The circle of the Women of Distinction gained 20 new members as the 2019 class was honored Thursday for outstanding work in Eastern Jackson County. This was the fourth year of the event sponsored by The Examiner.

Now almost 80 women strong, hundreds gathered at Thursday’s luncheon applauded this year’s Woman of the Year alongside another special announcement.

Examiner Senior Group Publisher Julie Moreno welcomed the honorees and guests, saying, “the collective work of this group of women … represents an immeasurable investment of time, talent and passion that makes our community stronger and so much better for their efforts.”

Women of Distinction alumnae LaShawn Walker gave the invocation before being joined by 2018 woman of the year Lynette Wheeler, and the two shared an announcement a year in the making.

“We recognize the strength that lies within the bodies of these amazing women,” Walker Said. “We have influential, change-agent women in our community.”

Following last year’s event, the two brainstormed with 2017 Woman of the Year Dr. Bridget McCandless on how to capitalize on the strength present in the group. To that end, it was decided to create a networking group called Women of Distinction Strong.

Rather than get together once a year, explained Wheeler, the group will meet once a quarter, with a focus on combining talents to better the community.

“We felt like we could take this energy and move forward with a networking group. Each Woman of Distinction brings with them a unique set of gifts and talents,” Wheeler said. “We believe forming this networking group will give us a great opportunity to get to know one another and even more importantly, support each other beyond this event.”

Beyond being honored as Women of Distinction, two women were given further honors.

Roberta “Poo” Coker was given the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“In my younger days I could’ve jumped on the stage,” she said.

About her service to the community she added, “I did what I did because I loved doing it, and I’m hoping that spreads beyond this room.”

MaryAnne Metheny of Hope House was given the title and award of 2019’s Woman of the Year.

“I couldn’t do what I do without the support of people who work with me -- my staff, the board and my husband,” she said. “Thank you very much.”

See the full 2019 Class of Women of Distinction in a special section in today’s Examiner.