Celebrating 50 years of Ten Top Women

Past honorees share memories of winning honor and how it’s changed their lives

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dayton Daily News’ Ten Top Women awards.

Betty Dietz Krebs, editor of the newspaper’s women’s department at the time, started the Ten Top Women awards and luncheon in 1962 to recognize women in the Miami Valley whose contributions helped make the area a better place to live. More than 500 women have received this honor.

“The Dayton Daily News and Cox Media Group Ohio have supported Ten Top Women since its inception 50 years ago,” said Julia Wallace, market vice president of Cox Media Group Ohio. “These women have taken their rightful place in Dayton’s history. We are proud and honored to have our name associated with the women of the Miami Valley who give so much to our community and continue to make it a better place to live.”

Betty Blakely was named one of the Top Ten Women in 1962.

“I was nominated by a dear friend and sorority sister, Elizabeth Carr,” she said. “I planned on nominating her. I never expected to be chosen and recognized as the first top 10 lady.”

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While living in Dayton, Blakeley said she volunteered at Miami Valley Hospital for a recorded 3,000 hours. She also taught a Sunday school class at Peace Lutheran Church in Beavercreek for more than 30 years. She now volunteers at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin, Ind., where she has worked 9,500 hours.

“I’ve been honored in many ways since, but I’ll never forget 1962 and the Dayton Daily News top 10 honor,” Blakely said.

We asked Ten Top Women award recipients over the past 50 years to share their memories of winning the award and reflect upon what this honor has meant to them.

Kathy Dierker, 1981; From Edward F. Dierker: “Kathy Dierker passed away on May 30. … She was honored for founding and growing SICSA (The Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals). … The award opened doors for her that helped her get other community leaders involved in the causes she felt passion for.”

Marilouise Downing, 1966; From Richard C. Downing: “She passed away a short time ago on July 25. … Marilouise was always a strong advocate for women’s rights, a long-time supporter of NOW (National Organization for Women), Planned Parenthood, P.E.O. Sisterhood and others. She had deep seated convictions about all these in her own quiet way, and was so pleased to know that other women shared her views.”

Betty Kirchmer, 1963: “Nine years prior, I had started dance classes for blind, deaf and other special-needs children, eventually forming an international organization D.A.N.C.E. to spread the work. When my husband Tom and I left (the luncheon]), we turned on the radio in the car and heard, ‘President Kennedy has just been shot.’ Needless to say, the previous activities seemed very insignificant.’”

Betty Schmoll, 1981: “The award … highlighted the work of Hospice (of Dayton) which was only three years old, and helped tell a lot of people about a new way of caring for and helping dying family members. … As the years went by and Hospice grew, I was more and more involved in creating this new health care program … and more and more recognized for doing so. This was the beginning.”

Charity Krueger, 1991: “It was after I received the top 10 women award that the membership committee for Northmont Rotary (Club) invited me to become their first (female) member. Their reasoning was that if I was good enough to be a top 10 woman in our community, I was good enough to be a Northmont Rotarian.”

Sue Garretson, 2006: “I was nominated … primarily for my work in starting Mound Street Academies, a high school … designed to meet the needs of young people who had dropped out of the traditional school setting. I believe that the publicity generated by the award increased public attention to the drop-out problem.”

Paula MacIlwaine, 1979: “Because of (the award), I felt a responsibility to help other women in our community achieve their goals. … Although I was the first woman elected to the Montgomery County commission and probably got named because of it, five women have been elected to the commission after me.”

Flo Lanasa, 1987: “I was nominated by the staff of the Cerebral (Palsy) Center in Dayton. … My son Tom has cerebral palsy, and it was because of him that I became involved with this organization. … To be honored for volunteer work that I really loved doing was so very special.”

Wanda Wiedman, 1977: “I was working at that time, managing the Dayton District Office … and even greater was the thrill when the Washington staff sent me a framed copy of the article that was recorded in the Congressional Record.”

Linda J. Hedden, 1987: “I was nominated for the award by Fort McKinley United Methodist Church. … I was employed by the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Dayton. The church took a leap of faith and agreed to partner with the V.A. to convert the Fort McKinley School into housing for homeless veterans. … I am thankful to the Dayton Daily News for affirming dreams that build lives and communities.”

Karen Warner, 2003: “I was born with congenital cataracts, a birth defect which required 10 eye operations. … With my inner drive and my competitiveness … I have mastered the challenges placed in front of me. … This (Ten Top Women award) is my greatest achievement.”

Mary Duley, 2009: “I was honored and awed to be among such an elite group. … After my speech, my hope was that someone thought about making a difference in a child’s life by becoming a foster parent.”

Alma Ivey Clarke, 1998: “My mother flew to Dayton to celebrate my accomplishments. … She told me that Dayton had recognized what she always knew, and that was that I found happiness in serving others. … My mother passed the following December.”

LaVerne Sci, 1992: “Upon arriving at the … banquet center, I was presented the most beautiful, large orchid corsage. … A strange inner yearning for the presence of my then recently deceased mother enlarged in my thoughts as the orchid was her favorite flower. … After … the awards component of the program started, the recipient just ahead of me said, ‘I wish my deceased mother could have lived to share this day with me today.’ Upon hearing my thoughts so clearly articulated, tears filled my eyes. … All too soon, my name was called. … My eyes scanned the audience, and I saw Ronita Hawes Sanders nodding slowly while holding a supportive expression, just as my my mother would have had. And at that moment, I found renewed strength.”

Rebecca Puckett, 2010: “My husband lost his right leg to diabetes and was in the hospital when I was contacted and told that I had won. … (The award) was one of the most uplifting things that has ever happened to me.”

Joyce Kasprzak, 2010: “The ceremony gave me an opportunity to thank publicly the people who have helped me. … Our organization experienced greater opportunities and contributions in fulfilling our mission of publishing learning-activity books for children.”

Christine Dull, 2008: “(The award) encouraged me that others too felt that nonviolence and compassion toward others is of great importance. … At the time, I said, ‘We live in a culture of violence on many levels, and we need to learn to accept each other with all our warts and differences because everyone has secret difficulties.’”

Bobbie Myers, 1997: “I ended my speech with this: ‘Through the years, people have said to me that with all the time and energy I spend on volunteering, I could have had a real job and made a lot of money. Well, I say to them and to everyone here, volunteering is a real job, and today is pay day.’”

Susan Hayes, 2000: “I felt I needed to be a better leader and represent the image of a Ten Top Women in everything I did and said. To this day, I continue to mentor those around me and am currently in a Ph.D. program for leadership and change.”

Stacy M. Thompson, 2011: “The greatest gift of this prestigious honor came after the applause died down. … I was left inspired to ‘grow into the award.’ I find myself trying a little harder, giving a little more and raising the bar.”

Anne E. Ross, 2008: “As I prepared for my acceptance, I thought of the many ways that my parents had been excellent examples of how to positively impact the lives of others. … Upon receiving the award, it was heartwarming to look over at my children’s proud faces and know that they will carry this tradition to future generations.”

Debby Goldenberg, 1996: “When I received the call that I was accepted as a recipient, I was overcome with emotion. … Rabbi Irving Bloom in his letter of recommendation mentioned the Jewish principle of ‘tikkun olam,’ literally ‘the repair of the world.’ Every person is obligated to do what can be done to make the world, or at least a small part of it, a better place to live.’”

Ang Addington, 2008: “I remember telling people that winning the award was just part of my life’s puzzle, and one more piece had fallen into place. … Many people had helped me get to that point.”

Gertie E. Eachus, 1986: “The day I got the call, I was sewing. The lady said, ‘Have you heard of the Ten Top Woman program? I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Well, you’ve been chosen.’ I paused. … I said, ‘Who, me?’ She said, ‘I’ll call you back later after it all sinks in.’”

Vicki Giambrone, 2000: “The great memory for me was that the most important women in my life, my mother, my mother-in-law, my aunt and my daughter, were there. … The publicity and the award itself also gave me credibility and a bigger entrée moving forward to help me advance the causes I care so much about.”

Jeanne Comer, 1983 (who passed away last week): “I spoke for almost six minutes. I wanted to tell them (the luncheon audience) about the Friendship Force, which I had established in Ohio in 1979, the real reason I received the honor. I got a standing ovation.”

Dorothy J. Hitchcock, 1979: “The young lady in charge of the program said, ‘Since you were the most enthusiastic when I phoned you, you will lead off with a response.’ She also added, ‘Last year, everyone just said, ‘Thank you.’ This year, I want you to say more.’ Upon hearing this, my husband said, ‘Just remember you didn’t get there alone.’ … Between the two of them, I could hardly eat, worrying about what to say.”

Jewel Freeman Graham, 1987: “I could not see that I was doing anything that was particularly unusual. I learned about the crucial significance of the many roles that so many women fulfill in our communities. It gave me courage to continue.”

Denise Martin Cross, 2003: “The … Ten Top Women awards is an honor to women and a tribute to the philosophy that was best said by an anonymous writer: ‘None of us are as smart as all of us.’”

Jenell R. Ross, 2008: “It was indeed an honor to walk in the shoes of so many wonderful women before me including my mother Norma Ross who was also a Ten Top Woman. I know there are very few mother/daughter duos, and I feel especially grateful considering my mother is no longer with us.”

Pam Becker, 1993: “Four of the women in my immediate group were people I had worked closely with on various projects, and I so admired them. … I hope that all of the current honorees continue to be as proud of all women as we were then.”

Ginny Strausburg, 2006: “I still remember my disbelief when I received the phone call informing me that I had been selected. … My advice then and continues to be: Do for others what feeds your soul and makes your heart sing.”

Shawon Brown-Gullette, 2010: “We all had something in common. It was our striving for the better, and to serve as mentors and leaders in our community. Each year, this award inspires me to continue to be a pillar in the community.”

Yvonne V. Isaacs, 2006: “At the awards reception, I was asked … ‘What is the one most significant person or circumstance that has contributed to your success?’ My answer primarily addressed the impact that my former friend and mentor Gail Littlejohn had in encouraging me as a leader, and helping me to view challenges as opportunities for personal and professional growth.”

Dr. Elvira Rosca-Jaballas, 1985: “The honor inspired me to be a role model to learners, to have a balanced family life, and be a caring, compassionate physician, and effective leader.”

Bette Rogge Morse, 1977: “Being born and raised here, graduating from Patterson Co-Op and University of Dayton, it was a special honor. … It encouraged me to do more for my community.”

Gwen Lee, 1976: “This award motivated me to go further as a volunteer and community activist. … I felt that I stood on the shoulders of many African-American women who as role models paved the way for others.”

Dr. Maria T. Nanagas, 2006: “I am reminded of the question posed to me on what advice would I give myself as I begin my journey if I were to start over again. My simple answer of ‘to make a meaningful life’ has become my recurring theme since.”

Christine F. Olinsky, 1998: “I felt like a queen when I received this honor. It was wonderful … to be able to thank those who had been so instrumental in my professional success. … I have received other awards, but this one is truly one of the most treasured.”

Carol Kennard, 2011: “Making choices based on what is important to you, surrounding yourself with positive people and working hard to help others makes your journey rewarding. The group of Ten Top Women recipients is a great representation of this positive lifestyle.”

Betsy Whitney, 1984: “Could Betty Dietz Krebs ever (have) imagined the impact top 10 women would have for our community … over a period of 50 years? Reading through the lists of honorees gives us an opportunity to remember their effects on the lives of many of us.”

Judy Cook, 2005: “I have always believed that honoring achievement serves a much greater purpose. The Ten Top Women awards tell a myriad of stories about different people and different passions.”

Karen Blair Medford, 1994: “I was so stunned when I got the call from the Dayton Daily News. … I immediately thought that there was a mistake and that they were actually calling me about my subscription. It was such a great honor.”

Judy Dodge, 2002: “One of my cherished memories was accepting the Ten Top Women award in remembrance of my mother. She would have been so proud of not only my public service, but also the service of women who were honored alongside me.”

Carol Levitan, 2008: “I was thrilled to be … elected one of the top 10. It will also look neat in my obituary. … My daughter and granddaughter were here, and they looked so proud when I was speaking.”

Toni Perry Gillispie, 2007: “I turn 50 in a few weeks, while this is the 50th anniversary. This is the time when a woman should be comfortable with herself even more than before. This is where I am, still rising and celebrating the friendships developed during the time I received this beautiful recognition.”

Maxine Midori Kato Kawanishi, 1973: “In the beginning, the top 10 were honored only for their achievements in volunteerism. 1973 was the first year to recognize an additional woman who because of her professional job was also able to achieve recognition for exceptional achievement. I was the 10th to be honored by the mayor of Dayton and on my own, took the liberty on behalf of us all to thank everyone responsible for our selections and those who made this event possible, especially Betty Dietz Krebs.”

Marilyn Hart, 2000: “Volunteers never die. My biggest current project is [“Faces and Flowers of MARY, AN OFFERING OF PAINTINGS,” at The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute at the University of Dayton]. After this project, I will continue painting for Catholic Social Services.”

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