GLENDALE — Rep. Adam Schiff capped Women’s History Month on Friday by recognizing eight local community leaders as Women of the Year at an intimate luncheon at the Atheneum restaurant in Pasadena.
Elaine Paonessa, a longtime stalwart volunteer for at least five Burbank nonprofits, was named Schiff’s Woman of the Year from Burbank, and Cathey Pelley, chief executive officer of Glendale Memorial Hospital, was picked as Glendale’s recipient.
The event marked the 11th year Schiff, a Democrat who represents Burbank and Glendale, has given the award in conjunction with Women’s History Month in March, he said.
“We recognize outstanding women from throughout the district and have a little intimate lunch to thank them, to congratulate them and also for each of them to get to know each other,” Schiff said. “All of these women, they’re so impressive.”
Since moving to Burbank in 1952 from Portsmouth, N.H., Paonessa has entrenched herself in Burbank’s civic and service communities: She led the Burbank Emblem Club, volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America, chaired the city’s Women’s Council, founded the local Performing Arts Federation and was active raising money for Providence St. Joseph Medical Center.
And at 80 years old, Paonessa hasn’t slowed a bit, she said.
“I got to tell you, I feel 55,” she said.
Paonessa, who serves as president of the Burbank Farmer’s Market Guild, is president-elect of the Burbank Civitan Club and is active on the advisory board of the Burbank Salvation Army — of which she is a lifetime member, she said. Much of Burbank’s senior community knows Paonessa as the musical director and performer with the Van Bloem Singers, a group that visits and performs at senior residences and healthcare facilities.
“Elaine has been volunteering for 40 years with the same five organizations,” Schiff said. “She knows everyone in the city of Burbank, and she’s one of those people in Burbank where if you have a problem and need someone to solve it, Elaine is the one who can do it.”
Paonessa said her volunteerism is, by now, natural.
“I can’t think of being any other way,” she said.
Schiff credited Pelley, who in addition to leading Glendale Memorial Hospital, serves as president of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, for expanded hospital services in infrastructure over the past four years.
“Cathey has one of the toughest jobs, really anywhere there is, to be CEO of a hospital,” he said. “It’s an enormous challenge just to keep your doors open, and in addition she’s involved in so many community initiatives. She’s incredible.”
Pelley, who started her lifelong career in healthcare as a nurse for the U.S. Army in Vietnam, is no stranger to accolades.
But she said the Woman of the Year Award was a unique, deeply personal recognition because it hinged upon her success not only as a volunteer and business person, but as a woman.
“It’s important not so much for me as it is for the young women who follow me, and I think as I sat and listened to the other women today, one of the things that pleases us is that there are people who consider us role models and mentors, and I frequently tell the story when I graduated from high school I had three or four choices of what I might do with my life, and now young women have a million choices of what they might want to do with their life, so in my lifetime things have changes dramatically,” Pelley said. “So to be recognized as someone who maybe has blazed a little bit of the trail is really nice.”