Bonnie St. John, the first African-American to win Olympic or Paralympic medals in ski racing, overcame the challenge of losing a leg at age five to achieve her goals. St. John encouraged others to demonstrate courage in going after their goals during a presentation at the Women’s Roundtable at East Carolina University’s Incredible ECU Women Series, Oct. 10 at the Greenville Convention Center. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)
Women encouraged to lead, give back at Women’s Roundtable event
By Jeannine Hutson and Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Services
Overcoming challenges and building a career in cupcakes were two memorable illustrations of leadership and service offered during the fourth event in the ECU Incredible Women’s Series.
Presented by the Women’s Roundtable at East Carolina University, the Oct. 10 event featured Bonnie St. John, who won three Paralympic medals in ski racing and co-authored “How Great Women Lead” with her daughter.
“Women are leading everywhere,” St. John told the 500 attendees over lunch. “They always have. But we don’t call what we do leadership.”
As an amputee, St. John overcame numerous obstacles to succeed in life. She now encourages others to persevere, learn from one another and rely on inner strength. Don’t wish for a “normal life,” she said. “Aim higher.”
“It is not our circumstances that define us,” St. John said. “It’s something inside us.”
She also was impressed by the Roundtable group’s commitment to supporting each other and mentoring young women.
ECU alumna Valeria Lassiter, chair of the Women’s Roundtable Board of Directors, inspired purple pride with cheers of “Go Pirates” to kick off The Incredible ECU Women Series Oct. 10.
“It is the coming together that is the most powerful thing,” St. John said. “It’s so wonderful for (the students) to have all these role models in the community.”
Women’s Roundtable Chair Valeria Lassiter said the group “allows us to celebrate women in leadership and philanthropy fields.” Since forming in 2003, the group has raised and contributed more than $100,000 to support Access Scholarships for deserving students.
In 2011, the group’s board of directors decided to commit $125,000 to fully endow an Access Scholarship in the memory of the late Kathy Taft, who was a founding member of the Women’s Roundtable.
That scholarship recipient, Marah Mcmahan of Archdale, told the group of her dream as a young girl to become a teacher. Today, she’s a senior double-majoring in history education and history at ECU, who volunteers on campus through the ECU Reads program, the Pirate Tutoring Center and the Campus Kitchen.
“They cared enough to pay for my dream,” she said of the Women’s Roundtable. “I chose ECU because people cared. It’s generosity in action.”
A highlight of the event was the induction of the next class of “Incredible ECU Women.” This year’s inductees join the 106 current members.
Of the women recognized, Lassiter said, “the common thread is you are all leaders. You bring honor to ECU.”
They are as follows, including the category they were recognized in:
- Jo Allen, ’83, president of Meredith College, Education;
- Sabrina Bengel, attended ’77-’79, entrepreneur, alderman and business woman, Public Service;
- Dr. Cynthia Johnson, founding chair of the School of Human Ecology at Georgia Southern University, Education;
- Dr. Luan Lawson, ’94 ’98, assistant dean for medical education at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, Health Sciences;
- Dasha Little, ’81, president of Apogee Solutions and Aspen Counseling, Business;
- Willie Marlowe, ’65, world-renowned visual artist, Fine Arts;
- Angela Moss, ’97 ’98, associate director of investments for the University of North Carolina Management Company, Business;
- Dr. Roytessa Savage, ’99, assistant dean for student affairs, associate professor of pediatrics and vice chair of diversity for the Brody School of Medicine at ECU; Health Sciences
- Dr. Tracy Tuten, ’88 ’90, associate professor of marketing at ECU, Education;
- Dr. Marianna Walker, ’79 ’82, dean of the Honors College at ECU, Education.
Keynoting the Women’s Roundtable event were sisters Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, left, and Katherine Kallinis Berman, co-founders of Georgetown Cupcake and stars of the TLC television series ‘DC Cupcakes.’ Following lunch, attendees were treated to samples of the popular cupcakes, pictured at upper right.
Allen and Little were also included in a panel of female ECU alumnae who delivered their own unique perspectives on leadership and service. They were accompanied on stage by Cassandra Deck-Brown, chief of police in Raleigh; Sheilah Cotton, coach from 1977 to 2005 and current professor at Louisburg College; Dasha Little, president of Apogee Solutions and Aspen Counseling; and Lynn Shubert, president of the Surety and Fidelity Association of America. ECU Board of Trustees member Carol Mabe moderated the discussion.
The day’s other featured speakers were Georgetown Cupcake founders Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne – the sisters featured on TLC’s “DC Cupcakes.”
The duo shared their entrepreneurial success that began with their grandmother’s recipes and has grown into a multi-city bakery business. Both women stressed the difficulty and fear involved with leaving stable careers to pursue their true passion.
“We had a lot of people tell us no,” LaMontagne said. “There’s always a way.”
During an extensive question-and-answer period, they fielded questions about pricing and marketing, their favorite cupcake varieties and their service to women’s, children’s and military charities.
“As a small business owner we have the agility and ability to donate as they want,” LaMontagne explained, as she described Operation Cupcake, which delivered 10,000 cupcakes to service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Something as small as a cupcake can make an impact in people’s lives.”
Pictured above at the Incredible ECU Womens Series sponsored by The Women’s Roundtable are, far left, Valeria Lassiter, ECU alumna and chair of the Roundtable’s Board of Directors; far right, ECU Provost Marilyn Sheerer; and left to right, the 10 Incredible Women honorees Jo Allen, Sabrina Bengel, Cynthia Johnson, Luan Lawson, Dasha Little, Willie Marlowe, Angela Boss, Roytesa Savage, Tracy Tuten and Marianna Walker.