Young women in the 2024 Panorama Community Schools graduating class participated in the April 17 annual senior tea hosted by the Panora Women’s Service Organization. Participating students were, from the left, front row, Hania Boblett, Tori Heckman, Maddie Hummel, Natalie Donovan, Zoey Hambleton, Mia Waddle, Avery Bahrenfuss, Gracie Richter, Allie Olesen, Kaitlin Kent. Middle row, Aliyah Fortner, Taylor Kunze, Bridgette Knapp, Gabi Mortensen, Juliana Rizzuti, Hadley Klein, Lindy Nelson, Jauclyn Curry. Back row, Liberty Ashworth, Lydia James, Meredith Woodworth, Jaidyn Sellers, Tyme Boettcher, Sarah Westergaard, Hallie Arganbright and Riley Gibson.

By Susan Thompson | Times Vedette

On Wednesday afternoon, April 17, members of the Panora Women’s Service Organization (WSO) hosted their annual senior tea for Panorama Community Schools senior girls. The girls were encouraged to invite as many women guests as they wanted, and the group of about 90 included mothers, grandmothers and aunts.    

Toni Wright, WSO president, welcomed the senior girls and their guests to the Panora Church of the Brethren sanctuary at 2 p.m. Rev. Jane Shepherd, pastor at the Panora United Methodist Church, spoke about the importance of developing a relationship with God.

“God has a plan for you, and perhaps it is not the plan you have in mind,” she said. She shared examples of times God spoke to her about things he wanted her to do. These included becoming a pastor at the age of 50, and learning to draw images of women from a book she was reading. This resulted in her developing a series of spiritual meditations based on those women. She closed her comments with a prayer.

Next, Wright asked each senior to stand and introduce herself and her guests and tell something about her future plans.

WSO member Maureen Lubeck introduced the afternoon’s guest speaker. Lubeck was Maggie Gerlich Armstrong’s second-grade teacher and had asked a year ago if she would speak at the 2024 senior tea.

Armstrong and her mother, Karen Gerlich, attended this same senior tea 24 years ago, before she graduated from Panorama High School in 2000. She graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2004, and married her husband, Garret, in 2008. Together, they lived in Michigan and New York while pursuing careers in the outdoor sporting goods industry. They moved back to Guthrie County in 2015 and live in rural Panora with their dog, Nash. In 2022, Armstrong was the first woman ever to be elected to the Guthrie County Board of Supervisors.

Armstrong opened her comments by admitting she was nervous presenting to the group.

“I’ve been thinking about what I would say for the past year and just began to write two days ago,” she said. “I am intimidated by this wonderful group of young women, and I am in awe of you. You’ve broken records, you’ve reached goals. You have created bonds and lifelong friendships.”

Armstrong said as she began to gather her thoughts, she went through files to find the photo of her and her mother at the 2000 senior tea.

“I thought, what would I want my 18-year-old self to know? I came up with four key points to share with you today,” she said.

Her first piece of advice was for the senior girls to write their own story and do so with their own voice.

“Give yourself some grace,” she said. “You will make mistakes, and you will learn from those. Don’t get caught up in negative self-talk. You must remain positive.”

Next was the importance of staying true to their personal core values, and writing those down.

“I have my list of core values on a white board in my office, and I look at them often,” she said. “Your core values should guide you. You shouldn’t change your core values to accommodate someone else. If someone tries to get you to do that, it’s time to leave. Hold tightly to what you believe. And if you need help, call another woman to talk through things with you.”

Third was to “reserve your vulnerability for those who deserve it. I am all for sharing. But don’t open yourself to those who haven’t earned the right, that can do more harm than good,” Armstrong said.

The final piece of advice Armstrong shared was “dare to be brave. It’s hard to get outside of our comfort zone,” she said. “Yet being brave is the action you need to take to start your own journey.”

Armstrong said these four cornerstones helped her become the woman she is now and the one she strives to be each day. “The best lessons usually are learned the hard way,” she said.

She closed with a quote from the 1998 movie “Hope Floats”

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it is the middle that counts the most. You need to remember that when you find yourself at the beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up, and it will.”

Following Armstrong’s speech, photos of the seniors and their guests were taken as the WSO women made final preparations in the Fellowship Hall for finger sandwiches, cookies, candy, tea, coffee and lemonade. Once seated, WSO members served drinks and the guests helped themselves to the food displayed on their tables.

This annual senior tea began many years ago and was hosted by the Panora Women’s Club and held at the Panora United Methodist Church. When that group disbanded, the WSO women’s club took over the event. The 2024 class of 26 senior women who attended was the largest in recent years.

Stephanie Hafner is shown with her daughter, Maddie Hummel, at the 2024 Panorama Senior Tea, hosted by the Panora WSO.

Members of the WSO served tea, coffee and lemonade to those attending the 2024 Panorama senior tea April 17. Club members earlier had set the tables and put out finger sandwiches, cookies and candies.

Jaidyn Sellers is shown with her mother Monique Sellers, and grandmothers Ruth Riley and Donna Boldy.

Maggie Gerlich Armstrong, a 2000 Panorama graduate, was the guest speaker at the WSO senior tea April 17. She’s shown with her mother, Karen Gerlich, who attended the tea both in 2000 and again this year.

Kaitlin Kent and Kim Kent

Hallie Arganbright and Chris Arganbright

Emily Donovan and Natalie Donovan