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Athena award honors women for mentoring women

Dianne Dinkel will speak at the annual Athena Awards luncheon Thursday at Kenmure Country Club. Dianne Dinkel will speak at the annual Athena Awards luncheon Thursday at Kenmure Country Club.

When she answered a want ad to handle the books for a nonprofit organization, Dianne Dinkel had no idea that she would one day be the association’s leader. After serving as fiscal director, Dinkel left to pursue a doctorate. She returned to the organization, Athena International, and has been its president and CEO since 2009.

“I spend most of my time working on Athena things but the position is not officially fulltime,” Dinkel said in an interview. “I probably speak at about 20 events a year. My goal is to eventually get to every community. We have over 200 programs a year” across the U.S. and Canada and in England, China, South Africa and four other countries. “I just enjoy meeting the women who are being honored and I want them to feel a connection to the national organization.”
Local Athena members and supporters will hear from Dinkel when she delivers the keynote remarks at the eighth annual Athena awards luncheon on May 14 at Kenmure Country Club.
Athena International would not exist today had it not been for Martha Mayhood Mertz, who sat on a Chamber of Commerce board in Lansing, Mich., in 1982. Mertz looked around and realized she was the only woman in the room. An organization that would identify and recognize women leaders, she reasoned, might lead to their rise in power. She chose the Greek goddess Athena, a fierce and courageous warrior but also a figure who embodied wisdom, reason and purity.
“With that as her basis she decided she was going to create an award to recognize and honor women so therefore people would see that and create more women leaders,” Dinkel said. “It would have a domino effect.”
Since its creation, Athena International has honored 7,000 recipients. The award honors women who have achieved success in the community and emphasizes one characteristic above all — mentoring other women.
A long list of awards that many nominees have won “is not really as relevant as what they have done to help other women,” Dinkel said. “It raises awareness of how important that is.”
In Henderson County, the Athena nominees are usually strong candidates. Although it has not happened often here, Dinkel said Athena International strongly encourages nominations a second or third time.
“The very fact that a woman or man is nominated, is significant. We try to encourage the organization to highlight the nominees almost as much as the recipient,” she said. “The reality is just to be nominated is an honor.”
Before she delivers her keynote remarks on May 8, Dinkel said she will read up on each of the nominees.
“I go through (the research) so I can speak to them and talk about how they relate to the community and how they relate to the Athena model,” she said. “I’ll talk about the importance of recognizing and honoring women leaders and supporting them in the community. I have met some of the most incredible women in my life at these events in these communities. One of the things I highlight is the importance of making a difference in your own community. I don’t think people recognize the value that they bring to others.”


The eighth annual Henderson County Athena Award given in memory of Vanessa Y. Mintz will be presented during the Business & Professional Women’s Luncheon at 11:30 a.m. May 14, at Kenmure Country Club. Tickets are $40 each or $300 for a table of eight. To sign up call 828.692.1413 or send an email to