Doris Belton brought a list of the top five most powerful women in the U.S. to her speech at the 20th annual Unsung Heroine Celebration Sunday afternoon.
They were CEOs mostly. Oprah Winfrey was up there pretty high, but their success wasn’t really Belton’s point.
“Women are achievers, but a lot of us aren’t as high-profile,” she said from a podium in the First United Methodist Church fellowship hall, pointing out that mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers and community volunteers do just as much good as the Winfreys of the world.
The Unsung Heroine Celebration was born two decades ago of YWCA board member Marsha Mortimore’s idea that silent service should at some point be recognized.
“I believe in giving people their roses while they can still smell them,” she said.
Ever since, a few local women have been honored at the event every year. This time around Mortimore decided to take a break from chasing down new honorees at local churches and charities to re-honor past ones.
Originally the event was just a part of Black History month, and still is, but over the years they’ve honored women of all walks of life. Mortimore listed military women and seniors raising their grandchildren. She even pointed out City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield as a recent honoree.
“We look for people who help other people,” she said.
Sisters Christine Parsons and Bertha Williams of Schenectady attended in their Sunday best, taking a short break from the work usually filling their lives.
Parsons was honored back in 2001 for her work with women, low-income families and the homeless population at the Schenectady City Mission. While she admitted it was nice to be recognized for her countless hours of service since starting with the mission in 1996, she said the job was recognition enough.
“I have a higher reward on the way,” she said, pointing skyward. “I love to see lives changed, given back.”
Her sister, Williams, was honored last year for raising an astonishing number of foster children. She’s closing in on 81 years old and still has five generations living in her house.
“I love children,” she said. “I have 152 grand- and great-grandchildren.”
That’s counting foster children, of course.
“Service,” Parsons said, “I think it runs in the family.”
Locals and other past honorees turned out in force Sunday afternoon to enjoy some refreshments, some swinging top-shelf gospel from the Duryee Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion church choir.
The choir’s revamped version of “Amazing Grace” was met with a wall of raised waving hands and shouts of “amen” as was local talk show host Carla Page’s syncopated reading of the poem “Phenomenal Woman” and 12-year-old powerhouse singer Katera Edwards.
Few of the more than 50 Unsung Heroines were re-sung by name at Sunday’s event — but they must have been inspired to keep serving.