Seventy-five years after an active group of suffragettes and temperance workers founded the Illinois Woman’s Press Association (IWPA), the oldest active organization of women writers began honoring an individual from within its membership with a distinctive award. Today, that honor is known as the Communicator of Achievement. 

IWPA is an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW). In 1937, NFPW was the vision held by Helen Miller Malloch, then president of IWPA, for a national organization of professional newspaperwomen and writers.

The Communicator of Achievement competition was initiated by the National Federation of Press Women Executive Board in 1956 for presentation during the following year and then annually or as merited. Originally called the “Press Woman of Achievement and Citation Award,” it was renamed in 1989 with its current title. Nominations were started at the affiliate level, suggesting the individual has “experience and achievement, ability as a writer, dedication to the profession, contribution to NFPW and personality.”  IWPA began honoring a member of its affiliate with the Association’s top award in 1960.

Today, the Communicator of Achievement Award remains the highest honor bestowed by the National Federation of Press Women and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association upon members who have distinguished themselves within and beyond their profession.

Created an Oasis in the Desert of Chicago


Kathryn Winslow 1960

Her name was Kathryn Winslow. She was a novelist, businesswoman, publicist for two World’s Fairs, an Alaskan adventurist, a reporter, a feature writer, and spent eight years as a columnist with the Chicago Tribune. She developed a book to teach deaf children to read and understand the conception of descriptions. In 1960, she was the first woman honored by the Illinois Woman’s Press Association as its “Woman of Achievement.”

Kathryn moved to Chicago in the spring of 1948 after marrying Bill Mecham, who worked with the University of Chicago and the Atomic Energy Commission. She joined the Illinois Woman’s Press Association in 1952. Throughout her 28-year membership, she served in various capacities, including Budget and Finance Chairwoman, Communications Contest Chairwoman, and Association President from 1960-1963.

Kathryn’s longtime friendship with American literary giant author and artist Henry Miller began with meeting in Big Sur, California, in 1944. It eventually led her and Mecham to open and manage a bookstore/studio from 1948 until 1958, known as “M, the studio for Henry Miller.” The one-story shop located at 1541 East Fifty-Seventh Street was in what was previously Chicago’s Jackson Park art colony. Following the Columbian Exposition, the area on private property could not be torn down by city planners and had been taken over by local writers, poets, artists, and sculptors as an affordable place for their studios to gather, party, and perform. “Studio M” would become an active studio where Winslow sold the struggling Miller’s artwork and books. Stimulating and fun, M was a place to read Miller’s books and discover his watercolors. Still, it would also become a place for avant-garde painters, poets, and others who wanted to be a part of the scene to gather, calling M “an oasis in the desert of Chicago.” Because of Kathryn’s generosity and concern for Miller, all the proceeds during the ten years the studio was open went directly to help support him. Kathryn claimed to have owned the most extensive collection of Miller’s work then. During their friendship, Miller introduced Winslow to his many literary friends, including American poet and novelist Kenneth Patchen, avant-garde writer and publisher Michael Fraenkel, and French-born American diarist, essayist, novelist, and writer of erotica Anaïs Nin, all of whom, according to Kathryn, were “closely connected” to the studio.

Even though Winslow was Miller’s primary promoter and patron, she wrote two novels on Alaska. The first Big Pan OutThe Story of the Klondike Gold Rush was released in 1951 and earned Kathryn an Associated Press Author of the Week award. Her second book, Alaska Bound, was published in 1960 after seventeen years of travel, often flying with bush pilots in remote Arctic areas throughout the state. Kathryn’s third work, Henry Miller: A Full Life, was released in 1986 and became a best-selling biography. Winslow’s editor on the Miller biography, Ernest Scott, remembered her in a 1987 article in The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California), saying she was “a marvelous professional.” Remarking Kathryn was “fiercely determined,” Scott added, “Once she gets into something, she gets it done.”

By the mid-1970s, Kathryn moved back to the California coast to be closer to her son, Berwick Johnson. She lived there until she died in Sonoma on January 4, 1989.

Sources: So We All Can Be Heard, A History of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association,1987
Profile picture, quotes. Henry Miller: Full of Life: a Memoir of America’s Uninhibited Literary Genius, by Kathryn Winslow, 1986
Chicago picture, quotes. The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) September 20, 1987; Pages 23 and 38
Information. The Press Democrat ( Santa Rosa, California) January 5, 1989; Page 14


A Selfless Humanitarian


Joanne Zerkel 1986

Joanne Zerkel was a staunch advocate for women’s and children’s rights. 

She joined IWPA in 1978 and devoted much of her energy to the Association, serving as the chair of the “Youth Writing Contest,” as it was known then. She was a long-serving women’s editor at the Star Newspapers, serving the Tinley Park, Orland Park, and Oak Forest areas of Illinois, and a feature writer and columnist. But it was her drive to create the shelter launched in 1978, from the kitchen of her friend, Dianne Masters’ home, where she and women volunteers, including educator Carol Zellen and fellow journalist Pat Bouchard (who would later join IWPA in 1984), created a hotline to assess the needs of domestic violence victims. After researching domestic violence in the south suburbs and collecting statistics, Zerkel was shocked by what she learned. “It’s a dose of reality,” she stated. “It takes hearing all kinds of stories for you to sit up and pay attention.” Within the year, with a firm resolve, much hard work, and determination, they incorporated a nonprofit agency and converted an old farmhouse into a shelter. 

At the time, there were no TV dramas and few featured films, if any, that focused on domestic violence. Yet this band of women who envisioned and created the Crisis Center was undaunted by criticism or the roadblocks in their path. “It was a few women sitting in a tiny kitchen,” Zerkel had stated, “planning to do something to help other women. We had all of these grand plans, ideas that would cost thousands, which none of us had, and none of us knew how to get, but we made it happen.” 

By 2014, that same Crisis Center had a staff of 40 and six times as many volunteers, providing a 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter, court advocacy for abused women, and transitional housing to help victims re-enter their communities. The center has a resale shop, Neat Repeats, and offers educational programs regarding domestic abuse. Joanne served first on the board, then vice president, and later president. 

Admired for her support and mentoring of younger women in journalism because of Zerkel, many joined IWPA during her years as a member. Joanne served as IWPAs High School contest director for six years and the assistant director of the 100th Anniversary Celebration of IWPA, coinciding with the NFPW national conference in Chicago. 

As a strong supporter of the National Federation of Press Women, Zerkel was a news reporter of the highest caliber honored by IWPA and NFPW in 1986 as their “Woman of Achievement” (known today as Communicator of Achievement). Zerkel told the more than 300 women journalists from around the nation attending the 1986 national conference in Seattle, Washington, “Because of NFPW, women are making a difference.” 

In May of 1987, the American Association of University Women honored Joanne by naming a scholarship offered by the Educational Foundation program Named Endowment with her name.

Joanne was a founding member of the Abby Foundation of the South Suburbs, a nonprofit agency that provides grants and scholarships to South Suburban women. She also served as its vice president.

For Zerkel, it was always about family. She wrote with solid memories of her Hungarian grandfather and Austrian grandmother, “I learned how very strong and tender the bond of family was and is.” The impact of those memories stayed with her, influencing how she thought, wrote, and lived her life. 

In a 2008 interview, Zerkel shared, “Taking care of your community is one of the most important things in America, and if you don’t do it, you’re the loser.” Joanne added, “The more you give, the better you feel about yourself.”

Joanne passed away in March 2012.

Sources: So We All Can Be Heard, A History of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association,1987
Southtown Star July 25, 1982; May 26, 1983; May 22, 1986; June 15, 1986; May 7, 1987; February 10, 2005, and July 25, 2008
Profile picture: Illinois Woman’s Press Association archives.


Journalist with a Heart


Olga Gize Carlile 1992

A widely acclaimed journalist, Olga Gize Carlile was a woman who loved to write, strived to do it all, and succeeded. Your first impression upon meeting her was of a refined, well-disciplined lady who is at ease with herself. She demonstrated great warmth and charm. After all, Olga came into the homes of thousands of readers in northern Illinois through the Freeport Journal-Standard, where, for 60 years, she became an icon.   

 Olga broke ground for women journalists in balancing career, family, and community commitments. She started her career on the copy desk, where she applied herself so well that for some time, she had been in charge of the news in the absence of the managing editor. Olga advanced in five years to become the Journal-Standard Society editor. Not only was she an experienced woman’s editor, food editor, assistant managing editor, features editor, and photographer, Carlile also authored and published popular cookbooks. Her column “Around the Table” was a daily staple for many readers. Driven to write, she knew how to capture people with phrases and descriptions, and her stories made the person on the page come alive. As editor of the Freeport Journal-Standard, she stated, “Newspapering is my love, and being a journalist in a small town is very important. I believe in being a journalist with a heart.” 

Chosen the Illinois Woman’s Press Association Woman of Achievement in 1981 and honored again in 1992 as Communicator of Achievement, she served as the Association president from 1981 until 1983. Olga also earned multiple awards at both the state and national level, capturing the National Federation of Press Women’s National Communicator of Achievement title in 1992. Olga earned the Silver Feather Award from IWPA five times, first in 1974, then in 1976, 1977, again in 1981, and 1986. The Silver Feather Award goes to the IWPA individual who achieves the highest number of contest points for award-winning entries in the annual professional communications contest. She received honors from the Associated Press and United Press International. In 2007, she was named Illinois Journalist of the Year.

 As a woman of action, Olga served on the Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society, the Visiting Nurse Association Board, as vice president of PEO, was active in Wa-Tan-Ye, was a member of Gamma Alpha Chi, the American Association of University Women, was an organizer of the Quadrille Social Club, the Chicago Chapter of Women in Communications, and the Society of Professional Journalists. Olga also volunteered at The Salvation Army, serving on its advisory board. She was a local group member of The Shakespeare Society and served as its vice president. For nearly 20 years, Olga served on the Highland Community College Foundation board. She served eight years on the National Federation of Press Women’s Education Fund board.

Olga was married to Robert Carlile for 57 years. The couple loved to travel and visited over 75 countries. They were both longtime members of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.

Olga believed in always having a positive attitude, being humble, working hard, and living life to the fullest. She lived a long and inspiring life until the age of 94. 

Sources: So We All Can Be Heard, A History of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association,1987
Freeport Journal-Standard, November 19, 1955, May 20, 1974, May 24, 1977
Profile pictures: Illinois Woman’s Press Association Archives.