GRAND RAPIDS — Jo Ellyn Clarey, former president and director of the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council, has worked to promote the often-overlooked roles that women have played throughout local history.
On Wednesday, Clarey — a literary scholar with decades of experience researching local women’s history — received the Leadership Award at the 2021 ATHENA Awards hosted by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Today, I want us to be cognizant of just how much is still out there — and is still to be learned — about women who have always been committed workers and social contributors,” Clarey said during a ceremony at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. “Despite recent efforts, they remain largely uncredited.”
The 32nd annual ATHENA Awards recognized local women who have shown professional excellence and leadership in their careers.
The ceremony also recognized Kiara Baskin, founder and principal of Bump to Birth Doula Services LLC, with the 2021 Young Professional Award, and New Destiny Pathways Inc. with the 2021 Organizational Leadership Award.
As she accepted the ATHENA award Wednesday, Clarey said women were the founders and early supervisors of local hospitals in West Michigan before they were replaced by men. Women in Grand Rapids also started running for office in 1887, much earlier than most people realize, Clarey said.
“Simply knowing women’s history can both support our pursuits and warn us to fight against ever-present pulls toward a past that never happened,” Clarey said. “Women never lived in isolated domestic spaces, leaving all the work to men. Women’s history isn’t what many people think it is.”
Krashawn Martin, who serves as the recreation supervisor for community services at the city of Wyoming’s Parks and Recreation Department, chaired this year’s ATHENA Council.
“It has been amazing seeing the impact of shifting our dollars to women-owned, women-led organizations, increasing representation in leadership, and evaluating data to ensure progress,” Martin said during the event. “These organizations are giving back to the larger community of women and girls by providing and supporting leadership development opportunities and initiatives.”
The other finalists for this year’s Leadership Award were: Gabriella De La Vega, broadcaster at Grand Rapids Community Media Center; Judy Welch, West Michigan executive director of Michigan Women Forward; Melissa Collar, chief counsel at Rockford Construction Co.; and Roya Bruce, category manager at Steelcase Inc.
Finalists in the Young Professional Leadership Award category were: Dani Dubay, operations manager at In The Image; Elisa Pérez-Arellano, founder and CEO of Inclusive Empowerment Services LLC; Lisa Nuyens Heyne, executive director, superintendent and principal of Grand Rapids Child Discovery Center; and Verónica Quintino-Aranda, Kent County 4-H program coordinator at Michigan State University Extension.
As well, Erhardt Construction Co. and Express Employment Professionals were also nominated for the Organizational Leadership Award category.