When Kelly Fryer sat around a table of 12 men wearing overalls and seed-corn caps 25 years ago in rural Illinois, she was essentially performing to be chosen as their church’s pastor. The meeting went well, she recalled, until the end when one man made a remark that in today’s society would be classified as sexist, but definitely not unheard of.
The old German farmer who hadn’t spoken the entire meeting stood up. “I just have one thing to say,” he announced. “If this church calls a lady pastor, me and my whole family are leaving.”
On the evening of March 1, Fryer as keynote speaker at Tucson Local Media’s 2017 Women of Influence Awards, told her story to hundreds of folks who’d shown up to the 14th annual event sponsored by Quarles & Brady LLP and Casino Del Sol Resort. The event brought together more than 500 people.
“I kind of wish an event like this would not be necessary,” Fryer said. “I long for a world where my daughters would be taken just as seriously in school and at work as my son.”
Fryer, who became the pastor of that church in rural Illinois, became CEO of YWCA Southern Arizona in 2013. YWCA is an organization charged with the mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace.
Jeanette Maré, executive director of Ben’s Bells Project and a previous Women of Influence winner, was the event’s emcee for the second year in a row.
“In order to be a leader in a male dominanted world, women have to do more often times,” she said.
One theme of the night seemed to be women supporting women. Jeanette said that she thinks Tucson has a very mutually supportive community of women.
Before Maré announced the awards, Jason Joseph, publisher of Inside Tucson Business, alluded to the recent Oscar ceremony where the announcers miscalled the winner of 2017 Best Picture.
“I assure you the envelope’s were properly distributed, so there should not be any errors this evening,” he joked. There had been 132 nominations for women and numerous categories. Awards were given to the first, second and third place of each category.
Local entertainer Linda Chorney won the Arts & Culture Champion category and offered advice to women who have big dreams.
“If you want to do something and you don’t think you’re qualified for it, who cares,” she said. “Just go out and do your best and don’t let anyone get you down. Reach for the stars because you might actually grab one.”
There were many women who accepted their awards and gave inspiring messages to the crowd. Fryer’s was one among many. Before finishing her keynote, she gave a few statistics on women in the work force. She read that men make up 60 percent of all newsrooms, more than 90 percent of career firefighters and 100 percent of all the presidents of the United States of America. Women are still doing 20 percent more housework than men. “Try juggling a big career when you have to go home and work a second job,” she said.
“Women of influence, women of potential, women of capacity—there might be a lot of reasons that you’re feeling melancholy these days,” Fryer said. “But do not let it keep you down.”