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10 Top Female Achievers
Our Annual Pursuit of Some of the Area’s Best
We know that there are many women doing great things in our community. We wish we could honor them all. Instead we have chosen a worthy sample as presented on these pages. Selections were made by the editorial staff of New Orleans Magazine with advice from reader recommendations. Thanks to everyone providing grassroots leadership and creativity. More than ever, we need you.
E. Aminata Brown
Founder, BaBa Blankets
Aminata Brown, founder of BaBa Blankets, says: “If we’re committed to achieving our dreams, we work with the options that we have and find ways to fashion those options into the life that we envision for ourselves.”
BaBa Blankets just opened its first retail location, BaBa Blankets & Crafts, selling blankets and crafts to fund the collective in Africa, on Prytania Street here in New Orleans.
“Our mission,” Brown says, “is to create inspiring cultural works that provide sustainable income and well-deserved development opportunities for African women and girls.”
As an undergraduate, Brown studied abroad in Dakar, Senegal, where she fell in love with Africa’s beautiful west coast; she returned to the U.S. to complete studies at Brown University, but anxiously awaited an opportunity to return to francophone Africa. A few years later, Brown got that chance and accepted a job in Ghana’s capital city, Accra.
In Accra, the bustling Agbogbloshie market is known for the presence of kaya yei, impoverished women paid meager wages to haul goods from sunrise to sunset. Most often kaya yei, or “load carriers,” hail from rural areas 15 hours away from Accra and, with little money and no local relatives, must live and sleep on the streets of the market.
Compelled, Brown canvassed the market asking kaya yei about their hopes and dreams; overwhelmingly, Brown says, the women wanted to learn to sew. “I was struck by the humble nature of that dream,” says Brown, who respected the women for laboring instead of asking for handouts.
The collective began when Brown found a studio in the marketplace and a tailor to instruct the women. The former kaya yei started off sewing blankets, a choice honoring the African American patchwork quilting tradition.
By 2006, after a few tough start-up years, the BaBa Blankets collective moved outside Agbogbloshie to a large facility offering the 13 women of the collective a studio in which to work as well as beds in which to sleep.
Yet, Brown still felt she was not addressing the root of the problem – education. “These girls are joining the workforce before they are educated and skilled because they cannot afford to continue school,” she says.
For this reason, Brown started the Stay-in-School Tuition Assistance program, funded, like the collective, through sale of the BaBa Blankets.
“Our hope,” she says, “is to see these girls become fully literate, explore their true interests and graduate more equipped to manifest their dreams.”
Brown says, “giving one woman a means to provide for herself and her family is how we address the poverty of today. Educating girls is how we begin to break the cycle of poverty of tomorrow.”
Mentor: “I gained tremendous insight watching my parents work so diligently to move forward in their lives and to make their dreams come true.”
Defining moment: Meeting kaya yo [load carrier] Ayisha in the Agbogbloshie market. “I saw myself in her and as I looked into her eyes, I knew that I had to do something.”
Advice: “Follow and stay true to your intuition.”
Favorite things: “Music and dance; my nieces and nephew; being in nature.”
Goals: “To open multiple BaBa Blankets & Crafts locations,” “to establish more women’s collectives in Ghana, and to provide secondary school educational support to at least 100 girls through our Stay-in-School Tuition Assistance Scholar Program.”
Executive Director, The Historic New Orleans Collection
Priscilla Lawrence, Executive Director of The Historic New Orleans Collection, says, “Once you find work you love – it becomes a calling, not a job.”
“I have always been interested in museums and what perfect entities they are to preserve the tangible evidence of our past,” says Lawrence, who has been with THNOC for 30 years.
“Although I did not grow up in New Orleans, I grew up nearby – the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” she says. “New Orleans’ mystique has a very strong pull.”
Unfortunately like other New Orleans legacies, THNOC’s was put in jeopardy when Hurricane Katrina hit. Thanks to the work of Lawrence and THNOC, the museum was able to reopen to the public by Oct. 11, 2005. “We put a sign out front that said ‘History Lives!’ The first day seven people visited and we were thrilled to see every one of them,” she says.
Lawrence and THNOC staff also worked diligently to document the catastrophe: photographers, oral historians and staff gathered photos, stories and even neighborhood water-depth figures for an exhibit that, Lawrence says, “was moving and extremely well attended.”
Lawrence also maintained THNOC staff. She says, “I am proud that we didn’t lay off any of our staff, but encouraged them to come back as soon as their area was cleared for return.”
“I think the jury remains out on what needs to be done regarding our institution and Katrina,” she says, adding, “We are documenting everything we can so that future generations will better understand what happened. After all, the reason to study history is to learn how to proceed with the future.”
Mentor: “My husband, John Lawrence. He has always been supportive, encouraging and easy to work with.”
Defining Moment: “Of my life, the births of my two children and the joy of watching them grow. … Of my career, perhaps the first time I visited a museum; it was Beauvoir on the Gulf Coast and I think I was about 6 years old.”
Advice: “Hard work and dedication do have positive results.”
Favorite Things: “Watching my children with their children (they are such good parents), painting, travel, renovating our house.”
Goals: Amongst others, “to continue to encourage more and more people to be aware of The Historic New Orleans Collection and to participate and use its resources.”
Activist and blogger, Squanderedheritage.com
“This is my job 24-hours-a-day,” says Karen Gadbois of Squanderedheritage.com. Formerly head of an art gallery in Mexico for 15 years, Gadbois arrived in New Orleans with her husband, artist Jon Schooler, and daughter, Ida, just a few years ago.
“After I moved to New Orleans, I spent a lot of time fixing my house. I was diagnosed with cancer the spring before [Hurricane] Katrina and my life was ‘on hold,’” she says. “When I came back after the storm and my house was flooded I received weekly treatments for a year.”
In the face of these challenges, Gadbois found her true calling, her blog, Squanderedheritage.com, which she started in 2006. The blog’s initial focus was post-hurricane housing, “specifically homes that were targeted for voluntary demolition.”
According to Gadbois, a subsequent piece [July 2007] run in The Wall Street Journal, “was a direct result of my coverage of the errant demolition process.”
Motivated by the success of her efforts, Gadbois continued raking muck, this time with colleague Sarah Lewis, and an eye to New Orleans Affordable Housing.
“We began to document the properties but put it down for a couple months while we worked on other things,” she says. “One day I picked up the spreadsheet and began again to document the properties. Unlike the first story I uncovered, the local media, specifically Lee Zurik, was quick to pick this story up.”
Gadbois is surprised at the level of attention her blog has received. “[Squanderedheritage.com] really was a response to losing so much of my work in the flood and starting from scratch. I just wanted to preserve some memories of our fragile city,” she says.
Gadbois has had “a clean bill of health for three years now,” she says, and is working on her next endeavor, of which she says only, “[the project] involves ‘new media’ and in-depth analytical analysis of issues which impact the Gulf South.”
Mentor: “My inspiration has been the women of New Orleans. Those that came back and those who were unable to.”
Defining Moment: “The birth of my child. For me it was the bridge between the two worlds of my life.”
Advice: “Be vigilant and always wear shoes you can run in.”
Favorite Things: “My family, my home and my camera.”
Goals: “My personal goal is to see my daughter off to college this year.”
Cheri Saltaformaggio RN
Chief Executive Officer, Center for Restorative Breast Surgery and St. Charles Surgical Hospital
“Rags to riches” is how CEO Cheri Saltaformaggio describes the start of the St. Charles Surgical Hospital [opened in February of 2009] and Center for Restorative Breast Surgery [opened in 2003].
“We had a little, bitty, one-room office with a folding table,” says Saltaformaggio of the humble start of the now-thriving enterprise.
While working as an ENT team leader at Baptist Hospital, her employer for 27 years, she met Frank DellaCroce and Scott Sullivan, medical professionals who shared her philosophy of top-notch, personal patient care.
Saltaformaggio says, “if you set the bar toward excellence, with effort you can reach it.”
Drs. DellaCroce and Sullivan purchased a building at 1717 St. Charles Ave. just prior to Hurricane Katrina; though the initial site was too small to be a hospital by DHH standards, adjacent properties vacated after the storm allowed room for the Center to expand.
“The goal of the hospital has been, from the beginning, to provide a medical facility that is the world leader in patient care alongside the world-renowned medical advances that our surgeons are accomplishing,” Saltaformaggio says.
Saltaformaggio works in the clinic, as well as departments including accounting, billing, marketing and human relations. Her career has many challenges, one of which is dealing with, but not internalizing, patients’ emotional stress. “These patients have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and some are very angry,” she says.
Of her management philosophies, Saltaformaggio says, “it is very important to keep your staff upbeat.” The St. Charles Surgical Hospital shows staff appreciation with events such as “Activity Week,” where each day staffers enjoy a different treat, such as ice cream sundaes or a barbecue.
Saltaformaggio has also been a single mom of two for almost 20 years. Her daughter, 19, is now looking at a career in medicine.
Mentor: “My inspiration for my professional accomplishments are Dr. Frank DellaCroce and Dr. Scott Sullivan – their commitment to their patients is unsurpassed.”
Defining Moment: “Deciding to the build the St. Charles Surgical Hospital.”
Advice: “Set a goal and keep working until you accomplish it no matter what stumbling blocks you might encounter.”
Favorite Things: “Work, Work, Work.”
Goals: “To continue to find ways to provide expanded services to our patients.”
Chimene Grant Connor
Director of Advertising and Tourism Marketing, Audubon Nature Institute
Chimene Grant Connor’s position takes her to where the wild things are – frequently.
Connor coordinates advertising for the Audubon Zoo, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Entergy IMAX Theatre and Audubon Insectarium; she also serves as a board member and as the liaison to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation.
“I also work to keep Audubon involved in the tourism arena,” she says, “by participating in programs of the NOTMC, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network [and] the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association, among others.”
Amongst other advantages, Connor enjoys the social aspect of her work. She says she enjoys “walking around [Audubon Institute] attractions and seeing children and families learn while being delighted, inspired and sometimes surprised.”
She says, “I have also enjoyed some of the up-close and personal meetings with elephants, millipedes, tortoises and snakes, my favorite of which was chauffeuring a penguin to a TV interview!”
Of course, Connor has more than one favorite Audubon critter, but she says, “we have two of the sweetest Asian Elephants at the zoo – Panya and Jean. I wish everyone could have the privilege of meeting them!”
Audubon’s next big celebration will be the 25th Anniversary Louisiana Swamp Fest, Nov. 7 and 8, 2009, highlighting Cajun culture, food and music.
Mentor: “My mother, Sharon Carter Sheridan. She is a phenomenal woman who’s a 12-plus-year breast cancer survivor who lives life to its fullest each and every day.”
Defining Moment: “My mother and my husband, Karl J. Connor, both experienced potentially life-threatening illnesses, so ‘experiencing’ these illnesses with them was quite challenging because I had to be a strong, positive care-giver for both of them while I was personally scared to death. But their strength and faith reassured mine in each instance.”
Advice: “To serve their God first and to strive for excellence tempered with humility.”
Favorite Things: “Family gatherings, shopping and Hornets and Saints games – when they win!”
Goals: “To continue to be a dedicated and loving wife; to remain loyal to my family and its value system; and to continue to be a help to my community.”
Founding Artistic Director, ArtSpot Productions
Kathy Randels founded ArtSpot Productions in 1995 as a vehicle for her solo work; but in life, as in theatre, the unexpected always seems to happen. Granted 501(c)3 status in 2002, ArtSpot has grown into a five-person ensemble comprising Jeff Becker, Lisa Shattuck, Ashley Sparks and Sean LaRocca, Randels’ husband with whom she has a 3-year-old child. Since 1995, she has also been a volunteer at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel.
“The inmates, especially the elders who have done a lot of time, are some of the most spiritually enlightened people I have ever met,” she says. “I think I learn more from them than they learn from me.”
Amongst memorable experiences, Randels lists an LCIW performance of Gifts of Our Ancestors near the top, saying, “I and many of the inmate performers felt the presence of our ancestors during the performance. Spiritually, the women left the prison during that process and that performance. It was very powerful.”
Currently, ArtSpot has three plays in the works: The Loup Garou; Roach’s Mom an’ ‘em; and Go Ye Therefore. Also, the LCIW Drama Club is working on a new piece about maintaining relationships with family while behind bars.
Of the future, Randels says, “We need more of our citizens and legislators to support [Lt. Gov.] Mitch Landrieu’s bold ideas of supporting and expanding our cultural economy.”
She says, “Instead of keeping our brilliant artists in poverty and expecting them to continue entertaining us … we need to start paying them, and honoring them.”
Mentor: “My parents, the women of Dah Teatar, Jawole Zollar, John O’Neal, my brother Jim Randels, Rachel Rosenthal, Anne Bogart, Randy Reinholz and Lynne Blom, to name a few.”
Defining Moment: “Visiting Dah Teatar in Belgrade the first time ; being unable to return to Belgrade from an international theatre festival with Dah in New Zealand because my country was bombing their country [NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo, 1999]; Hurricane Katrina, and the birth of my daughter 11 months later.”
Advice: “Trust your intuition.”
Favorite Things: “Great performance (when an audience member’s artspot is hit!); a great party; moments of enlightenment (for myself, colleagues or students).”
Goals: “For my company to have a suitable space in which to create and share our work. For me and my fellow ensemble members to be adequately paid for the amazingly hard work that we do.”
Amy Boyle Collins
Executive Director, Young Leadership Council
As executive director of the Young Leadership Council, Amy Boyle Collins leads a dedicated, but small, team of employees as a representative of the YLC in the community while also “facilitating the organization’s relationships with its constituents, including volunteers, donors, media and the community at large.”
“My greatest career achievement is that I have a job where I get paid to make a difference in the city I love,” says Collins, who first worked with the YLC as a volunteer. “That’s when I got the ‘fever’ to shift gears from the for-profit world to nonprofit fundraising and management.”
Since being hired as full-time executive director, Collins has accomplished much.
“I’m proud of the fact that the YLC has seen growth on all fronts,” she says. “Our membership has increased from a post-Katrina low of 700 members to more than 1,300 members.”
Collins says the organization’s Wednesday at the Square concert series has been seeing, on average, attendance of more than 6,000 people over the past three years. She adds, the YLC has “more than a dozen community improvement projects underway this year.”
“I do not take sole credit for any of these accomplishments,” she notes. “The thing I love about the YLC is that everything is a team effort. And there are some amazing young professionals at work on behalf of the YLC.”
“No matter what,” she says, “I don’t ever see a time in my life where I’m not active in the community. I love working with other people who love New Orleans as much as I do.”
Mentor: “My parents have been amazing examples for me to follow. I look up to both of them and respect the lives they have led immensely.”
Defining Moment: “In 2000 at age 26, I went to work for Logan Marketing, owned and operated by King Logan, and for me, that’s when my career really blossomed into something I could be proud of.”
Advice: “Drive and determination are directly proportional to achievement.”
Favorite Things: “My dogs – two Cocker Spaniels and a West Highland Terrier; Jazz Fest; French Fries.”
Goals: “Newly married, I’m definitely trying to figure out the proverbial ‘next stage’ of my life with a juggle between personal and professional aspirations. I – like many women – would like to find time to start a family in the coming years.”
Cecile Watters Tebo
Crisis Unit Administrator, New Orleans Police Department
Cecile Watters Tebo, a fourth-generation New Orleanian, is happily married, raising three teenage boys (“It’s easier than three girls!” she says), and patrolling untouchable streets as Crisis Unit Administrator with the New Orleans Police Department.
“I feel honored to be able to wear an NOPD uniform,” says Tebo, who credits her grandfather, Colonel A. Adair Watters, mid-1940s NOPD Superintendent, for igniting her interest in the force.
“What I wanted to do, since I was a little bitty girl, was to be a police officer,” says Tebo, who admits to ‘patrolling’ her neighborhood with a notepad as a child.
As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Tebo worked in adoption for many years, with Volunteers of America and then through her own successful adoption agency. Yet, dreams of being an officer remained – until the day of her 40th birthday, when Tebo marched into the NOPD and signed up for the reserves.
She was, initially, a volunteer Reserve Mental Health Technician; but by 2004, she had been promoted to Coordinator.
The Crisis Unit’s main function is to maintain calm at a scene while assessing people’s needs. “We’re dealing with very, very sick people,” Tebo explains with sympathy.
When asked if she ever feels in danger, Tebo, who has been injured on duty, says she is always “on guard,” but, “I often have four, five, maybe six officers with me, and they’re very protective of me.”
In addition to helping the mentally ill on the streets, Tebo is also an advocate of mental health awareness and care.
“There continues to be a great deal of stigma about people with mental illness,” Tebo says. “I think if we can continue to work past this … the tide will begin to turn.”
Mentor: Fellow Woman of the Storm Anne Milling. “I have learned so much about how one can effectively make change from her. … She’s just so ladylike; she cracks me up!”
Defining Moment: Meeting a group of limbless children at Children’s Hospital at age 13 and promising then to conquer her own learning disabilities and subsequently “dedicate my life to the less fortunate.”
Advice: “If you have a passion, do it now!”
Favorite Things: “My husband and three boys, Will, Christopher and Alexander Tebo – my blessings.”
Goals: “To continue to use my energy, enthusiasm and optimism to bring light to needs in our community.”
President, Lafourche Parish; Co-owner, Randolph Publications
Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph started her public service career six years ago as a citizen activist, recruiting fellow citizens to replace what some felt were ineffective councilmen in her parish. Today, she’s the first female president in Lafourche Parish history.
“Ghandi’s simple yet profound words kept haunting me – ‘You are the change you want to see in this world’,” Randolph says. “I announced that I was running for this office on my 50th birthday.”
“There were some who predicted that my gender would be a detriment to winning this seat,” she says, “but the progressive voters of Lafourche thought differently.”
As parish president, Randolph acts as CEO and is responsible for contracts, administration, project advocacy and oversight of roughly 300 employees. She is also the source on Lafourche Parish’s contributions to the world.
“[The parish] adopted the motto ‘Feeding and Fueling America’ because I believe this parish is that significant,” she says. “Lafourche fishermen feed the nation with their wild caught seafood – the best in the world! – and our farmers continue to produce sugar in their cane fields. Port Fourchon is the hub of the energy industry, where some 25 percent of the nation’s oil and gas flows.”
Of the numerous organizations Randolph participates in, she says, “the most important now is Parishes Against Coastal Erosion.” The organization, she explains, represents two million people in southern Louisiana fighting for a “significantly higher share of royalty money from oil and gas to save and protect the coast.”
Randolph’s office has no term limits, and she says she would certainly run again. “I would love to continue in this job as long as the people of Lafourche are satisfied with the progress we’re making.”
Randolph has three children – Samantha, Dominic and Tonya – and a husband, George, of 17 years.
Mentor: “My brilliant, loving mother, Rita F. Angelette. … She was a successful career woman and mother way before it was cool.”
Defining Moment: “I worked for a small weekly newspaper, where the owner/publisher emphasized attention to the positive aspects of life here. Through the years I began to care deeply about the community I covered.”
Advice: “Wear lipstick, never think you’ve reached the pinnacle and never think of this as a man’s world.”
Favorite Things: “Zachary Abshire, Madison Abshire and Derek Randolph, my grandchildren.”
Goals: “To win the battle over coastal erosion, which is literally eating away at our land and our protection from storms.”
Sandra Carlin Andrieu M.Ed., Ph.D.
Full Professor, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry
2008 marked Dr. Sandra Carlin Andrieu’s 30th year as a faculty member at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry. “I started in 1978 and one year later I was full-time and I haven’t left yet,” she says.
Andrieu, the first non-dentist at LSUHSC School of Dentistry to be appointed a full professor, is also the first woman to serve as associate dean, a position with responsibilities including curriculum development, course scheduling, academic performance policy and student performance and progress.
Amongst many credentials, Andrieu holds a BS in Dental Hygiene from LSU Medical Center School of Dentistry; and M.Ed. credentials and a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of New Orleans.
Andrieu has also maintained a leadership role with the American Dental Education Association. “In March 2009, much to my excitement and surprise, I was voted President-Elect of ADEA and will again serve on the ADEA Board of Directors through 2012,” she says.
“My career has given me many opportunities for personal and professional growth and my best friends are people that I met through LSU,” she says.
Andrieu’s true best friend is her husband of 25 years, Al, a tri-athlete currently living with Parkinson’s disease – “another life-changing situation offering more life lessons for both of us,” she says. Her family also includes her mother, a niece and nephews, and her rescue puppy, Cody.
Mentor: “I was blessed with hard-working, humble, supportive and very encouraging parents and they provided the value-rich soil from which I could take root and grow.”
Defining Moment: “The first thing that comes to mind is the death of my father – a person I thought hung the moon. … I promised myself that night that I would be less concerned about what people thought and more concerned about using the gifts I was given and becoming the person I would want to have as a friend.”
Advice: “Learn from every experience, always be grateful for who you are and all that you have, always be respectful to yourself and others and travel at your own pace.”
Favorite Things: “Besides my family (including Cody, my dog) and friends, my three favorite things are: chocolate; café au lait with beignets; and daisies (they are the friendliest of flowers).”
Goals: “I want to continue to be grounded, grateful and to live more consciously and with more intent; to be brave, try new things and continue to believe in the goodness of people.”