Notable women in Austin: Vickie Spyhalski
Vickie Spyhalski was born and raised in Albert Lea in a family that was intentionally mindful of how interconnected all people are. She said her parents were compelled by the civil rights movement in the 1960’s and did what they could to teach their girls that everyone should be treated equally. The philosophy they taught Vickie was that “everyone does better when everyone does better.”
As an adult, she has found ways to put that philosophy into practice.
As a Hormel Foods employee, Vickie and her husband have gone to Guatemala three times with Project Spammy, a long-term project working to improve childhood malnutrition and its effect on educational outcomes. Vickie found these experiences very inspiring and came away each time admiring the resilience of the human spirit as well as the ingenuity of the people there.
Here at home, Vickie provided leadership and wrote a grant to help bring Debbie Irving, author of “Waking Up White,” to Austin via Zoom to make a presentation in the fall of 2020, in collaboration with Austin Public Schools, Austin Congregational UCC and the Austin Public Library.
This initiative brought teachers new insights about white privilege in the educational system and many other Austin citizens, as well. Vickie is inspired by the opportunities to partner with the many great organizations in our community.
Currently serving on the City of Austin Human Rights Commission, Vickie also is the Social Justice Coordinator at Austin Congregational Church. With her leadership, a social justice group made up of interested citizens meets monthly to create solutions for a more inclusive community. The education committee of that group has been purchasing books for the schools which depict people of various races, abilities and living situations so our diverse school students can have books that reflect them, which is shown to improve educational outcomes.
As part of Austin’s Welcoming Week, Sept. 10-19, the committee is launching a six-month long project called “Write on Race to Be Right on Race,” first offered in Mankato.
The project will be open to 50 people across Mower County who will receive thought-provoking articles on race with questions on a bi-weekly basis. The participants are invited to journal their reactions to the articles, which will be discussed at group gatherings. The goal of the project is for participants to examine their reactions and increase understanding across diverse racial groups. The project is funded with grants from Austin Human Rights commission, Austin Congregational UCC Church and Freeborn- Mower County Co-Op, with additional grant writing underway.
Vickie points out that in our society there have been no designated places to have conversations about race. In our efforts not to offend someone, we often don’t talk about this important topic. Her aim as she has worked on these recent projects is to provide spaces for people to talk and think about the impact that race has on the various members of our society, which is particularly important in a diverse town like Austin.
We salute you, Vickie Spyhalski, for your efforts to live out the values you were taught by your parents. Austin thanks you for creating opportunities for our community to ask bigger questions to build a more inclusive and welcoming Austin.