By Scott Shurtleff

One is running an extensive campaign to create a monument to soldiers killed in the Global War on Terror. The other managed to organize a highly successful women’s march in less than a week.

Jean Connolly of Pepperell and Sheila Fitzgerald-Kelly of Ayer were among 131 women recognized as part of the 2018 class of Unsung Heroines by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women.

This is the 15th year that recognition is given to women across the state who have made a difference in their community, and the largest group to date.

Connolly was endorsed by state Rep. Sheila Harrington for her work spearheading the construction of a veteran’s monument in Pepperell. A cardiology nurse for 35 years, Connolly was nominated for a different kind of healing: she has been the chief fundraiser, primary planner and spokesperson for a major Post 911/GWOT (Global War on Terror) monument scheduled to be erected later this year. For six years she has moved the needle closer to the goal of $200,000, the amount needed for the project. Currently sitting at $140,000, the total will likely increase again after the July 14 motorcycle ride she has planned.

“It was a wonderful ceremony,” she said of the gala at the statehouse. “I am grateful to Sheila (Harrington) for nominating me.” But Connolly knows that her work is not over yet, not until all the funding is procured and the monument is built.

Also at the June 20 event was Fitzgerald-Kelly, a counselor at Parker Charter School. Kelly was nominated by state Rep. Jennifer Benson, who praised Kelly’s efforts at organizing a local version of the National Women’s March.

Kelly and her team of six volunteers recognized that many women from the community wanted to participate in the big march in Boston but were logistically unable to or lacking of transportation. She proposed, with less than week to go before the big day, that Ayer host its own march. With help from social media and support from the Ayer Police Department, her team staged an event to rival — by scale — those concurrently occurring around the country. An estimated 470 marchers attended the planned-on-short-notice gathering, including keynote speakers from around the area.

It is extraordinary efforts like those of Kelly and Connolly that embody the spirit of the Unsung Heroines. The annual event brings recognition to women across the state who work behind the scenes to better their communities and help their neighbors.

“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Kelly. “We were in an area called the Hall of Flags. Each woman had their biography read aloud and what they did to get nominated. it was very inspiring.”