The women who nurture Mississippi business will be celebrated at the annual Business Woman of the Year Luncheon slated for Jan. 15, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
More than 525 statewide business leaders are expected to attend the luncheon, which represents the culmination of an annual special project established by the Mississippi Business Journal.
“The Business Woman of the Year program honors the achievements and contributions of women in business from across the state, and serves as a follow-up event to the 50 Leading Business Women program held every August, when the winners are honored among themselves and our sponsors with a two-day retreat at Eagle Ridge and ‘ladies night out,’” explained Kathy Arich, MBJ’s advertising director.
The Mississippi Economic Council, BankPlus and St. Dominic by Health Services are event sponsors.
“This is a very important event and we’re proud to be a long-time sponsor,” said Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council. “The Business Woman of the Year Luncheon is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the important contributions being made to the Mississippi business community by the outstanding leaders that are honored.”
At the luncheon, video presentations of the 2008 class will highlight each winner’s accomplishments while their families, friends and coworkers participate in the festivities. At the end of the presentations, the 10 finalists for Business Woman of the Year are unveiled, highlighted by the naming of the Business Woman of the Year.
DeAnna Adams, the featured event speaker, is a 2007 alum and director of the Mississippi Technology Alliance Innovation Center at Jackson State University. The story of her rise to success has been inspirational to women across the magnolia state.
Adams’s “growing-up” story is different than most. She lived in 23 foster homes during her formative years in California, and never had a chance to meet two of her three brothers. Because it wasn’t long before she was the oldest child in those homes, she inherited much responsibility at an impressionable age. By the time she reached high school, her name had been spelled six different ways and even her true age was debated. Then during the ninth grade, Adams moved into the home of Maude Powell, the dean of women at North Salinas High School. Powell was her last foster parent, “the woman that I loved and called ‘mother,’” Adams said.
“Her approach was simple. She took me in as her own and loved me as her own,” said Adams. “Her daughters, Sheri Timmons and Shanna Goings, became my lifelong sisters. It was a very nice gift from God.”
Once living with Powell, Adams’s life took on a dramatic change.
“My skills in writing and expression, honed through years of keeping a journal and writing down all my impressions, were sufficient to win the role of editor of our school newspaper,” she said. “My height and athletic ability earned me a spot on the school basketball team where I played center. Since I’d always enjoyed music and had a passable singing voice, I joined the school choir and became a member of the girls quartet and had the privilege of traveling around the state singing at functions. High school was a fun time in my life.”
Adams considered studying law or nursing, but ultimately earned a liberal arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. From 1964 to 1994, she operated her own little incubator of sorts — Hattiesburg Preschool. In 1975, Waldoff’s, then a prominent local clothing store, named her Woman of the Year. After a few years of consulting, working as a receptionist in a Hattiesburg law firm and then working at Parkway Properties and First Baptist Church in Jackson, Adams joined the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA).
Along the way, a series of unfortunate events challenged Adams mentally, emotionally and physically.
“When my husband (Alan) died, I had just … broken my foot and tore the ligament in my other knee. Seven surgeries,” she recalled of the painful year spent in a wheelchair. “Being strong in faith helped our family (in 2006) when my 40-year-old daughter had to have a double radical mastectomy, my ‘sister’ in Oklahoma died, and my ‘sister’ in California was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.