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Local women honored at Zonta luncheon

Resilience defined the 19th Zonta Yellow Rose Luncheon.

Honorees at the Tuesday luncheon said women must push through health and cultural barriers to get further in life. Each year, the Jefferson City chapter of the nonprofit group Zonta International provides opportunities for women to develop leadership skills, explore career alternatives and work in service projects. The luncheon raises money for scholarships it awards to older students wanting to pursue secondary education.

Jill Hansen won the first of two Women of Achievement awards. The award, for which 14 women were nominated, recognizes women for their contributions to the Jefferson City community.

Hansen, senior vice president of application development at Central Bank, had a benign brain tumor removed in 1993 that caused her brain to bleed. At the time, she worried she’d suffer brain damage or be unable to have children because of the surgery.

She spent 14 years working for the state of Missouri, including a tenure working for former Gov. Bob Holden. When faced with situations like her health scare, Hansen said, people need to just keep going. She never thought she would end up in banking, but she loves her job and her boss.

“Life is not fair, and life is not perfect,” she said. “But you’re resilient. Get up, and get going.”

Elizabeth Tina Sellner won the second Women of Achievement award. Sellner taught math and science to students around the area for 30 years.

At an early age, Sellner wanted to enter science. As she grew up in the 1960s, just before women entered the workforce en masse, her father imparted on her that her gender would not stop her from doing anything.

“He set such a wonderful example for me,” she said. “He believed in me and said I could do anything that I wanted to do.”

Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist and mystery novelist Elaine Viets gave the keynote address at the luncheon and was honored with the group’s Celebration Award, which honors women for their contributions to society in general.

Viets, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, returns to Missouri often. Members of the local Zonta chapter were fans of hers from her time at the Post-Dispatch. Viets began writing mystery novels in the early 2000s. About 11 years ago, her career almost ended after she suffered six strokes, ended up in a coma and needed brain surgery.

She took four years to recover from the surgery, during which she leaned on her friends in the publishing industry. While in the hospital, Viets suffered through depression but said she was lucky she was alive and could work afterward.

“Resilience doesn’t mean that when something goes wrong you just get back up with a big fat, stupid smile on your face,” she said. “You also learn.”

Debbie Hamler, executive director of the Special Learning Center in Jefferson City, received Zonta’s Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to the community. The nonprofit Special Learning Center provides preschool services for children 3-6 years old with developmental disabilities. Under Hamler’s leadership, the center has grown from serving 25 students in the 1980s to more than 600 today.

In all, Zonta’s luncheon honored 16 award nominees and five scholarship winners. In the event’s 19-year history, the Jefferson City chapter has given scholarships to 88 women totaling more than $250,000.

The Second Chance Scholarships help women older than 24 attend college. The scholarships of $2,500 may be renewed once if the club deems a student ne the financial aid.

Kayla Sloan earned her licensed practical nurse certificate in 2008. As a single mother, she had to work multiple jobs to survive and could not dedicate time to becoming a registered nurse.

Sloan entered the registered nursing program at Columbia College-Lake Ozark in 2017. She told the crowd she’s thankful the scholarship is helping her pursue her passion in health care.

“I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it,” she said. “There’s not a lot of scholarships offered to us, so when I found out I could win a scholarship like that, I knew it was a second chance to go to school.”

Joanne Moore-Lewis’ mother died when she was 8 years old. After her father got out of prison, Moore-Lewis said, she took care of her family. As the years went by, she felt a longing to make her life better.

In 2015, Moore-Lewis began working toward a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from Columbia College. Moore-Lewis told the crowd the scholarship will change her.

“This is going to be one of the biggest moments in my life,” she said.

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