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These remarkable women call the Lowcountry home

Special to the Packet and Gazette

From staff reports

The local women featured throughout this edition are being recognized for their strength of character, dedication to helping others and contributions to their families, community and businesses. You may already know many of them.

Amanda O'Nan

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Principal of Hilton Head Island High School, Amanda O'Nan is also the mother of three-plus the about 1,200 students who she strives to treat as if they were her own children.

Hilton Head Island High School is a Red Carpet Award recipient and recently was listed by Newsweek magazine as one of the top 1,000 high schools in the nation.

Amanda's staff is lucky she doesn't expect them to work the hours she does. She puts in about 70 hours each week, including many weekends and late nights, and gets to school between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. each weekday morning. She says she enjoys watching particular students find success in life after struggling, and helping students when they are bothered or need support.

Amanda also has served as a guide and mentor to many young teachers and school administrators. She decided to go into education when she was earning her bachelor's at the University of Kentucky (she also has a master's from National Louis University). She discovered her love for working with children when she was involved in 4-H as a teenager. She has taught home economics and also coached girls' basketball. Amanda originally wanted to join the FBI, but changed her mind when she met her husband, Chris.

She's also a member of the Rotary Club of Hilton Head, St. Luke's Episcopal Church and the Greater Island Council.

Originally from Georgetown, Kentucky, Amanda, 35, is the mother of a six-year-old son and five-month-old twin daughters. Despite her busy schedule, she makes sure her family does things together. They have board game night, Wii night, movie night, and enjoy the company of their two dogs, Gracie and Sissy. Amanda says she's grateful to her husband for his understanding.

"My job is a family commitment. My husband and family sacrifice mommy time and many times my husband has to do things at school that most husbands would not do," she said.

Family: husband, Chris O'Nan; son, Lucas; identical twin daughters, Lilli Grace and Abby Kate; mother, Sharon Williams; brothers, Bruce and Robert, sister-in law, Lynsie and niece, Emmie.

Words she lives by: Her dad had a quote hanging in his office that said: "Managers accept status quo; leaders challenge status quo. Managers do things right, leaders do the right thing," and Amanda says she lives by this quote.

Yajaira Benet-Smith

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Yajaira Benet-Smith doesn't have children of her own, but she has made healthy babies and mothers her mission in life. She's the facilitator and coordinator for PASOS prenatal classes in Beaufort and Jasper Counties. The program of free classes for Spanish-speaking pregnant women is funded by the March of Dimes and sponsored by Together for Beaufort/Adequacy of Prenatal Care Coalition with the goal of preventing premature birth and other health problems.

Yajaira's classes are held at clinics, health centers and community centers from Ridgeland to Beaufort to Hilton Head Island, so she logs many miles on her car. She goes the extra step for the women in her classes--checking on them if they miss a session, and helping them navigate social services and other parts of local life. Her wide smile and welcoming manner encourage people to trust her, and their trust is well-founded. Yajaira (pronounced Ya-HY-ra) speaks at churches, schools, community centers and other venues about the importance of good prenatal care. She has volunteered at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, and also recently completed training to be a volunteer car seat inspector.

Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Yajaira moved to Spain when she was 11 years old. She has a bachelor's in history from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain. Before moving to the U.S., she represented a Japanese incense company at trade shows throughout the world. In 1984 she married Patrick Smith. She and Patrick lived in Connecticut and Tortosa (Spain) before moving to South Carolina. After two years in Beaufort, Yajaira, 51, says she's "in love" with the Lowcountry. In her free time, she enjoys reading, taking long walks and attending Beaufort's Community Bible Church.

Family: Husband, Patrick; mom, Aveda; dad, Jose; two sisters and their families.

Words she lives by: "Work hard, be responsible, be respectful."

Susan Ketchum

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Imagine Annie Oakley if she were about five feet tall (in heels), really cute, and lived in the Lowcountry: this is Susan Ketchum, a tiny lady with a huge sense of adventure and an even bigger heart. Well known on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton for both her financial savvy and her charity work, Susan is now branching out to Africa.

Her latest cause is helping to create an orphanage in Tanzania- when she's not shooting sporting clays, exploring the May River on her paddle board, or at work as senior vice president and senior financial advisor with the Hilton Head Island office of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

On a mission trip to Africa last August with a group from St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Susan and her good friend Joni Vanderslice were impressed by the spirituality and dedication of Archbisphop Valentine Mokiwa of Tanzania. He plans to create a sustainable orphanage including a church, school and working farm on land his diocese already owns. Many of the 300 children who will live at Hope Orphanage lost their parents to AIDS. Susan is one of serval local people helping raise money for the project, and recently hosted Archbishop Valentine when he visited Hilton Head Island.

In her own words, this is Susan's philopshy of community involvement, especially for those who have been very successful in life: "You moved here and you benefitted; now you have to give back."

Susan grew up in Pittsburgh, and has lived in Boston and New York City. She has been with Merrill Lynch for 38 successful years, and has lived in the Lowcountry since 1985, lending her people and financial skills to the causes she embraces. Most of these causes center around helping disadvantaged children, "because I'm single and don't have children myself," Susan said. She actively assisted in the fundraising for the new Children's Center on Hilton Head Island, and is a member of the board at the Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club.

She's been a trustee of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, where she was treasurer; served as a trustee of Hilton Head Preparatory School, and is a past chair of Women in Philanthropy, a women's giving group. She also was a director on the board for the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce. In 1998, Susan received the Outstanding Woman of the Year award from the Zonta Club of Hilton Head Island. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church.

In December-after years of living in Hilton Head Plantation-her weekend home in Palmetto Bluff became her full time residence. With other women from Palmetto Bluff, she's now invovled in the Bluffton Boys & Girls Club.

When she's not working or working for a good cause, Susan enjoys driving her completely restored 1959 Chevy Apache pick up truck (which used to belong to Robert Redford), taking cycling vacations in other countries, and attending nature lectures at Palmetto Bluff.

Family: Susan's father, three brothers and two sisters live in the Pittsburgh area.

Words she lives by: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

Kim Statler

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Can positive energy lead to economic development? You bet. Kim Statler brings boundless enthusiasm about the Lowcountry and its economic potential to her job at the Lowcountry Economic Network (formerly Greater Beaufort-Hilton Head Economic Partnership, Inc.), where she is executive director. Before joining the Network in 2007, she served as the executive director of the Technical College of the Lowcountry Foundation.

Prior to working with the college, she was the co-owner of an economic development consulting firm.

Kim, 38, has also served as the government relations director and legislative liaison for the Iowa Department of Economic Development, and as a research analyst for the Iowa House of Representatives. She also worked as a legislative aide and campaign manager for U.S. Congressman Bill Emerson of Missouri.

Kim is chairman of the Hope Haven Board of Directors, and an active member of the Baptist Church of Beaufort. She was recognized by the Savannah Business Journal's leadership section "40 under 40," and is a graduate of the Leadership Beaufort program.

Kim has a bachelor's in political science and economics from Southeast Missouri State University and a master's in health care administration from Des Moines University. She grew up on a farm in Sturdivant, Missouri.

In her free time she enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons. She says she "stays sane" by running with a group called "Carpet Diem." She sings on Sundays in the contemporary service at the Baptist Church of Beaufort. And she volunteers with Hope Haven of the Lowcountry- a cause she calls "near and dear to my heart."

Family: Kim is married to Dr. Trent Statler and has two sons, Logan, age 9; and, Dallas, age 3.

Words she lives by: A mentor who helped her when she was in her 20s taught Kim: "No good deed goes unpunished". "Perfect is the enemy of good." "And always, always, take the high road."

Lillie Varner

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Did you know we have someone in our midst who has sung for Donald Trump? At 81, Lillie Varner is still singing every Sunday at Central Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church on Hilton Head Island, where she's a member of the gospel choir. "Miss Lillie," as she is known, is the church's creative arts and garden director and is active in the women's ministry.

A breast cancer survivor, she has been a Relay For Life co-captain and was named "Mother of The Church at Central Oak Grove Missionary Baptist Church."

"Her gracious, kind and giving ways have endeared her not only to our members but also to the community at large. She unselfishly graces us with her lovely soprano every Sunday," one church member said.

Retired but still active as a volunteer, Ms. Lillie lives in Bluffton and is active in Church Women United of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. She is a support partner for new home buyers at Hilton Head Regional Habitat For Humanity.

In her career as a nurse (LPN), she worked in hospitals and at patients' homes. An accomplished singer, she was a backup singer for Patti LaBelle, sang at the 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, at St. Patrick's Cathedral and at the Lincoln Center (in addition to singing for Donald Trump).

She studied at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, took floral arrangement courses at

York College and was a real estate agent in New York. Ms. Lillie defines a giving spirit, tenacity, grace and a willingness to help others.

Family: Daughter, Cindy Dunn; Son, Paul Dunn; Grand daughter, L'oreal Carson Dunn; Great granddaughter, Essence Oates-Dunn, Great grandson, Elijah Dunn Wild, Great grandson, Jacob Wong-Dunn.

Words she lives by: "If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain. Lord, can I be a part of whatever you're doing today?"

Kathleen Corley

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

As principal of Red Cedar Elementary School in Bluffton, Dr. Kathleen Corley is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that students succeed in learning. This philosophy has led her to institute some unconventional policies, including starting the school day as soon as possible, and grouping activities during the day to avoid wasted time.

Her dedication, ability to motivate her staff and belief that every child can succeed led the school to receive the federal government's "Adequate Yearly Progress" rating last year-no small accomplishment for a new school with a very diverse student body. All schools are working toward a federal requirement that every U.S. child be at grade level in English language arts and math by 2014.

She loves to see children growing as youngsters, then catch up with them later to see what kind of adolescents and adults they become.

"Sometimes you see something in a child at a very early age, usually something that their classmates couldn't appreciate (sometimes something that downright annoys the others) that you know will be that child's special something when his peers and others can appreciate it in him," she said.

But all isn't seriousness at Red Cedar Elementary. At the end of the day, as cars file through the pick up line and children leave to go home, Kathleen is usually out in the parking lot, serenading the families on clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, flute, piccolo or oboe. She also plays guitar and piano and says "I'm trying to learn the banjo."

Originally from Lansing, Illinois (about 30 miles south of Chicago), she has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Illinois, a master's in music education and administration from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University and a bachelor's in music education from the University of Illinois. She's also a published composer.

In her free time, Kathleen likes to make elaborate cakes, play golf and tennis, run, garden, compose music and explore technology (almost any kind of gadget).

Family: husband, Wayne Corley; stepdaughters Lorene Corley of Hilton Head Island and Sarah Corley of Chicago.

Words she lives by: "It's all about doing what's best for the children."

C.J. Humphrey

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

C.J. Humphrey is president of the board of directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry, overseeing four advisory boards for six clubs in Beaufort and Jasper counties.

The clubs serve more than a 1,000 children ages 6 -18, in academics, athletics, artistic expression, civic involvement and leadership skills. Her leadership guided the organization through the challenging economic conditions of 2008-2009 and the search for a new executive director after its former director, Jean Washington, was diagnosed with cancer and passed a few months later.

Using the lessons of the past as feedback, not failure, C.J. and her leadership team have streamlined functions throughout the organization to trim expenses and raise revenue for the clubs. Now, all six clubs in the group are in good financial shape, CJ said, and the board is looking at ways to keep the clubs open during some of the times they've traditionally been closed, including the first week of school.

Like many Lowcountry residents, C.J. moved to Hilton Head Island after vacationing on the island. She knew one person here when she relocated to Hilton Head from Denver, Co. in 1981. Nearly 30 years later, she has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to serving this community and knows practically everyone. In 2000, she married Lonnie Humphrey, who is retired from the Crazy Crab restaurant group.

It's unusual to find someone who has served the same organization for more than a decade in a volunteer position. C.J. has also served the Boys & Girls Club of Bluffton, joining the steering committee formed in the late 90s to establish the club. She has been on the board ever since (11 years) and on the Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry board since 2001.

She has also been involved as an officer/member/volunteer with the Zonta Club of Hilton Head Island, the Zonta Club of Bluffton (charter member), Zonta Area Director (supervised clubs in NC, SC, GA), Hilton Head Symphony, Hilton Head Playhouse, Vestry Member (Board) of All Saints Episcopal Church, the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner and more.

C.J. is currently the office manager of Carson Realty, and formerly worked as executive assistant for the developers of Belfair, Berkeley Hall and Hampton Hall. She prefers to describe herself as "an organized person with a Pollyanna attitude."

"I'm a people person. I like to build consensus," she said.

In her free time, CJ enjoys the arts, cooking and any opportunity to travel. One of her favorite trips has been to Italy, where she visited Florence and Tuscany.

Family: husband, Lonnie; sister Wendy, in Eugene, Ore.; uncle Curt, in Denver.

Words she lives by: Honesty and Laughter. "The youth are our future and in this world today, they need as much as we can give them."

Carol Ann Coolidge

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Dr. Carol Ann Coolidge is a plastic surgeon in Hardeeville who has been recognized for her caring bedside manner and ability to soothe worried patients. A surgeon since 1992, Carol Ann is a breast cancer survivor herself. Despite working in the medical community for 20 years, she was still shocked by her own diagnosis, and says doing research from reputable health sources and asking her doctors questions helped her regain a sense of control over her life. Remembering her own experiences as a patient, she strives to instill confidence in her patients by using humor and taking time to listen. Her patients say that her skills have allowed them to feel good about themselves again. She does many procedures in her office in New River and her major surgery at Coastal Carolina Hospital.

Carol Ann is from a big family, and she says that's why she has four dogs- all Yorkies. One, Brandy, comes with her to work most days.

"He's the best behaved of all of them, and patients seem to find him a comfort," she said. Trained in a broad range of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures, she specializes in breast and body contouring and has also done reconstructive surgery of trauma patients.

A graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Medical School, Carol Ann completed her five-year general surgery residency at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and her plastic surgery residency at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. She was previously a partner of both Finger & Associates in Savannah and Savannah Plastic Surgery Associates.

She also volunteers in the Dominican Republic with the non profit organization Medical Aid for Children of Latin America. Dr. Coolidge is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

When she's not working, she likes spending time with her neighbors and friends and playing tennis.

Family: parents Dick and Gwen Aylward, of Kansas City, Mo.; five sisters, Mary Beth, Kathleen, Maureen, Amy, and Emily, and their families.

Words she lives by: Each person deserves dignity and respect.

Tiffany Mikkleson

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

When Tiffany Mikkelson was in private practice, her compassionate (and often free) legal advice for clients in need led her husband to say: you ought to be in legal aid. Now executive attorney at non-profit Lowcountry Legal Aid in Bluffton, Tiffany, 29, is juggling motherhood and a caseload of more than 100 active cases. Her clients are people who need legal advice and representation in child custody issues, divorce and other situations but can't afford it. Tiffany also supervises the volunteer attorneys and other volunteers at Lowcountry Legal Aid.

She and husband Ryan, an attorney and commercial Realtor who is also the executive director of Lowcountry Legal Aid, live on Callawassie Island and are the parents of three. They have a four-year-old son and one- year-old twins.

While she is only supposed to be working 25 hours per week, her husband estimates she puts in closer to 50 hours each week, often working until about 1 a.m.

"I get the most done then, after my children go to bed," Tiffany said.

A high energy person who says she "doesn't need much sleep," Tiffany's blue eyes shine when she talks about her work and her kids, even when she's describing getting up in the wee hours of the morning to give the twins their bottles.

Before moving to the Lowcountry, she was a clerk at the Mississippi Supreme Court. After her clerkship, she worked for several law firms, including one that handled Allstate Insurance company's Hurricane Katrina claims. But she found that working at a high profile law office didn't leave much time for her family, and earning a large salary didn't compensate for that. In the Lowcountry, she was in private practice for herself before joining Lowcountry Legal Aid.

Tiffany is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law, where she was in the top ten of her class. She went to elementary school, middle school, high school, college and law school in Jackson, Mississippi. She said she first considered becoming a lawyer after watching the movie "Legally Blonde," which is about a female attorney.

"I never thought I'd leave Mississippi. Where I'm from, people don't leave. All my friends are still there," she said.

She met Ryan, who is from Hilton Head Island, in law school and he convinced her to give the Lowcountry a chance.

Family: husband, Ryan; four-year-old son, Walker and one-year-old twins, Mollie and Mason. Her mom, dad, and two younger brothers live in Mississippi; parents-in-law are Diane and Michael Mikkelson (a Bluffton physician who donates part of his office space to house Lowcountry Legal Aid).

Words she lives by: "Give a girl the right shoe and she'll conquer the world." Bette Midler, actress.

Maggie Mueller

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Some people struggle for decades to figure out what they want to be when they grow up; others just know. Maggie Mueller has known since she was 11 years old that she wanted to work with animals. Now, at 19, she's working full time as a medical assistant and animal care specialist at the Hilton Head Humane Association.

Her duties include feeding and walking dogs, assisting while animals take medicine, naming animals, cleaning cages, answering phones, doing office work, maintaining the organization's Facebook page, and "anything else that needs doing," Maggie said.

"Some people just like to work and I'm one of them," she said.

Maggie works six days a week. On her day off, which is Saturday, she likes to go to the beach, window shop at Coligny Plaza, and hang out with the animals at home. Maggie lives in Sea Pines with her aunt, Franny Gerthoffer, who is executive director of the Hilton Head Humane Association. Five cats and four dogs share the house.

She also likes to read, and is reading the "Twilight" series currently.

Maggie is from Pittsburgh, and she vacationed on Hilton Head Island with her family many times. She often volunteered at the animal shelter during these vacations.

She moved to Hilton Head after graduating from high school in June 2010, and says it "feels great" to be out of high school and working in a more adult atmosphere.

"In high school, my teachers always told me, ‘Maggie, you're ready to move on,'" she said.

The daughter of a banker and a stay-at-home mom, she has two older brothers and two younger brothers. "My dad always says, "Have fun, learn something and do what you want to do,'" she said.

Maggie plans to study to become a veterinary technician. One of the requirements of the course is she'll be videotaped while she assists in surgery with Dr. Laurel Berry, head veterinarian at the Hilton Head Humane Association. But first, Maggie plans to take some classes at Techincal College of the Lowcountry.

It's a good thing dogs can't read, because Maggie admitted to having a favorite: Peggy, a large, sweet, deaf, six-year-old white dog who has lived at the shelter for most of her life. Maggie is optimistic about Peggy's chances of being adopted, and says she tries to take her on a long walk every day.

Maggie is an example to young people to volunteer at an early age. By doing so she learned that it's great to give back, and she discovered what she really enjoys doing and is pursuing this as her profession.

Family: mother, Mary; father, Martin; brothers, Marty, Greg, Jimmy and Steve;

Dogs, Champ, Suey and Mack.

Words she lives by: "Happiness keeps you sweet; Trials keep you strong; Sorrows keep you human; Failures keep you humble; Success keeps you glowing."

Karen Wilkins

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Funny and full of life, Karen Wilkins is the founder and president of Maranatha Farm in Ridgeland. The farm's stated mission is to "serve God by going to the aid of animals which are hurt, abused or abandoned, taking them in and making them into healthy companions for people to adopt and enjoy." Two things that set Maranatha apart are that it has no paid staff and all donations that are received go for the care of animals.

Karen's own dog, Buckshot, a pit bull mix, uses a custom-made wheelchair. Karen and Dwane found Bucky, as he's known around the farm, two years ago with an air rifle pellet lodged in his spine. After surgery, the dog's lower half was left mostly paralyzed, leaving the Wilkinses with the challenge of finding a way to keep Bucky mobile. Dwane came across custom-made wheelchairs for dogs online, and figured he could make one himself, and now makes many. With the help of a few volunteers, the Wilkinses make custom-fitted wheelchairs for handicapped animals and provide them at no cost. Pet owners are only asked to pay for shipping -- if they can afford it -- and send a photo of the dog using the wheelchair. This program is called Maranatha Farm's Freedom Wheels ministry.

The Wilkinses founded the organization in 2006, and about 40 dogs are usually awaiting adoption at the 10-acre property. The farm has housed everything from hamsters to horses, a pig and a donkey; cats are usually placed in foster homes. Karen not only cares for upwards of 50 animals at her farm, she is constantly on the go holding pet adoption clinics, rescuing animals at all hours of the day or night, supporting other rescue groups, stepping in when there are other community needs, and holding a full time job as a bookeeper. She and Dwane are the major donors to Maranatha Farm. Board members of Maranatha Farm tell Karen she needs to be more assertive about asking for donations from supporters, but she shys away from some fund raising suggestions because she doesn't want to be pushy.

On Oct. 2, Maranatha Farms will celebrate their 500th adoption, by holding a festival in the parking lot at PetCo in Bluffton, with Pino Gelato, hot dogs, face painting, a bounce house, live music, a dunking booth (Karen says she'll sit in it) and of course, dogs and cats available for adoption.

Family: Husband, Dwane

Words she lives by: "Every pet deserves a forever home."

Dot Gnann

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Dorothy Gnann is a retired teacher, principal and college dean. Dot is a smiling face most of Beaufort County will recognize as one who contributes on a daily basis to improving the county and the lives of its citizens. Dot is an experienced community leader with a history of making difficult decisions in the many roles she has undertaken. Her practical nature has solved many impasses.

Enjoying her golden years, she still contributes actively to family, church, and community. She's known for her sharp mind, quick wit, and sense of fairness. Dot was a member of Beaufort County Council from 1984 to 86 and 1990 to 2000; is a past member of the SC Association of counties; Lowcountry Council of Governments; Beaufort County School Board (1977-1983); and Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health Services board (1982-1985).

She has always worked for the betterment of Beaufort County in all her public capacities, especially in the area of land preservation.

"I always felt a sense of responsibility to strike a balance between development and preservation," she said.

A few of the County Council's accomplishments she's proud to have been part of are: issuing bonds to build and update existing schools, first county recycling program, created the rural and critical lands program, first state-mandated county comprehensive plan, bonds for the creation of the Burton Wells complex, and completion of the county government complex.

Her community activity includes work as a member of the Beaufort County Historic Society, Georgia Salzburger Society, and several ongoing local projects.

She is a past member of the Beaufort County Open Land Trust; on the board of directors for Nations Bank for 16 years; St Francis Xavier Hospital board of directors; Beaufort County Council for 12 years; and Beaufort County School Board for eight years. She has served the Low Country Council of Governments, and Beaufort Jasper Comprehensive Health Services. She is on the ISLC board of directors, and is active in an investment group for women and a book club.

She is an active member of St. Peter Catholic Church, where she has served on numerous committees over the years.

Now living in Beaufort, Dot grew up in Pinckney Colony in Bluffton. She says she remembers the area of her girlhood as "beautiful, quiet, without boundaries and teeming with wildlife. There were no bridges at the Chechessee or Broad rivers so travel between Pinckney Colony to Beaufort was either by boat or a daylong trip by way of Garden's Corner. Fording Island Road (U.S. 278) was a narrow shell road, great for horseback riding."

These days, Dot keeps busy assisting with the religious confirmation classes at St. Peter's Catholic Church, acoordinating a series of dinner lectures focusing on European and Middle Eastern cuisine and history, and writing a few personal experiences for her children. She says that fun for her means "spending time with my grandchildren, some travel and lots of reading."

Family: Widow of Walter N. Gnann; two sons, Walter N. Gnann, Jr and William P. Gnann. Daughters-in-law: Milbrey Gnann and Dessislava Gnann; five grandsons.

Words she lives by: "Failure is not permanent and neither is success. Always keep trying."

Julie Copp

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Julie Copp, RN is director of patient care at Volunteers in Medicine on Hilton Head Island. Last year the free clinic had more than 33,000 patient visits, and Julie is the "go to" person for patients, physicians and staff. In Julie's seven years at the clinic, she has treated all people equally, with kindness and respect, listens to all, instills trust, can solve virtually any problem, and provides first class care not only to the patients at VIM but also the volunteers. At times she has cared for homeless patients where they live, and many times she has gone to extreme lengths to maximize the assistance which can be offered to those in need - especially the extremely poor.

Many volunteers who staff the clinic say Julie is their role model because her generous spirit and ongoing efforts to reach out to others less fortunate go well beyond the responsibilities of her profession. Her community involvement includes participation in the local Hunger and Homelessness Coalition, referrals to Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse, VIM's Hispanic Support Group, and as a member of the local Human Trafficking Council.

To help her in her job, Julie has learned quite a bit of Spanish. She practices with her patients, but says she doesn't have time to take a class.

Julie grew up in Belpre, Ohio. She has a bachelor's in nursing fromThe Ohio State University and has more than 25 years of nursing experience. Before moving to the Lowcountry, she owned a home health care agency in northern Ohio.

In her free time, she likes to read, especially on the beach. She also likes to make homemade greeting cards, and she loves gardening. Julie lives in the Folly Field area of Hilton Head Island, where she and her husband have several pets.

Family: Husband Howard, daughter Melinda, son John, grandsons Myron and Miles.

Words she lives by: "May we have eyes to see those rendered invisible and excluded, open arms and hearts to reach out and include them, healing hands to touch their lives with love, and in the process, heal ourselves."

Stacey Johnston

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Next time you're about to say you don't have time to exercise or do more volunteer work, remember Dr. Stacey Johnston. Stacey, 35, works full time as a hospitalist at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, caring for acutely ill patients, many of whom don't have a primary care doctor. She lives on Lady's Island and is the mother of twin daughters who are first graders at Coosa Elementary. Despite her demanding job, Stacey makes time to be a grade mother and volunteer at the school.

Her twins were born 14 weeks premature, weighing less than two pounds each, and spent the first 11 weeks of their lives in the hospital. Both children had low chances of survival at birth, but now they're thriving. One daughter, Taylor, is deaf and wears a cochlear implant in order to hear. Daughter Brooke had to have emergency surgery on both retinas when she was 11 weeks old, and has overcome mild cerebral palsy. Her life has included countless hours of both professional and parent-administered physical therapy.

For many people, Stacey's job and family life would be a lot to juggle. But to her, giving back to the community also is important, and she gives a lot.

Stacey is a Girl Scout leader for her twins' Daisies troop. In 2009, she and her husband Tim raised more than $9,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. During the same year, she ran in a half marathon in Seattle, and now she's training for a marathon that will take place in Jacksonville, Fla. in Feb. 2011. The race raises money for breast cancer research. She has also done two marathons in Walt Disney World and a triathlon in Washington, D.C.

Since childhood she has been interested in studio art, and enjoys working with oil paints and pastels.

"I almost went to art school to be a Disney animator, but chose medicine instead," Stacey said.

She has donated her art work for fundraisers for Beaufort Academy (her husband formerly was Beaufort Academy's headmaster) and for Piedmont Hospital's NICU (the intensive care unit where her daughters were treated after birth). She and her husband also sponsor an eight-year-old girl in Kenya through World Vision, sending her correspondence and financial support.

Family: husband, Tim; daughters Brooke and Taylor; three labrador retrievers: Duffy, Brewer and Riley.

Words she lives by: "A dream is a wish your heart makes." (Disney)

Kim Duke-Clark

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Don't tell Kim Duke-Clark a sad story about a child unless you're prepared for her to do something about it. Kim is the owner and director of two Lowcountry Day Preschools in Bluffton, which serve a total of about 400 babies through fifth graders in full day programs, summer camp and after school care. She also works closely with the state Department of Social Services, where she was an employee for more than seven years and now volunteers her time with Beaufort County's foster care program.

Kim's Christian faith fuels her determination to see every child protected and cherished. In 1990, she graduated with honors from Atlantic Christian College in Wilson, N.C., earning a bachelor's in social work. She's a member of First Baptist Church in Bluffton, and her preschool follows a Christian curriculum.

Kim is also an active member of the Board of Directors for CAPA (Child Abuse Prevention Association). She is chairman of the Open Arms Shelter committee. CAPA operates this shelter in Beaufort County which is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year for babies, children and teens who've been removed from an abusive or neglectful situation. Shelter residents come from Beaufort County as well as Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, and Colleton counties, and the average stay is 60-90 days. Most children go into a foster home when they leave the shelter. Kim also gives volunteer counseling services for troubled teens.

Kim has given a wonderful Christmas party for clients of Beaufort County Foster Care and the CAPA shelter for about 13 years. Through her schools, she does year round needs drives for children living in foster care and the CAPA shelter, collecting school uniforms, school supplies, birthday gifts and other supplies. She also gives presentations at schools and for other groups about teen pregnancy, child abuse and neglect.

Kim grew up in eastern North Carolina, and says she had "a troubled childhood, which led me to work with childern."

"I am a survivor of just such circumstances, but had great influences in my life," she said.

Among those who helped her she mentions ladies at her childhood church, loving aunts, friend and fellow social worker Rosemary Brisendine, and her high school sweetheart (now her husband) and his parents. Kim put herself through college.

Currently, she's co-chair for the upcoming Bluffton Angel Walk, which is scheduled for April 30, 2011. She says she may run for an elected office in the future, with the goal of changing laws and policies to better protect children.

"I want to leave a legacy that shows that no matter what circumstances you are born in, or what life gives you, you can always make choices to not stay there. Educate yourself, work hard, and remember it's not where or how you started, but how you make the journey and what you leave behind," she said.

Family: Married to Mike Clark, who is also her business partner; two sons, Michael Duke Clark (age 18, entering the Coast Guard soon) and Gene Henry Clark (age 12, a student at Hilton Head Christian Academy).

Words she lives by: "Every child should be heard, and even one person can make a difference."

Nora Kresch

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Nora Kresch, director of public relations and marketing at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, isn't the hospital's top executive, but she's one of its best known employees.

Her calm, positive demeanor helps her cover lot of ground in her job. All in the same day, she might interview a doctor or nurse about her research and later write a press releases about it; then speak at a luncheon hosted by a civic group; and in the afternoon meet with local journalists from the press, radio and TV.

Nora moved from Memphis after receiving a job offer from Beaufort Memorial Hospital in 1986, and she still enjoys working at the hospital.

"The people who I get to meet and interact with keep it interesting for me," she said.

A native of Savannah, Nora has a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Georgia, where she specialized in public relations. She's also a graduate of Leadership Beaufort.

She's also an artist. Her love of painting began when she was a girl and took private lessons. She didn't study art in college but continues to paint colorful landscapes, especially trees and flowers. She enjoys being in nature where she can paint, such as an artists' retreat she attended at USCB's Pritchard Island.

Nora lives on Beaufort's Bay Street and is a member of Beth Israel Synagogue. She converted to Judaism before her marriage to Dr. Charles Kresch, a periodontist who recently retired. She grew up Catholic and is the fourth of 12 children.

Nora also enjoys serving our community.

As president of the board of directors of the non-profit organization Born to Read, she's involved with one of the happiest parts of any hospital - the maternity ward. The Born to Read program promotes early literacy in Beaufort and on Hilton Head Island by encouraging mothers to read to their babies and connect with them in other ways. Volunteers from the program visit new mothers in both hospitals and leave them with a bag of useful items, including the baby's first book.

Family: husband, Charles; daughter, Jeanne; stepson, Jonathan; granddaughter Lizzie; mom, Helen Cook; 11 siblings and their families.

Words she lives by: "In the family of man, we ARE our brother's keeper."


Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Born and raised in the Grays Hill area of Beaufort, Rosa Cummings still lives within walking distance of her childhood home. She is a testament to how faith in action can help people when they need it most.

Her husband Arthur is the pastor of Bethel Deliverance Temple located on County Shed Road in Beaufort, and Rosa is very involved in ministries there. At the Beaufort County Detention Center, she has conducted a non denominational religious service on Thursday evenings for the past 11 years. The programs follow a discussion format.

"I teach Bible principles that the women can use to improve their lives. I find that in this type of atmosphere people are willing to sit down, discuss and think about things logically and spiritually," Rosa said.

Men from Bethel Deliverance Temple also minister to male inmates at the jail.

Prison is where people really stop and take a look at their lives, Rosa said, adding that "not everyone, but a good number of them really consider their circumstances and what got them there."

Also for the past 11 years, as part of the outreach ministry team at her church, she has been visiting patients at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, including those in the mental health care unit. These non denominational spirituality sessions are "aimed at equipping people to be able to improve through God's Word," Rosa said.

Insisting that she doesn't do much besides listen, Rosa said she has found that many men and women are able to make changes to improve their lives when they believe they aren't alone and someone else truly cares about the outcome of their situation.

Rosa was diagnosed with rectal cancer in 1995 but was able avoid surgery after radiation and chemotherapy treatments were successful. In November of last year she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, but again has a clean bill of health after surgery. Of her two successful battles with cancer she says: "Early detection is critical to all of us and a strong belief in God."

Rosa said: "‘Wait' is my focus word because nothing is ever as it seems at first glance. If I wait and think things through before reacting I can apply the principles I live by and make better decisions."

Family: husband, Arthur L Cummings, Sr.; sons Arthur Jr. and Jason; daughter Christine; and eight grandchildren.

Words she lives by: Proverbs 3:5-6: "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."

Clarece Walker

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

Many local residents see Clarece Walker's face when they're planning their annual gift to the United Way of the Lowcountry. A role model for giving passionately of one's time, talents and resources, Clarece is never pushy-she's just very hard to refuse. President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Way of the Lowcountry since 1994, she's passionate about her job at a time when most of her contemporaries (and her husband) are enjoying life in retirement. She has taken the United Way through boom times and is now shepherding the organization through an era when some former donors are going through hard times and are now receiving services through United Way partner agencies.

"I keep on working because I absolutely love what I do," Clarece said.

A North Carolina girl through and through, Clarece grew up in the small town of Maiden. She graduated with a bachelor's in social work from Sacred Heart College in Belmont, has a master's in social work from the University of North Carolina, and a master's in business administration from Queen's College, Charlotte.

Clarece said she "had no intentions of working and was happy being a a stay-at-home mom" in Gastonia, N.C. when she did her first project with the United Way. As a volunteer project for the Junior League, she set up for the local United Way a volunteer referral center that matched volunteers' talents with agencies that needed them.

" I got to know a lot about the United Way system during that process, and found that I fell in love. That was 33 years ago," Clarece said.

Since then, she has worked for the United Way in three different communities: Gastonia, Charlotte and Beaufort and Jasper counties. One area of the United Way's support work that speaks to her is help for women who are victims of domestic abuse and their children. These service allow them to leave the abusive situation and improve their lives through relocation, counseling and other support.

"When they have moved beyond the abusive situation these women literally say to us, ‘You saved my life and my children's lives,'" Clarece said.

She said she also enjoys seeing children who have received services at The Children's Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry and other agencies grow up, graduate, go to college, get jobs, form their own families and give back to the community.

"A little bit of help through contributions given to the United Way can truly and significantly change the lives of an adult, a child or a family," she said.

When she's not working, Clarece loves to spend time with her children and grandchildren, to read, enjoy the outdoors and travel. With her husband she recently visited China, England, France and Italy.

Family: Husband Ron, a retired corporate executive; son Chad of Hickory, N.C.; son Brian, of Greer, S.C.; and daughter, Stephanie of Morganton, N.C. Four grandchildren, expecting a new granddaughter on Oct. 3.

Words she lives by: "

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Erica Moore

Why she's a remarkable Lowcountry woman:

If Erica Moore is the future of the Lowcountry, we're in good hands. The 19-year-old USCB sophomore has a centered countenance usually seen in someone much older, and kindness and caring for others is her calling card. Erica is from Columbia, and she chose USCB because she liked the Lowcountry's beautiful envirnoment and the university's small classes and intimate atmosphere. She's well known on campus because she worked this summer as a peer leader at freshman orientation-an honor for a student as young as herself.

"At orientation, we welcome new students, encourage them to get involved, and reassure their parents that they'll be safe here," she said.

On campus, Erica is involved with College Church, a non-denomination religious service on Sunday nights; Student Ambassadors, Sand Shark Productions (which brings live music and other entertainment to the university), and COMMIT, a service organization which does projects to raise money and awareness for children's charities and other areas of need.

Erica works at the campus fitness center part time. She's studying hospitality and business, and doing well in her classes-after being an honors' student in high school, she hasn't found college too hard.

Eventually, she'd like to open a community outreach center, to "show people that there's more opportunities out there than just living paycheck to paycheck," Erica said. As far as a job right out of college goes, she might look for work in a hotel.

"I'm open to anything. I love new experiences," she said, adding that she'd also like to travel.

Family: mom, Deborah; dad, Stanley; step mother Donna, and older sister Wakkita, all of Columbia.

Words she lives by: Galatians 6:9 "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."