Humble, heartfelt and hard-working are three descriptors that most accurately represent this year’s ELITE 8. Without exception, when contacted about the award each asked “why me?”

This quality pretty much explains why out of 45 nominees, these eight rose to the top of the list. That, and the fact that they are living by example, quietly, notably and without much fanfare.

We’re proud to put these ladies in the limelight and give them a big, nonverbal round of applause for inspiring and supporting other women through their daily actions and lives.

Dr. Keri Shannon

Keri Shannon has had a big year. After learning she’d been awarded Wyoming’s National Distinguished Principal of the Year less than a month ago, the Stocktrail Elementary School principal is once again reeling from winning yet another distinction, which admittedly, she almost mistook for spam.

But like everything else, the native Texan takes it all in stride as she apologizes for being slightly late and out of breath, after dashing back to her office from reading in a classroom.

Reading to students is one of her favorite things to do, which regrettably, she doesn’t get to do often enough given the other demands of her job.

“This might sound strange,” she confessed, “but I never wanted to be a principal.”

She just loves teaching, and kept getting promoted, whether she liked it or not. She blames her organizational skills and her hard-nosed drive to push herself as much as possible. Truth be told, she’d prefer to be back in the classroom but that’s not how her career has worked out as she seems destined for this position.

It’s a pattern that has followed her for the duration of her career.

Oddly enough, she didn’t set out to be a teacher either and had absolutely no interest in working with children as a young woman, let alone having any.

Originally from New Caney, Texas, Keri’s dad, a contractor, pushed her to be self-sufficient and learn to stand on her own. This meant learning to speak Spanish in a state with a predominantly Latino population and encouraging her to figure out how to change the oil and tires on a car before getting her driver’s license. After high school, she went to the

University of Texas in Austin, where she earned a degree in journalism and public relations.

Her first job in PR cured her of any interest in spinning words for other people. Instead, after teaching a multi-cultural class to seventh-graders, she realized that she had an affinity for not only teaching but for kids as well.

So, she got out of the PR racket, went back to school and earned her teaching degree. Her first job was in Houston before teaching kindergarten and English as a Second Language (ESL) in a small town along the Texas/Mexico border, where she spent several pivotal years.

She enjoyed the students and people she met and the diversity of living in a border town.

At the time, turnover created several openings in administration and those in charge kept promoting Keri. She was also married and had three kids. When the marriage didn’t work out, she decided to go back to school once again and earn her master’s degree, and finally her doctorate at Texas A&M, all while working full-time and raising her kids.

Looking back, she thinks she probably didn’t sleep much during those years, though at the time never really gave it much thought. It was just what she needed to do and so she did it.

Eventually, when she started dating a guy she knew from college who had moved to Alaska, both refused to move either to Texas or Alaska, so they split the difference and settled on Laramie, Wyoming. Here, she took a job as principal, and later, accepted the position at Stocktrail, both of which were lightyears apart from her experiences in Texas.

“By comparison,” she said, “the challenges in Wyoming are small in contrast to Texas, and we’re extremely lucky here.”

Nonetheless, introducing students to concepts like global citizenry and getting them prepared for the tech-savvy future are huge goals of hers, which is why she’s grateful to the school board for promoting the dual-language immersion program at Stocktrail.

“The idea was theirs,” she said. “I just happened to have the right skills to introduce it, and once again, the stars aligned.”

 

Janaia Hyland

There’s a photograph in Sgt. Janaia Hyland’s office that reminds her why she comes to work each day. A smiling mother and daughter beam down at her from the bulletin board preserved in a moment of mother-daughter silliness and bonding.

That the mother was killed by her husband in front of the daughter during a domestic violence dispute resonates with Janaia as both a mother and a Campbell County Sherriff’s Investigator, whose primary mission is to protect and serve and keep people like that mother safe.

This is one of the reasons why she has devoted her life to law enforcement, and why, even on the bad days, she remains dedicated to the job.

“I like to remember what I’m fighting for,” she said, as she discussed her long career in law enforcement.

Growing up in Gillette with a step-father also in law enforcement, Janaia always thought she would seek a career in law enforcement and was interested in the DEA or FBI at an early age. At age 19, her career took off when her mom told her about a job opening as a detention officer at the Campbell County Detention Center. At the time, she’d just given birth to her daughter and would learn to juggle motherhood as well as the demands of her new career.

Janaia started by attending the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in Douglas. From there she worked her way up from detention officer, to patrol deputy, and general investigator.  Other positions she held include D.A.R.E., field training officer (F.T.O.), F.T.O. manager, F.T.O. coordinator and also an assignment on the Task Force as a special agent with the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).  Janaia became the first female patrol sergeant for the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office in 2011.

“The only thing I haven’t done is dispatch,” she said, joking that under her auspices it would have likely been a disaster. She spent a couple of hours filling in and remembers messing up all the various codes and signals to call out different departments. “They were happy when my shift ended.”

Over the years, she’s had some tough days, including an incident where she was shot at during a chase. Her patrol truck took several rounds and the perpetrator was eventually arrested. By staying calm and keeping a cool head, she said she convinced him to surrender, with the help of a highway patrol trooper who’d responded to her call for backup.

“Close calls like that make you reflect on it,” she said, with regard to the dangerous nature of the job. Those are the occasions, she noted, where God shows up and faith helps to get you through.

In the end, it’s the victims – particularly the children – that keep any doubts at bay. That and the endless variety of tasks and the piecing together of puzzles that makes the job so interesting for her. And for those who think the day-to-day is anything like an episode of “Forensic Files” are sorely mistaken, she joked. Typically, cases take much longer to solve and lack the high adrenaline.

Sometimes, she admits it can be a little unnerving being a law enforcement officer in a small community, especially when her children were little and would point out people staring at her while shopping or eating dinner. On some occasions, former convicts have walked up to her and asked if she remembered them, only to thank her for helping them turn their lives around.

“It’s always amazing to think you’ve had a positive impact on someone,” she said.

Right now, her 26-year-old daughter is considering leaving her career in banking in Indiana and returning home to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

“I see what I had put my own mother through,” she laughed, though admitted as unnerving as it might be, she’d be proud to see her daughter join the force.

She appreciates seeing more women enter the field and has enjoyed having a hand in mentoring and training them. Today, there are a lot more women in uniform than when she joined the force in 1993, back when she felt she had more to prove as one of the few women in a largely, male-dominated field.

As far as the future goes, Janaia toys with the idea of one day retiring to join her husband, also a former CCSO Deputy, who has since returned to his ranching roots.

She’s not much for cowboying, she admitted, though she’d love to have spare time to work on her quilting skills and spend more time with family.

In the meantime, she’s content doing what she feels compelled to do – serving her community.

 

Stacie McDonald

Where some people’s lives follow a straight trajectory using goals as stepping stones, Stacie McDonald has wandered along a circuitous path guided by instinct and curiosity. There are no neat lines connecting her resume with her career, though the one common thread in all of her endeavors is an emphasis on building relationships and trying new things.

She guesses this probably began right after high school when she unexpectedly married her boyfriend, who joined the Marines, which landed the newlywed couple in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The base was a hodgepodge of soldiers and regional workers from around the U.S., Cuba, Jamaica, Barbados and the Philippines, and though their lives were contained to the base, it felt a lot like traveling the globe. It was in Cuba where her curiosity first took flight and exposed her to new cultures and opened her eyes to all kinds of new possibilities. Originally from Gillette, her sole jobs had included some part-time gigs at the grocery store and as a car hop at Bronco Billy’s.

And no, she didn’t wear roller skates.

“That’s the first question everyone always asks,” she said with a laugh.

When the couple returned to Gillette two years later, she took a chance on a safety job in a machine shop, helping workers navigate occupational safety, and though, admittedly, it might sound a bit dull to be the taskmaster urging people to follow OSHA rules, for her it led to new questions about the roots of behavior and what makes people choose to act in a high- or low-risk behavior space.

“I’m not great at rules myself, so I was very interested in trying to figure out why people choose to break them,” she said.

The trick was to figure out what behaviors or inner beliefs drove them to work outside of requirements, even when it compromised their safety, she explained, and once she figured out their rationale, she was then able to support them in thinking about why getting home safely was important to them personally.

She realized her strength was more in helping companies think about this behavior concept than understand how to apply regulations, so she moved to an outside safety support role for a safety non-profit. Later, she took a job at a startup coal enhancement project north of Gillette. It was a new adventure, but as happens sometimes, the experiment didn’t pan out, and the company closed, leaving Stacie and the others with their last paychecks in hand.

Stacie had been involved in volunteering for local non-profit boards like CASA and the Wyoming Women’s Foundation but hadn’t spent much time working with those affected through the boards she served. Another volunteer suggested she fill her unemployment with a position at the Salvation Army, warning her that the money would be terrible, but that she would learn a ton. This seemed like a new adventure.

In her new role, she met and worked with those struggling with a lack of resources and medical or financial crises, which often meant clients couldn’t pay the rent or keep the lights on. This was the beginning of her learning to stand alongside those struggling, instead of in an ‘us and them’ capacity, and Stacie was hooked.

A better paying safety job eventually drew her away, marrying industry and community work with a public affairs position with Devon Energy’s Western Division. The extensive travel required was tough on her family, though, so Stacie moved to consulting, doing a little safety work, a little PR, some blogging, and even some lobbying work.

When Stacie heard about the program director opening at Climb Wyoming, she kept telling everyone she knew what a great job it was and how they should apply, realizing later that she was really talking to herself.

Having grown up in a decidedly middle-class home, the family’s security had been, like many, affected in the wake of a bust in the oil field. Her father’s oil field company was hit hard, and at age 14, both she and her twin sister got part-time jobs to offset those extra things teenagers need.

More than any other job she’s had, she learned so much from working with these women and families, who taught her much more than the information and skills she shared with them. This job forever altered her outlook on the world.

“It made me much more self-aware and I learned to view people without judgement and not through my own lens,” she said.

After five years in the post, she decided it was time to move back to PR work and was surprised to see a job in the area pop up. It felt like a sign. As the Director of Public Relations for Visionary Broadband, she found herself building relationships and sharing messages, showcasing her natural knack for storytelling.

“I always say I have a lot of tabs open,” she said with a laugh, “but I seem to land where I’m meant to be.”

 

Elizabeth Wood

When Liz was 20, she watched her grandfather die. It was a moment that indelibly marked her life and charted the course of her career. She remembers standing by his bed in the nursing home as he wheezed his final breaths while nurses obliviously whizzed by in the hallway without stopping by to help him.

Unbeknownst to her, her grandfather had signed a do not resuscitate order, so the nurses were technically just doing their duties. But for Liz, who had no idea what was going on at the time, it was a frighteningly vulnerable experience.

It was then that she decided to become a nurse and take care of other people.

“I thought, ‘screw that,’” she said. “I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through that again. If they had just stopped by to explain what was going on, it would have made all the difference.”

Nearly two decades later, Liz has finally realized her long-time dream of becoming an emergency room (ER) nurse and currently works at Campbell County Health.

Although, it did take her a while to get here.

Originally from Gillette, she went to Western Dakota Tech after graduating from high school, where she earned an associate’s degree in machinery and welding. And though the degree had no bearing on her professional life, she still loves welding and incorporates those skills into art and other projects.

After high school, Liz moved to Rapid City, South Dakota, where she worked for 14 years as an aide for mentally handicapped people at Regional Health. From there, she moved back to Gillette and started nursing school with two small children.

A go-getter by nature, Liz ignored her husband Grant’s generous encouragement to quit her job and focus on school full-time. Instead, she took a part-time job with the Campbell County EMS ambulance crew, a job she still does today.

All her life, she’s enjoyed taking care of people and makes it a point to care for people like her grandmother did. Liz’s grandmother was a hugely influential figure in her life.

“She’s always encouraged me to follow my dreams and be whoever I wanted to be,” Liz said.

It’s a process that is still evolving, Liz admits. She’s busy taking classes again for various nursing certifications and is contemplating grad school to become a nurse educator.

“When I’m 70, teaching might be an option,” she laughed, “when I can no longer get around.”

There’s a serious underpinning beneath her glibness as a result of a recent health scare that proved to Liz, that despite all her medical training, her own life can also hang in the balance.

Just over two years ago, she had been hiking with her family in Yellowstone when she tripped on a rock and broke her ankle. Ever the adrenaline-junkie, stoic health care provider, she snapped it back in place and carried on.

“We’d just gotten there,” she said, “and there was still a lot of hiking to do, and I didn’t want to ruin everyone else’s experience.”

So, ignoring the pain, she continued on and finally, on the trip home, broke down and agreed to go to the ER in Billings. First, however, she wanted to take her kids back-to-school shopping, but luckily for her in this case, the stores were closed and so there was no side trip on the way to the ER. The doctor booted her broken bone and she headed home, where she decided she’d skip the healing process and get back to work.

She talked her boss into letting her buzz around on a knee scooter, and it was only when her liver and kidneys started to fail that she had no choice but to slow down. Literally.

After being life flown to Denver, little of which she remembers, Liz spent three months recovering on a mandatory hiatus. Now, months later, as if making up for lost time, the over-achiever is soaking in all the information she can get as she adds even more letters behind her name.

Mentoring nursing students and others new to the job is another facet that drives her and appeals to her care-giving, nurturing side.

Outside of work, her family is paramount and together they love hunting, hiking and enjoying the outdoors, where she spends every spare second she has.

Like her grandmother, she enjoys hearing her children talk about their futures and everything they can accomplish, including maybe, like their mom, even becoming a nurse.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I’m exactly where I’d like to be.”

 

Janell Oberlander

There’s a lot of things that Janell loves about her job as the vice president of Gillette College, but no doubt her favorite is watching students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.

“People’s lives are changed by education,” she said with a big smile. “So much hard work and dedication has gone into the culmination of that moment, and everyone has had some role in helping that student reach this achievement. It’s humbling to be a part of that moment.”

For her, higher education is much more than earning a piece of paper, but rather, a way to better lives and change communities. She points to Gillette, her hometown, after years of living away, as an example. When she left here years ago, the college was just a couple of small buildings and the town was not nearly as busy and thriving as it is today. She’s been back for only about six months and is pleasantly surprised by its growth and bustling economy, much as the college.

“It’s great to see Gillette investing in itself,” she said.

Likewise, being nominated for this award was equally surprising and gratifying for Janell. She’s been mentored by some wonderful women in her career, who took the time to invest in her and push her to reach goals.

“Women are much stronger when they circle around each other and hold each other up,” she said, adding that much of her accomplishments today are a result of those female alliances and partnerships.

Equally gratifying is finding herself back in her hometown and working at Gillette College. For as long as she can remember, she’s wanted to work in higher education as a counselor. This goal was further cemented by her own experience as an undergraduate at Montana Tech in Butte, Montana. Back then, she was active in organizing activities on campus, bringing acts like comedian Carrot Top and ventriloquist Jeffrey Dunham to perform on campus. Though many might find the planning of such events overwhelmingly stressful, for Janell managing all the little details and logistics is part of the fun.

After graduating with her master’s degree in counseling from Idaho State University, she returned to Gillette where she was executive director at Gillette Abuse Refuge Foundation, a position that she found particularly rewarding and eye opening.

“I learned the strength that people had,” she said, “and how important it is to embrace each other and be there to help.”

After one year on the job, she left to return to her alma mater as a counselor and later took a position as dean of student services at Western Dakota Tech in Rapid City, South Dakota, where she helped students and veterans find jobs. She also spent a stint at Colorado Northwestern Community College in the position of vice president of the Craig campus and student affairs, and eventually, returned last year after accepting the vice president position.

As a wife and mother of two daughters, one of whom is currently attending school in Butte where she was born, Janell looks forward to a new chapter of her life and once again working with students at a two-year school. The smaller campus and student population allows her to get to know more students, and in her words, “watch them develop and grow.”

This is what she enjoys most about her job as she too prepares to return to school for a low-residency program to earn her Doctor of Education, Leadership for Educational Equality.

“I’ll be studying right alongside them,” she said.

Looking back on her career, she credits her mother and grandmother, who grew up in a farming community and quit school after the eighth grade. Both women encouraged her to reach her goals and dreams, and she feels lucky to have such a supportive and loving family.

“I had strong women standing in my corner,” she said, and it’s this gift that she hopes to pass along.

 

 

Kelly Barlow

With the temperature hovering in the low 20s under a bright blue, sunny sky, Kelly Barlow jokes that it’s practically a heat wave as she stands in the snow in her front yard of her sprawling ranch property, 30 miles west of town. One of her border collies had recently had a litter of puppies, who were yawling and tumbling into each other as they competed to climb up her leg.

Her husband Eric, a state representative, has just returned home from this year’s legislative session, which provides her with a welcome reprieve from all the ranch chores she’s done in his stead, along with her part-time job as a case manager with the Campbell County School District. On top of her day job, she and Eric also run the family ranch and their Gourmet Lamb of Wyoming company.

Despite the long hours and non-stop chores, Kelly smiled graciously as she leaned down to peel a puppy off her shoe and lead her visitors into the living room.

With a faint trace of a southern accent, which she has worked hard to tamp down, she talks about her childhood and early years growing up in the South.

Originally from Mississippi, Kelly moved around quite a bit with her father, who worked in the construction field and kept the family transient, including a year she spent in Wright in the 80s, which back then was little more than a man camp. It was this year in ninth grade that she met and dated Eric, and also became a “juvenile delinquent.”

She wants to make it clear that meeting Eric had nothing to do with her acting out. In fact, he was a good all-American kid living out on the ranch. Rather, she was misbehaving in response to her mother’s promise that they’d never move again. After 16 schools, the 14-year-old had pretty much had it, and being in Wright, on top of the daily bus ride into Twin Spruce, did not sit well with the rebellious teenager.

“I was a pretty bad kid there for a while,” she said, and eventually got sent to live with her older sister in Memphis, Tennessee.

After graduating from high school early, she went to work as a secretary at age 16 at a conveyer company, where she was eventually promoted to outside sales and sold machinery to different manufacturers, including a bubble gum factory and one that made coffins for children.

It was her first foray into the real world, which taught her a thing or two, including the novelty of being a Southerner.

When a customer called and said how much they loved to talk to her because of her accent, she worked hard to eliminate it. And though she’s successfully shortened up her vowels and flattened down the elongated pauses between words, there’s still a residual graciousness to everything she does, including her two-handed handshake that immediately makes a stranger feel at ease.

But, back then, she didn’t want to be pigeonholed either by her accent or gender. After a few years on the job, she decided to go to college, and though her boss supported her decision and even offered to pay if she’d go for engineering, she decided to follow her own dreams of becoming a doctor. However, after attending a seminar on cystic fibrosis, it dawned on her the responsibility medicine would demand on her time and would eliminate her ability to one day have a family.

So, she changed course and became an elementary school teacher, and despite Eric’s proposal years earlier, she finally accepted only after she finished her student teaching, and then eventually returned to get her master’s degree.

Of all the accomplishments in her life, her two children and family are definitely on the top of her list. As is her faith in God and giving back to her community.

“My faith is definitely a constant thread in my life,” she said, as she ticks off a list of her various volunteer activities, which to her go hand in hand with her faith. That, and also helping other women to succeed.

Along with her position as president of the Wool Growers Association, she also serves on the Climb Wyoming board and on the board for Gillette College, along with volunteering at the soup kitchen among other non-profits.

Climb in particular, and helping women break the cycle of poverty and get back on their feet, has had an integral impact on her life, which goes back to her roots as a Southerner.

So many southern women are dependent on men, she pointed out, and even her own mother, who cut wood with chain saws and did other manly chores, talked about roles that women should and shouldn’t play. Seeing this double-standard play out in her own life made her even more hyperconscious of supporting women and helping them stand on their own two feet.

For this reason, being nominated for the ELITE 8 Award resonated with her on a personal level.

“I was pretty humbled and overwhelmed and wondered what on earth I have done that was so worthy,” she said with a laugh.

As far as she’s concerned, she just does things that need to be done, as in, “if not me, then who?”

Katrin Wagner

Katrin Wagner is not used to being praised publicly, and admittedly is much more comfortable standing in the back of a room watching someone else get an award. As far as she’s concerned, giving back to the community is just part of what she naturally feels compelled to do, without any fuss or fanfare.

Sitting in a leather chair in front of the fireplace in the lobby of Pinnacle Bank where she handles mortgage loans and was recently promoted to vice president of the local branch, the 38-year-old mother of three and German transplant reflects on her decade-plus in Gillette, her husband’s hometown. The two met when he was stationed in Germany and got married and had their first two children before deciding to head back to the United States.

When her family found out they were moving, they worried about how she’d adapt to her new homeland, not to mention in the least populated state in the nation. Originally, the family had moved to Buffalo, where she thought they could just rent a place in the suburbs, which was when she got her first taste of life in rural Wyoming.

“He (her husband – Jeremiah) explained that there were no suburbs and you can’t just rent a place so easily, so we decided to buy a small house,” she said.

A year later, when she announced they were moving to Gillette, many people expressed their sympathy that she would be moving to such a “dirty place.”

She found Gillette to be quite the opposite, however, and was amazed by the quality of the schools, the stellar activities and classes offered at the Rec Center, and the fact that it was such a bustling city with so much economic activity.

She took to her new life immediately, and after staying home following the birth of their son, she decided to return to banking, which she’d trained for right after high school. In Germany, she’d worked in the loan department, but when she took a position at Pinnacle Bank, she started on the teller line and worked her way up.

In retrospect, it was the perfect way for her to learn the U.S. banking industry, which was very different from Germany banking, where checks had been rendered obsolete by the wiring of money and other differences that took time and practice to get the hang of.

Almost immediately, she started volunteering her time to various groups and serving on boards. Katrin is currently a board member of the Y.E.S. House Foundation, Chair of the Campbell County Chamber of Commerce Energizers, member of Women in Business, Member of St. Mathew’s Church Financial Council as well as a host family for visiting female soccer players.

In the past, she’s also been both president and vice-president for the network chapter BNI Success Unlimited, board member for Energy Capital Habitat for Humanity, Gillette Main Street and also a Rotary member, among others.

In Germany, such organizations are government-funded, Katrin pointed out, but here are much more reliant on donations and volunteers. She’s always been outgoing, so being active in the community is a great outlet. She is the social one in the marriage, she joked, as her husband is much more reserved, though actively supports her in all of her endeavors.

Her job in banking perfectly combines her duality of customer service and number crunching, which she’s always enjoyed.

She likes being able to form relationships with customers and helping people get loans by reaching various milestones.

“There’s much more to banking than just signing loans,” she said. “I like to help people reach their goals and be a part of their progress. It’s exciting to see them realize their dreams.”

As for her own dreams, one of the most impactful and emotional days for her was that day in November two years ago when she was naturalized at the courthouse in Gillette. Though one’s citizenship is often something one takes for granted, for her it was a life-defining moment.

She was overwhelmed by the support she received from her family, friends, co-workers and the community.

“This kind of completed me, as strange as that might sound,” she said, her eyes filling with tears as she remembered her emotions on that coveted day.

“I kept my German citizenship as this is and will always be part of who I am. But, all those years I lived here, I always felt like I was not quite part of it all. The citizenship was the missing piece of the puzzle.”

 

Dara Corkery

As the granddaughter of two Norwegian grandmothers, Dara Corkery feels uncomfortable talking about herself. Humility has been ingrained in her, she explained, and any kind of praise or spotlight feels unnervingly braggadocios. Instead, she’d like to talk about the real doers and shakers in Gillette, who in her mind have singlehandedly helped to shape this town.

Her own story is kinda boring, she insisted. She grew up in South Dakota, dropped out of Black Hills State University and moved to Gillette in the 70s when the economy was in full bloom. The move came at the suggestion of her father, who had just relocated the family to Wyoming.

Her first job here was working as an aide in a nursing home, which perhaps more than any other job, was the most instructive. Not only did she experience some of the best and worst days of her life, but she also came face-to-face with the vulnerabilities of the minds and bodies while learning the importance of compassion and care.

“It was a profound experience,” she said, remembering one elderly patient with M.S. who had worked as the editor of Glamour Magazine and whose mind was still sharp as a tack as her body continued to fail her.

Other jobs included working for a travel agency, being a stay-at-home mom, and later working as a library aide in her children’s elementary school, a job that was perfect for her at the time.

After retiring 15 years ago, she began painting seriously, mainly water colors, and serving on the board of directors, volunteering and teaching classes at “AVA” (Advocacy for Visual Arts) Community Art Center, which she continues to do today.

It’s organizations like AVA, Council of Community Services, the Y.E.S. House, Campbell County Library Foundation, Climb, church groups and other nonprofits that she’d prefer to highlight, as well as some of the influential local women who have and continue to inspire her and make Gillette such a wonderful place to live today. Women like Cynthia Saunders, Dorothy Carter, Judith Simple, Leta Tanner, Sandy Daly, Susan Hladky and Alice Bratton among others.

These are the women who sat on boards and whose names periodically turned up in news stories and who made a point of showing up at meetings, activities, and working hard to bring arts and opportunities to the community.

When she moved here in the 70s, Gillette was just a two-stoplight, wild boom town. It was fun, don’t get her wrong, she was 21. But in the ensuing years, she’s enjoyed watching it transform into a thriving community full of wonderful people.

“I know this sounds ironic,” she said, “but I love the energy of this community.”

  Otherwise, she said modestly, her own life is pretty boring. She and her husband, who is also retired, travel a bit and take care of their special-needs daughter. They also visit regularly with their son, an English teacher, in Guernsey, spend a lot of time at AVA, and are passionate supporters of the arts.

And if the mark of one’s character is gauged by the depth of their friendships, then Dara ranks at the top of the list. Many of her friendships date back to three decades ago, including members of her book club.

“I have been blessed to meet so many wonderful people,” she said, once again ducking the spotlight.

 

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