Greater Tulsa Reporter
The Association for Women in Communications (AWC) Tulsa Chapter will celebrate Oklahoma women who have made significant contributions to the greater Tulsa community and Oklahoma at its annual Newsmakers Awards luncheon, Wednesday, May 3, at Southern Hills Country Club.
The unifying theme to this year’s honorees is improving lives through education, communication and philanthropy.
This year’s Newsmakers are Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah A. Gist, Tulsa Community College Spanish Professor and TV host Tina Peña, and Hardesty Foundation Executive Director Michelle Hardesty.
The Saidie Lifetime Achievement Award winner is Teresa Miller, longtime host of Writing Out Loud, author and founder of the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers, Celebration of Books, and co-founder of Tulsa Reads.
Named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, Deborah Gist graduated from Memorial High School. She returned to Tulsa Public Schools to become its superintendent, bringing innovative thinking and a wealth of educational leadership experience including as Rhode Island Commissioner of Education.
Her degrees include a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, master’s from Harvard University and bachelor’s from the University of Oklahoma. She began her education career as a teacher and moved into administration in 1996, eventually serving as a senior policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Education and as the first state superintendent of education for the District of Columbia.
In addition to leading one of Oklahoma’s largest school districts, Gist also serves the community on the boards of Tulsa Area United Way, Junior Achievement of Oklahoma, and the Boy Scouts of America Indian Nations Council.
Tina Peña, a native of Lima, Peru, is founder and president of Mita’s Foundation and associate professor of Spanish at Tulsa Community College, where she also trains medical interpreters. She is host of “Temas en Tulsa,” a Spanish language television program sponsored by Tulsa Community College that provides both information to Tulsa’s growing Latino community and is a place for Spanish language learners to polish their comprehension skills.
Peña is the 2016 Governor’s Arts Award recipient for individual service in the Oklahoma arts community, 2015 recipient of the United Nations of Oklahoma’s Human Rights Award, a 2007 Pinnacle Award Winner, and serves on the Governor’s Task Force for the Advancement of Hispanic Students in Higher Education.
Mita’s Foundation efforts include offering charitable relief and improved quality of life for Peru’s impoverished and underprivileged children and their families. The nonprofit hosts an annual mission to Peru to distribute backpacks filled with school supplies along with toiletries and self-care items.
Michelle Hardesty brings a strong business background to her role as executive director of The Hardesty Family Foundation, Inc., which was by her parents in 2005. Previously Hardesty, served as president of Hardesty Realty Corp., where she managed more than 2,000 apartment units and 65 employees in six states.
Her honors include Tulsa Business Journal Woman of Distinction and Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Hardesty’s additional community contributions include bringing a new meaning to speed dating when she used the concept to introduce potential grantees to funders as member and past president of the Funders Roundtable, a regional association of grant makers. She also organized the poverty game for trustees and staff of local foundations. The poverty game requires participants to work together to provide food, shelter, and necessities while facing the same barriers as people living in poverty.
Saidie Lifetime Achievement Award: Teresa Miller
Teresa Miller’s roots run four generations deep in Oklahoma. She grew up in Tahlequah where she also started in the newspaper business and wrote her first novel, Remnants of Glory. Her other books include a memoir Means of Transit, and novel Family Correspondence. She is currently working on a new novel, Provenance.
Miller was host and executive producer of the long-running television series “Writing Out Loud.” The show featured more than 350 interviews including 20 Pulitzer winners. She advocated for Oklahoma writers and eventually developed the Oklahoma Storyteller Series at the University of Oklahoma Press and curated an Oklahoma writers exhibit for the Oklahoma History Center.
In 1994, while struggling with writer’s block, Miller established the Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers and the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame, now housed permanently at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. The center has hosted many of the country’s leading authors, such as Pat Conroy, Frank McCourt, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Dave Barry, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, and Neil Gaiman.
Miller also launched the Celebration of Books and Tulsa Reads. Through Tulsa Reads, she developed a book registry to provide free books to Tulsa area groups such as Tulsa Women in Recovery, Family and Children’s Services, and KIPP Academy.
About the event
The Newsmakers Awards luncheon provides funding for AWC Tulsa Chapter’s college scholarships and for giving a new book to every student at Anderson Elementary School.
Tickets are $55 for members and $65 for non-members. Sponsorships also are available.