Founded in 1984, the Women’s Professional Council was created to promote and support the interests of women professionals in the Greater New Orleans area. The organization also serves as a vehicle for the exchange and dissemination of information and ideas among the members.
WPC promotes professional advancement and involvement in the community through philanthropic giving and support of opportunities for women.
For more than 30 years, the members of WPC have been recognized in the community for their achievements by a variety of different groups and organizations.
Numerous professions and industries are represented in the group including legal, banking, insurance, hospitality, healthcare, arts and education. Membership is limited and available by invitation.
Women’s Professional Council Officers 2017-2018
President – Amy Collins
Immediate Past President – Crystal McDonald
Vice President – Amina Dearmon
Treasurer – Gigi Matthews
Assistant Treasurer – Candy Bellau
Secretary – Carol Caplan
Membership – Lelia Gowland
Programs – Regan Forrester
Community Involvement – Liz Shepard
PR/Communications – Mary Matthews
Bylaws – Bri Rome
Awards Chair – Amy Collins
At Large – Josephine Everly
At Large – Liza Sherman
Women’s Professional Council at Thirty Years – May 2014
The year was 1984. Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman nominated by a political party for vice president of the United States. Dr. Kathleen Sullivan achieved another first for women; she walked in space.
Among the pre-eminent women’s issues were abortion rights and the continuing fight for equal rights. But there were far more basic issues facing many women. In fact, 57 percent of American women lived in poverty and more elderly women were living below the poverty level, according to a survey done by the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Most women held traditional jobs. According to the NOW survey, women represented 44 percent of the work force but most “remain segregated into traditionally female jobs in service, sales, clerical, factory and plant positions, “according to a New York Times article of that year.
At the same time, the number of women in professional positions was on the rise. In the New Orleans area there were accountants, attorneys, bankers, marketing experts, real estate agents and insurance brokers.
Ellen Yellin was a young accountant at Alexander Grant, one of the major international accounting firms. She and other women saw their male counterparts networking and entertaining over golf, lunches and hunting trips. There was no similar opportunity for professional women.
As Carol Wise said, “We had all suffered from ‘the good old boys network’ that went to lunch together or played golf together and/or belonged to all male Carnival Krewes.”
Behind the scenes, work was under way on this nascent organization.
Yellin called together professionals in other fields to help determine the need for a professional women’s group. Ellen wrote that the initial strategy was to “widen acquaintances with women in business and women professionals.” The first step was to investigate existing organizations. The organizing group attended meetings of other professional organizations but found groups that were specific to a particular profession or consisted mainly of non-professional women. None met their needs
“It was our goal to have ‘professional women’ who had a proven track record, that were capable of making decisions and who could give referrals,’’ Carol Wise wrote. “This was a huge issue as most women in business at that time were at the clerical level.”
They worked hard to define the organization they were about to found. But who would join them?
Calling itself the Women’s Marketing Committee, Yellin and her group envisioned an organization that “would function as a support group , a network for the exchange of business referrals and leads, and as an educational resource.,” Yellin wrote in a memo to her managing director at the major accounting firm Alexander Grant.
The committee mailed questionnaires to 200 professional women and the response was so positive they decided to move ahead. In October 1983 they invited those interested to a wine and cheese party at a downtown hotel where they could learn firsthand how much interest there was in such a group. Yellin and her manager at Alexander Grant, Kurt Steiner, spoke.
“As would be expected every organizational meeting while we went through that grueling process was attended by less and less people until finally when we completed our legal documents we actually had a core group of committed members and then we began,’’ wrote Carole Neff. Yellin wrote that the “group worked for more than a year to create the organization.” “There were decisions to be made on how membership would be determined, what professions would be included and the how the organization would be run,” wrote Carole Neff.
By the time the first meeting was held that core group had dwindled. In addition to the founders, the original members included Jane Armstrong, Suzette Becker, Patty Joyce, Sue Loehr, Vera O’Brien, Florence Schornstein, Patricia Schreiber and Eileen Wallen – all of whom are still active in WPC. Carolyn Bishop is deceased and the following original members are no longer active members: Margie Berry, Susan Peterson, Joan Donnels, Maria McLellan, Suzanne Mestayer, Nancy Penton, Monica Surprenant, Debora Tremont, Julie Wise and Debora Zehner Faust.
By May 1984, they were ready to launch what was now called the Women’s Professional Council. They invited prospective members to a dinner at Masson’s Restaurant and all joined. Ellen Yellin was elected president, Sue Vickers of Banque De L’Unions Europeene, first vice president; Jane Armstrong of Jones Walker, second vice president; Patty Joyce of Deutch Kerrigan, corresponding secretary; Nancy Penton of Dragon Miller and Associates, recording secretary; Suzanne Boudreaux of Alexander Grant, treasurer and Sherrill Kearney of Merrill Lynch, financial secretary.
Ever the good record keeper, Yellin kept track not only of programs but also of members and officers.
And the buzz they created from meetings and new friendships was only one way the group gained recognition. An article in Jefferson Business announced the organization to the business world under the headline “New Organization for Women in Professions Is Planned.” “We’re going to try to educate each other on what we can do and how we can help each other,’’ Yellin told the reporter. She envisioned the group holding seminars developed by the members.
In those early days the members did it all. There was no email or Internet, and notices had to be mailed. Members collected dues, tallied reservations, followed up with each speaker while all the time actively soliciting new members. They had an impressive lineup of speakers, including documentary producer Sandra Northrop and a panel of Kurt Steiner of Alexander Grant and attorney Max Nathan who spoke on women in the work place. An executive of the 1984 the Louisiana World’s Fair described the event and its impact, Linda Herald spoke on business dress and other programs focused on stress management, dieting, insurance and human learning.
At the end of that first, tough year, the group had grown to 66, including 15 accountants, 13 attorneys, seven stock brokers, seven insurance agents, two financial planners, six real estate agents, nine bankers and seven who fell into the miscellaneous category. Yellin reminded the group that most of them had come a long way in the short span of their careers – often a decade or less. “We are all involved in many notable activities and we should all be proud of the accomplishments of the WPC members,’’ she said. “Every one of you is a member of this group because of your outstanding abilities. I hope you will all take an active role in making our second year even better than the first.”
After the first year Yellin had something even more concrete to report to the managing partner at Alexander Grant, where she was tax manager. Not only had the women in the office found a way to develop new contacts, but they had brought a client on board and had leads for several more clients.
Susan Loehr succeeded Yellin in the second year and Carol Wise took on the job of program chair. Carol held a dinner for the committee at her home and they decided to invite top leaders in New Orleans as speakers to help keep members apprised of what was going on and “to let NOLA leadership know we’re a group to be reckoned with.”
Speakers included Ron Forman of the Audubon Institute, the head of the World Trade Center and a Tulane University executive. They even invited Mayor Dutch Morial. Wise said this strategy brought lots of recognition to the group and “strangely each man we asked to speak suggested a woman on the way up in their organization.”
The organization continued to evolve. Yellin believed that the group would only get stronger if members really got to know one another. She suggested breakfast or lunch meetings in addition to the dinner meetings and members enthusiastically accepted that idea. She formed a breakfast group of a lawyer, banker, financial planner, insurance agent and a commercial broker. They met monthly. Not only were friendships forged but members found ways to grow their businesses through their WPC contacts.
Wise wrote, “I found when I was in business full time that having the ability to get advice on an issue or being able to give good referrals to my clients was invaluable.’’
Pamela Wilson Steeg followed Loehr in 1986-1987 and Joan Donnels followed in 1987-1988. During Donnels’ term the group added architects and advertising and public relations to the professions they were recruiting. They established a talent bank for a speakers’ bureau and actively solicited civic organizations and corporate boards for members. The political awareness committee invited candidates for state and local offices to attend meetings so members could meet them.
Carol Wise became president in 1988. That year, WPC hosted a career conference. It was a three-hour evening event with WWL anchor Angela Hill as guest speaker. WPC budgeted $1,200 for the event.
WPC held a business card drawing at meetings to encourage members to take each other to lunch to get to know each other better. The monthly meeting also included a spotlight on members.
The group was able to offer speakers to local groups and one member was recruited to speak to the American Society of Women Accountants.
Gov. Buddy Roemer addressed the group. Another program featured a panel of three chief executive officers who discussed the issue of women on corporate boards. The political action committee reported on local and state issues and made recommendations to the group. Dues were increased to $75 per quarter and the initiation fee was increased from $75 to $100
Martha Jane Murray and Carole Neff were selected Women of the Year by City Business and Judith Zabalaoui received the New Orleans Women’s Business Owners Woman of the Year Award.
Sara Shackleton became president in 1989. In the fall, WPC co-sponsored a career conference for women with the University of New Orleans. Entitled “New Choices ’89,” the conference attracted 220 student participants and had a budget of over $5,000.
The political awareness or action committee reported on the governor’s tax reform plan and urged members to become informed and to be active in support of their positions. The committee also reported on legislative developments but did not take a position on political issues.
The board formed a task force mentor program, which intended to print a pamphlet for students listing WPC resources. The board also approved a quarterly newsletter. And, among its activities, the board found the speakers’ bureau attracted limited interest from membership. The board discussed hiring an administrative secretary and paid Liz Eckert $100 for two months of work.
WPC chose Andrea’s as its “anchor restaurant” for six to eight meetings a year. Other events approved included a spring cocktail outing, holiday party and Career Conference. In addition to the dinner meetings, the group continued monthly breakfast and lunch meetings.
WPC turned to its own talent for programs. Members spoke on how to start a business, market a business and how to identify committees that are effective in bringing business into town.
Jean Felts received the Women Business Owner of the Year award and Shackleton received the Woman of the Year award from the New Orleans Business and Professional Women’s Club.
Carole Cukell Neff was elected president in 1990. The speakers’ bureau was disbanded and the board discussed eliminating the political awareness committee. An ad hoc committee, known as the “brainstorming committee” was formed to make suggestions to improve networking, identify ways members could help each other and make better use of social functions and other informal get togethers.
The program committee announced a theme of “New Orleans: The Place to Be” and asked speakers to spend some time describing how members could do business with them. Speakers included Dave Dixon who saw the need for a domed stadium and is credited with developing the Superdome and Mike Daigle of the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Council. Robert Quarles Jr., manager of tenant finance for the Riverwalk and other Rouse Co. developments, spoke about seed money available to finance women business owners. A roundtable discussion was held at one meeting on the topic “What Am I Worth?”
The career conference held with the University of New Orleans, entitled “New Choices ‘90” had a theme of What Women Need to Know in Business. Judge Miriam Waltzer was the keynote speaker. Panels were held on owning your business; opportunities in the legal, accounting, brokerage and real estate fields were moderated by WPC members Susan Loehr, Elizabeth Pendleton, Suzanne Boudreaux and Donna Kern, respectively. WPC member Maria McLellan spoke on “Real Women in the 90s.”
But the activity that members are still talking about is a series of fishing trips with WWL’s fishing guru, Frank Davis. The first two were held in 1990 and 1991 others followed in 1996 and 2000. Gayle Dellinger organized the trips and communicated with members via newsletter and a newspaper she called the Co-Co Journal. Davis agreed to serve as fishing guide and brought his camera man along to provide footage for his report on the trip in his evening fish and game report. The seas were so rough that the footage from that first trip had to be tossed. A second trip soon followed and WPC made the evening news. More about this later…
During Neff’s term, the board tackled several membership issues. They discussed recruiting minority members and decided to provide a mentor program for new members. They began talks on providing a scholarship program for a university student and decided to donate Christmas gifts to patients at Children’s Hospital. Phi Chi Theta, a co-ed professional business and economics fraternity, asked for information on establishing a mentoring program.
Jane Armstrong succeeded Neff in 1991. The annual New Choices career day was held in October with Judge Ernestine Gray as keynote speaker. Attendance fell to fewer than 200 and a conference evaluation concluded that the program had not utilized the services of WPC members as well as it could have.
Speakers at meetings that year included restaurateur Ralph Brennan, Dan Silverman of Chemfix Technologies and Randy Hayden of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry who provided a recap of the legislative session. One program featured a round table discussion on communication skills. The group held a crawfish boil at the Acme Oyster House.
The group ended the year with a surplus of $17,000 and founder Ellen Yellin wrote a memo on how to deal with tax implications of excess operating income so that benefits do not inure to individual members.
Maria McLellan became president in 1992. The board decided not to hold a career conference that year. Options considered included holding a conference every two years and re-evaluating the program. Board decided to become involved with Training Inc., a nonprofit that trained women for jobs, with such activities as a clothing drive, office tours and assistance with interviewing and resume skills. Discussion continued on starting a scholarship program.
Speakers included Kevin Reilly, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, Sandra Northrop, lieutenant governor Melinda Schwegmann, and Jim Colbert, a crime novelist. In April a crawfish boil was held in lieu of a meeting.
The board grappled with membership issues. Questions arose as to eligibility requirements, whether to continue reporting membership by categories (which allowed a limited number of members per category) how big the organization should become, and whether to continue asking community leaders to nominate potential members. The membership committee indicated it did not want the board to have veto approval over any applicant. The proposed procedure for becoming a member was to have a prospect brought to a meeting by a member. If the prospect was interested, the member would obtain a resume and write a letter of recommendation. The membership committee would decide whether to take the prospect to lunch or otherwise consider membership. If candidate was declined membership, this would be communicated to candidate and to member who had proposed membership. The board decided this required further discussion.
Beverly Haslauer became president in 1993. The board voted to continue its involvement with Training Inc., including a $1,000 donation, and to present a dinner program at Newcomb College entitled “Women in the Professions.” Discussion continued on awarding a scholarship.
Speakers that year included Dr. Ione Elioff, the first female president of Delgado Community College, Mackie Shilstone, the nutrition and exercise guru, and Dr. Tim Ryan, economics professor at the University of New Orleans. Other programs included a crawfish boil, bowling and a Bayou Segnette weekend.
The board decided to move the meeting venue from Andrea’s to Tavern on the Park.
The bylaws committee suggested eliminating certain officers and establishing a track for the WPC presidency, beginning with election as a vice president. It was also suggested that the committee on a career conference shift their focus to community service. The community outreach for the year included gifts to the Salvation Army Angels.
Suzanne Boudreaux took over in 1994 and much attention was focused on bylaws work. The board worked on membership qualifications as reflected in the policy and procedures manual. WPC continued to operate with a surplus and debate continued on whether to award a scholarship or reduce dues.
The board agreed that WPC needed a mission statement and proposed the following: “The purpose of the organization is to represent all members of women in all facets of business and industry. The principal purpose is promotion, advancement and education of businesswomen in the New Orleans community.”
Speakers included Mayor Marc Morial and state treasurer Mary Landrieu, banker Dana Meeks Combes and architect Donna Robertson. At year-end the group went bowling. WPC held a panel at Newcomb entitled ”Networking that Works,’ followed by interaction with students.
Four members were chosen YWCA Role Models. They were Nancy Penton, Virginia Roddy, Suzanne Boudreaux and Ellen Yellin.
The board decided to bring a high profile speaker to the city and Liz Claiborne, who grew up in New Orleans and had founded what had become an international clothing company, was chosen. Plans were made for a future program involving Ms. Claiborne and WPC allocated $6,000 for the event and asked Tulane to come aboard as a sponsor.
A member survey found most members own their own business, the size of the group should range from 50 to 100 and members receive referrals from their participation in WPC. The group continued to work on the membership selection process.
Nancy Penton became president in 1995. Penton reminisced:
“The Women’s Professional Council was established as a ‘good old girls’ networking and referral organization. I am honored to have been a charter member. The organization provided an opportunity for professional women, both ‘newbies’ and veterans, to learn from each other, provide moral support, mentor, and build a network for members to refer clients.
“As a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) starting my own business in 1983 (Penton Financial Services), these women gave me comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone and that many of us new to our various professions were simultaneously struggling with work and family. Many lifelong friendships blossomed as a result of membership in the WPC.
“Many thanks to Ellen Yellin, Carol Wise, and Carole Neff for spearheading and
having the foresight to establish this wonderful organization.’’
In February, the treasurer reported a savings account of $28,226 and a checking account of $2,483.
Jean Felts succeeded Penton in 1996. In March, WPC sponsored a lecture, planned the previous year, by Liz Claiborne at Tulane University.
As part of the festivities, there was a membership reception at the home of Marta Burton and a dinner at Antoine’s.
WPC awarded a $1,500 scholarship for female entrepreneurship in Claiborne’s name.
The community involvement committee coordinated with Newcomb College on their women’s program.
In 1997, Janice Leaumont became president. The membership committee asked for a mission statement for WPC and issued a membership questionnaire to address the topic.
Nancy Watts-Snyder, executive director of Tout Suite Management, addressed the group.
Liz Tahir became president in 1998, succeeding Leaumont. After many years of discussion, WPC instituted an ongoing scholarship program. Among the programs was a round table discussion entitled “What is Going on in Your Industry.” The board discussed how to grow the organization and a move was on to recruit “women on the move” as well as those at the top of their profession. Tahir was invited to sit on the planning board for the Mayor’s Conference on Women, which had a theme of “Women in Business.”
Margie Berry became president in 1999. To help members get to know one another better, members exchanged business cards and invited the person whose card they had drawn to breakfast or lunch. Among the meetings were a dinner and wine taste at Dominique’s Restaurant at Maison Dupuy. The installation was held at the Plimsoll Club and the outing was a Zephyr’s baseball game.
Speakers included Dr. Jill Lindberg of Ochsner, state treasurer Ken Duncan and TV personality Lea Sinclair. Shirley Trusty Corey of the Arts Council spoke on the ArtWorks project and Wendoll Curole, general manager of the South Lafourche Levee District spoke on hurricane protection. Other speakers included Dr. Alan Stolier, a breast cancer surgeon at Memorial Hospital, Madelyn Mix Bonnot who spoke of her role in running a television station, professional motivator Kathy Harris, Peter Ricchiuti of Tulane’s Freeman Business School, Bill Ironside of Cox Business Services and Dianne Boazman who spoke about elder care through services such as her company, Care Management Solutions.
WPC awarded its $500 scholarship to a UNO student in marine engineering and community involvement consisted of toys collected for the Salvation Army Angels during the holidays.
Membership reported 12 new members were added during this year.
Pam Wegmann became president in 2000. Programs included financial planner Holly Sharp, Augusta Kerry who spoke of her work with youth in the C.J. Peete Housing Development, Norma Grace of UNO, nutritionist Diana Davis, jewelry designer Mignon Faget, Richard Gruber of the Ogden Museum and Rep. Shirley Bowler who spoke on privatizing economic development for the state. The year ended with a tour and dinner at the new downtown campus of the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
Holly Sharp followed as president in 2001. The speaker lineup included historian Sally Kittredge Reeves, Alice Kennedy of the UNO Small Business Development Center, psychologist Dr. Barry Schwartz, Sheriff Jiff Hingle who spoke on identity theft, Ambassador Lindy Boggs and Paula Dickey Berault of Parkway Partners.
Martha Ann Samuel became president in 2002. Membership qualifications were changed to open WPC to professional women who had worked in the business world for at least five years and in their profession for three years. The intent was to bring in younger women. The scholarship was awarded to a Tulane student.
Speakers included freelance writer Diana Pinckley and John Pope of the Times-Picayune speaking on media, Suzanne Mestayer of AmSouth Bank, Beth James of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, and school board superintendent Dr. Anthony Amato. It stormed the night of Amato’s presentation and Andrea’s lost power. So the program was shifted to the beginning of the evening since the staff could not get food out of the kitchen. He spoke by candlelight, a first for WPC.
Other speakers included Beth Willinger of Newcomb College, Barbara Johnson of MetroVision, Kim Sport, the founding chair of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council, and radio talk show hostess Andre Trevigne.
The year ended with a banquet at Ralph’s on the Park and an outing to the Bottom of the Cup, a palm reading house in the French Quarter.
Mary Judice became president in 2003, succeeding Samuel. The board decided to tackle the dues policy to eliminate ongoing tedious discussions about members who had not paid their WPC dues. The policy provided a grace period, a formal notification policy, and a final letter informing the member that she had been dropped for nonpayment. Members were informed of the policy change and subsequent boards have had an easier time dealing with this issue. Amnesty was declared for past due money when there were inadequate records.
In other action the board approved $500 to be spent on a secure web site, agreed to make contributions to the scholarship fund in lieu of speaker’s gifts and voted to give scholarships to two SUNO students. The board also agreed to seek members in new industries.
Speakers included Laurie White, a criminal defense attorney who later joined WPC, Dr. Kathy Wilson of Ochsner Clinic Foundation, John Bullard of New Orleans Museum of Art, and Jimmie Phillips, general manager of WWL. Also presenting were Michelle Kirtley, a management professor at Loyola University, and Belinda Hernandez, an author who spoke on natural wellness. Other speakers were Romaine Sequin of United Parcel Service, and Mark Davis, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
The year ended with a banquet at Ralph’s on the Park celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Women’s Professional Council and an outing to the Historic New Orleans Collection.
Following Judice as president in 2004 was Marilyn Maloney. Speakers included Suzette Becker who explained the Louisiana Tax incentive program for film making, Dan Gill of the Extension Service, Todd Battiste of United Way’s Success by Six program, Janet Howard of the Bureau of Governmental Affairs, and magistrate Patty Joyce. Theresa Marchese of Catholic Charities spoke on domestic violence and Dr. Elizabeth Bouldin, sleep specialist at Ochsner Foundation Hospital, discussed sleep problems. WPC member Gayle Dellinger spoke on the process of getting one’s affairs in order. Her panel included attorney Carole Neff and Linda Stewart Newton of LakeLawn Metairie.
Ellen Yellin received the 2005 Louisiana Heroine Award presented to women on the state who have made an outstanding contribution to the community through volunteering and charitable donations.
The year ended with an outing to Neal Auction house where WPC member Katie Hovas educated the group on the auction process and conducted a mock auction.
Gayle Dellinger became president in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and surrounding parishes, causing a full scale evacuation of the area that lasted weeks for some and months for others. She had the daunting task of resurrecting the organization from the disaster which struck in late August.
In October she wrote to members, proposing a November meeting.
“As the leader of this organization I want to emphasize our strengths as a group of professional women. We are here to support each other with information, referrals, friendship and thoughtfulness. If you know of a need, please let us know and I am confident this group can find a solution.” She said this catastrophe provided an opportunity for each of us to take the lead in rebuilding our community.
Members took one another into their homes to live, helped find housing for others and supported each other with a sympathetic ear. The needs of our members provided volunteer opportunities which our members readily accepted.
Dellinger found out that firefighters had to provide some of their own equipment and decided to stage a fundraiser to help with these expenses. She produced a calendar which featured the sexiest guys on the squad as monthly pinups. The fundraiser was so successful it continues to this day and has taken on new causes.
In the spirit of cooperation, Holly Sharp opened her home for the holiday party after Ellen Yellin’s home was flooded. There were few caterers working at the time, few restaurants were open and the Uptown area where Sharp lived had few working street lights. Martin’s Wine Cellar provided the catering and a large group assembled to enjoy the evening in her Uptown home in one of the few inhabited neighborhoods in the city.
Speakers that year included Lee Pryor, author of The Savvy Entrepreneur, and Susan Roesgen of WDSU TV. Other programs featured Brenda Hatfield, chief administrative officer for New Orleans, Dr. Ed Renwick of the Loyola Institute of Politics, Tim Ryan of the economics department at the University of New Orleans, and Jill Rigby who spoke on the art of listening. Mark Lewis of the Louisiana Technology Council and Georgina Sussan of Decatur Hotels had been scheduled to speak in the fall but those meeting were cancelled after the storm.
Patty Joyce succeeded Dellinger in 2006. Speakers included Karyn Noles Bewley of the Aquarium of the Americas, Women of the Storm leaders Anne Milling, Nancy Marsiglia and Diana Pinckley, and Marcia St. Martin of the Sewerage and Water Board. Dr. Barry Schwartz spoke on managing stress, mountain climber Monica Kalodzi talked about setting goals, Peggy Scott Laborde provided glimpses into her new book Canal Street: New Orleans’ Great Wide Way, and Donna Fraiche of the Louisiana Recovery Authority created after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, shared her experiences. The summer outing was held at the Louisiana Children’s Museum.
Dianne Boazman became president in 2007. At one meeting, Jenna Cooley led a discussion designed to help members get to know one another. Members were asked to share information on their professional specialties, to share their primary passion and to reveal a little known secret about themselves.
Speakers included Lisa Richardson of the Port of New Orleans, Henry Smith of the Aviation Board, and Rochelle Juelich who spoke on tax credits available after Hurricane Katrina. WPC also heard from Ed Haslam, who wrote Dr. Mary’s Monkey. Carroll Suggs shared leadership lessons she has learned from her nonprofit work that she used when becoming chief executive of Petroleum Helicopters Inc. and, Dr. Ed Blakely, the city’s recovery czar appointed after Hurricane Katrina, spoke of the progress the city had made.
The outing that year was an evening at a bocce ball court in Metairie and an Italian dinner.
Roz Koretzky followed Boazman as president in 2008. The board voted to increase the scholarship from $500 to $1,000 per year and awarded a scholarship to a Dillard University student. The membership committee announced that it was focused on diversity and was targeting leaders in the insurance, real estate, design, medical and media professions. Members also called for more hands-on projects in the community. The group agreed to give its holiday collection to Crocker Arts & Technology School.
Speakers included Maura Donahue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Clancy DuBos, publisher of Gambit; Dr. Susan Krantz of the University of New Orleans, Times-Picayune travel editor Millie Ball, U.S. attorney Jim Letten and Maureen Clary of St. Tammany Habitat for Humanity. The group visited the UNO Nims Center to learn more about film production and the Southern Food & Beverage Museum where WPC member Liz Williams spoke.
Among the City Business honorees were Julia Bland, Christine Briede, Priscilla Lawrence, Bev Nichols, and Rachel Schorr. Lawrence also received the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus Excellence Award. Bev Nichols received the National Public Service award from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Also that year, Carol Wise was honored by the National Council of Jewish Women with its Hannah B. Solomon award.
Suzanne Thomas became president in 2009, succeeding Koretzky. She wrote:
“I was President during the 2009-2010 season. The thing I remember most about my term was that when I accepted the position back in 2007, I thought I’d have plenty of time on my hands when the term began as my youngest child was set to start college in the Fall of 2009. While he did go off to college, shortly after dropping him off at school, my immediate boss at Whitney resigned abruptly and I was named his successor. Needless to say, it was a very busy year for me, but I think my heavy involvement with WPC that year helped me keep everything in perspective. Of course, I loved working with Leila Schumacher, our Director, and she was very helpful to me. Pam Cohn (my sister) agreed to be the Program Chair – actually I insisted that she be the program chair and she was full of ideas for programs. Pam and I decided that we wanted to deviate from strictly business oriented programs so we focused on current events. Every President does it differently, but we were still in the middle of the Katrina recovery years so we felt that we should broaden our reach… I couldn’t have done it without Pam’s help.
“My predecessor was Roselyn Koretzky. She was very helpful and was also a great President – I still can’t believe that she passed away so suddenly a little over a year after the end of her term. I appreciate the fact that I got to know her over those years. In addition to being a very smart woman she had a great sense of humor. I’m not sure I would have seen that side of her if I hadn’t had the opportunity to work with her so closely.’’
Speakers included Patty Gay of the Preservation Resource Center, Lee Zurick, an investigative reporter at WWL-TV, U.S. attorney Jim Letten and Sara Usdin of New Schools for New Orleans. The April Meeting was held at the World War II Museum where members watched the movie “Beyond All Boundaries” and toured the museum.
Roz Koretzky was honored as a leader in law by City Business. WPC members honored by City Business as Women of the Year included Mag Bickford, Caitlin Cain, Mignon Faget, Angela O’Byrne, Denise Williams, and Ellen Yellin.
Norma Grace took over the presidency of the Women’s Professional Council in May, 2010. The officers for that year were: Cindy Fromherz, Vice President; Beth Terry, Secretary; Patty Riddlebarger, Treasurer; and Cathi Fontenot and Barbara Johnson, Members-at-Large. Committee chairs were as follows: Mag Bickford, By-laws; Sheryl Howard (resigned in September), Bev Nichols and Cindy Fromherz, Community Involvement; Pam Senatore and Kristi Trail, Membership; Caitlin Cain, Programs; Janet Fabre Smith, PR/Web; and Pam Cohn, Awards.
There were several meetings over the summer at lunches that involved speakers and book discussions (Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff). At another summer luncheon meeting at a downtown law firm, a speaker from the mayor’s office of cultural economy discussed the city’s program to attract the film industry.
Throughout the summer and early fall, discussions also took place regarding the mission of the WPC. Norma formalized the discussion into the “Mission Realignment Task Force” led by Pam Senatore, Kristi Trail and Beth Corbett. Norma wrote:
“Some members felt that the WPC had a very strong group of women whose power had not been fully harnessed. This task force presented its platform to the Board, and as with many changes, some members embraced the proposed changes while other members did not.
Leadership: The WPC would be a go-to organization for city and private sector appointees to municipal commissions and boards;
Branding: WPC brand should stand for something substantial in the community
Projects: The WPC must support the interest of women professionals in the region, including working with young women from schools or non-profits on career opportunities, or partnering with organizations such as Dress for Success, Beautiful Foundation, etc.
Website: Build a web-site to promote projects of membership
“The Membership Committee sought to bring in younger members and minority women. The Board made other changes, too, including varying the locations of the meetings throughout the year and adding visits to program sites. Five Happiness was one of the new locations – some liked alternating venues, others did not.
“The Community Involvement Committee executed on its plans. It put together Career Panels at Thurgood Marshall and assisted with college entrance essays. From this competition, WPC awarded a scholarship to the best essay written. The Historic New Orleans Collections was the site for our holiday party where we raised $980 for our scholarship fund, and the year concluded with the final board meeting at Ralph’s on the Park. The work of the Realignment Task Force began to show progress in moving the organization into more aggressive action, but all change is slow and molds itself to the organization.”
Norma continued, writing:
“Several very sad events also occurred during this year. Roz Koretzky, attorney with Milling Benson, died suddenly in July 2010. She had been a long-time member and past president. Pam Wegmann, owner of Information Matters, an internet research company and president of WPC in 2000-2001, died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. In addition, our own Leila Schumacher was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy. “
Cindy Fromherz succeeded Grace and became president in 2011. She wrote:
“2011-12 was a year of change in many ways. Early on, our long time Director Leila let us know that she planned to retire at the end of the year. In response to the perpetual debate on Andrea’s pros and cons, we embarked on a tour of other venues, all the while working within the limited per meal budget. We varied the meeting format, allowing time to learn more about new members and new projects in lieu of the round robin of introductions. We also examined whether the original mission of WPC was still relevant a quarter century later, when women in responsible professional positions were no longer a rarity. We concluded that the real value of WPC is in the connections that it assists members in building, and that this opportunity will never change.”
Programs included Times-Picayune columnist Sheila Stroup, New Orleans inspector general Ed Quatrevaux, Todd Ford of Federal City, Sally Kenney of Newcomb College Institute, Julia Bland of the Louisiana Children’s Museum, flower artist Joan Tupper, and restaurateur Ti Martin who spoke at our outing at her restaurant Café Adelaide.
The group continued to enjoy new venues for meetings. Other outings included Sun Ray Grill, New Orleans Lawn and Tennis Club and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. The annual banquet was held at Heritage Grill.
Mag Bickford succeeded Fromherz in 2012 and the board brought in Karen Copeland as executive director. The year began with the summer screening of the movie “Miss Representation’’ followed by a program on adding dimension by social worker Nancy Thacker. Other programs included a dinner at Restaurant Fatoush in the New Orleans Healing Center with a talk by Sallie Ann Glassman and Pres Kabacoff on their plans for the center. Susan Brennan of Second Line Stages spoke on the film industry, Cari Roy on using feminine intuition, and E.J. Encalarde of the Beautiful Foundation presented on the work of her foundation.
Carole Wise received the prestigious Alexis de Tocqueville award presented by United Way of Southeast Louisiana, the second WPC member to be so honored.
City Business honored Valerie Cahill, Sally Kenney and Diane Lyons as Women of the Year. Carole Neff received the Judge Michelle Pitard Wynne Professionalism Award from the Association of Women Attorneys. Dianne Boazman was selected by New Orleans Magazine as one of its top female achievers. Jaye Calhoun was named one of Louisiana’s Top Attorneys by Super Lawyers.
Beth Terry succeeded Bickford as president in 2013. Serving with her were Kristi Trail, as vice president; Caitlin Cain, secretary; Gigi Matthews, treasurer; Denise Estopinal and Pamela Senatore, at-large board members. Serving as committee chairs were Amy Collins, Cathy Chavarri, Cheryl Bragg, Christine Briede, Julia Bland, Mamie Gasperecz, and Mary Judice.
“The Board tackled three main issues that year: 1) increasing diversity in membership, by age, career/profession, and race; 2) balancing the meeting venues between Andrea’s, a favorite of some, with excitingly different excursions and presentations; and 3) tackling the lack of membership involvement in community involvement activities. The success of the year, quality of programming, venues, new members and financial accountability would not have been possible without the active engagement of the Board, especially the committee chairs”.
After a summer membership happy hour held at Manning’s on Fulton Street, the program year kicked off with a panel on the Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In featuring Suzanne Mestayer, Cheryl Landrieu and Kim Boyle, at Basin Street Station. Programs included Jay Cicero of the New Orleans Sports Foundation, Brenda Canada of the New Orleans Business Alliance, and a panel on combatting violence with Melissa Sawyer of the Youth Empowerment Project, Sonny Lee of Son of a Saint and Paulette Carter of Children’s Bureau. Members provided a program on financial planning tailored to different stages of life at a dinner at Lambeth House. The group visited the Herman Grima House and had dinner at Broussard’s Restaurant. Michael Hecht, GNO Inc., and Allison Plyer of the Community Data Center made a dynamic presentation on the rebirth and future of the area.
Honors received by WPC members included Pamela Senatore being named a role model by the Young Leadership Council. Vanessa Brown Claiborne, Janet Fabre Smith and Suzanne Thomas were selected Women of the Year by City Business. Judge Laurie White received the Judge Michelle Pitard Wynne Professionalism Award from the Association of Women Attorneys. Cheryl Bragg was selected as one of New Orleans City Business’ “Money Makers.” Angela O’Byrne received a prestigious American Institute of Architects Fellowship, was honored in the NOLA Emerging Business Class of 2013 and received the person of the year award by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She also received the SBA Louisiana Woman Owned Small Business of the Year award.
“We were also able to advance scheduled a program for the 2014-15 year. Michael Williamson, President of United Way of Southeast Louisiana, and Albert Ruesga, President of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, will present a program on philanthropy in September.”
Thirty years later, eleven of the original members are still active and membership stands at 80. It is a vibrant, active, and engaged group with members making significant contributions to the economic well-being and quality of life in the area.
When the ladies go fishing…
From historian, Mary Judice:
“Perhaps the fattest and most detailed file I found in wading through boxes of WPC folders was the Reel Fun Fishing trips. Unlike other files, the fishing file came complete with pictures, which I’ll gladly share with you.There were newsletters and of course the Co-Co Journal. In its first issue the fishing code was a page one story: “Early to bed…. Early to rise….Fish like hell… and make up lies…”
The scene of the action was Cocodrie, a storied fishing marina in Terrebonne Parish on the Gulf of Mexico.”
WPC members Julie Little, Pat Denechaud, Donna Kern, Patricia Schreiber, Sharon Leader
Gayle Dellinger was the organizer of the Reel Fun trips and her gang included Beverly Haslauer, Carol Neff, Estelle Coffman, Sheryl Rainold, Barbara Motley, Jane Armstrong, Vera O’Brien, Loria Trahan, Sharon Leader, Nancy Penton, Ellen Yellin, Patricia Schreiber, Maria McClellan, Jean Felts, Eileen Wallen, Debbie Steinmetz and Susan Peterson.
“They made their limit with 25 two to three pound bull reds and sea cats.
“Being in the pioneer group gave lady fishers first dibs on the charter boat Silver Bullet for later trips.
“The grub was simple: ham sandwiches, ham and cheese and turkey, beer, soda and water.
“For first timers there was an initiation the night before the trip including the ritual of the worms.
“And then there was the reel fun 10 year reunion as described in the newsletter “de-tail.” Dellinger wrote “de-tails is just a little piece to spread tales about catching tails. It is mostly nonsense but you can find stuff about what to bring, where we’re going and how to get there. There is no way to describe how much fun you will have. This is the REEL experience. You will learn that REEL time is different from real time.”
“The price had gone from $175 to $250 but there was no shortage of fisherwomen.”
Special thanks to Ellen Yellin, Carole Neff, Carol Wise, Patricia Schreiber, Gayle Dellinger, Leila Schumacher, Danny Gamble of the Times-Picayune and Beth Terry for making this history as complete as it is.