Leading Ladies

Every community benefits from the commitments of its most dedicated individuals.  In the Harrisburg region, over two dozen women have earned the title “Woman of Excellence” due to each one’s contributions personally, professionally and socially.  The YWCA Greater Harrisburg annually honors these “leading ladies,” and Harrisburg Magazine is privileged to share their insights, recollections, advice and humor.

Women wear many hats in our society.  As would-be jugglers, they must melt from role to role seamlessly.  It’s not an easy task.

Yet some females are so adept, so remarkable, that it’s impossible not to notice their feats. Twenty-seven of these incredible ladies will be feted on March 20th during the YWCA’s “Tribute to Women of Excellence” event at Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

This year’s faces are new, but the occasion is not.  The YWCA has been awarding phenomenal femmes since 1989 in this fashion. Holding a kickoff soiree in January at their site on Cameron and Market, the nonprofit is eager to give back to the women who have given so much.

“The 2013 Tribute to Women of Excellence Class once again is a unique group of women walking the walk as leaders, mentors, community volunteers and, of course, strong women making a difference in the lives of many.” ~ Tina Nixon

Supporters for the Tribute events include signature sponsor Highmark Blue Shield, and visionary sponsors Petroleum Products Corporation, The Hershey Company, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Boyer and Ritter (the underwriter for the January reception).

Says Devan Drabik, fundraising and publications manager at the YWCA, “All of our honorees have demonstrated a passion for volunteerism and have made significant contributions to our community, both professionally and personally.  We are very excited to honor them.”

Tina Nixon, YWCA CEO, agrees.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to honor women who embrace the mission of the YWCA. The 2013 Tribute to Women of Excellence Class once again is a unique group of women walking the walk as leaders, mentors, community volunteers and, of course, strong women making a difference in the lives of many. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important that we continue to recognize the contributions that women make in our country. We must all continue to find the courage to stand up, speak out and make changes.”

In keeping with tradition, each Woman of Excellence was asked to share her thoughts on a variety of topics.  Below, we invite you to enjoy the bevy of thoughtful – and sometimes downright hilarious – responses we received.


“More patience.  Whenever I see someone suffering from road rage or griping that a line is too long and slow, I think about how we should all take a step back, breathe a little more slowly and think about what is really important day-to-day.  Being late is not the apocalypse.  Someone cutting you off in traffic is not a personal slight that deserves retribution. Thinking about the bigger picture will automatically build more patience in your life.”  Jessica Sprajcar, Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources

“More laughter.  ‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’ ~ Charlie Chaplin.”  Marilyn L. Bowers, Performance Construction

“Compassion.”  Jennifer Gallia, Esq., Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company

“Kindness. It is simple and free. A kind word or smile, or offering to hold a door for another… To me, these small gestures send messages that you recognize and value those around you, whether they are strangers or longtime friends.” Elizabeth Bates, The Pennsylvania State University, School of Nursing

“Tolerance. It would put an end to so many of the world’s sorrows.” Cate Barron, “The Patriot-News”

“Civility.  We’ve lost our ability to have respectful discourse and are seemingly unwilling to listen to views and opinions that differ from our own.  Instead of tackling the tough issues with civility, we attack each other – with our words, our fists and all too often with weapons. It often gives me pause that we don’t even have the common sense to be embarrassed by our actions and the reality of what we pass on to our children.  I recently re-read George Washington’s Rules of Civility: Still so very applicable and sadly, necessary.”  Angela Liddle, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance

“Respect of each other…of our individuality, our gifts, our passions and that we are all people and should be treated as equals.”  Jennifer Doyle, The Foundation for Enhancing Communities

“Peace and international understanding.” Marisol Aviles de Ortiz, Estamos Unidos de Pennsylvania

“I believe one thing needed in this world is…more quality time spent with family…or people who love you like family.” Sandra Neydl, Capital Blue Cross


“Even though we were not wealthy, my parents made sure I had a great childhood. My best memories are being with family, both in Farrell, Pa., and Chicago, Ill.  Oh, and I can’t forget Disney World… What child didn’t enjoy that?” Phebe West (*Emerging Leader)

“My best childhood memory is that of carefree summer days playing in the woods behind my home, or floating in the creek on big black tire inner tubes. Whether it was building a treehouse or off on an adventure, the whole day was ahead of us.”  Alicelyn Watson Sleber, Sleber & Associates

“My family sharing stories of each other’s day at the dinner table and the family playing card games.”  Dolly M. Lalvani, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

“Reading book after book on slow summer afternoons and escaping into lovely literary worlds that changed my life.”  Cheryl A.Dellasega, CRNP, Ph.D., Penn State College of Medicine and The Pennsylvania State University

“Playing all day in the woods and streams of the Wissahickon with my friends; feeling safe and free.” Lecia Jordan, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School

“Hearing the sound of the ocean while falling asleep on a mild fall night in Florida, on one of the few rare occasions when we could leave the windows open.”  Una Martone, Leadership Harrisburg Area

“Hiding under my bed with a flashlight reading books for hours after I was supposed to be in bed.  In retrospect, I think my parents knew and didn’t really mind.”  Kandice Kerwin Hull, McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

“Sundays at my grandparents’ houses, time with family.  It was a weekly routine after church; it was a relaxed time with extended family.” Sheri Matter, PinnacleHealth System

“Playing games with my cousins, like ‘baby-on-the-roof,’ Risk, touch football, speed tree-climbing and The Game of Life.” Louise Kunkel (*Legacy Honoree)

“My best childhood memory was when my neighbors got together to help me go to Girl Scout Camp. We had no relatives to turn to as I was growing up. I still remember all the camp songs that I learned, plus archery, basket weaving, trust walks and lots of friends to play with. This was the only time in my childhood that I was allowed to stay overnight away from home.” Peggy Grove, Rosewein Realty


“Chocolate!”  Lori Clark Robinson, Highmark Blue Shield

“Eating decadently…like bone marrow, cured lardo, pork belly, etc.  Here’s the harsh truth: fat is delicious.  It is even better with other enhancers like salt, capers, truffles and pepper. And if you broil or caramelize it – look out. I am eating it!”  Kristen L. Houser, MPA, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

“A hand-mulled mojito from Mangia Qui’s Suba.” Lecia Jordan

“To give more than what I have.” Marisol Aviles de Ortiz

“My favorite ‘guilty pleasure’ is sitting in a chair on the beach with a good book and my lunch and being able to stay there until the sun sets.” Alicelyn Watson Sleber

“A day at the Hershey Spa with friends.” Sandra Neydl

“A facial, manicure, pedicure and hair treatment once a month at Hair on The Avenue in Reading.  The team at Hair on The Avenue is top-notch and really understand what ‘service’ is all about.  It’s my time to relax and let them help me look and feel my best.  From my perspective, we have to care for ourselves before we can truly take care of anyone else.”  Susan Eveland, Giant Food Stores, LLC

“White chocolate raspberry truffle cheese cake (The Cheesecake Factory).” Marilyn L. Bowers

“The Good Life Wine Club.” Victoria S. Madden, Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole

“A long run or reading a book.” Cynthia Reinhart, Penn National Insurance

“I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my guilty pleasure is crime dramas.  After a busy day at work, and an even busier sports and homework-filled evening with my three kids, give me an hour on the couch watching any number of shows involving serial killers.” Amy Foerster, Saul Ewing LLP

“My cowgirl boots.”  Alison Ballantine

“Mindless television.  My DVR gets a workout during the week, and when I have time on the weekends, I’ll be one with the couch and watch back-to- back episodes of The Big Bang Theory, Parks and Recreation, New Girl and Glee.  Some mindless television is just too important to miss, so I try to watch American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance in real time.” Una Martone, Leadership Harrisburg Area

“White chocolate mousse cake from Hershey’s Chocolate World.” Amy Hahn, The Hershey Company


“To write more.”  Cheryl A. Dellasega

“To stop talking about ‘it’ and be about ‘it’ – ‘it’ being all the hopes, dreams and aspirations that swarm through my brain.” Phebe West

“To drive without using the cell phone.” Louise Kunkel

“One of my 2013 resolutions is not to worry so much about all of the things that I have to do and to feel more satisfaction in the things that I’ve already done.”  Kandice Kerwin Hull

“To ensure that my mother is well taken care of.  Mom just turned 91, and it is my privilege and honor to care for her at this stage of her life.  Despite the fact that she lives a distance away, I am resolved to ensure she knows how much she is loved and that her needs are my first priority.”  Susan Eveland

“Carve out time each day to learn one new thing that I have been curious about but never took time to research.” Elizabeth Bates


“You cannot do it alone.” Dolly M. Lalvani

“The man you choose to love should be someone who accepts you as you are.  A woman should never need to change to ‘earn’ a man’s love.”  Lori Clark Robinson

“Heels are not necessary.  I say this as a 5-foot-tall shoe horse with very damaged feet.  Here’s the deal: when you are 5-feet- tall and wish you were taller, the reality is those 3-inch heels don’t fool anyone.  You are still short, and now your feet hurt.  And really, in the end, I have learned that most people look right past the trappings anyway, so invest less time, money and effort in them.  You will be respected for your hard work, loved for your authenticity, admired for the good that you do and the friend that you are and the self-confidence you gain from being valued for meaningful reasons instead of exterior or superficial wrapping is life-lasting.”  Kristen L. Houser

“We can achieve our dreams. We need to believe in ourselves and strive to achieve. We can accomplish what we set our minds to do.” Cynthia Reinhart

“The world is what you make of it.  Sometimes when you look around you may get discouraged by seeing lots of men in high places, but there are so many more women in positions of power than there were 30 or more years ago.  A lot of progress has been made, but we have to keep at it.  If you want to be your company’s CEO, be an executive director of a nonprofit, be senior partner in a law firm or other position of influence. It is possible with determination, optimism and a support system.” Jessica Sprajcar

“I wish more young women would realize that they are ‘enough’ without having to latch onto a boyfriend or husband before they have taken the time to get to know who they are; nurture their own belief system, values, strengths and even weaknesses before joining with another. And, of course, I wish each young woman would value education and the importance of being able to be self-sufficient so they would always be able to select a partner out of choice rather than perceived necessity.” Angela Liddle

“We can be kind and accepting, but if someone is not being nice, it is OK to stand up for yourself.” Alison Ballantine

“Women have the potential to be whoever they want to be.  With support, perseverance and the determination that they already have, they can succeed and make a difference.”  Jennifer Doyle

“Men are an important part of a woman’s life, but they are not the only part of her life.”  Sheri Matter

“I wish more young women would realize that they have special talents to contribute beyond family responsibilities. Often women sacrifice their dreams and professional goals to raise a family. It’s really important to remember to invest time in yourself as well as your children, your husband and your parents. Also, it’s never too late to create a pathway to your dream.” Peggy Grove

“Women really can endure more than they ever could imagine.” Victoria Madden

“I wish more young women would realize that they owe a debt of gratitude to past generations of working women for trailblazing the way to success in business and the professions.” Cate Barron

“Women really can ‘have it all.’  Only you can define what constitutes ‘it all’ for you, but don’t let anyone tell you that you have to choose between a fulfilling career, a loving family and service to society.  You don’t.” Amy Foerster

“Self-confidence is the key to reaching a woman’s personal level of greatness.” Jennifer Gallia

“Each and every woman is beautiful and special in her own way.  Happiness is found in celebrating, respecting and valuing differences, and finding your own path to your authentic self, not in aspiring to someone else’s image of who you should be.” Amy Hahn