Photo by Really Montana Photography
The ATHENAs, like their namesake, are known for their strength, courage, and wisdom. In 1982, the non-profit sprouted up in Lansing, Michigan. Today, the ATHENAs span the globe, honoring those who demonstrate professional excellence and community-mindedness, while actively assisting women in reaching their leadership potential.
For years, the ATHENAs of the Great Falls Area Chamber have presented the ATHENA Leadership Award annually to a community leader that meets the required criteria. More recently, however, the group addressed the fact that some of the guidelines disqualified otherwise worthy ATHENA nominees. If a person, for instance, has never served in an official leadership capacity, they might not necessarily qualify.
In response to this, the Great Falls ATHENAs created the We Stand Tall Award, which is presented to those who lift up women and serve the community in a broader sense.
In 2019, Norma Ashby Smith became the eighth We Stand Tall recipient.
“I’m humbled,” she says of the honor. “It’s so important to pave the way for the young women that come after us.”
Norma is certainly deserving of We Stand Tall. As the co-host of Today in Montana, she was the first woman in the state to anchor a local television program. She is also widely credited as the founder of the Charlie Russell Auction and is responsible, in part, for its 51 years of success.
“When you’re given a good opportunity, grab it and make the most of it,” she encourages.
We Stand Tall has most frequently been awarded to a single recipient, but on a few occasions it’s been presented to groups of people. In 2018, the ATHENAs honored the (Bob) Oakland family of City Motors.
“I’ve always been mindful of Bob Oakland’s service to this community. It’s an honor to know I’m following his family with this award,” says Norma.
Patriarch Bob Oakland founded Great Falls’ City Motors in 1961 and is no stranger to hard work. He was a boy when his father died, forcing him to become the man on the family farm. Now in his 90s, he’s still at the dealership, which—under his guidance—has received the Toyota President’s Award five times. All five times, City Motors received a page in People’s Magazine, and all five times, Bob used the platform to promote some aspect of Great Falls, such as the C.M. Russell Museum.
Though Bob alone is deserving of We Stand Tall, each of his family members is similarly worthy. The Oaklands have been major supporters of Special Olympics Montana, the McLaughlin Research Institute, Great Falls Public Schools, and other community organizations. Bob’s daughter, Leslie (who passed away in December 2018), was even a recipient of the ATHENA Leadership Award.
“They’ve contributed so much to the greatness of Great Falls,” says Norma of the Oaklands and the other We Stand Tall recipients.
Their kindness and commitment have enriched the community immeasurably.
On October 23, 2019, the Great Falls ATHENAs hosted a ceremonial luncheon for Norma. Many offered words of congratulations and praise, and a speech was given by the honoree herself. Norma had many people to thank, amusing anecdotes to tell, and some wisdom to share. At the conclusion, she read a quote from Quaker missionary Stephen Gillet:
“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”