By: David M. Higgins II, Publisher

Leonardtown, MD- This year’s St. Mary’s County Commission for Women’s “Woman of the Year” and “Tomorrow’s Woman” looks drastically different than past banquets and honors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions placed on the state by Governor Larry Hogan, a full banquet could not take place. Instead, the St. Mary’s County Commission for Women took to Facebook to announce the nominees, and eventually the chosen winners.

The Woman of the Year award honors outstanding women who have made significant contributions to the local region through their volunteer service. Previous nominees have included volunteers from local churches, libraries, senior activity centers, hospitals, animal shelters, the NAACP and volunteer rescue squads. The common denominators among these individuals are leadership, commitment, and impact serving St. Mary’s County.

Tomorrow’s Woman celebrates young women who are already making a difference in St. Mary’s County. The award recipient will be a high school student, in grades 9-12, who have made a remarkable impact on the community through volunteer service.

Earlier this year, Governor Larry Hogan has proclaimed 2020 as the Year of the Woman in Maryland as the state prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

“Our state’s history has been shaped by extraordinary women leaders, and our administration remains committed to empowering and advocating for women in Maryland,” said Governor Hogan. “I look forward to the many events taking place statewide to commemorate the Year of the Woman.”

Dr. Jeannine Heynes was set to be the keynote speaker at this year’s banquet.

Heynes is the Director of Women and Gender Resources at Johns Hopkins University. Her work focuses on the advancement of female students’ personal, academic and professional achievements while supporting all students on matters related to gender equity and inclusion.

The 2020 Women’s History Banquet theme, “Valiant Women of the Vote,” pays tribute to those who fought for women’s voting rights in the United States. The evening will be a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The drive behind this fight was a desire and need for women’s voices to be heard, valued, and represented. Its achievement meant that women could now be included in the process to determine laws and policies that affected their very own lives, and it was an attempt at an immensely important step toward gender equity in the U.S.

Dr. Heynes provided a taped message to the nominees and winners…

Also this year, former Director of the St. Mary’s County Special Olympics, Mary Lu Bucci was to be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Bucci first became involved with the Special Olympics because her son wanted to participate as an athlete. After seeing the joy and network of friends provided by the group, she became a committed volunteer. In 1990, Bucci became the county director of the Special Olympics. She oversaw all aspects of the Special Olympics for 25 years, including administration, fundraising, and coordinating over 300 athletes participating in 14 different sports, and more than 600 volunteers.

“The Special Olympics has been a big part of broadcasting to the world that individuals with developmental disabilities nonetheless have abilities and demonstrates what can be done rather than what can’t be done,” Bucci said. “It has changed the vocabulary around disability.”

The announcing of Ms. Bucci’s Award:

Mrs. Bucci provided a messsage in lieu of a speech accepting the Lifetime Acheivement Award.

I I would like to thank the St. Mary ‘s Commission for Women for this Lifetime Achievement Award. It is truly an honor to be accepting such a prestigious award and I thank the Commission for acknowledging me.

As with anyone who spearheads a group, there were many other dedicated individuals right alongside me that made Special Olympics St. Mary’s County a success and I’d like to recognize them. My family(husband, sons, daughter, grandchildren, and cousins) has been, and still are, a tremendous part of this program and I wish to thank them.”

Our management team worked tirelessly, along with volunteers and family members, and were a tremendous asset to our accomplishments over the past 25 years. A big thanks to them also. Together we all built the Special Olympics St. Mary’s County program to be strong, successful, and varied. One that gave our athletes training, competition, ways to grow and excel in sports, to learn to accept winning and losing, to experience life. Athletes were able to meet new friends, travel to new places, other states, and countries, and most importantly were presented opportunities to feel valued and respected members of our community.

The mission of Special Olympics is to present opportunities for those with intellectual disabilities to experience not only physical fitness, but to experience joy, courage, friendship, and community. Witnessing these moments for so many athletes over the years easily provided the motivation to keep on going and was the reward in and of itself.

In 1970 our special needs son, Russell, was born, our 4th son, and truly this is when it all began. First, he participated in Special Olympics Prince George’s County with our family watching his events. In 1987 Russell became a student at Green Holly School as we moved to St. Mary’s County. If any of you know Russell, it goes without saying, he is a social butterfly, knows and talks to everybody. Our family knows how much the Special Olympics world has meant to him and us. We all received so much in return watching him grow and succeed in many sports and his life.

For anyone who has not experienced these moments, I encourage you to attend a Special Olympic event. You will be inspired! All that I did; all that we did, we did for the athletes.

Thank you again for your kind acknowledgement.

With the banquet supposed to take place in late March, and continually postponed because of the pandemic restrictions, for the past 10 days, the St. Mary’s County Commission for Women has posted to Facebook about the nominees. On June 9, 2020, they announced that Patrica Armstrong was named the “2020 Woman of the Year” and Payton Parris was named the “2020 Tomorrow’s Woman”.

Ms. Armstrong worte on the Facebook post annoucning her as the 2020 Woman of the Year,”I am so very humbled and surprised!!!!! When I moved to St Mary’s County from eastern NC in early 2001, I knew I found utopia. The people, the beautiful rural land, the expertise at our Naval Air Station, so many positive attributes here….and I soon learned about our amazing community of giving volunteers. We are blessed to live here. I am one small example of all of you. Keep inspiring me! Much love to all of you! I am learning guitar and want to share my post from a couple days ago. Keep sailing, inspiring, live life!”

The announcement of the winners…

Below are all the wonderful women nominated for the 2020 Woman of the Year and deserve to be celebrated also.

Below are all the young women nominated for the “2020 Tomorrow’s Woman” honor and deserve to be celebrated also.

A message from St. Mary’s County Commissioner Eric Colvin

And one last message from Maryland LT. Governor Boyd K. Rutherford:

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...