People & Places

Announcing: The Gazette's HER Women of Achievement Award honorees

12 impactful women to be awarded at inaugural event

Three of the 12 HER Women of Achievement Award 2018 honorees, from left: Phoebe Trepp, Cat Cantrill and Brooke Fitzgerald (Composite of Gazette file photos)
Three of the 12 HER Women of Achievement Award 2018 honorees, from left: Phoebe Trepp, Cat Cantrill and Brooke Fitzgerald (Composite of Gazette file photos)

Empowering. Wise. Big-hearted. Persistent.

These are just a few of the words used to describe The Gazette’s inaugural HER Women of Achievement Award honorees.

The following 12 women were chosen based on professional achievements in their field, creative contributions to the community and leadership skills. Nominations were received from across the community.

Join us in recognizing their commitment and impact at the Awards Luncheon on Thursday, June 7 at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center. This premier event promises to be inspirational and will provide attendees the opportunity to meet and greet these leaders and hear their stories, challenges and triumphs. More information and registration is available at

Learn more about these women — in the words of their nominators — below, and stay tuned to The Gazette in the coming months as we tell their stories.

(Submissions have been lightly edited for length and clarity)


Cat Cantrill

Vitality Fitness & Dance

“She gives women permission to love themselves in their current form, whatever that is. Not 10 pounds later, not after whatever excuse a woman can come up with, but right now. That is a very powerful statement.” Nominated by Dawn Lundvall


Maridee Dugger

RISE Program

“I witnessed the way this natural mentor reached out to students with a warm smile, a ready ear, a big heart, and an open mind ... Her positive outlook and valuable wisdom enabled countless students to overcome so many obstacles and obtain success in school and in life.” Nominated by Myrna Cooney. Previous story: Reflections on 3 years at RISE Program



Leigh Ann Erickson

Mount Vernon Community Schools

“Leigh Ann has taught in New York City, Southside Chicago, Western Suburbs, Rural Ohio, and now Mount Vernon. A host of other [community leaders] can vouch for her excellence not only in education, but also in building bridges in our community and catalyzing change.” Nominated by Brett Erickson. Previous story: Mount Vernon class, Chicago academy bridge demographic divide


Brooke Fitzgerald

The Early Bird Coffee Shop

“The Early Bird has served as an extension of Brooke’s values and commitment to her community: to advocate for women-owned small businesses and to provide a platform for the growing downtown Cedar Rapids core ... Her tireless efforts to make Cedar Rapids a better place to live, work, and thrive is infinite.” Nominated by Aaron Murphy. Previous story: The Early Bird offers space for people to come together in downtown Cedar Rapids


Hillary Hughes

Prairie Capital Advisors

“As president of the Linn County Conservation Board, Ms. Hughes has guided us carefully with her business acumen and forbearance. She has set a standard of conduct for the Board that will persist long after her tenure ends ... She is the type of woman who is making our community a better place.” Nominated by John Lawrence Hanson


Mary Mascher

Iowa House of Representatives

“Mary Mascher has dedicated more than a quarter of a century to the service of Iowans in the state house where she speaks passionately and advocates for children, women and family issues. Mary’s legislative work provides opportunities to those who are less fortunate and to aid children, giving them opportunities to succeed in life.” Nominated by Linda Schreiber


Ann C. Oleson



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“Our mother is living her dream, and what makes Quinn and I most proud of her accomplishment, is that we, as her kids, witness every day the work and dedication it takes to be successful in your chosen endeavor, and more importantly, that you can be a tremendous parent even with the sacrifices that need to be made to make that endeavor successful.” Nominated by Kennedy & Quinn Oleson


Dawn Oliver Wiand

Iowa Women’s Foundation

“Dawn has had an extraordinary impact on the work of the Iowa Women’s Foundation across the State of Iowa in the five short years she has been at the helm as Executive Director ... In addition to important grant partnerships with these life-changing programs, an emerging focal point of Dawn’s work with the Foundation is shattering an economic barrier for women and girls in Iowa.” Nominated by Alison Ames Galstad


Elizabeth Anne Proffitt Riechers

Linn County Community Services

“She successfully developed many grant programs that are still sustaining now. Beth takes time to listen and understand everyone who comes to her ... I worked with Beth very shortly in two her Programs where I realized how much work she did to promote and help people who needed help.” Nominated by Vildana Tinjic


Phoebe Trepp

Willis Dady Emergency Shelter

“For the first time in Willis Dady’s 30 year history, Phoebe led her team in a capital campaign that exceeded their $3 million goal. Phoebe is persistent. She puts her clients first, and she is an advocate for justice and equality.” Nominated by Brooke Lentz


Elizabeth Swanson

University of Iowa College of Nursing


“We are nominating Dr. Swanson for her passion and commitment to improving the health and welfare of the citizens of Eastern Iowa. Dr. Swanson has a legacy of volunteering her talents and skills to a number of nonprofit organizations that support communities in Eastern Iowa . [Additionally] Dr. Swanson was instrumental in the development and successful implementation of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses program which is now in its 14th year.” Nominated by Julie Zerwic and the College of Nursing


Karmen Wilhelm

Van Meter Inc

“Karmen is a strong leader and business strategist. Her strength lies in seeing the big picture, helping others see that vision and then bringing the right people and content together to make it come alive ... she has a significant reputation for her professionalism and passion. Karmen and her team’s work have received several national awards and recognition.” Nominated by Van Meter employees


Posthumous award: Ying Ying Chen

College Community School District

“Those who were fortunate to work closely with Ying know her as one of the most highly-regarded and influential individuals in their professional careers. She consistently modeled the highest ideals of our profession in her tireless efforts to improve learning conditions for all students.” Nominated by Daniel Chen

In addition to our HER Women of Achievement Honorees, we are pleased to recognize two Young HER Women of Achievement. These high school women are already focused on enriching their community.


Maya Durham

City High School

“Maya Durham is a most remarkable young woman. As a junior, she is the executive editor of the Iowa City City High newspaper the Little Hawk (a position that generally goes to a senior) and has steered the paper toward covering more social justice issues. She’s logged over 600 hours of volunteer work for many organizations. She’s set her sights on becoming a journalist who uses writing to change the world.” Nominated by Judy Polumbaum


Kenadee Dekko

Iowa Big

“Kenadee is the founder of She Can, a mentorship program for local middle school girls. Research indicates that in middle school, girls begin to “dumb themselves down,” leaving behind many of the passions they embraced in grade school. Kenadee created She Can to specifically empower middle schoolers to continue to pursue the purpose and goals they feel are important to them.” Nominated by Nate Pruett

To hear more about these impactful women, please register to attend the Awards luncheon on June 7th. Registration is available at

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