My heroes have always been women

The author with Miriam Hilton (left) and his wife, Lynn, at Hilton’s camp.

by Lon Emerick

And they still are, it seems (Thank you, Willie Nelson, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys). Females are special with their own brand of frustration from being marginalized too long. Sadly, many still struggle for themselves, their daughters and for women everywhere.

Now, a nostalgic octogenarian, I often sit and muse a bit about my long, immensely satisfying tenure in the company of women. During a 30-year teaching career in speech pathology, where more than 90 percent of the students were female, I was first a brother-figure, then a father and finally—time to retire—a grandfather surrogate for scores of young women. What a blessing it has been! Even after a lengthy retirement, many of these former students keep in touch and treat me like a member of their family.

In the aftermath of all the misogynist talk aired during the (too) long presidential campaign, I must pen this paean to all females, while focusing on my most salient heroes. (Who would be your own nominations?)


• Celtic Queen Boudica: In 60 AD, she tried to drive the invading Romans out of Britain.

• Joan of Arc: In 1415, as a young woman of 19, she followed her vision to lead forces combating invaders in France.

Advocates for human rights and health

• Marie Curie: The next time you need an X-ray, think of Madam Curie and her ground-breaking work in science.

• Elizabeth Stanton: A leader in the struggle to get women the right to vote.

• Rachel Carson: She exposed the dangers of toxic pesticides, especially DDT, and was harshly criticized and demeaned as a woman scientist.

• Lois Gibbs: Her actions concerning the poisons at Love Canal showed what one person can do to protect a community and face down formidable opposition.

Local Upper Peninsula treasures

• Karlyn Rapport: Her contributions to our community are vast; she has been very active in women’s issues, including the Women’s Center and Harbor House.

• Holly Greer: Also active in women’s issues; while on the Marquette City Commission, she proposed and guided the construction of the bike-walking path through the city.

• Pat Ryan O’Day: For years, she published a monthly newspaper featuring regional news and features; with her time and funds, she supported numerous community causes.

• Miriam Hilton: Community supporter and volunteer extraordinaire. Try to find one community service that has not benefitted from her time and talent.

• Cynthia Pryor: She devoted her energy and risked herself to protect the Yellow Dog River in Marquette County; those who have come after her have expanded that protection.

• Sally May: Former director of the Women’s Center; a Founding Mother, along with Karlyn Rapport and Pat Micklow, who brought the center back into full operation after lean times.

•Dorothy Maywood Bird: When a power company proposed building a coal-fired power plant in the late 1960s at then privately-owned Little Presque Isle, she assembled a group in her living room and organized an extensive campaign to stop the project and start the ultimately successful push for public ownership.

• Lynn Emerick: She has championed public access for Little Presque Isle through the power plant fight and later in the 1990s, when the DNR planned a 27-site campground, boat launch and bathrooms at Little Presque Isle Point. Many mature red pines would be cut and roads built. With others, she presented the Michigan Conservation Commission with DNR internal documents showing that consultants had advised against the plan; the land was too fragile for this impact. She later served on a 21-member citizens’ committee which advised the DNR to designate Little Presque Isle and Wetmore Landing as a natural area with no additional development. A director’s order later accepted this plan.

• My own two daughters: Trailblazers in the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, showing that women, with determination, can prosper and lead in non-traditional fields, training and guiding others.

This list of women is only a small representation of the wealth of talent in my small corner of the world. Think of the universe of potential expertise and inventiveness in 50 percent of the population that often is not encouraged or supported. We cannot continue to waste such potential. A recent report by the United Nations maintained that those countries that support and encourage girls from an early age are more prosperous and happy.

It is time to overturn the barriers. Women must have compensation equal to men for equal work; a dismissal of stereotypical limitations; freedom of reproductive options and safety from harassment and abuse everywhere, in the military, in our universities, other workplaces and in our own communities. I am confident that each of us can find ways to help to overcome these barriers and keep our wives, daughters, sisters and women and girls we do not even know safe and valued in our own communities.

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