Women do incredible things. Here, we feature the stories of women who are a part of the Southeast Missouri community by way of living here, being from here or passing through. We hope these stories inspire you to connect with others and that they encourage you to be who you are in the world. We need you and your unique gifts.
“I feel like my path chose me instead of me choosing my path.”
Cindy Gannon speaks these words as she reflects upon her career as a Southeast Missouri State University volleyball coach and athletics administrator and now her work with the Cape Catfish during her semi-retirement. And it’s true: her life has taken many unforeseen turns, the first being her decision to stay in Cape Girardeau after her graduation from Southeast Missouri State University. Deciding to stay to work as a graduate assistant with the volleyball and softball programs for the university rather than moving back to her hometown like she’d planned, opportunity presented itself.
Cindy served as the softball coach for two months as the university transitioned to Division I athletics and then became the volleyball coach, a position she served in for 14 years. When her mother passed away from breast cancer in 2000, Cindy took time to reflect upon if she still wanted to hold a coaching position. Deciding she didn’t have the energy to devote to being both a coach and an administrator which she was also doing at the time, she resigned from coaching and went full-time into administration.
“That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Cindy says. “I just might have given up a job. But fortunately, the administration at the time supported me, and they created a position full-time in the administration, so I was appointed as the senior woman administrator and associate athletic director, and then I served as the interim athletic director twice. I wore a lot of hats at the university throughout my 31 years.”
Cindy retired from the university in 2018 and in 2020 was named the first female coach and administrator to be inducted into the Southeast Missouri State University Hall of Fame. It’s not hard to see why this honor was bestowed on her.
“It’s the students,” she says of why she loves coaching and being involved in athletics. “The process that you go through watching these young people transition into adulthood and the career paths that they choose and the life lessons that they learn and the connections that they make with one another — the connections they made with me — to be able to give something to these student athletes and help them transform into adulthood, it’s just amazing. … At the end of the day, if we’re not taking care of the student athletes, then we shouldn’t be doing what we do. Because we make a commitment. It’s someone’s daughter. It’s someone’s granddaughter. That’s something that as coaches and teachers and administrators, you just can’t ever take lightly.”
In her semi-retirement, she is able to apply her core coaching tenants of instilling accountability, character and integrity in student athletes to her work with the Cape Catfish. She says it is a fun opportunity because it has challenged her to “get up to speed” with aspects of technology she wouldn’t have learned about otherwise.
Although Cindy feels her path chose her, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t live intentionally. Cindy founded Dig For Life in 2000, which today is known as Pink Up, a month-long fundraiser through Saint Francis Healthcare System that raises awareness and funds to provide free mammograms to the community. Now, the event has expanded to include free screenings for the four most prevalent cancers in the region. Through this, Cindy has been able to honor her mother’s life while working toward ensuring no other woman has to go through the breast cancer her mother fought. Cindy also founded the Walk for Women to raise money for women’s athletic scholarships at Southeast Missouri State University and celebrate women’s athletics. Upon her retirement, the walk was named after her.
“A lot of the things I’ve been able to accomplish is by networking and connecting,” Cindy says. “You don’t do things like this alone. It’s a group of people; a lot of people have their hands in it. This isn’t about me. … It’s all about connections and getting connected with people that have the same passion as you, that have the same drive as you. Connect yourself to movers and shakers and people that want to lift you up. And sometimes as women, we get so involved, we forget we have to try to lift one another up.”
Supporting other women is something that’s important to Cindy, both on and off the court, and she encourages women to lift up not only one another, but also themselves.
“We as women sometimes don’t take an opportunity to give ourselves accolades and have the confidence in ourselves to say, ‘I am as good as’ and ‘I can do this as well as,’ and so I encourage people to have that confidence in themselves and let that confidence be seen.”