Ethnic Heritage Museum honors five local women
From press release
March is traditionally “Women in History Month.” Each year, the Ethnic Heritage Museum (EHM) honors local women who have made many outstanding contributions to life in Rockford. The 2011 “Women in History” honorees are Emma L. Gipson-Gentry, Rose Nicosia Virgili, Anne E. O’Keefe, Lorena Belmonte Moctezuma and Bogumila Sas.
Emma L. Gipson-Gentry
The African-American honoree, Emma L. Gipson-Gentry, is a Boylan Central Catholic High School graduate. She attended Rock Valley College and Northern Illinois University to study voice performance. In 1994, Gipson-Gentry graduated from Rockford College with a bachelor of science. She also holds a master of education from National Louis University.
In 1975, Emma entered her first beauty pageant, Miss Winnebago County Fair, where she received the Miss Congeniality Award. She was crowned Miss Rockford 1977, the first African-American to win that title. She went on to compete in the 1977 Miss Illinois Pageant, which is a stepping stone to the Miss America Pageant. In l980, she became Miss Rockford again, which made her the only African-American to win the title twice. In addition to Miss Rockford, Gipson-Gentry was awarded the 1983 Miss Beloit First Runner-up and 1984 Miss Janesville and the winner of the Most Talented Award.
Gipson-Gentry is employed by Rockford Public School District 205 as the principal of A.C. Thompson Elementary School, a position she has held for eight years. In her spare time, she chooses to spend it with her son, Evon, her family, or her favorite hobbies: container gardening and antiquing.
The community is invited to view a display that revisits Gipson-Gentry’s pageant career. Included in the display are her pageant crowns, some of the awards presented by the Miss America Pageant and the dress she wore during those competitions. A reception for Gipson-Gentry will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 20, at EHM.
Rose Nicosia Virgili
The Italian Gallery honoree’s parents were from Aragona, Sicily, but Rose Nicosia Virgili was born in Rockford. She married James (Jimmy) Virgili, whose family came from Ferentino, Italy.
In 1943, after six weeks of marriage, Rose and her husband Jimmy opened a floral shop. Jim was only17 years old and they called it Al-Mar. It became very successful and it moved to a larger facility and later moved again to the present shop at 1904 S. Main St.
Jim and Rose had a thriving business, and at one time incorporated a restaurant lounge with the floral shop. Rose has some wonderful stories about the floral business and the wonderful customers they consider good friends.
Jim and Rose have four daughters: Carol Paris, Dandi Bolster, Jacki Adams and Barb Rizzo. In addition, she has nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
A reception for Rose Nicosia Virgili will be from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 20, at EHM.
Anne E. O’Keefe
Anne E. O’Keefe, the Irish “Women in History” honoree, was raised in Rockford and received her education at P.R. Walker, St. Peter’s, Boylan and Northern Illinois University. She received the Boylan Alumni Excellence Award in 2010 and is the president and CEO of the Rockford Area Arts Council. O’Keefe has previously worked for other non-profits in Rockford and Chicago.
A reception was held March 6 at the museum honoring O’Keefe and her accomplishments.
Lorena Belmonte Moctezuma
Lorena Belmonte Moctezuma is the Hispanic Gallery’s “Woman in History” honoree.
Her father immigrated to the USA in the late 1950s and moved the rest of the family to the states in the early ’60s when the family settled in Rockford. A graduate of Boylan Catholic High, she attended Rock Valley College and is an alumni of Rockford College.
Moctezuma is a teacher with Rockford Public School District 205 at Barbour Language Academy. At Barbour, she helps with the Science Club activities, which are sponsored through Northern Illinois University. She coaches the basketball and volleyball teams, and is a mentor for the yearbook club.
One of her favorite activities is working and arranging trips to colleges with groups of students. She is a strong advocate of students continuing their education.
Moctezuma is a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and was honored with the title of “Catholic Woman of the Year.”
Moctezuma has three daughters: Yuritsi, Yuliana and Yesenia.
A reception for Moctezuma will be from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 27.
Bogumila Sas, the Polish “Women in History” honoree, was born in Poland. In 1999, Bogumila and her family moved from Chicago to Glendale Heights, where she opened a small theater and taught students about the dramatic arts. She focused on acting through various musicals and plays, and she taught theatrical dancing. In 2006, she and her family moved to Belvidere and began attending St. Stanislaus Church in Rockford. It was at St. Stanislaus that she began to teach in Polish Saturday School. Then, three years ago, Bogumila became principal of the school. She made many changes in the school. Her objective was “How to present Polish children in the community?” She started a program where Polish students would give presentations at nursing homes, at churches and during Polish Fest in Chicago and other Polish religious festivals.
Bogumila’s favorite hobby is helping students learn about the Polish culture. She is the proud mother of four children.
The Polish Gallery is hosting a reception from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 27, to honor Bogumila.
EHM preserves the history and cultural traditions of six ethnic groups that made significant contributions to early life in Rockford: African-American, Polish, Italian, Lithuanian, Irish and Hispanic. “Women in History” exhibits will be on display in March and April.
The museum is at 1129 S. Main St. and is open every Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Group tours can be arranged by contacting the museum at (815) 962-7402 or e-mailing email@example.com.
For more information, visit www.ethnicheritagemuseum.org. The museum is handicap accessible.
From the March 9-15, 2011, issue
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