Photos by Valerie Shelton
By Valerie Shelton, Editor
Being a mom is a full-time job. None knows this better than Wendy Wagoner, who was crowned the 2016 Fresno County Mother of the Year at a luncheon May 6.
Years ago, Wagoner quit her job as a lawyer to care for her severely disabled son, Colby, and she hasn’t looked back. Her husband, Jim, says she amazes him.
“She is a bright and talented attorney who has put her career on hold,” Jim said. “Colby requires 24-hour attention, which Wendy has provided for the last 20 years. She is also a loving mother to Nicole, accompanying her to singing lessons, dance lessons, swim classes and acting classes…She has also been a devoted stepmother to my sons from a former marriage and is partly responsible for their success and happiness as adults.”
Humbled, Wendy said she was surprised to win such a prestigious honor and to even be nominated.
“This is something I had no expectation of happening and it has been a lot of fun to feel appreciated for being a mother,” she said.
During her acceptance speech at the Mother of the Year luncheon, hosted by the Fresno County Women’s Chamber of Commerce, Wagoner was a typical mom, gushing about how great her children are and how much she has learned from them.
“I want to thank my kids,” Wagoner said. “My daughter Nicole is 14 and I have a special needs son who is 20 and he is Nicole’s big brother. From the minute Nicole was born, Colby knew his life had just changed in a dramatic way and as far as he was concerned not in a positive way. He wasn’t going to be the baby anymore and just like any older sibling, he wasn’t really happy about it but he has different ways of expressing it and that includes scratching and pulling hair. Nicole has been a lightening rod for her entire life for Colby. He is starting to appreciate her more now that she changes his movies and gives him things to eat. Nicole has shown compassion and love and grace well beyond her years in dealing with Colby and when I’m upset with Colby she doesn’t like that. He pulls her hair on the way to school every day and he sits behind her and she never says a word. I shut off his movie to try and calm him down and she is like’ don’t turn his movie off, it’s okay.’ She has just been an incredible little sister and an incredible daughter. She brings me amazing joy every day.
“I also want to thank my stepsons, that is what I call them describing them to you but they are my sons and I thank them for welcoming me into the family when Jim and I got married. They have been incredible kids and they have been wonderful big brothers to Colby and Nicole and they have helped out a lot with Colby. And Colby of course can be a lot of trouble sometimes, but it has been an amazing joyful experience. He has taught me so much about self-sacrifice and looking beyond yourself and I don’t think I would have completely got that lesson without him and with Colby I had no choice but to learn that.”
Wagoner also said she couldn’t do it all without the help of her mother and her husband.
“My mother has done so much for me and whatever good things there are in me, they come from her,” Wagoner said. “She is going to be 80 years old this year and she still helps out with this 6’2” 200-pound boy, changing his diapers and following him around and changing his movies and lately we changed Colby’s medication and he doesn’t sleep well and so mom would come over and she would lay down with him because he sleeps better when someone is there with him and she would stay with him all night so I could get a decent night’s sleep. She has just been an incredible person in our lives.
“Then there is my husband, of course. He is my very best friend in the world and he is my support system. He helps out with Colby all the time with an enthusiastic spirit. Colby had a blood disorder and he was on steroids and I’m usually his target when there is something wrong and he doesn’t know how to express it. He literally was chasing me around where I would get behind a table to try and block myself off so he couldn’t grab me and Jim came home and he said, ‘go get your mom, get Nicole and go to the coast, I’ve got this,’ and it just took a couple days for the steroids to get out of Colby’s system and he was back to normal. That is the kind of man he has been, an incredible father. Some men joke about not wanting to change a diaper when you have a baby, but Jim’s been changing diapers for more than 20 years now. I can’t express how much God has blessed me by giving me this man.”
Four other mothers who were nominated for the Mother of the Year were also honored at the luncheon.
Tiffany Apodaca was recognized for being an outstanding mother to five daughters. In addition to being a mom, Apodaca is also a co-founder of Breaking the Chains, a non-profit organization that helps provide rescue, relocation, restorative and shelter services to adult female victims of sex trafficking.
“When I was nominated, I was caught by surprise,” Apodaca said. “When you think of the mother of the year, you think of somebody older who has raised kids who are all grown and most of mine are but it was very surprising to me that people actually took the time to nominate me. If I was to give advice to any mom out there, being a mom of five daughters, it is going to take a lot of prayer, a lot of patience and drive.”
Carolyn Evans, a biological mother to two and an adoptive mother to a family of Laotian refugees, was also nominated. In addition to raising children, Evans has worked as a Special Education teacher and has served on the Fresno Mental Health Board.
“I raised two daughters and I think the mother’s job is to nurture and support, encourage and prepare children to go out into the world on their own,” Evans said. “I do a lot of volunteer work with the southeast Asian immigrant community and that connected me with other children and one family in particular. I received more than I ever gave and it has been a great joy. There were trials and tribulations but there were also many wonderful events like birthdays and graduations and citizenship for these children.”
A third nominee was Cathryn Herrin, a nurse at St. Agnes Hospital. She said each of her children, biological and adopted, has been a gift.
“When I was a new mom I used to think children came into this world and they were just an empty slate and I could write all these characteristics down and watch them develop, but as they grow up and you grow into motherhood, you realize that they are already knit together by a greater being or a greater cause and we just have to understand what their strengths are and capitalize on their strengths and help them recognize their weaknesses and help them find what they are passionate about,” Herrin said.
Cheryl Marcelli-McClaine was also nominated for Mother of the Year. She is a biological mom to one son and a “work mom” to many co-workers.
“Motherhood is nothing short of a miracle,” Marcelli-McClaine said. “To experience the birth of a child when you’ve been told by three physicians that you will never have a child is something that is beyond description. I am a biological mother to one son, who I cherish and who has changed my life forever, and I feel like I am a symbolic mother to other people at work and in my life that require someone to listen to and to just be there when they need counsel and advice. I’ve done nothing more important in my life than being a mother.”