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Jessica Hill wins the 2017 Zonta Women of Achievement Award

Jessica Hill won the 2017 Women of Achievement award at the Zonta Club of Cape Girardeau’s annual luncheon. Hill is the executive director of the Safe House for Women and has exclusively focused her career on public service.

“I’m so humbled and honored to be given the opportunity to commit my life’s work to this incredible organization, the Safe House for Women, and to this cause of helping women escape domestic violence,” Hill said. “People often assume that my work at the Safe House must feel depressing or futile, when in fact the very opposite is true.”

Hill spoke about the experience of seeing a woman come into the shelter with all the bones on one side of her face broken and emerge after nine months with stable housing and income. She said she is truly grateful to be able to help those clients and empower them.

“I’m so tremendously blessed to have found my passion and to get to pursue it every day,” Hill said. “I pray that you will also find your passion. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.”

The other nominees for the award were Elizabeth Glastetter, Kathy Mangels, Rekha Patterson, Gina Raffety, Kim Voelker and Bridget Watson.

Wendy Kurka Rust won the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work for the Cape Girardeau community. Rust has advocated for the arts and theater education. Among other accomplishments, Rust’s mural artwork is displayed at La Croix Church and her financial support created the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre at Southeast Missouri State University.

“This award is not about me,” Rust said. “There are so many that should be standing up here in the spotlight instead of me. I would like to accept Zonta’s Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of all those women who tried to put Jesus Christ first in their lives and who stop daily to give God the glory for his goodness.”

Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary Rhodes Russell received the Celebration Award. Russell spoke about growing up on a dairy farm in Ralls County, and attending law school when it was considered a nontraditional field for women.

“It wasn’t dreamable for farm girls back in the 1970s and ’80s to be a judge of any kind — not even to be a lawyer. So I certainly wouldn’t have dreamt in a million years I would have the opportunity and the honor that I have today on the court.”

Russell said it is important to encourage education and provide mentoring to young women. She said without education and mentors of all genders, she would have never would have achieved what she has. She now spends her time trying to pay that forward by mentoring young women to ”break a little bit of a bigger hole in that glass ceiling and dream big.”

The Zonta Club is dedicated to advancing the status of women in southeast Missouri and worldwide by hosting fundraisers that support women and performing hands-on service projects. The Women of Achievement luncheon is the organizations biggest fundraiser of the year, raising more than $20,000 that helps women worldwide.

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past five years. He can be reached at

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