Our sixth annual unveiling of the most wondrous women in West Virginia sheds light on the movers and shakers, the makers, the can-doers and glass ceiling–breakers. These Appalachian women bring the mountain spirit to everything they do—from founding businesses and advancing the arts to upholding the law and lending a helping hand—and they do so without a golden lasso of truth or bulletproof bracelets. No matter where they are from or what they do, together they are building a better state.
written by SAVANNAH CARR, JENNY CORONA, KAYSE ELLIS, ZACK HAROLD, PAM KASEY, AND JESS WALKER
Rebekah (Perry) Franks – Creatures, Conservation, and Children
In the fifth grade, Rebekah Franks received National Geographic Kids magazine at school. She read about endangered frogs and started her own frog rescue group. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in zoo and conservation science, she became the director of wildlife education and assistant manager at Heritage Farms in Huntington.
When it comes to getting more involved with wildlife conservation, Franks challenges everyone to “spend one more hour outside each week than you normally would. You’re not going to take effort or care about the environment unless you indulge your curiosity in the great outdoors.”
The Appalachian backyard is incredibly diverse, she notes, which is why she is working to develop natural history programming and a nature center at Heritage Farms that focuses on native wildlife and its habitats.
Franks wants everyone to recognize that the planet is not only ours—we share it with many other species. She says if we don’t strive to keep West Virginia wild, we’re going to lose what we have. – JC
Pam Farris – Leading the Pack
Pam Farris first got a taste of what Leadership West Virginia was all about as a member of the group’s 1998 class. Now she is able to support others as Leadership West Virginia’s executive director. She says she gets to be a mentor and a cheerleader to others who go through the leadership program she once did.
Farris’s favorite part of her job? “Seeing the results within the people and the growth and passion that ensue,” she says without hesitation. “What we are doing is of great value to the program participants and to our state.”
Farris is a member of the board of directors of the Girl Scouts of Black Diamond Council, the Charleston Vandalia Rotary Club, and the West Virginia Society of Association Executives. She also serves on the steering committee for Women for Economic Leadership Development and most recently joined the advisory council for Communities in Schools. – SC
Maria Belcher – Lady Behind the Scenes
Advocating for the arts and her community has always been in Maria Belcher’s blood. Now, as the executive director of FestivALL in Charleston, she gets to be a part of the team that turns the city that she loves into “A Work of Art.”
Belcher has always enjoyed volunteering for local events, but she doesn’t want to just be involved on the day an event happens—she wants to be behind the scenes during its creation. “FestivALL is all about collaboration, which is what I love about this organization,” she says. Each year, FestivALL partners with more than 90 arts and community organizations to create vibrant events and experiences for residents and visitors alike. “We are creating events that people love and enjoy going to. Through the arts, we are strengthening the connection to our community and each other.” – SC
Beth “Buffy” Hammers – Making Marshall Marvelous
Beth “Buffy” Hammers entered Marshall University’s graduate program for business administration in 1991 uncertain how she would apply her degree. A graduate assistant position for Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine proved pivotal in charting her career path. Hammers has since donned many hats at Marshall Health, the medical school’s faculty practice plan, from director of Compliance and Risk Management to chief operating officer to her current position as chief executive officer. She enjoys seeing Marshall’s progress over the years. “There’s always something new on your plate, and you can see your labor coming to fruition within the community,” she says.
Hammers’ workdays mean collaborating with everyone from patients and physicians to attorneys and architects. The mother of two keeps busy on local community boards including as vice president of the Cabell Huntington Hospital Board of Directors; president of the Provider Response Organization for Addiction Care & Treatment (PROACT); and with the Marshall University Research Corporation and TEAM for WV Children. Hammers encourages others to push past their comfort zones, practicing what she preaches. This year, she turned 50 and set a personal goal of doing 50 new things―like finding different ways to give back to her community and sending her first child off to college. – JW
Cathy Burns – The Jewel City’s Champion
Cathy Burns has devoted her life to Huntington. She was an intern for then–city manager Steve Williams before becoming an ombudsman, helping the public get their questions answered by city government. She then became director of the city’s development department, managing all development funds flowing into the city. Then Huntington became a federal Empowerment Zone, and Burns left to become director of that initiative. She spent some time as president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce—growing its membership and stabilizing its finances—but the city came calling again.
Williams, now mayor, needed a city manager. Burns couldn’t say no. Among her many accomplishments during her three years at the job, she was able to get city departments to work more cooperatively and instituted policies to ensure that emergency first responders, run ragged by the city’s opioid epidemic, take care of their own mental and physical health.
In June, Burns accepted her latest post, as executive director of the Huntington Municipal Development Authority. She hopes to spur development downtown and see more housing construction in the city. “I don’t care where you live, your community is only as good as you invest in it,” she says. – ZH
Karen Evans – Securing the U.S. Energy Supply
Confirmed in 2018 as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response, Karen S. Evans brings extraordinary experience to the job of protecting the nation’s energy sector against all threats and hazards.
Having served as administrator of the Office of E-Government and Information Technology at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and as director of Information Resources Management at the U.S. Department of Justice, she helped strengthen the U.S. cybersecurity workforce as director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge.
A FedScoop Cybersecurity Leader of the Year, Constellation Research Business Transformation 150 Leader, and March of Dimes Heroine, Evans credits her West Virginia roots for sharpening the leadership qualities she needed to succeed. With bachelor’s and MBA degrees from West Virginia University, she is a WVU School of Business and Economics Distinguished Alumna, has two grown children, and lives in Martinsburg with her husband. – PK
Peggy McKowen – Storytelling Through Design
Sometimes telling a story is the best way to stimulate a discussion. Peggy McKowen uses costume design to tell stories and has been able to share her work all across the U.S. as well as in London and Rome and as far away as China.
McKowen’s family was always involved in the arts. Her mother was an art teacher and in theater, so performing arts became an important part of McKowen’s life early on. Although she has worked in many facets of theater, she gravitated toward costume design—she liked the hands-on role and the contact it gave her with the whole production.
Today McKowen is associate producing director at the world-renowned Contemporary American Theater Festival. Based in Shepherdstown, the CATF produces six new plays in rotating repertory every summer and uses those plays to generate thoughtful discussions among theatergoers.
McKowen has taught in college settings including West Virginia University and Shepherd University, but these days she mostly mentors interns. She says she learns from them in the sense that, “it’s almost seeing what I do in the theater and the world from the current perspective of someone who is doing it for the first time. Through new eyes.” – JC
Anne Perella – From Serving to Sewing
Anne Perella can fly four types of helicopters, but her perseverance is also sky-high. At 17 years old, she enlisted in the Army. She spent the next four years on active duty, then attended WVU for a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies and a master’s degree in elementary education. Shortly after graduation she headed out again, this time for flight school at Fort Rucker with the West Virginia Army National Guard.
“You’re a true citizen-soldier,” Perella says of the National Guard. “We have a lot of opportunities to help folks around the state.” For her, these opportunities included serving with a medical evacuation unit, with a security and support company, and as commander of the 772nd Aviation Troop Command.
Now Perella is taking the same passion she has for her military family to her quilting family. She recently transformed her hobby into a small business and opened A&J Sewing Studio in Morgantown, where she services customers’ sewing machines and sells Bernina-brand machines. – JW
Arria Hines – Small Business Cheerleader
Growing up, Arria Hines didn’t always know she would become an entrepreneur, adviser, and mentor. She now proudly plays those roles and many more. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Allegheny Science & Technology, an award-winning, woman-owned technology and energy firm headquartered in Bridgeport, with offices in the D.C. Metro area; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Charlotte, North Carolina; Idaho Falls, Idaho; and Denver, Colorado.
“This is my third business. It started from my passion of wanting to help small businesses grow,” Hines says. She guides and mentors young women and start-up companies with tips on how to succeed. “There is no secret sauce,” she says. “Build a support system and a network—because no one can do it alone. Ultimately, success has no place for perfection. There is no way to check all the boxes and move forward. People get frozen on making sure they do everything right. Focus on what you can do right now to keep things moving forward and most importantly—believe in yourself!”
Hines actively encourages young girls and women to pursue STEM careers. She is involved with the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative (WVPEC) K-12 Speakers Bureau, which connects business professionals with educators. She has also presented at a series of camps at Pierpont Community & Technical College (PC&TC), creating awareness and excitement in STEM. – SC
Womansong Chorale of West Virginia – Singing in Sisterhood
Women of all ages and backgrounds are represented in this all-female choir based out of Charleston. WomanSong Chorale of West Virginia was created in 1997 by Joann Cordell to diversify the choral scene in West Virginia with strictly all-woman participation.
WomanSong hires female guest artists and performs music by female composers as often as possible to educate its audiences to the artistic abilities of women past and present. Although it can be challenging to perform without male voices, the choir is known for its range of musical genres, from classical to jazz, as well as its history of travel out of state and overseas. It’s been invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City next spring.
Another important theme for this all-female choir is community. Whether it’s collaborating with its youth mentorship choir, Lyra, collecting non-perishable foods for local food banks, or singing for folks at Hubbard Hospice House, womanSong is more than just the music. For people who are newer to the area or those who want to connect with the community through music, says President Karen Klein, womanSong is just that. “For those people, that’s what womanSong is about—finding a new community. It’s a true sisterhood.” – KE
Ginger Danz – Arts Champion
Ginger Danz, an artist based in Fayetteville, considers her art “bright and in the abstract impressionist style,” and is inspired by the natural beauty she finds outside her own back door. “I like to make pieces that are sophisticated in structure and color, but exhibit joy.” Her art can be found in several galleries across the state.
When Danz is not painting and creating, she can be found teaching art classes and volunteering for arts organizations, her daughter’s school, and other local causes. “I consider myself a cheerleader for others in my community. People here roll up their sleeves and work together to make things happen,” says Danz, who is also very passionate about helping other women find their own voices.
The Indiana native moved to West Virginia in 1998, and she’s never looked back. “I really appreciate the warm welcome as a non-native,” she says. “There is such a tight-knit community here. I feel so supported. I feel like this is home.” – SC
Nesha Sanghavi – Collegiate Wear for the Win
Growing up, Nesha Sanghavi, a Charleston native, always knew she wanted to become a business owner. “I was always doing entrepreneurial things as a child.” Now she owns two businesses.
Her business UG Apparel was born when Sanghavi saw an opening in the market for fashionable and size-inclusive collegiate wear for alumni women. More recently she has gained chicka-d, a collegiate apparel company for the fashionable college student.
Service is important to Sanghavi, who established the Nesha A. Sanghavi Endowed Scholarship and the Nesha A. Sanghavi Endowed Student Enrichment Fund in 2017. “I am fortunate to be able to establish scholarships sooner than I expected,” she says.
Sanghavi is proud to be from West Virginia. “The way I look and talk is sometimes surprising—I like to show that West Virginia is culturally diverse and that I am an Indian woman from West Virginia,” she says. “I am able to change the stigma and stereotypes that surround West Virginia.” – SC
Tara Curtis – Communicating for Her Community
As director of communications and marketing at WVU Extension Service, Tara Curtis does anything from writing press releases to shooting videos at a STEM summer camp. The job provides a perfect marriage between the meaningfulness she found working as director of communications and marketing for the WVU School of Nursing and the outreach she enjoyed during her 11-year position with the WVU Alumni Association.
Curtis may tell the stories of do-gooders in her home state, but she’s also one herself. She serves on the advisory board of the Rosenbaum Family House and as a member of Women United, which focuses on children’s educational programming. The WVU alumna bleeds blue and gold, too. She catches Mountaineer games and mentors students at the Reed College of Media. She encourages them to try new adventures, even if it means failure. “One of the things I always tell students is, don’t wake up tomorrow saying, ‘What if?’” – JW
Liz Stout – Nature’s Advocate
Elkins native Liz Stout finds ways to showcase West Virginia in all aspects of her life. As a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, photographer, business owner, ski patroller, and horseback rider, Stout loves to spotlight all the best the state has to offer. “I’m an avid outdoors person, and I find it very hard to sit still.”
Stout grew up outdoors and found a love and desire to want to conserve nature from a young age. In the work she does with the Fish and Wildlife Service, she gets to work with endangered species such as bats and freshwater mussels. She has been able to work closely with several federal and state administrations to minimize negative impacts on endangered species and their habitats.
She also uses her background in biology to advance her photography skills. Her photographs often highlight both the beauty of nature and the beauty of the people she is photographing. “I like being a representative of our wonderful state by getting my photography out.” – SC
Tina Turner – Preston County Proud
Tina Turner grew up in Preston County, but it wasn’t until she married her husband and moved back that she realized how much her home has to offer: local eateries, scenic trails, and supportive communities. Now, she encourages others to be as “Preston County Proud” as she is. “I don’t want anyone to say they’re embarrassed to be from Preston County,” she says. “I want people to come back and look at it with a fresh perspective.”
Turner has done her part to improve her community. She served as chief financial officer at Preston County Senior Citizens, Inc. and president of the Preston County Chamber of Commerce. Her advocacy also helped pass the county’s school levy. Although she now works in construction accounting in Morgantown, the commute has only deepened her appreciation of Preston. “I love working in Morgantown, but when I cross that county line, it’s like coming home.” – JW
Julie Tawney Warden – Power to the People
At a time when women’s reproductive rights are highly politicized, Julie Tawney Warden works as chief operating officer for WV Free, a nonprofit organization that advocates for social justice, to increase access to birth control, and to educate West Virginians about their rights to health care. After her first conversation with CEO Margaret Chapman Pomponio, Warden says, something clicked. “To know I’ve found something I’m passionate about and an organization that has the same values as I do—I’m fortunate to have found that at 33 years,” she says.
Taking an intersectional approach to fight for LGBTQ, environmental, and social justice, WV Free works to enable the people to make decisions about their health and well-being—not the Legislature. “No matter if it’s fighting for rights in the Legislature or educating people, it’s empowering for me to be able to work and support women and people in West Virginia,” says this feisty WVU graduate. – KE
Debra Hart – An Agent of Change
When deciding what area of interest she would pursue in college, Debra Hart says, “I wanted to identify a career that would allow me to help people to help themselves.” Hart earned a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s in human resources. She served as the director of Equal Employment Opportunity for the State of West Virginia and as director of Affirmative Action for Allegheny Energy in Fairmont, where she worked to eliminate discrimination and harassment. Hart also hosted the first “Women of Color” event in Marion County, and she’s continued her work to eliminate gender-based violence and discrimination.
Now, as director of Equity Programs/Title IX coordinator at Marshall University, Hart address equity concerns and oversees the Title IX program for faculty, staff, and students. Her extracurricular life doesn’t waver from her devotion to aiding others. She serves on various boards, including First Family Foundation which assists local youth in their personal growth and development. – JW
Presha Neidermeyer – Give Her Credit
A graduation convocation challenged Presha Neidermeyer to consider how an accounting professor could help transform communities impacted by the global HIV pandemic. Afterward, she began traveling to African countries―both with and without students―to assist with entrepreneurial training and various financial reporting aspects for not-for-profit entities. This past spring, she gave seminars in Malawi to micro-entrepreneurs, many of whom had received prior training and were running successful small businesses that positively impact their communities.
Neidermeyer is celebrating 12 years as an accounting professor at WVU, where her father also had taught for 42 years. The WVU Council for Women’s Concerns honored her with the 2018 Mary Catherine Buswell Award for her work with international development and as director of the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She also received the 2019 John Chambers College of Business & Economics Beta Gamma Sigma Outstanding Professor Award. “My path was blazed by a lot of dedicated, talented women and men,” she says. “I’m honored to continue forward on the path that has been set.” – JW
Olivia Litman – Marketing for Progress
Some say Wheeling’s heyday is in the past but, despite its declining population, many are working to make Wheeling a better place. Olivia Litman, marketing director for Visit Wheeling, WV, has worked at this for the past 11 years.
Litman was born in Charleston and has migrated around the state a few times, but has mostly lived in Wheeling. After earning a degree in speech and language pathology from Marshall University, she found that she had a talent for sales, but soon burned out selling what she calls “intangible products.” She moved back to Wheeling and says working for the Wheeling CVB and for the very tangible goals of Executive Director Frank O’Brien has changed her life.
There is always room for change, in Litman’s mind, and she especially likes to see support for small steps forward rather than waiting for something “bigger.” She sees that the passionate people around her who are working for Wheeling’s future are bringing about a new energy. She loves the work that’s being done to preserve Wheeling’s history and the common goal of the many partnerships she works with to focus on the future for the next generation. – JC
Jennifer “Tootie” Jones – Swift Success
Jennifer “Tootie” Jones doesn’t just advocate for the positive impact agriculture and food production can have in West Virginia―she acts. In the ’90s, she revitalized her grandparents’ property in Greenbrier County into Swift Level Farm. She brought back the cattle that once roamed the hills and raised them to produce grass-finished beef. In 2017, she opened Swift Level Fine Meats to retail local meats and prepared foods.
In the years since, the shop has expanded its team, added fresh seafood, and increased its offerings of cured and smoked meats. Every day Jones looks forward to conversations with customers, some of whom travel from two hours away. But nothing beats the mornings when she wakes up on the farm, close to the homes where her children and grandchildren live. Her recipe for success? “When times get challenging, remember the strongest thing we can do in the world is to give and be generous.” – JW
Cheri Satterfield – Bred to be in Business
Cheri Satterfield was born to be in business. Through working at her parents’ convenience stores, Satterfield learned at an early age how to understand a customer’s wants and how to be a good business person—skills she’s carried with her to build her own business empire.
As the combined video rental and tanning craze of the ’80s began to fade out, Satterfield transitioned her shop into an overall health and beauty salon known as Tuscan Sun Spa in 2004. “It was something we needed,” Satterfield says. “It was bumps and bruises, but it ended up being a success.”
Satterfield stays busy operating three Tuscan Sun Spa locations plus Highgate Carriage House and LearningLand Daycare & Preschool in Fairmont as well as several Glo-hair salons in Charleston. Yet she still makes it a priority to nurture her 200-plus employees, knowing that her success depends on her hard-working staff. “Not only do I work hard but my teams work hard, and that’s the key.” – KE
Andrea Pendleton – Hard Work Conquers Hard Times
Andrea Pendleton, known to her neighbors as Andy, grew up learning to respect and accommodate people when she worked in her family’s discount stores across Rainelle. Through volunteer work, Pendleton saw a need for more leadership in town and decided to jump into politics—something she had never intended. After being unanimously selected by her community, Mayor Pendleton became the town’s first female mayor in 2011.
Becoming mayor of a quaint town came with serious challenges. Rainelle was hit hard by the derecho in 2012 and severe flooding in 2016. But Pendleton’s hard-working charisma embodied Rainelle’s motto: “A town built to carry on.” She was out of the office for days cleaning up debris and helping her constituents get back to life as they knew it. “Just do it, and get it done. That’s all I’ve ever known,” says Pendleton.
After working with Appalachia Service Project for new housing and cleaning up the town’s signage, Mayor Pendleton decided it’s time for her to get back to her family. “My pride is my people,” she says. “It will be a real bittersweet moment, I won’t lie.” In July of this year, Governor Jim Justice named her a Distinguished West Virginian. – KE
Jennifer Williams – Getting Girls on the Farm
Growing up on her family’s farm in Hardy County, Jennifer Ours Williams was given an appreciation for West Virginia and the earth beyond her borders. Years later, Williams shows her love and dedication for the land and farming through the work she does as an associate dean for programs and partnerships of the West Virginia University Extension Service.
Williams is passionate about engaging women in farming. She works with programs such as Women in Agriculture and Annie’s Project to promote networking and learning within the agriculture industry.
She is also passionate about connecting with younger generations to instill a love of agriculture through the WVU Extension Service and 4H. “As West Virginia’s agricultural community ages, we hope to empower future generations, including women, to start successful farming operations. I am honored to work with people around the state who share that same vision.” – SC
Penny Harman – Cabins, Sweet Cabins
Penny Harman was born March 31, 1945, in a cabin in Cabins, West Virginia, at her parents’ North Fork Cabins vacation rental business at the northern edge of the Monongahela National Forest. Today that former family home is known as Cabin 1 and—due largely Harman’s efforts—the small rental company her parents created is now a beloved destination of 21 one- to four-bedroom luxury log cabins.
As a single mother and business owner, Harman often faced adversity, from banks that wouldn’t loan her money to the devastating flood of 1985. The raging waters took everything from her property but two lone cabins. The family business was rebuilt by determination and hard work, and it also helped rebuild the community she loves. Born in Penny was that great West Virginia spirit of fighting adversity.
God and family are what Harman has relied on in difficult times. “In life there are a lot of hard things, but trust in the Lord and you will get through,” she says. – SC
Stacy Raffo – Revitalizing with a Restaurant
The Richwood of the past few decades is not the Richwood of today, says Stacy Raffo. Following years of decline in the timber industry and the disastrous flood of 2016, this small Nicholas County town is on the verge of a major turnaround.
Raffo has seen new businesses popping up so, when she and her husband found a historic storefront available, they felt the time was right to start a restaurant.
Whistle Punk Grill & Taphouse marries Raffo’s creativity and passion for Richwood and her husband’s coastal Maryland culinary experience. The name is a tribute to the lumberjack pioneers of their town—a whistle punk is a lumberjack who operates a whistle to signal mealtime. Raffo uses “we” to describe every effort, crediting the staff with much of the restaurant’s success. “Our staff goes out of their way to exceed the expectations of every guest,” she says. “The kitchen puts a lot of love into their cooking and wants to please everybody.”
Raffo has always been involved with 4-H and has run for office in Nicholas County. She wants to “be the spark and highlight the other businesses that are already there.” – JC
Andrienne Biesemeyer – Teaching the Physicians
When apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994, Lewisburg-based pediatric counselor Adrienne Biesemeyer began visiting there. She had made a few trips by the time the country’s AIDS epidemic became worldwide news—yet she realized that her activities as an American traveling in the country had insulated her from that news. She determined to learn more about Africa and help others gain awareness too, so she and her daughter Rachel founded the Anir Foundation in 1997.
The group organizes trips to give travelers greater cultural understanding of African nations while participating in Habitat for Humanity builds and other volunteer work programs that give direct, personal experience to the communities they visit. When Biesemeyer left private practice to join the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in 2008, it wasn’t long before she became director of International Studies—tasked with giving medical students the same kinds of experiences she provides through the Anir Foundation. She created a program giving third- and fourth-year students one-month rotations in Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Tanzania, as well as another program allowing rising second-year students to work with doctors in the country.
Biesemeyer retired from the osteopathic school in May 2019 and is now focused on Anir full time, providing similar programs to other colleges, medical schools, private organizations, and individuals. – ZH
Tricia Kingery – Her Passion is to Help You
Losing someone you love changes you. When Tricia Kingery lost her father to cancer, she was reminded how precious life is and put a promise she made to him into action. With a master’s in counseling from Marshall University and an MBA from WVU, Kingery had the tools and experience to open Kingery & Company: a consulting firm that helps nonprofit organizations. Kingery & Company offers a multitude of services that give nonprofits the resources they need to succeed—like strategic planning, training, and marketing.
For the company’s 10-year anniversary, Kingery created an innovative space dubbed The Retreat. Here, nonprofits and corporations rent rooms for meetings, trainings, and events and enjoy the scenic views from NorthGate Business Park in Charleston. “I remember the first time walking into the building,” says Kingery. “This is, in two words, West Virginia.”
Kingery says starting her own company has given her control of her destiny, something her father always wanted for her. Following his mantra, “Treat Everybody Like Somebody,” Kingery has become the successful businesswoman her father knew she would be. The mother to a beautiful daughter, Alexandra, and wife to her supportive husband, Alex, Kingery has built a gem of community support in the mountains of West Virginia. – KE
Sue Sergi – A Firm Foundation
As commissioner of the West Virginia Bureau for Children and Families, Sue Sergi knew social work. What she didn’t know was where to contribute her skills next. That’s when she heard about plans to create the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences of West Virginia. Sergi helped organize and fundraise for construction before stepping in as president. “I’ve been in a lot of roles at the Clay Center, from staff to president,” she says, “but the most fun role is as a grandmother, taking my granddaughter there and seeing it through her eyes.”
Sergi may be retired, but she hasn’t stopped working. She heads the Charles and Mary Fayne Glotfelty Foundation, which serves the arts, education, and human services. She also serves on the board of directors for Philanthropy West Virginia and FestivALL Charleston and is a member of the Kanawha Valley Council of Philanthropy. With all of her nonprofit ventures, family and friends remain the personal foundation that keeps her going strong. – JW
Kayla McKinney – Fighting Bullies One Song at a Time
A friend of Kayla McKinney’s committed suicide when they were 12 years old after being bullied by peers in their class. Struggling to cope with his death, she wrote a poem that she turned into a song with the help of her mother. When it gained a lot of attention on the internet, “it was the first time I realized how music could make an impact,” she says.
Now, at 19, McKinney has traveled the East Coast promoting messages of kindness and empowerment through song with The One Voice Project. An organization founded by McKinney’s mother to give kids and teens opportunities in music performance and training, The One Voice Project takes its Anti-Bullying Tour to schools and concert halls to share personal stories that let today’s youth know they’re not alone.
McKinney hopes that The One Voice Project can spread across the nation to help as many kids as possible deal with bullying. “I don’t have advice for every situation, but what I hear from one in West Virginia may help someone I meet in North Carolina,” she says. – KE
Shelia Combs – A Monumental Effort
After the Upper Big Branch disaster of 2010, Sheila Combs couldn’t shake a thought from her head. “I kept having the thought: Somebody needs to do something,” she says. That somebody, Combs decided, was her.
She formed the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group to build a memorial to the 29 fallen miners. The nonprofit became official in February 2011. By the fall of that year, the group had raised all the necessary funds, thanks to donations Combs was able to solicit from the mining industry. “Most of the time when you take on a project like that, it’s years.”
Even after the memorial was completed in 2012, the nonprofit stayed together to work on other projects around Whitesville, like rehabilitating old buildings, sprucing up a riverside park, and hosting a trout rodeo in the Big Coal River. – ZH
Rosemary Ketchum – Speaking for the Vulnerable
Rosemary Ketchum was homeschooled from fourth grade onward—a way for her mother to protect her young transgender daughter. So Ketchum found community through volunteering at local nonprofits. A first-generation college student, Ketchum enrolled at Wheeling University—then Wheeling Jesuit University—with the help of a kindly neighbor, and she majored in clinical psychology.
Now, at age 25, Ketchum serves on the boards of YWCA Wheeling and the West Virginia Women’s Commission and is the president of ACLU-WV’s Northern Panhandle Chapter. She is also associate director at the Wheeling chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, where she serves as associate director of the group’s Marian House Drop In Center that provides case management, support groups, and other mental health services.
Ketchum was named to Wheeling’s Human Rights Commission in January 2019, a position that allows her to both advocate for civil rights and help those whose rights have been infringed upon. In July of this year, she announced she’s running for Wheeling City Council. “Advocacy is important, but we need folks on both sides. We need folks who understand the obstacles making the rules.” – ZH
Kim Pauley – More than Just Dance
As a quiet girl growing up in Charleston, Kim Pauley didn’t know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to join a ballet class to comfort a neighborhood friend. But she enjoyed the challenge of being active yet graceful and soon realized there was nothing she would rather do.
Pauley went on to study at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She danced many leading roles for the Charleston Ballet and had several original works created for her by Miguel Campaneria and Andre Van Damme, Charleston Ballet’s founder.
As Van Damme’s protégé, Pauley assumed the role of director and choreographer after his sudden passing in 1989. After 30 years of leadership, Pauley’s influence on her students reaches far beyond the studio. “I really like the purpose of what we do, because it’s much bigger than just dance,” she says. “I’m really focused on trying to develop strong women.” – KE
Martha Carter – Quality Care Everywhere
Martha Carter’s career started as a certified nurse-midwife. She then founded FamilyCare Health Center, a federally qualified health center, which has not only provided care to West Virginians since 1989 but has also been a significant employer in its community. With 250 employees and 14 locations in and near Charleston, FamilyCare provides accessible and affordable care.
“I wanted to create an organization that would offer health care that was respectful and affordable for anybody in the community. I had no idea that the organization would eventually provide such a wide range of services and serve so many people,” says Carter. As she describes her journey from midwife in a birthing center to leading the organization that was originally WomenCare, Carter says saw the needs of pregnant women expanding from themselves to their children and beyond and knew care for the whole family was needed.
Although Carter has recently retired from her position as CEO of FamilyCare, she isn’t finished ensuring quality care for people. She currently serves as a Commissioner on MACPAC, the federal Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress and the states on Medicaid and CHIP policy. She also contracts to provide technical assistance to Community Health Centers across the country. – KE
Judy Rule – She’s the Librarian
With the Fayette County Library over a 30-minute drive away, Judy Rule didn’t have access to libraries as a child—but she remembers enjoying the county’s bookmobile a lot. She found her real passion for books as a teen when she began volunteering at the library at Gauley Bridge High. “I enjoyed reading and recommending books,” she says.
Rule was hired in Huntington as a full-time librarian just 10 days after completing her master’s degree at Indiana University. She became the director of Cabell County Public Library in 1983 and continues to not only manage her library, but assist libraries in Lincoln, Logan, Mason, Mingo, Putnam, and Wayne counties. Rule is also overseeing the construction of the new public library in Barboursville, which she intends to supervise until its completion.
Whether it’s been giving her town accessible internet, providing notary services, helping with a resume, or inspiring others to become librarians, the impact she’s able to have on people’s lives is the reason she has worked for over 50 years. “My job is to walk down the street and people say, ‘There goes the librarian.’” – KE
Johanna Murray – Bringing out the Artist in All
Johanna Murray is encouraging her neighbors in Capon Bridge to get creative to bring their small town closer together. As executive director of The River House, a nonprofit that promotes the arts, Murray organizes crafts events, music, volunteers, and the organization’s cafe to keep this haven running.
Through her mother’s work in a costume shop, children’s choir, and high school theater, Murray enjoyed an artistic upbringing that brought her closer to her Nebraskan community. She wanted to share that with her new home in West Virginia.
“Because art has so much to do with who I am, it’s great to introduce kids, even adults, to it,” says Murray. “People feel motivated to participate and be creative. I’m really proud of that.”
When Murray isn’t running around The River House, she’s singing in it. She often performs with her husband, Mike Everson, in their duet as Mike & Jo for Saturday night concerts. – KE
Patti Duncan – Woman of the Allegheny Mountains
Patti Duncan’s 18-year journey with Snowshoe Mountain has been an uphill climb: from director of Retail, Rental, Outdoor Adventure, and Spa to vice president and now as the first female president and COO of the resort. With a record year already under her belt, she says it’s been teamwork, community, and realizing her potential that made it all possible.
For Duncan, it isn’t just about the financials—first impressions matter. She is focused on guiding the resort toward the top-quality service that its guests pay for by improving the culture and the guest experience through more targeted programs and events.
While pleasing tourists is important, Duncan recognizes that the permanent residents are important, too. “They’re a part of us, and we are a part of them,” she says. Her goal for 2020 is to have the resort fully operational during the summer for full-time employment opportunities.
It’s an exciting time for women at Snowshoe and its parent company, Alterra Mountain Company, Duncan says. “It’s fantastic, of course, for women because it’s definitely a male-dominated industry,” she says of becoming one of two women holding an executive position at Alterra. She hopes that she inspires women in West Virginia to take on leadership roles. – KE
Melodi Hawley – Helping the Least of These
Melodi Hawley knew little of West Virginia’s drug crisis when she and her husband moved to Mount Hope to start I Heart Church in 2012. Then she got pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, the first that would be born in West Virginia, and went to the doctor. “They start drug testing me. And I’m like, ‘Is this normal?’”
It was then she realized the severity of the drug crisis. So in 2017, under Hawley’s guidance, I Heart Church created The Safe Haven Campaign. The church hosts judgement-free banquets for mothers struggling with substance abuse disorder—offering dinner, massages, clothing, opportunities to enroll in counseling and life skills classes, and lots of prayer. There’s also a support program for foster families, with a closet to help parents cover childrens’ needs when they enter their homes, support groups, and free “yard sales” with car seats, clothing, play yards, and more.
Safe Haven also includes a prevention and awareness social media program called #NotUs that shares real stories to warn and inspire elementary and middle school students of the dangers of drug addiction. “The local church is meant to bring practical hope to hurting communities, and that’s what we are here to do.” Hawley says. – ZH
Cheryl Laws – Doing What Feels Right
After completing her master’s degree at Appalachian State University, where she wrote a thesis on reintegrating addicts into society, Cheryl Laws returned to her native South Charleston and started her nonprofit, Pollen8.
Not long afterward, one of Pollen8’s partners—St. Paul’s United Methodist Church—mentioned it had a vacant church in South Charleston. Laws could have it, for free, if she wanted.
With some grants, Laws turned it into Cafe Appalachia, a restaurant offering a daily lunch buffet of locally raised vegetables and meat. It’s a larger program to help women suffering from substance abuse disorder. They begin with 30 days at a detox center, then transition to Pollen8’s farm, which raises produce for the cafe. The women earn work skills in a catering kitchen, the cafe, and the Cafe Appalachia food truck. All the while, they live at a sober living facility and take classes on parenting, finance, nutrition, and effective communication.
Laws hopes to produce a how-to guide so others can replicate her model across West Virginia and in other states. “It’s selfish, what I’m doing. It makes me feel good,” she says. – ZH
Danielle Stewart – Becoming the Hero She Needed
In her last years with the U.S. Army, her retirement looming, Danielle Stewart aggressively paid off her debts. She had not yet begun to transition but, as a transgender person, she knew it was very possible she would face employment or housing discrimination.
But Stewart was fortunate. When she came out to her employer, the Piney Creek Watershed Association, she expected to submit a resignation. “Instead they stood beside me,” she says. “I recognize that’s a huge privilege. So many of my friends had such a terrible time.” So Stewart began looking for ways to help her friends and others in the LGBT community.
When Beckley Mayor Robert Rappold brought an LGBT non-discrimination ordinance before the city council in November 2018, Stewart and girlfriend Christina Baisden started rallying community support. They built email and social media campaigns. They helped members of their community rehearse the speeches they would give before city council. And Stewart went to meet with business owners, some of whom had never met a transgender person, to dispel fears they had about the ordinance. “I spent three hours one day with a business owner. At the end he was like, ‘I had no idea all this was going on. I’m sorry I was such a hardhead.’”
Largely thanks to Stewart and Baisden’s work, the ordinance passed on a 4–2 vote in January 2019. Stewart says she has already noticed a change. “Beckley has become a place where people feel comfortable being themselves.”
Now she’s running for mayor. She wants to make the city a better place for minorities and young people. She also wants to be the role model she never had. “I want to put myself out there so kids growing up can say, ‘Hey, I can have a good life. I can be myself.’” – ZH
Jennifer Orlikoff – Moving Forward
Jennifer Orlikoff calls her journey to West Virginia a “circuitous path.” That’s an understatement. Her story includes stops in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Switzerland, New Jersey, and Tennessee before she finally arrived in Morgantown, where she taught French at WVU.
She then became director of WVU’s Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, where she increased the number of majors, minors, and faculty. Her success there led to her next appointment. In 2016, she became campus president of West Virginia University―Potomac State College in Keyser. Under her leadership, the college’s enrollment is increasing and it is adding new majors. She says she’s learned that the key to success is asking difficult questions—like “How can we improve?” and “How do we move things forward?” Clearly, moving forward is something Orlikoff is very good at. – ZH
Roya Maher – For the Girls
In a predominantly male industry, Roya Maher finds ways to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers. She promotes girls in STEM by working closely with programs such as Girls on the Run, First Lego League, and Cyber Robotics Coding Competitions. “If I can make a difference to motivate just one girl, that would make me happy.”
Maher owns A3L Federal Works, a small business that provides engineering, technology, management, and training services for government and commercial clients. “As a business owner, something that is very important to me is equal pay for equal work,” Maher says.
Maher and her family immigrated from Iran to the United States when she was just 13 years old, but she now calls the mountains of West Virginia home. “I came to West Virginia 28 years ago, but I now consider myself a West Virginian,” she says. “I love helping provide jobs for the people of West Virginia so they don’t have to leave.” – SC
Marjorie McDiarmid – Counseling the Counsel
Growing up near Washington, D.C., Marjorie McDiarmid found law fascinating. She graduated law school in 1970 and practiced in fields including administrative, civil, and criminal work. McDiarmid obtained her Master of Laws degree in 1974 with the ambition of teaching but spent another 12 years in the professional world before joining WVU’s College of Law faculty. That expertise helps her guide students to become responsible lawyers who treat clients well.
McDiarmid serves on boards for Legal Aid of West Virginia, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, and the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center. In 2016, she received the state’s Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award in recognition of her work and her students’ legal assistance for people in domestic violence cases. “Wherever you think society as a whole needs to go,” she says, “finding a place where you can contribute toward making that happen is important for long-term happiness in law.” – JW
Mari-Lynn Evans – Telling Our Story
Mari-Lynn Evans was 17 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took her grandfather’s farm to create Burnsville Lake. She was hysterical as the family drove away. It was then that her grandmother told her something she’s never forgotten. “She said ‘In this life, you’re going to lose everyone and everything, so you have to find something bigger than self to care about,’” Evans remembers. “I swear to God, I never understood what that meant until 17 years ago to make The Appalachians.”
After a career in health care, time as a brand consultant for Proctor and Gamble, and work in television production, she decided someone needed to make a documentary about the history of the Appalachian Mountains and the region’s people. No one was interested, so Evans did it herself. The 2005 four-part documentary was a hit on public broadcasting, where it still runs today.
An interview Evans did with Raleigh County native Judy Bonds for The Appalachians led to her to her next project: 2009’s Coal Country, about mountaintop removal mining. “I knew the pain she was talking about. I knew what it was like to have everything and everybody you ever loved being taken from you.” Making that documentary led to yet another change in Evans’ career path. “I wasn’t just a documentary filmmaker any more. I was an activist.”
Next she released Blood on the Mountain in 2016, a history of the bloody fight for unionization on Blair Mountain and the landmark’s controversial removal from the National Register of Historic Places. Netflix bought the film, it earned an Emmy nomination, and, best of all, Blair Mountain was put back on the register in June 2018.
Evans is now working with Columbia University, the West Virginia High Technology Foundation, and others on a “social justice entrepreneurial initiative” aimed at extracting rare elements from coal slurry impoundments and addressing the threat caused to coal country communities by those impoundments. The project will be accompanied, of course, by a multi-part television series.
Thanks to her success, Evans has been able to buy back the last 20 acres of her grandfather’s land that isn’t under water. Being there, she says she isn’t angry for what is lost—but hopeful for what remains. “I swear to God, it smells and sounds just like it did when I was a kid.” – ZH
Betsy Jividen – Improving Corrections
Betsy Jividen has a long career of accomplishments. She was the first woman to be sworn in as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of West Virginia. She has worked as a federal prosecutor for more than 30 years. She has been a civil chief and first assistant U.S. attorney, and she served two terms as acting and interim U.S. attorney. And in January 2018, she added commissioner of the state Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to her resume.
Jividen also oversees programs that help inmates better their lives in several ways—among them, reentry programs that educate community members about the challenges, previously incarcerated peBetsy ople face on re-entry and the public safety interest in seeing that they become gainfully employed productive citizens upon their return. “I work with wonderful, committed, and hardworking people throughout the entire division, who want to see the people in our care and custody be the best they can be,” says Jividen.
As a woman in a previously male-dominated field, Jividen says, “I believe the corrections community considers a person’s qualifications, experience, and knowledge instead of gender. Seeing women take on all roles in corrections is very rewarding, and I am truly honored to be part of such an outstanding group of men and women.” – SC
Erikka Storch – A Delegate Balance
“I hate politics,” says Erikka Storch. That’s not something you expect to hear from someone who has served in the West Virginia House of Delegates since 2010. But politics isn’t why Storch ran for office. When the opportunity to run for the Legislature arose, “I thought, ‘What a great opportunity to broaden my community service,’” says Storch, who previously was CFO and then president of Ohio Valley Steel Company and now is president of the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce.
Storch is a member of Wheeling Rotary Club and the Junior League of Wheeling, but the Legislature gave her a new platform to help her community. “The constituent service side of things, that’s awesome. I enjoy connecting people to the resources that they need.” She’s used her position in the House of Delegates to help business owners in her district get information and have a voice in the massive overhaul of Interstate 70. “You have to know your district. You have to know your constituents. You have to know how much these things impact them.” – ZH
Irene Berger – Judge of Character
When Irene Berger was growing up in McDowell County, her junior high school teachers inspired her to pursue teaching. That dream changed, but her desire to help people led her toward law. She went to law school at WVU, then got a job working for Legal Aid in Charleston. But she wanted to be a trial lawyer, so she joined the Kanawha County Prosecutor’s Office in 1982. She remained there for a dozen years before going to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for about 10 weeks—after which Governor Gaston Caperton appointed her to the Kanawha Circuit Court, making her the first black woman to serve as a circuit judge. She stayed until 2009, when President Barack Obama appointed her to the U.S. District Court—making her the first black person on West Virginia’s federal bench.
Berger says it’s a challenging job, being a judge. “You’re making decisions based on the law and the facts. That’s part of following your oath,” she says. “Many times I’ve issued rulings I wish could have gone the other way.” And while she says she might not always get it right—“none of us do”—she works very hard to be fair to everyone in her courtroom. “That makes me think I’m where I’m supposed to be.” – ZH
Lisa DeFrank-Cole – Follow the Leader
Lisa DeFrank-Cole’s mother encouraged her to pursue higher education, and pursue she did. The first-generation college graduate earned a doctorate, penning her dissertation about differences in female and male self-perceptions of presidential leadership styles at colleges and universities. “Men and women don’t lead all that differently. What’s different is society’s perceptions of how they lead,” she says.
DeFrank-Cole is now director of WVU’s Leadership Studies Program. She encourages students to see value in both leadership and followership. “Leadership is a process, not a position,” she says. In 2012, the Fulbright Specialist Program awarded her a grant to teach a leadership course at the Royal University for Women in the Kingdom of Bahrain. She also received the 2017 Mary Catherine Buswell Award for outstanding service to WVU women. This academic year, DeFrank-Cole begins a Harriet E. Lyon professorship for interdisciplinary work with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies and continues co-authoring a textbook on women and leadership. – JW
Sandy Call – Small Restaurants, Big Impacts
When Sandy Call was in high school, she worked at the independently owned restaurant Riversedge. She went to college to study law, but she realized she’d be happier in food service and began earning more money serving and bartending than she might’ve made in law.
In the years after college, Call found herself on the corporate side of restaurants, working for Outback Steakhouse, O’Charley’s, Red Bull, and Anheuser-Busch. But she missed the camaraderie of smaller restaurant teams. She took a position as general manager of Bridge Road Bistro in Charleston in 2011 and, in 2018, bought the popular farm-to-table restaurant.
Call spreads positivity with her restaurant. “Our staff eats together, prays together,” she says. “Our employees are never hungry. We love supporting causes we’re involved in.” She wants it to be known that you don’t have to order a big meal, you can just “come in, have a bite to eat, and enjoy the band.”
Call is one of the lead chairs of the Charleston YWCA’s Girls Night Out, which raises money for domestic violence survivors and their children. She’s also president of the West Virginia Symphony League.
As this issue goes to print, Call is readying to open a new culinary venture, Sunset Grill. She’s looking forward to serving quality meals to Huntington and showcasing live local entertainment. – JC
Jen Giovanniti – Champion of the Underdogs
When Jen Giovannitti’s husband got a job with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition in Elkins, she gave him a short time limit. “I said to him, I could see us living there for a year.” Little did the Pennsylvania native know she would soon fall in love with her new home. Mountain Partners in Development had received a grant from the Claude Benedum Foundation to renovate Elkins’ historic CSX depot. Giovannitti, who had worked for some engineering firms in Pittsburgh, was put in charge of the project. From there, she became executive director of the Randolph County Development Authority, then took a job with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond—they wanted someone who knew firsthand what it’s like to work in West Virginia.
In October 2018, Giovannitti took a position with the organization that got her to West Virginia in the first place. Now, as president of the Benedum Foundation, she gets to continue making West Virginia’s communities better places to live. “I’m just a fan of the underdog. In rural places, it’s harder to build things. I found that challenge just so empowering and magical.” – ZH
Melanie Seiler – Get Moving West Virginia
Growing up, Melanie Seiler knew the family business—Songer Whitewater—would be hers one day. Then came 2008’s recession, which forced her parents to sell out. Seiler went to work for another outfitter and built a reputation as a stand-up paddleboarding evangelist. But she hadn’t found the right path. She spent a year as a bank teller. Then she heard about a new nonprofit aimed at encouraging healthy living.
She left messages for weeks, saying she wanted to run the new organization. Persistence paid off. In February 2015, she was named executive director of Active SWV. The group now has thousands of people across southern West Virginia up and moving. It also encourages city governments to make their streets friendlier for pedestrians and bikers and employers to adopt health programs as part of the workday and hosts events like the Bridge Day 5K Run.
Seiler still keeps her toes in the water as a member of Sweets of the East, a female rafting team that competed in the 2018 National Rafting Championship. The Sweets hope to return to the water in 2020. – ZH