There are countless outstanding women who call Stanislaus County home, but the County’s Commission for Women plans to pay tribute to 11 that stand out from the rest — two of whom are from Turlock.
Pitman High School senior Gabrielle Sotomayor will be honored as an Outstanding Young Woman and Turlock Library champion Hanna Renning will be recognized as the County’s Woman Living Pioneer at the SCCW 40th Annual Outstanding Women Awards on March 9, cementing Turlock’s place as a city that shapes successful community servants of all ages who also happen to be female.
The Outstanding Women Awards began as a way to honor women who have demonstrated exemplary service to the community in ways that relate to the SCCW’s objectives, which include promoting issues that concern women of all ages and backgrounds, promoting knowledge of women’s strengths, resources and choices, validating achievements of women throughout the Stanislaus County and supporting legislation that addresses the needs of all women and children. Over the course of nearly 40 years, the awards ceremony has honored countless individuals who represent what it means to be an outstanding woman.
Sotomayor and Renning are two such women who exemplify those characteristics.
“It’s a great honor,” Renning said.
Before working as a librarian at both the Stanislaus State library and the Stanislaus County Library Turlock branch, Renning was brought to the United States after spending the first four years of her life in Panama, where she and her family fled to as refugees from Nazi Germany. After living in both Ohio and Michigan, Renning returned to Germany to study, where she met her husband Dieter. In 1970, the couple settled down in Turlock.
Renning was among the earliest members of the Friends of the Turlock Public Library, whose mission it is to support the city’s library by raising money, advocating for adequate funding and sponsoring special library programs which benefit the community. She was instrumental in establishing the FTPL Book Sale in the early 1990s when County funding for the library was stripped by the State government.
“We started off with very small book sales, sorting books on a double bed in someone’s mother-in-law house,” Renning laughed. “We had maybe 30 boxes of books, and now the present size of the sale is over 15,000 books. It’s a major project of mine.”
Since then, Renning has served as president of not only FTPL, but has also led other organizations like the American Association of University Women, the Tuesday Reading Club and the Turlock Concert Association. Taking on such a substantial amount of leadership positions throughout her lifetime has always been in her blood, Renning said.
“I think that part of myself is from our family history…after World War II we were accepted as Americans, and I believe that working for the common good is good for everybody and there’s no better way to get to understand other points of view than to work together on projects,” she said. “It’s important right now when immigrants and immigration are so denounced to know that during other times in our nation’s history, immigrants have been welcomed and we’ve been able to contribute to American society.”
While Renning was grateful to be named a “living pioneer,” she said, she believes there are countless other women in the county who also deserve the award. But, to her, a pioneer is someone who makes a difference — and she certainly has.
“A pioneer is someone who initiates on measures which have not been taken before, and puts them into a new form so that they have more influence,” Renning said. “It’s very important to come up with new ideas and to make suggestions which are for the common good.”
At PHS, Sotomayor is well on her way to becoming a pioneer in her own right, though she was surprised to be named as an SCCW Outstanding Young Woman.
“I was completely astonished and honored to be selected among so many other amazing women,” she said. “Knowing that all of these people have their own story is so amazing, and I was just a little bit blown away.”
When she’s not busy doing homework from one of her several Advanced Placement courses, practicing her viola as part of both the PHS Chamber Orchestra and the Modesto Youth Symphony Orchestra or planning a community service event through her school’s Key Club, you can find Sotomayor doing other things like organizing blood drives on her campus, serving as a student representative to the school district’s Board of Trustees and making sure her Relay for Life team is doing all they can to help fund finding a cure for cancer.
It’s hard to believe Sotomayor has time to fit anything else in her schedule, but her true passion and favorite part of her week is when she serves her volunteer hours at Jessica’s House, helping those who have recently lost a loved one cope with their grief.
“Through my volunteering there, I’ve been able to make some great connections with children and people. I just absolutely love it,” Sotomayor said. “We’re not necessarily counselors, but we’re supporters who are there to walk with them through their journey.”
Five times a month, Sotomayor works with children of all ages, using art therapy and the power of her words to help Jessica’s House visitors cope with the toughest moments of their young lives. Eventually, she hopes to use the experience and friendships she’s gained to aid her in the path to one day working with children as a career.
“I think it’s a beautiful thing that the SCCW is recognizing women for their amazing work. If I wanted to be known for anything, I would want to be known for my impact on children and that’s what I’m hoping to do for my whole life,” Sotomayor said. “This is a nice stepping stone to put me on the right track toward my future.”
The SCCW 40th Annual Outstanding Women Awards will start at 10 a.m. at Greens on 10th in Modesto, 953 10th Street, with a no-host champagne bar and buffet brunch following at 10:30 a.m. The awards program begins at 11 a.m. The cost is $35 per person and pre-paid reservations are required. Additional details and reservation forms are available online at www.stanislauswomen.net, or contact Olga Cardenas at 209-566-5707.