Four St. Lawrence County community leaders being honored today as 'Women of Distinction'
Thursday, May 1, 2014 - 11:46 am

Four St. Lawrence County women and an Oswego resident who taught at Ogdensburg Free Academy are being named Women of Distinction today, according to Sen. Patty Ritchie.

Ilene Burke, Virginia Davey, Imogene Wagner, Lila Youngs and Jane Backus are to be recognized in Watertown at the Roswell Memorial Library at 5:30 p.m.

“Over the past several years I’ve been humbled to have been given the opportunity to recognize the amazing women of this region,” Sen Ritchie said. “From teachers who have inspired countless students to those who make it their life’s mission to help those in need, this group of women is truly dynamic and I’m excited to recognize them for their invaluable contributions to our communities.”

• Virginia Davey works with children in crisis. As a teacher at the Children’s Unit at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, she helps children and teens who have been sexually abused, at risk of suicide, and with a range of psychiatric disorders. For 22 years, she has taught and advocated for thousands of children from across Northern New York, working to help them keep up with their school work while they receive mental health care. Her educational programs currently serve as a model for in-patient psychiatric programs across the state, showing how children can receive treatment while also ensuring young people get the comprehensive care they need to succeed in school. Virginia also serves as president of the Public Employees Federation union at the Psych Center. When she learned that the Office of Mental Health was looking at closing some psychiatric facilities, she teamed with Senator Patty Ritchie to ensure the young people she works with would continue to receive the kind of services they and their families needed. As a member of the Save the Psychiatric Center Task Force, Virginia’s efforts helped convince the state to designate the Psychiatric Center’s Children’s Unit as the Children’s Behavioral Health Center of Excellence for the North Country.

• A retired English teacher after 25 years, Jane Backus taught seniors and sophomores at both Ogdensburg Free Academy, and Mexico Academy and Central Schools. While at Mexico Academy, Jane was three times the advisor for Los Inteligentes, a chapter of National Honor Society. She is also especially proud of contributing to the design of the school’s Senior Quest Program, a collegiate-level initiative that allowed students to identify and research a topic of personal interest, culminating in a paper based on field experience and presented to a panel. Jane is also past president and scholarship chairperson of MACS Dollars for Scholars and under her leadership, the organization has been able to raise thousands of dollars for several hundred students in the community wishing to attend college. Jane is an extremely active member of her community, having served on the SUNY Oswego College Council for five years, editing the Mother Goose Nursery School newsletter, volunteering for the Mexico JROTC program and cooking for the Mexico Methodist Church “Monday Meal.” She is currently a sacristan and lector at St. Anne, Mother of Mary Catholic Church and serves on US Congressman Richard Hanna’s Military Academy Review Committee. Jane’s favorite and newest endeavor is sharing time with her granddaughter, Madelynne. Jane is the wife of Mark Backus, and the mother of two sons, Michael and Robert.

• Ilene Burke is the Executive Director of Renewal House of St. Lawrence County, a local non-profit organization that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. She is also an avid supporter of the “NO MORE” campaign and highly involved in raising awareness and support for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Ilene also volunteers for the After Prom Committee at Potsdam High School and supports the Potsdam Booster Club. Ilene was nominated because she is an outgoing advocate for women and families affected by violent acts and is always accessible and approachable to her employees and volunteers. Ilene is a very dedicated wife and mother to two daughters. Nominated by: Ashley Keyes

• Lila Youngs is described as a woman who helps until the job is done, never asking for more than a “thank you.” A resident of Richville, Lila is extremely involved in her community, always working to make things better for those who live there. She is involved in a number of organizations including the Council of Social Agencies, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Office of the Aging, 4-H, Cub Scouts and many more. In addition, she has also worked to create a brighter future for the young people of our region by volunteering as a Brownie leader and a Sunday school teacher. Lila devotes much of her time to volunteer activities such as the RVFD Ladies Auxiliary, the Town of De Kalb Revitalization and more. She also was a member of the village’s Playground Committee, working alongside others to build a new playground for the community. Currently, Lila serves as the Richville Free Library Manager. She is married to Bud Youngs and has four children.

• Imogene Wager and her husband were part of the team that founded the St. Lawrence Valley chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a small all-volunteer organization that helped improve the lives of those living with mental illness and their families. Imogene has served on the executive board and chaired different committees that helped organize parties and picnics for the residents of the St Lawrence Psychiatric Center. These parties have become the once a month “Banana Split Sundays” with Imogene and her husband purchasing the ingredients. Imogene has been recognized numerous times for her selflessness, and in 2003 received the United Way of Northern New York Giving Award in 2003 for her compassion and dedication to improving the lives of the mentally ill and their families.