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Journal's 2009 Women of Achievement


Arzella Valentine is the co-founder of Woods Valentine Mortuary. She was born in Denver

Arzella Valentine

 Colorado but calls Mt Olive, Arkansas her hometown. One and a half year after her birth her biological father died in of tuberculosis. The family returned to the small community of Mt Olive, Arkansas, a town named after the town's Baptist Church.

Arzela is very proud of her memories of Mt Olive and has memorialized the experiences in a book entitled, Growing Up in Mt Olive, which published in 2002. A second book will follow this summer entitled, Return to Mt Olive.

After growing up in Arkansas in a household with her six siblings and attending high school in Pine Bluff, in 1946, Arzella scrapped her plans to later attend Arkansas A&M and moved to California with her sister to finish high school at John Muir High School Pasadena City College where she earned her degree. She also met Fred Valentine. When she married the man that people had told her was a businessman, what they didn't tell her was that the Valentine family business was a mortuary and he was an undertaker. She soon got over that and they married in 1949.

In 1954 Arzela quit her job as a clerk typist and joined Fred to purchase Fred's recently deceased uncle Woods' mortuary business from Woods' widow. The mortuary today, called Woods Valentine Mortuary, is the oldest African American Business in the San Gabriel Valley, eighty plus years. Together Arzella and Fred struggled to build the small business, complete with the landmark building on North Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena. They recently passed the business of to the next generation, their daughters, Gail and Janice.


Renatta Cooper

Renatta cooper is a career educator. She serves as a member of the Pasadena Unified School District. Her choice of professions has taken her across the world from her birth town of Berkely, California to Greece as a delegate to the World Forum on Early Childhood Education. She was also chosen to serve as a participant at the 2001 White House Summit on Early Childhood Cognitive Development. Locally, in 2003, she was honored by the Pasadena YWCA as their Woman of Excellence in Education, and more recently, was honored by them with the Pasadena-Foothill Valley 2008 Racial Justice Award, in October, 2008.

After attending elementary schools in California her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland when her father's work took them there. Cooper was thirteen at the time of the move and stayed enough years to earn a Bachelor's degree from Maryland's Towson University.

After being accepted at USC and Pacific Oaks in Pasadena, she spoke with a family friend who is the mother of Obama cabinet member Valerie Jarret and decided that Pacific Oaks with its emphasis on early childhood education was the place for her. When she earned her masters she decided to stay and later spent twenty-one years as a professor and director of their Hixon Center for Early Childhood Education. She resides in the Pasadena/Altadena area with her son and mother.


Ruthie Hopkins

Ruthie Hopkins is the co-founder, publisher and managing editor of the Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal Newspaper. Born in Oakland, California, Ruthie finished high school at Berkely High before moving to Bakersfield to go to Bakersfield Community College. She arrived in Bakersfield in the spring of 1962. Before she could enroll in college, she met Joe Hopkins in March and married him in June. The couple stayed in Bakersfield until 1966 when they moved to Los Angeles California with their young son, Joseph. The stay in Los Angeles lasted until 1969 when they moved to Pasadena, then with two other sons, Omar and Jamal. When Jamal began kindergarten, Ruthie began attended Pasadena City College where she earned her AA degree before going off to Cal State University Dominguez Hills. After graduation Ruthie worked for Head Start as a Family Advocate. She later entered Glendale University College of Law and attended for two years. After Joe passed the Bar in 1982 she quit her job to run the Joe's law office. In 1989 she also began to manage the Pasadena Journal.

She believes that she has been blessed with a great family life after having lost her biological mother at the age of two and ended up separated from her brother for eight years. Today, family means the world to her. The three sons and seven grandchildren take up a lot of her hours as do her volunteer hours with her sorority (AKA) and her church (First AME Pasadena). She loves traveling and has done so extensively with Joe, where they've traveled to Africa, Europe, often to keep up with her children and grandchildren. Her giving back has been rewarded with numerous awards, some the National Newspaper Publishers Association, West Coast Black Publishers Association, Black Business Association, Pasadena NAACP, and when she was named the YWCA woman of Excellence in Communication, in 2003.


When meeting Dr. D. Marie Battle and hearing her story, the word Superwoman comes to mind,

Dr. D. Marie Battle

 in spite of the fact that she says that there is not much to tell about her life. There is not much to tell for those who don't know that she raised her four siblings starting when her mother died when Marie was twelve.

This retired educator and ordained minister gave birth to and raised eight of her own children after growing up with the siblings she mothered. She made education the family business. Six of her own became teachers and three of the four she raised became teachers. Included in the group was a Congresswoman, her sister, Congresswoman Juanita Millender-McDonald.

For herself, in between raising two families, she had a busy childhood and learned to tap dance, play the piano and the violin, and she sang in the choir. Later she attended Miles College near her birthplace in Birmingham, Alabama. Today, she serves as President of the Miles College Alumni Association.

Marie left Birmingham at the beginning of the bus boycott headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and came to California to finish the job of raising her siblings. After working as a clerk typist in the Los Angeles Unified School District for years she decided to finish her own education. She earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Antioch University in Ohio and a Doctoral from the Santa Ana College of Ministerial Studies in Arcadia, California. The Pasadena area resident rounded out a career in education as a high school teacher and retired in 1995, the first time, and again in 2008 to work in a number of volunteer organizations which included her beloved AKA sorority, the National Parliamentarian Association, national chair of UNCF, and many more organizations to fill her spare time. In addition to her work as an educator she became a member of the ministerial staff at the historical Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles where she currently serves as an assistant pastor. She says her greatest joy is her family and her God. She personifies the Old Negro spiritual that says, "If you looking for a Child who do love Jesus, Here is one."

She resides in the Pasadena/Altadena area with her husband, Vernon.


Celeste Day-Drake

This Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native is inspiring in the fact that she has taken the road of education to get to her life's goals of being an Interior Designer and Educator. Today she is the owner of CD Drake Designs and teaches at one of the country's most prestigious design schools in America, The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Born in Pittsburgh, her family moved to Los Angeles where Celeste attended Washington High School. After high school she earned a BA in Psychology from the University of Southern California. She later returned to her native Pittsburgh to earn an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. Drake spent some time studying architecture at USC and later attended Woodbury College in Los Angeles and took the unusual turn of returning to get an AA in Interior Design. It was with the training in design and marketing that Drake joined her management skills and her interior design skills to form her own company. The company provides design consulting for residential and commercial clients. Drakes professional experiences also include years of working in corporate America at companies such as Xerox, and Showtime. She also spent three years as a recruiter for the University of Southern California. Armed with her bag full of educational and professional experience, Celeste Day Drake hopes to make her business a continuing success.

Drake and her husband and daughter are members of First AME Church Pasadena.


Willetta Helene is a "Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist." She is a California native who was

Willetta Helene

 born in Los Angeles and moved to Pasadena where she attended Washington Jr. High School and graduated from John Muir High School before attending Pasadena City College. Helene continued her education at Fuller University where she earned her Masters in Psychology.

Before becoming a therapist she had careers as an airline hostess and a cosmetics sales executive. She opened her own private practice in 1992 after years of working in the field including providing therapy at hospitals and working with other private practitioners. She maintains offices in Pasadena with a focus on adult individuals, families, and couples with counseling and therapy needs. Her practice provides services and to those who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress and general emotional disorders. She is available to military families with mental health challenges associated with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

As a California native she is proud of her Pasadena heritage. Her father is the owner of Bill's Tuexedos on Mentor in Pasadena. She maintains her offices in Old Town Pasadena.



Michelle Obama

The March issue of Vogue magazine calls Michelle Obama "the First Lady the World's been waiting for." Truer words have never been spoken except that to many she is much more than just the First Lady. She is quite simply the Queen many have been waiting for.

Michelle Obama was born to Marian and Fraser Robinson in Chicago on January 17, 1964. Three days earlier her father started working for the city in the city's Water Department. His salary was $479.00 per month. She was evidence that royalty can be born poor and without privilege, but rise to greatness when parents and communities dedicate themselves to progress. Six months after her birth President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations and government housing.

Michelle and her brother, Craig, would grow up with the understanding that education makes the difference. They both graduated from Princeton. He became a basketball coach and now coaches at Oregon State University. She went on to Harvard Law School and ended up married the first Black President of the United States. Not only did she graduate from Harvard before her husband, but she was his supervisor at the law firm where they worked. Before she took on the role of First Lady full time, she was a hospital administrator.

Michelle Obama can trace her family's migration from slavery in South Carolina to the White House. She is the mother of two princesses, Sasha and Malia, and has not lost the common touch. She can recall a time when the white power structure was engaged in the conspiracy to keep Blacks in their place. But she can also recall also a time when the policies of Chicago Mayor Daley Sr. were replaced with the policies of Chicago's first Black Mayor Harold Washington. When doors opened they were there to walk through them.

Michelle's mother, Marian Robinson, was for years a stay at home mom teaching her children to read before they started public school in Chicago. They were never wealthy but comfortable enough to make the sacrifice to give their children the best. Today Michelle Obama, who has put her career on hold and is solidly behind her husband, keeps up her family tradition by making sure that Barack and her girls are first.


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