For three Seymour women, being strong, smart and bold is more than a slogan — it’s a lifestyle, they said.

Deb Bedwell, Mary Anne Jordan and RaeAnn Mellencamp were honored Friday night for their community service, spirit and support of young women at Girls Inc. of Jackson County’s annual Celebration Gala fundraiser.

The three received Girls Inc.’s inaugural Jackson County Women of the Year awards.

Story continues below gallery

The event took place at Celebrations Receptions and Events Center in Seymour with the theme On the Red Carpet, giving attendees an excuse to dress up, enjoy a catered meal, donate money to a charitable cause and dance the night away.

Longtime Girls Inc. supporter Debbie Laitinen also was honored with a Distinguished Board Member award during the event.

Presenting the awards were four past Girls Inc. members and volunteers who have achieved personal success: Karlie Henderson, Rachael Parmley, Sadie Gonzales and Rachael Nelson.

Deb Bedwell

Bedwell, who has lived in Seymour for the past 21 years, is the executive director of Anchor House Family Assistance Center and Pantry in Seymour.

She took that job in 2001 after retiring from an administrative position at Cummins Inc. in Columbus, where she had worked for 30 years.

Anchor House’s mission is to help families with children in need, providing a safe, drug-free environment, shelter and food, while also fostering the skills and resources needed for an eventual lifetime of independence.

Bedwell said Girls Inc. assists Anchor House families by giving girls a place to go and participate in activities that encourage them and help them develop positive self-esteem.

As the oldest child in a family of 10, Bedwell had plenty of practice in being a leader, Henderson said in her introduction.

“Her co-workers say she is compassionate, caring, passionately devoted to helping in the community and raising awareness of the Anchor House brand,” Henderson said. “Her nomination letter stated that not only is her work day in and day out touching lives all over our city, but for those who are welcomed into the Anchor House home, she is a leader, an ambassador, a coach and counselor.”

Besides her work at Anchor House, Bedwell is involved at St. Ambrose Catholic Church.

She said one of her favorite volunteer activities is dressing up as an angel around Christmas to read books to young children during community events.

She dedicated the award to her sister, who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Bedwell said the most important women in her life are her sisters “both by blood and soul.”

“I do what I do because God lays those things at my door,” she said. “I really can’t believe you all think that’s something I deserve to be recognized for.”

When it comes to young girls today, Bedwell said, the biggest challenges they face are a lack of relatable role models and learning to believe in themselves, knowing they can do whatever they put their minds to.

Mary Anne Jordan

Jordan had three nominations for the Woman of the Year award, more than anyone else received this year.

“This honor is just unbelievable. I’m still in awe of it,” Jordan said. “There are so many women deserving of this, and you chose me. I thank you so much.”

She was born in Seymour, grew up in Salem and earned a degree from Spencerian College in Louisville, Kentucky.

“She said she had always wanted to work in a bank and realized her dream almost immediately,” Parmley said in presenting the award to Jordan. “She graduated on a Friday and started her first day on a Monday in Salem, where she worked for nine years before heading to Seymour.”

For the past 37 years, Jordan has worked at JCB, where she currently serves as a loan officer. She has volunteered for many local organizations over the years, including Immanuel Lutheran Church and on the board of Realtors. She is on the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce education committee, where she has been involved with the 21st Century Business program, which helps eighth-graders better prepare for their futures financially, and the Kids.gov program, which helps sixth-graders better understand local government.

Co-workers and friends describe Jordan as “an amazing and positive, warm, committed, supporting and encouraging woman,” Parmley said.

Being a breast cancer survivor, Jordan demonstrates how strong she is every day and doesn’t let the cancer dictate her life, one nomination said.

Another nomination called her a “bottomless pit of optimism,” even while battling cancer and caring for her husband, the late Ted Jordan.

“She remains steadfast and smiling, a pillar of strength and resolve,” Parmley said.

Jordan said her goals are to keep doing what she’s doing as long as she can and to enjoy the “precious gift of life.”

Jordan said that the most important person in her life was her mother and that she is inspired by women who live their lives in such ways that they inspire others.

“Apparently not realizing that she is one of those people herself,” Parmley said.

Jordan said she thinks the biggest challenges young women face today are peer pressure and that they need to be patient and find themselves.

She praised Girls Inc. for its efforts to support young girls in the community.

“We are so blessed to have Girls Inc.,” she said. “The strong, the smart, the bold. The life lessons that we are teaching to our young girls are so important. Thank you for making such a difference in their lives.”

One of the most important lessons she learned in her life was during her teenage years from her mother, Jordan said.

“She said, ‘Mary Anne, if you do not learn to like yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to like you,’” Jordan said. “As I went through life, here’s what I think. You learn to like and love life. Life is an absolute precious gift, and each day is a present. You wake up in the morning, and the day is a present just waiting to be opened. And just like some presents you get, they aren’t the best, but those gifts are still important.”

Jordan said she has a saying posted in her home where she can read it every day.

“It is what it is, well the rest of that saying is, it will become what I make it,” she said. “With the help of my family and friends and my very strong faith, I have decided to make it great and enjoy every minute of it.”

RaeAnn Mellencamp

The final Woman of the Year award was presented by Gonzales to Mellencamp, owner of Seymour CrossFit.

“I thought, ‘They have to be crazy. There’s no way they mean me,’” Mellencamp said of being honored. “I thought the title was undeserving, but then I got to thinking it’s more than a title, it’s a way of life. To be strong, smart and bold, you have to have courage, and this is something my mom taught me. My mom taught me years ago to be strong and to have the courage to do anything.”

Born and raised in Seymour, Mellencamp earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in human development and family studies.

She spent 10 years as a social worker before becoming a mom to two boys and then started her own in-home day care. She administered developmental testing for young children while running her day care, raising her boys and working on her personal training certificate.

Once her certificate was complete, Mellencamp began working for Snap Fitness in Seymour, where she stayed for two years before becoming a CrossFit coach and opening her own gym, where she has been for the past three years.

Her community involvement includes Redeemer Lutheran Church and the Seymour MultiSport Club, which sponsors and organizes local running, biking and swimming events.

Mellencamp organized the first Seymour Mini-Marathon in 2010 and last summer organized a benefit to help a CrossFit member who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Friends describe Mellencamp as a “fearless and tireless woman with a huge heart for helping others.”

“While certainly smart and bold, it is RaeAnn’s strength, both physical and mental, that sets her apart,” Gonzales said.

In 2012, Mellencamp completed her first Ironman triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, in 13 hours and 42 minutes.

“It takes discipline, sacrifice and a very Iron Woman to even consider such an accomplishment,” Gonzales said.

Mellencamp said the women who come to CrossFit are some of the most important people in her life.

“These girls come into the gym every day with a smile on their face and attack each challenge head-on,” she said. “Our society has taught us that we are supposed to read magazines on the treadmill, but when you get a steel bar in your hands and throw some weight up over your head, that’s empowering. That gives women the confidence to walk a little taller, stand up for themselves and believe they are worth it.”

Recently, CrossFit expanded to a bigger building on East Second Street. That wouldn’t have been possible without Mellencamp’s positive and encouraging influence, Gonzales said.

Mellencamp said the biggest challenge young girls face today is the pressure to be perfect.

“Perfect is attainable,” she said. “As long as you accept that you are perfect and that has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks perfect means. When you learn to embrace who you are, that’s when you start living life better. Thank you, Girls Inc., for encouraging young girls to be more than they thought possible.”

At a glance

Girls Inc. of Jackson County’s Women of the Year 2015 honorees

Deb Bedwell, executive director of Anchor House family assistance center and food pantry

Mary Anne Jordan, loan officer at Jackson County Bank

RaeAnn Mellencamp, owner and coach at Seymour CrossFit

Also receiving special recognition was Debbie Laitinen for her many years serving on the Girls Inc. board.

Author photo
January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.