PLATTSBURGH — Champlain Valley Business and Professional Women's Club has recognized several local women for their strength and character.

The achievements were saluted at BPW's annual awards dinner at Uno Pizzeria & Grill in Plattsburgh.

BUSINESSWOMAN OF YEAR

Champlain Valley BPW Interim President Emily Owens announced CV-TEC Director Michele Friedman as Businesswoman of the Year, then read from letters of recommendation that accompanied her nomination.

Friedman was praised for her tireless work to ensure her students receive a quality education that will allow them to achieve a rewarding career.

Her commitment to the region's economic-development strategies, introduction of new programs and technologies at CV-TEC and community service were also praised.

It is all done with personal touches that mean so much to others, the nominators said.

"As Michele walks through the school, she greets students and teacher alike by name, and faces light up as she passes by," Owens said.

Friedman said those who know her best know she is rarely at a loss for words.

"This is one of those moments, and I appreciate this honor. I am overwhelmed by this particular award in that whenever you celebrate someone's a success, it's never because that person achieved that by themselves," she said.

Although she mentioned a number of women who have inspired her, she said her mother, Nancy Holmes, went above and beyond.

A divorced mom who raised three girls while running her own beauty shop, her mother never doubted herself, at least that her children could see, Friedman said. 

The chores she assigned to her daughters helped instill traits that have served them well to this day, she said, such as ethics, honesty, kindness, the dignity of a job well done and always extending a hand to those who need it.

Friedman said she has been blessed in life to have had bright lights such as her mother to guide her.

"I accept this (award) tonight with a promise that I will do my best to be a bright light for those who maybe want to do what I'm doing, and to know that no matter what your background is, no matter what your path is, is for someone to look at you and say, 'You can do this,'" she said.

"I see many faces tonight that believed in me when I didn't, and I thank all of you so much. I thank all of you for being that bright light, and I hope that I can be that light for someone. That is my goal."

EMPLOYER OF YEAR

Owens said the candidates for Employer of the Year have to demonstrate policies that support women in the workforce.

Northern Insuring, under the leadership of President and CEO Deena Giltz McCullough, fits the bill, she said.

Reading from a nominating letter, Owens said Northern Insuring is a community leader that is also focused on a company strategic plan that outlines principle and values for their employees.

Its workforce is one example of the firm's commitment to women and their careers, as the three locations employ 27 women and eight men.

Among the principles are integrity, commitment to education and efforts to create a fun, family-oriented workplace that provides excellent benefits and shared profits.

McCullough is a third-generation president of the company, who joined the firm in 1985 and assumed the leadership post when her father, Rod Giltz, stepped down in 2008.

She has since introduced her own strategic plan and ideas.

"You know, as women, we think differently, we lead differently," she said. "My dad still likes to tell me to do it his way sometimes, but I tell him I'm not him."

From a start in the mailroom, she advanced to a position in sales. While in that role, she was assigned one of the firm's more difficult former clients when he wanted to return.

McCullough said she was able to bring him back on board but prepared herself on how to deal with any issues that arose.

That happened a few years later, when the client called with a problem and took it out on McCullough and her staff in a furious, rude manner.

She arranged a meeting on his home turf and, armed with a cancellation notice, told him he was not to treat her or the other employees in that manner.

The client apologized and has remained a client and become a friend.

"I earned his respect that day," McCullough said. "When we stand up for ourselves and we stand up for our staff, we make a huge difference in the lives we touch.

"I think we all have that in ourselves to draw that line."

VIRGINIA ALLEN YOUNG CAREERIST

Melissa Mowry, a branch manager at Glens Falls National Bank, was named the Virginia Allen Young Careerist.

The theme of this year's competition was how to balance a career and personal life.

"The most important thing I've learned regarding my work-life balance is choosing a career that I am passionate about,' Mowry said.

"Having a career that allows me to do what I love makes my job less about what I need to do and more about what I want to do."

She also values community involvement.

Mowry credits her time in charge of a college-based Habitat for Humanity chapter as a way to help the community but also a time to learn responsibility and managerial skills.

It also helped her choose a career path that coincides with her passion for volunteer work.

"Being a branch manager at Glens Falls National Bank gives me the ability to do what I love every day," Mowry said.

She truly embraces the chance to develop a relationship with the people in the community, her co-workers and the bank's clientele.

"As I go to work every morning, I know it's my attitude, work ethic and approach to the day that directly shape the work atmosphere for my team," she said.

It is also essential to be able to separate yourself from your work and enjoy life's precious moments, Mowry said, while acknowledging that can be difficult in today's fast-paced business environment.

She has learned to be an advocate for personal time, especially to cherish the time she gets to spend with family and friends.

"They give me the support I need to achieve my personal and professional goals," Mowry said.

EQUAL PAY

BPW President-elect Emily Owens said the BPW was founded in 1919 with a goal to promote equality for all women in the workplace through advocacy and education.

"The BPW works to transform workplaces by promoting inclusiveness and valuing the skills of working women," she said.

The chapters offer a venue for networking, career and personal-development programs and scholarships to further educational opportunities.

While they have made great strides, in many cases women still do not receive equal pay for equal work compared to their male counterparts, Owens said.

Equal Pay Day marks the day that a woman would need to work into the following year to make the same amount of money that a man would've made the previous year. That day was April 4 this year, Owens said.

'MAINTAIN THE FIGHT'

During her keynote address, former Assemblywoman Janet Duprey said that while New York is nearly 10 percent higher than the national average, the average women's wage is still 89 cents compared to a male counterpart.

"We're getting there, but we still have to maintain the fight," she said.

Duprey reflected on her 41-year career in government, as a former county legislator, county treasurer and in the State Assembly, noting she has seen remarkable changes during her time in office.

Her career started shortly after a member of the Town of Peru Republican Party asked her husband to run for a seat on the Clinton County Legislature in 1975. He declined, telling the party official that Janet was the political one.

The response was that wasn't possible, that there had never been a woman on the legislature and a woman couldn't possibly do the job.

"By the time this guy left our house, there was no way I wasn't going to run for the Clinton County Legislature," Duprey said.

She set out to prove a woman could run, even if she didn't win. But she did and was sworn in in 1976.

Shortly after, a fellow state legislator approached her to make it clear she didn't belong there, they didn't want her there and they would get rid of her within two years.

Duprey said her work was inspired by the words of Clare Booth Luce, who said women must make unusual efforts to succeed. If they fail, no one will say they didn't have what it takes; they will say that women don't have what it takes.

"I took that very seriously, and I knew I had to work harder to be better prepared than my nine colleagues in order to be considered to be successful," Duprey said.

Email Dan Heath:

dheath@pressrepublican.com

ABOUT BPW

The Champlain Valley Business and Professional Women's club meets the fourth Tuesday of every month.

For more information, visit www.champlainvalleybpw.org.

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Dan Heath grew up in Rouses Point and graduated from N.C.C.S. in 1978. He received a history degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism degree from SUNY Plattsburgh. Dan lives on Point au Fer in the Town of Champlain.

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