Morton’s Quiet Women of Influence

by Jennifer Daly, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council

When we think of “women of influence,” well-known, high-level female leaders likely come to mind. But in Morton, many women of influence can be found working quietly behind the scenes. And sometimes, these women are influencing our community in ways that will have a profound impact for generations to come.

About a year ago, Mary Jane Johnson, a financial planner and citizen of Morton, approached Dr. Lindsey Hall, Morton District 709 superintendent of schools, with a question: How can we help the young women in our high school gain leadership skills? Dr. Hall, high school counselor Deidre Ripka, and high school principal Marjorie Johnson got together to brainstorm ideas, brought a plan back to Mary Jane, and a new leadership program for sophomore girls was born.

“Learn 2 Lead” began this fall with an inaugural class of 24 girls, each selected through an application process that targets girls with natural, emerging or quiet leadership styles. A professional coach, Dina Emser, guides the program using the StrengthsFinder Leadership Assessment and other tools, which help each girl identify and develop her own leadership strengths. The program is funded through a grant from the Morton Community Foundation, in addition to private community donors. Through Mary Jane’s quiet influence, a new program is shaping the girls who will lead Morton and other communities in the future.

Another behind-the-scenes influencer is a woman I met through the American Association of University Women. Heather Walters Thompson, an attorney who grew up in Morton, returned to the region when her five-year-old daughter was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Hannah loved to swing on the “Red Rocket,” a special adaptive red swing they had in a park near their home in Normal, Illinois. In the spring of 2008, however, Hannah passed away.

In memory of their brave and beautiful Hannah, Heather and her family recently established Hannah’s Red Rocket Endowment Fund at the Morton Community Foundation. The fund supports the purchase of adaptive play equipment in Morton parks and school play areas. Through Heather’s quiet influence, Morton will have specialized play equipment that can offer joy and comfort to children with special needs, and their families and caregivers, now and for many generations to come.

Both of these women will be uncomfortable with this recognition, preferring to remain behind the scenes, influencing for the good in a quiet way. But I think it’s important to recognize them and all of the quiet women of influence they represent in Morton and throughout our region. iBi

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu

Jennifer Daly is CEO of the Morton Economic Development Council.