A high point during last week’s Remodeling Show was the presentation of the Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Case Design/Remodeling president and chairman Mark Richardson and Fred Case, respectively, presented the award to Iris Harrell of Harrell Remodeling, Mountain View, Calif. The transcript of her acceptance speech is here.

"I wish to thank REMODELING magazine for publishing the story of how I became a contractor. I would be extremely wealthy if I got a dollar for every time I have been asked that question in the last three decades.

"But as any person who has studied Sandler Sales training knows, the real question I have been asked for so long and so often is the question behind the question: 'How was it possible for you as a woman in a predominantly male industry to be taken seriously as a contractor?'

"I believe one of the first female governors of Texas, Ann Richards, was asked a similar question years ago when she managed to be elected governor. Her answer was eloquent and humorous. She said when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers commandingly glided across a dance floor, Ginger Rogers had to do every step and movement that Fred Astaire did ... but she had to do it backwards and in high heels.

"On my first job interview to be a carpenter, I was asked, 'Who would want to hold your hands at night?' I knew I wouldn’t be getting that job. When Ann and I moved to San Francisco after I had been a carpenter and general contractor for three-and-a-half years, I applied for another job instead of trying to start a new company all over again in a place where we did not know a soul.

"The job opening was for a construction project manager. I got a second interview. They liked me and told me I was certainly qualified. Finally they came to their 'senses' and said, 'We would like to hire you, but we think the subcontractors will run all over you because you are a woman.'

"So being the entrepreneur that I am, I started my own company again.

"My mother-in-law, Jane Benson, is our only surviving parent and was the first paying client of Harrell Remodeling. She is patiently waiting for me to return home and show her this trophy as living proof that her investment and loving interest in my career has paid off. She gets much of the credit for my having a successful business. And my mother-in-law fully understands that the main ingredient for the success of Harrell Remodeling is her brilliant daughter, Ann Benson, my loving partner in life for 30 years.

"One of our friends, Ridley Wills, once a very young new contractor in Nashville, Tennessee, so aptly said many years ago, 'If I had Ann Benson at my side in business, I could be as successful as Iris, too!' (I might add The Wills Company is quite successful now, but I did not loan Ann to Ridley to help him out.)

"To Fred Case, I want to say thank you for recognizing entrepreneurship as the key to any successful business in America. (And I thank you for the check. Ann has lovingly pointed out to me that I have already spent that money in my own personal effort to stimulate the economy.)

"And to all the other accomplished entrepreneurs in the room, I encourage you to listen to that still small voice in your head during these trying economic times.

"Follow your core values. You and your staff deserve to be paid well and recognized for the great service you provide for your clients. In the Bible there is a scriptural passage that reads, 'The worker is worthy of his hire.'

"And finally in the chapter of Hebrews, the scripture says, 'Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.'"

"Keep your hope alive. We are going to survive 2009."

Iris Harrell

Click here to read more about Iris Harrell and the Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award.