This year’s honorees are:
● Thelma Hodges of Naples – Philanthropist and namesake of Hodges University with her husband Earl, Thelma Hodges was one of the first three nurses hired at Naples Community Hospital. She retired from the hospital after a 22-year career, but continued to devote herself to the hospital as an auxiliary volunteer. She is the longest-serving volunteer, accumulating more than 15,000 hours of service. The Community Foundation of Collier County named her one of its “Women of Initiative” in 2011.
● Helen O’Rourke McClary of Matlacha – Known as the “Charity Watchdog” on the national level for developing national standards for charities for the Better Business Bureau, McClary has dedicated her life to raising money for charities, including Project HOPE’s overseas program. She is the recipient of the Better Business Bureau Hall of Fame Award and was honored by The Salvation Army for her 60 years of volunteer service. She is now known as the “Doll Lady” of Matlacha.
● Ettie Francis Walsh of Fort Myers – From picking cotton to working in The Capitol, Walsh has led a varied life full of love of country, family, friends, fishing and farming. Walsh served as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy during World War II and worked in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. After moving south to follow her husband’s career, Walsh was the office manager and bookkeeper for Kelley’s Gardens and A. W. Kelley’s Gardens in Fort Myers for more than 25 years.
The Grande Dames Tea honoring the three women will take place Friday, March 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Broadway Palm at 1380 Colonial Blvd. in Fort Myers.
Co-chairs of the Grande Dames Tea are Sandy Stilwell and Cheryl Komnick.
“These three outstanding women come from varied backgrounds and are sure to have some insightful advice for the audience and the PACE girls,” said Stilwell, who also is a member of the PACE Lee Board of Directors.
“Our theme of The Wisdom of Age – Honoring the Female Spirit is so appropriate because each of these women has much to share from her own life’s journey,” Komnick said.
Invitations to the Grande Dames Tea will be mailed in mid-February, at which time guests may also register online at www.pacecenter.org/
This is the fifth year of the historic Grande Dames Tea. Previous honorees have included Berne Davis, Eleanore Kleist and Barbara B. Mann in 2009; Jeanne Bochette, Helen Hendry and Veronica Shoemaker in 2010; Myra Daniels, Kathleen Nealon and Mimi Straub in 2011; and Michel Doherty, Mavis Miller and Anna “Boots” Tolles in 2012.
The Grande Dames Tea was originated by PACE Center for Girls of Lee County to honor women who have played major roles in Southwest Florida history through decades of service, philanthropy and helping others.
The agenda for the tea will include interaction between the PACE girls and the three Grande Dames, in a question and answer format that Stilwell and Komnick said “is sure to be thought-provoking and poignant.” Mei-Mei Chan, News-Press Media Group President and Publisher, will once again serve as mistress of ceremonies.
PACE Center for Girls, Inc., is a non-residential delinquency prevention program targeting the unique needs of girls, ages 12 to 18 years old, facing challenges such as physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, foster care, neglect, death of a parent, family history of incarceration and declining grades
PACE is a Florida-based, not for profit organization, and the only statewide prevention program for adolescent at-risk girls in the nation. Its mission is to provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. Since the Lee County program opened its doors in 2007, nearly 600 girls have been served, helping them on the journey to begin lives of dignity and success.
PACE accepts referrals from the juvenile justice system, the Department of Children & Families, school personnel, community services agencies, parents, family members, friends and self-referrals. PACE Lee’s most recent outcome report shows that 94 percent of girls served have no involvement with the criminal justice system a year after transitioning from PACE’s day program. As a result, PACE reduces the significant long term costs associated with teen pregnancy, substance abuse, unemployment and long term economic dependency.
For information about the Grande Dames Tea or to become a sponsor, please contact PACE Director of Development Melissa Cofta at (239) 425-2366, ext. 25, or visit http://pacecenter.org/