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Honorees persevere through challenges


Thomas Paine once wrote: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Paine’s words, written 227 years ago, resonate today with this year’s 10 recipients of the Des Moines Business Record’s “Women of Influence” award.      If there is a common thread amid their individual stories, it is the strength and success they have shown in the face of adversity, including illness, divorce, and even the deaths of those close to them.

This year’s honorees are resilient and optimistic. Their stories, parts of which follow below, are powerful and inspiring.

For years, the words “Courage and Discipline” appeared on Joan Fitzpatrick Bolin’s cell phone screen. The words are, in a sense, a reminder of her past and serve as a rudder to help her navigate her future. Her husband, Bill, a onetime missionary to Thailand and executive fund-raiser for Mercy Medical Center, has survived multiple heart attacks. She has battled breast cancer.

As deputy state treasurer in the early 1990s, she uncovered the Iowa Trust fraud, saving Iowa’s counties, municipalities and taxpayers more than $80 million. Her knowledge of law, built upon 12 years of experience at the Securities and Exchange Commission and subsequent years in the Iowa attorney general’s office and the state treasurer’s department, is broad.

Her expertise encompasses white-collar crime, investment banking and now, as a corporate counsel for EMC Insurance Cos., construction law. Her compassion and willingness to give time and energy to others has helped immigrants learn English and troubled teens find safe havens.

“Life gives you shocks and surprises,” she said. “I have learned to treasure those I value and take time for the people and activities I love.”

Pamela Bass-Bookey learned to look out for herself in the South Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park at a young age. Her father passed away when she was 15. She was her family’s youngest child.

“I was totally self-sufficient at 16,” she said. “It was very painful, but I think it’s made me incredibly strong.”

That strength was tested in recent years when she and her husband, Harry Bookey, persevered through jabs from city officials, the local media, and others who were critical of their efforts to renovate the 54,000-square-foot Temple for Performing Arts.

The project was risky, with no certainty of commercial success. Great sums of money were at stake, including their own.

The couple were not used to the attention. It was a challenging time, but an ultimately uplifting experience as the Temple has been lauded in the community as an outstanding success.

“There was a lot on the line,” Bass-Bookey said. “We got to be very thick-skinned.”

The couple, working with Hubbell Realty Co., are now planning to redevelop a large swath of Court Avenue, adding apartments and condominiums, space for retail stores and restaurants.

“What we’re trying to do now is make Des Moines a hip place to live,” she said.

Sarah Grant-Hutchison, owner and creative director of Sticks Object Art and Furniture, said she relies on the help of a nanny to balance her work and home lives.

A divorced mother of three, she has full house, complete with two golden retrievers. Grant-Hutchison, however, said her role as owner allows her to take time off to look after her family.

“I can come and go when I need to,” she said. “That’s the advantage of being an independent contractor I can be flexible and be at their games and plays and school conferences.”

When she graduated from the University of Iowa, Grant-Hutchison said she was so focused on establishing her art career that she didn’t have plans at that time to start a family. Three years after she and her first husband moved to Des Moines, they started a family.

“Before I had children, I needed time to find out if I was viable in my career,” she said. “I knew I’d have children, but I didn’t want to give up what I wanted to do professionally.”

Claudia L. Hawkins, executive director of the YWCA, said she relies and extensive support system to juggle her professional and personal responsibilities.

“You’ve got to be able to request help,” she said. “It’s important to accept it and spread it out. Don’t use the same people all the time.”

At home, Hawkins relies on help from her husband, the Rev. Vaughn Hawkins, assistant pastor at Mount Hebron Baptist Church. She said her husband does all the cooking.

“He is the chef of the house and helps me with laundry and cleaning,” Hawkins said. “We also have people who help us with our grandchildren. You can’t cook, clean, work a 10-hour day and split time between church and family activities without a huge support system. If my husband couldn’t cook, we couldn’t manage the things we do.”

She also relies on the members of her church.

“I knew the support I would need would start with the church,” she said. “Now we have hundreds of people in that support system. That unspoken support system seems to missing from families I work with at the YWCA, and it’s allowed me to continue to do the work I do.”

The mother of three children and grandmother of six, Hawkins said she was focused on raising a family while she worked her way up the professional ranks.

“Family came earlier,” she said. “I was a clerk working only eight-hour days, so it was easier to balance everything.”

Though it takes some help from a variety of people, Hawkins said balance is possible for professional women.

“You need that reinforcement to make it through this life,” she said.

Balancing professional and personal priorities isn’t easy, said Principal Financial Group Inc. Vice President Mary O’Keefe.

“I would say my first advice would be, choose a spouse carefully,” she said.      O’Keefe and her husband, Jeff Nall, try to arrange their schedules so that one of them is available at home or at the activities of their teenage son, Michael. One of O’Keefe’s favorite volunteer efforts during the past nine years has been serving as a room mother at her son’s school. Among her goals, she said, “is raising a wonderful person in my son.”

Entering politics later in life contributed to Joy Cole Corning’s ability to enjoy her family and her political life. After teaching school for a short time, Corning became a stay-at-home mom so that she could raise her three daughters. Even then, she didn’t stay at home much. She got involved.

As president of the Cedar Falls school board, she handed each of her children their high school diplomas upon graduation.

Her daughters were in college when she ran for the Iowa Senate in 1984.

Despite their successes, the Business Record’s “Women of Influence” are not without regrets. Judith McCoy Davis, for instance, wishes that she had stayed in touch with people better.

“That’s one thing Arthur [Davis, her late husband and former mayor of Des Moines] did well,” she said. “I value time with my friends. Because when you lose a spouse, you become aware of how short life is.”

To learn more about all ten recipients of the Des Moines Business Record’s “Women of Influence” award, pick up a copy of the August 25 issue.  

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