she called her “liberal eastern education…I came to Memphis young and serious and liberal and I got involved in community things…volunteer work.”

Indeed she did. Even with two young children at home, Perre founded the Volunteer Center of Memphis – which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary – as chair of a Memphis Junior League committee. She went on to become president of the Junior League and in 1980, she earned Leadership Memphis’s Kate Gooch Award for service to the community.

She also had been writing book reviews for The Commercial Appeal after being advised to be careful “not to come on too strong” in a meeting with editors. “Come off like an intellectual housewife,” Perre was told in 1967.

So with that experience, friends in the Junior League turned to her as they attempted to get a book produced on local architecture. That project became Perre’s first book, Good Abode, Nineteenth Century Architecture in Memphis and Shelby County. And that book led Perre to her real life’s work. After Good Abode, The Commercial Appeal called and asked Perre to write a local history column every week. She agreed and “Past Times” was launched. “I am very lucky in that I found just what I love to do in my 40s,” she says.

Her second book – a how-to on cookbook publishing – appeared in 1986 followed by A History of Idlewild Presbyterian Church in 1990.

Along the way, she continued to serve community arts and civic boards, including 12 years as trustee at LeMoyne Owen College and as the first woman on the Board of Visitors of the University of Memphis in 1992! Among her accolades is the Memphis Historical Writing award in 2002 for her book, In the Shadows of the Elms: Elmwood Cemetery.

Just this year, Perre became one of four female members of the Egyptians, a venerable Memphis private club dedicated to intelligent discourse.

Perre Magness recognized the need to preserve the stories of women whose courage, talents and achievements helped shape the Mid-South region. Her work leaves a priceless legacy for future generations.

Regina D. Walker

Women of Achievement
2006

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Regina D. Walker

Regina D. Walker has served for the past 20 years as Senior Vice President of Community Initiative with the United Way of Memphis. Her dedication and determination have provided the resources to build stronger and healthier not-for-profit agencies and communities. Securing funds and services involves some of the least glamorous aspects of community service, yet Regina has dedicated her life to making sure that communities get both the fiscal and strategic support they need to thrive.

Though non-profit community organizations are more in need than ever, they start out with every disadvantage. The federal and state support for vital community organizations has been cut dramatically over the course of Regina’s career. Regina, however, has been determined not to let disadvantaged citizens remain on the chopping block. Her work has sustained countless community programs in the Mid-South. In 1999 alone, her Community Initiative Department generated over $6 million in grants and in-kind services.

Regina graduated from Virginia State University in Petersburg, Virginia, with a B.S. in psychology, but she began her career in the not-for-profit sector as a VISTA volunteer with a home health agency in Portsmouth, Virginia. She worked for the United Way of South Hampton Roads in Norfolk for five years, and at the Portsmouth Area United Way for one year. She came to Memphis in 1984 to work for United Way and began volunteering for countless non-profit boards. By 1987, she was a graduate of Leadership Memphis.

Throughout her career, she’s emphasized the need to provide training tools and technical assistance that help non-profits achieve sustainable growth. Her passion is for community building. She set up a venture program that set aside funds for which community groups that weren’t members of the United Way could apply. And even more importantly, these groups could apply for training.

She is master of identifying resources that are already available thereby keeping new organizations from having to create themselves from scratch. Her work connected United Way agencies with a new tier of grassroots organizations and thereby revitalized the entire community. Working in the background, she keeps connected to ideas and resources that are bubbling up through the system and elsewhere.

Her work reaches far beyond the United Way. She has taken time to insure that more Memphians take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. She worked with organizations, businesses and faith-based communities to provide equipment, training, site centers and volunteers to help the disadvantaged complete their tax returns.

In her own neighborhood organization, The Vollintine-Evergreen Community Association, she is respected as a mediator who helps get potentially divisive issues out, discussed and resolved.

Regina has also been a strong advocate for better education for children and better training for teachers. She is on the National Board of Parents for Public Schools. She’s served on planning teams for the Memphis City Schools. And in her typical hands on way, she’s served with her daughter as a volunteer reader with the “Reading Bridge” program at the MLK Head Start Center.

Regina Walker’s drive and determination keeps her seeking out new resources for our community. Her work will contribute to the ongoing health and vitality of the Mid-South for years to come.

Susan Stephenson

Women of Achievement
2006

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Susan Stephenson

When Susan Stephenson was a second-grader in Chattanooga, she told her teacher she wanted to be a doctor.

Her teacher suggested that Susan was mistaken. What she meant was that she wanted to be a nurse. When Susan told the story at the dinner table that night, her father decided it was a time for a lesson about choosing her future.

The next day, he accompanied Susan to her classroom where he diplomatically explained to her teacher in the hallway that Susan could be a doctor, a nurse or whatever profession she chose. He made sure that Susan heard what he said.

That lesson about confidence and possibilities would guide Susan for the rest of her life.

She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee with a major in history and English. Her goal? To attend law school and become the first woman justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Sandra Day O’Connor would beat her to the bench, but Susan found another way to be the first woman in an influential spot.

The year before O’Connor joined the court, Susan moved to Memphis as the young wife of a student. She had spent half a school year teaching in Chattanooga, but couldn’t find a mid-year teaching job in Memphis. A friend suggested she try banking and sent her resume to First Tennessee Bank. The bank saw executive potential in the young college graduate and invited her to join the bank’s management training program.

That was in 1980. She more than realized her potential. Fifteen years later after being hired as a management trainee, Susan was named chairman, president, and chief executive officer of what was then Boatman’s Bank of Tennessee. She was the first woman to serve as CEO of a Memphis bank. That was in 1995. Just three years later, in a climate of mergers and acquisitions, Susan and Chip Dudley took a chance at organizing a new, independent bank – appropriately called Independent Bank. The bank is thriving today and offers special programs for women.

That reflection of personal values in the workplace is typical of Susan, said Ruby Bright, president of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis where Susan is chair-elect of the board.

“Susan stands on her beliefs and she walks her talk,” Ruby said. “She led her corporate board of directors to the decision over a year ago to be committed to paying a living wage to all of its employees.”

“She has broken many glass ceilings in a male-dominated field,” Ruby added. “She has certainly earned this recognition.”

Susan has worked with other community groups – from arts organizations to the American Cancer Society to Junior Achievement and the Leadership Academy – and she also takes time to share her experiences with other women. She emphasizes the power of confidence:

“Confidence is the steady assurance that something you want or need to happen will happen,” she once told a group of women.

“. . . You can change your life and the lives of people around you if you act with confidence.”