It only took about 70 years. But Lomie Gray Heard, at 102, finally got the standing ovation that quiet service often earns -- but rarely receives.
Applause echoed through the room as a petite, elderly woman stood among the sea of well-wishers gathered to honor her 70 years as a member of the Arizona State Chapter of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) at the Sisterhood Convention.
Heard was escorted by her sister, Catherine Sullivan, and her niece, Cindy Bargeri, to the May 3-4 convention held in Carefree.
Founded in 1869 by seven students from Iowa Wesleyan College, the group has worked for more than a century to create new educational opportunities for women.
PEO proudly sponsors five international philanthropies: PEO Educational Loan Fund, Cottey College, PEO International Peace Scholarship Fund, PEO Program for Continuing Education, and PEO Scholar awards.
"The continuing education program is similar to a grant, and one can earn up to $2,000.It's turned out to be one of the greatest needs (in Payson), since theajority of the applicants are either widowed or divorced and seeking a higher education," said Heard.
PEO's programs assist in educational opportunities at Cottey College, grants, loans, awards and special projects that benefited nearly 78,000 women in their pursuit of higher learning. From its original seven founders, PEO boasts nearly a quarter of a million members in the U.S. and Canada. Though its numbers have increased, the primary goal remains the same -- help women advance through education.
As a woman whose career in education spanned more than 70 years, Heard responded to the PEO's offer of exclusive membership. "I was sent an invitation and became a charter member of Chapter Q in Hobbs, New Mexico on Jan. 21, 1938," recalled Heard.
No stranger to fighting for what she wanted, Heard understood the struggles to get an education. As the third eldest of six, Heard was born in Carlsbad, N.M. on Jan. 22, 1906.
At age 102, she vividly described the memories of her youth.
"I was born in New Mexico when it was still a territory, but I was raised on a (cattle) ranch on the Texas line. Those were difficult times for everybody."
Every member of the family pitched in with the chores in the home and on the ranch to maintain the livelihood. One of Heard's earliest memories was when she was placed on a horse and sent to the neighbors to run errands routinely.
She grew up during World War I and lived through the Great Depression when opportunities were limited for women, especially in the educational field.
Women had a choice of three career options after graduating high school: nursing, stenography or teaching.
"You could be a nurse, but no one wanted to be a nurse in those days. My father felt that stenographers didn't have a good reputation, so he wouldn't allow it. But I always wanted to be a teacher," chuckled Heard.
Heard knew her family couldn't afford to send her to college. "It was a hard time for ranch people."
But with her dream in sight, neither time nor circumstance would deter her. She attended teacher's college in the summer, taught in the rural areas of Hobbs, in the winter, and worked the remaining months on the ranch.
Sixteen years later, Heard graduated with her bachelor's degree from a school in Greeley, Colo. in 1940.
Heard taught an additional nine years in Hobbs and relocated to teach in Kayenta, where she worked for the Indian services. Then in 1944, she moved to Las Vegas, and spent 21 years as principal at a school on Ellis Air Force Base before retiring.
The highlight of Heard's career came as a surprise when the faculty gathered to recognize her retirement.
"My mom was with me that day.I thought I was going to get a watch for my service," said Heard.
The parents and faculty of the school collected 500 signatures requesting to rename Ellis Air Force Elementary School the Lomie Gray Heard Elementary School, which the school board later approved.
"It was a big honor."
A resident of Payson, Heard played an instrumental role in organizing Payson's Charter of DF Chapter in 1987.
"DF has helped fund the education of many women from all levels of continuing education degrees by providing grants and loans with very low interest. The program's opportunities are passed on by word of mouth and advertised intermittently in the newspaper. This is a good chapter here. There is specifically a great need for nurses," said Heard.
Back at home in Payson, Heard sits comfortably in her cushioned chair. "PEO has been an important part of my life. There are members wherever you go," she said.