The organization also honors Jane Bunker with the Winnie Foster Lifetime Achievement Award
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (April 30, 2019) – The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum hosted its fifth celebration of St. Petersburg’s “First Ladies in African American History” on April 28, honoring women with ties to Pinellas County who have achieved firsts as African-American women.
Past honorees have included Patti Alsup, U.S. Ambassador to The Gambia; Dr. Kanika Tomalin, Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg; Rene Flowers, Pinellas County School Board member; Dr. Nancy Bryant; artist Ya La’Ford; and Dr. Tonjua Williams, President of St. Petersburg College.
“Once again, this year we have an amazing collection of women who are truly inspiring to people of all backgrounds and ages. Each has their own triumphant story to tell,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director of the Woodson.
The 2019 “First Ladies in African American History” honorees are:
• Patricia Wright has been a driving force in the Pinellas County Schools for more than 30 years. She became the first African American female Director of School Operations in 2008. After starting her career with the school district in 1987, teaching at Pinellas Park Middle School, she was an assistant principal at three other middle schools before becoming the first African-American principal of the former Southside Fundamental School in 2003. Two years later, she was named the first female principal of Northeast High School.
• USCG Lieutenant Commander Jeanine Menze was awarded “wings of gold” in 2005 and became the Coast Guard’s first female African-American aviator in its more than 200-year history. Currently, as a flight examiner, she is chief of all HC-130H training at the Aviation Training Center (Mobile, AL) detached duty Clearwater, FL. Menze was accepted into USCG Officer Candidate School after earning a bachelor’s degree in International Business at Florida International University and becoming certified as a private pilot and flight instructor. She also overcame her fear of water to excel in the USCG.
• Nadine Smith is the Executive Director of Equality Florida, the state’s largest organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. She was one of four national co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington. She also took part in a historic Oval Office meeting with then-President Bill Clinton, the first official meeting between a sitting president and gay community leaders.
• Sharon Welch is the city of St. Petersburg’s First African-American and female IT Systems Development Manager. She is a 32-year veteran of municipal government and the coordinator of the city’s highly acclaimed IT Internship program, as well as the technical leader on most of the city’s Business Solutions Implementation since 1990. Welch has also instructed technology classes as an adjunct professor at St. Petersburg College since 1987.
• Bridgette Heller is the first African-American female president of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Baby Business. She has 35 years of management experience in Fortune 500 companies, including Merck & Co. and Kraft Foods. She serves on the board for Tech Data Corp., and is a member of the audit committee. Heller co-founded the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation, which aims to improve literacy and close the achievement gap for children in an “at-risk” zone in St. Petersburg.
Also presented at the event, The Woodson gave an award as a Special Honoree to Thelma McCloud, who has been on the museum board since 2008 and is the longest-serving officer.
The Woodson also honored local artist Jane Bunker with the Winnie Foster Lifetime Achievement Award, given to a non-black person who has helped advance causes relative to the continued struggle of African-Americans.
Bunker recently donated 20 of her original oil paintings to the Woodson to be auctioned as a fundraiser. Her art brought in $45,000, which will fund five $5,000 and four $2,000 college scholarships and eight book scholarships for local high school graduates.
This award is named for Winnie Foster, who fought for women’s rights, integration and equal rights in the workplace in Pinellas County. Foster’s character led to her joining the League of Women Voters alongside C. Bette Wimbish, the first African-American member of the St. Petersburg City Council.
The award was created last year, when it was given to Premier Eye Care CEO Lorna Taylor.