Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Onward & Upward

Staff Writer | May 15, 2021 1:00 AM

Speakers at the Onward & Upward with Grace & Gratitude women's conference left the crowd with a message — to better the world by being themselves. 

Hosted by the North Idaho Alliance, Soroptimist International, the Women's Council of Realtors, and Hayden Chamber of Commerce, the "Onward & Upward with Grace & Gratitude" conference offered women the opportunity to network and learn from regional leaders Friday. 

"It is our time as women to continue to break the glass ceiling," conference organizer and Chief Executive Officer of the North Idaho Alliance Marilee Wallace said. "For women to be at the table and participate, be authentic and vocalize their ideas."

Wallace pointed out that in the last decade, women and young female professionals have increasingly entered the workforce and taken leadership roles — something she said was less common during her early life. Through the conference and the ability for women to connect with other leaders, Wallace hoped participants would gain momentum to make positive strides "with grace and gratitude."

A keynote speaker, Sinéad J Voorhees, said she was truly inspired by the women who attended Friday's conference. A developer and pioneer of the Whitworth College career and external relations program and School of Business mentorship program, Voorhees encouraged attendees to be who they are and live truthfully. 

"As women and individuals, too many of us for too long are pushed into what we should do," Voorhees said. "We need to do what we were created to do."

A former Army Reserve nurse, current North Idaho College educator, and Legion of Merit award winner, Marilyn Fisher, said that nursing was not her career choice — but it is what she was created to do. At the conference, Fisher spoke on creating lifelong achievement and success through hard, short-lived sacrifices.

"I didn't intend to be a strong woman. When I went into the Navy, I was a young, little 18-year-old," Fisher laughed. "I never planned to be a nurse. But I never realized how much I could love something until I became one." 

Joining the Navy right out of high school in 1966, Fisher served the nation until she was 60. By her retirement, Fisher had been active duty in the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. For her performance, Fisher became the first activated reserve nurse to receive the Legion of Merit, which honors those who delivered exemplary noncombat service. She felt that her speech and the talking points of others as motivation, refreshing and energetic.

"It taught women that if they want to be successful, they don't have to be somebody that they are not," Fisher said. "They are already that person by being their true self. Being your true self is so important."

The Onward & Upward Leadership team also honored two female leaders, Mary Lou Reed and Sandi Bloem, with the Women of Impact awards Friday. The award, Wallace said, honors women whose extraordinary work has positively impacted community businesses, culture, and politics. 

Before exiting the political sphere in 2013, Bloem served as mayor of Coeur d'Alene for 12 years. Citing several achievements by Bloem, including the Coeur d'Alene Public Library, Kroc Community Center, and the redevelopment of McEuen Park, Wallace believed Bloem more than deserved Friday's recognition. 

"These women have changed the landscape of our community and the entire state of Idaho for the better," Wallace said. "Not just for us, but our children and our future generations."

Reed, co-founder of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, past board member of the Human Rights Education Institute, and former 12-year Democratic Idaho state legislator, said she was not only surprised but honored to receive the award. However, the best part of the day was spending it with women she respects. 

"I have great affection for these women," Reed said, smiling at Bloem. "I'm very touched. This conference is unbelievably important, and being around women, being together after COVID feels amazing." 

Other speakers at the inaugural event were:

• Jennifer Ferch, the Chief Operating Officer at the Northwest Basketball Camps and leadership trainer,

• City Councilwoman Kiki Miller,

• Fernan Lake Mayor Heidi Acuff, and AlignUp Coaching owner Dolly Stearns


Former Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, left, North Idaho Alliance CEO Marilee Wallace, middle, and past state legislator Mary Lou Reed stand with the Women of Impact award presented at Friday's women's conference. Photo courtesy Kerri Thoreson.


Former Idaho state legislator Mary Lou Reed, left, and past Coeur d'Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem smile with their Women of Impact awards presented at the Onward & Upward with Grace & Gratitude women's conference Friday. (MADISON HARDY/Press)