Superheroes don’t have to be superhuman. Meet 50 women who, through hard work and determination, have made our state a better place to live.
Tammie Alexander | Lisa Allen | Ann Bailey Berry | Marie Blackwell | Nancy Bulla | Vicky Bullett | Becky Cain Ceperley | Alexis Chandler | Holly Childs | Janet Clayton | Christina Dalton | Cindi Dunn | Emily Fleming | Michelle Mickle Foster | Rocky Goodwin | Gramma and Ginga | Caryn Gresham | Mary Hendrix | Susan Hogan | Katherine Coleman Johnson | Susan Kemnitzer | Jessica Lipscomb | Alisha Maddox | Erica Mani | Cindy Martel | Margie Mason | Maura McLaughlin | Tracy Miller | Diane Morris | Helen Morris | Alayna Moyer | Ashley Hardesty Odell | Heidi Prior | Jan Rader | Lily’s Place Women | Maryanne Reed | Natalie Roper | Ginna Royce | Marnie Rustemeyer | Judy Sjostedt | Sarah Smith | Nadja Spitzer |
Carolyn Stuart | Krystal Tawney | Natalie Taylor | Stephanie Tyree | Kathy Wagner | Victoria Weeks | Women of Whitesville | Margaret Workman
Tammie Alexander understands the importance of home. When she was a teenager, a fire destroyed her family home in Marshall County. “We literally lost everything in the middle of the night,” she says. She became a paralegal and joined a practice that specialized in real estate, and that led to a job at Steptoe & Johnson’s office in Morgantown, where Alexander became interested in practicing law. She attended West Virginia University’s College of Law part-time while continuing to work and raising a teenage daughter. She stayed on in real estate law after passing the bar, starting off by helping new homebuyers with their paperwork. She now works primarily in commercial real estate. “It’s fun because I’m involved in transactions with buildings and development going up,” she says. But she also serves on local and state Habitat for Humanity boards and does pro bono work for the organization. “I always say, I practice happy law.”
They say you shouldn’t mix family and business. But for Lisa Allen, this couldn’t have been more untrue. Allen is the current president of her family’s Ziegenfelder Company in Wheeling, which creates the Budget $aver twin pops. Started in 1861 as a small candy store on the corner across from the current building. Allen’s family bought out the business in the 1920s, and Ziegenfelder grew to become a large distributor to major retail outlets in all fifty states. Allen joined the company in 1999, mid-career, to lead the sales team. Her father named her CEO in 2003, and she took the reins as president in 2005 when her father passed away.
Allen’s current role involves a lot of traveling between the company’s plants in California, Colorado, and Wheeling, and has her interacting with team members at all those facilities. Her main job, however, is leadership. “It’s about humility and service to others—inspiring and influencing others to realize their own potential and, together, our collective potential,” she says.
The majority ownership of the Ziegenfelder company is women and Allen feels this gives the company a “point of difference” when appealing to consumers. And the fact the business is family-owned gives customers a sense of togetherness. “The sense of ‘home-grown,’ entrepreneurial, or a small business feels closer to the heart,” Allen says. Allen’s leadership is important in other ways, too. She’s a role model for women who want to take on the business world, particularly those who are interested in small business. Allen believes everything starts with small businesses, much like the one her family bought long ago. “Changing our world through emerging small businesses—taking the lead to impact people’s lives in meaningful ways—is amazingly empowering,” she says.
Ann Bailey Berry
Putting Others Forward
Ann Bailey Berry was uniquely placed in 2014 when new West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee started his tour of all 55 counties across the state. Having directed marketing and communications for the statewide WVU Extension Service since 2000, she knew the university’s presence in every corner of the state. “I was just really lucky to be contacted to help plan the tours,” she says.
Berry says she “fell hard” early on for the work Extension agents do. “What Extension is able to do is to connect the expertise of the university with people in their communities,” she says. “Extension agents are different from most faculty. The community is their classroom. They’re embedded in communities and they are trusted and reliable sources of all kinds of information—from a stinkbug to a tomato to how to build community.” For many young people, she says, an Extension agent—maybe through 4-H—is the first person who gives them the idea that college is attainable for them.
Today, as assistant vice president for marketing and outreach in WVU’s office of University Relations, Berry strengthens the connection between the university, Extension, and all of the state’s communities. In addition to helping to plan Gee’s continuing tours around the state, she involves faculty in projects that advance the university’s presence all across the state. She also engages WVU students in efforts to help residents:
in a recent example, the work of flood relief.
“So much of the role that communicators play is in the background,” Berry says. “To be able to push other people forward who might not have a way to shine in the work that they do, to put them front and center and see the good that they are able to do, for me, that’s just an amazing opportunity.”
Fighting for Those Who Already Have
Bluefield city ambassador Marie Blackwell is the face of her city, appearing at meetings and providing business tours to newcomers to the area. But helping veterans is Blackwell’s passion. After the death of her husband, a U.S. Marine, in 2011, she worked to help the nearby town of Princeton receive a standalone Veterans Administration clinic in 2015 to bring services closer to home. She also serves on U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s Veterans Advisory Group, Bluefield State College’s Veterans Board, and she has also lobbied the state Legislature alongside Secretary of State Natalie Tennant for a “Boots to Business” bill to help veterans start businesses in the state. And that’s not to mention the Vietnam Veterans Recognition Day she organizes with her daughter or the work she does with the Denver Foundation to host the Always Free Honor Flight, which enables veterans to travel to visit the National Mall memorials in Washington, D.C.
Beating the Odds
You might say Nancy Bulla of Lewisburg hit the jackpot. In 1981, she co-founded Mountainet, West Virginia’s first statewide commercial radio news network, where she was the first female broadcast journalist to host a daily public affairs program and the first to moderate a gubernatorial debate. After West Virginia passed the Lottery Act in 1985, she was appointed as the Lottery’s spokeswoman and helped to write rules and regulations, trained 2,000 retailers, opened seven regional offices, and helped launch lottery sales within four months. In 2000, the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries recognized West Virginia for having one of the four best-conducted drawings in the country. While blazing paths and helping implement laws governing a statewide lottery, Nancy was and continues to be involved in a long list of community endeavors. She has served as president of the West Virginia Humanities Council and started an animal rescue effort, and she pastors Union Presbyterian Church in Monroe County.
The All Star
Mountain State basketball fans know all about Hot Rod Hundley and Jerry West. But how about Vicky Bullett?
The six-foot, three-inch Martinsburg native was a high school and college hoops star, a two-time Olympian, and founding member of the WNBA. She’s beginning the next chapter of her career this fall as head coach at West Virginia Wesleyan College. She might not be a household name yet, but Bullett’s time on the hardwood is far from over.
Her life as an athlete started early, as the only girl in a home with six brothers. “They made me tough,” she says. “We all played something. My dad didn’t specialize, whatever we wanted to play … he wanted us to get out of the house.”
She began playing basketball when she was eight years old but it wasn’t until high school, with her older brother as her coach, that she realized she had a talent for the game. Bullett’s prowess on the court attracted the attention of college recruiters and earned her a full ride scholarship to the University of Maryland. During her four years with the Terrapins, the team won three Atlantic Coast Conference championships, made two appearances in the NCAA Elite Eight, and, in her senior year, made it to the Final Four.
She wanted to continue playing basketball after college, but since there was no professional women’s league in the United States at the time, Bullett spent the next nine years playing in Europe and South America. In 1988, the U.S. Olympic Women’s Basketball Team picked her to be part of its 12-woman roster—which took home the gold medal in Seoul, South Korea with a 77-70 victory over Yugoslavia. “It still brings chills,” she says. Bullett remains the youngest player to make the Olympic team, and also returned to the 1992 Olympics where the team won bronze.
In 1997 came the opportunity of a lifetime. The Women’s National Basketball Association drafted Bullett to play for the Charlotte Sting as part of the league’s inaugural season. After years of thrilling European crowds, Bullett and other women athletes finally had a chance to play before U.S. fans “It was big. It was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is happening,’” she says. “It was so exciting in the beginning.” She played three seasons in Charlotte before being traded to the Washington Mystics for three more seasons until she retired from the WNBA in 2002. She continued to play overseas for a few more seasons but was ready to leave her nomadic life behind. “I didn’t want to travel. I didn’t want to live in a suitcase anymore. It just wasn’t for me,” she says.
It was time for a career change. Bullett earned a bachelor’s degree in education while attending the University of Maryland, but had yet to put that degree to use. “I always wanted to be a teacher. I knew once I retired, I wanted to be working with a lot of young kids,” she says. She spent six years teaching middle school in her hometown while also taking graduate courses in sports coaching. During her last year at the middle school, she took a leave of absence to serve as assistant coach for the Mystics. But her heart wasn’t in the job. “I missed my students,” she says.
Bullett would soon have a chance to combine her dual loves of teaching and basketball. She took a position with Hagerstown Community College, where she worked as both a professor and coach. She remained there until earlier this year, when West Virginia Wesleyan asked Bullett to come aboard as head coach of its women’s basketball team.
She says she’s excited for the opportunity to work with young athletes, and hopes to make an impact that reaches much farther than the sidelines. “You won’t be able to play forever, and you need something to fall back on,” she says. “People would say, ‘What’s the most memorable thing in your career?’ The gold medal was great. But the education was the most important.”
Becky Cain Ceperley
Treating Root Causes
Asked what she’s most proud of from her 1999-to-2015 tenure as president and CEO with The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, Becky Cain Ceperley doesn’t hesitate. “We created a granting program that is focused on creating local wealth,” she says. “We were the first foundation in the nation to do that.”
A few years ago, TGKVF leadership came to feel the organization’s work was only putting a finger in the dyke. “We were treating the symptoms,” Ceperley says, “and we needed to treat the root causes.” The foundation facilitated a community conversation to identify those causes. The basic idea was to go beyond, for example funding a food pantry to investing in key areas—education, health, and civic engagement—to eventually make the lines at the food pantry shorter. It’s too soon to gauge the success of this approach, but Ceperly says the foundation’s work in general has nudged organizations toward a more holistic view of their role in community-building. TGKVF was named a top-30 innovative community foundation in the nation in 2014 and tripled its assets under her leadership, to over $230 million.
Named one of the most powerful women in the nation when she was president of the League of Women Voters and a sought-after board member and lifelong political junkie, Ceperley now serves on Charleston City Council. “I ran hoping we could stimulate economic and community development,” she says. “The local business people are the ones that will move central Appalachia forward.” She’s also a consultant to the Appalachia Funders Network, facilitating contributions from national funders into central Appalachia.
Ceperley encourages everyone to be more involved. “We are at a crucial point in the state’s history,” she says. “We can determine our future if we just get engaged and do it.”
Alexis Chandler started at Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad the summer after high school, first as a waitress before becoming a car host. Then, on a whim, she applied to become a conductor. She passed the classes and inspection hours and, just days after turning 18, took her first group of passengers on an all-day excursion—becoming Durbin & Greenbrier’s first woman conductor, and its youngest. The WVU junior plans to earn a Ph.D. in history, but in the meantime she’s content to spend summers riding the rails. “I don’t know what’s not to love about getting on the back of a caboose and riding through the mountains.”
Growing an economy well is no accident—it takes expertise. The development bug took hold of Beckley native Holly Childs right after graduate school, and in 1999 she became the youngest certified professional in the International Economic Development Council. When she took on leadership in 2015 of the Morgantown Area Economic Partnership and Monongalia County Development Authority, she brought almost 20 years’ experience in both public and private development. “People who’ve only done public development don’t understand the very real struggles private developers have making projects work,” she says. The self-described “matchmaker” between companies and spaces has had a hand in much of the $1 billion of development going on around Morgantown. A FedEx project opening in August 2016 illustrates the attraction. “You spend a lot of time people don’t know about making a project happen. But when it’s all said and done there will be a real facility and hundreds of people working there and that feels really good.”
She Speaks for the Mussels
Before Janet Clayton, West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources didn’t have a mussel expert. “I was creek stomping from when I could first wander away from the house by myself,” says the water-loving Fairmont native. Clayton attended Marshall University, then Tennessee Technological University, then came home when WVDNR had an opening in 1987. Soon after, the offer to take a reluctant colleague’s place at a class on mussels came to define her career: She started DNR’s mussel program in the 1990s and heads it up today. “Mussels are critical to the environment,” Clayton says of the state’s 63 species, nine of them endangered. She laments mussel kills on Hackers and Dunkard creeks and enthuses about restoration projects in the Monongahela and Ohio rivers. “I’d be passionate about whatever critter I ended up working with,” she says. “But a single mussel can filter five gallons of water a day. Would you want to drink water from a stream where mussels or other aquatic life can’t live?”
How does a 30-year-old woman become the chief financial officer of a rising institution? Reading this magazine, of course. Christina Dalton was flipping through 2014’s “Wonder Women” issue when she came across West Virginia University Institute of Technology President Caroline Long. Dalton applied for a job at WVU Tech, and soon Long offered her a job as CFO of the university—at the ripe age of twenty-eight. She now oversees the financial health of the university and is in charge of helping reshape the identity of WVU Tech. “A lot of people in the area have an idea of the situation, as far as the financial climate that Tech has been in,” she says. “And my mentality is always to choose the route less taken.” WVU Tech is undergoing a complete campus overhaul—including a move from Montgomery to Beckley—and Dalton is one of the important players in making this transition as smooth as possible. “It was a challenge that attracted me to Tech,” she says. Look for Dalton and Tech to continue climbing in the next few years.
Choosing to be Positive
Ripley native and career educator Cindi Dunn retired with her husband to Bolivar in 2002. She had a side business making jewelry out of old costume jewelry and watch parts and, when a Harpers Ferry boutique came up for sale in 2004, the couple jumped at it. “We liked to showcase West Virginia items,” she says of the shop they named Vintage Lady—“carved coal from Ansted, food from Romney, West Virginia beer and wine, Blenko Glass, Appalachian Glass.” Fire wiped out Vintage Lady and seven other Harpers Ferry businesses in July 2015. Eager to act, Dunn designed T-shirts featuring a flame and the words “Harpers Ferry Strong” and raised more than $3,000 for fire relief. “Support came from everywhere.” Vintage Lady re-opened in another downtown location six weeks later. Dunn looks for good in the experience. “People have entered our lives who never would have otherwise,” she says. “I choose to be positive.”
Steward of our State Parks
Emily Fleming has spent her entire career with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. There’s a good reason for that. “We have such dedicated employees,” she says. “There’s always a twinkle in their eye when they talk about why they do what they do.” Fleming, who’s now deputy director of the agency, is no different. Starting fresh out of college as an assistant state park chief naturalist, she worked her way through many different positions before reaching her current position. She now works to ensure all state parks are well-staffed, well-kept, and operational for the public. Fleming can often be found in the parks in her spare time, too—she enjoys hiking, fishing, camping, biking, and watching birds. “The career’s been really good to me,” she says. “You have the ability to stay in touch with the reason your job is here. We have beautiful state parks and we want people to see them.”
Michelle Mickle Foster
Michelle Mickle Foster started her work life as a chemical engineer, recruited in 1993 by Union Carbide Corporation in South Charleston. But she soon came to realize she preferred social engineering. She took a position in 1998 as CEO of the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action. In 17 years there, Foster grew KISRA from one employee in a church basement to a team of 80 helping people across 25 counties.
In February 2016, Foster took on leadership of The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation. Foster came on at a time when TGKVF was just beginning to implement a strategic plan that incorporates proactive giving: grants aimed not just at addressing need, but at improving underlying social and economic conditions. “We still do responsive grantmaking in basic needs and in arts and culture,” she says. “But now the foundation also has specific desired outcomes in health, education, and civic engagement.”
As the new approach is implemented, Foster is excited about incorporating evaluation. “Impact measurement is very important to me—being able to make sure we’re investing in the right places to see change in our community,” she says. “In the fourth quarter, we’re going to focus on training. We have an institute planned with training sessions to increase the capacity of our grantees and people who would like to be grantees. We’re going to equip them with tools to better evaluate their initiatives.” When organizations can demonstrate the tangible difference their work makes, they become stronger competitors for funding. “We’re hoping to empower them to diversify their funding from various federal, state, and other sources,” Foster says.
We can look forward to stories of impact from TGKVF grantees. “There are so many great people doing great things in our state,” Foster says. “We want to be getting that positive story out.”
A Good One
Rochelle “Rocky” Goodwin is a lifelong West Virginia native and has spent her career in service to her home state. She started as an AmeriCorps volunteer, then became an attorney with Legal Aid of West Virginia. The West Virginia State Bar recognized her work with its Young Lawyer of the Year award. She eventually took over as LAWV’s statewide pro bono director before going to work as Senator Jay Rockefeller’s director of state operations. In March 2015, Goodwin joined the administration of West Virginia University as senior associate vice president for academic and public strategy. She works with the university’s newly formed John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics to help improve law, policy, and politics in West Virginia. Goodwin says she wants to hear fellow West Virginians’ big ideas on how to make our state better for future generations. “Our cultural roots and the warmth of our people are what make this state special,” she says.
Gramma and Ginga
The Adventures of Gramma and Ginga
Using their powers of curmudgeonly cuteness and colorful language, Clarksburg sisters Gramma and Ginga have become overnight YouTube celebrities. In May 2016, videos of their geriatric escapades led to a guest appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
When she graduated from college and couldn’t find a job in a newsroom, Caryn Gresham went to work on Union Carbide’s communications team. She then moved to Columbia Gas, where she worked her way up to director of communications. But it was her next gig, with the state Division of Tourism, where she found her stride. “I loved that job. It was fun because we were really promoting the state in many different ways,” she says. Her time with Tourism was marked by some unique ideas—like staging a rafting trip down the Hudson River in New York City to promote West Virginia’s whitewater industry. She remained at the agency for more than a decade before opening her own public relations agency.
Gresham eventually took another job with state government, however, working part-time for the Division of Culture and History to help with the re-launch of the West Virginia State Museum. Her work attracted the attention of Randall Reid-Smith, the state’s Commissioner of Culture and History. When the deputy commissioner position at the agency came available in 2010, Reid-Smith asked Gresham to take the job. It wasn’t a difficult decision
for her. “By then I knew I liked this place.”
Her current role is similar to what she did with the Division of Tourism. She’s promoting West Virginia but, instead of talking about rafting and hunting, she’s celebrating our art, music, food, and history. She helped bring VH1’s Save the Music program to the state, which provides instruments to middle schools around the state, and also works on the West Virginia State History Bowl, an annual competition for eighth graders. Gresham says she’s also proud of the smaller programs the division has introduced, like monthly cooking classes held at the state Culture Center, taught by local chefs and food producers. “In everything, in all the jobs I’ve done, the thing I like the best is connecting people,” she says. “I like being able to take all the people I know and connect them up. I feel like that’s what makes successful communications.”
When Shepherd University President Dr. Mary Hendrix was a girl, her physician grandfather invited her on house calls. “We’d leave a patient’s house and I’d say, ‘What caused that disease? And ‘How’d that happen?’” Even as a young girl, Hendrix had a fierce curiosity and a passion for finding answers.
She eventually enrolled at Shepherd—by then, the family was living just three miles away—where a professor encouraged her interest in science. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she headed to George Washington University, where she researched heart malformations and earned a Ph.D. in anatomy. Next she headed for Harvard Medical School, where her postdoctoral studies were dedicated to molecular and cellular development. She worked on several projects, including research into the development of the human cornea. But it was during a stint as a faculty member at the University of Arizona that she found the subject that would stick with her for the rest of her professional career: cancer. “I’ve devoted my life to addressing why and how can we suppress this,” Hendrix says. She established a research lab that followed her to the University of Iowa and Northwestern University.
Hendrix is now one of the nation’s premier cancer experts, holding seven patents and more than 250 published papers. But earlier this year, she put her career on a decidedly different track. When the president’s office came open at Shepherd University, Hendrix knew she was an unconventional candidate, but wanted the job all the same. “I felt, with everything that I learned along the way since graduating from Shepherd, I could bring that back with a fresh perspective.”
Hendrix is now working to build a team of top faculty to help lead the school. “If I could bring these opportunities back to our students and it would be associated with West Virginia, that would be the proudest day of my life,” Hendrix says.
She will continue her cancer research, too, thanks to an arrangement with West Virginia University. She hopes to incorporate Shepherd faculty and students in the work, too. “I’m thrilled, because it’s going to be all West Virginia.”
Passion for Community Service
Susan Hogan has dedicated her life to helping others. She served as executive director of the Wheeling Symphony from 1979 until 1987 when she and husband, Bill, joined the Peace Corps and spent five years in West Africa. When she returned home, she became executive director of the YWCA of Wheeling. In 1997, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation named Hogan a Benedum Fellow, allowing her to mentor YWCAs in Clarksburg and Huntington for two years. She then returned to the Wheeling Symphony, where she was executive director until 2009.
Hogan shows no signs of tempering her passion for community service—she’s chairwoman of the board of Friends of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and serves on the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and Wheeling’s Arts & Cultural Commission. In 2012, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie honored Hogan with the first Community Spirit Award for her efforts to revitalize the city’s downtown and, in 2015, she was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame.
Katherine Coleman Johnson
A Head for Numbers
Katherine Coleman Johnson was a high school freshman by the age of 10—unlikely for anyone today, and all the more unlikely for an African American girl in Greenbrier County in the 1920s, when schools for African Americans stopped at the eighth grade. Ambitious for his children, Johnson’s father worked in White Sulphur Springs but sent the rest of the family to Institute, where Johnson finished high school and attended West Virginia State College.
At West Virginia State, Professor William W. Schieffelin Claytor told Johnson she would make a great research mathematician. He made sure she took all of the math classes for that path and even created a course in analytic geometry of space just for her. She graduated summa cum laude at the age of 18 with degrees in mathematics and French.
After working for some time as a teacher and then staying home to raise her children, Johnson took the opportunity in 1953 to work for NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Her job title: computer. In a time before electronic computers, NACA developed the practice of employing women mathematicians to calculate the precise results of wind tunnel tests. By the 1950s, NACA had begun directing its women computers into early space research. Johnson’s extraordinary ability with numbers found a home at Langley Research Center’s Guidance and Navigation Department in Hampton, Virginia, where she came to stand out for her inquisitive nature.
Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard who, in 1961, became the first American in space. “Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start,” she said later. “I said, ‘Let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.” Even after electronic computers came into use, astronaut John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his 1962 flight on Friendship 7, on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She contributed to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program.
Johnson worked for NASA until 1986. “I went to work every day for 33 years happy,” she said. She’s been awarded several honorary doctorates and in November 2015 received the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack Obama.
In May 2016 NASA named a new building after her: the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in Langley, Virginia. In August 2016, Lego advanced consideration of a proposed “Women of NASA” set of five figures, including Johnson, for possible future production.
And on the big screen in 2017, look for the Fox 2000 Pictures film Hidden Figures, the story of the role Johnson and two African American “computers in skirts” colleagues played in providing NASA with critical data for the first successful space missions.
Adapted from NASA profiles
Susan Kemnitzer studied engineering and physiology at UCLA, but it was money that captured her attention. So she headed to work at the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., directing funding to research efforts. She left for a few years to work for the White House Office of Management and Budget and, later, the Department of the Interior. But Kemnitzer went back to the NSF to start environmental and engineering education programs, with a special focus on attracting more women and minorities into science and engineering. “The more different kinds of people we have thinking about problems, the more likely we are to come up with solutions.” She retired earlier this year but is staying busy in her adopted home of Shepherdstown, where she and husband David moved in 1995. Shepherd University’s new president, Dr. Mary Hendrix, has put Kemnitzer to work advising faculty on research proposals and working on a new center for innovation at the college.
Kingwood to Hollywood and Back Again
Jessica Lipscomb had her taste of the limelight. A talent agent discovered Lipscomb while she was attending University of North Carolina Wilmington, and the Kingwood native was soon a professional actress in California with a membership card to the Screen Actors Guild. But she missed her family and the hills of home and decided to return West Virginia to find a different kind of success. She’s now a busy real estate agent, president of the Preston County Chamber of Commerce, and vice president of both the Arts Council of Preston County and the Kingwood City Planning Commission. She and her husband are also working to reopen the Kingwood Pool and Park where Lipscomb spent many hot summer days as a child.
The year 2015 wasn’t great for Alisha Maddox. She was diagnosed with cancer—twice—and had both a unilateral mastectomy and a thyroidectomy. But she’s now cancer-free and making 2016 her best year yet. In January she became a owner of Charles Ryan Associates, her professional home for nearly 14 years, and she got married in July. She’s also turning 40. “This is a big year for me.” Maddox started her career as a reporter at The State Journal but wanted more. “I felt like I wanted to follow through with those stories and experiences and people.” She got a master’s degree in public relations, joining CRA after graduation. Her work has earned awards and honors, but Maddox says the best thing about her job is helping businesses grow. “I find that fulfilling. And challenging. And exciting.” Outside of work, Maddox co-founded the Leadership West Virginia Alumni Education Committee, which seeks to promote higher education and increase technology use in public schools.
A Helping Hand
Erica Mani made a successful career in state government, working in the administrations of governors Bob Wise and Joe Manchin as well as serving as executive director of the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board. But while she was Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s deputy chief of staff, Mani watched as the Red Cross responded to disasters all over the state. She wanted to help out, so she asked to join the organization’s board. The Red Cross thought she should do something bigger, however, and offered her a position as regional CEO. “After watching the Red Cross in action, how can you turn it down?” she says. When flooding struck southern West Virginia in June 2016, Mani and her team immediately mobilized, setting up 2,300 shelters and bringing in 200,000 meals and snacks for affected families. “Whatever I did professionally, I wanted to make sure I gave back,” she says.
When we caught up with West Virginia Department of Agriculture’s Cindy Martel after July’s Mid-Atlantic Maple Camp in Morgantown, she was excited. “People were like, ‘We loved it! We learned so much!’” she enthused. “Lots of interaction between experienced folks and new folks.” She was just as excited about the upcoming State Fair of West Virginia. A New England native with a 4-H background, Martel trained in economics and elementary education and later worked in West Virginia’s rafting industry for a couple decades. Meanwhile she got back into agriculture through community and economic development with the WVDA—kitchen incubators, value-added processed foods. Now as marketing specialist she supports growers in anything from landscaping plants and Christmas trees to truck gardening and, yes, maple syrup. “West Virginia has the greatest untapped maple resource of anybody in North America so we’re giving people the tools to maximize their efforts,” she says. “We’ve got some really passionate folks coming along—it certainly gives you energy.”
Every journalist dreams of writing a story that will make a difference in the world. For WVU graduate and Associated Press Indonesia bureau chief Margie Mason, that dream has now come true. In 2015, she and three of her Associated Press colleagues published “Seafood from Slaves,” a damning investigation of the modern seafood industry that enslaves and abuses thousands of people worldwide. The reports led to dozens of arrests, freed thousands of slaves in Southeast Asia, led to the creation of new legislation in Congress, and won the team the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service.
Confirming Einstein, Mentoring Scientists
Growing up outside Philadelphia, West Virginia University astrophysicist Maura McLaughlin wasn’t overly interested in the sky and stars. When she went off to Pennsylvania State University, she thought she might study music or become a veterinarian. But then she got the chance to work with Penn State faculty member Alex Wolszczan, who co-discovered the first planets outside our solar system. “That really, really convinced me that this was what I wanted to do.”
McLaughlin got deeply involved in researching pulsars. The dense, fast-rotating stars are ideal for discovering planets because the revolving planets disrupt the stars’ regular radio emissions in ways we can detect on Earth. After graduate studies at Cornell University and post-doctoral work in Australia—where she discovered an entirely new class of pulsars—she and her husband, astronomer Duncan Lorimer, decided to come to WVU for its close relationship with the Green Bank radio telescope (GBT).
In their decade at WVU, McLaughlin and Lorimer have built a Center for Gravitational Waves and Cosmology of 10 physics and astronomy, math, and computer science and electrical engineering faculty. They created a graduate program from scratch, and involve undergraduates in pulsar research. And, with the help of 2,000 high school students, their Pulsar Search Collaboratory has found seven new pulsars over the last eight years.
Meanwhile, McLaughlin pursues her own pulsar research with the NANOGrav collaboration, which has to do with those gravitational waves—ripples in space-time that Einstein hypothesized. NANOGrav is looking for low-frequency gravitational waves caused by the merging of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies and expects to find them within a decade. “It’ll give us a much fuller picture of our universe,” McLaughlin says. “When were the first galaxies formed? How did they grow? We’ll be able to probe these questions that can’t be addressed in any other way.”
Creating jobs across the state of West Virginia is what gets Tracy Miller out of bed every morning. Miller is president of the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, which employs more than 1,000 people in aviation-related jobs and contributes $52 million to West Virginia’s economy each year. Miller, who has been with MAAC for 10 years, works to grow that economic impact by promoting the North Central West Virginia Airport and its component members to government entities and industrial clients around the world. She also wants West Virginia’s young people to consider careers in the aerospace industry. MAAC’s Aerospace Education Program, sponsored by NASA, seeks to introduce students in 20 West Virginia counties to aerospace study, with hopes they’ll continue to pursue the field in college. “These companies provide jobs that really help sustain a family,” Miller says. “If we were lucky enough to have these jobs in all the communities, West Virginia would be in a greater place.”
Dedicated to Health
A cancer diagnosis last year didn’t stop Diane Morris from attending to her duties as the nurse practitioner at Summersville Pediatrics in Webster Springs, a practice she established just a few months earlier for a town in desperate need of child health care. Diane’s early-career experiences with children as the emergency room nurse manager at United Hospital Center inspired her to pursue pediatrics. “There are a lot more wellness visits and opportunities to teach kids as well as parents,” she says. Children are usually taken to the doctor for check-ups, rather than waiting until something is wrong, so she can help steer her patients toward healthy lifestyles—something she says is critical for child development. Meanwhile, Diane is on the home stretch of her road to recovery. Cancer is a formidable opponent but Diane continues to fight for her health and the health of her patients, no matter the odds.
A Fit to Print
At 86 years old, Helen Morris is a busy woman. This mother of seven children and grandmother of 17 is also the publisher of the The Calhoun Chronicle. The newspaper was first published in 1883. Morris’s late husband bought the newspaper in 1982 so ownership wouldn’t go out of the county and, when he died in 2002, Morris became the paper’s new publisher. Although she had never written much, her sons said she would “just have to learn.” So she did. Morris now loves the job. “I get to write about what I want and they don’t restrain me. I get to meet so many interesting people and be a part of the future of Calhoun County.” Morris and her team strive to emphasize the positive news in Calhoun County and don’t focus on negative things that typically make national headlines. “We’re doing our best to keep Calhoun County on the map.”
Alayna Moyer only began baking a little more than a year ago, when she got her hands on her grandmother’s recipes. But in that short time, the Ritchie County 14-year-old has built a booming business from her confections. Her mom posted some of her early creations on Facebook, which quickly led to custom orders and eventually to the opening of her own bakery in May of this year. The shop, located in a former Pennsboro ice cream shop, is called Alayna’s Sweet Treats. “I’m overjoyed with what’s going on with it,” she says. “It really helps, living in a community where people stick together and support each other.”
Ashley Hardesty Odell
Investing in the Future
Ashley Hardesty Odell was always going to be a lawyer. “I don’t remember a time in my life thinking about doing anything else. Except, when I was very small, I wanted to be a professional babysitter.” She thinks she might have made a good teacher, but life didn’t take her that direction. Odell has spent her career at Bowles Rice LLP in Morgantown, working her way to equity partner in 2011. She is now the firm’s practice group leader and head of its marketing team, and even gets to indulge her teacher instincts by mentoring young associates. Hardesty has a passion for helping young professionals, which is why she co-founded Generation Morgantown, a networking organization for young adults that is now helping to drive policy in the state. She also lends her talents to the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties. But her most important commitment, she says, is raising a future Wonder Woman: her two-year-old, Maggie.
Selling West Virginia
Heidi Prior was always outdoorsy. “In the summer there wasn’t a lot of TV watching in our house,” she says. She followed her passion for the outdoors in college at Arizona State University, where she majored in recreation management and tourism. That led to an internship at a whitewater rafting company in Colorado. “That completely shaped my future.” She became a whitewater guide, rafting rivers all over the world. She met her husband on the Gauley River in 2005 and the couple decided to settle down in Fayetteville in 2009. Now as marketing director for ACE Adventure Resort, Prior is committed to bringing a modern, data-driven, social-media-focused approach to marketing her favorite place in the world. “The Gauley River … there’s no place on earth that’s as magical. It’s 100 percent of the reason we wound up in West Virginia,” she says. “I literally have the dream job. I get to work for a product I love to my core.”
Creating Safe Spaces
West Virginia’s growing heroin epidemic has led to an increase in blood-borne disease diagnoses, as addicts reuse and share their dirty needles. So Huntington Fire Department Deputy Chief Jan Rader, a former registered nurse, helped found the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s Harm Reduction Program in fall 2014. The program serves as a syringe exchange but also provides a safe space for addicts and, hopefully, the first step toward sobriety. The program is one of the first of its kind in West Virginia. Rader hopes to see similar programs spring up statewide. “I dealt with so many overdoses that have skyrocketed over the years,” she says, “and I’m excited to help the community in that respect.” Her work has earned national attention, being featured in a Vice News Tonight episode called “Heroin Crisis.”
Lily’s Place Women
Fighting for the Drug Epidemic’s Smallest Victims
A few years ago, Rhonda Edmunds and Sara Murray noticed a disturbing trend. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Cabell-Huntington Hospital, where they worked as registered nurses, was filling up with babies affected by their mothers’ opioid abuse. These babies presented particular challenges. Opiates cause problems in the central nervous, autonomic, and gastrointestinal systems, which can lead to symptoms including excessive crying, tremors, seizures, excessive sneezing and yawning, vomiting, diarrhea, and severe gas. The infants also can’t be weaned from opiates too fast, or else the withdrawals might exacerbate their conditions.
The infants also required special handling. They were incredibly sensitive to noise, light, touch, and sound. “They were miserable,” Edmunds says. So Edmunds and Murray began searching for information on caring for drug-affected infants and came across a treatment center in Kent, Washington. They visited the facility and learned how doctors and nurses there treated their tiny patients. In 2014, Edmunds, Murray, and their friend Mary Brown opened Lily’s Place in Huntington.
The 12-bed infant recovery center monitors babies as they are weaned off the drugs in their systems. The facility is also designed so the staff can closely control the level of stimuli the patient receives. The nurseries are kept dark. There are no bright colors. Only more advanced patients can tolerate mobiles over their cribs. Staffers walk softly and speak in hushed voices. Needless to say, it’s a much better environment than a busy, loud hospital ICU.
Two years after opening its doors, Lily’s Place has treated more than 100 infants. Babies typically stay anywhere between three and six weeks, but the treatment center also holds follow-up clinics to continue monitoring patients through their childhoods. “It’s very rewarding, just to see them doing well,” Edmunds says. “And that’s the thing—most of them do well.”
Lily’s Place is beginning to attract national attention for its work. Hillary Clinton’s campaign invited Crowder to participate in a discussion about West Virginia’s drug epidemic. Reuters and NBC’s Today Show have also featured Lily’s Place.
Lily’s Place is now working on a handbook for opening similar facilities. “That way other places throughout the country, if they want to know what we did to open Lily’s Place, they’re able to get that plan,” Edmunds says. “We don’t want people to have to reinvent the wheel. We just want to help them however we can.”
Putting the New in ‘News’
During her 12 years as dean of West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media, Maryanne Reed has been instrumental in shaping the future of journalism in West Virginia. She got her start as a broadcast reporter and producer and eventually created several award-winning documentaries. Since coming to WVU, Reed has transformed the university’s journalism school into its own college focused on an “innovative and progressive” curriculum that prepares students for the digital world of communication. She combined advertising and public relations programs into a new “strategic communications” major and oversaw the creation of nine new minor programs. Enrollment in both undergraduate and graduate programs is at a record high. Reed says she is inspired by her students and loves their perspective on the world. “I truly feel like we are doing important work in developing students into young professionals.”
It’s no secret, people are leaving West Virginia. And, according to a 2014 study, 49 percent of those people are leaving for new jobs. Natalie Roper, the first executive director of Generation West Virginia, is fighting hard to reverse those statistics. Generation West Virginia is an organization dedicated to attracting, retaining, and advancing young talent in the Mountain State. Originally from Virginia, the 25-year-old has the advantage of seeing West Virginia’s potential through non-native eyes. “I’m committed to being a good listener and understanding the perspective of ‘born-and-raised’ West Virginians. I’m able to offer the perspective of a ‘West Virginian by choice.’” Roper says young talent retention is at the core of any state’s economic, social, and commercial development. She believes in young West Virginians’ ability to influence the future of the state. “If you have an idea and you’re willing to work at it, you can make it happen in West Virginia.”
Taking the Leap
Sometimes a leap of faith into the unknown breeds greatness and success. This was the case with Ginna Royce, who left a stable job with an advertising agency to start her own. A client of her previous employer saw something in Royce and made a not-so-subtle hint about her going solo. “One of them was a client who said ‘I don’t want to be a client of this agency anymore—I want you to have your own agency and then I’ll be your first client.’” Royce worked 18-hour days to create the BlaineTurner Advertising, Inc. She named the company after her father so people would think there was more to it than a “26-year-old girl running around trying to get a business started.” Three decades later, Royce is the proud face of her successful, award-winning agency, and a mainstay of the Morgantown business community.
Turning Bad Luck into Opportunity
Charleston native Marnie Rustemeyer is a living testament of that age-old adage about lemons and lemonade. She’s the CEO and founder of Billow Global, Inc., a company that specializes in supportive pillows and other products for women recovering from breast cancer-related surgeries. “I think I was lucky to have found one of my passions by taking something out of my control and turning it into something positive,” she says.
Rustemeyer conceived the concept for Billow—a combination of the words “breast” and “pillow”—after she was diagnosed with a breast cancer gene mutation and had a bilateral mastectomy in 2013. After four surgeries, Rustemeyer went online to find a breast pillow that could provide some comfort while she was healing, but quickly discovered there was nothing on the market to address her needs. So she designed her own.
The Billow pillow is specifically designed to hug and support the body in different ways. Immediately post-surgery, it can be used as a back pillow with the larger portion under the head, allowing the patient to lie comfortably without compromising drainage tubes, incisions, or bandaging. If a woman wants to rest on her stomach or get a massage, the Billow provides support to the underarms, neck, lower back, and breasts, and she can use it with or without an extra pillow when she is lying on her stomach. Rustemeyer also designed a silk bolster pillow to provide extra comfort under the head or elsewhere and a silk eye pillow for additional pampering.
In the short time since its inaugural sale in 2014, Billow Global has taken Rustemeyer around the world. Most recently, she participated in the West Virginia Exports program as one of the entrepreneurs selected to travel to Singapore in 2016 to explore possibilities of international distribution. The feedback about the Billow pillow, Rustemeyer says, has been incredible. “I get messages from patients thanking me for creating such a thoughtfully designed product. It makes me feel wonderful that I did something that can help them.”
Settling Down, For Good
“I’ve come to the conclusion I have the best job in West Virginia,” says Judy Sjostedt, executive director of the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation (PACF). “It’s a privilege to work with people who are so hopeful for the future of their communities.” Since joining the PACF in 1999, Sjostedt has worked with local businesses and individuals to build up the foundation’s grant-making abilities. She has used that funding to create innovative programs, like one that provides college students with three summers of paid, career-related internships. A West Virginia University law student, for instance, spent several weeks in the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office this summer. Students gain valuable work experience, but Sjostedt also hopes the experience will encourage them to settle down in the Parkersburg area after graduation. Originally from Massachusetts, Sjostedt says she stayed in West Virginia because of the connectedness and neighborliness she found here. “It inspires you to keep working for the common good.”
Keeping It in the Family
When another company took an interest in her family’s Glenville-based surveying and environmental services business in 2015, Sarah Smith decided it was time to step up: She became executive vice president of SLS Land & Energy Development. Though only in her mid-30s, Smith brought sharp expertise to the job. She’d watched her dad’s company grow to 60 employees. She’d earned a law degree from West Virginia University and an MBA from the University of Charleston. She’d been deputy legislative director under Governor Joe Manchin, a lobbyist for Alpha Natural Resources, and an associate vice president at WVU. At SLS, Smith is preparing for growth when the economy strengthens. “I love the idea of creating jobs in a community where I grew up and the majority of my family grew up and most of my family still lives,” she says. “I hope our work speaks for itself and we can grow in West Virginia and beyond.”
Inspiring Future Braniacs
When Dr. Nadja Spitzer moved to West Virginia in 2007, there was nothing in the state to celebrate Brain Awareness Week, an international effort to educate the public about the brain and the importance of brain research. So Spitzer—an assistant professor of biological sciences at Marshall University with a passion for neuroscience—founded the Brain Expo in 2009. The event invites third- through fifth-grade students to explore interactive activities that teach concepts about the brain and nervous system. The first expo saw about 60 kids. Now, 600 to 700 students show up each year. Because of that overwhelming success, Spitzer is now working to launch a neuroscience program called “Herd Science” that will travel to schools throughout the year. “Ask a scientist what got them interested in science and many will say, ‘I was in the 4th grade and a scientist came to my classroom,’” she says. “If I can do that for a few kids every year, I’d say that’s a job well done.”
Looking for a Better Way
McDowell County native Carolyn Stuart quit school after the ninth grade. “I just thought there was a better way,” she recounts. “I soon realized that was not the better way.” An excellent learner, she studied hard to earn her GED, then went on for degrees right up through a Ph.D. Stuart accepted appointment by the governor in 2012 to head up the new Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. “I’d worked as a mental health therapist, a juvenile probation officer, director of a nonprofit that served people with psychiatric disabilities, and an adjunct professor, so my experience addressed a range of education, employment, and justice issues.” At the HHOMA, she has established strong initiatives in minority health and business and looks forward to advances in employment and education. “Being the first executive director has afforded me the opportunity to structure a positive, collaborative approach for addressing issues that minority communities face.”
Skin in the Game
Krystal Tawney has spent the past few months commuting between Lewisburg and Charleston to see patients at her clinics, Pinnacle Dermatology Skin & Laser Center. The dermatology-certified nurse practitioner with an entrepreneurial bent has been traversing Interstate 64 to follow her dream to help people with skin problems. The seed was planted at the age of 1, when her grandmother died from melanoma. Later, Tawney worked through teenage cystic acne with a health care provider. “She got me on a regimen and I thought, ‘I want to do this.’” The Sofia native and West Virginia University graduate envisions the clinics, opened in December 2014 and April 2016, as full-care service centers where patients can be treated for medical issues and receive anti-aging procedures. In her spare time, Tawney also serves on the board of directors of Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg and volunteers for the Greenbrier Humane Society.
Champion of the Coalfields
Natalie Taylor was fresh out of college when she became executive director of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and the newly formed Williamson Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It was a learning experience for all of us, trying to think of what we could do with a limited budget.” Since that time the CVB has started new events and revamped its advertising materials, efforts to bring visitors to the area. “We’ve had a really tough time with the economy. (But) there are a lot of bright spots,” she says. “I want to see more bright spots in the future.”
Power to the People
Charleston native Stephanie Tyree was in law school at New York University when she came to a jarring realization. The world of policy, she says, “is set up to not be easy to understand. That seemed unfair to me.” So Tyree set out to become a translator. She worked for an environmental justice group in Harlem and then returned to West Virginia to work for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, serving as a go-between for citizens, environmentalists, the coal industry, and legislators. She moved to the West Virginia Community Development Hub in 2012, where she helped communities engage in the policymaking process. In June 2016, she became the organization’s new executive director. “I have a pretty specific knowledge of … how important it is to bring people together and not force them apart,” she says. “I’m passionate about the impact I’ve seen us have, and I know we could have more.”
For the People
Kathy Wagner fell into her life’s work by accident—“like a lot of people in the chamber world”—but stayed for the people. After more than 10 years at the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, Wagner moved over in 1999 to head up the Harrison County chamber. “Working with the different volunteers, board members, the community, business leaders,” she says, “the interaction with the people is what makes it great.” Under her leadership the Harrison County chamber experiences an average two percent growth each year and maintains a downtown Clarksburg presence, she says. Member services include a Business@breakfast series of monthly talks by prominent speakers in topics like education, wellness, and the county’s economy. Wagner looks forward to the chamber’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2019. Among other volunteer activities, she currently chairs the Hope, Inc. Task Force on Domestic Violence board of directors as it prepares to move into new quarters.
Filmmaker with a Scientist’s Heart
Victoria Weeks discovered her superpower while interning at NASA: She’s really good at taking complex ideas and explaining them in clear, common language. “I was surrounded by scientists that had this super-high-end expertise and, when they would need to explain it to somebody, they would fall short,” she says. As part of her internship, Weeks created videos for museums explaining complex scientific theories. “I liked being the middle person that helps explain these concepts.” She then started Verglas Media, a production company creating science films for Science On a Sphere, a spherical projection method invented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to better explain complex environmental systems like storms and climate change. Weeks also hosts the annual Plum Tuckered Film Festival at her studio in Davis, which features short documentaries, dramas, comedies, and animated films from filmmakers from across the globe.
Women of Whitesville
Turning Their Towns Around
When West Virginia Focus, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and the West Virginia Community Development Hub named Whitesville one of two “Turn This Town Around” communities in 2015, folks in the Boone County community wasted no time. And while plenty of men were involved, “it was mainly driven by a big group of awesome, awesome women,” says Hollie Smarr, who helped lead the initial push. The women have led campaigns to rehabilitate dilapidated storefronts, established a fall festival that attracted dozens of vendors and 3,000 people in its first year, organized a Little Free Library program, and created a seed program to promote local foods. They installed new planters, replaced broken streetlights, obtained new flags and Christmas lights for city streets, and hosted a Haunted House fundraiser that generated $17,000 for future projects, among many other initiatives. “It’s incredible what’s happened,” Smarr says. And the best part? They’re still at it.
Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman doesn’t mind going first. The daughter of a coal miner, she was the first person in her family to go to college, the first woman to win statewide office in West Virginia, the first woman to serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and the first woman to serve as chief justice of the state Supreme Court. And it all started with a letter to Governor Hulett Smith.
“My family had no political influence or connections, but I wrote a letter to the governor,” Workman says. “I thought I’d love to work at the Capitol.” The letter got her a job handling routine correspondence for the Governor’s Office, a position she kept while attending Morris Harvey College, now the University of Charleston. Her interest in government led her to the West Virginia University College of Law, one of only a few women enrolled at the time.
After graduation she went to work in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph, doing legal research and helping to draft legislation. But realizing she had to choose between a career in politics and a career in law, Workman chose the law. She returned to Charleston and ran a private practice until then-Governor Jay Rockefeller appointed her to the Kanawha Circuit Court in 1981. Then, in 1988, she successfully ran for the state Supreme Court of Appeals.
She resigned from the bench in 1999 to practice law again but came to miss the court, and won her old seat back in 2008. During her time as chief justice in 2011 and 2015, she fought to improve the justice system for juveniles, establishing a commission to monitor juvenile facilities and improve rehabilitation services for underage offenders.“You’ve got to keep your eye on these kids to make sure they’re not lost in the shuffle,” she says.