42 years. That’s how long it took the right for women to vote to move from constitutional amendment to law in the United States. In a nation with a relatively short history, that’s a long time.
These days, where women now make up 47 percent of the workforce, changes in perception of ability, equal pay and parental benefits are still an ongoing battle. For women who are just starting their careers, that landscape can either be confusing or a great catalyst to create a path that suits them best.
Our region is filled with talented, creative women who have excelled in their individual careers. Like the laws that we rely on, building a legacy that paves the way for others takes time. In the spirit of inspiring younger women (and maybe some men, too) and understanding what’s kept these ladies moving forward, we spoke to three local women who have made Wheeling a better place to live and do business through their accomplishments.
KRIS MOLNAR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, RURAL EMERGENCY TRAUMA INSTITUTE
After more than 35 years in the banking industry, including time spent as president and CEO of WesBanco Inc., Kris Molnar said her ability to jump in and be a problem-solver has served her every step of the way.
“Anywhere I ever worked, I took on any task anyone asked me to do,” she said. “One of the skills I have is being a problem solver, and that is probably the reason my career escalated. I wasn’t afraid, and I really believed that you don’t create problems, you find ways to solve them, whether through collaboration or getting buy-ins.”
Molnar initially trained to be a schoolteacher, earning a bachelor of science degree from Vanderbilt University. But shortly after, she took on an administrative assistant position at a bank in Nashville and quickly learned how she could instead lend her talents to that industry. A move in the late 1970s brought her back to Wheeling, where her career in the financial industry continued to grow.
“I moved back to Wheeling, and I thought, ‘OK, Kris if you’re here, you need to make a difference,’” she said. “I am all about making myself memorable, but only for the right reasons. If there was something that I said to you today that in the future you could remember, then I could make a difference in people’s lives by making myself memorable. If I had a mission statement, that’s what it would be: to give without expectation of anything in return. To me, that’s the most powerful way to go about your career.”
That mission statement took on the form of volunteer work through agencies like the Home for Men, the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley and the Oglebay Institute board of directors, among many others. Now fully involved with the Rural Emergency Trauma Institute (RETI), Kris says she’s excited to help serve the needs of first responders throughout rural West Virginia, where communication between emergency medical services and hospitals can be a challenge because of limited cellular service and Internet connections.
“We manage a medical command in Flatwoods, West Virginia,” she said of RETI. “We’re a mighty little band of people who can accomplish phenomenal things.”
These days when she’s not working, Kris can be found spending time with her husband, Doug, and their daughter and son-in-law as they manage the family’s property, Foxberry Farm. She says she wants young women to know that confidence in one’s abilities will never steer them wrong.
“In my early years, I thought it was conceited to like yourself, and it took me a long time to discern between conceit and confidence,” she said. “Once I understood that, it was easier to give myself permission to like myself.”
JUDY ROMANO, M.D., DIRECTOR WHEELING HOSPITAL CENTER FOR PEDIATRICS
“First off, I love everything about medicine. Even after more than 30 years, I still love it,” Dr. Romano said. “I love dealing with people. Where else can you be a part of the most intimate parts of a person’s life? You can be there at birth, you can be there at death, and everything in between. If you have a love of people, if you have a love of life, you can’t help but love the practice of medicine. At the end of the day, it’s about relationships.”
In addition to serving as director of Wheeling Hospital’s Center for Pediatrics, Dr. Romano is a nationally recognized speaker on early education, childcare, early childhood advocacy and school readiness. A fellow with the West Virginia and Ohio chapters of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she currently leads one of five sites for the Autism Diagnosis Education Pilot Project, developed by the Ohio Chapter of the AAP.
As a young mom, Dr. Romano had been working as a nurse when she decided to pursue medical school at West Virginia University. With a husband and two kids at home, she said the first true barrier she encountered in the course of her new career was facing the prospect of joining what was then a mostly male profession.
“‘Why would anyone who had a family want to go to med school?’ That’s the way people talked to me,” Dr. Romano recalled. “I had to prove myself academically and then clinically, and I also had to prove that I wouldn’t let my family get in the way. It’s very different now. Pediatrics, for example, now there’s more women entering the field than men. There’s been a huge change in the last 35 years or so, but just being a woman was a barrier for sure.”
With life moving on in the midst of starting a practice here in Wheeling, Dr. Romano said it became apparent that she had chosen not just a profession but a vocation.
“It’s not easy — you have to give up a lot. I had to give up some Christmas mornings. It’s a big give and take,” she said.
For young men and women who see themselves lending their time and talents to medicine, Dr. Romano suggests they do what they can to find their own niche.
“I actually would encourage young women and young men, if they have an interest in medicine and an aptitude for science that they should not be discouraged,” she said. “I hear colleagues discouraging people from going into medicine all the time, and medicine is huge and so broad. You can pick and choose, and even within medicine have two or three different careers in your lifetime. You can teach. You can do research. You can do direct patient care. The sky’s the limit.”
Taking her own advice to heart, Dr. Romano recently became certified to practice yoga medicine, an approach that she says bridges two of her favorite things: Western medicine and the Eastern medicinal practice of yoga. Now a grandmother and an avid traveler, it’s a practice that keeps her moving for whatever is ahead.
“I love to do anything that involves movement. I love dance, working out, mountain biking, and I love being with my friends and family,” she said.
DIANA KENNON, CPA, PERRY AND ASSOCIATES
When asked about the barriers she has faced in her career, Diana Kennon simply asked, “What barriers?”
“From an early age, to me, there were no barriers, because in my mind there were no barriers,” Kennon said. “If I had something to tell the younger people, it would be ‘you are equal, work because you are equal.’ You are equal under the law, take advantage of it.”
That kind of mindset has guided Kennon through an extensive career that has included working with international clients at Columbus’ Battelle to helping Wheeling area small businesses succeed as a Certified Public Accountant.
“I am a CPA and what that really means is that for small businesses, I am their go-to financial support and source of financial knowledge,” Kennon said. “A lot of people think accounting just means taxes, and that’s a big part, but for those of us who enjoy the financial side and helping small businesses with their finances, the tax part becomes a side note. I consider myself a wealth developer more than just an accountant.”
Growing up in Bellaire, Kennon’s education took her to The Ohio State University before settling back here with her husband and two sons. When she’s not working, she can be found enjoying trips with her family or spending time with friends. And while it’s a universal struggle for anyone with a family to make time for everything that makes a full life, Kennon said knowing her priorities always steered her in the right direction.
“There’s a priority list in life, and it starts with my faith, and because of that, then I’ve got my life in order,” she said. “When you put God first, everything else flows. There’s lots of things I don’t do right, and as long as I stay focused on that, there’s a lot more I can do than not do.”
With that idea in mind, Kennon said she hopes younger women who want to pursue a career in finance will remember her advice and work to the best of their ability no matter who might try to stand in their way.
“We are equal, so get out there and work. I’m most proud of the fact that I didn’t let that guide me,” she said.
• Cassie Bendel was born in Wheeling and raised in Bellaire. A graduate of St. Vincent College, she began her writing career as a reporter with The Times Leader and the Steubenville Herald-Star before writing content for SiriusXM Satellite Radio and a national faith-based consulting company. After more than a decade in Pennsylvania, she has moved back to the Ohio Valley with her husband and two sons.