NORMAN — Typically there is only one winner of the Norman Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership Award every year, but this year was different.
“It was a difficult decision. There are so many fabulous women out there,” said Cindy Merrick, chair of the Women’s Leadership Award Committee this year.
The winners this year were Sherri Coale, head women’s basketball coach for the University of Oklahoma, and Jaci Williams, of Casa Blanca and McAfee Enterprises.
Since the reception was held Wednesday night, Coale was unable to attend the award reception. Instead, she was recognized at center court before the OU women’s basketball game against UCLA at Lloyd Noble Center.
Sherri Coale: Coale was nominated by Julia Chew, of Julia Chew State Farm. She has dedicated the last 16 years of her life to the women on her basketball team, both on and off the court.
“Under Coach Coale, players are not only held to a high academic standard but must reach out to the community as well,” said Kathy Drummond, a past recipient of the award.
The Sooner women are required to serve in the Sooner Big Sis Program as well as a local nonprofit every year, such as Mary Abbott Children’s House and the Battered Women’s Shelter.
“Sherri’s commitment to service has not only bettered our city, it has bettered the women on her team as future leaders,” Drummond said.
Last year, Coale was recognized internationally as the Inaugural Positive Peace Award Winner by the United Nations.
Jaci Williams: When announcing Williams as a winner of the 2012 Women’s Leadership Award, all Cindy Merrick had to do was put on a large pair of red glasses, a trademark of Williams’, and the crowd instantly made the connection.
Williams was nominated by Norman Rotary Club’s Community Service committee. She founded the Citizens Advisory Board of Cleveland County Child Welfare Unit, spearheaded the Rotary Youth Exchange program for almost 20 years, served on the board of directors for Camp Fire Girls and was a Cub Scout leader.
“Jaci has focused her entire career on bettering the world around her through her intense dedication to provide life-changing opportunities for youth. She has made a commitment to children not only here in Norman but around the globe,” Drummond said.
Merrick said Williams’ biography doesn’t do justice to Jaci’s remarkable dedication to public service.
In addition to previously mentioned accomplishments, Williams was also the founder of Court Appointed Special Advocates in Oklahoma, an organization consisting of volunteers who represent the best interests of abused and neglected children who are wards of juvenile courts.
She also developed the Secret Santa program under Department of Human Services supervision, providing gifts for foster and special needs children.
“Because of her leadership, this initiative started with 65 children and now serves 700 every year,” Merrick said.
Williams also served as a youth director at her church for numerous years and had a seat on the Pioneer Library System board for seven years, six of which she was president. She was also a past president of Norman Arts and Humanities and served as president numerous times in the Jazz in June Music Festival that she helped develop.
Merrick read a quote from Sabine Keppenne, one of 13 international students that Williams personally hosted, that talks about her ongoing encouragement:
“She has always made me believe that ‘everything is possible,’ as long as you are working on it. Every major decision made in my life, she was part of it. She is always willing to share her knowledge. She made me believe in the power of leadership and communication skills but also the importance of being active in my life. She helped me become a better version of herself. Never underestimate the power of the red glasses!”
Williams was very thankful for the award and said she was “astounded.”
“It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to keep me going,” she said as she thanked those who have helped her.
She said it was all about making a plan and that living in Norman makes it possible to follow through with that plan because of the people here.
“People come together and they do it and they make it happen,” she said. “So, thank you.”
Other nominees: There were seven nominees overall this year for the award. The other five nominees included Mayor Cindy Rosenthal; Robin Allen, senior vice president of operations for the Norman Chamber of Commerce; Chris Ellen Aubry Purcell, vice president for university governance and executive secretary of the Board of Regents at OU; Mary Sherman, formerly with the Pioneer Library System; and Stacy Brasher, chief executive officer of Levant Technologies.