Iris Awards to honor three women

Inaugural event marks rebirth of similar program

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Lisa Nisenfeld, Sally Schaefer and Mary Strehlow will be recognized as women of achievement in Southwest Washington at the inaugural Iris Awards presented by Clark College on Thursday night in the college’s Gaiser Student Center. A 5 p.m. reception will be followed by the 6 p.m. awards ceremony.

The Iris Awards are the rebirth of the Women of Achievement Awards first begun by Clark College in 1985 to commemorate Women’s History Month by recognizing outstanding women leaders in Clark County. As the event evolved during its 26-year history, it moved off campus to hotel banquet facilities and became costly to produce. In 2011, Clark College put the event on hiatus while it reinvented how to go forward with a sustainable program.

Although the name is new, the mission remains the same. The impressive list of more than 200 recipients reads like a Who’s Who of women leaders in Clark County, from Valree Joshua, the first recipient in 1985, to Leslie Durst, who received the last Women of Achievement Award in 2010.

“This year’s women are most worthy of celebration,” said Barbara Kerr, executive director of communications and marketing at Clark College.

They are:

• Nisenfeld, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, who was described by one of her nominators as “an inspirational leader who possesses that rare ability to provide both vision and passion to those she leads.”

• Sally Schaefer, who began her career as a public school teacher, spent 50 years volunteering in the areas of health, social services, public schools, higher education, international relations, the arts, ecology and philanthropy. One of her nominators described Schaefer as a “humble, generous women who is a leader, role model and inspiration.”

• Mary Strehlow, developmental disabilities manager for the Clark County Department of Community Services, was described by one of her nominators as “a community hero. The past 30 years have seen a revolution in our attitudes and acceptance of disabilities and Mary has been on the forefront of this revolution.”

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4530 or susan.parrish@columbian.com