Mercer Island celebrates Women’s History Month

The city honored Island pioneers and current leaders with a proclamation.

March is Women’s History Month, and Mercer Island celebrated with a proclamation last week, in addition to highlighting groups of female city leaders — Mercer Island women pioneers, the city council, the city leadership team and city board and commission members — in its weekly newsletter.

Eileen Concannon, a Mercer Island resident, community activist, retired attorney and chair of the Stanley Ann Dunham Scholarship Fund Board, accepted the proclamation at the March 19 city council meeting for her work as an advocate for women’s rights and marginalized communities.

At the meeting, Concannon gave Mayor Debbie Bertlin a shopping bag displaying an image of “Rosie the Riveter,” and said that when she was growing up, women were “rarely, if ever” mayors, lawyers, athletes and newscasters, and men were not caregivers, nurses, teachers or nonprofit board members, but times have changed.

“What used to be set in stone is not so set anymore,” Concannon said.

Concannon explained how Dunham’s life story showed a commitment to closing the gender gap. Dunham graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1960 and had two children — peace studies educator Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng and President Barack Obama. Soetoro-Ng will visit Mercer Island for three days in May to celebrate the scholarship fund’s 10th anniversary.

“The theme for the 2019 International Women’s Day campaign is ‘balance for better,’” Concannon said. “The women’s movement benefitted women in many ways, no doubt, but it also has benefitted men and children.”

Dunham was a true pioneering woman, Concannon said. She came to Seattle from Kansas, then moved to Hawaii and later to Indonesia.

Other female “pioneers” in the Island’s history include Alla Olds, a member of the Olds pioneer family who served as one of the Island’s first teachers; Dr. Bernice Cohen Sachs, who was the first female president of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine and an avid supporter of the Jewish Community Center; media leaders like Jean Enerson, the region’s first female anchor, Barbara Hiscock Stenson, a broadcast journalist for KING, KOMO and KCPQ, Peggy Reynolds, longtime editor and publisher of the Mercer Island Reporter and Assunta Ng, founder and publisher of the Seattle Chinese Post; Olympic gold medalist Mary Wayte; and Lola Deane, founder of the community’s Island Books and Mercer Island Community Fund, and namesake, with husband Phil, for Deane’s Children’s Park.

Mercer Island is currently led by two women — Bertlin and city manager Julie Underwood. The Mercer Island City Council collectively with the city’s leadership team currently maintains a perfect 50-50 gender-balanced team of leaders. Women comprise 50 percent of state and local government employees across the country.

The origins of the Mercer Island City Council date back to 1960. Among the first class of councilmembers was Sheila LeClercq, who served until 1967. Other notable female councilmembers include current Washington State Rep. Tana Senn, Terry Pottmeyer, Susan Blake, Linda Jackman, Nan Hutchins, Marguerite Sutherland, Lissa Wells and current Councilmembers Wendy Weiker and Lisa Anderl, along with Bertlin.

Bertlin has represented the Mercer Island community since 2012. She was appointed mayor in 2018 after serving as deputy mayor from 2016-2017 and is the third female mayor in Mercer Island history. Before her, Judy Clibborn served as mayor in the mid-1990s and Beth Bland, the city’s first female mayor, served in the late 1970s. Bertlin grew up on the Island and is a Mercer Island High School alumnus who went on to have a career in the tech industry.

Weiker, a community outreach manager, was elected to the council in 2015. She and her family have lived on the Island for longer than a decade and have been active in the community.

Anderl, an attorney, was appointed by the council in late 2018. She and her husband have lived on the Island for 20 years.

The seven women leading the city’s day-to-day operations as members of the leadership team are Underwood, city attorney Kari Sand, city clerk Deb Estrada, human resources director Kryss Segle, parks and recreation director Jessi Bon, Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) director Cindy Goodwin and assistant to the city manager Ali Spietz.

Underwood is the first woman to fill the role of city manager on Mercer Island. She is also an Island resident, living on the south end with her husband and three children.

She, Sand, Bon (also an Island resident) and Estrada each have more than 20 years of local government experience.

Last week, Estrada was named the 2019 Clerk of the Year from the Washington Municipal Clerks Association.

Spietz, who essentially performs the role of chief of staff, has been with the organization for nearly two decades, and Segle has worked for the city for more than 30 years. Goodwin has served as the director of MIYFS since 2002.

Women currently serve on all of the city’s boards and commissions. Erin Vivion chairs the Arts Council, which also counts Amy Barnes, Candace Chuck, Jessica Prince, Xixi Shakes, Rene Stratton and Gaylene Vaden as members. Claire McPherson, Hui Tian and Suzanne Zahr serve on the Design Commission. Linda Jackman serves on the Disability Board, and Mary Grady serves on the Utility Board. Female Open Space Conservancy Trust members are Marie Bender, Carol Lynn Berseth and Geraldine Poor. Carolyn Boatsman, Tiffin Goodman, Jennifer Mechem and Lucia Pirzio-Biroli serve on the Planning Commission.

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