#LikeAGirl For These fierce six it’s more than just a hashtag. Their unrivaled passion, tenacity and commitment to community have helped to reshape Niagara. We got up close and personal to find out what makes them tick.

Ruth Unrau

Ruth is a focus coach who specializes in helping to develop leadership skills for women, and to help them achieve success in both life and business. She is a public speaker, a workshop presenter, an extremely popular event emcee, co-founder of Women in Niagara Small Business Club and currently volunteers on the Women in Niagara council for the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. Ruth Unrau What would you say your greatest strengths are?

“Being authentic, fun and courageous.”

What do you put into practice to motivate yourself?

“I choose to be involved with things that really matter to me. It’s as simple as that.

During the photoshoot, you had us all in stitches with your “laughing yoga”, what is it and how did you get involved?

“Haha! Wikipedia says, ‘laughter yoga is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter.’ I learned about laughter yoga through an article I read about seven or eight years ago. I did some research, found a course, and learned how to do it because in addition to the health benefits, it appeals to my playful nature, and I love to have fun.”

You seem to have a natural charm and engaging personality, have you always been this way? Do you ever feel insecure?

I’m mostly beyond the insecurity bit. Like most people, I have suffered from the ‘imposter syndrome’, but with age, I find I care less and I spend more time being me.”

What does the phrase “be a woman of substance” mean to you?

“To me, a woman of substance means being a woman who no matter where she is in her journey, or what her circumstances are, chooses to grow, learn and become all she can be. And we’re all in this together so “a woman of substance” also needs help and support along the way, and isn’t afraid to ask for it.”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: pick three cities you have to visit. Why?

“Sedona. My first choice will always be Sedona. I’ve been there before, but there’s something about the desert and the red rocks that just calms and soothes me. Budapest. I’m not really sure why, it’s just somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. I’m less about cities and more attracted to places where there’s lots of space. It calms me, grounds me and connects me.”

What would be one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

“I used to be really afraid of public speaking. Now, I can’t wait to get my hands on a microphone!”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“Don’t worry about fitting in. Be yourself. Don’t be scared.”

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your collection?

“The Princess Bride or Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.  I can’t quite decide which one I like best.”

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

“The Will Trent Detective Series by Karin Slaughter. Mysteries are great escapes for me.”

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

“Use your voice to say what’s on your mind, to ask your questions and don’t be afraid to lead.”

Mary Speck

While many people can easily choose to retreat after a tragedy, there are those among us who find it within themselves to forge ahead in the face of adversity. Mary Speck is one of those people. After losing her son to heart disease, she gave herself a goal: spread the word in Niagara about the importance of heart health. She learned just how many lives could be saved with a simple bit of knowledge. Her program teaches children to become aware of the signs and symptoms of heart and airway emergencies and how to appropriately respond. So far, over 83 schools in Niagara have been introduced to the CPR training.

Mary Speck

What does “be a woman of substance,” mean to you?

“A woman who believes that what she is doing will inspire other women to set a goal for themselves to achieve the best that she can be. A woman who will dare to challenge herself.”

What would be one thing people would you be surprised to know about you?

“I travelled alone at the age of 9 from Germany to Canada via London, Gander and Detroit with Pan Am Airlines. It was an 18-hour trip and I could not speak a word of English. My father had immigrated to Canada before my mother and I a year later. It was quite the adventure for me.”

What motto do you live by?

“Appreciate all that you have, spend time with your family and friends and tell them you love them, for no one is guaranteed tomorrow.”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“Never lose your imagination that you are blessed with as a child, it will see you through your journey in life.”

It seems like you are a person who is always very poised, is there anything in particular you like to do to let loose?

“Yes, I love to dance!”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: pick three cities you have to visit. Why?

“I would probably pick three cities in Europe: Amsterdam because of the canals and museums, Lucerne, which is nestled amid it’s snowcapped Alps and cobblestone streets, and Venice, with it’s gondolas, arched bridges, palaces, Venetian glass and beautiful masques. I love all the different cultures these cities have to offer.”

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your collection?

“Under the Tuscan Sun”

You’ve dedicated a huge part of your life to educating children on the importance of heart health and knowledge. Can you elaborate on why this is so important to you?

“Yes…my son, Jeremy, was born with transposition of the great vessels in which the aorta and the pulmonary arteries were reversed on his heart. He underwent open-heart surgery when he was 9 months old. This was called the Mustard Procedure after Doctor Mustard who invented this procedure at Sick Kids Hospital in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Jeremy did extremely well, played sports and grew up to be a very normal young man. The problem with this surgery was that the small side of the heart did the major work and this could present a problem later on in life, such as an enlarged heart and/or arrhythmia which is what Jeremy suddenly passed away from at the age of 23. I started a fundraiser with Heart Niagara called “Two Hearts in Motion” to raise money for CPR Bystander Kits for grade 7 and 8 at Princess Margaret School and later other elementary schools in Niagara. The young students learned how to administer CPR and also take the bystander kits home and teach other siblings and their parents the technique. They also learned the importance of heart health, eating right, exercising and the dangers of smoking. I raised nearly $50,000 for this program. At each one of my fundraisers, I also involved the Niagara Fire Department to demonstrate CPR and the importance of knowing this life saving technique. I have produced a DVD along with Heart Niagara and the students of Princess Margaret School which outlines the importance of learning CPR.”

Since you started this program with Heart Niagara, what advancements have you seen in the community as a result?

“The results have been amazing as the program is now taught in all elementary schools and high schools as well.”

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

“A Perfect Life by Danielle Steele.”

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

“There are no limits on what a girl can do. With determination and hard work, girls can accomplish anything they want to do in life. I encourage my granddaughters to follow their dreams no matter what roads they choose in life and never let anyone discourage them from doing so. Fear of failure will only hold you back in fulfilling your dreams. Surrounding yourself with positive people is the answer to achieving your goals.”

Denise Burke

If you are from Niagara, you’ve probably heard her name. She is currently the President of our very own Niagara Ice Dogs (and remains the only female president in the Ontario Hockey League). She runs the team with her husband, Bill Burke, and together, they have become an integral part of the Niagara community. They helped pave the way for the new Meridian Centre in downtown St. Catharines and continuously give back to the community that has embraced them with open arms.

Denise Burke

We’re curious, what challenges, if any, do you face as a prominent businesswoman in a predominately male industry?

“Well, there’s always that fear that you won’t be taken seriously. I was lucky that, in my previous life, Bill and I owned and operated what ended up being the largest independent printing company in Canada at the time. In those days, the printing industry was completely male dominated, so I learned early on that if I wanted to make it in a “man’s world”, I had to make sure that I knew my stuff. I worked in every aspect of the business to ensure I was educated enough to be able to not only understand what my industry was all about, but that I could converse with anyone about it. Walk the walk, talk the talk, so to speak. I refused to give up my femininity just to fit in, so I made sure I understood my business. The same holds true for the Ice Dogs. Yes, it is a predominately male industry, but I know what is required to run the business side of things, so as long as I don’t have to coach the team, we’re good to go!”

You’ve really managed to immerse yourself in the Niagara community and in turn have been embraced, what do you like best about living in Niagara?

“I think the answer is actually in your question. The fact that this community is so close knit that we have been embraced. Coming from Toronto, you live, work and play in this bubble of anonymity which you can actually hide behind. It’s so easy to not get involved, but here in Niagara, when you do immerse yourself in the community, there is this huge sense of belonging. That it’s in your power to make change and be appreciated for it. There is a real sense of community.”

What does the phrase “be a woman of substance” mean to you?

“I don’t look at it as being a “woman of substance” but rather “a person of substance”. I think we all have to conduct ourselves in a way so that at the end of the day you can look yourself in the mirror and like who you see. It can be as simple as a small act of kindness but I’m a huge believer in the old adage, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“To embrace my own uniqueness. I think all of us have our insecurities, especially as children and young adults, but our difference is what makes us special. Discover what yours is, and own it!”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: pick three cities that you have to visit. Why?

“I’m very fortunate that Bill and I have been able to travel a lot, so we’ve been to many exotic places. But to be honest, the older I get, my wish list is pretty simple. First, I love Muskoka in the summer. We have a cottage there and that is the best family time you can have. Heaven on earth! Next, I love Cocoa Beach, Florida in November. This is Bill’s and my time to get away just the two of us. And finally, there is a part of me that would love to go on an African Safari, but Bill says I’d be the one to get eaten by a lion, so maybe I should rethink that!”

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your movie collection?

You’re going to think I’m crazy, but it’s True Lies. It’s the perfect blend of action and comedy. I could (and have) watched this time and time again.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

That I can whistle louder that anyone I know!

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

I just finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It’s been on the top seller list for a while and I think it lives up to the hype!

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

My advice to young women would be that whatever it is that you do, be true to yourself. Women can do or be anything they want, so don’t ever conform to anyone else’s idea of how you should look, or how you should act. You can be a “girlie girl”, enjoy getting dressed up, and be as feminine as you want to be AND still run a hockey team at the same time. I like doing that #likeagirl!

Silvana Dibellonia

Silvana DiBellonia was born and raised in the Niagara area, and ever since she was a child, has embraced the idea of giving back to the community. These days, she’s just able to do it on a much larger scale. A founding member of the Niagara chapter of “100 Women Who Care”, she, along with several other women in the community have raised thousands of dollars for local charities.

Silvana Dibellonia

What does the phrase, “be a woman of substance” mean to you?

“A woman of power, that is optimistic and has a positive influence on women and girls. Women that have meaning, this is truly one of the greatest compliments to ever receive.”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“It is proven that the early years set the framework for your future. As children if we are taught to have morals and values, and by the time you reach adulthood, it is just a natural and normal way to be.”

You are involved in Niagara’s chapter of “100 Women Who Care”…what do you think it is about women getting together that can be such a powerful force?

“What I really like about ‘100 Women Who Care’ is that it involves women from the entire Niagara Region, from Fort Erie to Grimsby to NOTL that are passionate about their individual charities. In just one hour, we learn about the needs of our community and are able to make an incredible impact financially to a charity. It allows women to become familiar with the resources and needs of our community and demonstrate our strength in numbers. It is incredibly empowering to be in a group of such like-minded women who all aspire to bring good to the community. The Niagara chapter started in September of 2014, and with only 6 meetings, has raised close to $90,000. It has grown to be the ‘100+ Women Who Care’, and we continue to welcome new members at each and every meeting in the hopes of having an even greater impact on our community.”

What motto do you live by?

“Follow your heart. Find your passion in life, which will create meaning and generate happiness.”

What do you find is special about the Niagara community?

“I find the Niagara community very kind and generous. It is heartwarming to see how everyone comes together ready to lend a helping hand to the needs of the community.”

What would be the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

“ That I am a Registered Nurse.”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world. Pick three cities that you have to visit. Why?

“Region of Tuscany, Egypt and Abu Dhabi. Although I may never make it there, I would love to see my heritage, along with visiting diverse cultures.

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your movie collection?

“Terms of Endearment”

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

“Although it takes me forever to finish a book, the one I am reading now is, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

The best quote to summarize this is by Ginger Rodgers, ‘I did it just as good as he did, but backwards, and in high heels!”

Sue-Ann Staff

Sue-Ann comes from a long family background of winemakers, and was the first (and youngest) female to ever win an Ontario Wine Award for “Winemaker of the Year”, which she did in 2010. She has worked as a winemaker all over the world, and in the time she has been making wine, she has won more than 450 awards. She opened her own winery in Jordon in 2009 and continues to be a positive force in the Niagara wine scene.

Sue-Ann Staff

What does the phrase, “be a woman of substance” mean to you?

“A woman that has started at the bottom and worked her way up, has taken the time to properly educate herself on her career, has the ability to “give back” through mentoring, community and does that.”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“I don’t have much to complain about in regards to my time as a child. I was lucky to have an amazing family (both nuclear and extended) experiences, sport, education, etc to give me the knowledge and confidence that I have today.”

What would be one thing people would surprised to know about you?

“I love gin and chocolate as much as wine. Actually, that may not be much of a surprise to anyone that knows me…”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: where would you visit and why?

“Adelaide, South Australia. I have amazing memories from going to grad school there plus stellar friends that are amazing contributors to either their community, agriculture and national politics. It is literally the opposite side of the world from us, making it tough to visit as often as I’d like. Then, any city in Italy. I’ve been lucky enough to spend a good quantity of time in Europe, but very little in Italy. And I even was privately tutored in Italian for three years in high school! I’d love to visit the sights, enjoy the food and savour the wine.”

When you come from a family that has been doing the same business for so long, did you feel any kind of pressure to continue on with it, or is winemaking just something that is in your blood?

“I jokingly say, often, ‘I just don’t know better’ or ‘I don’t know what I would do’ without grapes and wine. From a young age, grapes and wines have been an enormous part of my life and so…yes, it is in my blood. There certainly was never pressure to pursue a career in this field however, once I decided on oenology (the study of wine), the pride in my parents and extended family was quite obvious.”

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your movie collection?

“Easy. The Sound of Music. I had to buy it since I was the only person under the age of 80 that incurred late fees when I rented it. It may now battle with “Rock of 80’s”-it is too corny and reminds me of my idealist years in the 80s.”

In what ways are you able to put a little bit of your own personality into your wines?

“The grapes basically tell me what personality they need that has to be expressed…kind of like raising children. Regardless, I make sure they express a level of elegance and subtleties as required or are as muscular and angular as required as well…just like people.”

What is ahead for you? What do you hope to accomplish or bring to the wine industry?

“There is quite a bit ahead of me. The winery is still very small and needs improvement in every sector (improved production facility, better distribution, wider markets, larger selection, more events, etc.) At the same time, our region of Twenty Valley needs more recognition, awareness, exposure and growth-I look forward to being a part of its growth and development.”

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

“Funny question actually! Reading only Maclean’s for the last four years was making me a boring person. I finally finished, this morning, Dan Brown’s Inferno. I stood in line in Ottawa for it’s release 2 ½ years ago.”

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

“Be oblivious to gender, and with luck, your counterparts will be too. I’d like to think we can move beyond gender issues however, statistics don’t lie and unfortunately this issue needs to remain in the forefront. I have been fortunate to have never really had issues, however, admittedly, there are sales people that are lucky they left my presence unscathed.  I believe if you keep your head down, do your job well, keep focused and be willing to jump into the task with both feet, I’d hope there wouldn’t be any barriers. Be the bigger person.”

Sara Palmieri

When you think of arts in Niagara, Sara Palmieri is one of the names that should pop into your head. She is a co-founder of the In the Soil Arts Festival, Vice President of Ontario Presents, volunteers for a number of organizations, and currently works as the Programming and Marketing Manager for the new St. Catharines FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre. In short, she is a proud player in the cultural renaissance that is currently taking place in downtown St. Catharines.

Sarah-Palmieri

What does the phrase, “be a woman of substance” mean to you?

“Be a woman of positive influence and a woman of meaning. Be kind and gentle to everyone you meet. Stand behind your values. Accept and embrace differences.”

Why do you think the arts have the power to transform a city?

“The arts have the ability to bring people together, to create discourse; to help us understand the diverse world we live in. They help strengthen the local economy, as eye-catching storefronts and new cultural activities bring in people and attract new businesses. There is a building sense of community identity and local pride and make a neighborhood a more interesting, livable place. But most importantly arts and culture are a powerful force that help shape a neighbourhood’s narrative — telling the story of what kind of place it is; what kind of place we want our city to be.

Has the opening of the new performing arts centre in St. Catharines impacted the community, and in what way? What are your hopes for the future in regards to that project?

“Being part of the team opening the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre has been a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Centre is a new gathering place for our community. We are still in the early days of being in the facility but the initial response has been inspiring. We now have not 1, but 4 purpose built venues that will set the stage for many touring and local artists. Having the new FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in our downtown core in such close proximity to Brock University’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, the Meridian Centre, and the many businesses and other arts organizations will bring a sense of vibrancy and excitement that downtown St. Catharines hasn’t experienced in many years. People are starting to see this transformative dream become to a reality. I have great hope for the role of this Centre as the beating heart of our downtown core.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge when it comes to the arts?

“We need to continue to raise the profile of the social and economic impacts of the arts and their seminal role in our community and the reciprocal relationship necessary between artists, arts organizations and the public and private sector. We need to fight the isolation of screen culture and get more people out to live events. Once you get people in the door and experience a live performance, a thought-provoking film, a social gathering…they are hooked.”

If you could go back and visit yourself as a child, what knowledge would you want to impart?

“Always have fun and don’t be so hard on yourself.  Dream big.”

What would be one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

“I used to be able to play a mean rendition of Guns ‘n Roses’ “November Rain” on the piano. It was my ‘party trick’ in high school.”

Someone is sending you on a trip around the world: pick three cities that you have to visit. Why?

“Gagliano Aterno, a very small village in the Abruzzo region of Italy, where my dad was born. New Orleans. I’ve never been and have always wanted to go and experience the music scene (and food)! Paris. Because, it’s Paris. Romance, art…beautiful French men…what else do you need?”

Off the top of your head, what is your favourite movie in your movie collection?

“The Princess Bride”

What’s the last book you read for pleasure?

“The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien”

There is a campaign by Always called #LikeaGirl, that focuses on girls and young woman talking about the kind of limitations they experience as a result of social norms and attempt to take back the phrase, “doing something like a girl”. If there is one thing you could tell them to “do like a girl”, what would it be?

Whatever you can dream up, you can do…#LikeaGirl.

By: Megan Pasche ~ Photos By A.J. Harlond