Mona Williams speaks at Josephy

At the Josephy Center’s final March Women’s Month brownbag, Mona Kay Williams recounts how other women, including her high school English teacher, Anna Mary Swafford, have inspired and facilitated her career.

During the last week of Women’s History Month, the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture honored Wallowa County’s past female leaders at a Brown Bag lunchtime talk. Josephy Executive Director, Cheryl Coughlan explained why she established the annual exhibit of women artists during Women’s History Month.

“I remember when I was working as a court secretary, a long time ago,” she said. “It was a very bi-modal world. All the men were judges. All the women were secretaries. That sort of extended into the art world. I wanted to give women artists the attention they deserve.” As a consequence, Coughlan started the annual Women’s Art Exhibit at the Josephy Center. This year’s show opened March 2, and continues until April 18.

At the Brown Bag talk, Wallowa County Soroptimist President Beth Hough recounted the history of the organization, touted its contributions to the Wallowa County community, and invited women to join. “There’s an array of ways to participate,” member Janet Pulsifer said. “It’s not just working in the Thrift Shop.”

The Brown Bag participants paid homage to women who inspired them. Mona Kay Williams told an emotive tale of how Anna Mary Swafford, her English teachers at Joseph High School, inspired her to enter a writing contest about “What the United Nations Means to Me.” What Williams didn’t know was that the contestants were required to give a speech about the same topic. Williams thought she hated public speaking. “Mrs. Swafford put me in a position to do something out of my comfort zone,” Williams said, “and it turned out that I was actually good at it.” Ultimately the contest win took her, along with 50 other students from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Utah, across the U.S. to visit the United Nations. They attended the Security Council and the General Assembly, and listened while a Russian Ambassador congratulated the U.S. for its moon landing earlier that day. “For a little girl from Joseph, it was special,” Williams said. “That trip, and Mary Swafford’s faith in me, sparked something that propelled me to be on high school and college speech teams, and ultimately choose a career that required speaking in front of people.”

In Wallowa County, lots of women have provided encouragement and support to others. “Wallowa County is full of amazing women,” Gail Swart said. “They taught me there was never a glass ceiling. There’s always a door. You just have to find the handle.”

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