Five women recognized for heroism at ATHENA celebration

Five women from emergency dispatch, law enforcement, and education were recognized for their heroism during the sixth annual ATHENA Leadership Award® for Wayne County celebration on June 27.

The ATHENA dinner celebrates the finalists and award recipient of the ATHENA Leadership Award® and the ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award recipient.Heroic women who prevented a shooting at Dennis Middle School posing with their awards of recognition next to Mayor Dave Snow.

During this year’s dinner, City of Richmond Mayor Dave Snow recognized the group of women which was instrumental in keeping our community safe on the morning of December 13 when a shooting incident occurred at Dennis Middle School in Richmond.

The women honored for their service were:

  • 9-1-1 Dispatcher Ghea Chamberlain
  • Dennis Middle School fifth grade teacher Maria Schmidt
  • Richmond Police SWAT Officer Renee Ware
  • Dennis Middle School Principal Nicole VanDervort
  • Richmond Police Officer Ami Miller

“Tonight we are gathered to celebrate the strong, powerful women of our community, who embody the spirit of the goddess Athena, who was characterized by her strength, her wisdom, and her courage,” Snow said.

He added that courage could be defined in many ways.

“Some would challenge that courage is a decision,” Snow said. “It’s a decision that overcoming the challenge before you, is more important than the fear or instinct that would otherwise hold you back. It is in that split second decision that the bravest among us will rise and protect us.”

The morning of the incident at Dennis, each of the women played a vital role.

Snow shared that in the days and weeks following that morning, the facts of what occurred that on December 13 emerged.

“Although we had seen the loss of a single life, several 100 had escaped physical injury, and a much worse tragedy had been avoided,” Snow said. “As the information was sorted, a team of women emerged. A team of women that are the embodiment of courage.”

Dennis fifth-grade teacher Maria Schmidt made the initial call to Principal Nicole VanDervort that an assailant had entered the building. VanDervort immediately took action to put the building on lockdown, allowing her staff to follow their training and to secure their classrooms.

It was Richmond Police Officer Ami Miller who made a courageous, split-second decision that would be pivotal to the day’s events, Snow said. Officer Miller pursued the assailant under gunfire into the school’s stairwell, effectively cornering him and blocking his ability to move through the hallways, he added.

RPD SWAT Officer Renee Ware provided immediate backup. Snow said Ware had the situational awareness to not only help in subduing the movement of the assailant, but also protecting her colleague by pulling her out of gunfire and harm’s way.

Snow described how VanDervort worked with the emergency dispatch to communicate vital information to law enforcement. With additional law enforcement officers arriving on scene, VanDervort established a line of communication with 9-1-1 dispatcher, Ghea Chamberlain. Chamberlain took the initial emergency call but a team of three dispatchers – Pamela Leffel, Nancie Ruhl, Indie Pierce – were also there that morning.

VanDervort watched a live video surveillance of what was going on in the building and relayed the information to Chamberlain, who then relayed the assailant’s actions to law enforcement. The exchange provided immediate, crucial information providing safety to the officers, students, teachers and staff in the building, Snow said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to talk with these tremendous women one-on-one, and hear their thoughts on that day’s events,” Snow said. “What is most remarkable, is that each of them has said in their own way, I was just doing my job.”

To recognize these five women at the dinner is to celebrate, honor and thank the Athenas of the community, Snow said. “The amazing women who teach us, embolden us to be more, and protect us,” he added.

Wayne Bank and Indiana University East partner to bring the ATHENA Leadership Award® to Wayne County.

The ATHENA Leadership Award® is presented to an exemplary leader who has achieved excellence in their business or profession, served the community in a meaningful way and, most importantly, actively assisted women to achieve their full leadership potential. The event recognizes women leaders who motivate, inspire and create positive change in the community.

Melissa Vance was recognized as this year’s recipient of the 2019 ATHENA Leadership Award®. Vance is from Centerville, Indiana. The finalists for this year’s ATHENA Leadership Award® also included Richmond residents Rhonda Duning, Jennifer Feaster.

Also, the ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award was awarded to Ashley Sieb of Richmond, Indiana. Additionally, Wayne Bank and IU East presented a posthumous award to Stacey Steele, the Elysium Award, which is a special recognition designated by the selection committee this year. According to Greek mythology, those who led righteous lives or performed great deeds spent their eternal afterlife in the beautiful realm of Elysium.

Local sponsorship is provided by Wayne Bank and Indiana University East. Event proceeds equally benefit the Women’s Fund of Wayne County and Girls, Inc.