5 superstar women honored by Bradenton women's group

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 16, 2014 

UNIVERSITY PARK -- The 2014 honorees for Saturday's Eighth Annual "Women of Achievement Recognition Luncheon" were like the New York Yankees for star power, at least local star power.

The starting lineup included Luz Corcuera, Barbara Lombardo, Laurel Lynch, Merrie Lynn Parker and Katie Powers.

To be in a room with a group of sluggers like this was too much for Bradenton's Jan Chulock to pass up. She raced in her Toyota to the Palm Aire Country Club to attend the 11 a.m. event.

The five women were honored by the Bradenton Branch of the American Association of University Women, which works to provide scholarships to women, is passionate about their empowerment and annually holds the luncheon fundraiser, said Martha Proulx, a local president for the American Association of University Women.

"All of these women have saved lives through their work," said Chulock. "I have seen most of them in action."

As a former school nurse at Harllee Middle School, Chulock had listened to Lynch, now CEO for HOPE Family Services, Manatee County's domestic violence service provider, speak to the students about "red flags" in relationships.

Both of Chulock's children had attended Manatee High School, where Parker was a former assistant principal and a dynamic role model for Manatee High students.

As for Powers, who is perhaps Manatee County's foremost expert on breast feeding as an educator with Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family Birthplace, Chulock regards her advice as gospel and conveyed it to her daughters.

Speaking in hushed tones often reserved for Babe Ruth himself, Chulock spoke of Corcuera, Program Director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County, who has worked her entire life for human rights, universal health care and immigration reform.

While not as familiar with Lombardo, the woman who helped create Manasota ARC for developmentally disabled individuals, Chulock left the luncheon perhaps impressed by her the most. Lombardo's talk centered on her son, Chris, who is developmentally disabled.

"Just to be in the same room with the five of them was beautiful," Chulock said.

Chris changed Bob and Barb Lombardo's life

In 1977, Bob and Barb Lombardo had Chris, a special needs child. Chris was at the luncheon, and his pride for his mother was apparent.

"I am so very proud of you, Chris," she said. "Having you for a son has made me a much better person."

Chris said "Thank you" loud enough for his mom to hear, and the crowd keenly felt their connection.

Merrie Lynn Parker woke up Saturday experiencing atrial fibrillation, otherwise known as abnormal heartbeat.

Did she stay in bed?

No.

"My heart went back in rhythm during this lunch," Parker told the group.

Parker called her granddaughter, Emma Parker, 8, to the podium beside her. Emma attends Stewart Elementary School, where she is in third grade.

"I wanted her to be with all of you great women," Parker said.

Parker told the group that work is always important in a woman's life.

"But I never did anything by myself," Parker said. "The lesson I learned is that we must work with others to get the job done."

Corcuera, Lynch, Powers shine

Corcuera spoke to young women in the room.

"Be who you are," Corcuera said. "Don't be afraid to speak up. You have a voice. Chose a job that you love, and eagerly anticipate every morning you get up."

Corcuera scolded the nation for its treatment of breast-feeding and pregnant women and undocumented immigrants.

"We need laws so women can do their roles as mothers and professionals," Corcuera said. "We have 11 million undocumented people who work in the fields to supply the lunch we ate here today. It is time for a comprehensive immigrant reform for all of them."

A tumult of applause followed.

Lynch's family and friends yelled for her like it was a pep rally.

"That's my group, the shy and retiring ones," she said.

Lynch talked about the movie, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

"A line in the movie goes, 'It will be all right in the end, and if it is not all right, it's not the end.' "

Powers, during her time at the podium, looked heaven-ward and gave a "shout-out" to her late husband, Jerry.

"Thank you for our 36 years," Powers said. "Thank you for encouraging me to become involved with families. I miss you so much. You would adore our nine grandchildren, no, make that 11!"

Powers also thanked many friends and family who came Saturday, including Janet Welch and Pat Gilliam, part of her "hospital" family.

"Nursing is not what we do," she said. "It's who we are."

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.

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