Women Change Makers

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Leading With Balance

By Michelle Vasquez  |  Photography by Suzanne Pack

 

In an age of waning civility, it is comforting to know good people are in our community as active change makers. Through their advocacy, they promote action and solutions to problems that affect the well-being of state, local, and international communities. Call it maternal instinct or women who get things done; these leaders inspire others to come together across party lines to do the right thing and improve our communities.

 

Sandee Marion

 

Judge Sandee Marion

 

A San Antonio native and UT Austin and St Mary’s Law School graduate, Judge Sandee Marion has spent her career serving others, whether on the bench, as a judge, or in the community.

 

“I’ve been a lawyer for 44 years, which includes practicing law for 12 years and spending 28 years on the bench, first as a probate court judge and then as an appellate court judge, “says Marion. Her experiences in the judicial system have enabled her balanced, fair, and compassionate approach to improving our communities right here in San Antonio.

 

Throughout her career and retirement, Marion has been active in the Rotary Club, which she joined after the organization began admitting women. She was also a partner in a law firm. Rotary is a nonpartisan organization of 45,000 clubs worldwide whose mission is service over self. Says Marion, “Rotary brings like-minded people who want to help improve our communities and serve others.”

 

One hears a recurring theme in her journey of service over self, which also happens to be the central tenet of the Rotary Club. Her father was a Downtown San Antonio Rotarian for over 20 years. Once she joined, they sat together every Wednesday until he passed away.

 

In 1998, she became the first woman president of the Rotary Club of San Antonio. “Membership was still about 90% male, but it was such an honor to serve as the first woman president; I felt as if everyone wanted to see me succeed,” she says.

 

Her family was also supportive during her tenure, with her husband and daughters attending Rotary conventions and meetings. This journey led to the founding of the largest Rotary Club in the world, and in so doing, they accomplished significant initiatives throughout San Antonio.

 

Some projects that the club has undertaken during her tenure include Kingdom for Kids, initiated by Rick Cavender, which goes on to this day. The program is a playground build initiative in underserved communities. Rotarians pick an elementary school in an underserved area that may not have access to a playground and, throughout a weekend, put together something new and unique,” says Marion. These small acts have a significant impact on the positive development of children.

 

Marion believes that education and leadership are the keys to whatever you want to do in life. “We must develop good leaders for our future and leaders with compassion yet strength. We face some serious issues, and we need leaders who recognize them, so we continue having the kind of place that we all want to live,” she says. “I believe developing those leadership skills by serving our community first is important.”

 

Her continued commitment to service extends beyond Rotary. She serves as a Board Member at St. Mary’s University, Corazon Ministries in downtown San Antonio, and the Center for Healthcare Services, our mental health authority for Bexar County.

 

Kristen Salazar

 

Kristen Salazar, Rotary International District Governor

 

Kristen Salazar is a supportive parent, small business owner, and one of Rotary International’s youngest district governors.

 

“My kids motivate me because I know they see everything that I do, and so I want to set a good example for them and show them how to be successful and professional while having fun giving back to the community, and that’s where Rotary comes into my life,” says Salazar.

 

Rotary is the largest international service organization, with 1.4 million members worldwide and over 500 districts. Salazar leads the largest district in Texas, which covers 57 Rotary clubs and has about 2,500 members. San Antonio is the largest in the district.

 

On the subject of being a nonpartisan organization, Salazar conveys that “we want our clubs to focus on what they can do in the community and not bring politics into our Rotary clubs. We should be able to work together regardless of our views and help those who need us.”

 

“Being a Rotarian means having an impact,” says Salazar. One way they do that is by cultivating young leaders based on age group. There are programs called Early Act, Interact, and Rotaract for elementary, middle/high school, and college age. Many continue to be Rotarians after they graduate.

 

The program requires commitment, and while there are different levels, many receive the presidential volunteer service award with a minimum of 90 hours of community volunteer service in addition to balancing school, school activities, and family commitments. “Those are leaders who are going to come up through Rotary and help make a difference in the world going forward,” says Salazar.

 

Salazar embodies the principles of community service through her words and actions and encourages her children to participate in volunteer activities with the organization. In addition to her service with Rotary, she is Chair of the Advisory Council for CASA, a member of the board for Camp Camp, and a member of the Advisory Board of Corazon San Antonio.

 

Salazar explains that by making a difference, we also make ourselves and others happy. “I want to show my kids the benefits of helping others, and I can only do that if I work to make a difference in the world.”

 

Molly Quirk photo

 

Molly Quirk , Mayor of San Leanna

 

Molly Quirk is the mayor of San Leanna, a community outside of Austin. She is also the President of the nonpartisan organization the Texas Lyceum. And those are only two of her jobs. She is also a dog mama to seven labs, a wife, a photographer, and a lead in business development for a national engineering firm focusing on government infrastructure. Her roles converge in one way: they are all about making a difference in the community through civil discourse.

 

The Texas Lyceum was founded in 1980 by a group that included Skipper Dippel, Scott Bennett, Jim Wyndham, and her mother, Ann Quirk. “They agreed Texas was at a turning point and that if we were not pulling leaders from across the state together, we were not going to be able to solve the problems facing Texas,” she says. They came up with the idea to hold a public conference on significant issues pertinent to Texas’ future, and the rest is history. Molly took the helm 40 years after her mother served as the first woman president of the Lyceum.

 

The organization hosts four to five conferences annually on issues of concern for Texans in a non-adversarial setting, conducts a poll illuminating these areas, and sponsors research fellowships on these issues. “The advantage of being nonpartisan is that we can have tough conversations about issues that are important and relevant to our communities,” says Quirk. “The Lyceum fosters trust, and through our conversations, we demonstrate that individuals can come together, agree to disagree, and learn from each other, allowing us to solve problems.”

 

Each year, The Texas Lyceum delves into the major issues facing Texas. This year, they selected topics that included a deep dive into many issues for Texans: water, leadership in space and technology, mental health, and the future of marijuana and gambling in the Lone Star State. They are also learning about the industry behind entertainment, which includes issues surrounding human capital, the environment, and the workforce.

 

The Texas Lyceum leads by example to inspire conversation, which may sometimes make people uncomfortable. “We do not seek to tell you what to think but help you gain perspective, which allows us to dig in and learn about the issue rather than fighting it,” says Quirk.

 

Cultivating leadership in others is the gift that keeps on giving. Members of the Lyceum then give back to their communities more informedly. They can influence change as government or business leaders, community stakeholders, and advocates.

 

The impact of nonpartisan leadership fosters tackling societal challenges. Women change-makers like Judge Sandee Marion, Kristen Salazar, and Molly Quirk transcend political divides and focus on actionable solutions that strengthen our communities and set a powerful example for future generations. Their work addresses immediate needs and cultivates the next generation of leaders committed to service over self, ensuring a legacy of positive change.

 

 

 

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