What does Women’s History Month mean to you, and what are your hopes for Fort Wayne’s future?

To honor Women’s History Month, we asked a handful of Fort Wayne area leaders what this month means to them. We also asked them to share the stories of other female leaders, both past and present, who inspire them, and their hopes for Fort Wayne’s future.

Here’s what they said.


Patti Hays Hays

“Each woman in my family selected professions that were predominantly female: Education, nursing, and nonprofit organizations. The thing was, we each took our ‘jobs’ and quickly made them into careers and moved into leadership positions. We each made our own history.” -Patti Hays

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?
 
I moved here in 1990, so 30 years. I didn't grow up here. I've lived many places: Ohio; Pittsburgh, PA; Charleston SC; Baton Rouge; and New Orleans; even Wheeling West Virginia. I am CEO of AWS Foundation.  
 
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
 
I grew up with two sisters and one brother. It’s interesting that all three of the women chose different career paths. One chose to be career-centered; she never had kids and was always the favorite aunt. The other stayed home with three children and only later in life pursued her master's and a successful leadership career in education. Then me, always trying to balance a full-time career and three children. 
 
The same mother for each of us told us we could do what we wanted. This was a woman who signed her checks "Mrs. RV Hays;" she was never employed outside of the home once she had children. She had a high school education and always allowed the man to drive. But she gave us a love for reading and introduced us to Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinum, Phil Donahue, and Angela Davis. We watched the news every night. Our father traveled for work many days, but was an active father when he was there.
 
That is Women's History Month. We each have a history and how we got to where we are. I am old enough to remember the initial efforts to pass the ERA (even did a term paper on it). Each woman in my family selected professions that were predominantly female: education, nursing and nonprofit organizations. The thing was, we each took our "jobs" and quickly made them into careers and moved into leadership positions. We each made our own history, guided by others, but also mentored our sons and daughter (or nieces and nephew).
 
Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.
 
I just finished a book about Elizebeth Smith Friedman The Woman who Smashed Codes. I had never even heard of this woman who grew up in Huntington, Ind., at the turn of the century (the 20th, not the 21st). The book tells a wonderful story of a woman who became a cryptologist and eventually helped expose Nazi spy rings and form what would become the NSA. But it was her husband that got all of the recognition until near the end of her life.  
 
That story resonated with me. How many women were educated to support a male in their careers? Too many women who shy away from the spotlight or minimize their contributions.
 
Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.
 
When I first started working at Lutheran Hospital, the few female physicians on staff used the nursing locker room when they had to change clothes or use the bathroom. The "doctor's lounge" only had male locker rooms. It was so great to have the opportunity to contribute to the redesign of that part of the hospital and ensure that the doctor's lounge included equal male and female locker rooms. Half of all medical school students are now female. Fort Wayne has females not just in pediatrics, but in almost every area of specialization. We are also seeing more men choose nursing as their careers.  
 
I say hats off to every woman who is challenging those gender stereotypes in Fort Wayne. Architects, Engineers, Programming, Construction, CFO, Military Service, Pilots… you name it. Every young woman can make a difference.    
 
“Broads” and “chicks” used to be acceptable terms, but not anymore. Correct the statement when we are referred to as "the girls.”
 
As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?
 
We lost some great female leaders to retirement this year. Dr. Wendy Robinson, Judge Boyer, Dr. McMahan, and Cheryl Taylor to name a few. Let's work to get more Corinna Ladds, Jerrilee Mosiers, and Sharon Tuckers out there.  
 
We need to set some goals to have half of all elected officials be female. Half of area CEO's, and university leaders. We can get closer to that 50 percent representation. Part of what is helping that transition is that more men are stepping up and embracing parenting roles. Paid maternity and paternity leave helps with that. Let's break down those barriers and attack the stereotypical roles. 
 
Quit giving girls the vision that being a princess (finding your prince) is the ultimate happiness. There is more to life than wearing a crown…, but if they must, remind them that it is a symbol of governing an empire! Quit seeing small girls and praising them for their looks. Acknowledge their problem-solving skills or adventurous spirit instead.
 
My goal can be to say "thank you" when someone says I throw like a girl.


Shanel Turner Turner

“It’s a chance to recognize the profound beauty in the plight of a woman. It’s quite poetic if you think about it. The hardness we are all destined to endure; like a right of passage into womanhoodjuxtaposed with the softness we are capable of providing to ourselves and everyone who comes into our lives.” -Shanel Turner

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I was born and raised in Fort Wayne. I was born at Parkview Hospital on April 7th, 1987. I’m an Aries. I don’t really believe in astrology, but I appreciate that the people who do believe everything I do is fiery and passionate. Not to say that I’m not a fiery and passionate person, but definitely not as much as one might think. 

I’ve lived in FW most of my life, besides intermittent adventures in the Tri-State area for two and a half years and one year in Atlanta. For better or for worse, I cherish those experiences. They taught me, molded me, and spat me out to be who you all may know as “Shanel” today. 

I currently work at the Fort Wayne Center for Nonviolence as the Marketing + Development Administrator. Our mission is to provide education, support and advocacy to end domestic and other forms of violence, while modeling equality and power-sharing. 

The Center is a hodgepodge of people from all walks of life who have come together to do something really special and radical in the FW community. We understand that a nonviolent approach to life can create cultural change in our communities for generations to come. We serve anyone who has been impacted by violence, whether they are a survivor or a perpetrator. Our goal is to unpack the beliefs that lead people to lead violent lifestyles and to transform their lives by giving them practical tools to combat moments of high-stress. 

We believe that, if you know better, you do better. Nonviolence is a choice, and we have been empowering people to make better choices for themselves and their families for 40 years! 

.... Besides being stressed out and overworked, yet utterly passionate about nonviolence, community care, and systemic change, my hobbies are dancing, writing, singing at krusty karaoke bars, taking pictures with old 35mm point & shoot’s, telling my friends and family how much they mean to me, being shy and acting like I’m not, watching brilliantly written and directed series on HBO and Netflix, finding any excuse to celebrate, aligning myself with progressive, yet pragmatic beliefs, and habitually rebelling against the status quo, meeting new faces and asking them to tell me their story, traveling, hiking trails that are significantly out of my league, trying new things, napping, and cuddling with Leelou, my hairless kitty (or anyone else’s pets). 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

WHM to me is a day to honor the women who were/are comfortable with being uncomfortable. Each year, I learn about a woman I’ve never heard of, who inspired change in her community. That, to me, is incredible. To know that there were women like me, who struggled through this life to make the next generation better than their own. 

It’s also a chance to recognize the profound beauty in the plight of a woman. It’s quite poetic if you think about it. The hardness we are all destined to endure; like a right of passage into womanhood—juxtaposed with the softness we are capable of providing to ourselves and everyone who comes into our lives.

Women are magical creatures, and WHM highlights that magic for the world to see. Even if some refuse to acknowledge it, they know the truth.
Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne area residents should know about, and tell us why.

Fort Wayne should know about Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, or “Kizzy” Corbett. Dr. Corbett is one of the lead scientific researchers responsible for the development of the Moderna SARS-CoV-2 (C19) vaccine. I think it's especially relevant to point out that Dr. Kizzy Corbett is an Afrikan American scientist. People should know about her because it’s easy for people to assume what scientists look like, but I want this city to know that a Black woman is saving the world. I hope that statement sinks in for people. A Black woman, saving the world! 

This news does not surprise or shock me. As a Black woman, I know that our power comes as easy as a mere hair flip, but for the U.S. and the rest of the world, they, too, should know that as the obstacles systemically put in place to keep us shackled break open, you’ll see much MUCH more of us! Get ready!

Name a woman making history in Northeast Indiana specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

Sarah Thompson is going to be the same answer for someone else. I’m sure of it! But the woman making history in FW has to go to her. I mean, Community Pantries?! No gatekeepers, no locks, no codes, just organic community care. I am in awe of her journey to create community by any means necessary. Everyone should know her name, her face, and her story. I, too, need to sit down with her to find out more about her, but until then, I will just sing her praises! She and her partner run Forward Indiana, if you don’t know, find out. 

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

My hope for the FW community is for us to make an authentic shift into actually becoming a thriving, safe, and clean community. I hope that the acts of community care that have been spread by individuals and small groups become natural to all who call this place home. I hope that this city becomes a safe-haven for children, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and men. I hope that Fort Wayne becomes smarter and healthier and more creative. We have what it takes to put ourselves on the map as a destination and not just another “fly-over” state. I just hope that those who grasp onto more conservative or regressive beliefs can also see how much better we can be when we work together. 


Hilaria Heredia Heredia

“My mother started a nonprofit gang prevention program in the 90s, known as M.A.Y.A. Unity Center. As a little girl, I would follow her around, watching her interact with influential leaders here in Fort Wayne. I've always been amazed at seeing the impact just one person could make for so many unheard people.” -Hilaria Heredia

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

My name is Hilaria Heredia, and I was born and raised in Fort Wayne. I'm a 28-year-old videographer/promoter, but most importantly, a mother. I'm currently building my skills as an entrepreneur while working on my craft as a video creator. I enjoy meeting new people and look forward to adventures, that include traveling or long bike rides with my family.

Growing up in Fort Wayne has been nothing less than inspirational! Fortunately, my mother, Maria Heredia, brought me into this world while pursuing her passion of helping the youth of Fort Wayne. My mother started a nonprofit gang prevention program in the 90s, known as M.A.Y.A. (Multicultural Advisory on Youth Alternatives) Unity Center.

As a little girl, I would follow her around, watching her interact with influential leaders here in Fort Wayne, such as the Mayor and Chairmen of community boards. I've always been amazed at seeing the impact just one person could make for so many unheard people.

I've strived to give voices a platform. Doing what I do as a videographer gives a modern touch on just that. I tell stories; I speak without speaking through the art of film. I worked on a piece at the downtown rally in 2020 called, "NOJUSTICENOPEACE," which highlighted our city coming together for a worldwide movement. WE ARE FORT WAYNE, and that piece captured just that.

My ultimate dream is to get into documentary work, building a team of creatives in Fort Wayne. This team would include every level of creatives, including teens. I believe involving the youth is an amazing way to help them build healthy professional relationships. I'm always preaching growth and mindset, so if you're willing to put in the work, you can do anything--no matter how old you are.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women's History Month is incredibly exciting to me. It’s a time to look back at the woman before you—your mother, your grandmother, your great aunts. It's a chance for me to look myself in the mirror and be proud of where I'm at as a woman. I respect the ones before me making the best of what they had. I respect those women before me who paved the way for us women today. We've come such a long way, but we have so much more work to do. We shouldn’t just celebrate the woman in our lives as "WOMEN,” but as "SISTERS.”

Name a woman who's made history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

Frida Kahlo, she was an artist and a revolutionary.

It has been said, "Her life was her art; you can’t know one without knowing the other.”

Frida was a Mexican artist who taught herself how to paint after a bus accident left her in bed for months. She had a special easel built so that she could paint while lying down. She used her art to express her disability, her identity as a woman, gender roles, her European and Indigenous heritage, and important social issues. She painted 140 paintings in her life; 55 were self-portraits.

But why did she have a unibrow? It wasn’t as noticeable in real life, but exaggerated in her paintings, she purposely chose to grow out her facial hair as a rejection of traditional beauty standards!

Frida was an inspirational woman who took every day as a new day to learn no matter her setbacks. Embracing her journey, she became an icon to so many women. I look up to her for her pride and courage.

Hopefully, with a bit of courage and support from our fellow females, we can all find our inner Frida.
 
Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

It's so hard to pick ONE influential woman in Fort Wayne because I've got a mental list of 100 women. There is one who stands out to me though!

Victoria McCuiston, an ACE-certified health and fitness professional who really empowers women to be the best versions of themselves. Tori Leigh Fitness is her business, which offers Spiritual, Mental, and Physical transformation. She truly leads by example. I see her day in and day out putting in the work! If anyone deserves support it's her. She's consistent and persistent.

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

I hope to see our city unite without fear of judgment. I want to see our city take criticism as key to elevating the city in a more positive way. I want to see our city be about the people and give them what they need—more mentors, more volunteers, more “hellos" to strangers!


Cheryl Gill Gill
 
Today, only 27 percent of the workers in STEM fields are women. I hope the women of tomorrow will see more equity in the workforce.” -Cheryl Gill
 
Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in the Fort Wayne area, where do you live, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I am a mechanical engineer. I moved to Warsaw more than 20 years ago to work in the Research & Development group at DePuy Synthes, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies. My first role was to design knee implants and associated instrumentation. I now perform computational analyses to understand the performance of our orthopaedic implants under simulated test conditions.
 
What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to reflect on the progress of women in all fields. There have been times in our nation’s history when women were discouraged from pursuing careers other than teaching, nursing, or administrative support, yet we can celebrate the pioneering women who became inventors, scientists, and engineers despite the obstacles before them. 
 
We honor women like Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who was featured in the movie Hidden Figures for the calculations she completed for NASA’s first manned spaceflight; Dr. Shirley Jackson, a physicist who was the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1973); and Mae Jemison, a NASA astronaut who was the first Black woman to travel into space.
 
Name a woman making history in Northeast Indiana specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

I would like to highlight Sarah Lockridge, whose teenage daughter battled with depression, anxiety, and drug addiction. With much support from her family, church, and mental health professionals, Sarah was able to navigate a time in motherhood for which she did not feel adequately prepared and help her daughter achieve 32 months of sustained recovery. Wanting to share her learnings from an extremely difficult and painful period in her life, Sarah continues to encourage many in the Warsaw area affected by addiction through mentoring, speaking engagements, and fundraising.
 
As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

I recognize that I am extremely fortunate to have a career that is interesting, rewarding, and of benefit to society. I am grateful for the high school teachers, college professors, friends, and family members who supported me in my technical studies. I am also pleased to work for a company that promotes gender and ethnic diversity at all levels. I hope that more school-aged girls in the Fort Wayne area with a strong aptitude for math and science will be encouraged to pursue a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Today, only 27 percent of the workers in STEM fields are women. I hope the women of tomorrow will see more equity in the workforce.


Maria Diaz Diaz

Women’s History Month means, to me, celebrating the achievements of women who have been pioneers throughout history, advocating for social justice and equality for women.” -Maria Diaz

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I am a Hispanic woman, wife, mother, and a community advocate. I am the oldest of three siblings, and I arrived in the United States in 1993, during a time when there were little to no resources available for the Hispanic Community. 

As a child, I was bullied and felt excluded due to the language and cultural barriers that existed. Those hardships led me to grow a passion to become an advocate for the Hispanic Community. I graduated from Ivy Tech Community College with an Associate's degree in Human Services. During my time at Ivy Tech, I was involved in various organized groups that promoted advocacy, equity, and inclusion within the community. 

My college experiences were transformational and launched me into my first advocacy role working for El Mexicano Newspaper. There, I learned more about local resources and organizations that exist in the community. 

When an opportunity was presented to me from HealthVisions Midwest to become a Community Health Worker (CHW), I seized it. This led me to an opportunity to work with my current employer at Parkview Health. I work for the Women’s and Children’s service line as a CHW, linking pregnant women to resources and providing education on maternal and child health topics. In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month means, to me, celebrating the achievements of women who have been pioneers throughout history, advocating for social justice and equality for women.

Name a woman who's made history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

My biggest inspiration in life has been Maria Heredia during my teenage years at South Side High school. I met Maria during my freshman year, where she was the founder of Club Unified. She always tried to give me advice, to provide resources that could benefit me, and to push me to succeed after high school. I was able to meet many important leaders in our community and connect with different mentors to continue further education with her help. She believed in me and always told me I could make a difference. 

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

The person that has had the most influence in my life has been Ana Giusti. Ana has been a mentor and role model to me because of the passion she has for the Latino community. Ana works at the Center for Nonviolence, advocating for the Latino community and survivors of domestic violence. I have gained so much knowledge on behalf of her achievements, programs, and friendship. 

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

As a female innovator, my hope for our community’s future is to make a powerful difference in advocacy.

 
Marilyn Moran-Townsend Moran-Townsend

I look forward to the day when every woman in our region naturally thinks of herself as fully capable and inspired to advance her voice on the issues she cares about in a thoughtful, civil and effective way.” -Marilyn Moran-Townsend

Give us a little background on you. How long have you've lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

This is Women's History Month, and it is the 40th anniversary of the company I co-founded in 1981! It is exciting every day to help our clients nationwide better tell their business stories. 

Besides CEO, my favorite title is GG… Gorgeous Grandma, Generous Grandma, Goofy Grandma, Greatest Grandma... to the six best grandchildren in the world, and they all happened to live here in Fort Wayne. I tell people that I work to feed my civic habit. At last count, I have served on 45 public boards and commissions locally and statewide. And I am married to a wonderful man, Bill, who supports all of my crazy activities and adventures.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?  

It is an important reminder to us all to refresh, remember, and commit to honor our foremothers, contemporaries, and the next generation of women who will deliver so much good to our world.

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.  

Until last year, the last time a study on the status of women was done was 1973. A major finding from that study resulted in the creation of the Fort Wayne Women's Bureau in 1975. Harriet Miller was appointed by the mayor to head the agency. The Fort Wayne Women's Bureau became a non-profit, independent organization in 1976. Harriet was responsible for the development of model programs to prepare women for non-traditional jobs, self-sufficiency, and economic equality. Harriet organized "Run, Jane, Run," one of the largest amateur multi-sport events for women in the nation. She founded the rape awareness program and the Bureau organized the Women's Business Owners Association with the Fort Wayne Chamber. Her "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" event in 2010 put the Bureau in the Guinness World Record Book as "High heeled Record Holders." Harriet Miller has touched virtually every aspect of women's lives for the better in Northeast Indiana.

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.  

Sacha Cheney is the owner of Legendary Barber Lounge on St. Joe Road. Sasha went from a dire situation living in a hotel when she found the opportunity to cut the hair and beards of a group of men on a long-term stay at the same property, working a highway construction project. She saved enough money to build out an amazing barbershop that is becoming a true destination. 

She just received a grant from the Fortitude Fund because she exemplifies Grit, Guts, Heart, and Faith. In Sasha, I see a future leader and successful entrepreneur.  

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future? 

As a Co-Founder of AVOW (Advancing Voices Of Women), I look forward to the day when every woman in our region naturally thinks of herself as fully capable and inspired to Advance her Voice on the issues she cares about in a thoughtful, civil and effective way. As Co-Founder of Fortitude Fund, I look forward to more women stepping up to create their own successful businesses in our region, with our support in the form of community, mentors, and money. 


Alison Gerardot Gerardot

“My hope is that our community continues to grow in its understanding of equity for all. That we allow ourselves to begin to take more risk and see that all people deserve fair opportunities and that starts with the most vulnerable and underserved in our community.” -Alison Gerardot

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?
 
I’ve lived in Fort Wayne essentially my entire life (with the exception of going away to college for a year). During the day, I am the Vice President of Philanthropic Services and Women’s Fund Coordinator at the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne. I help individuals with their personal philanthropy develop and implement strategies for growth, help to elevate philanthropy across the community, and assist in leading the Women’s Fund and its initiatives.
 
In my spare time, I really enjoy cooking (and eating!), walking my dog Theo, and hanging out with friends and family.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?
 
Women’s History Month, to me, is a time of year that we dedicate to elevating women’s issues. I find that many people are attracted to “themes,” so while we would hope that people would pay attention to women’s issues every month of the year, a theme really does help to elevate meaning for that particular topic–even if it’s only for a month.

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.
 
Wow–well–there are many incredible women in our community doing so many wonderful things.
 
A few women who I admire, who I think are leading in really compelling ways in our community are:
 
Susan Mendenhall: Susan is the President of Arts United. She has led through tumultuous times for the arts and is working hard to create a new path for the arts and artists in our community. She is an incredible facilitator and one of the smartest people I know.
 
Denita Washington: Denita’s theme is “lead with love.” This is something I admire in her, and I carry with me daily. Through her work as an elected official as the Adams Township Trustee as well as the founder of Girlz Rock, she is constantly teaching me and others how to lead with kindness and to be inclusive of all.
 
Paula Hughes-Schuh: As the CEO of the YWCA, Paula is directly working for the rights of women on a daily basis. During 2020, I also saw her step out of her lane to help the most vulnerable in our community by helping to create and launch a temporary COVID-19 shelter for homeless individuals who may have contracted the virus. She did this on top of her regular duties as CEO and helped to run this operation for several months. Paula is an incredible sounding board and support for many women (and others) across the community.

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?
 
My hope is that our community continues to grow in its understanding of equity for all. That we allow ourselves to begin to take more risk and see that all people deserve fair opportunities, and that starts with the most vulnerable and underserved in our community. Because by doing so, we lift up everyone in the end.

 
Britney Breidenstein Breidenstein

"We, as women, can bring awareness to the existing inequalities, disparities, growth, celebration, and triumph that women have endured and overcome until the present day." -Britney Breidenstein
 
Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I have lived in Fort Wayne for more than 20 years, so most of my life, originally from Michigan, #goblue. I have grown to love Fort Wayne and certainly appreciate it more as a mother and professional. Our community truly wants to be better not just "look better.” I believe in the talent and potential of our youth and leaders. For work, I have dual roles as the Principal Growth Strategist for upLInked LLC, which I'm proud to say is women-owned and led, where we believe in helping businesses and people maximize their brand on LinkedIn, and use it effectively. My full-time role consists of being the Regional Director for a program called OhioKAN, a new statewide governor's initiative that believes in reconstructing the systems of Child Welfare and Supports for Families. I enjoy serving on boards in our community and being a sports mom to my boys. Our life is full of basketball, baseball, and track now, so no hobbies at the moment. 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women's History Means that, for one month in a year, we, as women, can bring awareness to the existing inequalities, disparities, growth, celebration, and triumph that women have endured and overcome until the present day. I am reminded of the suffrage movement and the systems that told us that a woman's place was in the home and not at the polls, in the military, the c-suite space, etc. It means that, as a minority group, we are "seen" and "heard." Women's History Month represents the cornerstone of the intersectionality of so many women like myself who should be celebrated always. 

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

A woman making history who more Fort Wayne residents should know about is someone I had the honor to meet named Katara McCarty. Katara McCarty is an author, life coach, entrepreneur, DEI speaker, and expert who lives in Indianapolis and has just made history in 2020 for being the founder of the first emotional wellbeing app designed specifically for BIWOC. The app is called Exhale and really launched at such a pivotal time during COVID-19, addressing the trauma stemming from the pandemic, social injustices, and disparities in communities of color. This was an app that was created in response to the killing of Ahmad Arbery and launched after the shooting of Jacob Blake. 

I have used this app since its beta stage, and it is transformative, relevant, and speaks to the unique needs and perspectives of self-care for women of color. This app has the ability to touch all generations of women and hold them accountable for taking care of themselves first, which is often met with guilt for some reason. 

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

A woman making history who more Fort Wayne residents should know about is a Fort Wayne native herself and a former classmate of mine by the name of Ashley C. Ford. She is an American author, educator, podcaster, who is a Black woman. She currently lives in New York, but has really embraced and embodied Womanhood, Feminism, Advocacy, and Power.  

Ashley was one of the first people in my generation that I was able to witness firsthand use social media to drive social justice via Twitter. She was responsible for the viral philanthropy moment on Twitter that led to overdue lunch fees being paid for hundreds of students. She has since grown in her profession to be a prolific and influential writer, interviewing a host of Celebrities, Co-hosting Podcasts such as LoveCraft Country Radio, appearing on Brene Brown's "Unlocking Us,” contributing to an awesome anthology Hungry hearts, and now authoring her own book "Somebody's Daughter.” 

Ashley has been such an advocate for all women, women of color, the LGBTQAI+ community and more. She has achieved great achievements, yet she still comes home to Fort Wayne to attend the Johnny Appleseed Festival. Her appreciation and pride of Fort Wayne is inspiring.  

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

I've never considered myself an innovator, but I love the word. My hope for our community's future is to stay committed to creating true spaces of belonging, while reckoning and recognizing the economic and social disparities and the generational remnants of such in our communities. I envision our community being one that people embrace, are proud to say they are part of despite their demographicone in which there are opportunities for women to not only be VP's, but President's and Founders of organizations beyond the non-profit sector. 


Lena Yarian Yarian
 
It is exciting to see young female entrepreneurs working toward their dreams.” -Lena Yarian

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in the Fort Wayne area, where do you live, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I have lived in this area all of my life. I went to college locally and began my career at Junior Achievement a mere 35 years ago. I strongly believe that we can make such a difference in the lives of young people by providing them the tools and knowledge so they can own their economic success. I really enjoy working out. I purchased my recent house so I would be close to the YMCA and the trails. I was introduced to golf about seven years ago. It is great fun and keeps a person humble.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

So many women have come before us, overcoming great challenges and breaking barriers. It is great to be able to celebrate these women and learn from their success.

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne area residents should know about, and tell us why.

I believe Helene Foellinger is a name people know because of the amazing work of the Foellinger Foundation. But although they know the name, do they know the story? Helene Foellinger graduated from South Side High School in 1928 and in 1932 graduated from the University of Illinois, where she earned her A.B.degree in mathematics. In the fall of 1932, she joined her father’s newspaper, The Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, as a reporter, feature writer, and the newspaper’s first women’s editor.

Helene Foellinger was named a director of the News Publishing Company in 1935, as her father continued grooming her to assume, upon his retirement, his responsibilities as president of the News Publishing Company and publisher of The News-Sentinel.

However, Foellinger inherited those responsibilities in October of 1936, upon the untimely death of her father. She was 25 when she assumed her father’s positions at the newspaper, and in her first five years as the nation’s youngest publisher of a big daily newspaper, she guided The News-Sentinel circulation from a total of 56,700 to 67,800.
 
In 1950, Foellinger created a new chapter in the history of The News-Sentinel, which traces its roots back to Fort Wayne’s first newspaper, The Sentinel, founded in 1833. She was one of the first publishers in the country to form a joint publishing firm (Fort Wayne Newspapers, Inc.) which printed The News-Sentinel and The Journal-Gazette, separately owned and separately edited newspapers published from the location on West Main Street.

Name a woman making history in Northeast Indiana specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

At Junior Achievement, we help to showcase the work of young entrepreneurs. The stories are always delightful. Two sisters, Mikael and Myeka Brown, are the Founders of M.A.K.’s Chocolates. They started their chocolate company just two years ago after encouragement from family and friends. The sisters make chocolate-covered pretzels, apples, strawberries, turtles, and many types of truffles. Someday they hope to own their own brick-and-mortar store. It is exciting to see young female entrepreneurs working toward their dreams.
 
As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

We continue to promote and encourage young people to think about the possibilities of being an entrepreneur. It is how we will grow the region. 


Rachel Tobin-Smith Tobin-Smith

The first people who helped me acclimate to Fort Wayne were the women and the Women’s Bureau. They helped me get my first job here. Women’s History Month, to me, is a time to remember where we were and where we are nowhow far we have come and how far we have to go.” -Rachel Tobin-Smith

Give us a little background on you. How long have you've lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I moved to Fort Wayne in 1982. I was born and raised in eastern Ohio, and I moved here from Virginia. I went to Ohio State University, and I am an avid Buckeye football and basketball fan. I spent 31 years as the Executive Director of SCAN, Inc., growing it from a small nonprofit of two part-time staff, serving 50 families a year in Allen County, to a large multi-service nonprofit with a budget of $17.5 million and 230 staff operating in 38 counties of Indiana. It serves more than 5,000 families a year with major contracts to help families struggling with child abuse issues and divorce. I have since been doing career and executive coaching and nonprofit consulting. (But I have paired that back during the pandemic.) I also do all the back room management for AVOW (Advancing Voices Of Women).

What does Women's History Month mean to you?
 
In 1976, when I got married, I told my new husband that just because I stood in front of a priest did not mean I was a different person from the day before, and that I was still Rachel Tobin. We compromised on the decision to hyphenate my name. I had a small statue on my windowsill given to me that year that said “Equal opportunity kitchen.” The first people who helped me acclimate to Fort Wayne were the women and the Women’s Bureau. They helped me get my first job here. Women’s History Month, to me, is a time to remember where we were and where we are now—how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

One woman from history more people in Fort Wayne should know about is the late-Joan Uebelhoer. She was heavily involved in the 70’s Women’s Movement in Fort Wayne, and she was an unbashful feminist. She taught me much. How to turn a phrase so people would listen. How to shock with passionate words that painted a picture people could see. And perhaps most importantly, how to pick my battles because we cannot win them all—or fight them all if we want to last. 
 
Joan Co-Founded the Fort Wayne Feminists. She was also a teacher at Forest Park, St. Henry's School, and Bishop Luers High School, and she started the Women's Studies department at what is now Purdue Fort Wayne. She was the Allen County Auditor from 1975 to 1979 and served as director of the Allen County Welfare Department, Planned Parenthood, and the Fort Wayne P.T.C. She helped found Daybreak Children's Center, the Center for Nonviolence, and the Fort Wayne Hedge School. 

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.
 
We often forget those current trailblazers still among us. Nancy Eschoff Boyer was the first female judge for the Allen County Superior Court in Indiana who just retired. She was an excellent jurist—firm, but often quiet. You did not mess with Judge Eschoff Boyer. She was very well respected, and all alone among men for many years as the first and only female judge.
 
It’s a tough job to be the first or only woman in any career. Karen Richards, our first female prosecutor in Allen County, also does an amazing job in her role. She’s a tough woman who has excelled in meeting challenges despite the naysayers.

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?
 
We lost some ground in the past year with many of our female leaders retiring and their replacements, though competent, are men at Fort Wayne Community Schools, the Allen County Health Department, the Foellinger Foundation, and the University of St. Francis, and the Allen County Superior Court.
 
I want 50 percent of all leadership positions, officer holder positions, boards, and commissions to be women.


Sandra Kay Payton Payton

Women’s History Month, to me, is a time where a spotlight is directed TO the many and various efforts of women in our society—a spotlight ON the many women who have selflessly given of themselves to improve the lives of their families, communities, and the world-at-large!” -Sandra Kay Payton

Give us a little background on you. How long have you've lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I was born and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I’m the wife of PastorTeacher Anthony Payton whom I’ve had the honor and pleasure of serving alongside as servant leaders at Come As You Are Community Church since June of 1995. I am the mother of Zachary Ian and Lydia Kay and the Nonni of four beautiful grandchildren: Joanna, Jamila, Greyson, and Gem! 

I serve as Church Administrator, which means I pretty much do everything and anything that might need to be done…. My hobbies in these later years consist of chilling with family and traveling, especially to places where there’s bright sunshine, beautiful beaches, and balmy water! 

What does Women's History Month mean to you?  

Women’s History Month, to me, is a time where a spotlight is directed TO the many and various efforts of women in our society—a spotlight ON the many women who have selflessly given of themselves to improve the lives of their families, communities, and the world-at-large! 

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

Tina Walters is the woman who has had an eternal impact on my life due to her work with her husband, Rick Walters, at Fort Wayne Smallest Winners. I was blessed to be a part of this 15-week bootcamp in 2015 where I attempted and accomplished more than I could have ever believed in a weight loss journey! At the age of 60, I ran and completed my first marathon, and outside of my own determination, the other large part was due to the love, support, leadership and encouragement of Tina. She lives out the motto I’ve adopted for my life: “Help like you wanna be helped.”

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

Raven Morton is a young woman who is emerging on the scene in the Mental Health area and should be on everyone’s radar. She currently works for Parkview Health, doing community outreach in Southeast Fort Wayne, but she does not limit her skills and support to just that entity. Raven is passionate about people being whole emotionally and able to make strides towards their goals.

I’d like to also bring attention to Monique Moss who is the Program Director for the Gospel Radio Station Fort Wayne Rhythm & Praise. Her intentionality is contagious! She’s only been in our city about three years, but is bringing a lot of attention to our city through her efforts at FWRP!

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future? 

My hope for Fort Wayne is that we come to a place where EVERYONE is VALUED for what they bring to the table! That the struggle to just have the “basics” in life is conquered and disposed of… that every sector of our city is looked at as a part of our whole… that there are NO afterthoughts, but plenty of “what ifs.”


Faith Van Gilder Van Gilder

Women's History Month is an opportune time to reflect on all the contributions--paid or unpaid--that women have made to society. Women are the world's caregivers, but that role is seldom respected or compensated.” -Faith Van Gilder

Give us a little background on you. How long have you've lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I was born and raised in Defiance, Ohio, and earned my journalism degree at Bowling Green State University, where I met my husband, David. I worked briefly in Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., before serving in the Peace Corps in Botswana with David. We moved to Fort Wayne in 1988, and I resumed my journalism career at the Journal Gazette and News-Sentinel, with a stint at the Fort Wayne Community Foundation. In 2012, I landed at the Asher Agency in a marketing/account executive role, and since August 2020 I've been Chief Officer, Marketing & Development at Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana. 
 
In my free time, I am an avid reader and average a book a week. I also like to garden, hike, and plan my next adventure! I have visited all 50 states, 45 countries, and about 40 of the 63 national parks. I serve on the boards of Wellspring, AVOW (Advancing Voices of Women), and the National Peace Corps Association. David and I have two adult daughters: Audrey, an attorney at Fletcher Van Gilder in Fort Wayne, and Annika, director of operations at Arc Health in Seattle.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women's History Month is an opportune time to reflect on all the contributions--paid or unpaid--that women have made to society. Women are the world's caregivers, but that role is seldom respected or compensated. Women are often too preoccupied by the concerns of the day to study the trailblazers who have come before us and paved the way. We all need to take time to learn more about where we've been so we know how to move forward with courage and purpose.

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

Our new Vice President, Kamala Harris, was fairly unknown to most Americans before she ran for president in 2020. President Joe Biden has already said he will serve only one term, which means she could be the heir apparent to the presidency in 2024. I look forward to seeing this strong and confident woman of color rise to the highest level of government in America!

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

Michelle Chambers is making a name for herself in municipal government and is one of two African-American women serving on the City Council. I believe this is only the first step for her, and that she is destined for a higher calling.

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

I hope that people in Fort Wayne continue to travel to other cities/states, talk to people in other communities, and read what is happening in the rest of the world. That is the only way we will continue to reach for progressive ideals, strive toward a diverse and equitable society, and create a community where all can feel welcome and contribute to the best of their ability.


Hallie Brinkerhuff Brinkerhuff

In the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, many youth, especially young women, are not even aware of the career opportunities available to them. Women’s History Month brings this to light by highlighting these achievements and giving real examples and role models to which young women can aspire.” -Hallie Brinkerhuff

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in the Fort Wayne area, where do you live, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

We came to Northern Indiana in 2001. I had just finished my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I’m originally from the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, and my husband Billy and I wanted to get back to the Midwest and closer to our family. Warsaw provided that opportunity along with a promising career in medical device research and development with Zimmer. 

I have spent most of my career leading teams in the development of materials and technologies for use in orthopedic implants. Twenty years later, I am the Director of Innovation at Zimmer Biomet. I have a passion for fostering creativity and creating an environment where innovation flourishes toward the mission of restoring mobility for patients around the world. We still live in Warsaw with our children: Tori, who is attending IUPUI, and Jonah, a senior at Warsaw Community High School, and our 3 dogs.

My leadership style has always been one of servant leadership, and my hobbies reflect that. Outside of work, I am active in supporting STEM education in the Warsaw community, serving as an advisor and volunteer at Warsaw Community Schools and the Engineering Advisory Council at Grace College. I am also a member of the Vision Partners team working with KEDCO to launch a Warsaw Innovation Hub for our community.  

Together with my husband, we serve as the Youth Group Leaders at Redeemer Lutheran Church where we teach, encourage, and mentor our congregation’s young adults. As a family, we love animals, especially training dogs. In recent years, we’ve had at least one puppy in the house, as we are puppy raisers for Leader Dog for the Blind, providing foundational training to future service dogs.  
   
What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Mentors and role models have always played an important role in my personal development. Women’s History Month is an opportunity to highlight, not only the amazing achievements of courageous and creative women, but to show the next generation of women all that is possible for their own lives. In the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, many youth, especially young women, are not even aware of the career opportunities available to them. Women’s History Month brings this to light by highlighting these achievements and giving real examples and role models to which young women can aspire.

Name a woman making history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne area residents should know about, and tell us why.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth, known as “America’s first lady of Engineering,” was an American psychologist and industrial engineer at the turn of the 20th century. She was an expert in efficiency and organizational psychology, and with her husband, provided management consulting for major corporations. She pioneered the use of time-and-motion studies to identify efficiencies, and applied her principles not only to business, but also to her household of 12 children, which is the basis for the book “Cheaper by the Dozen.” She accomplished many “firsts,” including the first female engineering professor at Purdue University in 1935, and first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1965. I am especially drawn to Lillian, as she was one of the first to combine psychology and engineering to improve management practices. This is the heart of STEM, combining the technical concepts of science and math with the “softer” sciences of collaboration, creativity, and problem-solving.

Name a woman making history in Northeast Indiana specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

In my work as Community STEM Advisor for the Warsaw Community Schools, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with so many passionate educators who are doing amazing things in the area of STEM. One that stands out is Abbi Richcreek, Engineering/Technology teacher at Edgewood Middle School. An avid proponent of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and experiential learning, Abbi is a fantastic role model to all her students. A learner herself, she has extended her knowledge through internships and training at Zimmer Biomet and at Ford Motor Company, applying the knowledge to create project-based learning lessons for her students relating to real-world situations. Richcreek sponsors robotics clubs and manufacturing clubs, where she organizes a Vex state qualifying event and an exhibition robotics tournament.  

Every year, Richcreek partners with community donors and engineering mentors on GoBabyGo, a program that offers increased mobility to children with physical limitations. Under Abbi’s guidance, middle school students work with community engineer mentors to customize a 12-v vehicle for a specific child’s limitations. She also hosts the “Forget Princess, I want to be an Engineer” programs in the Warsaw schools

In 2020, Richcreek was awarded the Patin’s Starfish Award for promoting inclusion and the 2020 PLTW Outstanding Gateway Teacher. From 2018 to 2020, she served ITEEA as the Region II Director. She is currently serving on ITEEA's Emerging Leader committee, Grace College Engineering Advisory Council, and was recently selected for the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association 21st Century Leadership Academy of 2021-22. 

It is exciting to see Abbi inspire the next generation of engineers and leaders! 

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

My hope for the Fort Wayne and Northern Indiana community is that the progress we have made in STEM education continues to expand across all areas, motivating and inspiring the next generation of innovators to be courageous, creative problem solvers no matter their career choice. Especially for the young girls, my hope is that we, as a community, expose them to ALL the possibilities and support them in their dreams. We are facing some challenging scientific, social, and economic issues in our community and our world today; creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration are essential to resolve these complex problems. I believe the solutions are within reach and within the young minds of our community, and I continue to be encouraged by their potential!


Denita Washington Washington

“Most women history makers equip, empower, and encourage not only women, but men and the community to believe they can achieve.” -Denita Washington

Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what you do for work/hobbies?

My name is Denita Washington. I am the mother of two adult sons, Anthony and Quintin, and the NaNa of two amazing granddaughters, Harmony and Naomi. I have worked in education in the FWCS and EACS districts in Fort Wayne for more than 20 years. In 2018, I went into government and was elected as the Adams Township Trustee. I am the first female and the first African American to hold that position.

My other passion is my non-for-profit organization, Girlz Rock Inc. Girlz Rock Inc. is a girls’ mentoring program that empowers girls from the inside out to support growth and change in their communities. I started Girlz Rock more than 10 years ago after seeing a need for girl empowerment while working in the schools. The focus had been on boys and lots of money, time, and attention was being paid to the empowerment of boys, but there were hardly any programs for girls. My hobbies include cooking, enjoying family, friends, and the community. I also love to travel, read, and bike ride.

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month means celebrating women’s accomplishments and the contributions that they have made to make life better for others. Most women history makers equip, empower, and encourage not only women, but men and the community to believe they can achieve. Not everyone has a title, but real women history makers have a heart of leading with love to make life greater for others.

Name a woman who has made history (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about and tell us why.

Dr. Sharon Banks is someone who made historical moves here in Fort Wayne. Dr. Banks worked several years in the Fort Wayne Community School system as a teacher, principal, and then an area administrator. Her goal was to become the superintendent; however, she was discouraged to do so. She then became deputy to the mayor and shortly after that, she left Fort Wayne and became a superintendent in her new city. After holding that position for just a few years, Dr. Banks was named superintendent of the year!  

She always looked to help the underserved and taught them how to have their voices heard. No matter her position or title, she stood tall for right among all, even when she was the “only one.” Dr. Banks never allowed being the “only one” to sway her mission of serving those God placed in her path to lead. History makers usually are people who overcome adversity and obstacles, and Dr. Sharon Banks was certainly a woman who did that.

Name a woman making history in Fort Wayne specifically who we should be paying attention to and why.

Malila Smiley is a 16-year-old entrepreneur and up-and-coming history maker. She has been in business since 2016. Her business started with an idea with her dad, Ephraim Scott Smiley, who guided her heart and encouraged her to activate her dream. He empowered her to believe she did not have to wait until she was an adult to go for it. Malila trusted her dad’s voice, and the rest is history. She is now living her dream through DREAMIE Pastries. Malila is a teacher at an area YMCA, and she has been featured by Junior Achievement. There are adults age 40 and older who do not know what they want to be or the necessary steps to get them there. Malila Smiley has figured it out and is doing very well.

As a female innovator in the Fort Wayne area, what is your hope for our community's future?

My hope for the Fort Wayne Community is to create spaces for people to have access to the things they need to be greater. My heart will smile when leaders learn to lead with love for all that they are Godly positioned to serve. Michelle Obama said it best, “Success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives!”
 

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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