"Don't ever underestimate the power of angels," keynote speaker Rebecca A. Darr told a crowd of about 150 people, including 21 women who were honored Friday as Influential Women in Business.

As CEO of WINGS, Darr has helped develop the organization into the largest regional agency for providing services and housing to adult and child victims of domestic violence and homelessness. During her message, she described how she worked with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to build and operate a new domestic violence facility in Chicago. It was a tough quest to secure $1.8 million and gain board approval to build the facility. "I did what every good business woman would do -- I prayed."

Darr and many of the women being honored talked about the challenges of running a successful organization and juggling family during the 20th Annual Influential Women in Business awards luncheon hosted by the Daily Herald Business Ledger and sponsoring partners.

At the event, held at Belvedere Banquets in Elk Grove Village, the awards were presented to outstanding women leaders who excel in business, civic and personal arenas and whose businesses are located or have a major presence in the suburbs.

Over the past two decades, 350 women have been honored at the annual Business Ledger event.

Many of the participants Friday shared inspiring stories of determination and hard work. Cheryl Molfese, COO of Crown Coverings in Roselle, said her company was at rock bottom at one point. She quoted Wynonna Judd lyrics, "When you hit rock bottom, you have two ways to go, straight up or sideways." Molfese added that seeing the possibilities is what has made the honorees the leaders they are.

Lora Georgieva, founder of Destination College in Lincolnshire, also overcame challenges. When she emigrated here from Bulgaria 14 years ago with one suitcase and many dreams, her father told her she would be a low-class immigrant and wash dishes for the rest of her life.

She joked that he was partially right because she does wash dishes at her home. She launched her business with a desire to help make college more affordable for her clients and has seen 300 percent growth over the past three years.

And Millie V. Palmer was told when she was in fifth grade at a career fair that she could not be president or an attorney because women were supposed to be nurses and teachers.

She went on to law school to become an attorney and is now in partnership with two other women at Waltz, Palmer & Dawson LLC in Rolling Meadows. "You shouldn't have to hide who you are. You go, girls," an enthusiastic Palmer told the women in the room.

The honorees will be profiled in the December issue of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

The awards were presented in partnership with the National Association of Women Business Owners -- Chicago Area Chapter. Sponsoring partners were Focus Capital Advisors, B. Gunther & Company Inc., KPMG/Women's PGA Championship and Northern Illinois University College of Business.