YWCA Greater Johnstown will honor 10 women for their contributions to the community during the 28th annual Tribute to Women on May 22.
The event will feature a reception at 5 p.m. and a dinner at 6 at Pasquerilla Conference Center, 301 Napoleon St. in downtown Johnstown.
Sharon Honkus of Johnstown is making a difference in the lives of others and has been chosen as the 2013 Yellow Rose honoree.
The Yellow Rose Award, chosen by the YWCA board of directors, is presented to a person who strives to create opportunities for women’s growth, leadership and power to promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.
Other honorees are nominated by their peers, who submit a biography about the nominee and her contributions.
A selection committee reviews the biographies with the names removed and makes selections based on the merits of the information provided.
The recipients are Jennifer A. Jones, arts and letters; Donna Christopher, business; Michelle C. Maksymik, community service; Lorie Ratchford, education; Karissa Grossman, Lady Liberty; Diana M. Kabo, nonprofit services; and Tobie Gunby, professions.
Diane Lopez of Lower Yoder Township, YWCA board president and 2013 Yellow Rose Award recipient, will welcome the 10 women who have been chosen to be honored for leadership in their chosen profession as well as accomplishments and commitments to Cambria and Somerset counties.
In conjunction with commemorating the YWCA’s centennial anniversary in 2014, Lifetime Recognition awards will be presented to Viola T. Najjar and Rita Mizak, both of Lower Yoder Township, who will be honored for their combined service of more than 100 years to the YWCA.
Renée Carthew of Upper Yoder Township, 2013 Business Award honoree, will serve as mistress of ceremonies.
Yellow Rose Award
Sharon Honkus of Johnstown is the owner of Celestial Brides & Prom, 142 Market St. in downtown Johnstown.
Honkus established the business in 1998 after working in a variety of retail and sales positions.
She is the daughter of Frances Honkus of Hooversville and the late George Honkus.
Her parents settled in the area when their parents immigrated to America from Poland. It was a difficult transition to a new country, and Honkus’ dad had to quit school in the sixth grade to work after his father died.
Even with his limited education, Honkus’ father supported the family of four children by operating his own business.
Coming from a family filled with love, Honkus credits her parents for instilling great values, moral character and a strong work ethic in her and her three brothers.
Honkus, a 1974 graduate of Conemaugh Township Area High School, secured a full-time job at the former U.S. Bank.
She moved to Florida in 1977, but returned a year later to take a job at the former Brooks Fashions in the Richland Mall.
Within a year, she was offered a manager’s position in a new store opening in Morgantown, West Virginia, and later promoted to the large store in the then-new Century III Mall in suburban Pittsburgh.
When Brooks went out of business, she returned to Johnstown and had various sales jobs, including a position at WKYE/WJAC radio.
In 1994, she was part of an employee group that purchased the stations. In late 1997, the group sold its holdings, which provided Honkus with the resources to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening her own business, Celestial Brides.
In an effort to pay it forward through her business, Honkus has been able to help with the Cinderella Project, Brides against Breast Cancer and other local fundraisers.
She has served on various boards throughout the region, including Outstanding Young Woman.
Arts and Letters Award
The Arts and Letters Award will be presented to Jennifer A. Jones of Westmont, a Pre-K Counts teacher at the Growing Years Early Learning Center in Johnstown.
Jones was born in Maryland and raised in Philadelphia, which provided regular opportunities to attend the theater in the city. That early exposure led to a love for the performing arts.
She studied theater at Lock Haven University and performed in numerous musical productions as well as several one-act plays.
She performed with the Philadelphia All-City Choir and was a member of the University Choir at Lock Haven.
Jones recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown with a degree in early childhood education.
As soon as she and her husband, Keith, became parents, Jones wanted to expose her twin daughters, Ryleigh and Keira, to musical theater.
She realized there was a lack of resources and opportunities available to her daughters in the area.
That prompted Jones to start Johns-town Kids on Stage (KOS), a two-week summer program at the Community Arts Center of Cambria County in Westmont with only 13 children.
As registration began for a second session of KOS, the enrollment doubled. With each production, the enrollment has grown and extended beyond the Johnstown region.
Currently, the program has grown to more than 70 children from 12 different schools and four counties.
As part of this program, Jones has brought on several high school students who volunteer with the program, all with dreams of one day being a teacher or a performer.
In the fall, Johnstown KOS performed “Annie Jr.” for more than 2,000 audience members and hopes to do the same this month at the Arcadia Theater in Windber.
Through her efforts, Jones has inspired children to become involved in the performing arts. Many students have used their newfound confidence and passion to also perform at Richland Performing Arts, Bedford Players and Cresson Lake Playhouse.
Jones strives to foster growth while helping to develop confidence, teamwork, socialization, a sense of pride in what they are doing and a love and passion for the performing arts.
Donna Christopher of Ligonier is the recipient of the Business Award.
Christopher launched her own State Farm agency in 2005 at 339 Main St. in downtown Johnstown.
A native of Waterford, she and her husband, Jeff, are the parents of two children. She is an active member of New Life Tabernacle Church in New Stanton, Westmoreland County.
She started her career in insurance at the age of 17, working for Blue Cross/Blue Shield during her senior year of high school. Working several jobs while attending school, Christopher also worked for a broker before working as a team member for a State Farm agent in California.
In 1992, Christopher earned a bachelor’s degree in business accounting from Chico (California) State University.
She started her career with State Farm as a fire claims adjuster in March 1993.
Christopher worked the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Santa Monica, California, for six months.
She continued to work catastrophe duty for the next six years.
She is a chartered financial consultant, chartered life underwriter, a member of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers and ambassador travel qualifier.
Christopher is an active member of the Johnstown Rotary, Stonebridge Committee and the Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Committee.
In 2013, her agency, as part of a community effort, spearheaded efforts to promote safe teen driving.
She shared her own experience of being badly injured in an accident while not wearing a seat belt.
Christopher broke her back and was not expected to walk, but she persevered.
The campaign resulted in more than 3,000 students and adults in the Johnstown area taking a pledge to buckle up.
Community Service Award
Michelle C. Maksymik of Boswell is the honoree in the community service category.
Maksymik has been employed at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College since 2006, and serves as the executive assistant to the president’s office.
Born and raised in Johnstown, she is the daughter of Susan Babalonis of Richland Township and the late Charles Babalonis.
A 1998 graduate of Richland High School, Maksymik earned two degrees from California University of Pennsylvania. In 2002, she received a bachelor’s degree in graphic communications technology, and in 2004, a master’s degree in multimedia technology.
Upon returning to Johnstown after five years at college, Maksymik wanted to become more involved in the community. She joined the Young Professionals of the Alleghenies (YPA), where she discovered a way to give back to the area and meet others with similar goals.
Maksymik enjoyed participating in the community outreach activities hosted in partnership with a variety of local organizations.
From cleanup projects and blood drives to nursing home caroling tours and kids’ craft nights, these activities were among the most fruitful.
These initiatives led Maksymik to establish a Community Involvement Committee at the community college in 2009. She has served as chair since its inception.
The committee helps organize and promote volunteerism and giving to employees and students, and encourages collaboration with local nonprofits.
Maksymik was chosen by the college for the 2010-2011 Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Chamber of Commerce Gunter Leadership Program.
The program got her involved with Lift Johnstown, and she has since served on their communications committee, supporting events, volunteer recognition programs, marketing and social media for the organization.
The Communications Committee most recently partnered with the United Way of the Laurel Highlands in 2013 to redesign the region’s joint volunteer and nonprofit website, Get Connected.
Maksymik assisted with the implementation of the site, and in training local nonprofit employees to use the site as a marketing tool for their organizations.
She and her husband, Joshua, participate in cleanup and road/trail maintenance efforts.
The Education Award recipient is Lorie Ratchford of Ebensburg, principal of Bishop Carroll Catholic High School, where she has devoted more than 20 years of her professional career as an educator.
Ratchford is a native of Northern Cambria and the oldest of five children of James and Doris Eget.
She believes her parents’ decision to send her to Northern Cambria Catholic School and Bishop Carroll Catholic High School has shaped her into the person she has become.
She feels the structure, guidance and support at Bishop Carroll are very important in building a strong foundation for the students.
She strongly supports the mission of Bishop Carroll to educate students in spirit, heart, mind and body, and the placing of emphasis on being active in the church and school communities.
Ratchford received a bachelor’s degree in English from the Pennsylvania State University and earned a master’s degree at St. Francis University, Loretto.
She is dedicated to ensuring that faith and academics are at the forefront of the Catholic education provided at Bishop Carroll.
She and her husband of 20 years, Dr. Donald Ratchford, a family practice physician in Cresson, have two children, A.J., 17, and Caroline, 13.
Believing it is important to be passionate about what means the most to people, especially children and the schools they attend, Ratchford and her husband have been actively involved in their children’s grade school and church, Holy Name, and Bishop Carroll for many years.
Ratchford’s volunteerism has helped establish strong fundraisers to substantiate funds for Holy Name School and Bishop Carroll.
Ratchford has overseen projects strengthening the high school’s curriculum and academics, athletics and the arts.
In her time as principal, Ratchford has seen the school’s international program double in numbers while academic and athletic honors have increased.
Through her leadership, the school has been able to remain in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference.
As principal, she is responsible for the day-to-day running of the school’s academics pertaining to the students and faculty while she works alongside CEO Jerry Stephens, who is responsible for the school’s business management.
Lady Liberty Award
The recipient of the Lady liberty Award is Pfc. Karissa Grossman, a member of the National Guard’s aviation unit in Johnstown.
Grossman, who resides in Dunlo, currently is an Ohio State Highway Patrol cadet and continues to work on her helicopter flight training certification.
Grossman has been a participant in a variety of pageants through the years and has won several titles.
In 2013, she was Miss Johnstown International as well as a participant for the national title of America’s Miss.
She earned the title of America’s Miss East Coast in 2013 and is the current National Miss East Coast 2014.
She enjoys keeping physically fit and participates in marathons and 10K and 5K runs.
An avid archery hunter, Grossman also dedicates time as an anti-bullying spokeswoman.
Her community service activities include working on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an animal shelter and the American Red Cross.
Nonprofit Services Award
Diana M. Kabo of Geistown Borough is the recipient of the Nonprofit Services Award.
Kabo is an executive assistant for Lift Johnstown and coordinates special events, such as the annual Project Party that hosts nonprofit organizations for a day of volunteer recruitment.
She also is an executive assistant at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies and is a board member of the Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy.
Born and raised in Indiana, Kabo credits her parents, John and Joan Lazor, for instilling in her at an early age to give back to the community.
She relishes being involved in projects to improve the region and working with the bright, young people who are re-energizing the community with their creativity and innovative ideas.
Her work at Sandyvale as special events coordinator involves organizing the annual Memorial Day Ceremony each May, working on the Sandyvale Wine Festival and promoting and arranging educational programming for students and adults in the greenhouse facility and outdoor classroom settings at the conservancy.
Kabo earned an associate degree in specialized business and legal secretarial from Cambria-Rowe Business College.
She and Ron Kabo, an account executive at WJAC Radio, married in 1973.
From 1975 to 1990, she was a stay-at-home mom to their three children, Jennifer, Jason and Christopher.
Kabo re-entered the workforce as secretary/office manager at American Express IDS Financial Services, then worked at Crown American.
During her 15 years at Crown, she served as administrative support in the real estate mall division, executive assistant to the CEO, assistant corporate secretary to the board and administrative assistant to Chief Administrative Officer Don Zucco.
Tobie Gunby of Upper Yoder Township is the honoree in the professions category.
Gunby is an assistant vice president in human resources at AmeriServ Financial, a career coach and a college professor in the traditional and online classrooms.
She was born and raised in Johnstown and is a graduate of Greater Johnstown High School.
She is the daughter of Jackie Grunza.
Following her high school graduation, Gunby followed a variety of career paths that have led to her continued success.
She has worked in the fields of cosmetology, nursing, retail, customer service, training, education, career development and human resources management.
After high school, she attended the Academy of Cosmetology and worked in that field for a while until choosing a different path.
She became a certified nursing assistant and worked in the health field.
Gunby attended Pennsylvania Highlands Community College, where she earned an associate degree in management communications. Not satisfied, she went to Mount Aloysius College, where she received a bachelor’s degree in business administration management, and to St. Francis University, where she earned a master’s degree in human resources management.
Gunby understands that her diverse background has been beneficial. She is career-minded and passionate about her work.
She enjoys helping others and sharing her wisdom through volunteer work, teaching, training, presenting and coaching.
Gunby is involved with developing the youth of the region.
She presents at many events, including the Clara Barton Forum, Success is Intentional Youth Conference and the Mount Aloysius Super Conference.
She also holds a multitude of local board positions.
She is the board treasurer for the Johnstown Symphony Auxiliary, the workforce development director for the Human Resources Association of the Alleghenies (HRAA), the diversity director for the state of Pennsylvania Society for Human Resources (SHRM) and board member for Mount Aloysius College Alumni.
She also is a fitness instructor, a Sunday school teacher and a small business owner of Competitive Initiative Inc. Career Coaching and Consulting.
She and her husband, Leroy Gunby Jr., are the parents of three children, Essense, Elias and Emory.
Tom Lavis covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.