By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
With the aquamarine water hugging the coast of Galveston and the temperatures hovering in the 80s, stepping into Moody Gardens Convention Center, I felt right at home in the transformation of the convention center to a Grecian meeting and market space.
Women gathered around the many vendors, picking up items, browsing through bracelets, earrings, bath salts, purses, dresses, candles — all kinds of merchandise designed to offer women a chance to feel pampered and inspired.
Blue and white tablecloths featuring traditional Greek floral patterns adorned the tables inside the meeting room, and blue and white hydrangeas served as center pieces. Potted bougainvillea and queen palms added to the Greek ambience.
Ladies of all ages proudly wore their best salute to the ladies of Greece in their blue and white floral dresses or their solid blue pantsuits.
Every beautiful arrangement of flowers is dotted with a few contrasting colors and so too were ensembles worn by the women attending the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce 16th Annual Woman’s Conference. Some attendees were adorned in red, pink, yellow, green, and even a few were in black, but all were sporting the airy light attire that we have come to see as a symbol of life in Greece.
Returning to the conference for another year of emceeing was Houston’s Mia Gradney. She selected an aquamarine satin/silk dress with a white jacket as her contribution to the Greek theme. This year the attendees were treated to the inspiring story of her personal journey.
Brenda Weber, wife of United States Congressman Randy Weber, wore a multicolored floral print dress, which she accentuated with her brilliant blue strappy heels. She had the task of crowning each of the women who had been selected as women of the year in recognition of their outstanding service to their communities.
Texas State Rep. Terri Wilson was on stage greeting each of the award-winning ladies. She was sheathed in a royal blue one-piece jumpsuit and swinging bell bottoms.
Part of the decor of the day included a white or blue shawl draped across each chair. Attendees were invited to grab their shawls and bring them to life with movement. For anyone who may have gotten chilly in the air conditioning, the gift also offered an added layer of warmth.
Lunch was filled with Greek flavor. It included fresh sliced tomatoes, a touch of humus, a leafy green salad, a cup of Greek yogurt and chicken cubes spiced and served skewered. Desert was an uncomplicated cupcake filled with fruit and topped with sweet, buttery frosting.
While enjoying their lunch, the ladies listened to the stories of each award winner via a pre-produced video.
Author Saralyn Richard had the following to share in her video:
“I wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, but my parents said that wasn’t a real job, so I became an English teacher.”
She went on to explain how through her many years of teaching she was able to collect countless story ideas.
After the video stories, each woman of the year was invited to the stage, where she was crowned and sashed.
Presenting crowns and sashes to the award-winning ladies was a first for the 16-year conference, explained Gina Spagnola, CEO of Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Gina was dressed in white slacks a white knit blouse topped with a jacket that shimmered with the colors one might find at the point where the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea meet the sand.
The 2023 Women of the Year honored at the conference were Genette Bassett, owner of Basset Family Properties, Renae Bentley, owner of Bent on Healthy Living Wellness Center and Classic Auto Group-Galveston, Mia Gradney, evening news anchor at KHOU 11, Rebecca Lilley, director of physician resources at Memorial Herman, June Collins Pulliam, executive director of Fanfare! Lutheran Music Academy, Saralyn Richard, award-winning mystery and children’s book author, Barbara Ekelund Sanderson, executive director of Parks Recreation & Community Outreach for the city of Galveston and Jeanne and Jill Shipp Creators of, Hospitality Health ER.
Each of the women honored have contributed countless hours, days, weeks, and years to helping their communities be better places. Some, through raising scholarship funds, others through insuring children in need had fresh meals during summer months. The many ways the women served their communities are as varied as their individual talents.
Susanne Sullivan was crowned and sashed as Legacy Woman of the Year. In her video presentation she told attendees about her childhood growing up in Louisiana and the road trips her family took to other Southern cities.
When her daddy got a job in Dallas, young Susanne was most intrigued with oil rigs sitting in the middle of her neighbor’s backyards.
Her video presentation continued with her sharing her early love of nursing, which was her chosen career path, the path along which she met her husband. They were married at St Mary’s Cathedral. But her husband was not Catholic.
As a 50th wedding anniversary surprise, the two renewed their vows, and that year, her husband converted to Catholicism. Susanne was touched by his gesture and as she spoke of it her eyes filled with tears.
Continuing to tell her life story, Susanne shared sweet family memories of her children and road trips they took.
“We lived in Galveston, but I wanted my children to see more of the world, so we purchased a motor home,” Susanne shared.
A value she expressed that she wished all her children to learn was the need to give back to their communities.
The screen filled with her children, grandchildren and other family members congratulating her. As the faces of family members came across the screen, the audience responded with quiet giggles at the children’s antics, along with head nods and quiet words of support for her and her family.
The audience was eager to see Susanne, and as she made her way to the stage, a sense of awe took over the convention center. In her on-stage speech, Sussanne reminded the attendees to believe in themselves and embrace both the happy and sad times.
In between speakers and shopping, the ladies enjoyed catching up with old and new friends.
“We have been coming every year for close to nine years. “We come for the great speakers and to visit with people we haven’t seen in a while,” Sherrie Mencacci shared.
Sherrie and her two daughters have turned the woman’s conference into a mother and daughter event which they look forward to each year.
Speaking of speakers that draw an audience, this year’s event showcased Christine Baranski, award-winning actress and comedian, as the keynote speaker. With her as the keynote speaker and the many salutes to local woman the conference drew a full crowd. Nearly every seat was taken.
We look forward to sailing away to another inspiring location in 2024 with GRCC’s Women’s Conference.