Launched in 1984, the Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky Awards look to honor the amazing, trailblazing women of Northern Kentucky for their achievements, integrity and leadership. The awards were created by the late Nancy Booth, wife of then-Northern Kentucky University President Leon E. Booth, and were sponsored by the Kentucky Post. After the newspaper closed in 2008, Toyota became the major sponsor and helped fund the scholarships.

To qualify, nominees must live, work or volunteer in Northern Kentucky. They must also exemplify notable achievement and outstanding service in their professions or to the Northern Kentucky community, as well as the qualities of integrity, perseverance and leadership. All honorees are role models for the young women who follow in their footsteps.

This year, three honorees were selected. Other award winners include two Emerging Leader recipients, a Judith Clabes Lifetime Achievement recipient and a recipient for the Henrietta Cleveland Inspiring Women Award, presented by St. Elizabeth Healthcare. Three scholarship awards are also being presented.

Clabes is the retired president of the Scripps Foundation and a former Post editor, as well as the current editor of NKY Magazine. Cleveland founded the hospital in 1861. The scholars’ financial awards are part of the Nancy Janes Boothe Scholarship program.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare is community partner, NKY Magazine/Cincy Magazine is media partner and the education partners are Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College and Gateway Community & Technical College.

For much of Karen Cheser’s career, she has been making strides in education for Northern Kentucky. One of the most recent programs that Cheser is leading is the development of a Makerspace, an idea by several of the student robotics teams Boone County Schools paired with the Northern Kentucky Leadership Class 2015. “It’s the first Makerspace for kids,” she says.

Cheser says that the STEAM program (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), which would use Makerspace, gives kids a chance to be innovative and creative by designing, tinkering and building, preparing for the careers of the future.

“Behind every Apple product is a designer,” she says.

Cheser is also involved with many other organizations such as the Northern Kentucky Champions for Education, Kentucky Association of School Administrators, Northern Kentucky Education Council and Greater Cincinnati Service Learning Executive Committee, among others.

“I’m honored to be in the company of such accomplished women,” she says.

–Alyssa Reck

Being the CEO of CVG is not an easy job. As head of one of the most high-profile companies in the area with an economic impact of $3.6 billion, Candace McGraw is at the helm of a large and complex organization. Under her leadership, CVG added four new airlines and developed a new blueprint to increase efficiency through the year 2035. On top of that, she oversees an airport with around 10,000 employees and with constantly changing operations, including the 2012 reopening of Concourse A in Terminal 3.

As busy as she is, McGraw still manages to stay involved in the community. She serves on the board of Airport Council International – North America and chairs the Ohio Commercial Airports Consortium. “It is important that I stay connected to the community and listen to their input about air service needs,” said McGraw. “My family and I came to this community five years ago without knowing anyone. We have been warmly welcomed to our new home.”

– Maggie Heath

Caring. Dedicated. Leader. These are the three words that come to the minds of Kristi Nelson’s colleagues. Nelson works as the general counsel and senior vice president of human resources at Pomeroy, an infrastructure management company. The president and CEO of Pomeroy, Christopher Froman, describes her as the perfect example of a “selfless leader.”

“As a female leader in an IT services company, I am aware of the demographics of our industry,” says Nelson. “I am also an advocate of the efforts that are underway industry-wide to diversify the IT workforce—not just as it relates to gender, but also with regard to race and ethnicity.”

Nelson has risen as a leader within the company and, according to Brent Cooper of C-Forward, she is a top leader in community involvement as well. She has helped many young women over the years through her time with several education initiatives.

“When young women take notice of what I do and how I progressed to this point in my career, there is a natural realization that if I can do it, they can do it, too,” says Nelson. “Knowing that something is possible may be the only motivation a young woman needs to inspire her to achieve greatness beyond anything that I will ever achieve.”

– Heather King

Emerging Leader: Sharmili Reddy
Planning Manager, Planning and Development Services of Kenton County

Stepping up and rising to her duties as planning manager at the Planning and Development Services of Kenton County, Sharmili Reddy became a mentor to those around her. Dennis Gordon, executive director at the Planning and Development Services of Kenton County, explains that Reddy is dedicated to her career, peers and the community. Reddy has worked with the Banklick Creek Watershed Council and the Northern Kentucky Forum Board as to benefit the community.

“Urban planners are taught to be open and inclusive in their dealings with citizens and stakeholders through the planning process,” says Gordon. “Sharmili has adopted those lessons and shown what can only be described as an innate ability to bring people together and to show them that she respects their opinions and wants them included.”

Reddy was instrumental in reaching consensus of the goals for the Kenton County’s Comprehensive Plan, Direction 2030, explains Sherry Carran, the mayor of Covington.

Reddy also volunteers for the Licking River Watershed Watch. She assists in the sampling of water at the Gunpowder Creek along with her son.

“My career in community planning has instilled in me the passion to give back to the community,” says Reddy. “This is a region where it is easy to get involved and, once you do, you are surrounded by a network of leaders who mentor, support and guide you.

– HK

Emerging Leader: Claire Parsons
Associate Attorney; Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing

An associate attorney at Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing since August 2008, Claire Parsons has made a large impact not only on the firm, but also on the community. Mary Ann Stewart, a colleague of Parsons’, said in her recommendation letter that Parsons has “accomplished a lot in a relatively short amount of time.” She is particularly skilled at representing governmental institutions, such as school boards and counties.

Outside of the courtroom, Parsons is dedicated to serving the community. She is currently a member of eight local boards and associations, including a role as the vice-chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Women’s Initiative Connect Committee. “I feel like I’ve gotten far more from community involvement than I ever gave,” she stated in an email. “It is by becoming involved in the community that you find your place in the world, so it is of critical importance.”

– MH

Henrietta Cleveland Inspiring Women Award
Lynne Saddler
District Director of Health, Northern Kentucky Health Department

The Northern Kentucky Health Department is one of the first of 11 health departments in the nation to be accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board. And it’s thanks to the guiding effort of Lynne Saddler.

“I see being engaged and involved as an important part of my job,” she says.

For much of her career, Saddler has worked in public health, wanting to get the community engaged on making healthy choices.

“I’m so humbled and honored to be recognized. I’m a roll-up-your-sleeves, nose-to the-grindstone workaholic, so it was a pleasant surprise,” she says.

One of her newest focuses is the transition of public health under the Affordable Care Act. Saddler serves on numerous boards and committees including United Way’s Collective Impact on Health.

– AR

Judy Clabes Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient
Donna Salyers
Founder, Donna Salyers’ Fabulous-Furs

Building a business from the basement of her home into a global brand, Donna Salyers believes that success is possible even when it isn’t easy. “If I look back, I might think it was easy, but it was hard,” she says.

As her business has grown—and continues to grow—one thing that comes easily for Salyers is her commitment to giving back to the community.

“There are so many people that do more than I, so the first order of business is to keep up,” she says. “This is one of the most generous communities in the country and I’m blessed and lucky to be a part of it.”

As a supporter of The Angel Fund, the Cedarhill Animal Sanctuary, cancer awareness and many other organizations and causes, Salyers considers it an honor to be recognized and a recipient of the Judy Clabes Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Judy Clabes set a very high bar,” she says. “I consider it a huge honor.”

Salyers participates on the board of Citizens Bank of Northern Kentucky, among others, and has been involved with the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women.

– AR

2015 Scholarship Recipients