3 matriarchs to be honored at Sierra Nevada Powerful Woman Awards

Kay Bennett

Kay Bennett

RENO, Nev. — Within a family, the matriarch is the woman others look to for strength, to be the voice of authority and determination; the unwavering, fearless visionary and the glue that holds everyone together, regardless of whether times are easy or challenging.

Matriarchs’ unfailing perseverance and calming force charts the path forward, and the effects of their legacy are felt long after they’re gone.

And so it is with our societal matriarchs.

When a community looks to whom it would honor as its matriarchs, the criteria are much the same.

We look for women who, through strength of character and personality, have moved fearlessly and indomitably toward creating something important and lasting that impacts the lives of others in a positive way, and do so with passion and compassion.

They are singular in their ability to see past what others might consider limitations and refuse to stop regardless of challenges or naysayers.

With those assets in mind, special lifetime achievements awards will be presented next week to three Sierra Nevada matriarchs in honor of their legacy — Judy Haar, Kay Bennett and Ann Ronald, each of whom have spent their lives breaking ground and sharing their wisdom and visions with our community in ways that will be felt for generations.

Their accomplishments will be recognized at the 2018 Sierra Nevada Powerful Women Awards and luncheon, set for 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 30, at Atlantis Resort & Spa, Reno.

Click here to learn more about the inaugural event (note: ticket sales end May 25), and read more about these three powerful women below:

Judy Haar

Judy Haar attended college to become a nuclear chemist at a time when women in that field were unheard of — only three women were employed industry-wide, Haar recalled — and she did so to fulfill her father’s wish.

Judy went to work first at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and then for General Electric, describing the situation as a “very invasive” environment.

“Women were excluded from full participation during their child-bearing years, due to the risk of nuclear exposure, and men weren’t terribly excited about us being there,” Haar said. “I don’t think things have changed all that much for women; the questions just aren’t asked anymore.”

That said, Judy was cute, young, perky and brilliant — the perfect spokesperson for the positives of nuclear energy, giving speeches and appearing on television. Once, Judy found herself seated on stage with Jane Fonda, who at that time was promoting a two-word message: “Nukes kill.”

“It was such an effective, rhetorical message,” Judy said. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘well yes they can, but it isn’t that simple.’ Nuclear energy can be good, and in fact (Fonda) was quite wrong.”

During more than 20 years in that industry, Judy used her expertise in many facets, including analyzing data to ensure redundancy systems were effective; researching geysers and cogeneration; managing and overseeing large projects; and helping open nuclear facilities in the south.

This ability to collect, analyze and apply data led her to build another chapter in what she humbly describes as a background in branding and marketing. As one of seven senior-level executives, she traveled the world, meeting with clients and leaving her mark in a completely new realm.

She was on the road three of every four weeks. Bank founder, Wells Fargo, had worked several years doing safety analysis for Judy, and eventually joined her client list, which also included Chase, Charles Schwabb and PNC.

When you see a Wells Fargo Stagecoach, thank Judy. She was part of the group that picked the first six stagecoaches in what has become one of the most successful branding campaigns of a century.

Now retired, Judy has brought her expertise to mentoring more than 400 business owners through the Northern Nevada chapter of SCORE, empowering and coaching them to success. She has written a range of books, from thrillers to a series, “Color Me Successful,” helping small business owners understand and use color effectively, all available at www.amazon.com.

“I have managed multimillion-dollar jobs, power-traveled the world, lived and operated in a man’s world and made a lot of money doing so,” Judy said. “I am a Type-A-plus-plus person, and I just do it. I’m a driver, I work 24/7, and I achieve for my self satisfaction.”

Kay Bennett

The name Bennett is synonymous with Silver Springs Airport, thanks to the tireless work of Kay and her late husband, Hale, who in 1989 determined to undertake a restoration and expansion of “an old girl with good bones,” as Kay once referred to the then-abandoned airstrip.

Hale first landed at the airport in a B-29 Super Fortress in 1945, and the place called him back, this time with his beloved Kay beside him, both with a shared vision.

Despite years of incredible challenges, their vision remained unwavering and today; the airport has become a gem of Lyon County, providing aviation services for Reno Industrial Complex and USA Parkway, as well as a support and gathering place for recreational pilots.

But soon, Kay begins a new chapter as she has a succession plan laid out with the right people in place. She will remain as CEO to oversee the transition and ensure its success.

“I have been at this 30 years and the last three months are just a glimpse of what this new, big step forward holds for me,” Kay said. “This has been a remarkable journey and truly a lesson in perseverance. Two things a person has to have to undertake something like this are vision and the quality of leadership; the key is believing in the possibility of the vision and persevering, even when there are naysayers, and remembering we didn’t get here alone.

“There have been hundreds of people who have supported us, worked with us, challenged us — you don’t do something like this in a vacuum.”

Years of collaboration with public, private, local, state and federal entities, and a huge financial investment, both private and public, has allowed for expansion of the runway and attending facilities — built one piece at a time.

“This is a project that has been commanding, absorbing. (It’s been a) very real commitment that gave us tremendous purpose and brought so many people from all over the world into our lives,” Kay said. “Whether sitting in the pilot’s lounge or at our dinner table, it has been a privilege, we’ve made wonderful memories, have created a future for the airport that others can see, and for all of this I am tremendously grateful.”

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kay moved to Nevada in 1978. Shortly after, Kay came to Carson City as the Director of Surgery at Carson Tahoe Hospital in 1986, when she married Hale and changed careers to the airport industry. She also served a public official, spending 12 years on the Carson City Board of Supervisors.

She and Hale were married for 24 years, and between them they have 6 grown children and 12 grandchildren.

In recent years, Kay met a “kind, wonderful, beautiful man” — a retired Air Force and test pilot — with whom she shares a passion for flight and golf. She is ready to embrace the next chapter, to enjoy family and to remain as always, open to the journey.

“Every one of us leaves a legacy to pass on,” Kay said. “Mine is just a little more visible, and I hope it is used for a good purpose.”

Ann Ronald

For more than 30 years, Ann Ronald taught nature writing and American and British literature at University of Nevada, Reno, eventually becoming a full professor.

During her tenure, she served as chair of the English Department, Acting Dean of the Graduate School and Dean of the College of Arts and Science. While doing this, Ann focused her research and writing on landscape, publishing myriad papers and many books focused primarily on the West, ranging from historic to nature-related.

Ann is an inductee of the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame. Her efforts garnered many awards, including the Western Literature Association’s Wylder Award for Distinguished Service, being named a UNR Foundation Professor, and the University’s Outstanding Researcher award.

She is also recognized as one of the founders of the field of ecocriticism or “green” criticism, a rapidly-growing field of literary study that emerged in the 1990s, facilitated by literature professors in the United States and Britain.

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and environment where all sciences come together to consider the relationship humans have to the environment and to brainstorm solutions to correct the current environmental situation.

Since her retirement, Ann has continued to travel and explore the landscapes that have been the focus of so much of her life’s work. Her legacy continues through not only her writing and research, but through each student she has taught and mentored.

Ann’s papers and books can be accessed via UNR’s Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center Special Collections. Many of Ann’s titles are available at www.amazon.com.


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