Women’s History Month: 6 inspiring stories from Huntsville leaders

single-meta-cal March 28, 2021

Women’s History Month is coming to an end.

For the past four weeks, we’ve highlighted women who have helped shape the course of Huntsville’s history on the City’s social media accounts. As we wrap up a month of inspiring stories from local, female leaders, take time to read their testimonies below.

Donna Castellano, Historic Huntsville Foundation

As Executive Director, Castellano ensures HHF’s preservation programs and projects are serving the needs of Huntsville as it grows and diversifies. That includes tackling new challenges: How can HHF bring attention to the history of people whose contributions have been overlooked and whose historical experiences have been marginalized?

Donna Castellano

Donna Castellano, Executive Director of the Historic Huntsville Foundation.

“I am proud that the Historic Huntsville Foundation is leading the way in Alabama toward addressing this wrong,” Castellano said. “In 2021, HHF will debut four historic markers that recognize the places where Huntsville women made history, including a marker dedicated to the six Black women who, confronting racism and prejudice, successfully registered to vote after the ratification of the 19th Amendment.”

Castellano, who considers her work not just a job – but a calling, sees Huntsville’s historic buildings and homes as places that encompass the stories of all people whose lives crossed that space.

During Women’s History Month, Castellano said it’s important to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women from all sectors of society.

“Not too long ago, women didn’t have the opportunities they have today,” she said. “Brave women broke down those barriers for us all.”

Kathy Martin, City of Huntsville

Martin, the City’s director of engineering for eight years, plays a key role in improving public infrastructure and enhancing quality of life.

Kathy Martin

Kathy Martin, Director of Engineering for the City of Huntsville.

“Having grown up in Huntsville, I have had the privilege of seeing the tremendous growth and how our community leaders have always strived to stay ahead when it comes to our transportation infrastructure,” she said. “Knowing that the work we do today will help shape the future of Huntsville for many years to come is the most rewarding accomplishment in this role.”

When Martin was in college 25 years ago, there were only a few women in the civil engineering field. Today, Martin and others are proud to see more females bringing their talents and skills to traditionally male-dominated industries.

“Celebrating women in less popular professions and in leadership roles helps to encourage our future female generations that all opportunities are possible and that women can bring new perspectives in less popular roles for many reasons,” she said. “My advice to young women in Huntsville that want to make a difference would be to never shy away from expressing yourself and to always highlight your true abilities.”

Dr. Aruna Arora, Madison County Medical Society

From navigating the always changing landscape of medicine to finding enough PPE to keep practices open and safe for patients, most doctors have not experienced anything quite like the past year.

Aruna Arora

Dr. Aruna Arora, neurologist and president of the Madison County Medical Society.

“While we did not know the answers to many questions at first, we worked together to get a plan and build partnerships with others to help take care of our community,” said Arora, a neurologist and the president of the Madison County Medical Society.

Celebrating Women’s History Month is important to Arora, who credits a “solid support system” of family, close friends and experienced female leaders for helping her focus, build confidence and gain more self-awareness.

She said “for so much of history, women focused on service to others.”

“We should take time to remember the women who came before us and learn about their struggles breaking barriers and overcoming self-doubt,” she said. “I am always inspired when I learn about these women in particular.”

Violet Edwards, Madison County Commission

Edwards, who moved to Huntsville in 2002 to work as a television journalist, is all about making history. As the first African American woman to be elected to the County Commission, Edwards works tirelessly to make life better for her community.

Violet Edwards

Violet Edwards, District 6 Representative for the Madison County Commission.

“Constituent service is the part of public service that gives you purpose and passion,” she said. “Once the public instills trust in you to represent their interest, it is your job to maintain integrity and always represent them with the highest level of ethical practice.”

For too long, Edwards said the significant roles of women have been erased, ignored and purposely left out of textbooks.

“Entirely too many women that have pledged their lives to making this world a better place have gone unrecognized and undocumented,” she said. “Women have played a critical role in the history of our nation for centuries so we must be intentional about making their contributions public. Women are leaders. We are pioneers, we are homemakers, we are trailblazers and much more.”

Her advice for young women of color and those in traditionally marginalized groups? “Dream big and wake up to make it happen,” she said.

“Find comfort in knowing there are no shortcuts in life, strive to be the best in all that you do, take the road less traveled and rise above the occasion that society has offered you,” Edwards said. “I would also want them to know that everyone has a gift inside of them. If birthed, that gift will make room for you in society.” 

Brandi Quick, Ditto Landing

Executive Director at Ditto Landing since 2016, Quick is leading a complete overhaul of the South Huntsville marina. She said being able to make visible change and improve quality of life within the City have been highlights of her career.

Brandi Quick

Brandi Quick, Executive Director at Ditto Landing.

“By entrusting me to carry on this legacy, I feel that I have a responsibility and duty to serve the community to the best of my ability and I am honored and proud to do so,” she said.

As the nation has progressed, Quick said women have had more opportunities to lead and grow, especially in Huntsville. She advises any young woman who wants to make a difference to “step out of your comfort zone when opportunity knocks.”

“Life has a way of finding the best place for you, professionally, emotionally and spiritually,” she said. “Be open to growth and adventures while remembering those who have supported, guided and mentored you along the way.” 

Mary Jane Caylor, Huntsville City Schools (Retired)

Through the years, numerous people have championed the importance of public education in Huntsville, but Dr. Caylor stands out among the rest.

Caylor served as superintendent of Huntsville City Schools from 1982-1991 and was named Superintendent of the Year by the Alabama Council of PTAs in 1990. In 1991, she was the Alabama finalist for Superintendent of the Year presented by the American Association of School Administrators.

Mary Jane Caylor

Dr. Mary Jane Caylor, retired Superintendent at Huntsville City Schools.

“I am honored to have been a part of her educational team as she fostered and developed a world class learning environment that enhanced academic excellence for all,” said Ollye Conley, who worked as a principal during Caylor’s administration.

After retiring from HCS, Caylor served two decades as the District 8 representative on the State Board of Education from 1995 to 2011. Public schools benefited from her leadership in the creation and implementation of the Alabama Reading Initiative and Alabama Math, Science & Technology Initiative.

“When Dr. Caylor served on the State School Board, she was equally strong-willed and equally effective,” said J.R. Brooks, attorney for Huntsville City Schools. “She has always been a fierce advocate for your children and mine.”

From 2005-2012, Caylor simultaneously served as Executive Director of Huntsville’s Bicentennial Celebration & Big Spring Partners, Inc. Both groups were instrumental in revitalizing Downtown Huntsville. In 2014, Caylor was appointed Dean of Workforce Development at J.F. Drake State Community & Technical College, a position she held until 2016.

In addition to those accomplishments, she has served on too many boards and commissions to name. She was also part of the first Leadership Alabama class.

All her colleagues, associates and friends refer to Caylor as “a dear friend.” She’s also one of the City’s greatest mentors and education advocates.

Note: Inside Huntsville Host Brenda Martin contributed to this article.