Security Bank and Springfield Business Journal are proud to bring you the 12th 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 12, at the Inn at 835. 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.
Photos by Terry Farmer
Profiles by Roberta Codemo
Lisa Funderburg is starting a new chapter in her life. After 25 years as the chief environmental health and safety counsel for Energizer Holdings, Inc., she is going into private practice and joining the firm of Stinson Leonard Street, LLP. “It’s fear-inducing, exciting and scary at the same time,” she said.
She did not expect to be honored as a Woman of Influence. “It was a surprise,” said Funderburg, who moved to Springfield from the St. Louis area when she was five years old.
A product of the Springfield school system, education is very important to her. “My best teachers were here,” said Funderburg, who recalls her high school English teacher, Bernice Rappel. “She was tough as nails. She taught me how to write well.” The Springfield schools mean a lot to her.
She wishes more people would come into the schools and see what goes on every day. “Teachers make something out of nothing,” said Funderburg, who remembers going to her first PTO meeting at Owen Marsh Elementary School and listening to teachers talking about selling candles to raise money to buy paper for the copier. “There had to be a better way.”
When her kids were young, she volunteered at their schools and always felt like there was more she could do. She joined the Springfield Public School Foundation, which raises money for teachers. “It was hugely rewarding,” said Funderburg, who resigned after eight years when she was elected to the District 186 school board.
“I ran for the school board because I felt like I could make a difference,” said Funderburg. “Public education is the life blood of the community. A strong public school system makes a community a better place.”
Her mom taught her the value of community service. A single parent, her mom held a full-time job and still found time to be involved in the community and in her school. “I appreciate that, now that I’m a parent,” said Funderburg, who has also served on the boards of the Springfield High School Booster Club and the Springfield Old State Capitol Art Fair.
“My mom was my role model,” said Funderburg, who describes her as a kind and thoughtful woman. “Those are good qualities to emulate. She did an excellent job raising my sister and me.”
Funderburg is the first in her family to graduate from college. She credits her high school guidance counselor, Mr. Earney, for that. He helped her and her mom navigate the college application process. “He knew what to do and set me on the path to get there and into the career I’m in now,” she said. “He pointed the way.”
She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. After graduating from law school there, she went to work for Fred Prillaman at Mohan, Alewelt and Prillaman. “He was the best boss,” said Funderburg. “He was a great teacher and made work fun. I was lucky to work there for three years.”
If she could have a do-over, she would go back and become a teacher. “Teachers do the most important work,” said Funderburg, who lives vicariously through her daughter, an education major.
The greatest responsibility a parent has is to help their children become independent, productive contributors to society. “It will be sad to see the last one fly out of the coop. But rewarding,” said Funderburg.
Funderburg said you can have it all, but she would tell her 20-year-old self that you may have it all at different points in your life. “You have to find the right balance between more family and less work and vice versa. You can’t get the time back.”
Kathryn Harris defines a Woman of Influence as a woman who is sure of herself, knows where she’s going, lets the light shine, uses the talents given to her in a positive way and is active in the community. A Woman of Influence contributes to and helps make her community better.
She was surprised to learn that she had been nominated. “I am honored and humbled that someone thinks that of me,” said Harris.
Now that she’s retired from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, where she was the director of library services, Harris wants to become an adult literacy coach. “Reading is a skill that once you have it, no one can take it away from you,” she said. “You can travel the world.”
She recalls a woman, Grace Morrison, whom she and her husband met through the Senior Center. “We would have her to Christmas dinner,” said Harris. “One day I asked her to read something and there was silence. She said: ‘Miss Kathy, I can’t read real good.’ I never forgot that.”
Harris has experienced a lot during her 67 years on earth. “I’ve been very blessed,” she said, as she recounted stories too numerous to include here. One experience that is near and dear to her heart is playing Harriet Tubman in a theatrical production. “She was a Woman of Influence,” said Harris. “She was committed to what she was doing.” Tubman helped more than four million enslaved people and saw things through to the end.
Harris is the first woman to serve as president of the Abraham Lincoln Association. There have been persons of color on the board but none in a position of power. “It is indeed an honor,” she said. She has received a lot of support from the board and is proud that she’s had excellent role models.
She grew up in Carbondale. “My mother was my role model,” said Harris. “She was extremely active in the community. She worked hard to make northern Carbondale a better place. I get a lot of my passion from her.”
Originally, Harris wanted to be a school teacher but was judged not to be a person of good moral conduct because she had had a child out of wedlock. “Being a librarian was a close second,” she said. Her mother passed away before she entered library school at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. Harris couldn’t leave her father and brothers and sisters alone and called the school. “They said they would hold my place,” she said.
When her husband died, she had to adjust to a “new normal.” “I found within myself the strength to cope,” said Harris, who said that God never gives anyone more than they can handle. “I had to find within me the strength to do things I never knew I could do.”
“I try to stay involved in my community and keep informed about community issues,” said Harris, who is a firm believer in reproductive rights for all women. This community is where she lives and she wants to make it better because it improves the overall quality of life of everyone.
Harris always puts God first. She credits a lot of people with being an influence in her life, including her husband; her older sister, Georgietta Slaughter; and Bridget Lamont. She values fairness, honesty, integrity and compromise and embodies these characteristics in the way she lives her life. “I am who I am,” she said.
Her message to women is: Do your best; be your best. You can do it.
Sonya Jones has struggled with her weight all her life. She was always the biggest coach at every track meet and the biggest PE teacher at every PE conference. “I felt like a hypocrite,” she said, so she auditioned to be on The Biggest Loser. “I wanted to be a role model for health and wellness for my kids and for the community.”
She was called fat all her life. At her heaviest, she weighed 283 pounds. “It shaped who I was,” said Jones, who said her experience at “The Ranch” changed how she views herself now. “I’m proud of who I am for the first time.”
An only child, she grew up in Litchfield where she always had a passion for athletics, eventually graduating from Greenville College in 1996 with a degree in physical education and a minor in coaching and youth ministry.
She never let her weight hinder her. She played varsity softball and varsity soccer and was a two-time All American softball player in college.
Being on the show was the best experience of her life. Not only did she shed weight, she grew emotionally, physically and spiritually. “It was a life transformation,” said Jones.
“I walk a little taller,” she added. “I look people in the eye.” She developed a new level of confidence in herself. It made her a better PE teacher, a better friend and a better coach.
The overriding thread running through her life is being a person of impact. As she was growing up, people invested in her and that made her feel like she could conquer the world. “I want to be a catalyst for someone else,” said Jones, who became a teacher so she could inspire others. “I have the opportunity to impact the next generation. I have the best job on earth.”
She admits that she’s a giver and goes above and beyond the call of duty in her job, in her church and in her community. “To leave your mark is legendary,” said Jones, who added it’s important to leave the world a better place.
Her faith is everything to her. “Without it, I’m nothing,” said Jones. Her life has no meaning without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sunday is her time to go to church and renew herself so she can go out and inspire others.
This spills over into her community work, as well. She has served on the board of directors for Engage Africa, a non-profit organization that helps South African orphans, and as a deacon at Calvary Church. She has raised thousands of dollars every year for charities and school programs through Sherman Jump, which involves more than 500 Sherman elementary students.
“It’s easy to focus on the negatives,” said Jones, insisting it’s important to find the positives in life and to help others find their way through life.
Everyone she has met in her life has laid the groundwork for who she is and what she believes in. Jones calls Rosemarie Clair her spiritual mentor. “She taught me more things than I can begin to put into words,” she said. Jeni Phelps has been her best friend for 15 years and has always encouraged her, while Jen Widerstrom, her trainer at the Ranch, helped her believe in herself and inspired her to lose half her body weight.
Jones was absolutely surprised to find out she had been chosen as a Woman of Influence. When she got the phone call, she “was very excited. I didn’t know anything about it. It was awesome.”
Her message to others: “Set goals, dream a dream and go hard after it. Why not you?”
Kim Pate has always been passionate about sports. She started playing hockey at age nine in her hometown of Saskatoon, Canada. “It’s so much a part of that culture,” she said. “There’s an ice rink on every corner.”
Her life changed when her family moved to North Carolina when she was in ninth grade. “It was a shock,” said Pate. “Culturally I stood out like a sore thumb. It was a great experience.” She believes that everything that happens in a person’s life shapes them.
Athletics offered Pate something nothing else could. “It fostered my sense of self-esteem,” she said. “I discovered at a young age it was something I could achieve at,” adding she excelled at everything she did.
“People invested in me,” said Pate. Her friends, family and coaches saw her potential. She learned to shoot for the stars and not limit herself nor allow others to limit her. “I saw a bright future.”
Her father worked on the railroad. “It was just a job for him,” she said. She remembers at 11 thinking: When I grow up, I want to do something that I’m passionate about.
“My mother was my inspiration,” said Pate, who added her mother was amazing. “She loves people unconditionally.”
Her mother was physically disabled and taught her to dream big. “She could never run, jump or skate,” said Pate. “She inspired me to make the most of my physical ability.”
A first generation college graduate, Pate attended Brevard College in Brevard, North Carolina. “I knew I wanted to work in some facet of college athletics,” she said. She got her start coaching before becoming an assistant athletic director.
“I learned every facet of the business,” said Pate. When she accepted the athletic director position at the University of Illinois Springfield in 2011, she saw it as a great opportunity to grow.
“It was a great fit for my family,” said Pate. The position has allowed her to grow professionally and to learn under great leadership. “Chancellor Susan Koch is an incredible role model,” she said.
Every student athlete must complete a minimum of 10 hours of community service. It’s important to build partnerships with the community. “It’s a win-win,” said Pate. The community becomes more engaged with the university and its educational mission and comes out to athletic events.
“We support different causes around the community,” said Pate, including the Capital Area Sports Commission, United Cerebral Palsy, Simmons Cancer Institute, Boys and Girls Club and Make-A-Wish.
“It’s important for a town like Springfield to have a connection to the university and their hometown sports team,” said Pate. She sees young people connecting with student athletes. “They might think about college and pursuing a career in athletes in the future.”
Pate is honored to be the first woman athletic director. “It’s very important and special for women,” she said, adding at the same time that she doesn’t want her performance based on her gender but rather job performance. She compares this to being a young girl playing pickup softball games. “I wanted to be picked not because I was a girl but because I was the best player.”
She encourages women to dream big. “Don’t let anybody define your potential or your role,” said Pate. “Pursue your passion.”
Pate is honored to be named a Woman of Influence. “When I got the call, I was thrilled,” she said. She doesn’t feel like she’s reached her potential yet. “I’m at the early stages of my professional career.” It inspires her to continue making a difference.
“My husband has been incredibly supportive,” said Pate. “Without him I would not have been able to achieve what I’ve achieved thus far.”
Susan Zappa has worked in nursing, for the state and with ExxonMobil. “I always wondered why I jumped around,” she said. Her prior jobs gave her a well-rounded education and prepared her to do what she was meant to do.
She purchased America Ambulance Service from Terry and Faye Kirk in 2008. The Kirks started the company in 1967. “I knew the Kirks for years,” said Zappa. “Terry would often say ‘Why don’t you buy the business?’”
Being a woman has its benefits. “I have gotten state and federal contracts,” said Zappa, who added men are often not thrilled to see women in this male-dominated industry. Strong women are looked at as “bitches” while strong men are seen as tough.
“It takes a long time to earn their respect, if you ever do,” said Zappa. “Women have to work twice as hard to get that respect.”
Zappa grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, where her parents owned several businesses. Her parents taught her to respect people and to treat everybody fairly. “I was always at their businesses,” she said. “My mom would take me everywhere.
“I had good female role models,” continued Zappa, who credits her mother, her maternal aunts and her grandmother with teaching her to work hard to be successful. “I had a lot of good female influences in my life.”
When Zappa started college at Auburn University in Alabama, she majored in accounting. “I did it for my mom,” she said. Her eventual switch to a nursing major came about because she liked people more than she liked numbers on a piece of paper. “I like helping people,” she says.
Her mother was perplexed but supportive when Zappa told her she was switching her major to nursing. “She was a great mother,” said Zappa. “I was lucky to learn a lot from her.”
Her community involvement comes from wanting to help others. She is a member of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, the American Ambulance Association, Illinois State Ambulance Association and the Emergency Nurses Association. Her company also sponsors several community events, including the Senior Olympics, Alzheimer’s Walk and Festival of Trees.
Family is important to her, “My most important role is being a mother to my four children,” said Zappa. “I’m very fortunate to have the family that I have. It’s not often a woman can have a rewarding career and a beautiful family you admire.” The other stuff is immaterial. “My family’s health and happiness are more important.”
After her sons were in school, she was ready to re-enter the workforce. She’s glad she purchased the business. “I enjoy it,” said Zappa. “Owning a business has its ups and downs.” When she purchased it, there were 20 to 30 employees, six ambulances and one location. Today she has 65 to 70 employees and three locations in Springfield and Jacksonville. Her medics are currently undergoing training in critical care and will be the only ones offering this service.
Before she bought the business, she and Terry often talked, and he always told her you needed someone you trust to have your back. When she purchased it, it was only natural that she invited her best friend, Carla Berg, to join her. You can’t be a success without people around you who support you and what you do.
“I’m fortunate,” said Zappa. She was overwhelmed when she learned she was being honored as a Woman of Influence. She doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. “I felt like crying. I was very humbled,” she added.
She encourages women to not be afraid to take risks. “If you believe in it, go for it,” said Zappa. “Don’t hold back.”