August 26, 2010

Gala will honor five distinguished women

by Greg Scott

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Four women who have demonstrated extraordinary leadership in their professional careers and respective communities, and an SIU Carbondale alumna from Murphysboro, who has served nearly three decades as a U.S. Foreign Service ambassador, will be honored during the seventh annual Inspiring Women Gala on Saturday, Oct. 23, in the SIU Carbondale Student Center.

This year’s Inspiring Women of Achievement award recipients are: Molly Beckley of Cobden, Gayl Pyatt of Pinckneyville, Maxine Pyle of Johnston City, and Mary Curd Simon of Carbondale. Janice L. Jacobs, who lives in Arlington, Va., will receive the 2010 Alumna Achievement Award.

“An Evening with the Stars” begins with a reception and silent auction at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner and the program at 7 p.m. A live auction follows the presentation of the awards. Proceeds from the Gala benefit Inspiring Women Scholarships, awarded to SIUC freshmen and transfer students for academic achievement, leadership and extracurricular involvement. The scholarship program aims to encourage high levels of educational and professional achievement. Current scholarship winners will be honored at the Gala.

Anyone can attend the Inspiring Women Gala, but all must purchase reservations in advance. Reservations may be purchased for $65 per person. For more information, call Jean Paratore at 618/453-1339 or e-mail: Reservation and donor information is also available on the Inspiring Women website at:

Inspiring Women is a program created by Vice Chancellor Larry Dietz of the SIUC Division of Student Affairs and is associated with the SIU Foundation. This year’s Inspiring Women of Achievement are as follows:

Molly Beckley, the first female mayor of Cobden, has given a great deal of herself to make the small Union County village a better place to live. As a supporter stated in her nomination materials, Beckley, who often leads by example, “Can be seen high on a ladder painting playground equipment, picking up litter in the park, welcoming visitors and new businesses, respectfully reminding teenage drivers about littering and that it is a privilege to drive on the streets of Cobden, attending community events, or riding in a village vehicle next to the Maintenance Supervisor assessing areas in the community that need attention.”

Beckley established the first Summer Fest Family Fun Day in June 2009, with an emphasis on affordable family fun, and is responsible for starting the first curbside recycling service in Cobden. She has organized Christmas Caroling groups for nursing homes and the Veterans home in Union County, and was instrumental in establishing the memorial in the Village Park that lists names of deceased individuals who served in the armed services.

Mayor Beckley also started a cultural and educational festival (the P’urhepecha Cultural Festival) in Cobden to acknowledge the importance of the migrant population to the village and the surrounding area. A longtime ambassador for Cobden, Beckley has served as Cobden Treasurer Veterans Memorial, Trustee of the Cobden Village Board, and Board member of the Senior Citizens Services of Union County. A former social worker in the Fort Wayne, Ind., school system, Beckley is currently a medical assistant at Southern Illinois Dermatology.

Gayl Pyatt’s impact in Pinckneyville was described in the following fashion by an individual supporting her nomination for the Inspiring Women Award: “She has been an influence for good in our lives and in the life of her community for so long and in so many ways as to become a part of the very fabric of the Land of Lincoln -- part of our civic and cultural DNA.”

Pyatt founded and has resided over the Foundation for the Future of Pinckneyville, a not-for-profit entity that has raised funds for various causes, and enhanced the community through tourism, job creation, and civic pride. A retired attorney, Pyatt is co-chair of the Pinckneyville Strategic Planning Initiative, and board member of the Perry-Jackson County Child Advocacy Center, in addition to being an Elder for the First United Presbyterian Church in Pinckneyville.

A 1976 SIU Carbondale law graduate, Pyatt’s efforts reach far beyond Perry County. She is a member of the American Bar Association, Illinois State Bar Association, and Perry County Bar Association, Regent and Vice Chancellor of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois; and was appointed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to the State of Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. Pyatt was lauded by one Inspiring Women Award nominator for “her dedication to the goal of improving the ethical climate in State government as exemplified by her willingness to travel monthly from Pinckneyville to Chicago to conduct the Commission’s business.”

The Pinckneyville resident also holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois, and a master’s from Michigan State University. She is a former member of the Illinois Board of Higher Education and has been an active volunteer supporter for the University of Illinois and SIU Carbondale. At Southern, Pyatt has served on the Morris Library Board of Visitors, School of Law Board of Visitors, SIU Alumni Association Board of Directors, as well as being on the Board of Directors for the Founding Chancellor’s Council.

Maxine Pyle, a resident of Johnston City, has enjoyed a distinguished career in education. Recently, she was a recipient of the Reppert Publication's Lifetime Achievement Award in education. She retired in 2004 after a five year-stint as vice president for administration at John A. Logan College. She has also served as dean for special programs (1989-1998), and dean of instruction (1998-1999) at the community college. The Johnston City resident is a two-time recipient of the school district’s Teacher of the Year honor, a former Williamson County Teacher of the Year, and a two-time finalist for the Illinois Teacher of the Year Program.

A two-degree SIU Carbondale alumna, Pyle has been an assistant regional superintendent for the Williamson County Education Services Region, and assistant superintendent for the Johnston City Unit School District. She has taught courses at the high school and community college level, and served on the Educational Council of 100 and Illinois Association of School Administrators. A recipient of the Award of Merit from the Educational Council of 100 at SIUC, she served on the Board of Professional Ethics for the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents.

Additionally, Pyle has contributed substantially to her community as a trustee for Southern Illinois Hospital Services, Director for Southern Illinois Healthcare, Inc., Director of Women for Wellness Foundation, Councilwoman for the Johnston City Council, and on the Economic Development Committee for the Illinois Centre Mall in Marion. Pyle is also co-author of the book, Pass the Plate: The Legend and Legacy of United States Congressman Kenneth J. Gray.

The name Mary Curd Simon has become synonymous with service in the Carbondale and SIU communities. The 95-year old Simon is revered for her contributions locally, regionally and statewide. A 1936 graduate of Southern Illinois Normal University, Simon was an English instructor at Southern from 1959 to 1973.

She continues her lifelong devotion to supporting the educational needs of our youth. At the age of 90, she worked with Carbondale School District 95 to develop an inter-generational volunteer program for students and teachers. Simon is a participant in the mentoring program for the Center for Basic Skills. Accolades bestowed on her include: SIU Alumni Association “Outstanding Alumni” Award (2005); Illinois Woman of Achievement by the State of Illinois (2001); Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year (1977), and Carbondale Citizen of the Year (1998).

And those close to Simon say she’s just getting started. One of her nominators for the Inspiring Women Award said: “In recent years, (she) has repeatedly expressed the fact that she still has ‘a dream’ to fulfill. This marvelous educator wants to see that every local child has the opportunity to ‘become a reader.’ She feels that by working together as a community, we can insure that children will ‘not only learn to read, but will develop a love of reading.’ Through her tenacity and determination, the possibility of a community-wide co-operative reading group is being explored under the guidance of the SIU College of Education and Human Services. Well into her ninth decade, this awesome lady is concentrating her efforts on supporting the youngest generation in our community.”

A life member of the SIU Alumni Association, Simon remains deeply committed to her alma mater as a volunteer. She is a past member of the WSIU Friends’ Board and assisted with planning, fundraising and creation of the Dorothy Morris Gardens on campus. Additionally, she is a member of the SIU Foundation Board, SIU Annuitants Board, SIU Chancellor’s Council, and is active with Friends of Morris Library and Southern Illinois Symphony. She is honorary chairperson of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts. Her late husband, Ernest, was the founding dean of the college, formerly known as the College of Technical Careers.

Simon has also been active in the First Presbyterian Church of Carbondale, and the Women’s Club of Carbondale.

Janice L. Jacobs, a 1968 graduate of SIU Carbondale with a degree in French, initially became intrigued about the idea of living overseas as a four year old living with her family in Ethiopia, where her father, Robert, was working for the Four Point Program (the U.S. Agency for International Development). In 1962, SIU President Delyte Morris asked Robert to return to his alma mater and serve as dean of International Programs. This led to Janice’s enrollment at Southern.

The Murphysboro native began her career as a French teacher in Champaign. She subsequently took the test to become involved in the U.S. Foreign Service. She joined the Foreign Service in March 1980 after several years of overseas experiences as a Foreign Service dependent. Her travels have taken her to Senegal, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Mexico, Nigeria and Thailand.

Other positions Jacobs has held include Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services, and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo. Her career includes a mix of roles in Washington, D.C., and overseas, including working in the State Department’s Visa Office, Operations Center, and Office of Cuban Affairs. In 1995, Secretary Jacobs received a Master’s in National Security Strategy from the National War College.

Jacobs was sworn in as the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs on June 10, 2008. She previously served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and U.S. Ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau. During her 29 years in Foreign Service in Africa, Latin America and Europe, she has advanced foreign policy interests across a broad range of issues including democratization and human rights, trade and investment liberalization, counter-terrorism and immigration. Secretary Jacobs has defined her position as a “huge responsibility that includes protecting Americans abroad, processing passports for American citizens, and processing visas for foreign visitors.”

Although her travels have taken her to every continent, Jacobs has strong ties to southern Illinois. Her parents are from the region, and her entire family -- father, mother, two brothers, and sister -- attended SIU Carbondale.

Jacobs’ two sons -- Eric and Kurt Fichte -- were both born overseas, and are fluent in several foreign languages. Her oldest son, Eric, has followed in his mother’s footsteps and has been in the Foreign Service since 1997.