The 2024 Trailblazer Award Celebration Luncheon

2024 Trailblazer Award Celebration Luncheon 

The Forum Membership is comprised of women with breathtaking accomplishments, deep impacts on their communities, and marked influence in their organizations. The 2024 Trailblazer Award Winners are no exception, turning struggle and experience into brilliant innovation and wisdom for us all. 

Dr. Toni Kutchan, who admired the Trailblazer Award Winners as a new member of the Forum, was the first woman in many of the organizations she’s worked within. “There’s something about being told I can’t do something,” she said in her acceptance speech with a smile. Laurna Godwin turned pressure into positive from a young age, winning a class president role with slogans born from cruel nicknames. (If you get the chance, ask Laurna about both her victory in running for class president, and the origin of her slogan.) For Maxine Clark, her curiosity is a key to her success, and that curious mindset has shaped her mindset on life and business alike. 

Maxine Clark, nominated by Stacey Morse, is the Founder of Build-A-Bear Workshop, a globally successful retail-entertainment brand with nearly 500 stores and over 250 million stuffed animals sold. Build-A-Bear became a publicly traded company on the NYSE in 2004 and celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022. Clark stepped down as Chief Executive Bear in 2013 to support women and minority entrepreneurs and spearhead community projects, including the Delmar DivINe™, a redevelopment of the historic St. Luke’s Hospital in St. Louis. She serves on numerous boards, including Arch Grants and PBS, and has been recognized with honors such as the Missouri Public Affairs Hall of Fame and Women of the Year by the Greater Missouri Leadership Foundation. Clark holds degrees from the University of Georgia and honorary degrees from Washington University, St. Louis University, the University of Missouri St. Louis, and St. Louis Community College.

Laurna Godwin, nominated by Anna Crosslin and Betsy Cohen, Owner/President and Co-Founder of Vector Communications Corporation, has over 40 years of experience in communications, educating the public and fostering client-audience relationships. A three-time Emmy-winning broadcast journalist, she co-founded Vector in 1998, an award-winning engagement and communications firm in St. Louis. Vector’s clients include major organizations such as Amazon, Walmart, and BJC. Before Vector, Laurna spent nearly two decades as a news anchor and reporter for prominent networks like NBC, WNET, and CNN. She has been named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the St. Louis American and recognized by several prestigious organizations for her influence and community contributions. Laurna has also served in various volunteer governance roles, notably bringing the Give STL Day fundraising event to St. Louis, raising over $30 million since 2014. She holds degrees from Princeton University and Columbia University.

Dr. Toni Kutchan, nominated by Dr. Molly Cline, Toni Kutchan, Ph.D., is the Emerita Oliver M. Langenberg Distinguished Investigator and Vice President for Research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and an Adjunct Professor at Washington University and the University of Missouri St. Louis. She spent twenty years in Germany, ultimately serving as Professor and Department Head at the Leibniz Institute for Plant Biochemistry.
Born in Chicago, Kutchan earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from St. Louis University School of Medicine. She established a pioneering research group at the University of Munich and developed transgenic opium poppies with the pharmaceutical industry.

Joining the Danforth Center in 2006, she has held various advisory roles, including with the Schering Research Foundation and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she is also a member of the German National Academy of Science Leopoldina.
Kutchan is currently the President of the Board of Trustees of the Academy of Science of St. Louis, the first woman in this role in its 168-year history. She remains a strong advocate for women in STEM and promotes diversity and inclusion in the field.

In her acceptance speech, Maxine Clark said “If you can live your imagination, you can make your dreams come true.” All three of our 2024 Trailblazer Award winners have clearly taken the better future they imagined in the past and used their vision to shape their future. Now, our present is better for it. 

Thank you to all of the members who attended the celebration luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel this past month.  For photos, please visit our photo gallery provided by Ann K Photography