YWCA Woman of the Year
Grace. Dignity. Strength. Compassion. Optimism.
- Hired women to build Montana’s philanthropic sector;
- Stewarded millions of dollars in new gifts to benefit Montana communities;
- Said “yes” to starting a Montana Disaster Relief fund when our state was scrambling to figure out wildfire response in 2017;
- Mentored women to be better bosses and leaders;
- Volunteered her time and donated generously to numerous causes;
- And the list goes on and on and on…
Grace. Dignity. Strength. Compassion. Optimism.
These words unmistakably describe this year’s Woman of the Year. It is my honor and distinct privilege to introduce to you Mary Rutherford, the YWCA's Woman of the Year!
Let’s start with Grace.
While I stand here today as the Executive Director of YWCA Helena, I invested the last three years as an employee of Mary’s. I married the love of my life just weeks before starting my employment at Montana Community Foundation. A year later I was expecting my first child. Ten weeks after my daughter was born, her grandfather, my dad, suddenly died.
Mary quickly reinforced that family and my new responsibilities as “Mom” were the number one priority in my life. I’m a type A personality. It would have been an easy thing for me to prioritize the important work of the Montana Community Foundation. Not only did Mary brush aside a deadline of returning from maternity leave, but also ensured I was able to take necessary bereavement leave, ultimately meaning my work would have to wait. She ensured a community of colleagues were ready to gently welcome me back after my maternity leave did not go as expected. This experience deeply influenced me. Mary mentored me into grace as a leader. She exemplified grace as a leader. And has an eternally grateful, and ultimately transformed leader because of her grace.
Webster’s defines dignity as being worthy of honor or respect. Being composed or serious, or having a sense of pride in oneself.
Mary not only is worthy of honor and respect, her presence and intelligence demand it. She demands it of her staff, of her organization, and of herself. And it has meant that an incredible list of accomplishments now follow her name. From building the Montana Community Foundation to over $100 million in assets, to recently being named to the Federal Reserve board of directors. Mary’s sheer ability inclusively lead produces results.
Mary navigates the world like no one I’ve ever met. Her poise in the toughest of boardroom conversations allows her to earn and garner respect immediately. But her internal strength is matched by none. It isn’t a secret to the community of friends and colleagues that Mary continues to work with speedbumps she’s had in her health this year. But what is maybe only seen by those who get to work closely with her is her authenticity and vulnerability. Her strength through moments of collaboration and teamwork mean that she doesn’t just talk the talk – she walks the walk. Her strength in her vulnerability and authenticity creates an opportunity for learning and overcoming.
I got to personally experience Mary’s compassion in the story I shared about her grace. But her compassion extends far beyond. Mary has often talked about the welfare of children, and those without. Whether it is hungry children, women who need something to go right in their lives, or a daughter who is creating opportunities for her son… as a single mom. Mary’s heart is tender to bear the burdens WITH those who are experiencing loss or crisis. And while her compassion certainly includes her checkbook, it extends to thoughtful and meaningful work about how she invests her time and talents to make the world around her a better place for her neighbors.
She deeply believes in, and champions, equity and justice in her work and with the organizations she supports.
As Karen Armstrong, creator of the Charter for Compassion states, “Compassion means to endure something with another person, to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, to feel her pain as though it were our own, and to enter generously into their point of view. Compassion can be defined, therefore, as an attitude of principled, consistent altruism.”
This is Mary.
As the newly minted executive director for YWCA Helena, I might have saved the best for last.
Optimism. Mary exudes optimism. Have a new project you want to launch? Mary probably thinks you can do it. Need to raise $1 million for your operating expenses? Mary believes you can do it – and she will help you get there. Think you need to get an advanced degree to accomplish your career goals? Mary knows you can do it.
I wish we could all look through the beautiful eyeglasses of Mary Rutherford. Because, when you view the world as she does, the world looks brighter. Through Mary’s eyes, the world has the potential to hold equality, the potential for women to earn equal pay for equal work, the potential for a woman to holistically be supported through addiction recovery, the potential for a mom to provide her child security and love, the potential for our community to be resourced and react through a lens of compassion.
And optimism, in its purest form, is hope. And that’s what the YWCA has been doing for over 100 years.
Knowing Mary is knowing grace, dignity, strength, compassion and optimism. And that’s why YWCA Helena is proud to honor Mary today with the Woman of the Year award. Because the women of Helena not only look up to Mary, but need her Grace, dignity, strength, compassion and optimism.
Salute Woman of Achievement
It is my pleasure to announce this year’s Salute Woman of Achievement is Marcia Wall!
Marcia’s nominators wrote in part…
As a school counselor at Helena Middle School, Marcia would provide money for field trips, winter coats and shoes to students out of her own pocket. Marcia Wall founded The Angel Fund in 1989 after seeing students
lacking the basic needs of clothing and school supplies which are necessary for students to be able to focus on their education. The Angel Fund supports over 800 students and involves more than 50 volunteers and Angel Coordinators in the Helena Public Schools.
In 2018, The Angel Fund provided 14 $1,000 scholarships to qualifying graduates at PAL, Helena High and Capital High Schools. It’s philosophy --”Pay It Forward” -- is important and scholarship applicants are asked to identify ways in which they intend to give back to their communities.
Twelve years ago, Stuff the Bus was started by The Angel Fund and in 2018, nearly 1,300 students started the school year with a new backpack full of supplies.
If that’s not enough, Marcia partnered with the Attorney General’s office and the Helena Police Department to provide running and athletic shoes to students to encourage an active lifestyle.
Marcia Wall’s vision to help others has touched the lives of countless students and families in the greater Helena area. Thank you Marcia for all you’ve done for our community!