Evanston women honored at 19th Amendment event

Uinta Senior Center Director Aimee Ottley shares a hug with Amber Minton, who honored Ottley for her work. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — “I’m just so impressed. These women are truly the thread of Evanston and the backbone of what this town is,” said State Sen. Wendy Schuler at the conclusion of the November event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The event, held on Nov. 16 at the Strand Theater, honored 11 remarkable women who have contributed in multiple ways to Evanston, selected by the members of the 19th Amendment Committee. 

Committee member Helen Mertz chose to recognize Katie Beppler. Mertz said in the early 1980s Beppler wanted to work but found there was a lack of childcare options in Evanston. Rather than be deterred, Beppler got involved in a group of people who helped start the Evanston Child Development Center. 

Whether working with the Evanston Urban Renewal Agency on 30 years of annual Renewal Balls, helping launch the Evanston High School speech and debate program during her years as a French teacher, or being involved with the Evanston Rotary Club or Evanston Recycling Center, Mertz said Beppler has continually strived to give back and address community needs. Beppler herself wasn’t present at the Strand that evening because she and her husband were in Guatemala, said Mertz, at the graduation of a group of students whose education they had sponsored. 

Jane Everton was honored by Tammy Koncitik, who shared some of Everton’s story of advocating for individuals with autism and caring for others. Koncitik said Everton noticed her youngest son struggling developmentally when he was very young. Doctors had no answers and when he was 8 years old, doctors recommended Everton institutionalize the boy. She refused. Eventually, he was diagnosed with autism as a teenager. 

Everton became involved in support groups for parents of children with autism, helping pioneer networks by sharing what worked. After her children were grown, Everton decided to focus on helping people unable to help themselves and spent decades working as a CNA for Uinta Home Health and Hospice.

“She sat with the dying so no one would have to die alone,” said Koncitik. 

When she joined Koncitik on stage, Everton said, “I’m speechless, I guess. I’m very, very humbled to receive this.” 

Jesse Barnes, SAFV advocate, was the next to speak, and she chose to honor Tiffany Eskelson-Maestas for her decades of work with domestic violence and sexual assault. Barnes said Eskelson-Maestas first became interested in the work that would become her life’s calling as a child, when she witnessed a friend come to school with bruises. 

She began working at SAFV through AmeriCorps and continues to work with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, as well as serving on the Wyoming Sexual Violence Prevention Council and several other advisory councils. 

“When I was first told about the purpose of tonight, there wasn’t much hesitation in my mind that I would be speaking about Aimee Ottley,” said Amber Minton. She went on to describe Ottley’s role in rebuilding the Uinta Senior Center from both a financial standpoint and in the minds of the community. “Her compassion is unparalleled,” said Minton. 

Ottley lost her only child, son Casey, several years ago, and Minton said, “I see the pain in her eyes every day, but I also see the grace, strength and will.” 

A teary-eyed Ottley joined Minton on stage and said, “As a daughter of Evanston, I’m incredibly humbled. I feel quite small. There have been tremendous setbacks at the senior center. My undying task is to bring it back to its glory days.” 

Brenda Richins honored former state legislator Saundra Meyer, who served in both the Wyoming House of Representatives and the Wyoming Senate. Richins listed some of Meyer’s accomplishments, including her eight years in the state legislature, during which time she served as minority floor leader; service on the Evanston City Council; and service on multiple boards and commissions, including the Wyoming Energy Commission, the Wyoming Community College Commission and the Wyoming Association of Municipalities. 

Richins said, “When I asked about her demonstrating such leadership, Saundra said it is her hope for every woman to be the best she can be. Sometimes that means you have to reinvent yourself.” Meyer knows of which she speaks, said Richins; she holds two master’s degrees that she earned in her 50s. 

Elaine Phillips was selected for recognition by Claire Francis. Born in Mountain View, Phillips worked as both a legal and medical clerk before she served as the Uinta County Clerk of District Court for 24 years. She later served a term in the Wyoming Legislature. Francis said Phillips told her she enjoyed serving in office, but really enjoyed campaigning, going door to door and talking with residents. 

Phillips also served on the Uinta County Library Board and many other boards. Francis emphasized Phillips’ “courage, resilience and optimism.”

“Thank you for this honor,” said Phillips. “I come from a pioneer family, a family of strong women, and the men backed them up.” 

Angie Fessler’s chosen honoree was Jacque Skog. “Community service is a cornerstone of Jacque’s life,” read Fessler’s words. Skog has lived in Evanston for 35 years, first working at the Vehar Law Firm and then as executive assistant at the Wyoming State Hospital. 

Skog has been involved with Cystic Fibrosis organizations, the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. Fessler’s description of Skog said, “Jacque hopes people will remember her as having a life well-lived.” 

Amanda Manchester chose to honor BOCES Community Education Director Diane White. A description of White listed the many education programs she has spearheaded, including BOOST, adult basic education, English as second language programs and work readiness programs for low-income parents. 

“Diane genuinely cares, and that’s a virtue that’s impossible to fake,” read the description. 

Suzanne MacEwen’s selected honoree was long-time resident Denice Wheeler. Though offered a scholarship to the illustrious Juilliard School of Music, Wheeler instead chose to attend Brigham Young University. She was a schoolteacher in Utah prior to moving to Evanston with her husband, where they owned and operated the Jolly Roger restaurant. Wheeler wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune, Casper Star-Tribune and Uinta County Herald, while also teaching and playing piano at the Jolly Roger. 

She has gone on to author nine books and serve the community and the state of Wyoming in numerous ways, including launching the Uinta County Museum with some of her own artifacts and serving as a board member for the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Uinta County Museum, Evanston’s Chinese New Year Committee, Young Musicians, AARP, the Wyoming State Library Board, the Wyoming State Health Board and more. 

In accepting the honor, Wheeler said, “One of the best things I’ve ever done was [move] … to Evanston. Thank you for this wonderful honor.” 

Former Uinta County Clerk Lana Wilcox was recognized by Kim Proffit, who said Wilcox not only helped to mentor her when she started at her position at Uinta County Public Health, but also mentored many others.

“It can be hard to make the community yours when you’re a transplant,” said Proffit, but she said that’s exactly what Wilcox has done. 

Proffit said Wilcox’s work has been noteworthy because, “She has not been intimidated by authority. She’s not afraid to stand strong, while also being humble and willing to learn.” 

Finally, 19th Amendment Committee chair Kayne Pyatt honored Patsy Madia, whose list of contributions to Evanston goes all the way back to Evanston High School, where she served as editor of the Devil’s Diary and school newspaper and was also a cheerleader. Madia served the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, helped launch the women’s golf league at Purple Sage Golf Course, served as project director at the Uinta Senior Center, owned businesses Eliza Doolittle’s and Eliza’s Estate, was one of the original founders of the EHS All-Alumni Reunion weekend, and was involved with the Evanston Downtown Merchants, the Cowboy Joe Club and the Urban Renewal Ball. 

Madia’s health prevented her from attending the event, but her son, Mark Madia, accepted the recognition in her place, tearfully saying, “Mom would be extremely flattered and honored to be part of this remarkable group of women.” 

Pyatt closed the evening by recognizing Schuler as a woman following in the footsteps of those honored, Jane Law for her support of the committee’s year-long events, and Evanston City Councilman Mike Sellers for his consistent support of all community events. Schuler, in turn, recognized Pyatt and the committee for the monthly events that have taken place all year. “Kayne and the committee have really knocked this thing out of the park,” said Schuler.

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