Kathleen Whitmer

Kathleen “Boo” Whitmer is many things – a teacher, an artist, a writer. But most important, she is a survivor who now helps others to do just that, survive.

Whitmer isn’t supposed to be alive. She was supposed to have died in the late 1970s when she was diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer, sarcoma, cancer of the muscle tissue. She was lucky; she was treated with an experimental drug. Most of the individuals who participated in that test died. But the treatment damaged her heart. In 1999, after waiting for two years, Whitmer received a heart transplant and survived again.

Today Whitmer helps others to survive in a variety of ways. She has published two inspirational books based on her life with cancer, Green Rubber Boots: A Joyful Journey to Wellness (Peach Publications, 1997) and For the Asking: A Journey to Peace (Peach Publications, 2002). She offers advice through her short “hints” on stress management and finding happiness even with cancer at the holistic site on the internet. She’s also a popular speaker on stress, cancer and happiness and the art of getting well. She volunteers at Akron General Hospital’s Oncology Department, where she helps cancer patients deal with the disease through art.

Whitmer’s come a long way from her beginnings. She was a teacher at Kent State University when she faced cancer. She was an award-winning, popular teacher. In 1974, she won one of the coveted KSU’s Distinguished Teacher Awards. Her specialty was teaching prospective classroom teachers the importance of art in their curriculum. She spoke from experience. Whitmer had taught in Akron and Cleveland Heights area junior high schools. In the summer, she worked with art students at the Akron Art Institute.

Whitmer was – and still is – an artist. She often donates her work for fundraisers, especially for cancer-treatment centers and for the hospice. Whitmer is a member of Friends of Hospice.

–Kathleen L. Endres

Kathryn Vegso

Kathryn Vegso, past president and co-founder of the Women’s Network, made a name for herself as a leader in adult education. Vegso developed the adult women’s program “Lifespan Planning: The Choice is Yours,” and also founded the Adult Resource Center at The University of Akron.

She has also volunteered with such organizations as the Akron Roundtable, Ecumenical Campus Ministry, Goals for Greater Akron, Great Trail Boy Scout Council and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), in addition to serving in many capacities as an instructor at The University of Akron. She was named the 1983 Woman of the Year by the Women’s History Project of the Akron Area for her work in and contributions to education.and received the International Women’s Year Award from the Akron League of Women Voters.

Vegso did her undergraduate study in the University of Illinois School of Human Resources and Family Studies. She later received her Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling at The University of Akron and took additional training in Gerontology at University of Michigan and in Administration at Michigan State University.


–Amber Djuvic

Ludel Boden Sauvageot, 1906-1996

In 1927, Ludel Boden Sauvageot became the first female graduate of the prestigious E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. Shortly thereafter, Sauvageot set out to make an impact in the public relations field and beyond.

In the 1930s, her public relations position for a large Methodist Mission group took her to the slums of Cuba and the hills of Appalachia. In 1946, she organized the first hospital public relations program in Ohio at Akron General Hospital (now Akron General Medical Center), where her husband, Dr. J. Paul Sauvageot, worked. She remained with the hospital for the next 30 years.

Sauvageot is perhaps best known for her treatment of the younger generation of public relations professionals. She advised, mentored and counseled many young people entering the field and remained a role model for both aspiring and practicing public relations professionals and journalists everywhere. The Ludel Sauvageot Scholarship is still awarded annually to an outstanding public relations major in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Akron Press Club recently created another scholarship in her name. It was given for the first time in 2003 to the top Public Relations college student in the five-county area.

During her more than six-decade career, she upheld the highest standards of public relations and served as president of the Akron chapter of the Public Relations Society of America and Kent State University’s Public Relations Council. She was president of the Akron chapter of Women in Communications and served on the Akron Press Club Board.

Sauvageot was the author of four books: A Matter of Heart: The History of the American Heart Association in Akron, Ohio, from its Founding in 1950 through May 1995 (1995);Partners in History: The Story of Ohio Hospitals and the Ohio Hospital Association (1992); Service for All: The Story of Akron General Medical Center, 1914-1977 (1977); and Service for All: The Story of Akron General Medical Center, 1914-1986 (1986).

Sauvageot “retired” from Akron General Hospital at the age of 70, but returned soon after as a public relations consultant. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990.

Sauvageot died on April 18, 1996 in Akron. She left two sons, Andre and Jules.

–Zachary Jackson

Isabel E. Rush, 1915-2002

Isabel E. Rush was a non-traditional student long before anyone discovered the term. She went back to school at The University of Akron at the age of 53 and started a new career when she was 68.

Born in Cuyahoga Falls in 1915, Rush graduated from Cuyahoga Falls High School in 1932. For 20 years she worked in the lunch program in various schools in Cuyahoga Falls. In 1971, when she was manager of the Sill Junior High School cafeteria, she was named Food Service Employee of the Year for the Northeast District from the Ohio Association of Public School Employees.

But Rush always wanted more. In 1968, she went back to school to get it. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Technical Education, a Master of Science, then a Doctorate in Educational Administration from The University of Akron.

Then, at age 68, she started a new career as assistant professor of Hospitality Management at The University of Akron. From 1973 to 1983, Rush developed the curriculum for 11th and 12th grade levels for Commercial Food students at the Cuyahoga Valley Joint Vocational School in Brecksville. She was the president of the Ohio Conference of Hotel/Restaurant Institutional Educators.

After retiring from The University of Akron, Rush served part-time as Curriculum Specialist for the Hospitality Management Department of Cuyahoga Community College. She was recognized both locally and statewide for her drive, compassion and expertise on vocational education, earning the Professional Woman of the Year Award in 1984.

She died on June 13, 2002.


Norma Rist

According to her own estimates, consultant Norma Rist has helped more than 500 women start their own businesses. With the publication of her new book, Small Business Savvy: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Business (with Katrina Jones), that number should increase enormously.

Rist came to the field of consulting after a long career in management. She was the first controller of a $200-million division of a public corporation and first female vice president and general manager of a $40-million manufacturing and wholesale company. For more than 20 years, Rist was with General Cinema and in charge of its lucrative PepsiCola franchise. When General Cinema sold its beverage division, Rist was released and started looking for new challenges.

That’s when she started her marketing and business consulting business, Norma Rist CEO Consulting. That Akron-based business allowed her to apply her practical management/, marketing and business experience to a population that needed her expertise — women. Her company helps aspiring entrepreuneurs to create a plan for business growth. As she explained, “women entrepreneurs want independence, flexibility, the ability to develop new ideas, and the freedom to follow their own values. What they need is to understand profitability and how to achieve it.” Rist provides those skills.

Through her presentations, coaching, newsletter, books (Small Business Savvy, Avon, Mass: Adams, 2002 andTarget Marketing for the Virtual Assistant, Virtual Assistants Network, 2001) and website (http://www.smallbizcoach.com), Rist offers the practical information that aspiring entrepreurs need. “Starting a business is not magic — it is a series of steps. When an entrepreneur is provided with the right start-up materials and information…, they can move much more quickly toward their goals,” Rist explained.

This second career as a consultant has brought her many accolades. Northern Ohio Live named her one of Northeast Ohio’s Top Women Professionals; Crain’s Cleveland Business named her a Woman of Influence; The U.S. Small Business Administration named her 1999’s Woman in Business Advocate of the Year; the National Association of Women Business Owners named in her one of the Top 10 Women Business Owners of Northeast Ohio in 2002.

Rist has also been active in Akron’s women’s community. While president of Women’s Network, she created the Susan B. Anthony Society, which brought many business and professional women together for the first time. She is also one of the founding members of the Women’s Endowment Fund — and its treasurer.


–Kathleen L. Endres

Judith Resnik, 1949-1986

Judith Resnik, Akron’s own woman astronaut, died doing what she loved – flying into space. Resnik was one of the seven astronauts who died aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle in 1986.

Born in Akron on April 5, 1949, Resnik was the daughter of Dr. Marvin Resnik, an Akron optometrist, and Sarah Polen Belfer of Bedford Heights, Ohio. She was a product of Akron’s public schools. She went to Fairlawn Elementary, Simon Perkins Junior High and Firestone High School. Resnik went on to college at Carnegie-Mellon University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1970 and her doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1977.

She worked at RCA as a design engineer, at the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and National Institutes of Health as a biomedical engineer and at Xerox as a systems engineer.

In 1978, Resnik happened upon a report that NASA was accepting applications for astronauts. That job sounded good to her so she applied — one of 8000 who did. NASA accepted just 35, six of them women, one of them Judith Resnik

She faced rigorous training but Resnik was always up to a challenge. In August 1979, she graduated from the space program. Her first mission was as a specialist on the STS 41-D, launched in August 1984. It was the first flight of the orbiter Discovery and Resnik was in space seven days. On board that mission, she charmed the world when she flashed a sign that read “Hi Dad.”

Resnik was looking forward to another space flight in 1985, this one on board the Challenger. But the flight was delayed until Jan. 28, 1986. That was when the Challenger exploded shortly after lift off. Judith Resnik was only 36 years old.

Resnik always loved her job. In 1984, she told Akron’s Roundtable, “I think that astronauts probably have the best jobs in the world.” She advised students in the audience to “Study what interests you. Do all you can and don’t be afraid to expand into new fields.”

After her death Resnik’s father described her – “She had the brain of a scientist and the soul of a poet.”

Photo courtesy of NASA.

–Casey Moore

Janet Purnell, 1936-

Janet Purnell served the Akron Public Schools for 22 years — 11 as a teacher and 11 as a building administrator. From 1982-88 she worked as first woman executive director of the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA), administering the multi-million dollar operations of 9,300 units of subsidized housing on behalf of 20,000 residents in six cities and two townships.

Purnell was born in Akron on August 30, 1936, and has been a lifelong resident. She received a BSE in Elementary Education in 1959 and a Master’s degree in Administration in 1970 from The University of Akron. She was awarded an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters in 1987 upon retirement as the first woman chairman of the university Board of Trustees.

In 1967, she led The University of Akron alumni in successfully lobbying for the establishment of an anti-segregation policy on campus. Following her time with the AMHA, she entered the private sector, acting as the chief executive officer of Navic & Associates, where she served as a local and national consultant on establishing diversity in the workplace. In 1990 she returned to her alma mater to sit on the president’s cabinet, overseeing all minority initiatives on campus. This position led to her subsequent role as the first executive director of Minority Development at the university. Purnell was responsible for securing funding to support minority initiatives and distributing annual scholarship funds to minority students.

In honor of Purnell’s appointment to chair The University of Akron’s Board of Trustees, the Zeta Theta Omega Sorority established the Janet B. Purnell Project Self-Sufficiency Endowment, which annually awards a scholarship to a single mother. She has also been involved with Akron’s Black History and Culture program, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Akron Urban League, the Akron Musical Association, the Akron Chapter of the NAACP, the Akron Black Women’s Leadership Caucus and chair of the Mt. Olive Baptist Church Trustee Ministry. In 2001, Purnell was honored by the YWCA as one of 100 outstanding women of Summit County.

She is married to Norman Purnell (she worked on his campaigns for Fourth Ward Council and Judge of Akron Municipal Court) and they have two sons.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Zachary Jackson

Paige Palmer

Paige Palmer is a woman of many talents, involvements and accomplishments who earned her celebrity status through countless hours of hard work and pursuit of success through many different avenues.

Born and raised in Akron, she studied at The University of Akron and at the University of California-Berkeley.

Her fitness and lifestyle showcase, “The Paige Palmer Show,” aired live, five days a week, from the WEWS Cleveland studios of Scripps Howard from 1948 to 1973, but she was much more than just a television star. Palmer has also been described as a fashion maven, a fitness pioneer, and a community activist in addition to trying her hand as a teacher, writer, model, dancer, athlete, museum donor and inventor. The United States Congress honored Palmer, as recorded in the Congressional Record, for improving the quality of life for American women.

She began teaching swimming, dancing and tennis at the Akron Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) at age 15. Her own School of Expression soon followed. Palmer also worked in fashion and modeling in New York City and Beverly Hills, developed and promoted her own line of exercise equipment (The Complete Home Gym), and authored 20 award-winning travel books.

Her life and memorabilia were showcased in Panache: Paige Palmer-A Salute to 50 Years of Fashion and Fitness, at Kent State University Museum in 1999. The Paige Palmer Gallery was dedicated at the museum in 2000 in honor of her generous gift of her 130-piece collection of Ohio art pottery “Uncommon Clay” to the museum’s permanent collection.


Photos courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Zachary Jackson

Karen Oldham

Karen Oldham is an athlete — always has been and always will be.

When she was growing up in Philadelphia, she won 11 varsity letters in hockey, softball and basketball in high school. In 1955, she won a gold medal for javelin throwing at the Pan American Games in Mexico City. She represented the U.S. in that event in the Olympic games in both 1956 and 1960. For 10 years, she held the American record for women in javelin.

She’s never forgotten that Olympic experience. She continues to help raise funds for the Olympic and coaches young athletes.

Oldham ended up in Akron when she married, Edwin Ned Oldham, an attorney.

But she never gave up athletics. She instilled a love of sports in each of her four sons and took up the game of golf.

She competes regularly. In fact, she has won the Women’s Akron Golf Association Championship seven times and she regularly competes in the USGA Senior Women’s Amateur Golf Championship.In 1996, she was part of the team that won the Senior Women’s International Invitational Golf Match in Belgium.

When not on the golf course, Oldham volunteers. She has worked with the developmentally disabled at Weaver School and has helped the YMCA with its gym programs. She has also served as a deacon and ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Akron.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Amber Djukic

Judith A. Nicely

Judith A. Nicely has been an advocate of women and children, both in the courtroom, as an attorney and a judge, and in the hospital, as a nurse and an educator.

Nicely graduated from Ohio State University with a Nursing degree in 1960. She taught at the College of Nursing at both Ohio State University and Marquette University. But the women’s movement made her rethink her career goals.

In 1974, Nicely returned to school; this time law school. After earning her J.D. degree from The University of Akron’s Law School in 1977, she went into private practice. She soon was specializing in domestic relations and family law. In 1990, she was elected Domestic Relations Judge for Summit County. While on the bench, Nicely worked to restructure the court and reduce the backlog of cases. Nicely completed two six-year terms on the bench before retiring in 2002.

The women’s movement has also influenced Nicely’s community involvement. She was a founding member of the Akron Women’s Network, president of Planned Parenthood in the city, speaker for the Akron League of Woman Voters and member of the Board of the YWCA. Currently, she is a board member of the Akron Art Museum and the Summit County Domestic Violence Task Force.

Over her many years on the bench, Nicely has received many awards, including the Women’s History Project’s Woman of the Year Award in 1983.

Photo courtesy of the Beacon Journal.

–Amber Djukic