Security Bank and Springfield Business Journal are proud to bring you the 11th annual Women of Influence. This program honors local women for their contributions to the Springfield area community. Selected by their peers through submitted nominations, all have made important contributions to the community at large.
Nominations were not limited to the business community for this program. The Springfield area’s reputation as an exemplary place to live, work and raise a family is dependent upon the day-to-day hard work and vision of each and every one of us. These women are significant for their valuable contributions in making Springfield an outstanding community.
You are invited to join us in celebrating their achievements at a reception on Tuesday, May 13, at Erin’s Pavilion in Southwind Park. The reception will be held at 5 p.m. with an awards ceremony to follow at 6 p.m. Please let us know if you plan to attend by calling 217-726-6600 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family: Husband, John Martin, and one daughter
Role: Director of Human Resources and legal counsel for Tom Lange Company, Inc.
Motto: It can’t hurt to ask.
Interesting tidbit: Beuning moved here in 2006 and didn’t know anyone and was very fortunate to be invited to a meeting of Illinois Women in Leadership. The group has been tremendously important to her in developing a network and sense of community.
Sarah Beuning sees challenges as opportunities.
“When you think about starting over, the best thing to do is to jump in with both feet,” said Beuning. “Say yes a lot. You have to be open to new experiences.”
She moved to Springfield because of her husband’s job. He was offered a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois Springfield. “We weren’t married,” said Beuning. “I said yes to him and a new job. I followed my heart.”
She grew up in Sauk Centre, Minn., and has three younger brothers. Her parents placed a real emphasis on education and being involved in the community. “They were incredible role models for education,” said Beuning.
She traveled abroad and gained a wide world view and an understanding of her place in the world. “I take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow,” said Beuning.
Her parents taught her the value of an education and the importance of community. Beuning is open to all kinds of people. “You can learn from anyone,” she said.
There was no question that she was going to go to college and graduate school. ”As a kid, not everyone gets that,” said Beuning. She always believed she could do anything she set her mind to.
Beuning is very goal-oriented and a problem-solver. “I was always interested in the law and wanted to be a lawyer,” she said. “I enjoy the process of learning about the law.” She wanted to be involved in her profession and is licensed to practice in three states. She has had the opportunity to work in both law firms and private industry.
She has always had a strong passion for the arts and providing educational opportunities to children most at risk because of home insecurity and poverty issues and believes these are important issues in the community. She has worked with the Family Service Center. “They do amazing work,” said Beuning. “I would like to do more with them.”
She sees community involvement as a way of learning and being part of something. “Each of us needs others in our lives to support us,” said Beuning. She is fulfilled being part of the community she is living in. “It’s important to be satisfied and happy with where you are in life.”
Illinois Women in Leadership is key to this community, Beuning said, and the people she has met through this organization have made her network stronger. She is both grateful and proud to have been invited to be president. “It was an honor to be asked,” she said. “It was a pleasure to serve. It’s a great organization for women in Springfield.”
Beuning is impressed with the arts opportunities available in Springfield. She sits on the Springfield Ballet board of directors and the Sangamon Auditorium advisory board. A good friend, Jamie Stout, invited her to join the Springfield Ballet board. “I was impressed with everything they do,” she said. “The company gives back to the community.”
Other community organizations she has been involved with include Springfield Young Philanthropists, Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln, Girl Scouts of Central Illinois and the Illinois State Bar Association High School Mock Trial Tournament. “I mostly do what I like,” said Beuning.
She is honored to be nominated for this award. “The fact that it exists is important for women,” said Beuning. Involvement in women’s organizations has shown her how much impact women have on a community. “It recognizes the influence women have. I’m honored to be part of this.”
She wants the opportunity to grow and learn more and take on new responsibilities moving forward. “I aspire to not be afraid of change,” said Beuning.
– Roberta Codemo
Family: Two daughters
Role: Retired social worker
Motto: Those who have good health and sound mind, how lucky and blessed we are. Those who have that have a moral obligation to help those less fortunate than we are.
Interesting tidbit: I helped a patient who couldn’t qualify for public assistance obtain medical help and supplies he needed. He was so appreciative, he broke into tears and held my hand. That is a very precious memory to me.
Shipra Somani might possibly be busier now as a retiree than she was during her nearly 50-year career as a social worker.
“My daughters always used to say, ‘Mom, we could never find you in your office, at work … and now, we can’t find you either,’” Somani said with a chuckle. “There is always something to do.”
Somani, retired since 2005, began her career in 1960 as a caseworker at the Child Guidance Center in Calcutta, India, for four years. Next, she worked as a neighborhood development supervisor for the Hill House Association in Pittsburgh from 1966-1974. Finally, she came to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield as a renal social worker in 1974. Somani has been here ever since.
“I came to Springfield, because my husband took a job with the (Southern Illinois University) school of medicine, and so I had to follow,” Somani said. “I always worked. I don’t enjoy sitting at home. I’m not a good housekeeper, and I don’t enjoy decorating and shopping.
“So Memorial was looking for a social worker and the medical director was adamant that one must have three years of experience. I had eight years, so I was hired immediately.”
Somani worked with dialysis patients in a wide range of capacities. She helped those patients with transportation to and from treatment, arrangement of home health care services, enrollment in Medicare and disability benefits and general counseling.
“I always liked working with the people, and doing whatever I could do,” Somani said. “It was very gratifying.”
Somani still greatly enjoys working with people. She’s extremely active as a volunteer for various organizations. She has volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House charity, is a member of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois and is a volunteer for the Simmons Cancer Institute, among a host of others.
Somani is also a member of the Asian Indian Women’s Organization, a Springfield-based nonprofit that also works with a number of charitable organizations under its own umbrella.
“We do a lot of fundraising,” Somani said. “That keeps me very busy.”
Somani, a devout Hindu, is also a board member and executive for the Hindu Temple of Greater Springfield, located in Chatham. She was also one of the primary donors, she said, in the purchase of the church a handful of years ago.
Despite her daughters’ seeming inability to reach Somani via phone – “I’m terrible with returning and checking messages” – she still sees them quite often, she said. Her younger daughter lives in Denver, and her eldest lives in Washington, D.C.
“I travel often to visit them,” Somani said. “I probably visit once every six weeks or so, because my grandchildren are so little. Family is very important to me.”
To say Somani has a full plate is a bit of an understatement. Does she plan on slowing down, and perhaps reducing the amount of time she spends with charitable organizations or her involvement in the Hindu Temple?
“I do not think so,” Somani said. “I enjoy being busy. It’s probably just my nature. I enjoy bringing change. Part of it is personal satisfaction.
“I think there are so many opportunities and social agencies in Springfield. If people want to help, there is a chance; there’s no doubt about that.”
– Gabe House
Family: Married to Dave Voepel for 22 years, with 16-year-old daughter, Ellie
Role: Owner, Voepel Publication Services and president, Share the Spirit Foundation
Motto: “One shoe can change a life.” —Cinderella
Interesting tidbit: I learned to sew in 4-H and made a lot of my clothes in high school – everything from a winter coat to a bathing suit.
When Tonya Voepel prepared for a 60-mile breast cancer awareness walk in 2002, she was shocked at how much money was spent on shoes. She was also shocked at how empowering it felt to raise money for a worthy cause.
And that is where the Share the Spirit Foundation began.
“We were so overwhelmed by the fact we can raise money for a worthy cause that we wanted to keep going,” said Voepel, whose partner in Share the Spirit is her sister-in-law, Karen Voepel. “She and I decided to continue to raise funds but put them towards children in need of shoes.”
Tonya and Karen – she lives in Colorado – each hold annual “Shoes for Kids” events in their home states and have done so since Share the Spirit officially began in 2003. Donors are invited to the events so they can help firsthand with the children and also get an opportunity to see their money at work in the community.
“We work with administrators, teachers and social workers to select 50-65 students at a time from area schools (to receive new shoes),” Tonya explained. “We also like to give (the children) the chance to shop, instead of just giving them a pair of second-hand shoes. A lot of kids have never been told, ‘Pick out what you want.’ They usually can’t believe what they’re hearing at first.”
While Tonya focuses on her Illinois shoe events, Karen is doing the same in Colorado, but the two also come together to raise funds for other events as they see fit. With the help of an outreach coordinator, Share the Spirit has organized nature hikes (and the donation of funds and boots needed for such an endeavor), a shoe drive in conjunction with U.S. Army soldiers for Iraqi schoolchildren and fundraising for those affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We keep it local, so people here know our hearts are very close to the community, but our community is really bigger than just us,” Tonya said. “So any time we can help a little bit anywhere, we try to do that also.”
In addition to all of those activities, the foundation also has an annual holiday outreach for a local family in which gifts, clothing and various items are provided. There is always something in the works, Tonya said.
Professionally, Tonya is her own boss at the aptly named Voepel Publication Services, a graphic design business in Springfield she has owned for nearly 20 years. Being able to set her own work hours, Tonya said, has been a huge benefit for her work with Share the Spirit. Coincidentally, knowing a number of other local business owners can also come in handy with fundraising.
“It definitely has helped being a small business owner in downtown Springfield,” Tonya said. “It allows us to access other small businesses and fundraisers, (and) every little bit counts.”
Of course, Tonya said, fundraising can be a daunting task. But as with anything else, practice makes perfect.
“I think you have to put yourself out there, and it can sometimes be uncomfortable, but you have to meet people, and you have to get involved,” Voepel said. “Once I started meeting other people and getting involved with other groups, it got easier to talk to them about Share the Spirit.
“It really pays off, and when you see these little kids, that’s the thing. It’s something that just comes together almost effortlessly on the part of everybody just taking a little bit of burden, and it adds up to something really special for these kids.”
– Gabe House
Dr. Kemia Sarraf
Family: Married to Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein for 15 years, with four sons: Joseph, Jacob, Joshua and Jonah
Role: Founder and Board President, genHkids
Motto: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
Interesting tidbit: In my heart, I’m a cowgirl….
Dr. Kemia Sarraf explained the 2008 inception of the genHkids Coalition by citing the “tipping point” phenomenon detailed in Malcom Gladwell’s book of the same name, published in 2000.
“Interest builds until you have a tipping point, (and) I think in this community, we had reached that point where people were beginning to understand the full weight of the obesity epidemic,” said Sarraf, the founder and president of genhKids. “Even beyond that, they were beginning to understand it’s not just about childhood obesity. There’s a deeper problem. As a nation, we are raising under-nourished and under-active children and that is affecting their health regardless of obesity.”
National problems, Sarraf explained, can have local solutions. She began to approach various organizations in the area that have an interest in a more health-conscious future and the education required to instill those values in the community and its children. The response was emblematic of the tipping point she spoke of.
“It wasn’t terribly difficult to get people at the table and ask for help,” Sarraf said. “Looking back, it truly was astonishing to me how quickly the coalition came together.”
Under two program banners of “Eat real” and “Move more,” genHkids and its numerous coalition partners – from St. John’s Hospital to the American Heart Association – have sought to implement programs in local schools that promote healthy foods and physical activity. The programs are derived from extensive research, Sarraf said, and best practices that already exist and are proven to work.
“We do a gradual release of responsibility,” Sarraf said. “We work with you (schools and educators) until you see the value of our programs, until you become more and more comfortable and competent, and then we’ll leave you with some tools.
“But just pick up the phone and we’ll be back with more tips. It’s been a very successful way of implementing it.”
This hands-on approach by genHkids and its volunteers has been so successful, Sarraf said, because public educators are already asked to do too much with too little. Rather than simply developing and distributing toolkits and workbooks, which Sarraf believes to be well-intentioned but not terribly effective, genH volunteers directly implement the programs they develop.
“It’s incredibly labor-intensive but guess what, that’s OK” Sarraf said. “Things worth doing tend to be very labor-intensive. Those are the things that are really worth doing, and we’re doing this for our children. This isn’t just about a child getting a better test score – it is about that too – but mostly it’s about what the rest of these children’s lives look like. Their health when they enter adulthood impacts a lot of different things.”
In fact, Sarraf said, genHkids’ largest problem now is maintaining the capacity needed to continue adjusting programs and bringing them to local schools. It’s why the mother of four sons works full time without pay for genHkids despite previous thoughts of going into private practice in Springfield. She last entertained that thought back in 2008, directly before founding genHkids.
“I’ve never gone back to the practice of medicine,”Sarraf said. “My heart is so filled up by what I do that I don’t feel a need to expand beyond this. Plus, it’s very busy.”
And Sarraf is in it for the long haul. GenHKids is relatively new, and she knows these sorts of endeavors take time. It’s a child-based initiative, Sarraf said, with the intention to instill in said children some very important knowledge for future use.
“The endgame is that this generation of children grows up recognizing real food, appreciating the need for real food, learning how to shop for it, come home and prepare it,” Sarraf said. “If that’s the habit they have, then 20 or 30 years down the line, the way it’s done has been turned inside out, and fast food has become the treat once again.”
– Gabe House
Family: Husband, Wayne
Role: Vice President, Director of Marketing, Marine Bank
Motto: Love the life you live.
Interesting tidbits: My focus has been on my husband. It’s my job to shine the spotlight on him. I had a book published, a photo history of the University of Illinois. I spent a year gathering photos.
Christine Carrels calls herself an overachiever. “I believe in going big or going home,” she said. When she commits to something, she is committed 100 percent. “I’m small in stature but I have a fire inside.”
She received her journalism degree from the University of Illinois and started out as a reporter in Ottawa. “I covered the police beat,” said Carrels. “I didn’t do it very long.” She wanted to work on the corporate side. “I wanted regular hours and good pay.”
She was always interested in marketing and sales and worked for Design Ideas for eight years. “I got to travel the world and meet interesting, wonderful people,” said Carrels. She thought she knew everything and learned she didn’t know anything.
“My mother is one of these people who read every word in the paper,” said Carrels. Marine Bank was advertising so she applied. “This is a great company to work for. It’s the best job in the whole bank. I get to use my creative side.”
Community involvement is very important to her and she believes in contributing and being a meaningful part of the community. “If each of us played a small part, we would have a much more successful community,” said Carrels. “It’s the small things that create big successes.”
She is the immediate past president of the United Way Community Leadership Board and still serves as a volunteer with the organization. She is active with the local American Diabetes Association. Diabetes is a devastating disease that can be postponed or prevented by following a healthy lifestyle. “This is a very important cause to me,” said Carrels. “My husband is a fitness trainer and owns his own gym. His mission at the gym is to inspire a healthy lifestyle.”
Carrels is the current president of Illinois Women in Leadership, a personal and professional development organization, and is the founding board secretary of the Sangamon CEO, which is about to graduate its first class. The class is having its trade show May 9. “I’m excited to see their businesses,” she said.
She said it is important to focus your efforts on the right priorities. “It’s the little things you do every day,” said Carrels. “Small actions are easy to do.”
“I had a wonderful childhood,” said Carrels. “My parents instilled in us that you can be anything you want to be. They were great role models.” Both were generous in spirit and didn’t teach Christine and her siblings to think about barriers. “People have to overcome obstacles every day,” she added. Her parents taught her if she worked hard and gave something her all, she’d find success. “You can’t be afraid of hard work,” said Carrels. “You have to believe in self-perseverance.”
She is grateful to her mom for making her a strong woman. “I see women who are not independent,” said Carrels. “I was brought up to be an independent thinker.” Her husband says she’s very intimidating. She says that’s a compliment, coming from him. Her life is better with him. “I found the perfect person for me. He’s just as smart, strong and opinionated. We make a good team.”
She is a very strong advocate for women. “It’s not so much about the ‘glass ceiling’ but about cultivating confidence in oneself,” said Carrels. “I wish all women could be comfortable in their own skin.”
Carrels said she’s actually very shy. “I like being in the background and not in the spotlight,” she said. “My main job is to make other people look good.” Her public persona is very different from her personal persona.
“I love connecting with people,” said Carrels.
– Roberta Codemo