They all faced challenges and they all overcame them.
Six former winners of the Athena Award told the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s virtual Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday that it’s important to help each and reach back to help others.
The award goes to women who display excellence, creativity and initiative in their profession, contribute to the community and actively push for girls and women to realize their full potential.
Tish Correa-Osborne, CEO of Girls Inc., who moderated the event, said it’s important “to not be afraid to accept help and not to be afraid to ask for help.”
She asked the women to discuss the obstacles they’ve overcome in their work.
Jean Wells, owner of Wells Health Systems, said when she entered the health care field the majority of employees were female and most of the managers were male. She had to break that mold.
Jane Noble, who started Livingston Travel in 1979, said she was a single mother facing bankruptcy when she asked the late Roger McCormick, who was chamber board chairman, for advice on how to make more money.
McCormick told her to start her own business and loaned her the money to do so.
“He saw more in me than I saw in myself,” Noble said.
Brenda Clayton, who owns her own CPA firm, said when she became pregnant people kept asking if she intended to keep working.
The answer they understood, she said, was “I can’t afford not to.”
Alma Randolph, who’s semi-retired from a career in human relations and diversity training, was a junior in high school before she had another African-American classmate.
But she said she gained confidence by being the only African-American student and learning to interact with white kids.
Randolph was elected to the Beaver Dam City Commission when she was 24.
Susan Montalvo-Gesser, director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Owensboro, said, “I didn’t have a margin for error. I was a woman, a Latina and I grew up in poverty.”
She said she put so much pressure on herself that she was still taking a test in law school while she was going into labor.
Cindy Fiorella, vice president of workforce and economic development at Owensboro Community & Technical College, began as a volunteer and then moved into a career in education.
“All of us have had people who supported us,” she said. “Together we can do anything.”
Asked what they wished they had known sooner, Noble said, “Sometimes it’s well to not know” the future. “Don’t hesitate to be a proud female and speak your mind. Don’t hesitate to reach back and help someone.”
Montalvo-Gesser said, “To be guilt-free. There is no such thing as a work-life balance.”
Fiorella said, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s better to do something, even if it’s not perfect, than to do nothing.”
Clayton said, “It’s better not to know. Getting beat up shaped us into who we are today.”
Wells said, “To keep an open mind and have a little fun. Be kind. We all have battle scars. Enjoy life. It’s really, really short.”
Randolph said, “It’s very important to believe in ourselves and stand up for what we believe. Be a giver.”
March is Women’s History Month.
Keith Lawrence, The Messenger-Inquirer