She grew up in a rough New Bedford neighborhood, dropped out of school at 15, lived in her car and tended bar at a biker hangout. Back in the early 70s, Lynn Donohue wasn’t voted most likely to succeed by her classmates.
But on Thursday night, May 6, she’s going to tell a roomful of people at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown exactly how she built a storybook life for herself, one brick at a time.
Ms. Donohue, millionaire entrepreneur, founder of a nonprofit organization for New Bedford teenagers, bestselling author (“Brick by Brick: A Woman’s Journey”) and motivational speaker, will share her extraordinary story at the Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network year-end meeting from 6 to 8 pm. Everyone is welcome.
Her story is truly one of grit: she became the first woman brick mason in Local 39, a hardscrabble region that stretches from Provincetown to Seekonk.
“I saw a newspaper ad for a new training program for women interested in construction trades,” she explains. “It was one of those small events that had life-changing consequences.”
Although she had, as she puts it, “failed at education before,” the masonry program was taught by a man who paid close attention to his six female students. Ms. Donohue thrived under his tutelage.
“Unfortunately, he failed to mention that there were no women in the trade,” she says. Finding work, even as a union member, was a daunting task. She faced constant harassment from men in the field and decided to try bidding on contracts herself. “If I had been able to get jobs, I might never have started my own business.”
The rhythm of laying bricks, she says, gave her a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In 1982, Ms. Donohue founded Argus Construction and built it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, employing many of the men who had tormented her on earlier jobsites. She went on to earn a master’s degree and to create Brick by Brick, a nonprofit New Bedford-based foundation that fosters creativity, confidence, and career skills in teenagers and adults. Traveling throughout the U.S., Ms. Donohue is also a featured speaker at corporate, business, and academic gatherings.
Her message: You never know what is possible. Her message to women: “We are focused, detail-oriented multi-taskers. We bear children and raise them. With these skills, there is no area in which we can’t succeed.”
Ms. Donohue has long-standing ties to the Vineyard and a passion for her annual visits. “It’s not a summer without the Vineyard,” she says.
Martha’s Vineyard Women’s Network provides continuing business education and networking opportunities to promote economic development on the Island. According to Jan Pogue, a member of the board of directors and co-chair of the Programming Committee, the Women’s Network brought in expert speakers on social networking, blogging, and developing a business plan this past winter. Meetings are held six times a year, from September to May, with additional informal gatherings.
Nevette Previd, now serving her second year on the board, works with Ms. Pogue to search for speakers who will educate and inspire members.
“People are feeling beaten up by the economy,” she says, “so we were excited to find someone with a real life story to leave people with. It’s important for our year-end meeting to end on a high note.”
According to Ms. Pogue, owner of Vineyard Stories, a custom publishing house, and Ms. Previd, an entertainment marketing consultant, the Women’s Network will announce its first-ever recipient of a $2,500 grant at the May 6 meeting. The annual grant comes from membership fees and is a way for the organization to give back to the community, Ms. Pogue says.
Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank has provided matching funds for a second grant that will also be awarded that evening.
M.V. Women’s Network Year-End Meeting and Speaker, 6–8 pm, Thursday, May 6, Baylies Room, Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. $25 includes light dinner. Visit mvwomensnetwork.org. Anyone who joins the Network or renews membership for 2010-11 by the May 6 meeting will receive a free copy of Lynn Donohue’s memoir that evening.