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Rob Curley: 2020’s Women of the Year are a uniting force. Join us in honoring them

This was unfamiliar territory for most of them. Making matters even more uncomfortable, the room also was filled with mostly unfamiliar faces.

About a year ago, this newspaper hosted the first recipients to be named as the Inland Northwest Women of the Year. It was a small ceremony, just for the winners and their families, held in the rooftop pavilion on top of The Chronicle building.

Almost no one in the room knew each other – which was remarkable on so many levels.

Here was a group of inspirational women united in their commitment to making their community better tomorrow than it is today, yet their paths had rarely crossed … even though their missions and beliefs most certainly had.

The evening started with that sort of uneasy feeling you get when you’re around a bunch of people you’ve never met before. Then they started talking. And laughing. And asking questions. And sharing.

The majority of the group ended up staying at the event close to four hours. No one was in a hurry to leave. The unexpected kinship was both powerful and uniting. Friendships developed in front of all of our eyes. You’d never guess they were all strangers when the night began.

They all were going to get back together in a month or so as a part of a much larger Inland Northwest Women of the Year event that would be held at The Bing Crosby Theater with more than 500 people packing the place. It’s just that most of them didn’t wait that long to continue their conversations. Email addresses and phone numbers were shared, and a whole bunch of people had new friends on Facebook within just a few hours.

Suddenly, the inspiration of the evening had turned into something even more powerful: unity.

When The Spokesman-Review and Bank of America began working together to come up with a way to honor those who were making real differences in our community, the biggest driving force was to find a way to identify those who were doing something exceptional … yet hadn’t seen much recognition for their work. And certainly hadn’t received a lot of accolades. If any.

In nearly every case, it was because these were truly selfless acts of goodness. No one knew because these women didn’t care if anyone knew. Which is exactly why we wanted everyone to know.

In a world that often feels more negative and polarized every single day, it’s more important than ever to make sure those who work to better things for others know that their community appreciates them.

That brings us to this year’s recipients of the Inland Northwest Women of the Year awards. You won’t be able to miss them: We built a huge special section just to honor them. If you’re looking for a little inspiration that the world can be a better place, there are 20 pages of exactly what you need in today’s newspaper.

There was a moment earlier this year, when we first began to talk about putting together this year’s recipients, and we all went back and read last year’s stories to relive the memories and power of the events. It was daunting.

Then the first group of 2020 nominees began to flow in … and suddenly, we were reminded just how inspired we all felt as we read last year’s nominations. This year’s winners represent the best of what makes this place so special.

They also presented at least a couple of the same problems we had last year. There were so many strong nominees, how would we ever just pick 10? Another objective the newspaper and Bank of America wanted to focus on was an emphasis on those whose impact was really felt in the last year. We wanted to identify and celebrate our future leaders.

So what do you do when you get a bunch of nominees who have been doing these incredible things for almost their entire adult lives, yet haven’t really been thanked or recognized for those efforts? Last year, we made the late-game decision to add five other recipients we would call our “Legacy Women of the Year.”

Well, let’s just say we had the exact same problem this year, which – come to think of it – is one of the best sorts of problems you can face: too much goodness. So we again have named five “Legacy Women of the Year.” It’s now become a given that we should just continue to do that every year. So we will.

But there was another problem that bothered us this year: This whole COVID-19 mess was going to keep us from having the very events that brought last year’s group of women so close together. Of course, we’ll do a nice Zoomified event that celebrates them, but it’s just not the same.

So, next September when we do this again, know that our big event at the Bing will be even bigger. Yes, we’ll have incredible speakers, but that’s not what we mean. At those 2021 events, we’re going to honor both the 2021 and 2020 winners.

Why?

Well, that goes back to when we put together last year’s fantastic keynote speakers, former Google and Twitter executive Karen Wickre and award-winning former NPR journalist Tess Vigeland. We told them both we needed their help because they could help us pack a theater so that when we announced our winners, they all could hear and feel what it’s like to be cheered for and celebrated by hundreds from across our community.

When that packed theater gave them a standing ovation, it was exactly what we knew all of them deserved – though none of them had ever asked or expected anything like that.

Still, if you ask them, that’s not what they remember most. They remember the unity.

When you read about this year’s group, you’ll probably wonder exactly what we’re all wondering: As inspirational as they all are individually, just imagine what might happen when they come together? And not just amongst themselves, but also with the 2019 and 2021 recipients?

It’s those sorts of things that give you comfort when you’re uncomfortable … just like the first time the 2019 winners met. They turned something awkward into something wonderful. That’s what uniting does. We’re all better together than we are apart.

Please join us in celebrating the 2020 Inland Northwest Women of the Year.

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