Wednesday March 21 , 2018
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El Pasoan of the Year

by Carol McNeal

The field of ten candidates was arguably the most impressive list of nominees ever, but happily, Janice Windle, who has, for years, quietly and effectively overseen the business of providing relief to those in need in our community and elsewhere, became the El Paso Inc. 2008 honoree.

Through the past thirty years or so, Janice Woods Windle developed a little start-up west Texas foundation into a $90+ million operation that, in the worst economic year in memory, brought in $14.7 million in new funds. She'd never allow you to think that she did it alone...not for a minute. And she has had help from a loyal staff, from those extraordinarily philanthropic individuals and companies in our area, from heavy hitters like her friends at the $13.7 billion Ford Foundation, and from the City of El Paso. But what she has to take credit for, like it or not, is her uncanny ability to coordinate the efforts of people she meets...she puts them in a room and somehow, she persuades them to work together to solve serious problems...and often enough, she convinces them that it was all their idea in the first place!

Janice Windle has been described more than once as "a force to be reckoned with." And that she is! A recent article in the New York Times described her battle to keep money bequeathed by El Pasoans for the benefit of El Pasoans right here in El Paso. Seems there was a great big bank that thought it might be okay to move all the small private foundations and their cash to New York City. After all, the founding donors are all deceased so there is no family left to defend them. Someone mentioned that they may have heard the battle cry, "Towanda!" emitting from the gracious and elegant offices of the El Paso Community Foundation just before the white flags of surrender went up at the great big bank.

There’s a lot of evidence to be found that demonstrates Janice’s deep dedication to the City of El Paso, but along the way, she has found time to be actively involved in several very meaningful national projects as well.

During her tenure as Vice-Chairman of the Council on Foundations Board of Directors, Janice travelled with a delegation to Costa Rica to assist in the establishment of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, a Costa Rican non-governmental and non-profit organization. It was created in 1988 with the monetary support of the Nobel Peace Prize, granted to the founder and then-President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Dr. Oscar Arias Sánchez, in recognition of his efforts to secure a "...firm and lasting peace..." in Central America.

Established to help further a culture of peace in the region, the Arias Foundation is devoted to the promotion of democracy, gender equity, and to disarmament and demilitarization. Its staff has developed more than 200 programs and projects, organized a countless number of national and regional fora, and published over 300 documents. The work of the Arias Foundation is divided among three active and expanding areas: the Area for Good Governance and Human Progress, the Area for Peace and Human Security, and the Area for Higher Education and Research.

Following the trip to Costa Rica, Janice was one of seventeen delegates chosen from the U.S. to spend three weeks in Russia with the purpose of assisting newly elected president Boris Yeltsin (elected 1989 – Russia and 1991 – Russian Federation) with the creation of a non-profit sector. Communism had fallen and the delegation, by coincidence happened to be there during the first free elections held in the country. Janice related that Russian citizens were called to the polls via the sounds of Russian symphonies broadcast on loudspeakers as a reminder of the country's history.

Prior to the launch of the massive North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on January 1, 1994, Janice served on a special Council on Foundations (COF) committee with the purpose of getting language submitted to the NAFTA treaty that would facilitate charitable giving by international corporations in the countries in which they would operate. The success of this COF endeavor was of particular importance to the City of El Paso because, as those of us who live here know, the city thrives on international business. The central business district of Ciudad Juárez can be seen from the El Paso Community Foundation offices.

Janice was named “Woman of the Year” by the American Association of University Women, she has received the “Father of Texas” award and the Texas legislature even passed a bill commending her for her “superb contributions to the State of Texas.”

And let's not forget the twenty year odyssey of the Plaza Theatre project. The "force to be reckoned with" gathered her gumption and well, as they say, that was that! Now the pride of El Paso, the Plaza Theatre is known nationally for its beauty, its architectural perfection and its historical importance, as well as for hosting many prestigious performances since its grand re-opening in March, 2006. The famous Tony Bennett spent two days here in El Paso and as we toured the landmark theatre, he was moved to tears by its beauty. That evening, onstage, he proclaimed the acoustics to be the best. As he said, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” And that speaks to the way Janice likes to do things…never settling for less than the best.

Well, along the way, Janice also wrote three historical novels, a children’s Christmas story and a cookbook, and she was actively involved in the making of a movie out of her best seller "True Women." The CBS miniseries that evolved from this effort starred actresses Angelina Jolie, Dana Delaney and Annabeth Gish. Through the years, Janice and husband Wayne have raised three children, welcomed five wonderful grandchildren into their family and quietly borne the loss of their beloved son Charlie.

There’s a little known story that is no surprise to those who know her. Janice boarded an aircraft on a return trip to El Paso shortly after Thanksgiving two years ago. She was seated next to a soldier in uniform and as they talked, she inquired about his plans for Christmas. When he responded that he would be in El Paso and alone for the holidays, she insisted that he join her family for dinner. They exchanged phone numbers and when Janice returned to the office, she immediately assigned a staff member to get in touch with the soldier to invite him and his friends to her house for Christmas dinner.

Through the years, this "true woman" has unfailingly supported, counseled and mentored those who've needed and wanted her advice. Through example, Janice Woods Windle has proven over and over again that she is indeed worthy of the honor bestowed upon her by El Paso Inc. We’re so appreciative of the recognition and so proud of her!