HOBART — It was a night to shine the light on accomplished women of Northwest Indiana.
The Northwest Indiana Influential Women Association (NIIWA) honored some 150 finalists at a banquet held Thursday night at Avalon Manor in Hobart, chairwoman Erica Dombey said.
The nonprofit organization was created nine years ago, and the banquet celebrates the achievements of women that have redefined their companies, industries and communities through their examples as leaders and innovators.
"Northwest Indiana is the last bastion of misogyny and this is a way to recognize women. We needed to do that," Dombey said.
A total of 24 winners were chosen from 12 different industry categories; one Influential Woman and one Up and Coming Woman from each. Additional awards were given for Empowering Business of the Year, Community Leader of the Year and Supporter of the Year.
The overall Influential Woman of the Year winner was Kimberly Blaesing, owner, Tiger Plumbing. Also the overall Up & Coming Woman of the Year winner was Porter County Auditor Vicki Urbanik.
“This event recognizing women in Northwest Indiana has grown every year for a good reason. We are realizing the need to lift each other up, to celebrate our successes, to be proud of ourselves and the work we do. The sisterhood in the Region has grown so strong that we created a partner organization, Northwest Indiana Influential Women’s Association, to continue to nurture these bonds and talents,” Dombey said.
“NIIWA provides educational programming for businesswomen, from human resources to leadership to management skills and more. It’s amazing to see how we all have learned from each other through these programs," Dombey added.
The event has continued to grow every year, Dombey said.
"Nine years ago we filled about half a room, and now we have a room full of 850. It's grown by 50 to 100 people each year," Dombey said.
Jennifer Cosenza, who handles marketing and media for Brown Insurance Group, said this marked her third year as a finalist.
"It's such an honor to be recognized among these inspiring candidates that encompass all nomination categories," Cosenza said.
Finalist Judy Earnshaw, Indiana development manager for Phil's Friends, said this was her first year to be nominated.
Phil's Friends, a nonprofit organization based in Crown Point, sends care packages to adults and children diagnosed with cancer.
"It's just such an honor to be recognized and to be in this room with so many powerful and inspirational women," Earnshaw said.
Leta Sena-Lopez, director of band at Kahler Middle School, said she was nominated by a former band parent, Barbara Belligio.
Sena-Lopez said she really appreciated her recognition and that of fellow women who have a passion for the work they do on a daily basis.
Belligio said she and Sena-Lopez go back to when Belligio's son was in band.
"She's amazing. I have high regard for her," Belligio said of Sena-Lopez.
2019 Influential Women of Northwest Indiana Award Winners
Overall Influential Woman of the Year
• Kimberly Blaesing, owner, Tiger Plumbing
Overall Up & Coming Woman of the Year
• Vicki Urbanik, auditor, Porter County
• Up & Coming: Leta Sena-Lopez, director of bands, Kahler Middle School
• Influential Woman: Michelle Golden of Books, Brushes & Bands for Education
• Up & Coming: Natalie Krivas, purchasing manager, AM Stabilizers Corp.
• Influential Woman: Lisa Preston, owner, St. John Animal Clinic
• Up & Coming: Patty Stovall, property development manager, Hasse Construction
• Influential Woman: Tannaz Javadi, senior research engineer, ArcelorMittal
• Up & Coming: Katie Hall, director, Crossroads CASA
• Influential Woman: Jennifer Gadzala, special projects coordinator, Town of Chesterton
• Up & Coming: Uzoma Obidike, founder, She Leads Beautifully
• Influential Woman: MaryAnn Chapko, principal, Eisenhower Elementary
• Up & Coming: Candice Kouros Logue, vice president/banking center manager, Peoples Bank
• Influential Woman: Kathy Ireland is the vice president / wealth services with Wintrust Bank
• Up & Coming: Brittany Owen, family nurse practitioner, Winfield Family Medicine
• Influential Woman: Sister Marlene Shapley, vice president of mission integration, Franciscan Alliance
• Up & Coming: Nicole Keith, senior associate attorney, Kreig DeVault LLP
• Influential Woman: America McAlpin, attorney, Austgen Kuiper Jasaitis / probate commissioner, Lake Superior Court
• Up & Coming: Jen Soffin, founder, The IN Coast
• Influential Woman: Marie Forszt, vice president of marketing and corporate communications, Community Healthcare System
• Up & Coming: Michelle Novak, community liaison, Tradewinds Services
• Influential Woman: Nupur Arora, director of business administration, FoodBank of Northwest Indiana, Inc.
Service & Tourism
• Up & Coming: Natalie Johnson, executive director, Save the Dunes
• Influential Woman: Nicole Caylor, president/owner, Aftermath Cidery & Winery/Running Vines Winery
• Up & Coming: Michele Murday, Northwest Indiana branch manager, EnviroForensics
• Influential Woman: Megan Glaros, meteorologist, CBS Chicago
Supporter of the Year Award
• Cynthia Warner-Lowe of Hammond Adult Education
Community Leader of the Year Award
• Andrea Graciano, victim advocate, Hobart Police
Empowering Business of the Year
• Jay Marie Salon and Spa