Tonawanda News — Twelve respected members of the Tonawanda community were honored Tuesday night during the sixth annual Women of Distinction banquet, sponsored by the Tonawanda News.
With a crowd of 140 friends, family, co-workers and five past honorees gathering at Suzanne’s Fine Dining and Banquet in Wheatfield, where they heard the many accomplishments of those chosen for their dedication to their careers, the arts and volunteerism.
This year, six students who attend various high schools in the Tonawandas were also selected for their stance in leadership positions, volunteer efforts and involvement in community and school activities, along with six adults chosen for their contributions to the Tonawandas.
New Publisher Peter Mio said he began the Women of Distinction awards in 2008 to recognize outstanding citizens who devote themselves to excellence in the community.
Those contributions were brought to the forefront Tuesday, as Mia Sette, a Tonawanda High School student ranked first in her class and known for volunteering, stepped to the podium and thanked her friends and family for their support.
She was followed by Jacklyn Lauck, of Kenmore West High School, chosen for her leadership skills, Cardinal O’Hara’s Alison Maurer, a chess club aficionado and president of the student council and international club, and Jessica Ratajczak, of Mount St. Mary Academy, who has been an environmental advocate with the Clean Air Coalition for five years.
Wei Wang, who moved to the United States when she was five and has now established herself as a devoted volunteer and scholar at Kenmore East High School, thanked her mother for giving her the tools to succeed, and Courtney Crooks, whose resume includes vice president of her North Tonawanda senior class and a host of volunteer initiatives, told those in attendance that it was an honor to be surrounded by such distinguished company.
“It was great getting to know all the other Women of Distinction,” she said.
Mary Brown, director of nursing at DeGraff Memorial Hospital, the first adult honoree to address the crowd, noted that seeing the accomplishments of the teenagers inducted as Women of Distinction, gave her “great hope for our country and our future.” Brown, who has worked at DeGraff for 27 years, said she wanted to be a nurse since she was a little girl.
“Nursing has always been a passion for me,” she said. “The most important part for me is to make a difference.”
Natalie Brown, 25, who was the youngest adult honoree, was chosen for launching Project 308 Gallery along Oliver Street last year and credited for the organization’s impact along the once-vibrant thoroughfare.
Barbara Strzyz, a YWCA board member well-known for her fundraising savvy for the organization among a host of others, was also selected along with Dr. Raquel Martin, chief of emergency room services at Kenmore Mercy Hospital. Martin was called instrumental in getting the hospital’s stroke center accredited as well as heading its new emergency room expansion.
Laura Thomas, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. National Guard who served as North Tonawanda’s first female commander of the Sikora American Legion Post last year, was also recognized along with Kate White, founder of the City of Tonawanda Kids’ Fishing Derby and Rockin’ With Santa.
“I think it’s a great honor,” White said of the Women of Distinction selection. “Everything I do is for the kids.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.