VOL. 133 | NO. 73 | Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Annual WFGM Awards Celebrate Contributions of Local Women
By Michael Waddell
Three Memphis women who have dedicated their lives to improving life in the city they call home will be honored for their contributions this week.
The Rev. Sonia Louden Walker, Anita S. Vaughn and Fredrika “Freddi” Felt will be the recipients at this year’s Legends Awards sponsored by the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM).
The 2018 awards reception, under this year’s theme “Art, Work, Impact,” will be held Thursday, April 12, at The Columns at One Commerce Square.
“We are thrilled to honor local women who have made life-long contributions to the community,” said WFGM executive director and chief administrative officer Ruby Bright. “Their varying roles as leaders in the fields of poverty reduction, education and women’s health care have impacted thousands of women and children.
“During their work, each of our Legends Award honorees were sure to reach back and help the next generation of leaders. They are prime examples of the importance of philanthropy, leadership and collaboration and how these work together to produce life-changing, widespread outcomes.”
Honorees are nominated by their peers. They are paired with an artist and a writer who collaborate to create original art and prose to represent each awardee’s life and community impact. The art and prose will be unveiled for the first time at the awards reception.
Walker, associate pastor of First Congregational Church, will receive the Catalyst Award for her selfless dedication to creating positive change in the community. Her life-long commitment to help end hunger in the community includes helping the Mid-South Food Bank expand its food ministry from a small snack program into providing more than 900 meals and groceries to nearly 400 households each month.
“Being honored is a very humbling experience because I was on the community foundation board from which the Women’s Foundation was birthed,” Walker said.
She became heavily involved with fighting hunger while working as director of communications for WHBQ-TV, whose Feeding Families food drive raised food for hungry families. That work led to her involvement with the Mid-South Food Bank.
“We were looking for a way to make an impact on the community,” Walker said. “Being able to have nutritious foods is critical to the body and brain development of children, so I’ve carried the issue of hunger or food insecurity everywhere I’ve went.”
Seeing children in desperate situations as a school teacher and a social worker gave her first-hand experience with the effects of hunger. She staffed and equipped the first office of Partners in Public Education, was a founding member of Leadership Memphis, and served on the board for many organizations like the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Mid-South Literacy Foundation, Memphis Jobs Conference and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Now in her 80s, Walker in the late 2000s graduated from Memphis Theological Seminary to become an ordained pastor.
“A lot of people have gifts greater than mine, but everybody doesn’t get an opportunity to contribute. Everyone doesn’t have access,” she said. “I’ve always welcomed the fact that I lived in a community that was trying to be better and where I had opportunities for input.”
Vaughn, retired CEO of Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, is the 2018 WFGM Innovation Award honoree. The award is given to a role model that has had a significant impact on advancing not only their own institutional interests, but also the broader interests of the community.
Vaughn led a trailblazing career at Baptist, making quality health care more accessible for women and their families. She was instrumental in developing and establishing the East Memphis campus’ Women’s Hospital and the adjacent Spence and Becky Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital.
“I’m honored and very humbled,” said Vaughn, who retired in 2016. “Just to be in the group of women who have been honored before me is pretty powerful. I’m very excited.”
She graduated from Baptist Nursing School in the early 1970s and worked for Baptist from the next 43 years. She considers the final 20 years as the capstone of her career, when she was asked to plan, build and lead the Women’s Hospital.
“It was a dream come true to be able to do that,” Vaughn said. “But of course, I’m a nurse, and I couldn’t have done it without a whole lot of great people. I was surrounded by 600 very passionate, committed women (and a few good men).”
The comprehensive hospital opened in 2001 and now handles 5,000 deliveries per year as well as any other services women need.
“We firmly believe in educating women because they are the health care decision-makers for their entire immediate family and their extended families,” Vaughn said. “So we’ve been very involved with the community, whether it’s with the Woman’s Foundation or the Heart Association for Go Red for Women or March of Dimes, or Race for the Cure. By partnering with agencies like that, more and more women will know what’s available to them.”
The pediatric hospital’s four-story, 10-bed emergency department opened in January 2015, and since then nearly 25,000 young patients have been treated annually. Vaughn works part-time now with the Baptist Foundation raising money for the pediatric program.
This year’s Philanthropy and Leadership Award, which is given to a humanitarian who has demonstrated leadership through community service including civic, cultural and economic engagement, goes to Felt, current president of the Lichterman Lowenburg Foundation and longtime supporter of the Girl Scouts, youth services, education, the Jewish community and agencies that work to make lasting improvements in Memphis.
“It’s very exciting,” Felt said. “I’m somewhat in awe of being put in a category with the list of people who have received this honor in the past.”
She started out mostly as a volunteer with the Girl Scouts, serving as a troop leader for more than 25 years.
“I’m very proud of all the girls who went through my troop and that they turned into fine young women,” said Felt, who also served as a board member for the Girl Scouts.
She directly touched the lives of more than 1,000 girls and leaders through her work leading, teaching, befriending and financially supporting all girls regardless of their background.
Felt was also very involved with Red Cross CPR and water safety, teaching boating, canoeing and sailing safety, along with CPR, first aid and swimming to more than 1,000 people over the years. She has also served on the board for the Children’s Museum of Memphis, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and many other local organizations.
“When you volunteer, you get more out of it than you put into it,” said Felt, who worked in the aquatics department at the JCC for a number of years. “I have always enjoyed the outdoors, being able to camp and canoe and travel with my troop.”