During an annual Orange Chamber of Commerce banquet Monday evening, Mary Behnke was the recipient of the Athena Award.

“I was completely surprised when they said my name,” Behnke said. “I have seen the list of names and I am honored to be on the list too.”

Behnke is originally from Ohio, but has lived in Orange since 1969. After moving to Orange, as a school teacher she pursued a doctorate degree from the University of Houston. She then taught Educational Psychology at Lamar University.

The retired teacher is a two-term West Orange-Stark school board member and has served in various capacities within the school system while raising her two children. She was also an active volunteer with the PTA and other various school activities. As a mother of a special needs child she continued to work with OCARC and participated in the group home formation  for special needs citizens.

Behnke is an active member of the First United Methodist Church and has dedicated herself to serve on many committees including becoming a trustee on the board. In addition, she is a past United Way board member and has served on the Lutcher Theater Service Guild nearly since it began.

Her list of accomplishments continues since she was instrumental in starting the Habitat for Humanity in Orange. Since then she has continued to work and volunteer for the organization. She is said to be the “volunteer extraordinary” for this organization. She is the office secretary, office worker and office organizer manger.

Through this organization she has helped build and provide housing for women with children whom may not  have  had the hope of achieving home ownership any other way. Since 1996 there have been 27 houses completed.

Behnke is one of those people who always continues on to be the homeowners advocate and friend while being involved in their lives as they struggle with jobs and family issues.

“I am really proud of the Orange and their support of Habitat (for Humanity),” Behnke said. “It is done with 100 percent volunteers.”

She was nominated by Nancy Vincent, Tommie Daniel and Linn Cardner. They feel, “she will always be a great organizer, volunteer, and leader and her continued contribution to this community is why we think Mary Behnke is so deserving of the Athena Award.”

The Athena Award is presented annually by chambers of commerce, women’s organizations and universities. The award is established through local host organizations in partnership with Athena International’s national underwriters, local businesses and individual sponsors.

Since the program’s inception in 1982 more than 5000 awards have been presented in over 500 communities in the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and most recently the United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the Athena Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

The Athena Award has been given annually in Orange since 1993.  Originally sponsored by Smith Lee Dealership.  Orange Savings Bank has proudly sponsored the award since  2005.

The criteria for Athena Award Recipients are individuals who demonstrate excellence, creativity, and initiative in their business or profession. They also provide valuable service by contributing time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community and actively assist women in realizing their full leadership potential.

Pictured: Mary Behnke is the recipient of the Athena Award during the Orange Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet . She is pictured with her husband Dick and Stephen Lee of Orange Savings Bank.