The seventh annual Blount County Athena Leadership Award will be presented on Jan. 24 to one of 10 women, all of whom are recognized for using their strength, courage, wisdom and enlightenment to make outstanding contributions to their community.
The 10 finalists will be introduced at a banquet in their honor beginning with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by a meal and the awards ceremony at the Clayton Center for the Arts on the Maryville College campus. Primary sponsors are The Daily Times and Bristol and Bragg Jewelers.
Pistol Creek Catch of the Day will provide entertainment, and Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Lisa Skinner will be the emcees. Sullivan’s Downtown will cater the dinner.
Evelyn Sandlin, advertising director for The Daily Times and facilitator of the Athena Program in Blount County, said, “This is our seventh year, and I think the caliber of women that we continue to get is getting better and better. If you look across the board at who we’ve had, we still have even more than we can do. It’s an awesome award to be nominated for, and everybody is a winner once they’re nominated.”
The 10 finalists are Lisa Blackwood, Keeli Boyce, Terri Bradshaw, Kathryn Byrd, Penny Ferguson, Teresa Horn, Regina Jennings, Susan Jones, Jackie Mills and Jane Tolhurst.
Blackwood, executive director for Good Neighbors of Blount County, was nominated for the Athena Leadership Award in recognition of her compassionate servant leadership, leading by example and not asking anyone to do anything she would not do herself.
In addition to serving as executive director of Good Neighbors for 10 years, Blackwood has been a member of the Blount County Jaycees for 40 service years, participating in Flag Day events, the annual Jaycees Christmas Parade and the Empty Pantry Fund fundraising drive. She has been a Red Cross volunteer and volunteer instructor, and done disaster training and helping in the Blizzard of ’93 with shelters and food.
In addition, she has volunteered with Community Food Connection for 25 years, serving as president, secretary, shift leader, volunteer, and in food drives and food ministry. For eight years, she has volunteered with Welcome Table Food Ministries, where 250-300 people in the community per week are fed.
She is an ordained deacon, Maryville First United Methodist Church; an ordained pastor, Maryville First United Methodist Church, where she served as children’s minister for 23 years; and served 10 years on the District Committee of Ordained Ministries for the Holston Methodist Conference.
She is a graduate of the Class of 2000 Leadership Blount.
Boyce started her own company, Express Strategic Services, in 2016 after serving as vice president of human resources for Dentek, where she worked for 12 years. Her leadership qualities and concern for others are evident in both her profession and as the mother of four daughters.
Boyce’s community service includes Leadership Blount Class of 2014; Leadership Blount Alumni and Event Committee member; Boys and Girls Club of Blount County board member; United Way of Blount County board member, where, in addition to HR chair with United Way, she was the 2017 Allocation chair and Community Impact chair. She is also a leadership giver for United Way of Blount County.
She participated in a mission trip to Honduras; completed Project Athena Foundation Rim to Rim trek, a 25-mile hike from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in one day to bring hope and support to women overcoming substantial obstacles; is a Junior Service League of Maryville Sustainer; and a Kingdom Design Ministries Board member. She served as Kingdom Design Ministries Dancing With The Stars Fundraiser chair.
Boyce participated in the McGhee Tyson Aviation Program and earned Ruby leadership level advisor with AdvoCare.
Bradshaw is an educator with Blount County Schools, serving as a teacher, athletic director and literacy leader. Her current position is District ELA Coach for grades 6-12. As literacy coach, she has initiated school and system literacy programs such as Reading Rocks, Pedal Power (combining reading and exercise), and 1READ: One Community, One Book.
Her professional involvement includes a variety of roles for Tennessee’s Department of Education, including regional content coach, standards reviewer, content developer and passage and item reviewer. Most recently, she was named as one of the TNReady ambassadors for the Tennessee Department of Education; served as president and member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English; has been the chair of the Secondary Education Section Luncheon at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention; representing Tennessee, Bradshaw has been a delegate to NCTE and currently is a policy analyst with NCTE; has served as a member of the Board of Examiners for Teacher Licensure for the Tennessee Department of Education; and has been a speaker/program presenter on teaching strategies and curriculum at national and state organizations. She also has been recognized for teaching techniques and leadership with several awards.
Her articles on teaching approaches have been published in “Tennessee English Journal” and “TSBA Journal.” She contributed to “Southern Voices” and acted as managing editor of and contributed to “Tennessee Writers” for TCTE.
As an educator for 43 years, Bradshaw has sought to encourage others to develop a sense of social responsibility by providing students learning experiences in an authentic context. At Heritage High School, Bradshaw started the Service Learning Program, which integrated meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities. Students were required to participate in small group discussions, serve in needed positions at Heritage High and its feeder schools, and complete 30 hours of community service with local agencies.
She is a member of the Leadership Blount Class of 2004; a member of the Class of 1999, Knoxville Leadership Education Class; and serves on the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame Board and on the Heritage High School Hall of Fame committee. Bradshaw also serves as elder at her church, Ekklesia.
Byrd, currently the interim vice president of academic affairs at Pellissippi State Community College, is a Knoxville native who began her career in higher education shortly after receiving a master’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 1979. She spent a year working at The Knoxville Journal as a copy editor and feature writer before moving to the Midwest to teach journalism at Illinois State University and then at the University of Cincinnati.
She returned to East Tennessee in 1988, and she and her family settled in Maryville. Hired as a full-time instructor at Pellissippi State in 1992, she taught English at the Blount County campus for 16 years and then served as dean of the English Department for the next decade. She is a member of the Leadership Blount Class of 2007.
During her 26 years at Pellissippi State, Byrd has served as Faculty Council president as well as the faculty regent on the Tennessee Board of Regents, representing faculty from across the state. She was selected as the college’s Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Member in 1999 and Outstanding Administrator in 2017.
Ferguson, who has been an educator for 50 years, teaches 11th-grade English at Maryville High School, including Advanced Placement Language and Composition, and formerly coached tennis and directed school plays. She is currently chair of the Maryville Scholars Committee, sponsor of the National Honor Society and member of the Maryville City Schools Foundation Starlight Gala Committee. She was chair of the English Department for 35 years.
She has been active professionally throughout her teaching career: She taught at the Governor’s Academy for Teachers of Writing; was adjunct faculty member at Maryville College for 20 years in the student teaching preparation program; is past president of the Tennessee Council of Teachers of English; is a frequent presenter at local, state and national English conferences; has had nine articles published in the “Tennessee English Journal;” and is a national facilitator for the National School Reform Faculty and leads/conducts Critical Friends Groups Summer Institutes.
Ferguson has been recognized on national, state and local levels for her innovative projects and dedication to excellence in her classroom. She was one of five teachers inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2008; she and colleague Mark White, with whom she taught American studies for 20 years, were named 2003 Disney American Teacher Award winners and also were named “Unsung Heroes” by Northern Life Insurance Co. and “Outstanding Teachers of the Humanities” by the Tennessee Humanities Council. She was one of eight English teachers recognized nationally by State Farm with the “Good Neighbor Award;” one of six English teachers in the nation to receive a National Council of Teachers of English “Teacher of Excellence Award;” one of 25 teachers in the nation to receive the Time Magazine/Chevy Malibu “Time for Kids” Award; and recently was recognized as one of eight inspirational teachers in the United States on Teach.com.
She was the Blount County Hall of Fame Recipient in 2016; Maryville City Schools Foundation Starlight Award in 2007 — Outstanding Alumni of Maryville High School who has brought honor to the profession; WBIR Television Teacher of the Month for innovation and cutting-edge teaching strategies; and in 2003, Walmart District Teacher of the Year Award for innovation and community involvement.
Horn previously worked in the fashion industry for such companies as Haggard and Dickies as well as in her family business, Maternity Fashion and Little Ones. Her jobs included buyer, men’s fashion designer, operations manager, sales representative over a large Southern territory, and managing the family business in Birmingham, Ala. After marrying her husband, Doug Horn, she changed industries and became insurance and securities licensed, and also excelled in a second industry helping individuals achieve financial security.
Upon moving to Maryville in 2001, Horn became involved in the community in several capacities: She was involved in the renovation of the historic Emory 5 & 10 building on Broadway Avenue in downtown Maryville, turning it into the headquarters of Quality Financial Concepts, and also renovated the old Blount National Bank building into Preservation Plaza, removing the 1970s aluminum skin to reveal the original brick exterior. She and her husband were awarded the Blount County Historic Trust’s Oak Shingle award for each project.
Horn was a mayoral appointee to the Downtown Design Review Board, which oversees six zones within Maryville; she served for more than 12 years as a member and concluded by serving for many years as its board chair before rotating off. She served on the city of Maryville 2020 Vision Committee as representative for both the downtown area and the Royal Oaks Community; co-founded and served as chair on the founding board and served in several officer positions of the Maryville Downtown Association; was part of the mural committee; co-founded the Maryville Farmers’ Market and served as its chair and on the board.
She served on the Chamber board, including chairing the Chamber Foundation Board for several years; is a member of the Chilhowee Club, part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and serves as its current co-president; and served on the Board of Trustees at Fairview United Methodist Church and was a member of its choir.
Jennings, senior vice president of Pinnacle Financial Partners, is a graduate of Tennessee School of Banking and Southeastern School of Commercial and Consumer Lending and holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and an associate’s degree in marketing.
She is a veteran of the Air National Guard, starting basic training March 9, 1987, at Lackland Air Force Base, with her rank going in as airman first class. After boot camp, she went to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., was selected as class leader–information systems radio operator, and graduated from the Tech School with honors; volunteered for the Keesler Air Force Base Special Olympics; attended Non-Commissioned Officer Leadership Preparatory School in Gulfport, Miss., and was chosen as class leader for the two-week class.
Her community honors include: 2018 Chris Blue’s Humanity Hero Award recipient, the first one awarded in Tennessee; 2018 United Way Campaign co-chair with Roger Jennings; 2016-17 Kiwanian of the Year Award winner; 2017 Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service Blount Award for Volunteer Service and Commitment to our Community; 2016 Toastmaster Charter Member and Treasurer from 2016 to present; 2016 The Daily Times Alumni Hall of Fame inductee; and 2015 Athena Nominee.
In addition, she is a Habitat of Blount County board member, Community Involvement Committee member, and Women’s Build Committee; a member of the Leadership Blount Class of 2004; and a member of the FBI Citizens Academy Class of 2014.
Jennings has been a member of Maryville Kiwanis Club since 2006 and past president 2011-12. She is the Imagination Library Committee chair, 2015 to present, responsible for raising $25,000 for this program annually. She started an Imagination Library Graduation Celebration in conjunction with the library in 2017.
She is a Homebuilders board member; past SCHAS board member; Second Harvest Blount County Advisory board member; and volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club. With United Way of Blount County, Jennings is a past board member; served on the Allocations Committee; was Loaned Executive chair; Commerce chair; Year of Caring chair; and current United Way Pillars member.
In addition, Jennings is a past board member of Hearing and Speech Foundation; past board member of Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Bowling for Big Brothers/Big Sisters; captain of Maryville Bicentennial Memorial Fund Drive; past YWCA board member and treasurer. She is also a Maryville Church of Christ Adult Education Committee member, Ladies Retreat Committee member, and G.I.F.T.S., which trains young girls in finance and banking.
Susan B. Jones
Jones, an educator, a preserver of history and an advocate for community betterment, comes to Blount County by way of Canada and then Michigan. Jones received bachelor of arts and master of science degrees from the University of Tennessee and did her doctoral work in educational leadership from 2007-10.
Jones has worked as Learning Center owner/operator; director of Religious Education, St. John XXXIII Church; interim and substitute teacher, Blount County Schools; elected Blount County school board member; adjunct English instructor, Pellissippi State Community College; administrator, Pellissippi State Community College, 2000-03; owner, Room for Improvement for Manuscripts & Adult Tutorials, 2003-present; and Blount County Drug Court director.
Her community involvement has included: Administrative Council, Pellissippi State Community College, vice president, 2002 and president-elect, 2003; Anti-Racism Task Force for Blount County, member. Jones was a member of the Blount County Historical Museum Operations Board, served as vice president two terms and president two terms. She was president, Blount County Historical Museum Board of Trustees. With Blount County Historic Trust, she served as board president and Cades Cove Preservation Association liaison. She is a board member of Sam Houston Schoolhouse Association.
Jones has served on the board of the Blount County Public Library Foundation, including as president, and on the board of the Tanasi Girl Scout Council. She is a Chilhowee Club member; graduate of Experience Your Smokies Class 2004-05; International Library of Poetry winner, 2000; Kiwanis Club of Maryville, member 2005-present and director 2009-10. She also has held membership in the Blount County Republican Executive Committee, Blount County Republican Steering Committee; Blount County Republican Women’s Club, Leadership Blount Class, 2003-2004; Marine Corps League Auxiliary, Lt. Bonneyman Chapter, Knoxville, Advocate General at District and State levels, 2011-present. She was the National Association of Professional Women, Woman of the Year awardee, 2010; and New Hope Children’s Advocacy Center Advisory board member, 2009-present.
She was Outstanding Adjunct Faculty awardee, Pellissippi State Community College, 1999; Outstanding Administrator nominee; Pellissippi State Community College, 2003; United Way Loaned Executive, Knoxville, Pellissippi State Community College, 1998; and United Way Campaign coordinator, Pellissippi State Community College, 1999, 2000.
Mills is a Realtor with Realty Executives Associates and is a member of the Blount County Chamber of Commerce, Knoxville Area Association of Realtors, Tennessee Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors. She has been awarded the Knoxville Area Association of Realtors Award of Excellence and many Realty Executives Associates awards consistently since her first year in real estate. She was awarded the recognition of Best Real Estate Agents in Tennessee and Best Real Estate Agents with social media presence. She is a yearly Multi-Million Dollar Producer in East Tennessee real estate sales.
Mills, a member of Leadership Blount Class of 2014, has been a Family Promise of Blount County volunteer and board member 2014-16, board President 2015, past president 2016. She helped establish the transitional housing program in Blount County. She donated housing to Blount County homeless families. She has been a Kingdom Design Ministries volunteer for 10 years. She helped with establishing their online social media presence, volunteers at their room renovations, assists with fundraising, and is a monetary contributor to the program. In 2018, she was recognized with the Kingdom Design Ministries Legacy Award: A Life of Color.
In addition, Mills was recognized and nominated through Good Neighbors of Blount County for The Spirit of Good Neighbors Award; Habitat for Humanity Women’s Build volunteer and committee member as well as a monetary contributor; participated in The Daily Times Newspapers in Education; assisted women in obtaining their GEDs through Pellissippi State Community College; supporter of many Blount County school programs, school Friday folders and sports teams; has been an Appalachian Ballet Company contributor; supported Reach Haiti Ministries and Building Blocks for Africa; is a core member of Faith Promise Church of Blount County; and has been a contributor and/or volunteer for many nonprofits. She serves on the Committee for the Great Smoky Mountains Hot Air Balloon Festival, which benefits the Townsend/Cades Cove Gateway Alliance.
In 2018, she created the first Blount County Superwoman Search, which was designed to empower community members to nominate women who go unnoticed on a daily basis but have a story to tell. Mills has used her business and social media presence to recognize families at Thanksgiving by providing a fully cooked Thanksgiving meal.
Jane Travis Tolhurst
Tolhurst began her volunteer life in 1978 and has continued it for more than 40 years for various nonprofits.
In 2017, she created and contributed to fund the first Blount County Music Endowment for the University of Tennessee School of Music to offer assistance to any Blount County UT music major who needs help with tuition or supplies for a major in music; member of the University of Tennessee School of Music Advisory Board, 2014-17; designed and executed as co-chairman the 35th anniversary celebration for the Blount Hearing and Speech Foundation Gala in 2016; co-chaired the 2014 United Way Campaign with her husband, Fred Tolhurst, and was named United Way Board Member of the Year; and has served as a member of the United Way Board of Directors and several subcommittees.
With her husband, she planned, secured funding, contributed to and presented “Rachmaninoff Remembered” at the University of Tennessee in 2013 — a standing-room-only event that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the last live performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff, which occurred at UT; created and helped successfully fund, with her husband, the “Grand Players Society,” designed to raise $250,000 to purchase two Steinway Concert Grand pianos for the two stages of the Clayton Center for the Arts in Blount County, 2009-10. In 2010, she was a speaker at Middle Tennessee State University at a workshop of music educators of Tennessee colleges on “Finding the Fun in Fundraising,” a grassroots approach to securing funding for the Steinway pianos for institutions; she also was a panel speaker in New York City to a professional institutional fundraiser seminar, “Keys to Finding Funds” at the Steinway Piano Company and also presented “Finding the Fun in Fundraising.”
Tolhurst served as board member of Blount Hearing and Speech Foundation in 2010; designed, planned and was chair of “Wrapped in Style,” a holiday gift-themed fashion show fundraiser for Blount County Hearing and Speech Foundation, 2008-09; co-chaired ChildNet Make a Splash fundraiser to acquaint Blount County with Helen Ross McNabb’s ChildNet program in 2006; was a board member, Blount County Education Foundation, 1999-2004, and president, 2003. She planned and designed the “It’s About the Kids” million-dollar fundraising campaign through Blount Education Foundation to benefit Blount County Schools, 2003-05, and planned and executed the first run for education in Blount County in 2002. She is a 1999 graduate of Leadership Blount.