Carpenter wins 2023 ATHENA Award

Marcia Kuegel Carpenter, retired educator from Daviess County Public Schools, was named the 2023 ATHENA Award recipient Tuesday during the 25th annual award luncheon hosted by the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce and Girls Inc. at the Owensboro Convention Center.

Each year, the ATHENA Award is presented to an individual who displays excellence, creativity and initiative in their profession, who contributes to the community and actively pushes for girls and women to “realize their full potential.”

The 2023 event saw a record number for both nominations and attendance, with 19 nominees and more than 500 people in the crowd to congratulate everyone recognized.

Those nominated included: Edna Syra Barnes, Riney Hancock CPAs; Vikki Lynn Embry, United Way of the Ohio Valley; Caleb Farkas, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Kentucky; Wanda Figueroa-Peralta, RiverValley Behavioral Health; Kara Howard, Wendell Foster; Haley Huskisson, Valor Oil and CrossRoads; Lisa Payne Jones, Circuit Court Judge; Jennifer Keller, Aflac and Red Bird Press; Maria Kelly, Nona’s Catering; Olga Rowan McKissic, H.L. Neblett Center, Western Academy; Amanda Owen, Puzzle Pieces; Vicki Chandler Quisenberry, Foundation for Daviess County Public Schools; Michelle Ruckdeschel, Heritage Park High School; Crystal Sapp, St. Joseph Peace Mission; Joanna Shake, Green River Area Development District; Amy Shutt, Daviess County Public Schools; and Angel Welsh, My Sister’s Keeper.

Kirk Kirkpatrick, the luncheon host, said Carpenter was selected as the ATHENA Award recipient based on her talent, innovation and action-driven attitude, along with her “deep sense of purpose and an unflagging commitment to community engagement and education.”

A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Carpenter worked “various jobs” within education and taught on both the high school and college levels before returning to Owensboro as the high school to college director at Owensboro Community and Technical College, followed by becoming the senior guidance counselor at her alma mater, Daviess County High School.

She then helped develop the framework and leadership for the Owensboro Innovation Academy, which opened in 2015, along with helping create the Engineering Academy and Life Sciences Academy.

Additionally, Carpenter was appointed to the boards of the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, the Kentucky Higher Education Student Loan Corporation and Kentucky’s Affordable Prepaid Tuition Plan.

Carpenter has been board president of Girls Inc., a long-time member of Impact100, the vice-chair of the board and the capital campaign of the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden and chair of the George and Joan Greenwell Charitable Foundation, among other roles and achievements.

“Our honoree grew up as a farm girl and spent her whole life planting seeds — and the yield has been bountiful,” Kirkpatrick said. “The passionate visionary has been the heart and the soul of countless life-changing initiatives, affecting meaningful change for incalculable numbers of women, girls and at-risk individuals.”

Carpenter was not in attendance for the event due to having COVID-19. Her daughter, Caroline Ruschell, accepted the award on her behalf.

In a phone interview following the luncheon, Carpenter said receiving the award is one of her “greatest honors.”

“I’m very humbled,” she said. “It was a surprise, especially with the number of nominees.”

For Carpenter, her motivation to serve others in her variety of roles comes from how she was raised and being taught to take chances that came along throughout her journey.

“My family taught me to work hard and to help others along the way,” she said. “I just found that if I always did my best each day at that job, that the next opportunity would present itself. My father also taught me to take advantage of every opportunity that comes available; and I’ve done a lot of that.”

The luncheon also included the announcement of the Legacy Award recipient, which honors individuals posthumously for their work in advancing women in the community. Dr. Carol “Kit” Gallagher, a retired faculty member of Owensboro Community and Technical College, who passed away last October, was the honoree.

“In her roles as an educator, advisor, author and community activist, Kit consistently encouraged and inspired others to believe in themselves and to reach their full potential,” said Sue Napper, chairperson for the luncheon. “… She didn’t use her experiences to judge others, but rather she allowed them to help see their own potential as they made daily decisions of life, both small and large.”

Freddie Bourne, Messenger-Inquirer