Diversity. Unity. Changed lives. Stronger voices.

Those are the themes – and the results – championed for decades by an event that will return March 23 – Women in Longview Day.

“This is about women realizing their potential and being brave enough to do what they need to do, to be independent and have faith in themselves,” says Jerry Anne Jurenka, one of the women who has helped organize the event since its early years. “It’s for women to have the confidence that they can do whatever they want to do and just have the courage to go try.”

Women in Longview Day launched in 1984. That’s when a group of women, led by former mayor Martha Whitehead (who later would become, and then abolish the position of, state treasurer) and well-known community volunteers Jo Lloyd and Dr. Peggy Coghlan, asked the city council to form a Commission for Women.

Then-Mayor Mitch Henderson signed the ordinance creating the group in August and the council appointed its first commission members: Fain Williams, True Mann, Margaret Parker, Betty Lyn Collier, Dianne Farrar, Cissy Ward, Betty Jackson, Jan McBride, Lyndell Bright, Sandi Sachnowitz, Dianne Benton and ex-officio members Whitehead and Coghlan.

That commission created the first Women in Longview Day and created the “Friends of the Commission” to organize the event. The city council ended the commission in 1999, but Women in Longview Day continued and became an official nonprofit organization in 2004.

Cissy Ward, one of the original organizers, recalls the event started as a way to promote women. Many functions and organizations were geared toward men at the time, she recalls, but there were not many for women.

“I think it was giving a voice to the women in Longview,” Ward says, and the event has served its function all these years later. “I think it’s very definitely caused more attention to women’s issues …. We’ve made progress. We’re not there yet, but I definitely think it’s helped raise the awareness.”

In its early days, the event skipped a year a couple of times, so this March 23 marks the 30th Women in Longview Day.

Held in the fall originally, the event moved to March in 1998 to coincide with Women’s History Month.

“We do try to celebrate and promote women’s history,” Jurenka says. “Most people don’t even understand why you even need women’s history: It’s so young men and women can see that women have indeed done things of importance.”

Each year has featured a keynote speaker, including: Linda Gale White, the wife of former Gov. Mark White; Sarah Weddington, the winning attorney in the Roe vs. Wade case that decided women had a constitutional right to privacy to determine whether to continue a pregnancy; Xernona Clayton, who, when she spoke in Longview in 1997, was the highest-ranking female executive in Turner Broadcasting; Skip Hollandsworth, executive editor of “Texas Monthly” who co-wrote the move “Bernie;” and many others.

Another highlight of the event each year is the presentation of scholarships to women returning to school and graduating seniors.

Jurenka has found inspiration in the evaluations women have written about the event each year. She was emotional recently describing the comments from “some young women telling us how (Women in Longview Day) changed their lives.”

“They didn’t know, nobody had ever told them, how to live your life, how to have balance in your life,” she says.

The event’s goals are still relevant today, she says.

“Women are getting louder and louder,” Jurenka says.

If You Go

30th Women in Longview Day

  • When: 9:30am - 1pm, march 23
  • Who: Keynote speaker Dr. Suzanne Schmidt, a former Longview resident who lives in New Mexico, helped organize Women in Longview Day in previous years. Suzanne is a professional counselor and marriage and family therapist, two-time nominee to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, and the recipient of many other professional awards. She is author of “The Lonely Wind,” – described as a “novel with strong mental health themes”; “Life Lessons from Earth Woman;” “To Every Good Place a Trail Leads (A Simple Guide to Emotional Health);” “Earth Woman Journal;” and “Give Yourself the Gift of Serenity Workbook.”
  • Where: Hilton Garden Inn, 905 E. Hawkins Parkway, with additional parking and shuttle service available at The Institute for Healthy Living and Home Depot’s back lot
  • Cost: $25 at Barron’s, Texas Bank and Trust in downtown Longview and online at www.womeninlongview.org.