Bessie Konishi: Promoting Peace
July 26, 2016
The Jennie Award is named after Jane Cunningham Croly, the founder of GFWC who worked as a journalist using the pen name “Jennie June.” The women honored with this award are a true reflection of the spirit of GFWC’s founder, whose independence and courage led her to form the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1890. As the only award at the Federation level that recognizes individuals for their service, it is truly the highest honor a clubwoman can receive. Much like Jennie June, these women are committed to improving the lives of those around them. They live and breathe volunteer service, and are completely devoted to their clubs, communities, and families.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog post featuring Southern Region Jennie Award Winner Margaret (Peggy) McLane!
Bessie Konishi, a member of the GFWC Woman’s Citizenship Club in Alamosa, Colorado, is this year’s Western States Region Recipient of the Jennie Award. GFWC was honored to present Bessie with this award in front of her friends, family, and fellow clubwomen at the Wonderful, Wacky Women Luncheon during the 2016 GFWC Annual Convention.
Bessie joined the GFWC Woman’s Citizenship Club in 1966, and soon became an influential leader both in her club and in Alamosa. Drawing on her own experiences as a child of Japanese immigrants during World War II, Bessie has worked extensively to promote peace and end racism in her community.
Sadly, Bessie has faced prejudice in her life. During World War II, while Bessie and her sister visited a local café, they were ignored by the wait staff, while other customers laughed and made rude remarks. During the 1960s, Bessie’s daughter was told she could not belong to a club because she was Japanese. Bessie talks about these experiences and demonstrates how difficult it was growing up in the 1940s in her program, “History of Japanese Americans in the San Luis Valley.”
As a member and leader of the GFWC Woman’s Citizenship Club, Bessie has continued to promote peace and justice through her club work. By sharing experiences from her childhood and teaching school children how to fold origami cranes that were sent to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan, Bessie’s actions show that we can learn from the past.
“Her leadership, understanding, volunteering, goal setting, planning, and perseverance help all members learn and open their minds to possibilities that can be accomplished,” said Judith Greenwood, president of the GFWC Woman’s Citizen Club.
Whether raising money for Heifer International, hosting Pinwheels for Prevention, partnering with Alamosa’s Tu Casa, Inc. to build a new children’s advocacy center, or planning a fashion show to raise money for nursing scholarships, Bessie is a dedicated volunteer who always does what it takes to improve her community.
“Bessie’s work with serious issues, such as racism and peace, has inspired me and many others personally. Her own experiences led her to try to help others understand that prejudice is not acceptable,” Judith said.
In addition to serving in multiple leadership roles, such as club president, district president, and GFWC Colorado President, Bessie is a community activist who volunteers for many other organizations. She served on the Alamosa School Board, volunteers at the Alamosa Welcome Center, and was the first Asian American woman to serve on the board of directors for the Caring for Colorado Foundation. A retired elementary school teacher, she is married to Ben Konishi and has three children, seven grandchildren, and four step-grandchildren.
Thank you, Bessie, for your 50 years of service to GFWC.
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Sharon Oliphant is filled with positive energy and gratitude for all of the opportunities she has to give back because of GFWC. In 2018 she will begin her time as Florida State President, and Sharon is assume the role and work with her enthusiastic Florida clubwomen to make a difference.
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The Rochester Junior Women's Club
The Rochester Junior Women’s Club (Michigan) was established in 1956 with 16 members, and today has over 70 members that always come together to support one another. The club chooses three or four major charities to support and several smaller ones, donating approximately $30,000 each year. In total since its inception, the club has provided more than 1 million hours of community service, and raised more than $928,000 to support their community!