A life of service is the only thing Brigadier General Paige Hunter has known, from growing up in a military family and leading service members with the West Virginia Air National Guard to donating her time and talents to the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program.
Hunter is the Assistant Adjutant General and Commander of the West Virginia Air National Guard, which has more than 2,100 members and consists of two flying units. In 2016 when she was promoted to Brigadier General, she was the first female in the state to reach the ranking.
“When I joined, there were very few women, so basically everything I’ve done, I’ve been the first female to do it, just because of timing,” Hunter said. “I just wanted to serve... I’ve been told that I’m a role model through the years because of those firsts; and my hope is the young women coming through now will become productive members of the team, follow their dreams, set their goals, and realize their potential.”
Just as Hunter looks at her military service as a simple calling, she sees the community service she performs as part of her duty in life as well.
During a routine trip to donate home goods to the YWCA’s Second Seating gently used furniture store, which has since closed, Hunter said she was reminded of the Resolve Family Abuse Program shelter.
“I’m always all about helping women stand on their own two feet and stand up for themselves,” she said.
But the real catalyst that opened the door for Hunter to ramp up her regular community service with the YWCA was what some may consider an unlikely alliance.
“Years ago, I received a call from the Y because I do Mary Kay on the side, and Mary Kay’s programs are stopping domestic violence and ending women’s cancers,” she said. “Every year, Mary Kay randomly chooses shelters to donate $20,000, and you don’t know it’s coming, so the Charleston shelter received a check.”
Hunter said someone at the Y knew her and knew she sold Mary Kay products and called her to ask if the donation was for real.
“I explained to them about the tenets of the company and they told me about what they do at the shelter, that was in the mid-2000’s, and it led to me starting to do work there in the shelter,” she said. “I started doing makeovers, pampering sessions with them, teaching them how to apply makeup for interviews, and I always take donations there for the ladies.”
Anyone who travels with Hunter knows she’s going to ask them for something.
“I always save the samples from hotel bathrooms and I ask everyone I’m traveling with to do the same thing so I collect all these toiletries throughout the year and drop them off at the shelter every so often,” she said.
Hunter has been affiliated with Mary Kay for more than 15 years, and she says it’s more of a hobby than a second business, but she respects the way the company helps countless women build careers with it.
“It’s obviously designed to help other women, so I love that about it, but this is my girly side of my combat boots,” she said.
Hunter, who has been deployed to Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm as well as Panama and South America, said her favorite part of her regular sessions at the shelter is being able to help take the ladies away from whatever issues they may have for a short period of time and leave them with a boost in self-esteem.
“Everybody looks good and feels good when we’re done,” she said. “There’s no pressure, no selling, I just educate them about their skin types and maybe some new techniques I’ve learned, and it’s just so great to see them relax and feel good.”
Hunter’s husband Rick is retired from 36 years of military service, and she’s eager to join him this spring. The couple has two married sons and four grandchildren, and in her free time she enjoys traveling, riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles and riding horses.
Throughout her career, Hunter has earned a Meritorious Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal with bronze star and an Air Force Longevity Service Award Ribbon with four oak leaf clusters, as well as being selected the 1999 West Virginia Woman of the Year – Government Category and Successful Woman of the Year for the West Virginia National Guard in 2000.
Hunter said it’s important for everyone to find that calling to service for themselves, whether it’s service through the community, through church or the military, there’s always a receptive venue. She said the support the YWCA provides to so many different audiences is part of why she enjoys supporting it.
“It’s not cookie cutter, and the Y supports such a wide area, you have a venue for whomever you want to support, whatever your interest is,” she said.