Twelve local changemakers were honored at The Sentinel’s seventh annual Extraordinary Women celebration Thursday night.
Whether a lawyer, a teacher, an activist or a business owner, all of this year’s honorees could be described with two words, said outgoing Executive Editor Paul Miller, who hosted the event at the Redfern Arts Center: as visionaries and as doers.
“They see opportunity and possibility where others might not, and they do not hesitate to act, to take up a cause,” Miller said, “to marshal a coalition, to address a need or close a void.”
The 12 women from throughout the region were honored at the gala: Brenda Dunn, Ceil Goff, Christine Greenwood-Smart, Ann Heffernon, Kristen Leach, Jeannine Leclerc, Pat Martin, Peggy Pschirrer, Rebecca Todd, Sandra Neil Wallace, Beth Wood and Tammy Woodard.
Each was featured in a video presentation during the gala, and received a commemorative plaque and gift bag. This year’s honorees were also profiled in the “Extraordinary Women” magazine inserted in today’s Sentinel.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Kathleen Soldati, a strategic thinker, executive, mentor, teacher and published author. Soldati was previously the executive director of the Portsmouth Historical Society and, earlier in her career, head of the League of N.H. Craftsmen.
Speaking to the audience Thursday, she recalled the moment when she suddenly knew it was time to leave her job at the latter organization, almost as if a small voice had told her so. But after following that instinct, she struggled to decide on her next professional opportunity.
It wasn’t clear to her why until her brother was later diagnosed with AIDS, she said, an illness that would eventually kill him.
“It’s interesting what you can’t see when you’re in the thick of it. It was only years later that it all made sense. ... I could not have been there for him if my world of work was different,” Soldati told the audience. “Although I didn’t see it at the time, the message was a gift from the universe.”
Soldati told a winding tale of the changes and transitions she’s faced in her life, from escaping violence in her childhood to conquering a fear of water to dealing with the threat of divorce and her husband’s diagnosis with cancer. She remarked that in each situation, she’s navigated the change by listening to that small voice and trusting she would be all right in the end.
“So all I can say to you is what I say to myself: Pay attention. Listen to the universe. It may speak to you in dreams, in the person of someone you meet, or with your emotions. Please consider heeding it,” Soldati said. “Tune in to what you trust, and make your decision, and keep moving.”
The soiree also featured performances from Nimble Arts, a performance troupe of the Brattleboro-based New England Center for Circus Arts. The gravity-defying acts drew oohs and ahs from the crowd as one performer showed off juggling stunts and another wowed attendees with a display of hand balancing, contorting her body while perched on canes.
Still another, dressed as a granny, performed a routine on a German wheel, comically set to the tune of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
It wasn’t the only moment of levity throughout the evening. As one honoree, Tammy Woodard, came to the stage to accept her award, she presented Miller with a pink T-shirt reading “Uplifted from Underneath it All” in honor of his last day at The Sentinel Thursday.
Woodard owns Underneath it All, a boutique in Peterborough that specializes in customized bra fittings to help women feel more comfortable in their own skin. She said she thought it would be nice to give Miller a humorous send-off.
Woodard said the gala was an opportunity to learn about other “extraordinary women” in the area, noting she’s excited there’s an event that recognizes women for the hard work they do in their communities.
“It’s so important, because women, I think, naturally do it, period. We’re always — we’re just nurturers. And we’re not looking for something from it — we just do it,” Woodard said. “But when you are recognized, you’re like, wow. Because you kind of look back and go, hey, yeah, I’m kind of cool!”