TBY magazine celebrates achievements of local women

Saturday, March 6, 2010
Julia Jorgensen, librarian at Cape Central High School stands behind a globe from the old Cape Central building Wednesday, February 10, 2010. The globe is one of her favorite objects in the new Cape Central Library. (LAURA SIMON)

March is Women's History Month, and TBY wants to celebrate women -- of the world, the nation, and Southeast Missouri -- who have made a difference. Someday, we hope these women go down in Cape Girardeau history.


It's not unusual for Julia Jorgensen to spend a weekend buying s'mores fixings, making homemade gumbo or figuring out how to borrow a voting booth. If she ever won the lottery, she would create a "bookmobile" and drive it all over town, reaching people who don't have access to a library. These extracurriculars aren't exactly in Julia's job description as librarian at Cape Girardeau's Central High School, but they're just as important to her.

"It's no fun to be a keeper of books that no one reads," says Julia, who is known for her fun, yet educational, ways of bringing students to the library -- and making them want to stay. She says the best part of her job is meeting students who insist they've never read a book they liked, and finding them one they can't put down.

"All God's children get to go to school, and we take the opportunity to teach all types of student learners," says Julia, an educator of 30 years and a librarian of 12. "I want them to read for the next phase of their life, whether it's developing a palate that's more sophisticated or knowing the importance of voting. When they leave here, I don't want them to feel that they're not ready or they're not prepared -- whatever that means for them."

Julia says her inspiration in life comes from strong women, both in real life and in literature.

"I like women who are very strong and fearless -- those who were brave enough to recognize the importance of voting rights and equal rights for women, to get out of the norm and blaze paths," says Julia. "I love women who are tough as nails and can keep it all together and not even work up a sweat. They're not perfect, but they always have that sunny disposition."

She loves female writers, especially those with a Southern voice, and lists Toni Morrison, Eudora Welty, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the Bronte sisters among her favorites, but admits a weakness for murder mysteries by Patricia Cornwell. Julia also admires her mother, her aunt and her first-grade teacher, who taught her how to read, as well as Ruth from the Bible and "Founding Mothers" like Abigail Adams.

A child of the 1960s, Julia cites birth control as the greatest thing to happen to women in her lifetime, because it gave women the right to choose challenging careers and have children at the time that's right for them. She proudly supported Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential election, and when the high school library was being renovated, she requested a portrait of President Harry Truman because she "needed a Democrat in the library."

"I love women in politics and at the forefront, making decisions," Julia adds. "I think women have an intuitive ability to look into people's souls and the nurturing ability to see what people need and fix it. Women are fixers, I think, and we're no longer confined to home and hearth -- we can fix the planet."

But Julia still thinks she has a lot of growing up to do in her own life. She hopes to become a better knitter and a better friend, to be less judgmental and more patient.

"Women in their 70s and 80s are so much more graceful than I am -- not in the way they walk -- but in their demeanor. They have a calmness and serenity about them. I want to work toward that, because it's something I lack," she says.

Until then, Julia says life as a woman is good.

"As a woman of 59 years, I have a great amount of freedom," she says. "I can be whatever I wish to be. I can be tough, I can be an athlete, I can cook and clean, or I can be girly. I like all those things, and I like being a woman in a world were no one can stereotype me or put me in a box. The boundaries are still becoming broader, and I like that."


Major Beth Stillwell grew up sorting canned goods and attending church at the Salvation Army, but she never thought she would have a career with the organization. When God called her to the ministry, though, she thought, 'What better way to help the Salvation Army?'

"I have a love for people," says Beth. "I don't have much to give, but what I do have, I will share. We can make a difference one by one."

Beth has been a Salvation Army officer for 25 years, serving from Trinidad to Barbados and throughout the Midwest. Four years ago, she and her husband, Major Ben Stillwell, transferred from Jefferson City, Mo., to Cape Girardeau.

"When the Salvation Army says go, we salute and we go," says Beth. As a major, Beth is responsible for a number of tasks each day, including pastoral and administrative duties, grant writing, public relations, social work, case management and character building. In one day, she's likely to dress up for a hospital visit, then down to serve meals or clean houses.

"When I see a need out there I want to help emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically. I want to get in and help them, and it takes time to do that," says Beth. "With the economy the way it is, we're learning to stretch what we have to make a difference and show people hope."

Beth says the biggest need in Southeast Missouri is relationship building. Many individuals simply need someone to work with them one-on-one to pull through tough times, prepare for the future, and show them strength.

"Younger girls especially need a role model to show them what it means to be a woman," Beth adds. The Salvation Army works to fill this need through youth programs, the women's ministry and a "Girlfriends" mentoring program.

Female mentors will probably become more vital as the role of women continues to change. It used to be that the mother stayed home while the father worked, but Beth has seen this shift in her lifetime. While Beth's grandmother had nine children and never worked outside the home, her mother stayed at home but eventually began working as a beautician.

"Now, both parents have to work to make ends meet, and they still have to see where they can cut out of their budget," says Beth. "I think younger people are hurting because both parents are working. It's hard to find that family value time, and it's very important to have that. Single moms have to work even harder to find balance -- time for their families, their jobs, enjoyment for themselves. They have to shape themselves into role models for the ladies who are looking at them."

---- Major Beth Stillwell of the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Beth feels that her own roles as a woman, wife, mother and businesswoman have prepared her to build relationships with other women and speak with upset teenagers.

"Being a woman is unique in itself. In the Salvation Army, I can do everything my husband does. I can marry and bury. We're at the same level," says Beth. "But as a woman, I feel like I can do more for the women out there who need help."

So how does she get it all done?

"God gives me the strength to multitask. I give him all my credit because he's my strength," says Beth. "I'm on call 24/7 because the Salvation Army never closes down. I've learned to organize and be ready for the next thing and also to draw from others when I know I can't do it all."

Beth says her mother and grandmother, as well as Salvation Army founder William Booth's wife, Catherine Booth, have also been big influences in her life.

"When they were down, they drew all their resources from God. They've been very inspirational in my life," Beth explains. Now, she hopes she's inspired her own children in the same way: to draw strength from God, help people in crisis, and to pray.

"It's doesn't matter what people look like because they all have hearts and they all need hope," says Beth.

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