Security Bank and Springfield Business Journal are proud to bring you the 13th 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.
You are invited to join us in celebrating their achievements at a reception on Tuesday, May 10, 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
Role: Sangamo Club general manager
Motto: “Start with a yes.”
Interesting tidbit: I’ve never dyed my hair.
“I went through childhood sitting in the front row with my hand in the air,” said Springfield native Emily Becker. “I was always volunteering.” She categorizes herself as a doer and, according to her family, suffers from the “fear-of-missing-out syndrome.” It’s always been her natural inclination to be involved.
When she was growing up, her parents had clear expectations. “I was expected to do well in school and be nice to people,” she said.
“My father was always passionate about everything he did,” she continued. “I try to emulate that.” The numerous organizations she has been involved with include Illinois Women in Leadership, United Way, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School, Friends of St. John’s Hospital and Downtown Springfield, Inc.
Becker believes in making her community the best place it can be. “I like giving back,” she said, adding that she enjoys working with organizations which help propel the city forward.
Among her proudest accomplishments are co-chairing the United Way’s campaign to reduce the trend in declining campaign gifts and serving on the Illinois Women in Leadership board. “It’s a great professional development organization,” she said, adding that IWIL has experienced tremendous growth and now has more than 200 members.
She is grateful for the opportunities she has had in life and credits her experiences at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School for preparing her for collegiate success. “It helped me in the long term.”
A 2008 graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a degree in hospitality management and business administration, she began her career in hospitality at the Crowne Plaza Springfield. Later, she became director of member services at the Sangamo Club, a position she held before accepting a new opportunity as director of patient relations at Prairie Cardiovascular Consultants.
As she puts it, “life happens.” David Radwine, former general manager of the Sangamo Club, offered her his position before he retired. After “laughing my head off,” she decided not to pass up the opportunity and took over as general manager in 2015. “It was an opportunity to lead an organization.”
The Sangamo Club is male-dominated, as are many private clubs. She said members are surprised to see a woman in her position, which both disappoints and empowers her.
The greatest piece of advice she ever received came from Marita Zuraitis, president and CEO of Horace Mann, who told her: “Forget you’re a woman, but don’t try to be a man.” In other words, be authentic and don’t let your womanhood define you.
She is passionate about service and believes everyone should give of their time, talent and treasure. “You need to do all things with love,” she said. “It takes people further than you might think.”
She brings a sense of enthusiasm to everything she does. “It may sound overly clichéd, but I call myself a cheerleader,” she said She believes in leading through encouragement and helping others realize their full potential. “People are capable of more than they think they are.”
Her staff knows that she is there for them. “I tell them, I care about you, let me help you,” she said. “We can work through this together.”
She loves stories of redemption and resilience where people make something of themselves because someone took a chance on them. It reminds her to give people a chance.
“You have to treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you want to be treated,” she continued. “You have to treat everyone like you just found out it’s their birthday.”
She sees her next position as being a wife and mother. “I haven’t been promoted yet,” she said, laughing.
Family: Husband, Randy; children, Scott and Carrie
Role: Community volunteer
Motto: “Make the most out of every day. Don’t waste time on things.”
Interesting tidbit: She was in Legally Blonde 2.
A Springfield native, Kathy Germeraad is passionate about making Springfield a better place to live. “Springfield is such a great community,” she said, adding her family has lived here since the mid-1800s when her dad’s great-grandfather emigrated from Germany.
Giving back is a family tradition, beginning when her grandfather started Springfield Electric. “He believed in giving back to the community that supports your company,” she said.
Growing up, her parents, Bill and Mary Schnirring, were extremely active in the community. They taught her to become involved in the place you live and to try to make a difference. “When someone needed something, my dad would ask: ‘How can I help you?’”
When she and her sister were in school, her dad felt they had to have a project every summer. “I love children and always wanted to be a teacher,” she said. During the summer, she worked at Head Start Family Service Center and was a teacher’s aide at Butler School. “It was a great experience.” This laid the foundation for her community involvement.
Germeraad graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1975. “I never thought I would end up living here,” she said.
She came back, got married and taught in the Athens school district and the original Vachel Lindsay Elementary School for five years. “This is a terrific community to raise a family.”
Her family is very important to her. She left teaching after her first child was born and became a stay-at-home mom. She and her husband have tried to pass their values on to their children. “My kids get it,” she said, adding they’ve always been active in the community. She hopes they pass this on to the next generation.
Among the organizations she has been involved with include the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, Illinois State Museum Society, Springfield Art Association, Friends of Memorial and King’s Daughters. She has also served on a number of committees and helped with the clothing drive for the Asbury Children’s Supper Hour.
She is a huge proponent of public education. Four generations of her family have graduated from Springfield High School. “We have a presence here,” she said. She has served on the Springfield High School Hall of Fame committee, spearheaded fundraising efforts to update Schnirring Auditorium and was a Booster Club co-chair with her husband, Randy.
“Good schools are the backbone of the community and attract people who want to move here and keeps them here,” she said.
She doesn’t believe in taking on activities unless she can give them her all. “I feel so blessed,” she said. “I try to give back in some way and to make the community better and touch someone’s life.” She and her sister, Carolyn Dungan, oversee the Schnirring family foundation and through it have helped numerous organizations.
Germeraad encourages women to become involved in their community. One of her guiding principles in life is to do the right thing. She tries to be open to new ideas and be accepting of all kinds of people.
She enjoys meeting new people and learning about different programs in the community. Now that she has grandchildren, she wants to become more involved in order to set an example for them . “I want to help make the community good for their lives,” she said.
“I’m happier now than I’ve ever been,” she continued. “I finally get what life is about. Hopefully, I can make a difference while I’m here. I’m so grateful for the life I’ve had in this community and the experiences that I’ve had.”
Family: Husband, Robin; children, Bailey and Morgan
Role: Superintendent, Springfield Public School District 186
Motto: “Go slow, to go fast.”
Interesting tidbit: People see me as an extrovert but I’m really introverted.
Springfield native Jennifer Gill grew up in a family that believed in giving back to others. “It was an important part of our lives,” she said. She was also active in her church.
She comes from a family of educators. Her grandmother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in McLean County, her mother was an orchestra teacher in the Springfield public schools and her father taught in the Tri-City school district in Buffalo.
It was only natural that she follow in their footsteps. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Eastern Illinois University and her master’s degree in educational administration from the University of Illinois Springfield. She is currently working on her doctoral thesis at Illinois State University.
Gill has an extensive teaching and administrative resume. “I am what I am because of the experiences afforded me,” she said.
She taught fifth grade at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville for three years before accepting a teaching job at Wanless Elementary School in Springfield, where she taught third grade for two years.
Moving up the ladder, she served as an administrative intern at Franklin Middle School before becoming a part-time principal’s assistant at Dubois Elementary School, where she worked for two years before accepting a full-time principal’s assistant position at Harvard Park Elementary School.
She next served as principal at Vachel Lindsay Elementary School before transferring to the district’s central office to help develop curricula and assessments. After one year, she became principal at McClernand Elementary School.
“It was an amazing experience,” she said of her time at McClernand. “I had a great, hard-working staff. We were able to help get things back on track.”
When the opportunity came along to work as the director of teaching and learning at McLean County Unit District Five, she jumped on it. “It helped me step outside my comfort zone and see how another school district operated,” she said. This experience was formative in her eventually applying for the superintendent position.
“It has been an honor to follow in the footsteps of those who have walked before me,” she said, crediting former superintendents Diane Rutledge and Bob Hill with helping her understand what the job is all about. “They have been my mentors.”
She loves her work and sees herself serving in this position for several years to come. “It’s an opportunity to provide leadership,” she said. Currently, she is developing a technology plan for the district’s schools.
Gill believes it is important to look at the big picture and to see how all the parts come together. “It’s the little accomplishments every day that add up to success stories,” she said, adding that she enjoys watching students grow up and achieve success.
A community is only as strong as its school system, according to Gill. “Springfield is a great city,” she said. “It’s a premier place to live and raise children.”
“As a community, it’s important to work together and make this a better place to be and live,” she continued. Among the community organizations she supports are the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, United Way, YMCA and Sangamon CEO. She is also very supportive of the Boy Scouts, Lincoln Land Down Syndrome Society and SPARC.
“Everyone needs to come together and get to know each other and support those that need us,” she said. “We are one of many. If we all work together, we’re much stronger.”
She encourages others to not ever think of things as impossible: it’s important to always strive and make yourself the best person that you can be. “Don’t be afraid to take on a role,” she said.
You have to have a growth mindset. “It makes you a stronger person,” she said, observing that she is always growing and learning different things. “You have to think about what you can do to get better.”
Family: Husband, Siavash; children, Leila and Siamak
Motto: “Nothing about us without us.” This comes out of 16th century Poland and is about governance. It goes back to the idea that we need to involve individuals – whether based on nationality, ethnicity, ability or race – in policies that may affect them.
Interesting tidbit: Just completed a young adult novel titled Sticks and Stones that focuses on diversity and bullying.
Maryam Mostoufi describes herself as a right-fighter. “I fight for the rights of individuals who may have been disenfranchised,” she said. Being a right-fighter goes hand-in-hand with being a change agent. “Change doesn’t occur without risk. The change you get may not always be what you wanted. You never know until you try.”
She grew up in Iowa, where her mother and her friends were instrumental in developing the first sex education program in the schools. “They were shocked to realize how little adults understood about sex education,” she said.
“No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always been cognizant of a sense of responsibility,” she said, and credits this to her parents, who instilled a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility in her. “I try to improve the situation where I live.”
She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, a master’s degree in human resource development at the University of Illinois Springfield and her doctorate in ministry from the Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.
“I wanted to be a minister,” she said, but her theological beliefs weren’t consistent with the church, so she became an educator and taught in medical school. Thirty years later her career has come full circle and she is now a volunteer chaplain and the first Muslim woman to be admitted to the Association of Professional Chaplains.
During her professional career she was the bureau chief of the Department of Human Resources, Division of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Human Services, where she served as an advocate for persons with developmental disabilities and created standardized training programs that were adopted by other states.
When Mostoufi speaks about her work with people with developmental disabilities, she gets a big smile on her face. “Everyone, no matter their ability or disability, has lessons to teach us,” she said.
“We’re responsible for the community we create,” she continued. “We have to take a leadership role. If you see a problem, fix it.”
It’s about ownership. “We are all equals in the eyes of God. It is our faith, humility and deeds that distinguish us.”
She has worked with a number of organizations devoted to social justice issues. “The Springfield community is amazing,” she said.
She has served as president of the Greater Springfield Interfaith Association, where she has worked to bring people of all faiths together and currently participates in a local discussion group for interfaith women. “It’s been very enriching,” she said. “No matter what your faith tradition is, we have so much in common. We each have the same Creator.” She has good friends in every religious tradition in Springfield.
Her other accomplishments include working with former Attorney General Jim Ryan to strengthen hate crime reporting requirements in Illinois, and she has served on the Illinois Coalition to Promote Human Dignity and Diversity.
Mostoufi has also worked on two interfaith builds with Habitat for Humanity, assisted with the Helping Hands homeless shelter, helped rewrite the District 186 student manual with Dr. Robert Hill to improve the harassment and bullying sections and worked with LaCuna to make afghans for cancer patients.
Her message to women is simple: you have more power than you realize. “Look for it and use it when you find it,” she said.
At this point in her life, Mostoufi has the freedom to write, and rotates writing the “Belief” column for the State Journal-Register. “I’ve been writing since I was a child,” she said, adding that she plans to continue writing full time and lecturing.
“It makes me happy to see words come alive on the page,” she said.
Sister Katherine O’Connor
Family: Two brothers, two nieces, two nephews and a sister-in-law
Role: President of Sacred Heart-Griffin High School
Motto: “I live now not, but Christ lives in me.”
Interesting tidbit: Has two middle names. “My mother named me Katherine Veronica after her grandmother and my father named me Katherine Regina after
his grandmother. I also like adult coloring books.”
“Everyone has the ability to make the world a better place,” said Sister Katherine O’Connor. “It’s important to work together. Only through collaboration can we achieve real peace.”
She grew up in Chicago and Crystal Lake. The youngest child, she felt blessed to grow up in a close family where she was loved and supported. She credits her brother, Tom, who was very involved with her growing up, for encouraging her to reach out.
As a teenager, she was enamored of John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII. She loves helping people become the best that they can be. “Too often we look at the negative,” she said. “It’s important to help people see the positive qualities within themselves and the gifts they have.
“Education is the real key to changing the world,” she continued. “So much turmoil and unrest comes from a lack of understanding what the truth is.”
She always wanted to be a teacher. “I enjoy learning and helping others learn,” she said. There were several significant teachers that she was blessed to have in her life. “I wanted to emulate them.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, a master’s of administration and supervision from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a master’s in Christian spirituality from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
An administrator and educator for most of her adult life, she took over as president of SHG in 2005 and is committed to helping students achieve academic excellence. “The teachers reach out to help students,” she said.
One of her accomplishments at SHG was developing the learning lab and writing center. “We can help students who may not be at the top to move higher up through the extra help they receive,” she said.
She has also been involved with renovating the west side campus and the auditorium on the main campus and helped direct the Generations Campaign, the largest fundraiser in the school’s history. “It’s a privilege to be here with young people,” she said, and has been both grateful and challenged during her time at SHG, where she is working to make the school a more diverse community.
She encourages people to come and spend a day at SHG. “There are so many good teens committed to making a difference in the world,” she said.
She is working to help bring about the kingdom of God. “Christ is part of each of us,” she added. “I want every person to realize that Christ is in them.” It’s important to notice people who may not want to be noticed, she added.
As part of her commitment to the community, Sister Katherine also serves on the Elizabeth Ann Seton and Urban League boards. “I’m helping change the world one person at a time,” she said.
“I want to continue sharing the gifts that I’ve been given with others and to continue drawing out the best in others.”
Time is a precious gift. “It’s important to live in the moment,” she said. “You can never have now again.” Being present is a true gift and something to strive for.
She also believes in taking time to get to know who people really are. “When you get to know them, you get to love them,” she said. “When we know we are loved, we can act lovingly towards each other. It’s important to love one another.”
With her, what you see is what you get. She emphasizes being genuine. “We are all wonderfully made,” she said. “It’s what’s inside that counts.”
Family: Husband, Terry; daughter, Katie
Role: President and executive director, Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach
Motto: “Every person has value and deserves respect.”
Interesting tidbit: She and a friend painted a 40-foot-long mural at Christ the King Catholic Church.
“My mom was a person of faith,” said Georgia Winson, who grew up in Havana, Illinois. “She was very kind. We lived in a neighborhood with a lot of elderly people and people with developmental disabilities. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and she would visit with the neighbors who weren’t able to get out. She was community for them.”
Havana was a small town where everybody knew everybody. There were people who were very wealthy and people who were very poor. “It was nice to have a mixture of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said.
This helped shape her view of the world and has become one of her guiding principles – it’s important to be kind and to not harm anyone else.
“By nature I’m introverted,” she said, crediting her daughter with helping her become less timid. “She wanted me to be involved in her school.” She started coming out of her shell and began helping in her church, where she discovered she enjoyed working with others.
When her daughter was around eight years old, Winson decided to return to school. Her parents had always taught her the value of an education, and she had attended several colleges when she was younger.
Initially, she had been afraid to go back because she wasn’t sure she’d succeed. She took a calculus class and told herself if she could get an A, she’d go back.
“I learned to be courageous,” she said. She now encourages other women to not be afraid and to embrace their gifts and find a way to use them. “Don’t let fear stop you.”
She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in clinical psychology from Illinois State University and is a licensed clinical professional counselor. “It was a great adventure,” she said. “I discovered things about myself.”
During her professional career, she has gone from working with people with clinical issues to building systems and supervising programs to help large numbers of people. She led The Autism Program of Illinois, where she worked with more than 30 organizations to create consistent services for children with autism, and served as executive director of the Hope Institute for Children and Families.
She has always been interested in people and focuses on helping people in need and using her administrative skills to create programs. She believes in leading by example and focuses on empowering people to be their best.
“I get a lot of joy seeing people lifted up out of difficult circumstances,” she said. She has learned that people are resilient.
In her current position, she works with 63 hospitals across four states to recover medical supplies and equipment and then distribute them to 87 countries around the world. Last year, the organization sent 51 shipping containers valued at more than $5 million to 40 countries. She has gained a global perspective. “We really do need to help other people who live with far less,” she said.
“There’s something to be said for doing something beyond meeting your own needs,” she added, mentioning that she is inspired by Dorothy Day, who believed in helping the poor. “It’s important to have meaningful work and activities that benefit other people in some way.”
Winson enjoys being involved in the local community and connecting with people. “I’ve made some really great friends,” she said. Among the organizations she is involved with are Dining for Women, Rotary and Christ the King parish.
“I would like to have more freedom to do more to help other people,” she said because she has learned that she has so much more to give.