2012 Women of Distinction and Woman of Promise

Bennye Alligood: “Santa Fe is My Life”

Bennye Alligood likes to say she grew up at Santa Fe College. She started her Santa Fe career as a work-study student for the audiovisual department, wheeling projectors and setting up film strips when she was 17.

“My dad and I were both students at the same time,” she recalls. “We drove in together and we even took some of the same classes. My family dragged me up here from Ft. Lauderdale so that my dad could change careers and enter the ministry. I thought Gainesville was the sticks.”

But she loved Santa Fe. She was the bright, personable, “can-do” girl who said “yes” every time she was asked to take on a new role. Type the course schedule? Sure. Work as one of two secretaries for the entire SF faculty? Why not? At 19, she was a supervisor.

Today, she serves the college as associate vice president for College and Community Relations. In that role, she takes on a variety of special projects for the President’s Office, and oversees Admissions and Recruitment, the Call Center, East Gainesville Instruction, College Relations, and the Student Ambassadors.

“I’m the cheerleader. I’m the one who finds the money and the people to do things,” Bennye says. “I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of person. Other people make me look good.” 

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DeeJay Hellrung: Champion for Children

DeeJay Hellrung is one of Florida’s leading advocates on issues relating to maternal and child health, child welfare and child abuse. Feisty, funny and savvy, Hellrung’s singular focus all her adult life has been the betterment of children’s lives, which fits in nicely with her marriage to longtime Gainesville pediatrician John Hellrung.

“We’ve both devoted our entire lives to children,” she says.

The two met in the pediatric ward at Tampa General Hospital 36 years ago, when John was a resident and DeeJay was working her way through school as a pediatric nursing assistant. DeeJay earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from University of South Florida, and a master’s in Family and Child Development at Kansas State University, while working at the Geary Community Hospital in Junction City, Ks. 

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Alena King Lawson: Dedicated Public Servant

It was obvious from early on that Alena King Lawson was a leader.

“I met her back in 1969 at Newberry High School. We were friends right away,” recalls Shirley Whitfield. “Whatever was going on, we were right there, doing what needed to be done. I call that leadership.”

That’s been Alena’s MO all her life. Down to earth, exuding integrity, strength and compassion, no matter what role she has filled, she’s served her fellow citizens.

After high school, she graduated from St. Johns River Community College, where she founded the Black Student Union and served as its first president. She went on to Florida State University to earn a bachelor’s in sociology with a minor in criminology.

Alena, 56, holds the distinction of being the first African American female ever to reach the rank of lieutenant at the Gainesville Police Department.

“This was not an easy task for a female minority officer,” says Police Chief Tony Jones. “She worked the streets just like any other officer, answered calls, made arrests, then ventured into the detective division, where she did a lot of the sexual battery investigations. She was very hard working, very innovative, always willing to help. She was also one of the first female supervisors of the Reichert House.”

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Linda McGurn: Award-Winning Redeveloper

Linda McGurn started recycling while a University of Florida student in the early 1970s, well before curbside recycling was the norm.

“I would collect our recyclables all month and then a friend would take them to the collection center up in Jacksonville,” she recalls. 

Today, McGurn is still recycling, but it’s more of a big-picture operation. She is an award-winning redeveloper who repurposes old buildings, and in the process, reinvigorates downtowns.

Linda and her husband, Ken McGurn, are the couple who sparked downtown Gainesville’s renaissance by redeveloping the Sun Center and the Opera House, and building Union Street Station, Arlington Square Apartments and the Downtown Parking Garage.

“Downtown redevelopment is essentially recycling buildings, using what you already have,” Linda says.

She recently installed LED lighting in several of the commercial buildings she manages, drives a Prius (her second!), and has installed solar panels that generate 540,000 watts of electricity on the roofs of the McGurns’ properties (that’s over a half a megawatt! Huge!).

If it’s possible to recycle a downtown, give her credit for that, too — revitalizing once blighted downtown Gainesville into a hip social and economic hub.

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Sylvia Reddish: Lifelong Love Affair with Bradford County

Sylvia Reddish, 71, wasn’t born in Bradford County, but she should have been. From the time she was a young child, her family vacationed from Jacksonville to a cabin on Crosby Lake, and later moved to Starke when Sylvia was 11.

Today, Sylvia lives in a lovely home on that same lake. Just as the light shimmers across its surface, Sylvia’s ties to Bradford County shine across the community. Her optimism and generous spirit are a source of strength and light for many.

“In all my years of knowing Sylvia, I have never witnessed her having a ‘bad day,'” writes Terry Vaughan, Bradford County Supervisor of Elections. “Her bubbly countenance and positive outlook remain contagious.”

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Mary Wise: ‘Winningest’ Coach at the University of Florida

Mary Wise arrived as head coach of the UF women’s volleyball team in 1991.

Previously, she’d been the youngest Division I head coach (Iowa State, 1981) of any team in any sport in the history of the National College Athletic Association – she was just 21! After Iowa, she was a graduate assistant, and then head assistant coach, at the University of Kentucky (1986-1990).

Then came Florida.

Her Gators have won 19 SEC regular season championships. She is one of only two coaches in SEC history in any sport — men’s or women’s — to win that many titles. Since 1991, the Gators have amassed 571 victories in matches — more than any school in the nation.

“I love winning. I really hate losing,” says Wise. “We’ve communicated that volleyball at Florida matters. We’ve been in the top 10 in attendance every year since I’ve been here.

“The best parts, other than winning, are the relationships that are formed with the staff and players. We’ve had awesome talent come through our program. I tell our players, ‘you’re Gators for life.’ What we hope the legacy will be is not just the wins, but did we grow the players? Did we change lives?”

Mary was awarded SEC Coach of the Year 12 times. In 2006, she was named All-Time Great Coach by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. That was after having been named National Coach of the Year. Twice.

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2012 Woman of Promise

Jenna Stafford: Expressing Love and Acceptance

There have been two constants in 17-year-old Jenna Stafford’s young life: her family’s love, and her love of animals.

First came Kareem, a rescue puppy. She saved up her allowance and dove for coins under couch cushions until she had enough for the Humane Society’s $50 adoption fee. She was 8.

“I don’t think my parents thought I could do it. It took me a long time, but I was determined,” she recalls. “He was my first love.”

The eight years they had together and their visits to Kareem’s vet sealed her decision to become a veterinarian, as did interacting with the animals where she took horseback riding lessons: emus, chickens, goats.

Jenna is the 2012 Woman of Promise. She is an Eastside High School junior dual enrolled at Santa Fe College and majoring in biology in pursuit of an eventual veterinary medicine degree. In addition to her enjoyment of science and animals, Jenna has an abiding interest in creating peace and understanding between different peoples, bringing people together, and collaborating on large volunteer projects.

Read Jenna’s entire mission statement – PDF

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