Athena Awards banquet a celebration

Athena Awards banquet a celebration

Image Credit: Elizabeth Schuster

The 2020-2021 Athena Awards Banquet took place on Oct. 14 at the Shisler Center in Wooster, organized by the Wayne County Women’s Network. Not only did the event recognize several award winners for leadership, the event also serves as a celebration of community.

Last year, the Athena Award was awarded to Wayne County Commissioner Becky Foster, and attorney Kim Hall was selected as the Young Professional (YP) Athena Award recipient. Because the event could not be held last year due to the pandemic, those same recipients were honored in person at the event this year.

Sarah Baker, a previous YP Athena Award recipient and an attorney with Critchfield, Critchfield, and Johnston, kicked off the event with a welcome. “It is often said that nothing worthwhile that is done is done alone,” Baker said. “And I think that that is not only true with the work that our Athena Award recipients do — no one has ever gotten up here and given a speech saying, ‘I did it all myself, thanks.’ But it’s also true of this event and of the work of the Women’s Network.”

The theme of collaboration and women supporting women was echoed throughout the night. Presenters underlined the importance and uniqueness of the Athena Award.

“From childhood, Martha Mertz, the founder of the Athena leadership program, observed that skilled, strong, inspiring women were denied the recognition and access to leadership positions,” said Tara Haley, in her introduction of the scholarship recipient Rebecca Ebert, who graduated with a Master’s in speech language pathology from Bowling Green State University.

While more and more females are succeeding as leaders in business and government, events like the Athena Award Banquet are still relevant, “to celebrate not only women, but their ability to lead, to change the lives of others, and to enhance their community,” said Brenda Linnick, a previous Athena Award recipient.

Starting with a recognition of scholar recipients shows the importance of empowering a new generation of leaders. “I proudly wore the badge of first-generation college student,” said Wayne County native Ebert when she accepted her award.

“I am currently completing my clinical fellowship year here at Wooster (Community) Hospital,” she said. “My field is very diverse and there is so much more that we can do. We can help newborns in the NICU if they are born with a cleft palette, we can help them learn how to suck and swallow so they can receive the adequate nutrition they need to grow nice, big and strong … I can help your neighbor who has Parkinson’s disease who has a hard time speaking up for you to hear them.”

Starting in 2010, the network introduced the YP Athena Award. This year’s winner, Kim Hall, is known in the county as a successful trial attorney, though her involvement in the community goes back to her volunteerism with OneEighty while a student at The College of Wooster. Her volunteerism has spanned numerous past and current roles across a range of organizations.

“In 2019, Kim attained membership by unanimous vote at the law firm of Critchfield, Critchfield, and Johnston, having demonstrated to the firm’s existing member-owners her long-term commitment to the firm and excellence in the practice of law,” said Baker. “Women are still significantly underrepresented in law firm partnerships, so attaining this position demonstrates not only a commitment to her profession, but it paves the way for other women to follow in her footsteps.

“Kim currently serves as the chair of our employment law department but what makes Kim special isn’t her substantive knowledge of the law. What makes Kim unique is her humility, her kindness, her good judgement, her hard work, and her loving spirit. She is quite simply a stellar human being,” added Baker.

The event chose to save their most honored guest for last, and Becky Foster was publicly presented with the Athena Award.

Foster was lauded for her 23-year tenure at Rubbermaid, where she rose from being a junior draftsman to being the Senior Facilities Project Manager, overseeing multi-million projects across the United States. She moved on to Buehler’s, where she was a vice president focusing on both construction and sustainability. Foster currently serves as one of three Wayne County Commissioners and is also well known for her active involvement with numerous non-profits.

“Becky’s life has been a truly inspiring example,” said Lynette Boggs of Wayne County Schools Career Center. “She consistently over the years has demonstrated leadership, and she has mentored many women, such as myself. Becky started out her career pathway as a female student in a male dominated field … at the Wayne County Careers Center. She blazed a trail for women like me in construction and engineering,”

“My journey has been an interesting but nontraditional one, as Lynette said, but everyone has to start somewhere. Small, we all start wherever we began, to become who we are today.” said Foster.