The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

March 26, 2014

Meet the 2014 Woman of Achievement honorees

The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — Seven area women and one local business will be recognized for their extraordinary efforts and accomplishments in the community at the 41st annual presentation of the YWCA Woman of Achievement awards.

The honorees were selected from nominations in each category submitted earlier this year by colleagues, family and friends.

A dinner will be held to honor their accomplishments April 3 at The Tuscany Special Events Center at Rastrelli’s Restaurant in Clinton.

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m., with a welcoming at 6 p.m. and dinner to follow. Tickets are $25 or $20 for those 60 and older. To join in the celebration, reservations may be made through Monday, March 31, by calling the YWCA at 242-2110


Merlyn Law has been selected to receive the Civic/Community Woman of Achievement award. Her nominator Shirley Darsidan wrote, “She is very dedicated to reaching out to people, especially those who might be struggling, to give them a chance and a helping hand.” Merlyn was raised in Sabula but has made her home in Clinton since 1985. She loved her career as a nurse, working at Mercy Hospital, Genesis VNA in Hospice care and 20 years at the Medical Associates Heart Center.

In 2000, Merlyn and her husband, John, became foster parents and since then have had 25 teenagers cared for in their home, many from residential treatment facilities. While a challenge at times, it was one they do not regret, knowing the power of love can do great things. She has been involved with Adopt-a-Soldier, Citizens Police Academy, Coalition for Helping Families and Children, Grandparents and Other United for Change, and as a member of First Baptist Church. More recently joining the Education Committee for Human Trafficking organized through the Sisters of St. Francis Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking, she has shared how human trafficking has personally touched her life in a very tragic way. “She is bringing much needed education and awareness to very important concerns and issues in our community so that others, especially women and children, can be safe and lead healthier, happier lives,” her nominator wrote.

Merlyn and her husband have four children, one stepson, nine grandchildren and one great granddaughter.


“She has a personal mission to help others and improve the quality of life for all. Given that everything and everybody is sacred and we are all related, peacemaking lies at the heart of her mission,” wrote Lori Freudenberg when nominating Laura for the Professional Woman of Achievement award.

Laura grew up in the Chicago area and attended the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, majoring in Cinema Production.After 10 years in the Los Angeles motion picture industry, she moved to Budapest, Hungary to work with an international advertising agency and developed local ad campaigns for various companies. She returned to the Midwest and was employed at Harpo Productions, the production company of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” where she developed and supervised Oprah’s website,

After moving to Iowa, Laura spent a number of years at home with their young family, during this time volunteering with PTA and the school district’s Parent Advisory board, along with the YWCA Board of Directors, one year as co-president. She returned to the workforce as co-coordinator for the Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking. Communicating, educating and advocating for the social justice mission objectives for the Sisters of St. Francis. She created “Sustainable Clinton” as a way to teach others about caring for the earth, was instrumental in establishing the Clinton Community Garden, has devoted much energy to having a community health clinic built in Clinton, and creates a weekly email digest filled with articles and information encouraging people to care for one another and our earth. “She lives her personal mission to make the world a better place.”

Laura and her husband Connor have three children, Molly, Liam, and Josephine.


“She has the gift of leadership through the way she leads her life and the sense of responsibility she takes for being part of everything that is bigger than her. She has shown the love of God in all that she does, even when she doesn’t say a word,” said Jeni Van Buer and members of the MOMS Group of Prince of Peace Parish. Marlys Lyons will be receiving the Religious Woman of Achievement award. Born and raised in Davenport, she graduated from Marycrest College with a degree in Education. Marlys taught for many years in Clinton’s Catholic School system, stopping when she and husband, Pat, began their family.

They moved to the family dairy farm in 1998, when she became involved in the daily operation of the business, including milking cows twice a day. She balances the full-time life of farming, along with family, and the many ways she volunteers within her Christian community and her Catholic church. She became the leader of the MOMS (Ministry of Moms Sharing) Group at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Church in 2008 after having been a member for 10 years. She has been a teacher for the second-grade religious education program for five years, preparing children for the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Communion. Her other activities include; Eucharistic Minister, commentator, reader and leader of the Family Life Commission. Marlys has also been active in the Christian Experience Weekend Community for the past five years.

She and her husband have one daughter, Rebecca.


Gaile Brinkman of Albany, Ill., is this year’s County Woman of Achievement. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, she graduated from Northern Illinois University with her bachelor and graduate degrees and after marrying Bill, moved to Albany. Nominator Marianne Jensen wrote, “It was her custom as a teacher to save something each child had made in her class, and years later when that student graduated, the work was given back. What a beautiful way to say “I remember you; I value you.” Gaile taught first grade in Thomson, Ill., and kindergarten in Fulton, Ill. She promoted and began all-day, every day kindergarten in the River Bend School District, began an adult volunteer program and coordinated Family Reading Nights. Gaile has received teaching awards from News Channel 8/Royal Neighbors of America and the Moline Dispatch/Rock Island Argus.

Her current and past volunteer work includes: Fulton and Albany PTO President, work on civic committees, lector at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Albany, Past President and volunteer at the Albany Public Library and of the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop. She is a docent giving tours and information to visitors of the windmill and a member of the Windmill Cultural Center Education Committee, helping to plan, set up educational programs and then assisting to provide the program for school groups. A past member of the YWCA Board of Directors, she remains on as a committee member, helping to plan the event Art Under the Stars. Gaile also has lent her expertise to plan fund-raising events for Mercy Medical Center and the Windmill Cultural Center.

“No one accomplishes anything alone, I am grateful to know so many caring talented people who make everything they touch better and who are willing to let me work with them!” Gaile and husband, Bill, have two children and three grandchildren.


Nominator Kate Marlowe wrote, “They are very clearly “messengers of peace” in today’s world, committed to bringing about positive change in society, working to be the voice for those who have no voice.” The Sisters of St. Francis will receive this year’s Business Leader award.

The congregation of the Sisters of St. Francis was founded in 1866 by the monks of Gethsemani Abbey, near Bardstown, Ky. The sisters were soon teaching in several primary schools in the Louisville diocese. Poverty prevailed in those days after the Civil War, and the sisters found it difficult to house and feed both themselves and their students.

In 1890, the young community of sisters moved to Iowa. Asked to serve at St. Patrick’s School in Clinton, they eventually purchased property bordering Bluff Boulevard, which became their motherhouse, called Mount St. Clare. The sisters opened Mount St. Clare Academy and, in 1914, Mount Alverno Home for the Aged. Mount St. Clare College started as a junior college in 1918, growing to a four-year institution in 1978. The sisters transferred ownership of the college to Bridgepoint Education in 2005, and the school was renamed Ashford University. The new Alverno Health Care Facility opened in 1971. Trinity Senior Living Communities of Livonia, Mich., took ownership in 2013.

The mission statement reads: “We Clinton Franciscans, in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, are called to contemplation and continuous conversion and are sent as instruments of God’s peace. We promote active nonviolence and peacemaking, seek justice for those marginalized and care for all creation.” From this mission grew the Center for Active Nonviolence and Peacemaking, which sponsors many events dealing with current issues, such as human trafficking, care of the earth and immigration reform, as well as providing training to groups on the path of nonviolence, and social justice issues.


Karli Atkinson will receive this year’s Young Woman of Achievement award. She is the daughter of Joel and Lisa Atkinson, sister of Krista and a senior at Prince of Peace Catholic School. Her nominator Karen Witt shared, “She is soft spoken with a shy smile, yet she is one of the strongest young leaders at our school.”

Her high school career has included involvement in Student Council each four years, three as Secretary, induction into National Honor Society as a sophomore, currently serving as Vice President, Yearbook committee, Quiz Bowl, and Band. She has been involved with Girls Talk for three years now as President. This activity helps middle school girls to build self-esteem, leadership skills, and learn the value of community service with mentoring by high school girls. She competes on the basketball, volleyball and soccer teams. An injury sidelined her for her senior volleyball season, but her continued dedication to attend practice and games led to her being named team captain.

Karli is a Eucharistic Minister and volunteers her time babysitting at church. Believing in service to others, she has helped to organize food drives, distributed smoke detectors, assisted with clean-up efforts and replaced thousands of bulbs in the Symphony of Lights displays. She was part of the Mind-Dance Marathon committee that organized high schools from three counties and rose funding for the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital. “This young woman has a zest for life, embraces life’s joys and challenges, is sensitive to others, and will work as hard on someone else’s success as her own.” She plans to attend St. Ambrose or Clarke University to pursue a career in Physical Therapy and play basketball.


Rebecca Kroeger is a recipient of the Unsung Hero/YWCA Honoree award. “She has spent countless hours providing community education on sexual abuse prevention to classrooms, civic groups and organizations. Her efforts reignited Clinton County’s Sexual Abuse Response Team offering safe supportive advocacy, medical and legal services to victims of violence and their families.” shared nominator Ronelle Clark. “She rises out of a sound sleep to be by the side of an assault survivor. You will not find a more dedicated compassionate advocate.”

Prior to joining the YWCA Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Center, Rebecca had a diverse work history, owning and operating a beauty shop and landscape business simultaneously, obtaining her CDL for semi-driving, and was a head finisher for a woodworking business, working construction for 20 years.

“Empowerment counseling, educating the community about sexual assault and domestic violence and assisting those who strive to overcome many barriers is humbling and inspiring,” Rebecca said. She is a member of the Clinton County Prevent Child Abuse Council and Community Partnerships for Protecting Children and is the coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Team. In her free time she enjoys home repairs and landscaping, shopping and dinner with family and friends. She is the mother of two, a grandmother of eight, along with two great-grandchildren.


“She has spent a large part of her career empowering women to find their voice and search for the courage to make very difficult life decisions. She rises out of bed and braves the winter cold so no person is alone through a sexual assault examination or lacks transportation to safe shelter,” nominator Ronelle Clark wrote. Penny Welch will be receiving the Unsung Hero/YWCA Honoree award. She began working for the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Resource Center in 2001 as a part-time shelter advocate, herself a victim of domestic violence; her training gave her the courage to leave an abusive relationship. For the past 10 years in her role as court advocate, Penny offers empowerment counseling, assists with obtaining protective orders, and attends legal proceedings and attorney meetings with victims of violence. She is a member of the Clinton County Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “I love those I work with and for; I can’t imagine doing anything else! I feel gratitude for all I do on behalf of victims, who are primarily women and children. “

She is a life-long resident of Sabula along with her extended family, including two sons, Devin and Tavian. Penny helps to care for older family members and friends, organizing more than one benefit for friends surviving cancer. She enjoys volunteering with the Sabula Little League Baseball Association and spends many nights and weekends at the ballpark. Self-professed “river rats”, she takes advantage of having the river so close by.