2019 Great Dame Icons

Anna Welsh, Bebe Coker, LaVerne Harmon

As part of the 10th anniversary of the Great Dames organization, three role model women were recognized as 'Great Dames Icons' for their contributions to their communities and their fellow woman. 

The Icon Awards were given in Hockessin to Dr. Laverne Harmon, Beatrice 'Bebe' Coker and Anna Welsh.

Dr. Harmon was the first African-American woman to be named the president of any college or university in the First State as the new president of Wilmington University.

She started there in 1989 and rose to her prestigious position while earning three degrees and local community service awards along the way.

During her acceptance speech, she praised every mentor and supporter of women in the room while showing humility and grace.

"This word 'icon'--I'm very humbled to be called an icon and I actually looked it up to see if it was fitting," said Harmon. "I never thought I would be called an icon, but I am now, thanks to you all."

Welsh is the founder of Little Bags. Big Impact which is a Philadelphia-based organization aimed at providing quality books to under-served communities even though she's only an eighth grader at Welsh Valley Middle School in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania.

She has garnered plenty of media exposure and hopes that will help fuel her agenda to continue to serve those in need.

"I hand-make bags from all recycled materials that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill," said Welsh. "I donate 15% of the proceeds to a literacy center in Northern Philadelphia to help empower education for children."

Bebe Coker has been a revered community mobilizer as well as public education and literacy advocate for over 50 years.

She has been highly involved in social justice in Delaware with her political efforts including being appointed to the Citizens Alliance for Public Education which helped ensure peaceful desegregation of schools in the First State.

The experienced mentor said the spotlight is nice, but it's all about waking up in the morning and thinking about everyone but ourselves.

"My primary focus has been on education," said Coker. "Not on the schools a child attends, but the actual learning process for all children."

She added that her drive to be a positive force in the world started from an early age and a her ancestry.

"At my age, I can tell you--I know I've lived for eight decades but my grandfather actually finished college. He was an ex-slave and actually finished college in 1896 and 1898 at Howard University," she added. "It's kind of in my blood, but I think that if we don't do anything else--we have to give our children the opportunity to learn at their pace and how they learn."

Bebe works with Great Dames and may have been receiving an award, but praised the work that the organization does between the annual banquets.

"I think that in terms of service, Great Dames allows women to see other women, in terms of role models and what you can do," she said. "It helps to understand that women have, not so much--power, but they have the grace, strength and the courage to be all that they can be without having to ask anybody's permission to do so."

Sharon Kelly Hake is the co-founder and president of Great Dames and was excited to be able to honor three deserving women in the region.

“LaVerne, Bebe and Anna truly embody what it means to be a “Great Dame,” said Kelly Hake. “They have claimed their power and purpose and have each had a powerful impact on our communities. We are honored to recognize them for their enduring example and their exceptional work.”

Scholarships have been set up in the icons' names thanks to donors, sponsors and the work that the organization does, which also awarded three young women as 'Great Dame Scholars.'

WDEL's jack of many trades, Kevin is a hybrid news/sports reporter and anchor. On top of being the Education reporter for your trusted source for news, Kevin is a USMC veteran, Camden County College and Temple University journalism alumni.