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Women in Leadership: Four women who lead Excelsior forward

March 9, 2018 – Molly McGovern, city manager for Excelsior Springs, Sonya Morgan, city councilwoman, Melinda Mehaffy, economic development director for Excelsior Springs, and Sharon Powell, mayor pro tem, all share the commonality of being women in leadership positions. They each bring drive and dedication to their positions, and it’s that drive and dedication that help propel the city forward.

Each point to other women in their lives who have influenced them. For Morgan, her mother helped define her priorities.

“She and my dad ran a dairy farm, and later, an implement business,” Morgan said. “She volunteered at church, served as Sunday school teacher and church treasurer. She was a school room mother for us kids. She taught me how to tie my shoes, make my bed, how to love one another, and how to forgive. I watched her care for the poor, the elderly, and the sick. It would be remiss of me not to recognize my older sister, Lisa, as family role model, and now my daughter, Courtney [Cole], too.” She points to her connections within the local Business and Professional Women’s Club — as well as a nod to Alice Paul, for securing women the right to vote.

Melinda Mehaffy grew up in a household where her mother was one of the largest employers in town, as the co-director of the local hospital and director of the attached nursing home.

“There isn’t a time that I recall where my mother wasn’t in a leadership position. I’ve always looked up to her and have used her as a mentor. When I’ve had a difficult situation or needed someone to talk through an issue with, I have relied on her,” Mehaffy said. “I’ve also been fortunate to have a group of female leaders in the Kansas City area that I have established a good working relationship with, and we meet occasionally to discuss what is happening in our world and to check in with one another,” she added.

Molly McGovern also looks up to many different women in her life — so many, in fact, that she was hesitant to name any, for fear that she would surely leave someone out.

“I appreciate so many women and their accomplishments. They are diverse in their interests and the paths they have chosen, but they are making a difference in our community and then there are those women in my profession that are amazing,” McGovern stated. She sees strength in the women in the community, and in the upcoming generation, as well. “I have an opportunity to work with strong women in this community every day. The biggest surprise is how many young women are shaping our community for the better. You fear that the younger generation will move away or not get involved, but that is not the case. I love learning from these women.”

Sharon Powell says she admires all women who are “knowledgeable in their professions and never compromise their convictions. If you are a woman who matches that description – I admire you.”

Among those she listed are Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, Michelle Obama, Meryl Streep, Helen Miran, Queen Elizabeth, Ellen DeGeneres, Savannah Guthrie, Anne Curry, Barbara Walters.

Besides having strong female role models, these four leaders share something else in common: the belief that gender should not hold a person back, and that hard work earns respect, not gender.

“I think everyone (men and women) are respected for their merit, their hard work, and their beliefs — not their gender,” said Powell.

“I don’t know that I have ever had ideas dismissed because of my gender. More likely, they were not well thought out or articulated,” Morgan stated.

McGovern wasn’t raised to see her gender as a possible limitation in her family.

“So, I was naïve to the possibility,” she explained. “I was more focused on trying to be as interesting as the rest of my family and friends. So, I don’t recall being dismissed because of my gender, certainly for a half-baked idea, but not for gender.”

However, she can see now that the way women have been treated has changed much over the last 50 years.

“Women have proved themselves capable of bringing opportunities and meaningful contributions to the workplace, including in elected and appointed political positions,” Morgan said.

For Mehaffy, she believes that Sheryl Sandberg said it best: “In the future, there will be no women leaders, there will just be leaders.”

“Be confident, continue to believe in yourself and your ability to change the world,” she said.

McGovern agrees. When asked what she might say to a little girl who is dismissed as being “bossy” instead of being recognized for leadership skills, she said, “She is going to help shape the world.”

And through their influence and leadership in their own community, these four women are doing just that – shaping the world.


The Excelsior Springs Standard will bring you stories of women who have made significant impacts on our town to recognize March as Women’s History Month.

Featured Image: The women who lead our city (from the left): Melinda Mehaffy, Molly McGovern, Sharon Powell and Sonya Morgan outside the city offices in the Hall of Waters. (Photo by Brian Rice)

By Samantha Kilgore •

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