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Lansing writer gathers women to share WAR stories

WAR (Women Are Rising) event highlights female leaders who overcame adversity

by Melanie Jongsma

HIGHLAND, Ind. (October 10, 2021) – “This experience for me has been the best ever,” said Karen Abbott Trimuel with a slight break in her voice. “I can say, if I don’t make it past tomorrow, I did what I was meant to do.”

Trimuel, a published author and playwright who also writes for The Lansing Journal, was addressing the 75 women who had gathered in the Social Banquet Center at Wicker Memorial Park. It was 5:20pm, and the women had spent the past three hours listening to WAR stories — that is, “Women Are Rising” stories.

Going to WAR

The event officially began at 2:00pm, as the banquet room began filling with the buzz of old friends reconnecting and new acquaintances sharing introductions. They each paid $50 for a generous lunch, network opportunities, and honest revelations. “Be prepared to be inspired by phenomenal women as they share their unique stories of forging through life’s battles and reaching the victory of their successes,” promised the event description.

As organizer and host of the event, Trimuel began by sharing her own story. She survived being molested as a child, but for much of her life she set that memory aside, didn’t acknowledge the pain, and blamed herself. It was only through friendships with other women who were honest about their stories that Trimuel learned to revisit the past and set her childhood self free.

At the WAR event, Karen Abbott Trimuel showed a video of herself sharing her story of how she found freedom from the trauma of molestation. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

“You too can be set free,” she told the crowd. “You don’t always have to share your story in public, but you do have to share it. You have to get it out.”

Six inspiring examples

In preparation for the event, Trimuel had conducted interviews with six women who were willing to share their stories in the hope of helping others. Videos of those interviews were shared at the WAR event. The women were present to form a panel that answered questions live from Trimuel as well as audience members.

Their videoed stories described abuse, betrayal, cancer, rape, widowhood, divorce, death of beloved family members, parenting children with special needs, micro-aggressions at work, and being forced into family leadership at an early age. The inspiration came from knowing that the people telling those stories had risen to become a foundation ambassador, an Executive VP, a CEO, business owners, and successful entrepreneurs.

Much of the program was videoed, and WAR attenders watched with interest before participating in Q and A with the panelists. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Brenda Higgins, the first to share her story, survived not only cancer, but also betrayal that was intended to end in murder — her husband put a contract on her life. Higgins learned about it when police showed up at their home to arrest him. Those adversities no longer define her however. Today she serves as an Ambassador for the Tatisa C. Joiner Foundation, which helps women newly diagnosed with breast cancer to make informed healthcare decisions.

Kalinda Preston recalled her life with a father whose drug addiction fueled abusive outbursts, and later a husband who was similarly abusive. Yet her portfolio now includes award-winning artwork, a series of successful business start-ups, real estate investing savvy, and a willingness to teach people stock market basics.

As a child Jeanelle Hampton suffered abuse from trusted members of her community. In college she survived rape and managed to call the police. But most heartbreaking was the death of her brother, with whom she was very close. Today she is a proud adoptive mother to two sons. She also owns of Nellie Jean’s Classic Wraps, a line of clothing that allows people “to dress comfortably and effortlessly without having to lose style and sophistication.”

Following the first three videos, Karen Abbot Trimuel (standing) invited the speakers to the front table as panelists. From left: Brenda Higgins, Jeanelle Hampton, and Kalinda Preston answered questions from Trimuel and from audience members. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

People who know Jamie Maravich as CEO/President of United Way of Greater McHenry County might be impressed to learn that she took on the role of main provider for her family in high school, working part-time to pay the mortgage when her parents didn’t have jobs. Her upbringing gave her drive and confidence that have served her well, though she recognizes some unresolved resentment she still feels toward her parents.

Valerie Warnell was also forced into family responsibilities when her parents divorced. Her mother began leaning on her for help and even advice when Warnell was only 14. Now Warnell owns Nothing Bundt Cakes in Schererville, Indiana, with her business partner Tammy Oliver. Warnell was not able to attend the WAR event in person because a sudden staffing shortage left her as the only baker available to prepare a large order for the following day.

As a preacher’s wife, Catherine Carraway faced criticism from women in the church her husband served. She didn’t have much of a support network when her husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease three weeks later, and Carraway found herself profoundly alone. Today she leads Equity Residential, a real estate investment company. Just as important, she has built concentric circles of friends. Carraway encourages women not to suffer in silence. “If we keep masking it, we never talk about it,” she told the crowd during the Q and A session, “then we’ll keep having these same setbacks as women. I wonder today, Do we have a tribe here? Do we have a clan of women who are willing to lock arms and tell our truth? To help each other? To encourage each other?” The crowd responded with applause.

Expanding sisterhood

As the event drew to a close, audience members began contributing testimonies rather than questions for the panelists. “It helps to hear this,” said one woman. “Your stories help me to understand that I’m not the only one.”

A woman at another table agreed: “Hearing all of your stories helps so much.”

One of the panelists also shared, “This has been healing [for me].”

Trimuel hopes to follow the success of this inaugural event with annual in-person WAR meetings and monthly virtual meetings. “We want to create and expand and enhance sisterhood,” she said.

Trimuel hopes to follow the success of this inaugural event with annual in-person WAR meetings and monthly virtual meetings. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

People who are interested in attending future events can learn more from Karen Abbot Trimuel:

Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.