For 35 years, the YWCA in Spokane has held an annual Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon.
It is partly a fundraiser to support the ongoing services of the YWCA for women and families, and it is designed also to promote awareness of domestic abuse in the community. The luncheon speaker this year is Janine Latus, journalist and author of “If I Am Missing or Dead,” the story of the death of her sister, murdered by an ex-boyfriend.
Regina Malveaux, CEO of YWCA Spokane, notes that 34 people were killed in Washington due to domestic violence in 2016, and that 1 in 3 women will have experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.
But the luncheon also is a recognition of women who have made a difference in the community in a variety of ways – from the arts to education to business.
“Very few awards are given for women of high achievement,” said former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard, who received the YWCA’s Government Award in 1987. “These awards become more important with time, and they are important in recognizing the variety, diversity and broad areas in which women are successful.”
This year the Lifetime Achievement Award is being awarded to Ellen Robey, who, among other accomplishments, headed the Friends of the Davenport group, which spearheaded the effort to save the Davenport Hotel. The Science, Technology and Environment Award this year goes to Heather Rosentrater, a 40-year-old Avista executive who ensures that gas and electricity are delivered to homes and businesses in the region, and fixes things when trees fall and wind blows and power goes out.
The seven women being honored today serve as mentors to those coming up behind them or who need to learn that there is a place for them in careers and places they might not otherwise consider. No matter what their profession, they all light the path forward, and they are being recognized for all they do.
Arts and Culture Award
One woman at this year’s YWCA’s Women of Achievement Awards Luncheon will be hard to miss – 101-year-old Eileen Millikan, who traveled from her home in Almira to see her niece Gina Freuen receive the Arts and Culture Award. She will be dressed to the nines.
“There’s no doubt she’ll be wearing her high heels,” said Freuen, whose work as an artist, art event promoter and teacher is being honored. Clearly there’s a certain style and pizazz about the women in Freuen’s family.
Her mother was a painter, who taught painting in the basement of the family home after her seven children were grown, and who exhibited her works in galleries in the state. Freuen’s sister, Kay O’Rourke, is a well-known painter in Spokane.
Always artistic as a child, Freuen sought her own way to express her art, and hit on ceramics. She took a course in college. “Right place, right professor, right time. Perfect for me. I’m strong and I’ve got big hands, and it was a medium in which I could be an individual in my family.”
For 40 years she has been doing her art, and over the years has brought arts events to the citizens of the area. It was 32 years ago that she co-founded ArtFest, the annual early-June outdoors art festival in Browne’s Addition. She had been on the arts committee of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture and decided that Spokane needed an art festival. Some of the people who volunteered back then are still working on projects with her today. “I rode here on the backs of some amazing volunteers.”
She also organized the juried Inland Craft Warnings exhibition and still participates in the annual Little Spokane River Artist Studio Tour, in which four art studios located on or near the Little Spokane River (including Freuen’s) have works by 38 artists on display for a day. (The tour is this Saturday.)
Freuen is downsizing her life, moving out of her home on the same property where the gallery is located and creating an apartment for herself within the gallery. Her daughter’s family will occupy the house, and they will share and enjoy the grounds and gardens together.
“Besides, I can’t walk away from my kiln,” she said. “I built it. It’s a high-fire soda kiln which produces happy surprises every time.”
She has mentored and taught aspiring artists at Gonzaga University for 20 years, but as of last May has, as she calls it, “retired,” which means it’s now all about the art. But then, it always has been.
Owner and operator of Wendle Motors
Business and Industry Award
Kristin Goff, the third-generation owner and operator of Wendle Motors, learned the importance of giving back as a child. The Wendle family has a long history of community service; Goff’s mother, Carol Wendle, was the Women of Achievement recipient for education in 1994, making them the first mother and daughter to receive the award. “That makes it extra special for me,” Goff said.
Much of Goff’s community involvement revolves around her passion for education, mentoring and children. She served on the boards of Northeast Community Center, Spokane County United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YWCA of Spokane, and Greater Spokane Incorporated.
Goff is a hands-on activist. For many years, she has put together Bite 2 Go packs at Second Harvest, tutored reading students in elementary schools, and sponsored children through Big Brothers Big Sisters. “It’s fulfilling for me to help where I can,” she said, “even if it’s in a small role.”
Goff is at the heart of Wendle Motors’ community support. The company donated a vehicle to the Spokane Youth Sports Association and sponsored food for entire school sites for the At the Core weekend backpack program. She emphasizes volunteerism such as mentoring through Junior Achievement, coaching youth sports and working with the United Way. “I think it’s important to offer a variety of volunteer opportunities,” she said, “so there are options for our employees that would like to get more involved.”
Goff and her husband, Shayne, are helping a veteran with urgent medical needs navigate the Veterans Affairs labyrinth so he can receive his earned benefits. “It’s been very challenging and frustrating at times, helping him jump through the hoops,” she said, “but we’ve learned a lot and been able to help others in the process.”
Goff and her husband first decided to mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters when they were 23. “We quickly realized it was a two-way street,” she said. “As much as we thought we would help him navigate his life, he helped us navigate ours.”
They stay in contact with their little brother, now 32 years old. “He’s in the Air Force now; he’s married and has two kids,” she said. “He’s done really well.”
Goff felt humbled when she learned of the award. “I’m so grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve been given,” she said, “so being able to give back to the community is something I’m truly grateful for.”
Juliana Christine Matthews Repp
Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award
Juliana Christine Matthews Repp is a tireless, passionate advocate for the underprivileged. A member of the Nez Perce Tribe, she serves indigenous people across the country. “I’m proud … that I can serve as a voice for Native Americans,” she said. “They are often underrepresented, and have unique legal needs.”
Repp earned a juris doctorate from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1995. Licensed to practice law within the Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Colville, Kalispel, Spokane, Standing Rock and Yakama tribal courts in addition to state and federal courts, she often has to litigate a case in several jurisdictions at the same time.
Repp began as a public defender for the Colville Confederated Tribes; she has served periodically on the Nez Perce Tribal Court as an interim judge for more than a decade. “At some point, maybe I’ll do that full time,” she said, “but right now I’m … still interested in practicing law.” The Suquamish Tribe tapped her for its Court of Appeals bench earlier this year.
Repp made four trips to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to support the indigenous-led resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline. “Some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in my life were the water protectors who went to the front lines,” she said.
She did not approach the front lines for legal reasons, but she watched videos brought back by protesters. “They were really difficult to watch,” she said. “I thought someone would get killed; I worried about that every day.”
There were good moments, though. Each morning, jogged awake by Lakota singing, Repp stepped out and looked toward the river, where horses watered and tepees dotted the hills on the other side. “In my mind’s eye I could picture what life might have looked like there near the river, a couple hundred years ago,” she said. “The memory of the songs and the horses and tepees will stay with me forever.”
One of Repp’s proudest moments came when she was able to save a Native American woman’s daughter from a wrongful adoption after a state court failed to follow the Indian Child Welfare Act. “At the moment things turned around for her,” Repp said, “I never again doubted why I had a calling for this type of work.”
Repp ran into the same client recently; the client’s daughter is now in college. “She was so proud,” Repp said. “I gave her a big hug.”
Patricia O’Connell Killen
Senior university fellow and professor of religious studies, Gonzaga University
When Patricia O’Connell Killen was in first grade, she attended her cousin’s college graduation ceremony. It was at an all-women’s college where the young, book-loving little girl watched as woman after woman walked across the stage to receive a diploma. It was an image that is as vivid in her mind today as it was back then.
Killen was the first in her immediate family to earn a college degree, and she has spent her professional life on college campuses ever since – 21 years on the faculty at Pacific Lutheran University and as its first female provost, and since 2010 at her alma mater, Gonzaga University, where she served as the first female academic vice president. Currently on sabbatical leave, she stepped down from her administrator position in July and resumed faculty duties.
“Experiencing a college education means opening up whole new ways of thinking of the world, of learning what one might do in this world,” she said.
At Gonzaga she championed the Underrepresented Minority Teaching Post-Doctoral Fellow Program, helped establish the Native American Studies Program and hired the first full-time member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. She was integral in creating the Gonzaga/University of Washington regional health partnership, implementing a parental leave policy at the university and working to integrate career preparation into the curriculum across disciplines.
Clearly she loves higher education and works to make it better every day for students. “The university exists for students, after all,” she said. “I am surprised that I got into administration, frankly, but I do enjoy the challenge and am most gratified when I help open things up for students, faculty and professional staff so they can do their work on behalf of the community.”
She is most supportive of the Jesuit vision that every human life is the process of ongoing creation and being educated is not so much for oneself but so as to be able to make a contribution to the world. “The work of higher education matters because the world can ill afford people of small imagination and cramped souls,” she said.
“Higher education is really important,” Killen continued. “It is under assault and under stress, but I see this award as a gift of affirmation and confirmation – affirmation of my work as something of value and confirmation that it has made a difference in the lives of others.”
Retired clinical social worker at the Spokane Vet Center
Community Enhancement Award
When one of Mary DeLateur’s sons enlisted in the Marines after graduating from West Valley High School, she was unsure and worried.
“Because I was old enough to remember what happened to returning Vietnam vets, I decided I wanted to do my part to see to it that we did not confuse the war with the warrior,” DeLateur said. “I think my initial motivation was to mother the new vets we would be seeing, so their experience coming home would be positive and welcoming, no matter how anyone felt about the war they were fighting.”
So after having raised her three sons, she earned a master’s degree in social work from Eastern Washington University and in 2006 was hired at the Spokane Vet Center. As it was still early in the Gulf War experience, it wasn’t young men and women she encountered, but a great number of vets from the Vietnam War era.
“I just fell in love with them and felt like their little sister,” she said. And as she became acquainted with their needs, as well as those of the younger soldiers who were soon to join their ranks, she became their biggest advocate and worked to shift the culture at the Vet Center so that once individual needs have been assessed and addressed, a healing community emphasizing group work was established, combatting the isolating effects of trauma.
She received extra training in military sexual trauma and bereavement and established programs and workshops to address these issues, including offering training at national conferences.
“I never met a woman vet who hadn’t been beautifully trained by the military and who hadn’t proved herself in the job she did,” DeLateur said. “But if she was raped and left the military, she never regretted having served her country. I heard from them about their grief at not being able to serve to the extent of their dream.”
This spring DeLateur retired from the Vet Center, where she had seen more than 13,500 veterans and 1,600 family members, and is working now on exploring ways to bring veterans’ stories to the public. Veterans have so much to offer their communities because they know how to work together for the common good, she said.
One of her sons served in the Marines and now another one is in the Navy. “We didn’t start out as a military family,” DeLateur said, “but we sure are one now.”
Vice president of energy delivery, Avista
Science, Technology and Environment Award
After the big wind storm in November 2015 and just days before Thanksgiving, Monroe Cummins, then 7 years old, along with her classmates at Seth Woodard Elementary School in Spokane Valley, was writing a letter in her classroom for all the things for which she was grateful. The teacher suggested to the class that they remember the utility linemen who were working to restore power throughout the region.
Young Monroe did that and also penciled in “and the engineers.”
Her mother Heather Rosentrater was at that moment managing power restoration for Avista. She oversees the 800 people in her division that delivers gas and transmits and delivers electricity to the utility’s customers – and repairs the systems when they are down. She is an engineer.
“When I learned I was receiving this award from the YWCA, it motivated me to spend time reconsidering how I can most effectively leverage my specific skills to help others achieve success,” Rosentrater said. One of the things she is most passionate about is broadening support for girls and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“I haven’t had many female role models or mentors in STEM areas and, to my surprise, the number hasn’t increased much in my 21-year career in the engineering industry,” she said. “My goal is to help support the success of girls interested in these fields, studying in these fields and working in these fields.”
To that end she talks with them at college and career events and is especially interested in reaching them when they’re young and before, as statistics show, their interest dies off.
As a child growing up in Millwood, where she still lives, she always loved math. And though she considered a career in teaching, and served as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga University, where she earned a degree in electrical engineering, she is personally drawn to hands-on practical experience and solving real-life problems. At age 40, she is the youngest female officer overseeing operations at a highly technical regional company.
“I appreciate the YWCA’s effort to recognize women who are making a difference in the community,” Rosentrater said. “For me, it’s wonderful for a female to be recognized in science and technology. It’s a good thing for girls to see, too, for them to see this work as something possible for themselves, as well.”
Community volunteer; former chairman of Friends of the Davenport
Lifetime Achievement Award
Ellen Robey has been pitching sod in Spokane’s civic garden for more than 40 years. She has filled a variety of roles for numerous groups, including the Spokane Symphony, Spokane Lilac Festival, Spokane Arts School, Spokane Public Schools, the Spokane Civic Theatre and the Spokane Preservation Advocates. Put simply, Robey has spent more than four decades serving Spokane.
Robey, who spent 34 years working as business manager for ALSC Architects, has used her business skills to further the success of many community groups. Her nonprofit organizational acumen, knack for building partnerships and ability to inspire consensus combined to leave deep, indelible footprints all over Spokane’s civic legacy.
Many of her most successful campaigns began as unsponsored, unprofitable and often unpopular causes. She never cared. “These things that I do,” she said, “I do because I think they need doing.”
Robey traces her community spirit back to when she was 13 years old, watching a group – including her father – rebuild the Lutheran Church in Ritzville, Washington. “Nobody got paid; farmers used their own equipment – their own trucks,” she said. “They just tore it down, and built a new one.”
Tom Adkison, Robey’s boss at ALSC, valued community service. “He just believed in it 100 percent,” she said. “He would say, ‘If you live here, you need to give back.’” Adkison allowed ALSC employees time away from the company to serve.
Robey served 37 years on the Spokane Civic Theatre Board, including two terms as president. “I enjoyed all the actors and … everybody,” she said. “It’s a good group, and I’m glad it’s still doing well.”
Robey is still involved with Friends of the Bing Crosby Advocates, the Spokane Preservation Advocates and the Public Disclosure Commission for Spokane School District 81. “(PDC) looked to be a two-year commitment,” she said, “and it’s (been) about 12 now.”
In the beginning, many believed her most famous cause – the Friends of the Davenport – was a pointless exercise. “I had a lot of Spokane civic leaders that patted me on the head and said, ‘This won’t make it,’” she said, “but I never was discouraged.”
Early in the process, a Texas contractor was set to salvage the Davenport’s fixtures, but he returned home empty-handed. The Friends of the Davenport dissuaded him, in part because he was under the impression that they were the Aryan Nations. “(We) let him believe whatever he wants,” Robey laughed. “We didn’t want this building torn down.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter