Susan Benton of Sebring is the first female elected sheriff in the history of the state of Florida and is currently serving her second term. Sheriff Benton is a fifth-generation Floridian who has served in law enforcement for over 30 years. She has risen through the ranks by gaining the respect and admiration of her colleagues and superiors. She has consistently gone above and beyond her duties to serve her community with innovative solutions, while pushing for programs to assist the elderly, mentor and educate youth, and punish criminals. Immediately upon taking office as Sheriff, she created a partnership between the community and the Sheriff’s Office to create its first-ever Strategic Plan. Sheriff Benton’s Strategic Plan facilitation not only involved the community, but all units and ranks within the Sheriff’s Office, another first for Highlands County. Sheriff Benton is the 2012 President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, which is the first time a woman has served in this capacity in the Association’s 115-year history. Sheriff Benton continually promotes the advancement of women at every opportunity and has ensured that education, competency, ability and discernment are the most prominent factors for advancement in the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. The female representation in the Sheriff’s Office has risen from 17 female employees in 2005 to 45female employees in 2012. Sheriff Benton’s fervor and compassion have made an impact on both her profession and her community. She is involved in community activities beyond the expectations of her position, and she is dedicated to service for all citizens. Her personal dedication and drive to enhance public safety and protect those in need has made her a hero in Highlands County.
Mary Elizabeth Burnette formerly of DeFuniak Springs was born and raised in Walton County, Florida, and graduated from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (1951). She helped lead the creation of the Okaloosa County School District's segregated primary and secondary schools, and thus became the first female African-American teacher in the county's official educational system. She later led the fight for school integration, and ultimately became one of the first African-American teachers in the formerly all-white public schools. Recognizing that the city's economically disadvantaged children were woefully unprepared for school, Mrs. Burnette successfully lobbied for a Head Start program in Fort Walton Beach in 1967, which she directed for its first 22 years. Later on Mrs. Burnette led the effort to get a portion of Lovejoy Road annexed into Fort Walton Beach, and also provided property for the establishment of a community center. The Burnette-Harmon-Wood Community Resource Center now operates within the Sylvania Heights Front Porch community, striving to improve residents' quality of life and serve their needs. In recognition of her pioneering work and positive impact on the community, Mrs. Burnette was chosen as the Grand Marshal in the local parade celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in January 2004.Jeanne Bochette of Ft. Myers was born in Tampa and is an acclaimed lifelong community leader across Southwest Florida. Ms. Bochette has contributed to the opportunity, education, and welfare of countless young women across the state during her 63 years of teaching, performing, and promoting dance of all genres. She has collaborated with the best of the best over the years, including The Royal Ballet – Orlando, Dance Alive – Gainesville, Tampa Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Florida Ballet Arts. In 1952, she opened her first dance school in Panama City, later relocating to Fort Myers. In 1954 she opened the only dance school (open to all children regardless of race, creed, or color) in the region. For over six decades she has taught the daughters, granddaughters, and even great-granddaughters of her students at Studio Bochette. She has been recognized by the Florida State Dance Association, Rollins College, Lee County Alliance for the Arts, and PACE Center for Girls with their Lifetime Achievement awards. Still today, nearing 84 years old, she starts her day at dawn preparing her students’ lesson plans, teaches six full days a week, and can be found well after dark reviewing the classes and doing the book work her business requires. Ms. Bochette, the recipient of numerous local and state arts grants, is living proof of how the efforts of one person can make a difference in the lives of young women while elevating the cultural quality of life for all citizens around the state of Florida
Byrd "Birdie" Spilman Dewey formerly of Boynton was an accomplished author, conservationist and pioneer developer, witnessing Florida’s development from 1881 until her passing in 1942. Mrs. Dewey’s accomplishments across multiple disciplines are well chronicled. She was a frequent contributor to such magazines as Good Housekeeping, Vogue and the Christian Union. She was the trailblazer for women journalists in South Florida, becoming the first columnist for The Tropical Sun, the earliest South Florida newspaper. Her column The Sitting Room inspired and counseled pioneer women on running a household in the harsh South Florida environment. She continued her literary career with the 1899 publication of Bruno, the first national best-selling book to be written in South Florida. Seeing Florida’s great potential, she began investing in land, an unusual occupation for a woman of her time. The land she purchased near Lake Worth in 1892 was eventually platted by her and her husband in 1898 as the town of Boynton, making her the only woman to plat and found a town in the to-be Palm Beach County. She continued her work well into her 60’s by becoming the Florida Audubon Society’s field secretary, traveling the state making speeches in favor of bird sanctuaries and humane treatment of animals. The city of Boynton Beach has recently paid tribute to Mrs. Dewey and her husband by renaming a city park in their honor, located in the town’s original plat.
Pat Collier Frank of Tampa has had a distinguished career in public service and elective office, commencing with her election to the Hillsborough County School Board in 1972. In 1976, she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives; in 1978, she was elected to the Florida Senate, where she served to 1988. During her legislative career, Mrs. Frank accomplished a number of firsts; she was the first woman elected "Most Effective First-Term Member" by the House and also the first woman nominated "Most Respected Senator" by her Senate colleagues. Mrs. Frank has also been a member of the Tampa Hospital Authority and numerous other boards and agencies, where she was in a fiduciary position. Elected to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) in 1998, she was elected Chairman by the BOCC for three consecutive years by her colleagues. She was re-elected to the BOCC in 2002. In 2004, Mrs. Frank was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court/Comptroller for Hillsborough County. She has received over 50 awards for her public service and volunteer activities. In her present position, she was the recipient of the Chief Judge’s Award for the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2006; in 2007, she was chosen Executive Woman of the Year by the Network of Executive Women.
Louise Jones Gopher of Fort Pierce was the first female member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to earn a college degree, graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in business. As the current director of education for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, she has been a champion of education for all its members. A remarkable 90 percent of tribal members are active participants in the programs administered by the Seminole Tribe's Education Department. Gopher is credited with helping to increase the number of tribal members who have pursued higher education, including 11 with degrees from, or currently enrolled at, FSU. Born in a chickee in a Fort Pierce Seminole camp, Gopher spoke no English when she entered school. Nonetheless, she became the first Seminole woman to graduate with a four-year college degree. Known for her dedication to the preservation of Seminole Tribe of Florida culture, Gopher was a driving force behind the development of the tribe's first charter school, known as "Pemayetv Emahakv" or "Our Way" School, which opened its doors this year. With a focus on American Indian culture, the school addresses the problem of cultural preservation that all Native Americans face by teaching Seminole Tribe of Florida language and traditions to its young members. As a recognized authority and author on tribal history and cultural preservation, Gopher also was instrumental in the development of FSU's groundbreaking course, "History of the Seminoles and Southeastern Tribes, Pre-Contact to Present," which was offered to students for the first time in 2006. was the first female member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to earn a college degree, graduating from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in business. As a former director of education for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, she has been a champion of education for all its members. A remarkable 90 percent of tribal members are active participants in the programs administered by the Seminole Tribe's Education Department. Gopher is credited with helping to increase the number of tribal members who have pursued higher education, including 11 with degrees from, or currently enrolled at, FSU. Born in a chickee in a Fort Pierce Seminole camp, Gopher spoke no English when she entered school. Nonetheless, she became the first Seminole woman to graduate with a four-year college degree. Known for her dedication to the preservation of Seminole Tribe of Florida culture, Gopher was a driving force behind the development of the tribe's first charter school, known as "Pemayetv Emahakv" or "Our Way" School, which opened its doors in 2006. With a focus on American Indian culture, the school addresses the problem of cultural preservation that all Native Americans face by teaching Seminole Tribe of Florida language and traditions to its young members. As a recognized authority and author on tribal history and cultural preservation, Gopher also was instrumental in the development of FSU's groundbreaking course, "History of the Seminoles and Southeastern Tribes, Pre-Contact to Present," which was offered to students for the first time in 2006.
Pam Iorio of Tampa is a former two-term mayor of Tampa who left office with a remarkable 87% approval rating. First elected to public office at the age of 26, Ms. Iorio was the youngest person ever to win a seat on the Board of County Commissioners for Hillsborough County. At age 27 she was elected as Chairman of the Board. Subsequently, she served three terms as the county’s Supervisor of Elections. In 2003 she was elected as mayor of the city of Tampa, with reelection in 2007. Ms. Iorio is currently the Leader-In-Residence at the John H. Sykes Center of Business at the University of Tampa. She is a highly sought after lecturer, and is the author of Straightforward – Ways to Live and Lead, a book that highlights and examines leadership qualities, personal character, crises management, motivating change, and striking a balanced lifestyle. Ms. Iorio has served as an inspiration to many current women business leaders and elected officials. She has inspired other females to run for public office. Because of her inspiration to others, she has received countless accolades and awards from women’s groups and organizations. She is a natural born leader and teacher who sets examples, and then inspires others to get involved in helping others
Dottie Berger Mackinnon, formerly of Tampa, was a tireless advocate for women and has left her footprint throughout the Bay area. She was one of the founders of Joshua House, a safe haven for abused, abandoned, and neglected children, in Tampa and she passionately supported the children served there since 1992. After founding the institution she helped the group establish a $1.2 million endowment through the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay in order to ensure that they can continue the work that she started there long into the future. She also served the community as a Hillsborough County Commissioner from 1994-1998. On May 4, 2011 Dottie was honored with the Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award by the Hillsborough County Commissioners in recognition of the significant role that she played in improving government through leadership and vision. From 2005-2009 she worked tirelessly to develop, create and co-found A Kid's Place, a residential care facility for foster siblings. Before A Kid's Place opened in 2009, kids who were taken away from abusive homes were often separated from their siblings. Rescued children now stay at comfortable houses at A Kid's Place for up to a month while officials work to find stable homes for groups of brothers and sisters. The achievements of Ms. Mackinnon are truly remarkable. She has been recognized as a true difference maker in the lives of the children of Tampa Bay. She worked unrelentingly in her quest to improve the lives of children in the Tampa Bay area right up until her death in October 2013.
Charlotte Maguire, M.D., of Tallahassee, earned her medical degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine in 1944, when women were not just an anomaly in medicine-they were unwelcome. Medical schools routinely rejected women applicants for no other reason than gender. One of the first women to enter the University of Arkansas Medical School, and the only woman in her class. Once she graduated, she returned to her native Orlando where she opened one of the state's first pediatric clinics in 1952, remains one of Maguire's proudest accomplishments-and she has had many in a long and rewarding career. In 2000, some 60 years after leaving for Arkansas because her native Florida had no medical school, she became a driving force in the creation of the College of Medicine at Florida State University (FSU), and has remained an active and generous benefactor of the medical school. Her advocacy and passion for building a medical school at FSU has been matched by her generosity in donating some $2 million to the facility. Fittingly, she is often referred to as "the mother of Florida's medical school." Maguire's lifetime dedication to caring for children and the underserved, as well as the focus and drive that led her to overcome prejudice against women physicians makes her a role model for today's young medical students. A life member of the Florida and American medical associations and in 2002 was awarded an honorary doctorate from Florida State University (FSU).
Anne Briardy Mergen formerly of Miami was a pioneer in the field of women editorial cartoonists. Beginning in the mid 1930’s, she drew seven cartoons a week for more than twenty years. She and her family moved to Miami in 1926. With her talent and persistence, she convinced the editors that her work belonged on the editorial page. Her cartoons covered local, national, and worldwide subjects. With a bold and simple style, her work influenced and entertained thousands of readers daily. She brought awareness to many situations with her work, such as bringing attention to the need to preserve the Everglades before it became a park. Ms. Mergen’s cartoons appeared in The Atlanta Journal, The Dayton (Ohio) News, and the Miami Daily News. She received fan mail from several areas of the country including J. Edgar Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt requested two of Ms. Mergen’s cartoons to hang in the Roosevelt Memorial Room in Hyde Park. During her career, Ms. Mergen produced more than 7,000 cartoons, many of which now reside in the Library of Congress, The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, and The Historic Museum of Southern Florida. Ms. Mergen had the courage to enter a field that had traditionally been a man’s territory, and her example has inspired other women to follow their dreams and venture off the beaten path.