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Women of Distinction named

Front row from left: Martha Coltvet, Govinda Budrow, Babette Sandman, Dixie Dorman, Megan Sandman holding Annabelle, age 2. Back row from left: Sid Perrault, Skip Sandman, Jaron Smallwood and Shayla Budrow. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 6
Counterclockwise: Shunu Shrestha, her husband Bhushan Shrestha, her aunt Sarita Shrestha, her uncle Kishor Shrestha and cousin Benan Shrestha. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger) 2 / 6
A table of Joan Peterson's supporters listen as she talks about gun violence. From left: Retired Police Deputy Chief John Beyers, Gay Trachsel, Diane Schweiger and Jay Berglund. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 6
Rebecca St. George holds Katy Eagle's 9-week-old baby, Estelle Krueger.4 / 6
Many members of the Duluth League of Women Voters attended the Women of Distinction event to show their support (Photo by Theresa O'Gara)5 / 6
The crowd at the Greysolon Ballroom stood as they clapped to honor Women of Distinction award winners. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)6 / 6

Four women were honored by the YWCA for their contributions to the community on Wednesday. Three were named Women of Distinction: Joan Peterson, Babette Sandman and Betty Brasgala. One was honored as an emerging leader, Shunu Shrestha. The Greysolon Ballroom was fill with over 300 attendees, the majority of them women, but some men were also in attendance. They came to recognize the honorees during the luncheon.

The event promoted the YWCA mission, which states, "The YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity."

Betty Brasgala was born and raised in Duluth and is known for founding the YWCA Mother's Day Walk/Run, now in its 30th year. She says she noticed that the women came to the running events as spectators for their husbands, brothers or sons. "I wanted to get them off the sidelines and into the race," she told the crowd at the Greysolon.

Joan Peterson has volunteered with the PTA, soccer and the League of Women Voters. She worked with disabled students as a speech pathologist for the Duluth School District.

After her sister was shot to death in 1992 by her estranged husband during a difficult divorce, Peterson says she became determined to advocate for prevention of gun violence. Peterson listed several recent victims of gun violence. When she mentioned first graders at Sandy Hook, she became teary-eyed, as did many of the members of the audience. Peterson currently serves on the national board of the Brady Campaign, which works to end gun violence.

"I have spoken publicly, testified at hearings, helped to write bills, helped to organize events and people," she said. "I believe strongly that women need to stand up for themselves and be strong against potential violence."

"Miigwech," the Ojibwa for thank you, was a word Babette Sandman repeated several times as she spoke to the crowd. She recalled "hanging around with my dad in the 1970s in Duluth." She said he would tell people he was French-Canadian rather than a tribal member of White Earth Band. "My dad would never believe you are honoring me here today. When you honor me, you are honoring all of us." Sandman is a Community Coach, predominantly working with Native youth at Arrowhead Juvenile Center and with Native youth and their families in the community who are at risk.

Shunu Shrestha moved to Duluth in 2010 to work with trafficking victims. Several of her family members from her native Nepal were in attendance. She said Duluthians have welcomed her in as family. She was honored as an "emerging leader." "I feel like I will never be emerged," she told the crowd. "The day I'm emerged is the day I cease to learn."

Biographies on the Women of Distinction can be found here.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at