Named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, the ATHENA® Award honors individuals who achieve success in their careers, give back to their communities, and actively assist women in realizing their full leadership potential.
This year — the fourth year of the award program in the Tristate — a judging panel of leading local professionals chose 11 finalists for the award. From the list of finalists, the panel chose one recipient. Recipients may win the award only once.
The award program is part of ATHENA International, an organization devoted to advancing women through support, development, recognition and inspiration. Since the program began in 1982, more than 5,000 awards have been presented in more than 500 communities in the United States, Canada, China, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
Martha Mertz, a Michigan businesswoman, founded ATHENA International to fix the disparity she saw between her community’s composition and its leadership. She was the only woman on the board of directors for the Lansing Chamber of Commerce and knew the chamber had only once honored a woman.
By honoring exceptional leaders through the ATHENA Award program, Mertz hoped to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.
Award Recipient: Barbara Condo
The photo looks like it’s of a high school prom court: a line of smiling girls in floor-length ball gowns wear glittery crowns atop elegantly styled hair. You would never guess that these girls, all from hostile home environments, may have never had the chance to feel like princesses if it weren’t for One Way Farm.
Barbara Condo founded and operates the Fairfield children’s home they live in. The “Crowning of the Princesses” was just one example of how she has given kids opportunities other kids take for granted; the girls at One Way Farm even receive etiquette lessons that prepare them for such nights out at nice restaurants.
“Third shift called me that night and said, ‘You know, I went to do bed checks and all I saw were sparkles.’ They wore all their crowns to bed,” Condo recalls.
A mother of five, Condo began taking in abused, troubled and neglected children 33 years ago, not knowing it would develop into her life’s passion. She has now changed the lives of 8,000 children through caring for them at One Way Farm.
During their stay, which can average from a semester of school to several years, children are taught life lessons and given therapy if needed, all while experiencing a loving environment and social education and usually attending public school. Condo, also a survivor of child abuse, began the organization by herself, with just $59. One Way Farm now has 32 full-time employees and an annual budget of $1.6 million.
Located on a 13-acre lot, One Way Farm’s nine buildings include a large office, a thrift store operated by the organization, a house for the 10 resident boys, a house for the 10 resident girls, and a barn full of animals (rabbits, ferrets, cats and dogs) that the children, ages 6 to 18, help care for.
Resident children are taught trades and skills, such as working at the thrift store (whose profits benefit recreational opportunities at the Farm), or doing maintenance on the grounds. Condo says that one of the most important functions of One Way Farm is the development of skills that the children will need in the real world, including manners and social skills. Such abilities are reinforced through interaction with the public through such jobs as thrift store work and maintenance.
One Way Farm employee Teresa Casey writes that Condo cares for each child that comes to live at the Farm. “She is never too busy to stop, listen, comfort and advise a child in the role of a mother, teacher, mentor or as a friend,” Casey writes. “The wisdom she gained from her experiences is evident in how she can truly understand what a child who is in a crisis has experienced and she can guide them back to the road of recovery.”
Condo has received many awards and honors since founding One Way Farm. A close friend of the late Joe Nuxhall, she is currently working toward the creation of the Joe Nuxhall Children’s Center, which will be located on the grounds of One Way Farm. The center will be a playplace for developmentally challenged children of all ages.
— Graylyn Roose
Finalist: Karen Bankston
Karen Bankston, senior vice president and site executive at Drake Center, remembers what it’s like to start off a career with few advantages. That’s why she does what she can to help other women and minorities to succeed.
Bankston, the child of a single parent, managed to care for her young son on her own while she attained an associate’s degree in nursing at Youngstown State University. After graduation, she soon began working as a staff nurse in an emergency room in Youngstown.
Even though she enjoyed the job, it wasn’t always easy. “Sometimes I encountered racism in the emergency room,” Bankston says. “Some patients didn’t want me to treat them because I’m African-American.”
Still, she learned several crucial lessons in the emergency room position. “I recognized my importance in touching lives, I figured out how to communicate effectively, and accepted people from all walks of life,” she comments.
Today, Bankston has earned a doctorate in nursing research and organizational behavior and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, but she never ceases to support others in and out of the Drake Center. She constantly tries to assist people through mentoring co-workers and friends. She even speaks over the phone to women across the country who can use her advice. This is not a chore for Bankston, but rather a joy. She remembers what it was like struggling to start off in her field, and wants to do what she can to help others avoid this confusion.
Many individuals have improved their situations based on Bankston’s example. Her advisees have included colleagues at Drake, an executive at Fifth Third Bank, members of the Health Alliance, and friends in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.
“There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing the people I mentor succeed and become involved in Drake, and in our community to make the world a better place,” she says.
In addition to her mentoring, a variety of nonprofit organizations benefit from Bankston’s goodwill. She has served on the boards of the YWCA, the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Human Relations Board, the Babies Milk Fund and the Human Services Commission.
Bankston jumps at any opportunity to contribute to women’s and minority issues. Other concerns close to her heart are health care and aiding the poor through distributing medications and providing dental services.
When Bankston isn’t volunteering, she is an active member of Zion Global Ministries, directs an all-employee choir at Drake, and spends time with her three adult sons and husband, John. She says she never lets herself forget that she is blessed with so many opportunities. “To whom much is given, much is required,” Bankston explains. She tries to exemplify this motto every day of her life.
— Gretchen Keen
Finalist: Jennifer Bush
A few months after Xavier student Jodi Koehler enrolled in the university’s MBA program, she learned she had multiple sclerosis. A year later, Koehler’s parents were killed in a plane crash. After stopping and starting her studies several times because of all this, and naturally falling behind, the student finally turned to Jennifer Bush for help.
“Jen was always so positive,” recalls Koehler, who says Bush helped her maneuver around college policies and pushed through waivers that exempted the student from Xavier’s time limit for completing an MBA degree. “Jen said we’ll find a solution. This isn’t a machine. We’ll help you get through.” It took more than six years, but Koehler was able to finish.
This is just one testimony to the impact of Bush, senior executive director for MBA programs at Xavier. There are others, from the many pictures of newborns in her office — sent by former students she has mentored — to the personal stories told by graduates. “I think she wakes up every morning thinking about what impact she can have on a person’s life,” says Andre Williams, who recalls that Bush had a special diploma prepared for his mother, Darlene, acknowledging her role in seeing her son through to his educational goal.
“I like to think by treating people humanely, I am making a difference in the world,” Bush says. “I’m able to treat people with respect and professionalism.”
Bush says some students start their MBA studies for one reason — they think it will help them get promoted — but then they are transformed by the Jesuit school’s program. “I just take great pride in knowing I have a hand in that,” says Bush.
“Jen has overseen the education of 3,300 MBA students,” notes Dean Ali Malekzadeh of Xavier’s Williams College of Business. “Many of those students are women who pursued their MBA degrees while working full-time and raising children. Jen has a passion for making sure all students, especially women, succeed.”
Despite overseeing a program with hundreds of participants, she regularly makes time to coach and mentor students. Bush also makes time to teach Sunday school at her family’s church, St. Thomas Episcopal in Terrace Park.
Bush is raising two children while running Xavier’s MBA programs. To do so, she initially had to be involved in a job-sharing program, but none existed at Xavier. After she became pregnant in 2001, she became the first employee to suggest a job-sharing program. It became a model that other employees have followed. Now, no one at the Williams College of Business has to choose between motherhood and their job.
Bush’s own 10-person staff — nine of whom are women — have used her job-sharing model. “I don’t think my family would survive without it,” says Ann Marie Whelan of the MBA program.
“I’m so committed to it,” Bush emphasizes about the job-share concept. “You have to give working women that flexibility.”
— Felix Winternitz
Finalist: Linda Horn
On her 40th birthday, Linda Horn was struggling to recover from the death of her husband and pull herself out of debt. Ten years later, she celebrated her birthday on vacation in Hawaii as a self-made millionaire.
Horn, the owner of Capital Concepts financial advising company, was in her 30s when her husband was diagnosed with having a virus that attacked his heart. He couldn’t work and had no disability or life insurance. Horn hadn’t finished college and had no means to support her husband and children financially. During the three years her husband was sick, she sometimes had to use food stamps to get by.
When a woman tried to recruit Horn to work for an insurance company, she was hesitant — insurance companies were making her life miserable. She felt they were giving her bad information and trying to scam her.
“My husband convinced me that I would be the person who would tell customers the truth,” Horn says. “So, I went to work in the industry I was angry with.” Horn earned her insurance and securities licenses, and she became passionate about giving truthful information to customers. At the beginning, the business was difficult. She drove a rusted-out car and had to park down the street from clients’ houses so they wouldn’t see it.
Horn’s husband died when she was 38, and she continued working to pay off her debt and take care of her children. She faced an industry dominated by men, but remained undeterred. “I went to industry conferences, and I would be the only woman there. I never had to wait in any lines for the bathroom, though,” Horn jokes.
Her business skills evolved, and she started her own financial advising company, Capital Concepts, in 1984. She took classes and got advice from other entrepreneurs to further improve her business, which is still successfully operating.
Horn has worked extensively with organizations that aid women entrepreneurs and business owners. She offers services such as wealth management, retirement planning, insurance and benefits services, and tax and accounting services through her business. With today’s poor economy, such help is more important than ever. Some of the women she knows are barely keeping their businesses open, but she is inspired by their confidence.
“You have to have the fortitude to hang in there during these times,” Horn advises. She adds that if small businesses do stick it out, they could make this country great again.
In addition, Horn enjoys sharing her money with charity. She is now remarried, and she and her husband give money to help provide clean drinking water in India.
She also talks to high school students and church members to help them make good financial decisions. But whether Horn is supplying water or educating women in businesses, she lives by the motto: “I cannot keep you from getting old or sick, but I will not let you be poor, as well.”
— Gretchen Keen
Finalist: Gloria Ionna
When Gloria Ionna watched her youngest daughter board the bus for her first day of school, she decided enough was enough. After spending the past 16 years as a stay-at-home mom, Ionna knew she couldn’t stay cooped up in her Loveland home anymore.
Armed with a love of retail and a desire to help other mothers, Ionna opened a children’s resale shop in Loveland in 1993.
“At the time, the concept of children’s resale was just taking off,” she says. “As a mother, it was just natural to go into something like that.”
Called Twice Blest at its opening, the 2,600-square-foot store offers affordable, “gently used” maternity clothes, children’s clothes, toys, books, bedding and baby supplies. Most items cost less than $6, and all are in good condition.
For eight years, Ionna co-managed the store with her sister, Loretta Mueller, listening to women’s stories and helping them in any way she could. In 1995, she opened a second store in Mason.
In 2000, Ionna’s first grandchild was born, and she knew it was time to tackle the next stage of her life. She sold the Mason store to an employee and considered selling the Loveland shop, as well. The only problem? “The Loveland store was my baby.”
Luckily, Ionna’s husband, Greg, came up with the idea to donate the store to charity, and the two decided that Birthright of Greater Cincinnati Inc. — an international, interdenominational volunteer organization in Mount Washington dedicated to helping women cope with their pregnancies — was the perfect choice. “Birthright came into my head because my parents supported it for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I thought maybe that was God’s plan all along. Now that I’ve seen what it’s accomplished, I know it was God’s plan.”
Birthright took over Twice Blest in 2001 and renamed the store Truly Blest. (Because of its Mason sister, the store had to have a different name to qualify as a nonprofit organization.) Ionna and Mueller stayed on as co-managers and, since 2001, have donated all of the store’s sales — about $125,000 a year — to Birthright.
Ionna has also helped introduce a voucher program to benefit women who use Birthright’s services. Christine Schuermann, Birthright’s executive director, listens to women who come to see her and decides if they need clothes, toys or other goods. If Schuermann believes they do, she writes them a voucher (ranging from $35 to $50) to use at Truly Blest. “That’s not a lot of money, but at our prices, women can leave with bags of clothes,” Ionna says.
Although she quit her duties as co-manager of the store last year due to a herniated disc, Ionna still works there several times a week as a volunteer. And, because the store needed another co-manager, Ionna’s daughter Bethany — the same one who left on that bus all those years ago — took over the role.
Now, Ionna, 58, keeps busy watching her grandchildren, volunteering at her church — St. Francis Seraph in Over-the-Rhine — and serving as chairwoman of Birthright’s board of directors. She views the events of her life in stages and doesn’t want accolades for what she feels was the natural course of events. “My husband and I have really been blessed in our lives,” Ionna says. “That’s why we wanted to give back.”
— Colleen Weinkam
Finalist: Amy Katz
Amy Katz knows all about adapting to different workplace dynamics.
Now senior executive coach and chief learning officer at executive coaching firm Baker & Daboll LLC, she remembers when she started working at General Electric, a very male-dominated atmosphere — especially compared to a previous job as a social worker in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Obstetrics/Gynecology.
But Katz wasn’t intimidated by the change. “I enjoyed and I still enjoy that opportunity to understand and learn and try to survive in a different culture,” she says.
Now, she draws upon her variety of career experiences to help people, particularly women, deal with the dynamics of their own workplaces.
After GE, Katz worked as director of education and research for the Association for Quality and Participation (which later joined the American Society for Quality), then for the National Center for Organization Development for the Veterans Health Administration, where she received a certificate of appreciation for her leadership.
Throughout her career, the North Avondale native has developed workshops, given presentations and written articles, many of which have focused on women’s issues in the workplace. As an adjunct professor at both Xavier University and UC (where she earned her doctorate in social psychology), Katz teaches professional development courses and mentors young women entering the human resources field.
As an executive coach, one of the most common ways she helps women is addressing their communication styles at work. “I’m often working with fairly confident people, and people who are often in a leadership role, but there are still some distinct dynamics that they need to learn to manage,” she says. “With women, it’s really giving them the strength to act on their perceptions of situations and to feel comfortable asserting what they know.”
Katz has volunteered for local organizations People Working Cooperatively and the Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute. She also volunteered to help develop The Women’s Fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Pulse study — a report examining leadership programs for women and girls — as the Girls Work Group facilitator.
“There is a lot of energy and passion in the room when you get women leaders together, particularly when they’re talking about girls,” she says. “I personally believe when you bring organizations together to work on a shared concern, that’s a wonderful thing. And that’s really what it takes — working with networks of community leaders and building on their passion for support of a specific group.”
She is currently vice president of the Isaac M. Wise Temple.
Katz’ career path may have not been a linear one, but the collection of experiences has helped her relate to people in many fields. “I think it’s a good thing now that young people aren’t thinking in terms of one career, one organization,” she says.
And Katz is just as enthusiastic moving forward as she was when she was first developing her career path years ago. “I find that midlife is a great time to think about your career,” she says. “If you take some time to explore what your values are and what really fulfills you, then midlife represents a wonderful opportunity to reclaim the ways you want to be fulfilled as you go forward.”
— Lindsay Kottmann
Finalist: Suzanne P. Land
Suzanne Land keeps busy, that’s for sure. An attorney in the Cincinnati office of Greenebaum Doll and McDonald PLLC, she’s a working mother of two young children. That’s surely enough to keep anybody occupied, but the story doesn’t end there.
“Suzanne is the first female capital partner in the Greater Cincinnati offices of the Greenebaum firm,” wrote Emily Sandul, director of community affairs for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati, in nominating Land. “Suzanne is not only a role model for working mothers and female lawyers, but she is actively engaged in organizations that empower the women and children in our community.”
Indeed, Land — a trust and estate planning attorney — is involved with numerous organizations around the city. She is chairman of the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati and has served as an adjunct faculty member of the University of Cincinnati College of Law since 1998. Land is also a founding member of the Cincinnati Women’s Leadership Initiative of the United Way.
Much of Land’s community work focuses on the needs of the city’s working mothers women and youth. “For the past six years I have been very involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs and became the board chair last December. The clubs are a passion for me. I probably drive people crazy since I am always finding a way to talk about the kids we serve and fundraising needs.
“Right now, my typical day begins with my kids, and is followed with Boys & Girls Club business, the practice of law, teaching law school and then ends again with Boys & Girls Club business,” Land adds. “Then I go home to my children. I would not have it any other way. I am the type of person who prefers to be busy.”
Land grew up in Canfield, Ohio, and received her accounting and economics degree from Youngstown State University. She was awarded her J.D. from Case Western Reserve School of Law, where she was an editor of the Law Review. Land then joined the small local firm of Katz, Teller, Brandt and Hild. After 12 years of work and becoming a partner, she moved her practice to the Cincinnati office of Greenebaum in 2002.
In the past seven years, Land’s law practice has grown immensely. The families she serves have an average net worth of $10 million, but she has worked with amounts as large as $350 million. Land’s clients come from a wide range of professions, including family business owners, developers, physicians and executives.
One of those is Manny Mayerson, a living legend in the Cincinnati business and philanthropic circles. Seven years ago, he hired Land to handle his estate planning affairs. “Suzanne has a great knowledge and grasp of her field,” Mayerson says. “She is marvelous at communicating complex issues that can be difficult to understand, and ... is the consummate professional.”
Land also works hard at having fun and is passionate about sharing time with her 9-year-old-daughter, Casey, and her 2-year-old son, Ian. She loves to scuba dive, recently earning certification as a rescue diver. She is also passionate about pets, having adopted two special needs cats and six retrievers from Cincinnati Lab Rescue.
— Felix Winternitz
Finalist: Tillie Hidalgo Lima
Tillie Hidalgo Lima was working as a pharmacist when her husband asked her to join his newly formed concierge company, Best Upon Request Corporate, Inc. Hidalgo Lima had no business background, but she truly believed in Best Upon Request’s vision and accepted the challenge in 1996.
“It is in discomfort where we learn the most, because the more we stretch ourselves the more wisdom and courage we are able to gain,” she says.
Best Upon Request, an on-site concierge service provider to corporations and health care organizations, strives to make clients’ lives less complicated by taking care of errands such as dry cleaning, courier service, pet care arrangements and vehicle maintenance.
Hidalgo Lima was promoted to president in 1999 and added the title of CEO in 2003. Her first challenges were to turn the company around due to loss of business after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to expand the company’s services into the healthcare sector. “I am proud to say that we have been able to achieve each of these opportunities,” she says. Hidalgo Lima and her team have grown the company 625 percent since she became CEO.
“It has been amazing watching people grow,” she says. “As a company, you have to be willing to learn as you get bigger and better.”
It is particularly important to Hidalgo Lima to help other women succeed. As a member of the YWCA Cincinnati board, she co-chaired the 2009 Salute to Career Women of Achievement event. She also participates in the Rising Star program, which provides networking, mentoring and educational opportunities to young professional women.
Hidalgo Lima provides direction to the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Women Excel program as a member of the Executive Advisory Board. She has spoken to classes at her alma mater, St. Ursula Academy, and was active in the Girl Scout Great Rivers Council.
“I believe for women to find success in business, all they have to do is live authentically and everything else will come from that,” she says.
The National Society of Hispanic MBAs honored Hidalgo Lima as the recipient of the Brillante Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 2008. The U.S. Small Business Administration also honored her in 2009 as the Women in Business Champion of the Year, which she says was particularly special because it was awarded for helping women in business. Hidalgo Lima is currently a member of the board of directors of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
A mother of three, Hidalgo Lima moved to the U.S. from Havana, Cuba, when she was 10 months old and began kindergarten not knowing any English. “So many people have lifted me up over the years, and donating my time to organizations is my way to pay it forward,” Hidalgo Lima says. “I feel it is my social responsibility to give back, because I want young women to grow to be the best they can be.”
Hidalgo Lima has lived in Cincinnati since she was 6 years old and is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Pharmacy.
— Taryn Kukucka
Finalist: Kathleen T. Rambo
When Kathy Rambo came to work for the West Chester Chamber Alliance some 10 years ago, few would have imagined the number of lives she would touch during her full decade of service.
As vice president for special events for the Chamber Alliance, Rambo organizes and supervises the many functions that are fundamental chamber activities, providing essential and quality networking opportunities for Chamber members and the community. She frequently heads each planning committee, maintains relationships with committee members and encourages the participation and involvement of chamber members through the implementation of the events and beyond.
Rambo is also involved with several community organizations: She serves on the executive board of Cincinnati Union Bethel, the advisory committee for the West Chester/Liberty Foundation, and the steering committee for the American Heart Association’s “Go Red For Women.” Rambo also chairs the Butler County United Way Women’s Initiative Committee, and is the founder of the Women’s Enrichment (WE) Network (which later changed its name to Woman for Woman, or W4W) that supports women in business, stay-at-home moms and women in career transition.
Rambo served on Union Bethel’s Anna Louise Inn committee from 1988 to 1995; the downtown inn provides housing for urban women and assists them in reaching their full potential. As chair of the Anna Louise Inn’s “Turn of the Century Committee,” she helped to raise $200,000 annually to keep the inn operating.
In 2002, Rambo developed a program in West Chester called the Women of Excellence Awards, which honors outstanding female leaders in the region. She also started the Ethel Moritz Scholarship Fund to support women who need financial assistance for education. The scholarship fund is named after her late mother, Ethel, who possessed the same passion for supporting women’s issues as Rambo.
“The foundation of who I am came from my family experience where character, honestly, giving and reaching out to others were just expected. The old verse ‘It is in the giving that you receive’ has been very true for me,” Rambo says.
Rambo’s other interests include a background in sacred music; she’s an accomplished pianist and organist who can be found playing at Sunday church services throughout the region, and a graduate of UC’s College-Conservatory of Music. She has also managed her own interior design firm for many years.
Interestingly, Rambo is a protocol officer and a corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant certified by the Protocol School of Washington, D.C.
“I consider protocol and etiquette to be the art and science of civility and they are topics that have always been of interest to me,” Rambo relates. “When you know the rules of protocol and have mastered the skills of etiquette, you can be confident that you will know the right thing to do whether you are in a board room setting or dining with diplomats.
“Soft skills are so important in the workplace today that many employers consider them to be among their more important hiring criteria,” says Rambo. “I enjoy helping women learn these skills.”
— Felix Winternitz
Finalist: Joanne M. Schreiner
Thirty years ago, you could count the number of women partners in Cincinnati law firms on one hand, says Joanne M. Schreiner, a partner with Dinsmore & Shohl LLP. Childcare flexibility options were limited if they were present at all. And, in general, women were expected to mirror the negotiating and networking styles of their male contemporaries.
“Women at that time really were expected to be sort of like men … to dress like them, act like them and handle things like them,” Schreiner says. “We were expected to have our child and go right back to work and act like nothing in our lives had changed.”
As a mentor to younger attorneys within Dinsmore & Shohl, Schreiner acknowledges that recent law school graduates are entering a very different atmosphere. Now, she says, women and men alike are given greater flexibility in their schedules, so that they have adequate time to spend with their families. As a mother of four, Schreiner tries to give her own employees the opportunity to spend time with their families when need be.
“When I started, flexibility of routine was unheard of. It was really hard to have young children and feel that I was missing out on so much of what was going on in their lives,” Schreiner says. “I am convinced that there’s no reason parents should have to feel that way.”
Schreiner has been a partner with Dinsmore & Shohl since 1988 and heads the Commercial Finance / Real Estate practice group. Recently, she created the firm’s Troubled Assets Group and has made presentations in other cities, informing lendors and investors about the subject. “The greatest part about it is that I love my job and I love my industry,” she says.
Susan Branscome, founder of Q10 Triad Capital Advisors Inc. and the 2008 ATHENA Award recipient, writes that Schreiner is a trusted mentor to many. “She is known as an always-accessible resource for marketing, client development, managing and negotiating help,” Branscome says. “She knows from experience that women frequently negotiate differently from men, and she actively trains women colleagues to use those differences effectively.”
Schreiner says that her main piece of advice to young attorneys is to choose an area of law that fits their personalities. “Your basic personality is far more important at deciding the area of law in which you will succeed, than what you think is fun and what sounds like what you want to do,” Schreiner says. “Look at what you’re doing and build on that. Trust yourself, not what you learn, but trust who you are on the inside.”
Schreiner’s record of community service is extensive. She serves on the Campbell County Citizens Foster Care Review Board, and began serving on the board of the Cincinnati location of Boys Hope Girls Hope in September. Schreiner has also served on the boards of Ronald McDonald House, the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and the Housing Network of Hamilton County, among others.
— Graylyn Roose
Finalist: Mona Baker Wolf
Years ago, Mona Baker Wolf took in a friend who had no source of income and whose husband had left her abruptly. Wolf saw her friend struggle, and watched over the years as she fought her way from a minimum wage retail job to earn a doctorate in psychology. “She tenaciously, day by day, took classes and moved herself forward,” Wolf explains. “She’s such an inspiration.” Every day, through her career and in her personal life, Wolf strives to create opportunities for other women to empower themselves and pull themselves out of dark times.
Wolf was head of Kroger’s sensory research department in 1988 when the company severely cut back. Faced with the possibility of searching for another full-time job with a 2-year-old and 1-year-old twins at home, Wolf realized she wanted more flexibility without giving up her career. She started the Wolf Group, a consulting firm that researches the ways that consumers assess and sense products, out of her home. As it grew, she realized that other women might want a similar career opportunity. Today, the Wolf Group has 85 employees, most of whom are part-time, and many of whom are raising children.
The Wolf Group was voted one of “Greater Cincinnati’s Best Places to Work” by the Business Courier in 2006. The company, which serves clients throughout North America, hires executives who want high-paying, satisfying jobs, but who also want to devote more time to their personal health and home lives, Wolf says. “It’s work that’s important to corporate America, but doesn’t carry the same stress load,” she explains.
Robin White, president and CEO of Great Oaks Career Campuses and a 2008 ATHENA finalist, nominated Wolf for the ATHENA award. “Many people have good intentions, but Mona has taken the next steps in creating an environment where women can work and grow. Her service stands as a beacon and standard for others,” she wrote in the nomination.
Among her volunteer activities, Wolf actively supports the Eve Center, which provides free, faith-based counseling to women in need at locations in Springdale and Price Hill. She served on the center’s founding board as a business adviser for its first three years, and she continues to support the program through donations, partnerships and guidance. “She brought her wisdom of community interaction, management style and caring personality,” says Cinny Roy, the center’s founder and director.
Wolf was recognized by the Small Business Association as the Small Business Person of the Year for Ohio in 2007. She takes the time to mentor college students in her professional field and women she comes into contact with through her business.
“You are so enriched when you help someone else, and they then help someone else,” she says. “I just feel that my life has been full of blessings.”
— Lindsay Kottmann
Keynote Speaker: Mary A. Ronan
As the new superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools, Mary Ronan is entrusted with the education of the city’s 34,000 schoolchildren, not to mention a $467 million budget.
While overseeing Ohio’s third largest school district might intimidate some, Ronan already can claim substantial on-the-job experience: The 32-year veteran of CPS has served the past year as interim superintendent, following the departure of Rosa Blackwell in 2008.
Beginning as a middle school math and science teacher in the 1970s, the native Cincinnatian worked her way up to Kilgour School principal (which won a National Blue Ribbon for excellence from the U.S. Department of Education during her tenure) and later assistant CPS superintendent. Ironically, her first job was at the former Merry Middle School; that building now houses the school district’s central Education Center and Ronan’s superintendent office.
The Seton High School graduate earned her bachelor’s degrees in education, philosophy and biology at the University of Cincinnati, followed by a master’s degree in business administration from Xavier University and post-master’s training in education leadership at the University of Cincinnati.
Ronan’s experiences in district administration include an appointment as director of schools, a role in which she worked with principals to enhance leadership skills. At both the school and central administration levels, she has earned a reputation for building strong, supportive and open relationships with her staff as well as parents and community stakeholders. In 2005, she received the prestigious Excellence in Educational Leadership Award from the University Council for Educational Administration.
Ronan was unanimously elected to the top CPS job this past April, besting out a field of a dozen other (almost all exclusively male) candidates.
She signed a three-year contract in August that pays her $189,000 annually plus moving expenses (the school board is requiring Ronan to leave her suburban Anderson Township home and move into the city limits). She is married and the parent of an 11-year-old daughter who attends school in the Cincinnati Public Schools District.
Among her top priorities: Accelerating academic achievement and graduation rates by partnering the efforts of staff with parents — “We know we can’t just say we’re in (the state education ranking) of ‘continuous improvement’ and that we’re satisfied with that.”
Ronan’s priorities for the school year also include enhancing collaboration and transparency. She has introduced new strategies designed to increase student performance, including the “Elementary Initiative: Ready for High School,” which provides intensive support for the district’s 15 lowest performing elementary schools. At the high school level, Ronan has focused on increasing academic rigor of course offerings and expanding higher education access.
Under Ronan’s watch, low-performing schools will open two weeks early, and she’ll create an Office of Innovation to have teachers and administrators examining best practices in school districts nationwide, trolling for ideas.
Ronan considers it her mission to prepare the next generation of Cincinnati young professionals with the skills required by a fast-paced, technologically demanding global economy.
Under her leadership, the district is developing the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program and partnering in a record $20 million grant from the General Electric Foundation to improve math and science education in the district.
“I’ve discovered there are many, many caring people who are dedicated to CPS and who are working tirelessly to improve our schools,” Ronan notes of her experience so far.
“This is exciting and energizing, and it gives me great optimism for what we will accomplish together.”
— Felix Winternitz
Event Emcee: Sheree Paolello
Sheree Paolello anchors WLWT’s 5, 5:30 and 11 p.m. newscasts.
A Tristate native, Paolello graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in radio and television, then accepted her first on-air reporting gig in South Bend, Ind. Since then, she has worked at stations in Charlotte, N.C., and Dayton.
Most of Paolello’s family lives on the West Side. When Paolello received a call from WLWT in 2002 offering her a reporting position, she says she eagerly accepted the chance to move home.
Paolello knew she wanted to be a reporter as soon as she stepped into a newsroom and saw the excitement of uncovering stories and doing something different every day. Her favorite part of the job is being part of the community and meeting new people. Through her work, Paolello says she also hopes to change the public’s perception of reporters — to let people know it is possible for reporters to be compassionate and report the facts fairly.
Paolello recounts her proudest professional moment during the days immediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when her station sent her to Ground Zero for a weeklong stint of live reports. While it was the most challenging job she’s ever faced as a reporter, Paolello says it was also the most meaningful work of her career. She realized then the importance of her job.
Paolello lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband, son and three dogs. She likes sports and jogs regularly but spends the majority of her time with family and friends.
— Gretchen Keen
NonProfit Partner: Girl Scouts of Western Ohio
Girl Scouts of Western Ohio serves approximately 55,000 girls in over 32 counties with regional offices located in Cincinnati, Dayton, Lima and Toledo. With more than 16,000 adult volunteers, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio provides programs for girls to build their courage, confidence and character. As one of the 150 Girl Scout Councils in the United States, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio hopes to encourage girls of all ages to make a difference in the world by keeping with the values and ideals taught to them in the Girl Scout Promise and Law. Girls are also taught to care about others on a local and global scale so that they can inspire through leadership roles. Girl Scouts of Western Ohio works to build future leaders by helping girls explore the world and themselves; with an understanding of themselves, Girl Scouts will be able to use their skills to make a difference in the world.
Kenni Blaché West Chester Chamber Alliance (513) 777-3600 www.westchesterchamberalliance.com
Kenni Blaché has served as the membership services director of the West Chester Chamber Alliance for eight years. Her primary focus is recruitment and retention of membership. She is responsible for responding to the needs of chamber members and providing information on the services that help members’ businesses grow. Blaché is the chamber liaison to the Ambassador Committee, which represents the chamber at business events, and the staff liaison for the Membership Council.
Mark Greene ITA Audio-Visual Solutions 1 (800) 899-8877 www.ita.com
Mark Greene is president of ITA Audio-Visual Solutions, a leading provider of audio/visual and conferencing technology for a wide variety of clients. Employing 100 technical professionals throughout the United States, ITA provides a broad range of services that include the design, sale and installation of integrated communications systems; equipment rental and special event staging; and the maintenance or repair of audio/visual equipment. Mark and his wife, Lisa, established ITA in 1982.
Amy B. Ostigny eWomen Network www.ewomennetwork.com
Amy Ostigny is the managing director for the Cincinnati/Dayton Chapter of eWomen Network, a nationwide business networking resource for women. She believes in the eWomen motto: Give First, Share Always! Ostingy has raised thousands of dollars for charities through special events. She has served on the board of the Cincinnati chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women and on the board of the UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, and was a two-time president for the Society of Marketing Professional Services.
Rick Fehr Richter & Phillips Co. 202 E. Sixth St. Cincinnati, OH 45202 (513) 241-3510 www.richterphillips.com
Rick Fehr is the managing owner of Richter & Phillips Jewelers and Gemologists. He attended St. Xavier High School and Miami University, and has a degree from the Gemological Institute of America. Richter and Phillips Jewelers has been family-owned and operated for more than 111 years, and continues to thrive downtown. Fehr credits the business’s success to quality merchandise, fair pricing, customer service and a knowledgeable staff.
Maria P. Ortega Quest Diagnostics (513) 353-6000 QuestDiagnostics.com
Maria P. Ortega is the managing director for the Cincinnati location of Quest Diagnostics, an international healthcare organization that provides diagnostic insights to physicians. Previously, she was business director for Quest in Puerto Rico, where she led a business turnaround and the successful expansion of an international laboratory services unit. Prior experiences include the integration of several large-scale business acquisitions and the launch of the company’s first internet-based customer connectivity product. She is an active member of Quest’s mentoring program, and is a founding member of the company’s Diversity Council.
Gerry Waits The Art Institute of Cincinnati 1171 E. Kemper Road Cincinnati, OH 45246
Gerry Waits is vice president of marketing and public relations at the Art Institute of Cincinnati. She was born and raised in Cincinnati and majored in business administration at the University of Cincinnati. Before joining the Art Institute, she worked for 20 years for an entrepreneur, managing two of his businesses in eastern Cincinnati’s retail community. For the past 15 years she has served as the president of the Beechmont Mall Merchant Association, lending her skills in business, advertising and connecting with the public.
Robin White Great Oaks Career Campuses (513) 771-8840 www.greatoaks.com
Robin White, a 2008 ATHENA finalist, is President/CEO of Great Oaks, one of the largest career and technical school districts in the country. She helps thousands of high school students who begin their careers and college preparation at Great Oaks, and she also has helped provide better access for adults to return to school and continue college. Dr. White has been an educator for over 30 years. She sits on the governor’s Workforce Policy Advisory Board, and is currently working with area school districts on a project to introduce 21st century teaching and learning into K-12 classrooms.
Jennifer C. Wolfe, Esq., APR Wolfe LPA (513) 746-2801 www.consultwolfe.com
Jennifer Wolfe is founder and managing attorney of Wolfe, a certified woman-owned law firm that was named Woman-Owned Business of the Year by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber in 2006. The boutique firm specializes in intellectual property, corporate counsel and new media law. It represents clients such as The Kroger Co. and Scripps Networks Interactive. Wolfe has served as two-time president of the Greater Cincinnati Venture Association and has been named a Leading Lawyer by Cincy for four consecutive years.