2013 State Mothers of the Year

ALASKA  The youngest of three girls, Verneta Wallace was born in Indiana, but, from age ten grew up in Alaska. She attended Freed-Hardeman College, Oklahoma Christian College and University of Alaska. She is a certified Christian counselor. Married to David for 44 years they have two children and three grandchildren. They were foster parents for 23 years for 109 children including: deaf teens, infants, pregnant teen girls and abused and neglected children. She was a Court Appointed Special Advocate for 8 years and was president and secretary of CASA’s for Children, The Foster Parent Association and Baxter PTA. She has been Head Girls counselor at Midnight Sun Bible Camp for 35 years and chairperson for Ladies Retreat for 25 years. She was featured on a national television show for “Unsung Heroes” and is featured in the book Unstoppable Women. She enjoys teaching and counseling at church working with women and children.

ARIZONA  Judith Alice Nelson Ward was born August 10, 1942 to Alice and LeGrande Nelson and spent her school years in Idaho but graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Elementary Education.   While at Utah State she was a Kappa Delta, the President of the Associated Women Students and a member of the Student Senate. She married Grant R. Ward in 1965, and taught Kindergarten in the public schools until the birth of their first child. They are the parents of five boys and two girls and now have 34 grandchildren. As Judy was raising her family she was involved in church and the community serving as a P.T.O. officer, High School Booster Club member, and Scout Leader. She volunteered teaching literacy to adults and attended 25 years of Little League Games. As her own children were ready for pre-school she began her own pre-school in her home (Sunshine School), two days a week for 24 years with an average of 32 children per year. Judy loves family, children, reading, music, cross-stitch, painting, Idaho, swimming (everyday) and good friends.

  With a cheerful outlook on life, Renee Evans Starr of Covina, California, finds wisdom and joy in the journey of life’s experiences. Renee and her husband, Jonathan, have enjoyed raising 6 children and helping to raise 7 other children both in and out of the Foster Care program. Her faith and family are most important to her. Family “get together” activities with 14 (so far) grandchildren are wild and exciting. Renee’s adult children look forward to time alone on mother/daughter and mother/son days. Although she is a licensed real estate agent, Renee’s true passion is singing and performing. This love of singing began as a young child performing throughout southern California with her sisters. Now, as the lead singer for the “Sentimental Sisters with Jay C. Munns,” Renee has shared her talents recreating the sounds of the Andrews Sisters with tens of thousands of people for the past 18 years. She also enjoys, travel, decorating, family history and church service.

COLORADO  Lois Ann Bell was born to Albert and Arvilla Bell on August 27, 1956. She was raised with her little sister on a farm in northwest Kansas. Lois attended Studley Grade School, graduated from Hoxie High School, and completed her college education at Colby Community College. She married Charles Henry Schulte on January 5, 1980. They make their home in Bethune, Colorado where their children were raised. Charles managed the family grain elevator business until 2007 and Lois has always stayed busy at home raising their children. They are parents of seven children. Charles and Lois now own a farming operation on the eastern plains of Colorado where Charles works with two of their sons, Shawn and Keith. Lois stays busy as a volunteer at their small school in Bethune where the two youngest still attend school.  She is active with Jan’s Clan Adoption Support Group, Bethune Bobcat Booster Club and a newly elected member of the Bethune City Council.

DELAWARE  Lou Ann Rieley, a native Delawarean, is married to John Rieley and is the mother of twelve children (one is an adopted child with special needs) as well as being a grandmother of six and foster mother to twenty. At age ten, realizing her grandfather had been orphaned, Lou Ann dedicated herself to bettering the life of any child presented to her. John joined her in this decision. Quietly, she sets an example to other families that every child is a gift and deserves a loving and stable home. Lou Ann pioneered homeschooling in Sussex County and home schools all her children. She is strong in faith and in resolve. Gifted with an entrepreneurial spirit, she has been instrumental in establishing organizations that support women, children, and education in Sussex County. Her home remains open to any child who needs love—expressed through food, faith, hugs, training, and prayer.

DC METRO   Deborah Sigmund is the Founder and Director of Innocents at Risk, a non-profit, founded in April 2005, to help stop the trafficking of women and children. The United States Department of State has endorsed the organization’s efforts on behalf of the three million women and children who are trafficked annually worldwide.  Prior to becoming the full-time Executive Director of Innocents at Risk, Mrs. Sigmund was President of the CMW Group, an international consulting firm specializing in Latin America. She continues to serve on the board of the U.S. Mexico Chamber of Commerce. Along with her professional accomplishments, Mrs. Sigmund is well-known in the Washington area for her work on behalf of charitable organizations such as The Washington Ballet, Knock Out Abuse, Second Genesis and Arts for the Aging. She is active at her church, Christ Episcopal Church of Georgetown, and is a member of the Capitol Speakers Club, The Georgetown Club, The National Press Club. Deborah Sigmund is married, mother of five children.

GEORGIA  Katherine Ellington was born in December 1960, in Atlanta, Georgia, as Katherine Roe, to Everett and Dottie Roe. Her parents divorced when she was 5. She is the oldest of 3 children, with 4 half siblings. She graduated from Campbell High School in Smyrna, Georgia, in 1978. She graduated with an Associate's Degree from S . Pete Junior College in Clearwater, Florida, and graduated from University of Georgia in 1983, with a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology, and Criminal Justice. She was a Police Officer with Gwinnett County. She worked in Cobb and Gwinnett County, with the Department of Family and Children Services. She was employed at Gwinnett County Juvenile Court, and retired in July 2011. In September 2011, she was hired by Walton County Schools Student Services in September 2011. In 1989 she married Steve Ellington and had 2 children, Kayleigh and Justin Ellington. She was divorced in 1995

HAWAII  Born and raised in Aiea, Hawaii, Lynette Serrao attended Aiea High School and went on to graduate from Leeward Community College with an Associate Degree in Accounting and then from CSULB with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business, Human Resources Management. She married her husband Jonathan, in Laie, Hawaii and they have raised their four children in Aiea. Lynette has been very involved in service to her church and as a volunteer with the Cub and Boy Scouts. She is also active with her alumni association serving as the treasurer. Lynette recently retired after more than 30 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a negotiator of modifications in contract management. She now enjoys time with her first newborn grandson, traveling to visit her children, spending more time with her parents, and singing in her church choir.

IDAHO  Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb, a native Idahoan, serves in the Idaho Legislature and is the principal of Sojourner Coaching. Her business background is extensive and includes expertise in cross cultural collaboration, leadership development, consultation and coaching. In addition, she works with education, civic, religious and community organizations. Cherie is a respected motivational speaker and a gifted gospel, jazz and blues vocalist, the recipient of the Idaho Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. 
Cherie donates many hours to community organizations, is a founding member of the Idaho Black History Museum and the winner of numerous awards including the Jefferson Award for Public Service. Buckner-Webb earned a B.S Science in Management and Organizational Leadership from George Fox University and a Master of Social Work from Northwest Nazarene University. Cherie is married to the Rev. Henry Webb and has two adult sons, Sean and Phillip Thompson (Erin) and one granddaughter, Zaida.

ILLINOIS  Judith Jepsen-Popel was born on September 3, 1940 in Kankakee, Illinois, daughter of Joseph and Hilda Bourgeois Jepsen. Her father, Joseph was a teacher and a coach and her mother was a homemaker. Judith grew up in the Kankakee area of east central Illinois graduating from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1958. She entered the Dominican convent, but found that was not her calling. She attended Illinois State Normal University, where she met her husband, Gary. They moved to Paxton and had three daughters, Anne, Therese and Margaret. Judith finished her degree in 1973, and got a Masters degree from the University of Illinois in 1976 and later an Administrative Certificate. She taught first through eighth grades and was a principal for two years. She retired in 2002, after nearly 30 years of teaching. In her retirement, she enjoys family, travel and volunteering.

INDIANA Janet Darcy Adler Meyers was born October 3, 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the oldest of three daughters.  She attended the public schools and graduated in 1957.  Janet attended business college, taking the private secretarial courses and graduated in 1958.  This helped her in finding a job at a local bank as a Trust Teller, where she worked for three years.  Janet married in 1961 and moved to Phoenix, Arizona with her husband.  She worked in the Mortgage Loan Department of a local bank for one year.  In 1963, they returned to Fort Wayne, with their first daughter, six mont’s old.  Later, another daughter and a sone were born.  In 1965, Janet joined a Federated Philanthropic Club, donating time teaching CPR.  She has also been a volunteer for Stonecroft Ministries for 33 years.  Recently, she has volunteered to help fix up an old mansion to be used as a half-way house for incarcerated young women.

IOWA  Kathleen Kohorst graduated from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame Indiana with a B.A. in Elementary Education. She taught sixth grade math and science. She received her Juris Doctor from Creighton University and practiced law with her husband, Robert, until his death in 2006. She has played organ and piano for her church since she was twelve years old and has served on her church council. She was Trustee and President of the Board of the Harlan Municipal Utilities and is currently a member of the Harlan City Council. She served on the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities Board and has served as President of the Iowa Lung Association and member of their National Board of Directors. She is currently a Commissioner of the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission and runs her own law practice in Harlan. She is the mother of two sons, John and Joseph.

MARYLAND Denise McDowell is the National Capital Area Regional Master Trainer of BOSS The Movement, a youth leadership and entrepreneurial development curriculum that teaches youth how to be entrepreneurs based on Biblical principles. Through this program, she has inspired many to fulfill their God-given dreams, visions and purpose in life. Denise was the recipient of the 2010 Humanitarian Award presented to her by Lady Elegance Magazine. Denise McDowell was ordained as a Pastor on August 13, 2010, through Christian Business Ministry located in Ontario, California. Denise and her team of certified BOSS The Movement trainers are responsible for having transformed the lives of hundreds of youth in the Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland areas. Denise is a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She and her loving husband Paul live in Prince George’s County, Maryland and have five children; Wilson, 34, Chris, 20, Charis, 18, Nathan, 14 and Chara, 10, two grandchildren; Xiomara 10 and Isaiah, 9 and a dog named “Peaceful.”

NORTH DAKOTA Marcia Raszler was born on a farm south of Des Lacs. She was the oldest daughter of the late Kenneth and Myrtle Hanson and has three sisters and five brothers. Marcia was stricken with polio at sixteen which left her left arm paralyzed, but she never let it become a handicap for her. She graduated from high school, married Ernest Raszler a farmer/farm laborer and they were blessed with three sons Kenneth, James and Dwight.  Marcia was an enthusiastic supporter of the boys. The chauffeur and number one sport fan of their wrestling and basketball games. She is involved in her church through bible study, a church officer, gifts member and quilt maker. Marcia was a childcare provider in her home for 15 years caring for 97 children. She was also a mentor and CCA officer. Marcia is active in American Mothers as the North Dakota state treasurer, mother mentor and making ABC Quilts for area hospitals. Marcia is retired and enjoys living on the farm with her husband, tending her flower and vegetable gardens, spending time with and making quilts for her family and friends.

NEBRASKA  Born the youngest of three children on the rural plains of South Dakota, Jan Schiferl grew up in a faith-based farm family, cultivating her deep love of people, music, and horses. With her husband of 31 years, Greg, the Schiferl’s WJ Ranch near Fordyce was established in 1982. Combining her passions with degrees in business management and vocal music, Jan enthusiastically fulfills the WJ Ranch’s mission to promote family & community events, and advocating for understanding and appreciation of harmony with horses. Jan & Greg are blessed with 4 children and 2 new grandsons. Jan is “livin’ the dream” as an at home mom passionately promoting the importance of faith, family & friends. Jan’s family loves supporting WJ events serving in roles as trick ropers, vocalists, dance instructors, and event crew. Jan also serves on numerous church boards, volunteers in school & community and sings in the professional vocal trio, SweetWater.

NEVADA  Zan Peterson Hyer was born in Malad, Idaho on June 28, 1959. Her family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada when she was 3 years old. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in communications and received a Master of Science degree in marriage and family counseling from UNLV. She married Dodd D. Hyer, M.D. in 1980 and has been happily married for 33 years. They have five children, two children in–law, and four grandchildren. She has served in the community as a den mother to cub scouts and has organized service projects through her church that have provided food, clothing, school supplies, baby clothes, and educational materials to those in need. For the past seven years she has served on the Zoning Commission for the Clark County School District and currently leads a church youth group of 120 teenage girls and their adult leaders.

OKLAHOMA  Jan Schechter is a mother of three who enjoys reading and cooking. She has served as chairman of the Salvation Army's Christmas store, served on the board of her son's elementary school, as assistant den leader, den leader, and pack secretary of her son's Cub Scout pack. When her son crossed into Boy Scouts She served as unit commissioner and was awarded the District Award of Merit. Jan served three years as camp director for the Cub Scout Day Camp, planning and implementing the program, hiring and supervising the staff, and overseeing the day to day running of the Camp. Jan is involved at her church with the Mobile Meals program, and the Village Cafe', a weekly meal for the community that serves approximately 200 people each week, where she plans the menu, buys the food, cooks, and recruits people to assist with cleaning up. She teaches rotational Sunday School, helps with funeral meals, cooks the annual holiday meal, and helps out on other church wide projects as needed.

OREGON  Vivienne Smith Lewis was born in Moscow, ID, the third of six children. At age 3, she contracted the crippling polio disease that paralyzed her right leg. After many surgeries and years using an iron brace, she eventually regained her ability to walk.   In 1975, she married Crismon Lewis, a native of Arizona and together they have lived in Nevada, Florida and Arizona before settling in Oregon in 1989. They have 9 children and 21 grandchildren.  Vivienne has played an integral role in her children’s lives, serving as a Cub Scout leader, piano teacher, classroom assistant and, on three occasions, “temporary mother” to three teenage nieces. She also home schooled her three oldest children and organized and taught a class for mothers struggling with depression.
In 1993, Vivienne contracted Post-Polio Syndrome, a rare disease that proved to be worse than her original polio, but miraculously she avoided the wheelchair doctors predicted for her. Today, Vivienne works with her husband in a business promoting the patented products that have allowed her to walk again.

PUERTO RICO  Carmen Cordero was born to Ramón Cordero and Virginia Rivera in December 1, 1932 in New York. At the age of three, her family moved back to San Juan, Puerto Rico where she spent her childhood.  She was raised by her aunt Edelmira and grandmother Carmen, who influenced her in many good ways, above all, in her love for healthy home cooking and passion to serve others. She met Jesús Morales at her grandmother’s house, who became her sweetheart during their six years of courtship.  They were married in 1952, and today they have 7 children, 14 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.  Carmen has been involve in many service and non-profit organizations such as Catholic Church ministries, Lions Club, the Department of the Family, Catholic Charities, Jail Ministries, Association for the Blind, Early Head Start, Low Income Housing Projects, Grandparents Project in Public Schools, Abused Children’s Shelter, and Elderly Projects. Her life motto is to feed the hunger, to visit the prisoners, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to the homeless,and to welcome the foreigners.

TEXAS  A lifelong resident of central Texas, Michelle Jordan is a graduate of St. Edwards University, holding a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Michelle has worked in the accounting field for 20+ years and has held positions in both the private and government sectors, most notably as CFO for the Texas Department of Agriculture. She currently works as Controller for Go Local, a national advertising firm, and is owner of Dewberry Press, a publishing company for children's fiction. Michelle lists many impressive other accomplishments on her resume, including membership in Mensa, having written several children's books under the pen name 'Doad Michaels', and participation in the televised Miss Texas Pageant in 1986 as a contestant. She enjoys oil painting and has participated in art shows. Michelle has long championed causes for animals and the environment. Despite her accomplishments, she considers her job as mother to be her most important role.

UTAH  Growing up, Judy Cook was taught the importance of family, church, and education.  Judy was an honor student in high school and active in student government, drill team and clubs where she served in leadership positions.  She received a college scholarship and graduated with a B.A. and later earned an M.A.  During Judy’s college years she was an honor student, a member f Angel Flight National Honorary Society, Kappa Alpha Theta, the Sweetheart of Alpha Tau Omega, and best of all, she met her husband Fred.  Judy taught kindergarten and was a demonstration and master teacher and kindergarten consultant.  She retired from teaching to raise a family.  Judy preformed theater and is an award winning Classical Japanese artist.  After raising a family, Judy has returned to teaching and enrolled in classes to teach Special Education Kindergarten.

VERMONT  Betty Haggerty is a native of Vermont, born in Northfield in 1944 to Edward and Emma Sargent. She is the youngest of three children and grew up in a warm, loving, nurturing, rather care-free environment, both in her family and her community, and she easily learned to love life. Betty graduated from the University of Vermont in 1966, with a degree in elementary education. That same year, she married Hugh Haggerty, also a teacher and a school administrator. Betty stayed at home while their two children, Jennifer (b.1968) and Stephen (b.1974), were young. In 1978, when Hugh accepted a school superintendent position, the family moved to Bellows Falls, VT. In 1982, Betty began working at Falls Play school. She taught at and directed the nursery school for seventeen years, retiring in 1999. Since then, she and Hugh have given back to the community, which has been supportive of them, by volunteering. They also enjoy traveling.

VIRGINIA  Becky Alexander LaDage’s childhood was full of encouragement, acceptance, and unconditional love. Her parents led by example with a strong core of family values that included faith in God, the importance of education, community involvement, and family traditions…all of which she would later pass down to her children and grandchildren. Becky spent thirty-two years in K-3 classrooms and has been recognized on local and state levels for her exemplary accomplishments and expertise. For ten years she owned and operated her own math games company, I’ve Got Math Covered ®, which featured her original children’s math games. As a single mother, time management was essential as Becky made sure her two daughters were grounded in the same core values of her own childhood. Her second marriage introduced the challenges involved in blending two families together. Today, she is the proud mother to four daughters and eight wonderful grandchildren.

WASHINGTON  With a love of music and a clear soprano voice, Francine Cowie participated in the California State Solo Festival held at Stanford University and won a command performance rating.  She received a vocal music scholarship and has preformed as a soloist throughout her life.  Singing for community or church, she feels the sweetest songs ever sung are those lullabies sung to children and grandchildren.  Francine and her husband have 4 sons and 14 grandsons, which includes 2 sets of twins.  Putting family first has always been a priority.  After her children were grown, she was employed for 16 years at Felida Elementary School as a para-educator teaching reading, writing and math skills to special needs students.  Community and church service have been constant and varied.  Francine has been a speaker for women’s conferences on homemaking and family.  Her story, Family Reading A Rewarding Choice was published as part of a series on literacy.