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Tribute to Women

May 21, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
Monday night I had the pleasure of attending the YWCA Wheeling's Tribute to Women at Wheeling Country Club. What an amazing event! Seven local women were honored for their contributions to the community and their role in empowering and mentoring other women. I was honored to introduce one of the awardees, my colleague and friend Linda Comins, Arts & Living editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

W.Va. Secretary of State Betty Ireland gave an inspiring keynote address. It takes a special brand of strength, I think, to be a woman in the political world. I admire her strength and courage to stand up for women's issues and I hope she will never tire of doing so. My take-home message from her speech: "Never cry in the boardroom. If you have to cry, go in the bathroom!"

I was so humbled to be sitting in the presence of such great women of our community -- Bonnie Bonar, Thais Blatnik, Linda Comins, Brenda Danehart, Sharon Potter, Tammi Secrist ... and the family of the late Kathy Fortunato, who was a powerhouse for the YWCA and the dozens of other organizations for which she volunteered.

I'm so glad especially to have met and learned more about Bonnie Bonar and Thais Blatnik. Bonar was the first female sheriff's deputy in Ohio County and made such a difference in how domestic violence calls and rape cases are handled. Countless times, she had to stand up to her superior officers as a voice for the victims. She also started the batterers' intervention group at the YW and continues to serve for three hours every week to educate abusive men on how to build relationships and deal with their anger in healthier ways.

Former W.Va. Sen. Thais Blatnik got the state laws changed back in the late 1970s to give police the power to arrest abusers and has devoted her life to standing up for the little guy or gal, whether it's the abused, the handicapped, the poor, you name it! In my interview with her for the paper's preview coverage Sunday, she told me she took a lot of heat from her fellow lawmakers -- all but four of whom were male -- after she first introduced the domestic viiolence legislation. One man actually came up to her after the session and said, "I'll rape my wife whenever I want to, and you can't do anything about it!" That evening, she called her super-supportive husband, Al, back home and told him she was distraught. "It felt like I was "getting the h--- beaten out of me all over again," she said. Her use of the word "again" surprised me, but when I asked her about it, she said only that "I am familiar with that environment" and did not wish to elaborate, at least not on the record.

She then asked Al over the phone what she should do. "He said to get back out there tomorrow and do it again." And so she did. And now tens of thousands can thank her for helping to protect them from their abusers.

Wow, what legends, these women! What legacies they have given our communities!

The event was a spectacular success, and I hope the YW continues to hold it in the years to come. I can think of several outstanding local women I'd like to nominate for next year!


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From left, Linda Comins, Thais Blatnik and Bonnie Bonar share memories from their careers.


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