On May 16, 2017 at our 18th annual Women of Achievement Yellow Rose Luncheon we honored Lorraine Mercurio with our Mrs. William H. Weldon Lifetime Achievement Award.
There were a lot of Rosie the Riveters during WWII. That was a big opportunity for women to break into the workforce. When the war ended, the vast majority of women left their jobs in favor of raising their families. In the 1950s, only 19 percent of mothers with small children worked outside the home. In the 1960s most were stay-at-home mothers.
Lorraine Mercurio was an outstanding working mother during the 1950s, 60s and 70s when dishwashers and other conveniences were not a staple in family homes. Ready meals, frozen dinners and Hamburger Helper didn’t take off until the late 1960s. In spite of that, Lorraine prepared homemade meals so the family could eat together every night while serving as CEO of a successful business that was open six days each week.
Research shows us that approximately 30 percent of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation and only 12 percent will survive into the third generation. Surprisingly, only three percent of all family businesses operate at the fourth generation and beyond.
Lorraine’s parents started a furniture store in Jefferson City in 1923 and after two years carrying women’s clothing. After a devastating fire in 1961, Lorraine was the force that rebuilt the store from the ground up and made it the go-to place for fashion. She has always believed in exceptional customer service and well-trained staff. When her granddaughter was nine years old, Lorraine trained her to interact with the public by spraying perfume samples for customers. Lorraine was a strong role model for her children and grandchildren. Since Lorraine’s granddaughter began working full time at Saffees, it is now a cutting-edge, fourth generation fashion source in the Midwest with four locations: Jefferson City (MO), Osage Beach (MO), Overland Park (KS) and Lawrence (KS).
Lorraine Mercurio will be 92 this year. She has been a very successful business woman for more than 70 years and remains the heart of the company. She still goes to work every day in the business that she built and has devoted her lifetime to her business, family, and customers.
As an eleven-year-old, Treaka Young chose accelerated education over the status quo and the unknown over her familiar community. Those choices led her to be one of the first participants in the St. Louis desegregation program and surrounded her with people focused on academic pursuits. Treaka became the first person in her family to graduate from college and changed the course of her family history. She completed high school in 3 ½ years and was recognized as a Future Leader of America by the St. Louis YWCA. She attended Lincoln University and made the Dean’s List. After graduation, she used her education to propel a career of service to the fields of mental health, minority health, and the aging. Treaka is routinely appointed to task forces and special teams. She has been recognized for outstanding leadership, as a star performer at the Department of Health and Senior Services, and as a Shining Star to Seniors and Underserved Populations. Her volunteer efforts encourage others to follow her example of academic pursuit. She is a 21- year member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., volunteer with Central MO Links, and is a member of both Zonta International Jefferson City and the One in Christ Baptist Church.
Dr. Sherri Thomas was raised as a strong, independent woman. From a young age, she took her strength and began courageously sharing it with other young women who did not have that same support. It was through this volunteer work, she found her calling to teach and empower others. Today, Dr. Thomas touches the lives of approximately 1000 students and 100 staff members as the principal of Lewis and Clark Middle School. Dr. Thomas routinely presents on a variety of professional topics for education organizations and has been nominated three times for the Golden Apple Award. She was a Hannibal Jaycee Young Educator of the Year, Assistant Principal of the Year, and a two-year winner of the National Promising Practice Award. In addition to her professional work, she is a contributor to our community, serving the Cole County Historical Society, The Russell House for abused women and children, United Way, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Council for a Drug Free Youth, Chamber of Commerce, and her local church. Courage can come in professional leadership, but Dr. Thomas speaks poignantly of the courage it takes to hold the hands of others. She lives her challenge to her students, “You can, you will, you matter. Now go do.”
If we are in search of proof that persistence, hard work, and most of all courage can bring about achievements in our life, we need to look no further than one of our own hometown women. Laura Farris Schuffman was born, raised and schooled right here in Jefferson City. A 1995 graduate of Jefferson City High School, she continued her education at MU where she majored in Secondary Education.
Laura, an athlete from kindergarten on, loved competing and has stated that she learned as much from losing as she did from winning. She learned the valuable lesson that she had the power and courage from her own efforts to bring success to the things she loved to do. Laura often mentions teachers that impacted her beliefs that there was a life waiting for her after high school. Two Jefferson City High School teachers in particular helped her learn to not place restrictions on herself, English teacher David Lineberry and her own father Dr. James Farris. Growing up her dad was just her dad. But in hindsight, she credits his ever- reaching ability to teach as having had the biggest impact on how her life has transpired.
After graduating from MU, Laura and her friend Jennifer found the courage to move to New York City. Neither had jobs or a place to live! Both were young and adventurous and for Laura she never took NO for an answer. For four years the young inexperienced pair took what jobs they could find and they summoned up the courage to move to California!
In California, Laura landed a job that most would call a dream job with a local talent agency, working with models and actors and even on television sets. Her first job was serving as an assistant to a senior talent agent which led her to supermodel, Carolyn Murphy. She worked as Murphy’s personal assistant, serving as a liaison, styling her wardrobe and shopping. She took her job seriously, courageously stepping out of her zone to be the best. Laura spent four years working hard for Carolyn.
Today we can find Laura working as a freelance fashion stylist with her partner, Saba Salehi, at their company Salehi + Schuffman. Her clients include Eminem, Mischa Barton, Candace Cameron Bure, and Kelly Rutherford just to name a few. Her work has been featured in countless advertising campaigns, magazine covers and commercials.
Laura’s days are not the typical 8 to 5 most of us follow. She sometimes works 10 hour days for 10 days straight, but will then have several weeks before getting another call. When at work you may find her pulling clothing from a showroom, meeting with clients or out fitting a TV show. Married with two small children to her Rockbridge High School graduate husband, Noah, she finds her life a little more complicated.
She states that her love for the people she works with and the final product of her efforts keeps her in the game. She says that seeing a client on the Red Carpet and knowing it all came together make it worthwhile. When asked by others how to get where she currently is in her life, she says she encourages people to follow their gut, to have the courage to say yes even when it may not make sense! Have the courage to say yes to opportunities!