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Six Women Honored at Women of Influence 2015 Event


Several women were honored at the Second Annual Women of Influence 2015 recognition reception Thursday, Oct. 22, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ramada Topeka Downtown, 420 SE Sixth Ave. The event, sponsored by GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, honored the following women:

Anita Wolgast, Community Service

Dr. Beryl New, Principal, Highland Park High School, Education

The Hon. Marla Luckert, Kansas Supreme Court, Mentorship

Martha Bartlett-Piland, Piland Advertising & Marketing, Outstanding Entrepreneur

Stephanie Heston, Kansas Ballet Academy, Rising Star

Dr. Brenda Dietrich, Retired Auburn-Washburn Superintendent, Woman of Achievement

Retired Brigadier General Deborah Rose, U.S. Air Force, will be the keynote speaker. There is no cost to attend the event, but attendees are asked to register at topekachamber.org by Oct. 20.

Anita Wolgast, Community Service

A former fifth grade teacher at State Street School, Wolgast has been an advocate for a variety of community projects. She served as chair of the “Carousel in the Park” project to restore the antique carousel placed in Gage Park; served as executive director of Historic Ward-Meade Park where she oversaw the fundraising, renovation and dedication of four historic buildings and the drug store built to replicate an historic Topeka drug store; helped raise funds for the Topeka & Shawnee County library renovation and coordinated the visit of First Lady Laura Bush for the grand opening ceremonies; served as chair of the Kansas Arts Commission; oversaw the design of the Kansas quarter and chaired a committee to launch the quarters at the Kansas State Fair; and served as a founding co-chair for the NOTO Arts District. Wolgast was named one of the 2013 Distinguished Kansans of the Year selected by the Topeka Capital-Journal; a Sales and Marketing Executive of the Year in 2014 and an ABWA Woman of Outstanding Achievement. She is a past president of the Rotary Club of Downtown Topeka Inc., and has received numerous awards for service and volunteerism from organizations committed to the arts, parks and recreation, historical preservation and more.

Dr. Beryl New, Principal, Highland Park High School, Education

New attended the historic Monroe Elementary School, Highland Park North Elementary School, Highland Park Junior High, Topeka High School, Washburn University and the University of Kansas. Committed to diversity and mentorship, she serves as an adjunct professor in the Education Leadership program at Washburn University. As principal at Highland Park High School, she helped facilitate the only high school onsite industrial robotics program in the world and initiated a certified nursing assistant program on campus. New is also an author and entrepreneur. She and her family established Kwenzi House Publishing in 2014 to support writers of all ages and genres to publish their works with professional guidance and to address the acquisition of early reading skills for parents of children who may not be selected to attend pre-school programs or who may not be able to afford high-quality nursery schools. New wrote “The Sure Line,” an inspirational fictional work, and a handbook for educators called “A Tiger’s Tale,” which depicts the brief life of a young Lawrence man who died at the hand of a police officer in 1971.

The Hon. Marla Luckert, Kansas Supreme Court, Mentorship

Justice Luckert has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2003, only the second woman to do so. Previously she served as a judge of the Third Judicial District in Topeka, beginning in 1992, and as that district’s chief judge from 2000 to 2002. Before that she was a partner with the Topeka law firm of Goodell, Stratton, Edmonds & Palmer. She chairs the Kansas Judicial Council, serves as a member of the Kansas Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and has taught several undergraduate and law school courses as an adjunct professor. She is a past president of the Kansas Bar Association, the Kansas District Judges Association, the Kansas Women Attorneys Association, the Topeka Bar Association, the Women Attorneys Association and the Sam A. Crow American Inn of Court, which she helped establish with others to foster excellence. She has received numerous professional and distinguished service awards. More than 26 years ago she launched a statewide conference for women attorneys that continues and organized a summer program for high school students in legal careers. She participates in programs that assign mentors to students at Washburn University School of Law and has a network of alums she has mentored who are now judges, professors and lawyers around the country.

Martha Bartlett Piland, MB Piland Advertising & Marketing, Outstanding Entrepreneur

As president and chief executive officer of MB Piland Advertising & Marketing since 1998, Piland’s entrepreneurial spirit flourished early as a record-breaking Girl Scout cookie seller. She and her agency team members have won dozens of local, regional and international awards for their strategic work and creative execution on behalf of diverse clients. Piland has been honored with the Kansas Women-Owned Business of the Year, Topeka Chamber Small Business of the Year, ABWA Woman of Distinction and IABC Excel Award. She is a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow and a graduate of Leadership Greater Topeka, Leadership Kansas and Leadership America. She has served as the United Way of Greater Topeka Community Wide Campaign chair and as marketing chair for the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She has spoken on brand and marketing strategy in venues across the United States and Canada and in China. She founded Women United, a women’s philanthropy serving women in need and a small group women CEO roundtable so participants can provide mentoring and coaching for one another to continue growing personally and professionally in their careers.

Stephanie Heston, Kansas Ballet Academy, Rising Star

Heston moved to New York City upon graduating from Seaman High School in 1995, embarking on a 15-year career as a professional ballerina and performing leading roles in famous ballets throughout the United States and abroad. Upon retiring from the stage, she became the founding artistic director of the North Ballet Academy and Youth Company in Minnesota. She returned to Topeka in 2012 and opened the Kansas Ballet Academy, which she co-owns with husband and fellow dancer Alexander Smirnov. In 2015, KBA bought a competitor, successfully acquired their students and faculty members and rebranded its location. In 2013, Heston was instrumental in founding the non-profit 501©3 performing organization, the Kansas Ballet Co., where she and her husband both serve as artistic directors and board members. In just two years, the company has provided the community with more than 40 performances and brought in more than 12 guest artists to teach master classes and perform for local audiences. The company received the Arts Connect 2015 Arty Award for Best Performing Arts Organization and will collaborate with the Topeka Symphony Orchestra for Nutcracker performances at the Topeka Performing Arts Center in December.

Dr. Brenda Dietrich, Retired Auburn-Washburn Superintendent, Woman of Achievement

Dietrich was appointed superintendent of the Auburn-Washburn School District in 2001 and became the first female superintendent in the district. She served as the only female superintendent in Shawnee County for 11 years. As superintendent, she managed a $70 million dollar budget and 1,000 employees before retiring in July 2015 after 40 years in education and 19 years as a superintendent. She was the Kansas Superintendent of the Year in 2007 and one of four finalists for National Superintendent of the Year, one of only three Kansas superintendents to rise to the national level. In 2015, she was named the ABWA Distinguished Woman of the Year and as a YWCA Woman of Leadership. Throughout her career she has been engaged in professional activities and board service at the local, state and national level. She served as chair of Leadership Kansas, as a governor’s appointee to the Kansas Advisory Group on Juvenile Justice, as an advisory board member for the KS/MO Superintendents Forum and as president of the Kansas Association of School Boards. She was elected to the American Association of School Boards Governing Board in 2011.

Retired Brigadier General Deborah Rose, keynote speaker

Deborah Rose graduated from Washburn University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing and Wichita State University with a master’s degree in nursing. She was employed at the Colmery-O’Neil Veterans Affairs Medical Center for 14 years before becoming a military technician. She received a direct commission in the Air Force Nurse Corps in 1983, beginning her military career at the 184th Tactical Fighter Group in Wichita. She transferred to the 190th Air Refueling Wing, ultimately becoming the highest-ranking female in the Kansas National Guard when she was promoted to colonel in 2002 and brigadier general in 2007. Her final assignment with the military was as the director of the Joint Forces Headquarters, Kansas National Guard, where she was responsible for the integration of the nearly 8,000 Kansas Army and Air National Guard forces for homeland security missions. She was additionally assigned as the Air National Guard Assistant to the Commander of U.S. Air Force Africa. She deployed to Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield as a nurse. During Pre-Operation Iraqi Freedom, she deployed to Turkey as the leader of an aerial refueling base bed-down team. She retired from the Air Force in 2011. In May 2012, she received an honorary doctorate degree in public service from Washburn University. She has been active with numerous community causes throughout her career.

Matt Lara

Matt Lara

Matt is the resident social media guru and website guy, working on the marketing and communications team. He supports GO Topeka, the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial & Minority Business Development, Forge and Heartland Visioning.
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