April 24th Anniversary Party Honors Three Women Icons featuring Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad.
The first African-American dame to be named president of any college in Delaware. Producer dame of 1981’s “Mo' Tea, Miss Ann?,” the first major musical by a Delawarean at the DuPont Playhouse as well as an off-Broadway production. Founder of 2017’s “Stellar Start Up” (as awarded by the Philadelphia Inquirer) and a NAWBO “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” award-winning dame.
Under the wrong circumstances, a woman would bristle at hearing the word dame, and it might not end well for a fella bandying the term about. (Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a woman of rank, station, or authority,” while recognizing that it is old-fashioned slang.)
But calling these women “Great Dames” is both appropriate and accurate: Dr. LaVerne Harmon, president of the 22,000-student-strong Delaware State University since 2017; Beatrice (Bebe) Coker, author, lifelong public education and literacy advocate, and a prolific champion of social justice; and, Anna Welsh, founder of littlebags.bigimpact, which provides quality books to children in underserved communities.
These three icons are being honored by Great Dames, an organization launched in Delaware ten years ago, which now has chapters in both Philadelphia and Rochester, New York. They engage women and girls at salons, conversations, workshops and peer mentoring groups, reaching more than 8,500 in their first decade of existence.
The organization believes there is a Great Dame in every woman, and that Great Dames can change the world. Goals of Great Dames work include exchanging stories and wisdom, connecting through shared initiatives and dialogue, and helping women achieve their leadership potential. The Great Dames Fund provides scholarships and grants to women, girls and women-focused organizations.
A modestly-priced membership organization, Great Dames is celebrating its tenth anniversary with the inaugural “Great Dames Icon” Awards Event, honoring Harmon, Coker and Welsh. Taking place at Hockessin Memorial Hall from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., the April 24th event will feature food, wine and rock star entertainment, with proceeds supporting a special scholarship in the name of each honored icon.
“LaVerne, Bebe and Anna truly embody what it means to be a ‘Great Dame’,” said the organization’s founder, Sharon Kelly Hake. “They have claimed their power and purpose and have each had a powerful impact on our communities. We are honored to recognize them for their enduring example and their exceptional work.”
Rock star achievers deserve rock star entertainment when they are honored. It will be provided in the form of the legendary guitarist Mark Farner of the original Grand Funk Railroad. He is a platinum recording artist 30 times over and will perform on stage with local philanthropy-minded band, Club Phred.
IN Wilmington spoke to Farner from his Michigan home about the great dames in his life.
The first is his mother, Betty. She was the first woman welder in the United States to weld on a tank during World War II and her photo made it onto the front page of the Flint Journal. (It just happened to be the same type of Sherman tanks his father drove.)
Another is his aunt, Verna Cannon, and his cousins, Marlene and Darlene. Verna made butter out of the milk his cousins gathered. Aside from the reverence he had for the powerful cousins, each over six feet tall, with the ability to huck an 80-pound hay bale one-handed, not to mention hold their own in a conflict, he credits all three women with teaching him about farming.
“They had such a relationship with the earth and were so grateful in their hearts to ask a blessing over their foods,” Farner says.
He adds that they taught him to, “…live like you really mean it, and be thankful. When I started making money, I bought a farm because of them.”
These were not the only great dames in his ancestry, nor the only influences on his attitudes toward the value of women.
He says, “My great-grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee. I have the distinction and honor of being awarded the Cherokee Medal of Honor. Cherokee men esteem their wives to be equal with themselves. How can you give all of yourself and all of your love if you don’t? You can’t. We have to have each other, and we have to have equal amounts.”
He points to “Hollyweird” as having a negative influence on women’s equality.
“Even movies like Avatar and things that are animated, it always needs to be ‘bang bang; kill kill.’ It desensitizes our young men. I want my granddaughters to be equal in the eyes of the men that see them.”
One more great dame in his life is his wife of over thirty years, Lesia. His relationship with her reflects much of his philosophy about life.
He says, “It’s the same as I tell everyone: it is a man’s natural desire and his natural state of mind to want to have that place to give himself totally, to have that woman. This imbalance that we are experiencing in life now is because we need a lot more feminine energy for balance. That’s only gonna come through the understanding of the need for it and for someone to speak it. I have spoken my heart to you today. It’s a tough thing because men are so spoiled, everything’s for the men. My wife understands; I talk to her openly because I wanna figure it out.”
For his granddaughters, he says, “I would like to see women come to [be treated as] men’s equals in society. I would like to see more feminine energy interjected into every political move, every local move, everything that we do because it is only a natural condition that we could achieve if we put our minds to it.”
Great Dames guests should recognize some of the danceable Grand Funk Railroad rock hits Farner performs, such as “We’re an American Band” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” And expect him to share his passion for honoring service personnel and veterans and American farmers during his music set with Club Phred.
Tickets, ranging from $95 to $250, can be purchased at: www.greatdames.com/events.