Senator O'Mara honors Watkins Glen woman as one of Senate's 2012 'Women of Distinction'

Thomas F. O'Mara

May 15, 2012

Albany, N.Y., May 15—In Albany Tuesday, State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats) and his Senate colleagues paid tribute to Virginia Houseknecht of Watkins Glen, a long-time Cornell Cooperative Extension educator and leader in Schuyler County, and founder of the Southern Tier Parkinson’s Disease Support Group, as a 2012 “Woman of Distinction.”

The Senate's 15th annual "Women of Distinction" program, which began in March to coincide with Women's History Month in New York State, allows senators statewide to select one honoree from their respective legislative districts.  This evening’s awards ceremony and reception took place in the Legislative Office Building.

O’Mara selected Houseknecht as this year’s honoree from his 53rd Senate District following her nomination by Barbara Hubbell, Director of Community Solutions for the United Way of the Southern Tier.

“It’s a well-deserved tribute to one of our region’s outstanding citizens.  It’s also a testament to her career as an educator and to her personal response to Parkinson’s disease, which has been a remarkable source of encouragement, inspiration and strength to so many others,” said O’Mara, whose legislative district encompasses Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and a portion of Tompkins County (the city and town of Ithaca, and the towns of Enfield, Newfield, and Ulysses).  “Virginia’s life and her work have demonstrated an undeniable commitment to reaching out to others and building supportive communities.  She truly is a ‘Woman of Distinction’ and I’m proud to have this opportunity to thank her for all that she’s done and continues to do.” 

Hubbell said, “"Ginny has always been a distinguished business professional and respected authority in her field.  Not surprisingly, to those who know her, the overwhelming effects of Parkinson's disease have not dampened her spirit or desire to improve the lives of individuals and families in Schuyler County."

For 35 years until her retirement in 2005, Houseknecht served as the Family and Consumer Sciences Program Leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County. She is known across the Southern Tier for her leadership and research-based education in food sciences, nutrition and health, parenting, and financial management.

Shortly after her retirement, Houseknecht was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD).  Devastated, yet wanting to do something positive to help others, in 2006 she established the Southern Tier Parkinson’s Disease Support Group with the endorsement and strong support of the Schuyler County Office for the Aging and Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).   Her motivation to help others has led to the success of this critical support organization, which now provides accurate information, with guest speakers and a resource library, binding relationships, and a strong support network for those in need.  

O’Mara noted that since the creation of the Southern Tier Parkinson’s Disease Support Group six years ago, more than 100 area persons with PD and their caregivers have benefitted from Houseknecht’s work as founder and facilitator of the organization.

View all of the 2012 Women of Distinction.