Marching for togetherness: Whirlpool, 100 Women Strong joins forces for gender equality

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Marilyn Bryan, left, of Niles joins walkers during a march at Plank’s Tavern on the Water, which coincided with International Women’s Day on Wednesday. The march was part of an event called Tennies & Toasts. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — Shannon Sigmund likes to talk about women’s rights and is the first to explain that feminism isn’t just for one gender.

The St. Joseph resident was among the dozens of women who gathered at Plank’s Tavern on the Water on Wednesday to take part in Tennies & Toasts. The public event was put on by the Women’s Network, a Whirlpool Corp. employee resource group, as a way to celebrate women and raise funds for 100 Women Strong.

Sigmund opted to donate money to make a sign that she could carry during the 2.5-mile march that was part of the fundraising event. Sigmund used several colors to form the statement “Feminist: Any person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.”

“Anyone who believes in equality between men and women are technically a feminist,” Sigmund said. “I like to spread the word and fight for equality. This looked to be a good way to do both.”

Sarah Spoonholtz, chairwoman for 100 Women Strong, said the nonprofit was thankful to benefit from and be a part of the event.

The Berrien County organization provides financial assistance to women who are ineligible for other community resources, but find themselves in need of emergency help.

“We want to make sure we have the ability to not only be a hand out to these women, but a hand up,” Spoonholtz said. “Our slogan is women helping women, one woman at a time.”

The march itself began at Plank’s, where it crossed the Blossomtime Bridge, wound through downtown St. Joseph and over the M-63 bridge before returning to Plank’s.

Sara Horvath, co-lead for the Women’s Network, said they wanted to celebrate the women in the community and chose Wednesday for the event because it was International Women’s Day.

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Shannon Sigmund of St. Joseph creates a sign before the start of a march at Plank’s Tavern on the Water, which coincided with International Women’s Day on Wednesday. The march was part of an event called Tennies & Toasts. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The Women’s Network has done events with 100 Women Strong before, but Horvath said they haven’t done a march until this year. The event’s fundraising aspect included donated items from various local businesses that were won through a drawing.

“There are various communities within Whirlpool and Whirlpool is such a big part of the community, so it’s important we do events like this with a very impactful organization,” Horvath said, referring to 100 Women Strong.

Marilyn Bryan got wind of the event through Facebook and decided to drive in from Niles. Like Sigmund, Bryan said she came alone in search of a combination of solidarity and togetherness.

On the march through the Twin Cities, Bryan held a sign that read, “Teach girls to be brave, not perfect.”

“With the current events and how everything is going on, I wanted to be a part of something like this and take a stand,” Bryan said.

Sigmund said there needs to be more open events like this feminism is going to overcome the stigma it sometimes gets. Sigmund said everyone just has to work together with others.

“I would like to see St. Joe and the Southwest Michigan area start to support things like this,” she said. “I feel like this is great way to support the community and bring people together. Coming here alone today, I knew I wasn’t going to have a hard time getting along with somebody.

“We’re stronger together.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 9, 2017)

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