By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Members of the Women’s Committee of 100 of Birmingham met at Birmingham Country Club on April 20 for the organization’s annual Awards Luncheon.
Special recognition was paid to Mary Louise Hodges, the only remaining founding member of the organization.
The organization was conceived in 1963 and a year later began serving the community and highlighting leaders in the Birmingham’s creative community.
In Hodges’ tenure with the organization, she served in a variety of capacities, including chairwoman of members orientation, serving on the quality media committee and serving as president from 1978 until 1980.
She helped guide special visitors traveling to Birmingham on tours of the city as chairman of civic hospitality, a position she held for more than 25 years.
Her accolades outside of her work with the committee include being named Birmingham Woman of the Year in 1979. In addition, former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington named her the “Official Volunteer Tour Guide of Birmingham” in 1989.
She is a co-founder of the Birmingham International Festival of Arts, was a board member of the Birmingham Art Alliance, a member of the Birmingham Music Club and the Birmingham Symphony. In addition, she is the former president of the Baptist Hospital Women’s board and a former fundraising chairwoman for the Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest.
According to committee officials, Hodges began playing the piano when she was 3. She crawled up on the bench with her grandfather and began playing “Jesus Loves Me” by ear.
At the age of 100, she continues to play.
Hodges identifies music as a great love and gift in her life that she loves to share with others. For 40 years she has played preludes for Women’s Committee gatherings. She also has played frequently for the Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary, Arlington Historical Society, St. Martin’s in the Pines and at her church, Dawson Memorial Baptist Church.
A devoted member of her church, Hodges taught Sunday school at Dawson for 65 years – a record for the church. Hodges recalled she once participated in a mission trip to Africa, teaching Bible stories to young children. She took a portable keyboard on the trip to sing songs with the kids and left it in Africa so the music would continue in her absence.
In addition, Hodges has been a constant supporter of her alma mater Samford University. She graduated in 1943, when the facility was known as Howard College, having served on the school’s newspaper staff and in the external publicity office.
She contributed to The Birmingham News during her undergraduate days, writing weekly articles recounting campus news.
As an alumna of the university, Hodges is past president of Samford’s International Alumni Association and the Alabama Phi Mu Alumnae Association. She has been a Legacy League member for more than four decades.
Samford is where she met her late husband, Andrew Gerow Hodges.
According to Hodges, the accomplishments of which she is most proud are her two sons, Dr. Andrew Gerow Hodges and Gregory Robert Hodges. Gerry is a psychiatrist and published author and Greg is a marketing executive.
The program also included recognition of annual award winners by Awards Committee Chairwoman Amy Scofield with words from President Anne Lamkin.
Scofield’s committee members included Jeanie Box, Molly Bee Bloetscher, Anne Durward, Monique Gardner-Witherspoon, Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, Kate Millhouse, Kerri Pruitt, Carla Roberson, Nan Teninbaum, Jeanna Westmoreland and Bet Wright.
The Brother Bryan-Prayer Point Award, presented to someone who has made outstanding humanitarian contributions to the community, was presented to Donna Dukes.
Dukes is founder and executive director of the Maranathan Academy, a nonprofit school and learning center that serves critically at-risk youth and adults.
The Small Business Award was presented to Sandi Gornati for her work building a small business, enlarging and improving it and giving back to the community.
Gornati, a Homewood native, started her logistics business, SGI Logistics, in May 2005 after retiring from her 25-year career in the corporate transportation and logistics world. Her business grew from three warehouses in Alabama to incorporate service points in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and the Florida panhandle.
The Alabama Historic Preservation Award was presented to Dan Brooks for his exceptional contributions to conserve and promote the history and culture of Alabama.
For 25 years, Brooks served as the director of Birmingham’s Arlington Historical House. At Samford University’s Academy of the Arts, Brooks has served for 35 years as the instructor of the academy’s largest and longest-running class, which focuses on antiques and decorative arts.
He also is a founding member of The Alabama Governor’s School at Samford and taught in the school for 25 years, focusing on Southern culture and folkways and Alabama history.