The ladies (and a few select gentlemen) of Lee County assembled at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre this afternoon to honor three trailblazing women—Sharlene Hamel Dozier, Melvin Morgan and M. Jacqueline (Jacke) McCurdy—and recognize the efforts of the PACE Center for Girls students as they try to find their own successes.
But more than a feel-good fundraiser, this year’s event offered headline-worthy news for the 8-year-old school: Its L. Gail Markham building on Evans Avenue was just paid off. The $1.4 million center was named for the founding chairwoman who had pushed to make the PACE program a reality in Lee County.
“I’m elated,” Markham said after the event. “We started the capital campaign in 2006.” She noted that further donations, however, are needed to maintain the building.
PACE is a non-residential program for girls ages 12 to 18 whose circumstances put them at risk of educational failure, crime, pregnancy and the like.
None of that was apparent during this afternoon’s high tea.
“Their courage is remarkable and a reminder to all of us of the strength we carry within,” PACE director Meg Geltner told the crowd, which came to the event decked out in all of the finery that a high tea demands—summer-hued dresses and hats adorned with feathers, flowers and other frills (except, maybe, for McCurdy, who wore a black and bright-green ensemble—green being her concession to the event’s sage and fuchsia theme. “I’m not a pink-and-green person,” she declared.)
McCurdy, Markham and PACE Chairwoman Sandy Stilwell, for full disclosure, are members of Gulfshore Life’s advisory board.
Grande Dames are chosen for their contributions and for the inspiration they offer young women:
- Dozier was the former first lady of Fort Myers during her first marriage to Art Hamel and remains an avid community volunteer, serving as first president of the Children’s Home Society Auxiliary and current board member of Goodwill Industries and the Goodwill Foundation, among other things.
- Jacqueline McCurdy was the first female vice president of Joseph E. Seagram and Sons, the first woman admitted to the Baltimore County Bar Association, the first woman Assistant State Attorney of Baltimore County, and the first female chairman of the Distilled Spirits Council and the National Association of Beverage Importers.
- Melvin Morgan is a lifelong educator and community leader who worked to bridge the divide between the races and desegregate the Lee County School District. She is the first and only African-American to serve on the Lee County Commission, and the government building at the corner of Fowler Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is named in her honor.
The event, dubbed “The Wisdom of Age—Honoring the Female Spirit,” spotlighted the interaction between five PACE girls who plopped down on bean bag chairs for a Q & A with the Dames. Here’s some of what they had to say:
Dozier: “When my father died and I was young, it was like being a ship lost at sea, but later on after being married to Art Hamel for 45 years, he died after a five-year illness. I was more prepared for that. If you see a loved one suffer and they’re ready, then you accept it. That it doesn’t mean you don’t miss them or with that would not be so, but you understand that that is part of life. … You are glad you had your loved ones for as long as you did.”
McCurdy: “Humor. I used humor all through my career. You can break things up with humor. A chip on your shoulder—you might as well forget it. You can’t walk in the room with a chip on your shoulder—you’ll lose. You have to have something. Mine was humor.”
Morgan: “(In political meetings) I was literally ignored. Period. It was as if, well, the point is when they called the role, I answered. That’s why the participants from all over Florida knew I was a county commissioner. And then when I opened my mouth for whatever was going on, they knew I was a county commissioner.”
McCurdy: “My mother told me the only thing she could give me was an education, and after that she didn’t have anything she could give… that was it. You have to have an education. I don’t care if its technical school or what it is, but you have to go as far as you can with what you want to do with your life.”
Dozier: I think it’s very important to develop your core—you’re unique. You’ll make mistakes, you might have made mistakes—we all do—but look forward. Don’t dwell on the negative. If you can’t do anything about it, drop it. Forget it. Just move forward and you will be surprised at the people who will
Morgan: Stay in school. That education will carry you far, far, far—as far as you want to go. … Do the best you can, and when I say ‘best,’ I mean the best of the best that is there. You put your mind to doing it, you can do it.”
Dozier, McCurdy and Morgan