Embodiment of Leadership

Mary Kay McPhee to Join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

“Mary Kay embodies the meaning of leadership.”

So begins the letter of nomination for Mary Kay McPhee to join the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame.

McPhee is considered one of Kansas City’s most dedicated, creative – and successful – volunteer leaders. Her model for building grassroots support has benefited multiple local organizations, including the Kansas City Free Health Clinic and the Greater Kansas City AIDS Council. In 1996, she was named Woman of the Year by the Central Exchange; and in 2011, she received the ATHENA Award from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, an award honoring a person “who has achieved the highest level of professional excellence, devoted time and energy to the community, and, especially, opened the doors of leadership opportunity to women.”

In recognition of her lifetime achievements and contributions, McPhee is one of nine exceptional women from the Metropolitan Kansas City area included in the second class of honorees to be recognized in the Hall of Fame. Stories of other inductees can be found online.

Hall of Fame member Myra Christopher was part of a group of friends and admirers who nominated McPhee for induction.

“Perhaps the most striking quality that comes to mind is her willingness to take on an issue before it is popular to do so,” they wrote. “Those struggling to live with HIV in the 1980s were (treated like) modern-day lepers. Mary Kay led the way to remind our community that they were our sons, brothers, friends and colleagues.”

The nominators focused on her advocacy for healthcare, education, advancement of women, social justice and equity for vulnerable populations.

McPhee received UMKC’s Chancellor’s Medal in 2006. The Chancellor’s Medal is the highest non-academic award presented by the university. In 2008, she was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

McPhee long recognized the importance and impact of an urban university on the surrounding community. Her understanding of the issues facing students, particularly women and minority students, contributed to numerous programs at UMKC, including the Women’s Council-Graduate Assistance Fund, the STARR Education Endowment, the Herman Johnson African American Scholarship and the UMKC Women’s Collaborative.

In January 2016, McPhee and her late husband Bill Pfeiffer funded the UMKC Staff Professional Enrichment Fund and the Emergency Relief Fund (SPEER), making UMKC one of the few universities in the U.S. with a professional enrichment fund dedicated solely to staff members.

The new Hall of Fame class will be inducted at a luncheon celebration at 11:30 Wed. March 22 in Swinney Recreation Center on the UMKC campus.

The hall was created to honor women who have made Kansas City a better place, said Debby Ballard, co-chair of the hall of fame planning committee, and the nine women in the hall class of 2017 have clearly done so.

“These women represent another class of remarkable women whose stories will be preserved for those that will come after, to learn from their good work and inspire the next generation of leaders to dream big and not fear the impossible,” Ballard said.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. The Hall of Fame is a repository for their legacies. By sharing their stories, the Hall of Fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.

A permanent display honoring Hall of Fame members is now open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The display currently includes memorabilia and information about the contributions of the inaugural class of inductees. The library is at 800 E. 51 St., Kansas City, Missouri.

The Hall is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The hall of fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund, which was established upon her death through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The idea for the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame stemmed from Starr Education Committee members.

The civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues and have signed on in support of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame include: American Association of University Women, American Business Women’s Association, Central Exchange, CBIZ Women’s Advantage, Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri, Greater Kansas City Chamber’s Executive Women’s Leadership Council, Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, Jackson County Missouri Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri; KC Metro Latinas, Kansas City Athenaeum, Kansas City Young Matrons, National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators, OneKC for Women, SkillBuilders Fund, Soroptimist International of Kansas City, Soroptimist Kansas City Foundation, UMKC, UMKC Women’s Center, UMKC Women’s Council, UMKC Women of Color Leadership Conference, WIN for KC, win|win, Women’s Foundation, Women’s Public Service Network, Zonta International District 7 and Zonta Club of KC II.

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