Since 1987 the California State Legislature has identified March as Women’s History Month. Each year members of the State Legislature recognize women in their districts. On Sunday, State Senator Anthony Portantino honored 15 “Women of Distinction” at a ceremony at Pasadena City Hall.
By Mary O’KEEFE
“You are not just remarkable in your fields and what you have done for this community. You are part of the trailblazers and everybody is watching each of you. Every young woman, every young man, every person who feels they are invisible or underserved – you are the role models. I stand here and applaud you for being the trailblazers. You may be the first, you will not be the last,” said Dr. Devorah Lieberman, one of the honorees at Sunday’s ceremony, as she addressed her peers.
Lieberman is the 18th president of the University of La Verne. During her tenure, she has raised $128 million in the largest comprehensive campaign in her university’s history, significantly increased funding for student scholarships and expanded the international student population, according to an honoree statement.
Portantino began the event by thanking his staff for their work in preparing for the banquet. He said each of the women he honored was singled out for her work for the community. All the honorees in turn recognized Portantino for his continued support for issues surrounding women and community.
“I am proud to recognize 15 remarkable women who are dedicated to serving our communities with distinction,” stated Senator Portantino. “The depth of their successful efforts is reflected in countless individuals they have helped and inspired. They are all deserving of this special recognition and I am thankful to be in a position to shine a light on them and the difference they make for the 25th Senate District.”
Among the women honored was Joanna Linkchorst from the Crescenta Valley who is known to many as the founder of Friends of Rockhaven, a non-profit that was born out of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley. The purpose of Friends of Rockhaven is to protect Rockhaven Sanitarium from destruction and to keep alive the memory of the woman-owned and operated mental health facility that gave a safe and respectful place for women beginning in 1923.
“One hundred years ago, Agnes Richards walked into Verdugo City at the age of 42 – just three years after women got the right to vote federally. [She] opened a place that was run by women for women … to give them safe and dignified treatment, [who could] go home instead of being locked away. And this place remains; it is still beautiful. The items that she chose are still there in the buildings. I want to show this off and I have been able to do that for 10 years,” Linkchorst said.
Rockhaven Sanitarium is a series of houses and buildings located at 2713 Honolulu Ave. in Montrose. It has been listed on the Historical National Registry and is under the ownership of the City of Glendale. Recently, Rockhaven’s building maintenance has been a concern for Linkchorst and other supporters of the Friends of Rockhaven as it appears that many aspects of the property have been neglected. However, the City recently received $8 million secured by Portantino in an effort to protect and preserve this historical women’s facility.
Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo took the time to praise another of the honorees, Vannia De La Cuba, the deputy to the mayor of the City of Pasadena.
Gordo said he has known De La Cuba since they were together in elementary school.
“We have been friends basically our whole life,” he said.
De La Cuba had worked as a program assistant with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and as strategic planning coordinator with the Los Angeles County Children’s Planning Council.
From Altadena/Pasadena, Dr. Hilarie Dyson was the first honoree.
“The work I do is not by myself,” she said.
Dyson’s focus has been on youth and education, with over 30 years of experience in the field of education. She currently serves as principal for 95th Street Early Education Center within the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has achieved national accreditation for programs including from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. She encouraged others to volunteer and work toward their goals.
“Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr.] said, ‘Everybody can be great because everybody can serve,’” she told the audience. “Find what sparks in you and use that to help others shine.”
Other nominees came from around the 25th District including from Pasadena, Claremont, Glendale, Los Angeles, La Verne, Burbank and La Crescenta.
Juliana Serrano is the vice president of Advocacy & Equity at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley. She thanked her family for their support, then joked that often they weren’t sure what she did.
“They say, so you are a professional activist?” she said. Adding yes, that is what she is.
All of the honored women not only had jobs that helped the community but in addition volunteered in their spare time to help others.
“It’s been such an honor to be connected to my community, volunteering in my community. I realized how important it is on the local level,” said Catherine Kim.
Kim has a resumé that includes volunteering for many organizations including League of Women Voters. She is also the VP of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Council. She co-founded SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, a community-based volunteer organization dedicated to assisting people in Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, Atwater Village and East Hollywood.
Janet Kim and Celeste Voce were honorees who were also members of SELAH. Kim said that by giving her this honor her family was also recognized for their support.
Another honoree was Edith Fuentes who for nearly 20 years was with the Glendale City planning and zoning administration.
“[People] either loved me or hated me,” Fuentes said of her job.
She has authored several books and articles on planning, zoning and building.
Honoree Taleen Khatchadourian of Glendale praised her mom as the one who led by example. Khatchadourian is an active member of the Armenian community and in 2008 “took over the Sylvan Learning Center in Glendale and since has been an advocate for the development, growth and academic success of her students. She recently joined Guidelight Group, and has worked to assist transition-aged teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in advocating for their needs and navigating the resources they require,” according to an honoree statement.
Carmenita Helligar from Burbank is not just a small business entrepreneur but also a small business advocate. She is the founder and CEO of Local As Can Bee, an e-commerce marketplace offering local retail brick and mortar businesses an online presence and the opportunity to sell their products globally.
Helligar praised her grandmother as the strong woman who taught and led her to success.
Honoree Dr. Frieda Jordan from Glendale is the co-founder and president of the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry. The registry brings hope of life-saving bone marrow stem cell transplantation. Jordan said that the bone marrow registry started with nothing but is now worldwide.
Other honorees included: Suzanne Weerts from Burbank, who is active in the Burbank community as an arts, education and mental health advocate, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities and Burbank Unified School District programs. She spent a decade on the board of the Burbank Arts For All Foundation, and currently serves as a board member for the Burbank Human Relations Council and as a Burbank Cultural Arts Commissioner.
Dr. G. Gabrielle Starr of Claremont serves as president of Pomona College and is a national voice for access to college for students of all backgrounds. President Starr works to strengthen the student pipeline from community colleges to four-year private institutions and to ensure students from the full range of family incomes enroll in college. She currently serves on the board of the consortium on Financing Higher Education and on the executive committee of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. She is a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and author of three books. He latest is “Just in Time: Neuroscience and the Temporality of Aesthetics.”
The focus of honoree Hazmik Keyribarian from Glendale has been the Armenian American Medical Society, an organization that provides professional development opportunities for health care providers and resources for the community to lead healthy lives. Through her work with the Armenian American Medical Society, she has led efforts to organize the annual Glendale Health Festival.