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A woman who broke a corporate gender barrier decades ago and a construction company president working today to elevate women in his male-dominated industry were honored for their gender diversity efforts. 

LuAnn Haydon, retired Deere & Co., received the Quad-Cities 2018 Athena Award during a ceremony Thursday night at the Quad-Cities Waterfront Convention Center, Bettendorf. AJ Loss, president and CEO of Bush Construction, was named the 2018 Quad-Cities Male Champion of Change. 

The pair were chosen from a group of 10 Quad-City women and men honorees for the awards, presented by Iowa Women Lead Change, or IWLC. The awards ceremony, which drew an audience of 300, capped off IWLC's inaugural Quad-Cities Women's Leadership Conference.

An overwhelmed Haydon wiped tears from her eyes as she thanked all those in her life "who pushed me when I needed it."

Asked afterwards for her advice to the future generation, she said, "Be who you want to be and help others. It's not that hard. But you don't do it yourself. I had a village."

Loss said he was "flattered and honored" to be selected from a distinguished group of fellow honorees. "This award is a testament to the number of leaders I've had in my life; many are women," he said, acknowledging his female leadership team by name and his mother, Judy, and wife, Kris.

"Men and women think differently, have different perspectives. If we take the thoughts and perspectives of both, we all will be better in our workplaces, lead more productive lives and be happier," he said.

The event also recognized these Athena honorees: Monica Forret, St. Ambrose University; Lisa Killinger, Palmer College of Chiropractic; Chris McCormick Pries, Vera French; and Amy Nimmer, retired John Deere.  It also honored these Male Champion honorees: Brian Hollenback, Economic Growth Corp.; Daniel Huber, Frontier Hospitality Group; Christopher Hunter, Genesis Health Systems;  and Joe Moreno, Quad-City Marathon.

The Athena and Male Champion of Change Awards ceremony was sponsored by Bank of America.

"We at IWLC are here to move the needle and grow women in leadership," Tiffany O'Donnell, CEO of the statewide IWLC organization, told more than 600 people gathered at the conference earlier in the day.

By inviting as well as celebrating the men working toward women's leadership, IWLC highlighted the importance of involving men and women in the gender diversity conversation.

Haydon, 66, of Hampton, retired in April 2014 after a career that included opening and managing the John Deere Pavilion in downtown Moline. She retired as manager of Deere Global Visual Services.

But Haydon, who got her start in the secretarial pool at Deere in 1972, still recalls vividly the challenges she faced in becoming a woman manager back in early career. There were many times, she said, that she was the only woman at the table. 

Now as she mentors young women and nonprofit startups she said she encourages them to tackle "things they think are beyond their capabilities."

At Bush Construction, Loss is recognized for his encouragement and support  of his female staff. Working hard to change gender perceptions in the construction industry, his seven-person leadership team includes three women. He also has been outspoken about the company's intolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace.  

The "Women [and Men] Lead Change Better Together" theme drove discussions throughout the energy-filled conference as well as message from the keynote speakers.

As the evening keynote speaker, world champion adventure racer Robyn Benincasa took the entranced crowd along for the ride as she showed video clips of adventure racing teams racing through international lands, jungles, waters and muddy terrains.

"The way you show your courage to your teammates is to find a way to bring your best self even on your worst day," said Benincasa, the founder of World Class Teams, a CNN Hero and full-time firefighter.

Tamron Hall, award-winning journalist and host of "Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall" on Investigation Discovery, also embraced the day's theme in the conference's closing keynote speech.

For an hour, Hall entertained, inspired and got personal with the crowd of hundreds of women and many men. In her unscripted talk, Hall — the first black woman to host the "Today" show — talked about the women and men who inspired and supported her throughout her career.

"The reality is when we work together and we see human beings for what we are... we are better," she said.

The Luling, Texas, native noted the tense times in which we are living with conflicts among the races and the sexes.

"Power means nothing if you can't help someone else," Hall said. "We are power as long as we join together."

Hall also teased the audience that she soon would have "something to announce" and hopefully be back on TV soon. 

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