Celebrating Women’s History Month

Jennie Stultz, Former Mayor of Gastonia (1999 - 2011)


A Pivotal Moment That Influenced My Path

Early in life, I learned how to get involved in the community. I started with the Brownies Girl Scouts, I was in drama class, and in high school I was in the Spanish Club and much more. The pivotal moment was when I had a chance to be president of the Junior Women’s Club and eventually president of the Junior League twice. I also joined as many local non-profit organizations as I could.


Women Who Inspired Me

One woman who inspired me the most was Helen Rhyne Marvin, my high school history teacher. She was a teacher, then she became a professor at Gaston College, and she was one of the few women who served in the state senate. She believed in me and as a young adult and often made me promise her I would one day run for public office. Helen was the honorary campaign chair of all five of my mayoral campaigns. Another woman I greatly admire is Lucy Penegar who is a local champion of historical preservation. I go to her for advice on local historical information. I credit her with helping to save places like the Garland Center, First Baptist Church, and Loray Mill.


Overcoming Challenges as a Woman in the Workplace

I have been the first woman leader for many entities throughout the community, starting with the Junior League as their first working president. I was also elected as the first woman mayor of the City of Gastonia. It was challenging because in many instances when I spoke with male community leaders, I was often told I was just a little girl.  I remember one gentleman telling me I looked young to be a mayor, but I was 53 years old at the time. I had to work harder to gain respect in my early days of leadership. It’s harder for a woman because if you’re kind and smile a lot, you’re considered a pushover. If you’re tough and serious, you’re considered another word that’s not so kind. Walking that balance is extremely challenging and I had to work hard to overcome it.


My Professional Journey as a Woman

My first career was teaching preschool for 17 years, which is primarily done by women. I later became the Director of Children’s Ministries for First United Methodist Church, which is also primarily a woman’s role. I was later recruited to apply for the Keep Gastonia Beautiful administrator position, which was then the Gastonia Clean City Committee. I got the position, which was also done primarily by women before me. So I had mostly women-occupied roles in my early career life. When I later became chair of several boards of directors, that’s when I began to work in a more diverse capacity with men and women. I never really looked at my leadership as one of crossing expectations for genders.


An Achievement I’m Proud of

As a former mayor, I’m particularly proud that Loray Mill stands today as a developed project. In the 12 years I served as mayor, I don’t think there was one day that I didn’t work toward the development of that property. There were community leaders who did not want Loray Mill to remain, but I knew it would bring new life to West Gastonia and the neighboring communities. I think it’s the most important accomplishment that I was able to help see through in Gastonia. Also, the City and faith community created a program called “Hope for Gaston”, which utilized Community Development Block Grant Funds and hundreds of volunteers to repair over 100 homes owned by the poor and elderly.  This program was recognized nationally when Gastonia received first-place recognition for City Livability by the US Conference of Mayors. Today it’s my family, particularly my marriage of 57 years to the same wonderful man David, my daughter, two grown grandchildren, and my three and a half great-grandchildren, that I consider my greatest accomplishment!


Advice to other Women in the Workforce

I have a personality trait that when I get involved in something, I put my whole heart and soul into it. When I decided to run for mayor, I told my husband, “I need you.” He supported me through it all. For the entire time I was in office, my grandkids were in grade school. It was important for me to not miss important family milestones.  I encourage other women to carve out the time for your family. I treasure every moment with them and the people I love. When I was no longer in office, they were still there with open arms. I think it’s what any woman in leadership will have to do.



Thoughts on Progress Toward Gender Equality

I think the world is changing. It was 25 years ago when I ran my first campaign in 1999. Since then we’ve had our first female vice president, and a female governor, here locally we have two women serving on city council after I was the only woman serving for many years, and more females on the county commission. I think now people are looking to women for their leadership and not just their gender today.


How Mentorship Shaped Me

Not only did I have mentors, I have made it a life mission to be a mentor to others. One of the most important things I was able to do along with Walker Reid who was councilman at the time in 2001, we were able to establish a Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council soon after I was elected. The membership was made up of diverse students from local high schools. It was the grassroots young people of the community that helped us achieve becoming an All-American City twice in 2000 and 2010, by telling the local stories. Teaching people about the world through the Sister Cities program, the Keep America Beautiful program, and the Schiele Museum is amazing to me because these young people grow up to become attorneys, scientists, ministers, sportscasters, national photographers, and so on. They have the potential to be the next leaders of Gastonia.


A Note to My Younger Self

Hold on tight to what is right! I never in a million years thought I would have the opportunities I’ve had to travel to Germany for the Sister Cities program. Then to establish a Sister City with Peru, attend receptions and meetings with Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack and Michelle Obama, as well as Senator John McCain at the White House.


Supporting Women in My Field

A message I want to give is that my door is still open! I celebrate my 77th birthday this year and it’s a very special one for me. I’m always honored and willing to help advocate for a young person or any person who is looking to better themselves.