'Women of Distinction'

Refugio County resident Jhiela “Gigi” Poynter was honored by Coastal Bend Publishing as one of 50 Women of Distinction during an event on Aug. 25 at Coastal bend College. Pictured with Poynter is 36th District Court Judge Starr Bauer. (Photo by Matthew Tamez)

Humble and kind. Smart and talented. Determined, persistent and dedicated. These are just a few of the qualities that describe the 50 Women of Distinction honored by Coastal Bend Publishing this month. 

The presentation of these women and their accomplishments was held Thursday, Aug. 25, in the Gertrude R. Jones Auditorium at Coastal Bend College in Beeville.   In addition to the nominees, their family, friends and colleagues also gathered to witness this night of praise. For this golden group of 50 women, the evening offered them a moment to  shine in the spotlight and to be acknowledged for all that they do in their communities.

Nominations were solicited from the public in each of the six newspapers that form the portfolio of Coastal Bend Publishing here: the Beeville Bee-Picayune, the Goliad Advance-Guard, the Refugio County Press, The News of San Patricio, The Progress and the Karnes Countywide. The nominations were then gathered to provide a list of potential inaugural recipients for the Coastal Bend Women of Distinction program which got underway with an announcement in early summer.   

A group of anonymous and independent judges were then called upon to sift through the nominations and winnow it down to 50 for this first class of Women of Distinction.  

Dennis Wade, vice president and publisher of Coastal Bend Publishing LLC, greeted the first class of 50 Women of Distinction.

 “I have learned in life and in business, that if you have a good ‘why,’ the what and the how will take care of itself,” Wade said, noting that 

each woman chosen for an honor on this night possessed a “why” as their purpose and sense of duty. 

Raised in Beaumont, Texas, Wade said there were three important women in his life from whom he drew inspiration for his remarks. 

“My first was my grandmother. My mother’s mother. We affectionately called her Nanny,” he said. His grandmother had eight children and “an infinite number of grandchildren.”

“My grandmother taught me that when you’re talking to somebody, anybody, and this is a profound effect this woman of distinction had on me, talk to them as if they are the only person in the room,” Wade said.

“When she looked at me and said, ‘Dennis, how are you doing?,’ she meant it,” he said.

His mother taught him to get up every day and start walking, “a profoundly important lesson in life,” he added. He also praised his wife of 26 years for her love and support, calling each of these three women fundamental to his understanding of the term, distinction.

 Wade also thanked Coastal Bend College and Dr. Justin Hoggard, its president, saying the college had been indispensable in providing accommodation for the event. The college was a distinguished sponsor of the event, contributing a venue and other financial assistance that helped make the quality of the evening possible, he said. Also contributing as elite sponsors was Bethune Dye & Enright PLLC Beeville.

The keynote speaker was Judge Starr Bauer, who presides on the 36th Judicial District Court. Her district includes many of the counties represented by women during the event including Aransas, Bee, Live Oak, McMullen, and San Patricio counties. Bauer is a member of the State Bar of Texas, as well as a life member of the Texas Law Foundation. Accompanying her to the evening event was her husband of 30 years, attorney Boyd Bauer.

Bauer studied economics at Vanderbilt University receiving her bachelor of arts there, and followed that with a law degree from South Texas College of Law. She is a member and a past president of the Rotary Club of Beeville.

Prior to the start of her speech, she was asked what special thought she had for the evening’s recipients. 

She said that women wear “so many hats” in this modern era, and that the women to be honored  each represent the strength of their communities.

What is important for each of them, Bauer said, “Keep setting the goals and keep using your talents to achieve them.”

Later, at the  podium, the judge inspired and entertained in a clever speech that intertwined her words with a fine singing voice and song choices that punctuated her discussion. Her words, some musical, were filled with insight and proclaimed a keen litany of other women of distinction in Texas history.

She began her speech by taking note of those who had accompanied the chosen 50 to the event.

“I want to thank the guests so much, because I know that the women would not be here without the love and the support and the encouragement of the family and friends that make up the guests,” Bauer said.

“In preparing my speech, I realized that every woman is a woman with distinction. But I started to think about the women of distinction and what characteristics make that possible. I have to tell you that the first thing I thought of was Texan,”  she said.

Bauer pointed out that in her opinion, the women of Texas are unique. 

“And all of the women here this evening, you are Texan, either by birth of by adoption,” she said. “You are here tonight and honored here tonight because you are a woman with initiative and persistence. You are a woman of intelligence and smarts. You are a woman with talent and a heart of service. And may you always be a woman who is humble and kind,” she told the assembly.

Commenting on the legacy of Austin’s Janis Joplin, San Antonio’s Carole Burnett, the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards, actress Ginger Rogers, Barbara Jordan, lawyer and member of the U.S. Congress, artist Georgia O’Keeffe, and the saviors of the site of the Alamo, Clara Driscoll and Adina De Zavala, Bauer said that each of those women shared qualities with those seated before her now.

“Change the stage. Change the time. These stories are your stories,” she told the class of 50.

Wade then returned to the podium and thanked the four young women selected to be the first group of four Future Women of Distinction. These college students and recent college graduates acted as hostesses throughout the evening and were chosen by faculty and administrators at Coastal Bend College. These women are: Alexandra Gaona, Amber Beish, Belen San Miguel and Emma Ramirez, a recent graduate with a degree in cosmetology.

He also thanked Beeville ISD High School Culinary Arts vocational program students and their teacher for both preparing and serving food prior to the start of the evening’s festivities. Students participating were: Maggie Seger, 15, sophomore; Sandra Balderas, 15, sophomore, Jose Aquilar, 17, junior; Madison Cano, 15, sophomore; and Zelica Banta, 15, sophomore. Their teacher, instructor Richie Jones, said the students are part of a large contingent of approximately 180 students now enrolled in culinary arts courses at the high school.

“They worked very hard and we are grateful,” Wade said. 

For the presentation portion of the evening, Wade pointed to a projection above the audience that listed comments presented during the nomination process. Highlighted were terms such as selfless, bold, independent and one he said he like particularly, the heartbeat of the business. 

“Somebody nominated you. Somebody thought enough of you to be here,” he told the audience. “They looked at something written about you and they decided you were a woman of distinction. So please give yourself a round of applause.”

One by one, each came forward as their name was called, to receive from the hands of Bauer, their certificate of achievement and an inscribed  golden pin with a blue stone, especially made for them. One by one, they posed for a commemorative photo with the judge. 

The 2022 50 Women of Distinction are:

Angie Ponce

Anna Marie Silvas

Belinda Aguirre

Bertha Martinez

Braden Becknell

Brittany Lugo

Cecilia Rios

Celeste Sims

Celia Ruiz

Donna Smith

Dr. Patricia Rehak

Elfida Garcia

Elizabeth Galindo

Esther Ramirez

Evie Bethune

Gloria De La Garza

Hattie Odem

Jayne Duryea

Jhiela “Gigi” Poynter

Jinnelle Veronique   Powell

Judy Beck

Kathy Taylor

Dr. Kayla Devora-Jones

Kelea Villanueva

Keli Miller 

Kelly Jones

Kristin Billo

Kristina Cavazos

Laura Pulido

Leslie McCaleb

Leticia Trevino 

Lisa Luehrs

Loana Hernandez

Lynn Southerland

Marty Martinez-Kimbrell.

Meagan Nicole Stephens.

Mercy Flynn.

Dr. Michelle Cavazos.

Dr. Michelle Lane.

Mickie Trevino.

Nancy Wilkinson.

Pastor Adrienne Zermeno.

Patti Cass Strain.

Rosalia Ena Pena.

Rosaura De Los Santos Bailey.

Rosemary Vickery

Susie Clapsaddle

Teresa Holland

Dr. Tiffany Spicer

Virginia Wall

Yvonne Moran-Hickel

Of that group, unable to attend due to previous commitments were: Letitia Trevino, Mickie Trevino, Wilkinson, Bethune, Galindo, De Los Santos Bailey, Bertha Martinez and Powell. In the weeks ahead, each of the newspapers plans to feature stories highlighting members of this inaugural class of community leaders and achievers.

One of the 50, Keli Miller, was chosen for her contributions to Goliad where she serves as the director of  the Main Street Board there. With her were her parents, and fellow board member, Maine Street Vice-Chair Peggy Cowey, and friend, Rhoda Beth Chandler Mapes. 

Miller said she was surprised when she heard she had been nominated and then chosen. What she said she enjoys most about her position is the opportunity “to bring people to our downtown district.” Her words are representative of each of the honorees.

There was a particularly poignant moment for one of the awardees, Celia Ruiz of Three Rivers. In the audience was Fernando Salinas, a Vietnam Veteran from Kenedy, who so many years ago was the pen pal of Ruiz, who sent him letters of support from home. As the two met on the stage, they hugged and he held in his hand, two of the letters, carefully preserved.   

At the conclusion of the night’s presentations, Wade said he had one request of each of the honorees. 

“When I started this project, I had no idea,” if we would do this again, he said, stating that in light of the evening, this would be continued in the future. 

“When we send out the nominations next year, you pick someone. You find a distinguished woman. You submit their name.,” Wade said.

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