National Women’s History Month presented the perfect opportunity to recognize women in Collier County whose significant and lasting contributions make our community better.
The Collier County Museum System (CCMS) initiated the “She Made a Difference” award to recognize local women who made a difference in our county.
At a recent event at the Collier County Museum at Government Center, the inaugural award was presented to two of Marco Island’s own — Pat Rutledge, the executive director of the Marco Island Historical Society, and Jane Watt, the founder and board chair of Marco Island Academy.
Joy Murphy, Curator of Education, Collier County Museums explained how the award came to be; “The idea for this event came from wanting to honor Women’s History Month and the desire to create an annual program that honored women in our community. Often times women’s roles in history are overlooked or undervalued. We want to make sure that influential women are recognized and honored,” she said.
Murphy said Rutledge and Watt were selected because, “they made or are making a difference to someone or to their community.”
For Pat Rutledge, the award came as a “complete surprise.” Rutledge was nominated by Karen Blackwell, herself a woman who made a difference as the first and, to date, only female president of the Island Country Club.
In her nomination, Blackwell cited Rutledge’s work with the Marco Island Historical Society (MIHS) and Museum to finish the four permanent exhibits and secure the loan of the Key Marco artifacts including the Key Marco Cat.
“I am extraordinarily proud to be one of the first recipients of this prestigious recognition of the importance of women in dedication to community service in Collier County,” says Pat Rutledge.
MIHS Curator of Collections Austin Bell says, “Pat has been making a difference here in the Marco Island community for as long as I’ve known her. From her leadership at the MIHS, where we’ve been able achieve some truly ambitious goals in a relatively short period of time, to her involvement with the Marco Island Noontime Rotary, where she volunteers as President.”
Bell adds, “She and Jane are both well-deserving inaugural recipients of what is a terrific idea for an annual award.”
When Gayle Thawley heard about the “She Made a Difference” award, she immediately thought of Marco Island Academy’s founder and board chair, Jane Watt.
Thawley explains, “In 2010 Marco Island had two schools (K-5 and 6-8) but no local high school. Thus, began Jane Watt’s initiative to found a tuition-free, public charter high school, the Marco Island Academy (MIA), open to all students within Collier County.
Today, MIA has been named in the top 2% of the Nation’s 22,000 Most Challenging Schools by the Washington Post; An A-rated Accredited High School; A High-Performing Charter High School; A Cambridge AICE School; and a HS offering dual enrollment.” Thawley adds, “Ms. Watt has actualized a blueprint for schools not just county, but also state and nationwide.”
MIA Principal Melissa Scott, says, “I think that someone that cares so passionately for kids makes a difference every day. Founding MIA and chairing its Board have been Jane’s labors of love for the last eight years, and she has made history for Marco Island.”
According to Watt, the success of MIA was a collaborative effort, and she is thankful to faculty and administration, donors, board members, volunteers, friends and supporters, parents and students. “There are no words to explain how grateful I am to everyone who has joined us on this journey to create a high-quality public charter high school on the island. If I could, I would rename the award the ‘We Made a Difference Award.’”
Watt adds, “It means so much to me to be recognized among the ranks of such inspiring women from the past and present.”