Celebrating International Women’s History Month
By Christina Stock
Today, we continue celebrating Women’s History Month with examples of local leaders in Roswell talking about the women they admire and who influenced them most.
Michael Francis’ passion in life is music, specifically jazz. Francis is known for being one of the organizers and artistic directors of the Roswell Jazz Festival. In a phone interview he talks about the important women in his life, starting with his mother, Donna Maude Francis. “It’s going to start right at day one — my birth,” Francis said. “My mother was a magnificent pianist and she gave me the gift of music, not only after I was old enough to take piano lessons, but while I was still in the womb. She played music that transferred into my consciousness, and I can’t thank her enough for what she did for me. She shaped my direction in life through that. We started out with the last name of Todd, but we lost my father when I was three years old. Basically, she raised me and was a working mom and had no support system from a male for quite some time. She eventually remarried when I was seven. She was a great mom. The thing that stands out the most is that her taste in music was high end. She played Chopin and Franz Liszt and all kinds of classical things. She was such a great reader that she could sit down and sight some very difficult piano scores and undoubtedly that was a major influence on what I did with my life. That’s the shape of it.”
Unbeknownst to him at the time, Francis said that his love for Latin American composers originated with his mother as well. He only found out about it after her passing. “My mom had a taste for some of the great Latin composers, classical composers, and she played that music either before I was born, or afterwards, or both. That’s where it came from. Since then, I’ve gone to Cuba, I’ve gone to Puerto Rico, I’ve gone to the Dominican Republic and I have other goals later on to go and chase down the roots of Latin music,” he said.
Asked what women influenced Francis in his adult life, he is quick to answer. “I’ve had very, very great fortune in having three beautiful wives, and I have to give them credit. My first wife (Susan Francis) and I are still very dear friends even though we divorced years ago. You wouldn’t know it, but we do way better when we are not together, but we’re great friends. I lost my second wonderful wife (Maxine Francis) to breast cancer and she was a magnificent person and a very strong influence in my life. She managed Tinnie Silver Dollar up in Tinnie for 10 years and we lived in Lincoln during that time. Then my present wife (Cecilia Francis), she’s a very unique person in that she is absolutely tuned in to animals and God’s creatures. She feeds the birds and she even feeds the skunks, the cats. She is a model citizen in regards of taking care of God’s creatures. That’s a very unique trait. I’ve never seen anyone so dedicated to the animals as she is. She supports all these agencies that are against cruelty to animals.”
Francis said that there are more female influences and women he admired than he could mention, “Some of the wonderful women that are in the Jazz Festival Committee that donate their time and money. I respect them highly. They make it possible to put that jazz festival on: The late Hannah Ginsburg who had Ginsburg Music. Sally Anderson, Dorothy Redd, Jody Leonard, Zelma Wilcox, Paula Grieves, Anne Baker and Zandra Orr — Those women are very supportive of the jazz festival and several others.”
Speaking of the Roswell Jazz Festival, Francis said that there will soon be a fundraiser at Stellar Coffee in Roswell, and musicians have already committed to performing at the 15th annual Roswell Jazz Festival that will take place Oct. 13-17.
Caroline Brooks is the executive director of the Roswell Museum and Art Center. In an email Brooks talks about the women who influenced her the most. “I don’t think you can just choose one,” she wrote. “I believe at different stages in your life, influential people come and go, making both small and large impacts that help mold you into the person you are. For me, some of them are:
“My mother — an intelligent, compassionate responsible, and loving human being. She has been my greatest supporter since I was a child. I learned from her the importance of being kind and generous, and to always keep calm under stress and pressure. My love and appreciation for my mom is everlasting.
“My aunts and grandmother — funny, talented and creative women who exude love and compassion.
“Laurie (Rufe) and Leigh (Hancock) — hardworking, knowledgeable women who taught me leadership skills including the importance of empowering others.”
Asked what woman she admired most, Brooks wrote, “Right now, I’d say Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, although she is still a very young woman. She is the Swedish environmentalist who is challenging world leaders to take immediate action against the climate crisis. It’s reassuring that she has the courage and will to take a stand for what she believes in and is inspiring people of all ages to do the same.”
Juanita N. Jennings
Juanita N. Jennings is the public affairs director for the city of Roswell. “I’ve been blessed to have many women influence my life,” she said in a phone interview. “I am thinking of it on a personal level, obviously, my mom (Ruby Trujillo) has probably been my biggest influence. But I’ve been fortunate enough to have been working with women of influence and I’d say, I have two ladies that have had a positive impact on my life, from a career-side. And so I have three to talk about.
“My mother has probably been the all-time one, because she has been with me my whole life. She is what instilled my work ethic and really developed my character, who I am: Do what you say you’re going to do. Treat others how you wish to be treated. Work hard and give it your best at all times. I saw her passion and dedication on how she worked and I think that’s what inspired me to just do great things. Spirit is fine, but if you want to be good you should really try to be great, and mediocre isn’t OK,” Jennings said.
When Jennings started her career and joined the workforce, her first supervisor was Marlene Baca, who was the vice president of Lovelace Healthplan. Baca influenced her tremendously, Jennings said. After all she was young and just started her career in marketing. “Marlene, she just had a way of developing people,” Jennings said. “I was asking a lot of questions. Moving up in the career, how do you do that? How do you balance your work life and your home life? She was a mom as well — at the time I wasn’t a mom and I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be a mom, because I had these aspirations of being a career woman. I think in her conversation with me, in that moment, I knew she was going to be my mentor. She was just so honest and raw about how she did it. She was my boss, but she coached me, she inspired me and it was her leadership style that I admired the most. She is now the CEO of New Mexico Health Connection.”
Jennings said that what she learned from Baca carries on today in her own leadership and management style.
The third person that Jennings said influenced her and whom she admired, is Suzy Chiaramonte, whom she first met in Junior League of Albuquerque, where they were working on a variety of charities and committees. “When I left Lovelace Healthplan, I went to American General Media and she was the general manager there,” she said. “I enjoyed the opportunity learning from her. She coached me so much, not only in the system there in radio, but also just developing my own confidence and even to this day we stayed in contact. she was always there, championing me to do better, even when she was no longer my boss. When I first took the job with the city, she sent me a couple of books on leadership, working with new teams. Because I had a really great team back in Albuquerque and, of course, when you’re new to a city, new to a company, it is different. Just some weeks ago, I received flowers at city hall from her, and her note was just so inspiring. It’s those little notes that mean the most to me.
“When you are younger you think, gosh, these women are so amazing and I want to be just like them. Then you have life experiences and things happen that make your life have a detour and I will say, never would I’ve thought of being in Roswell, New Mexico, settle down with two kids. The beauty of it, I get the best of both worlds and that God really gave me everything that I needed and not what I wanted,” Jennings said.
Asked if she had any advice for today’s women entering the workforce, Jennings said, “I am incredibly blessed to have found a life partner in my husband. We are a team and I truly feel that God blessed me when he gave me my husband, because it is hard, how do you balance it all? And especially now with additional responsibilities, but together we have to have good communication, and we tackle life as a team. Know what you want, but also understand that what you want may not be where God wants you. Be grateful for what He provides, because I didn’t think that I wanted to have children and a family, I just wanted that amazing career. But let me tell you, God has fulfilled my life, having kids and having a husband, but at the same time he blessed me with a career. And it is a juggle and a balance and that’s hard. Recognize when it is too much, learning to say no is probably the hardest thing. But it’s OK to say no and it’s OK to not always have it together. Surround yourself with people who help you. It takes a village to do what I do for the city and for my home life. I don’t do it all by myself, I have an amazing team of professionals that I get to work with, that helps me. I have amazing team of family members that have helped me, and finding those people who are going to help and champion you to be successful, not only in career but at home, will motivate you and inspire you to get up every morning and do this crazy thing called life.”