Friday, March 23, 2001

Special women get their due

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Sister Mary Ann Fuerst was nervous. Her hands shook a bit, and a friend put an arm around her shoulder to steady her.

        “Sisters aren't used to all this,” she said.

[photo] Women of the Year, Sisters Mary Ann Fuerst (center) and Alice Marie Soete (right) embrace 1995 honoree Dolores Lindsay, who was a student of Sister Soete in the sixth grade.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        Sister Fuerst gestured to the crowded lobby of the Hyatt Regency, where some of the Tristate's most respected leaders in business, government and social work came Thursday to honor The Cincinnati Enquirer's 11 Women of the Year.

        These women, including Sister Fuerst, were honored for helping to improve the lives of thousands across the Tristate. They have initiated after-school programs, built homes, established scholarships and worked with teens. They join 320 women honored since the Enquirer launched the program in 1968.

        “As in years past, it's always the Enquirer's honor to recognize women from throughout the Cincinnati area who contribute so much to our community,” said Harry Whipple, the Enquirer's publisher. “Each year, I leave the luncheon humbled by all these ladies have accomplished.”

        These women do their work without expectation of high honor or great fanfare.

        Still, J.J. Johnson-JioDucci said, “it is such a blessing to be recognized for what you do.” She hopes the award brings more attention to her work in Madisonville, which includes establishing Students Concerned About Today & Tomorrow.

        Sister Fuerst and Sister Alice Marie Soete are more accustomed to praying with the sick, taking communion to the homebound and helping people make ends meet than being honored at a luncheon.

   • Jane Lampke Bracken
   • Mary Frances Williams Clauder
   • Sister Mary Ann Fuerst
   • The Rev. Dr. Lucinda W. Gorman
   • Francie Schott Hiltz
   • J.J. Johnson-JioDucci
   • Danya Karram
   • Sherrie Lou Noel
   • Merri Gaither Smith
   • Sister Alice Marie Soete
   • Mauri J. Willis
        But friends and family, church members and people the sisters have touched in their ministry filled 12 tables, about 120 people in all.

        For 25 years, the sisters have operated their Sisters of Mercy HOME program from the basement of St. Francis DeSales rectory, helping low-income, elderly and disabled people.

        “They sit right next to God himself,” said Dennie Johnson of Monfort Heights. “For many, many years, they have labored out of the basement of the church and done nothing but reach out to the poor, elderly and disenfranchised in a very quiet, unassuming way. They go out to beg for the food to give it away.”

        Sister Soete taught Dolores Lindsay — a 1995 Enquirer Women of the Year — when she was in sixth grade. Thursday, the two women chatted.

        “I think it's wonderful to grow up to be just like her,” said Mrs. Lindsay, of Lincoln Heights.

        The sisters brought communion to William C. Busch for the last five years of his life. It meant everything to him, says his widow, Jean Busch of East Walnut Hills.

        “They're wonderful,” she said. “It's an honor well-deserved.”

        Elizabeth Beiting of Hyde Park called the sisters 20 years ago to ask them to pray for the youngest of her 10 children. Today, he's married with two children and another on the way. As she has for two decades, Mrs. Beiting makes sure one of the first checks she writes each month is to the HOME program.

        “I've seen the benefits of the program,” she said. And even when money was tight, she gave her donation. “It all comes back one way or another.”

        For the third year, the Enquirer and the Greater Cincinnati Foundation have joined forces to encourage donations to the Women's Fund on behalf of the Women of the Year.

        The fund, which has secured gifts and pledges of more than $800,000, is a resource for programs that help women and girls. It also encourages women of all ages to become involved in philanthropy.

        Gifts to the Women's Fund may be made in honor of any Woman of the Year, past or present. For information, call Linda Heines, advancement officer of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, at 241-2880, Ext. 141.

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