Wayne County ATHENA Leadership Award recipients share their journey, value of community and the impact of female mentors

The seventh annual ATHENA Awards dinner on August 18 told more than just the stories of three remarkable women in Wayne County. The awards were presented to the recipients at the annual dinner held at Forest Hills Country Club.

Wayne Bank and Indiana University East selected and announced this year’s ATHENA Award recipients in July. Tracie Robinson received the ATHENA Leadership Award; Roxie Deer is the ATHENA Young Professional recipient; and the Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit received the ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award.

Tracie Robinson

The dinner is an opportunity for award recipients, their nominees and past recipients to honor and celebrate women leaders in business and volunteerism. The event recognizes women leaders who motivate, inspire and create positive change in the community.

Each award recipient received a hand-cast, bronze and crystal sculpture symbolizing the strength, courage and wisdom of ATHENA recipients. Carvin Rhinehart of Richmond created an art print depicting ATHENA as the Goddess of Strategy, with the frames created by Suzanne Cox, also a Richmond resident.
From start to finish, there were moments to highlight women leaders in the community and spotlight their efforts and the far-reaching impact women have across Wayne County.

JoAnn Spurlock, vice president and director of operations at Wayne Bank, and Paula Kay King, director of Gift Development at IU East, welcomed guests.

Roxie Deer

Kandra Conley, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Wayne Bank, and Michelle Malott, interim chancellor at IU East, provided opening remarks. This year, Wayne Bank celebrates its 140th anniversary, making it the state’s oldest privately-owned bank. IU East is celebrating the start of its 51st year in the community and the fall semester, with the start of classes on August 22. Conley also provided the dinner convocation that included recognizing Officer Seara Burton, emergency, law enforcement and health care workers for their service.

“Thank you to tonight’s recipients for putting in the work, for all the times you said yes when it would have been easy to say no, for the times you created solutions where others only saw problems, and for all that you will do that still lies ahead,” Conley said. “I can’t think of a better reason to come together than to give honor and credit where it is due. Thank you all for being here with us tonight, and congratulations to each deserving recipient.”

Melissa Lovett

Malott offered her congratulations and gratitude to the award recipients.

“This evening we have the opportunity to recognize women who have achieved tremendous success: in their areas of business, in serving our community in various ways, and in actively assisting and helping other women achieve their full potential,” Malott said. “The ATHENA award recognizes leaders who help create and inspire positive change in our communities. The dinner provides a platform for us to highlight women in our community who are committed to excellence and who serve as mentors and inspiration to others, particularly young women.”

Malott said the role award recipients play in mentoring and developing future leaders cannot be understated. “I can give an example of this using something I know well, IU East students. During IU East’s most recent commencement we celebrated 802 graduates. Of those 802 graduates, 511 were female. This number of female graduates is consistent with our student body which is approximately 66% female. These female students are mentored by our world class faculty and staff during their college career as they complete their coursework, conduct research, and lead projects.”

Students complete activities such as internships, service-learning projects, and are mentored by leaders in the community, often by women who are leading local businesses and organizations.

“As they begin their careers, they will have a continued need to be inspired and have strong advocates for their success, in order to support their continued professional growth. That is where each of our ATHENA winners come in,” Malott said. “Many of our graduates stay in the region and will begin working alongside many of you. I am confident they will receive the continued support and inspiration from our previous ATHENA awardees, those honored this evening and the many others in this room who help make our community a wonderful place to live and work.”

Award recipients received an art print depicting ATHENA as the Goddess of Strategy, created by Carvin Rhinehart of Richmond, and the frames created by Suzanne Cox of Richmond.

The ATHENA Awards dinner was made possible through the generosity of the events’ Platinum Sponsors Wayne Bank and IU East; Gold Sponsors including Kicks 96, 95.3 The Legend, 101.7 The Point G101.3 and ESPN 1490 WKBV; Silver Sponsors including Empire Title Services, Freedom Buick GMC, Leaning Lily, Meridian Health Services, The Quigg Fund, Wallace Heating & Air; Bronze Sponsors including Burke & Schindler, Carvin Rinehart, Dudas Law, Freedom Title Company, Inc., Hoppe Jewelers, Leebee’s/LowBob’s Tobacco, LisaCakes, Richmond Casting Company, Richmond Furniture Gallery, Safety Systems and VanVleet Insurance; and the Champagne Sponsor Big Sky Steak and Spirits.

WCTV recorded the program and it will air on WETV Channel 20 beginning in mid-September and online at YouTube.

Photos from the ATHENA Leadership Awards dinner are available on Facebook.

Tracie Robinson, ATHENA Leadership Award®
Robinson of Richmond, Indiana, is a sales manager and associate broker at Better Homes and Gardens First Realty Group. She was nominated by Alicia Painter, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wayne County.

Tracie Robinson is presented with the ATHENA Leadership Award by JoAnn Spurlock (left), Alicia Painter (middle) and Paula Kay King (right).

Melissa Vance is the recipient of the 2019 ATHENA Leadership Award. Vance attended to speak at the dinner and to introduce Painter.

Throughout her talk, Vance hit on several key points to encourage attendees to be authentic, to learn, to build relationships and foster collaboration, act courageously and advocate fiercely, and to give back and celebrate.

“Someone once said, ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’ ATHENA leaders contribute to their communities and memorialize shared experiences. And this, my friends, is why we have all come here – to celebrate some amazing women,” Vance said.

Painter said Robinson embodies the mission and values of the ATHENA Leadership Award, adding though she thrives in every area the award honors, Robinson’s most inspiring and valuable service is to improve the quality of life for others in the community – tirelessly and without fanfare.

“As a professional, striving for excellence comes naturally for Tracie. Her desire to excel is fueled by her passion to always help others do and be better,” Painter said.

Robinson is currently the president of the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club, and has been a member of the board for six years serving as first and second vice president and on many of its committees. Additionally, she is the vice president of the Cope Environmental Center Board of Directors, president of the Historic Richmond Depot District, co-director of the Depot Festival of Trees, a board member for the Midwest Music and Heritage Trail, board member of Wayne County Revolving Loan Fund, a member for the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce Awards, Celebrations and Events committee, the Economic Development Corporation marketing committee and a member of Tri Kappa Delta Zeta philanthropic sorority.

She is a past board president of the Richmond Board of Realtors, Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce board president, Economic Development Corporation board president, Every Child Can Read and Third Grade Academy board member of which she is now a volunteer, and she was a non-profit coordinator for InConcert.

“Our mentors are the ones who guide and support us, who help coach us through the tough times and celebrate the wins we have along the way,” Painter said. “A mentor is someone who strives to make all who they come in contact with better. They enhance individuals while putting people in the right place to be successful. Tracie Robinson does all of this, and more. Her positive outlook on life- and especially challenges- provides you with the confidence you need to overcome the obstacles.

“Tracie inspires me to be a better person and give back more to our community. Her involvement with so many organizations encourages me to give more- more time, more energy, and become more involved. Her exemplary leadership motivates our staff, youth, and myself to reach our full potential. The passion and commitment she pours into our community every day is so admirable.”

Robinson said she took a moment to look back at when she may have displayed her first potential leadership skills, landing on memories from elementary school. With family attending the event with her, Robinson joked during her speech that those skills are still evident today. “I think my parents will agree…bossy and talks too much were a common theme from my teachers, even in kindergarten! If you know me well at all, you know I am still working on both of those things,” she laughingly said.

However, Robinson is serious about her profession, volunteerism and her community. While in high school, Robinson started her career in real estate working in the office after school and on weekends. The part-time job grew to full-time with a license, and 26 years later, a rewarding career.

“As realtors we refer to ourselves as problem solvers and that theory opened my mind to wonder what else can I do to help problem solve in my community. I believe in our community and all the while I am aware of the challenges that we face,” Robinson said. “I like to think we are not shattered or broken but a mosaic of the battles we have been through and won. There are more battles and obstacles to face but every day I think about how I can advocate fiercely for the advancement and betterment of our city and county to create an even more beautiful mosaic.”

For Robinson, moving forward takes a community.

“The word community within itself has the word unity. Unity can mean so many things…a unified family, unified relationship, unified work environment, and a unified community,” Robinson said. “Unification is easier said than done at times as we all know. Regardless, it remains my goal each day to foster collaboration.”

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. Previous award recipients include Mary Jo Clark, Jackie Carberry, Kim Poinsett, Angie Dickman, Janis Buhl-Macy, and Melissa Vance.

Roxie Deer, ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award
Deer of Richmond, Indiana, is the director of membership and education for the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce. She was nominated by Theresa Lindsey, business and workforce development manager for the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of Wayne County.

Roxie Deer is presented with the ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award at the annual dinner by JoAnn Spurlock, Theresa Lindsey and Paula Kay King.

Ashley Sieb, the ATHENA Young Professional Award recipient in 2019, spoke at the dinner and gave a message on the importance of women encouraging women. She also introduced Lindsey after her talk.

Sieb shared a story of working as a waitress at a 50s-themed diner in the past, and how one evening a young waitress was having a bad evening, and needed the support of others in the one place all women congregate – the public restroom. The memory – at times full of moxy and humor – was with purpose, to drive the point that women need to be a supportive voice for one another, to lift them and to recognize that their success doesn’t diminish their own achievements.

“You see, the heart of this Athena Leadership Award is about celebrating, developing, and honoring women leaders. This award is about inspiring women to achieve their full potential,” Sieb said. “This award is about creating balance in the leadership world by ensuring women are not only represented but included.”

Sieb pointed out that Lindsey’s nomination for Deer pulled from women throughout the community. “This nomination story is a manual for how all women can bring out all our strength, courage, and wisdom as a collective force,” Sieb said.

Lindsey said she often works alongside Deer, the director of membership and education for the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce. She was also longtime friends with her mother, Jan.

Lindsey nominated Deer for her ability to inspire younger generations of girls, knowledge and leadership within the community, and for her stewardship. “Whether Roxie is working with HYPE, Wayne County Leads, Dancing with the Stars for Birth to Five or being an ambassador for the City and County’s Make My Move and our region’s Forge Your Path initiatives she is tireless in her efforts to make Wayne County better for everyone,” she said.

Deer and her mother created Fight Like Jan, an annual charity event while Jan was fighting cancer. She added the events raised over $50,000 in 2022 for Reid Bravo to support and provide breast cancer services for the community.

“Last year, Roxie created the Deer Family Fund at the Wayne County Foundation, which helps pay for childcare, transportation to and from treatment, and quality of life items related to women’s health issues. These contributions show Roxie’s fierce dedication to these endeavors, as she goes above and beyond to help those she can while creating a legacy to her mom,” Lindsey added.

“All of us have heard the quote, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ It really should be, ‘It takes Richmond to raise Roxie,’” Deer said, opening her speech. “I am a product of this community. I am standing here today because of this community. The community of people who have surrounded and loved me from day one are the same people who surround me tonight.”

The Richmond resident was raised by a single mother, and quickly learned the value of family, she said.

“I lived with my grandparents who supported their working daughter and fiercely independent granddaughter in every way possible. But that wasn’t all they did,” Deer said. “They created a family for me that included friends and neighbors. Everyone around me became a grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, or cousin. Our neighborhood was one giant backyard for many children. As a young child, I thought I was just really lucky to live next door to my entire family.”

Deer recalled her first mentor, Kris Lopresti, who was the Communities In Schools Coordinator and advisor for Student Council while she was a student at Richmond High School. It was Lopresti who helped Deer hone her leadership skills, and she continued to support her through college along with her extended family when she moved away. It was also Lopresti that helped to bring her back home by offering her a summer internship nine years ago. Lopresti passed away in October 2020.

When Deer returned to Richmond, it was a time that she had recently lost her grandfather. While still dealing with that loss, she said, her mother became ill and was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer.

“I watched as one of the most fun-loving women I have ever met, fight the ultimate fight. I learned about strength watching her battle cancer. She woke up ready to fight every single morning and went to bed exhausted from her battle,” Deer said. “I also watched as our entire community sprang into action. Days before my mother died, our community gathered to raise $13,000 to raise money for other women to receive free mammograms. That lifelong community served as the glue that brought everyone together. United as one.”

From the family and community Deer found the love, strength and encouragement to continue, and more reason to call Richmond home.

“I think most people, myself included, thought with nobody left, I would pack up my bags and get out of this town. However, over the last five years, I’ve been able to use the experiences that I thought would break me to help me find my ‘why.’ I want everyone to have a family that loves and cares and lets you fail, as mine has allowed me,” Deer said. “Thank you to all of you who have loved me and cared for me when I couldn’t do it myself. Thank you for being the family that little Roxie needed, and that the grown-up version of myself still needs. Thank you for letting me fail but never letting me fall. My community raised me. And I will continue to give back to that community.”

Deer is the director of membership and education for the Wayne County Area Chamber of Commerce, where she oversees Helping Young Professionals Engage (HYPE) and serves as a Wayne County ambassador to Forge Your Path Eastern Central Indiana. She is a board member for Whitewater Community Television, DIVA, and the Meltdown Festival and currently serves as the Chair of the Housing Authority for the City of Richmond. She has worked with numerous other boards and organizations, including Genesis Women’s Shelter and Tri Kappa. In 2021, she established the Deer Family Fund to raise money to support women battling breast cancer in the Wayne County community.

The ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Award actively supports and celebrates the ATHENA mission of supporting, developing and honoring women leaders, inspiring women to achieve their full potential—creating balance in leadership worldwide. ATHENA Young Professional Leadership Nominees are 18-35 years age. Nominees are emerging women leaders who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession. Provides valuable service to improve the quality of life for others in their community. Clearly serves as a role model for young women both personally and professionally. Previous award recipients include Jessie Pilewski and Ashley Sieb.

Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit, ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award
Presented to Melissa Lovett, membership campaign manager for Wayne County, on behalf of the Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit. Nominated by Ashley Burkhart, circulation sales assistant at the Palladium-Item.

Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit are the recipients of the ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award. Melissa Lovett (left middle) received the award on behalf of the service unit presented by JoAnn Spurlock and Paula Kay King. Ashley Burkhart (right middle) nominated the Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit for the inaugural award.

The Girls Scouts unit is the inaugural recipient of the ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award in Wayne County.

“Our Girl Scout Service Unit is led by experienced, dedicated volunteers that help Girls lead the way as they find their voices and make changes that affect the issues most important to them. The Girl Scouts organization helps girls to become valuable leaders and better members of the Wayne County community,” Burkhart said.

The Girl Scouts of Wayne County Service Unit is a program with the mission of helping girls to build courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place. Girl Scouts throughout Wayne County are committed to working to help others, being resourceful and offering companionship and friendship to others.

As such, the scouts is a fitting recipient of the Organizational Leadership Award, which actively supports and celebrates the ATHENA mission of supporting, developing and honoring women leaders, inspiring women to achieve their full potential—creating balance in leadership worldwide. Organizational nominees are business or organizations, in the profit or non-profit sectors, who create an organizational culture that encourages women employees to achieve their full leadership potential or gives back to the larger community of women and girls by providing and/or supporting leadership development opportunities and initiatives.

Burkhart provided examples of the Wayne County Service Unit service throughout the community. They have renovated the Fountain City Park, constructed and built gaga pits in the Richmond and Hagerstown Parks, donated homeless packs to shelters, decorated windows and doorways of nursing homes during the holidays, collected pet items for the HELP Shelter, host day camps, cookie rallies, World Thinking Day celebrations, city cleanup days, award ceremonies, and service projects.

“All of this would not be possible, unless they had their troop leaders and other volunteers giving their time to help and encourage them along the way,” Burkhart said.

Lovett said the Girl Scouts centers everything around the girl.

Members from the Girl Scout Service Unit of Wayne County gather with JoAnn Spurlock, Melissa Lovett, Ashley Burkhart, Beth Juerling-Lipps, Heather Pegg, and Heather Thornburg at the ATHENA Leadership Awards dinner held August 18 at Forest Hills Country Club.

“Activities are girl-led, which gives girls the opportunity to take on leadership roles and learn by doing in a cooperative learning environment. It’s what makes Girl Scouts truly unique—our program is designed by, with, and for girls,” Lovett said. She added everything the girls do through scouts fits into three keys: discover, connect and take action.

Lovett thanked the organization’s volunteers for their participation and mentoring, as well as the community for their support.

“I am proud to work alongside of them to help our girls find their courage, confidence, and character, but most of all, I am proud to have made them my friends and role models for my own daughter through Girl Scouts,” Lovett said. “We’re calling on all members of society to help girls reach their full potential, these leaders have answered that call. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts and congratulations on your award, I’m proud of each one of you.”

The ATHENA Organizational Leadership Award nominees are business or organizations, in the profit or non-profit sectors – who create an organizational culture that encourages women employees to achieve their full leadership potential or gives back to the larger community of women and girls by providing and/ or supporting leadership development opportunities and initiatives.

About the Leadership Award® Awards
Wayne Bank and IU East are honored to bring and sponsor this award to Wayne County, established locally in 2014. Proceeds benefit local organizations dedicated to serving leadership building for women of all ages.

The program is facilitated locally by Wayne Bank and Indiana University East, licensed ATHENA host organizations. Nominations are sought throughout the community and recipients are selected by a diverse group of community leaders based on the criteria above.

ATHENA Leadership Award® recipients hail from all professional sectors. The award’s rich history, international scope and emphasis on mentorship make this award unique and amongst the most prestigious leadership awards one can receive.

About ATHENA International
Founded over 30 years ago, ATHENA International is a women’s leadership organization that supports, develops and honors women leaders through the programs it administers. ATHENA’s flagship program, the ATHENA Leadership Award® Program, has honored over 7,000 women leaders from hundreds of cities and eight countries since its inception in 1982.

Save the Date: ATHENA nominations will begin in April 2023. For updates, follow @waynecoathena on Facebook or visit waynecoathena.com.