By Peg Furnas
In Women’s History Month I stand tall surrounded by the strong women who have come and gone and those that remain. I grew up in a family of six with three sibs – two of them sisters. My mom was my first mentor and guide, showing me what a woman could do while also raising a family. She grew up in a family of eight in a small bungalow with one bathroom in what is now known as the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland. As a child of two immigrant parents from Ireland she heard early on to take advantage of every opportunity, which was shared equally with both their sons and daughters.
My grandpa came to the States on an oceanic vessel into NYC harbor as a young boy, their family taken under the Joyce family’s wings. They settled in the Irishtown Bend neighborhood now known as Ohio City. In middle school my grandpa was a lamplighter in to earn money for high school tuition. After school he and his friends “helped’ themselves to pies cooling on the windowsills of a city bakery and swam at Whiskey Island. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll College, where he was elected to a class office each of his four years. My grandma, had a less detailed history, but we know she came to the States during the potato famine as an orphan, was adopted, met my grandpa and became a full-time mom. She kept the financial books for their family, which included an allowance for her husband (which may or may not have included a chocolate milkshake or two). In charge of her six children and all that that entails, my grandma was also a lifelong tutor, walking miles to Our Lady of Angels Parish, never missing a week as she taught children with Down’s Syndrome.
Both my grandparents instilled the love of education in their children. My mom and her five sibs (three sisters, two brothers) graduated from St. Joe’s, St. Augustine’s, Magnificat, St. Ed’s, and St. Ignatius High Schools and then went onto local colleges (some continuing on to graduate school or law school), followed by careers that were a blend of part- and full-time. What a feat! The four Kilbane girls, including my mom, did what was unheard of in this era: go to college AND work part-time as they raised families. A bit of advice from my mom was that a woman needs to have a bit of her own fun money. She had us camped out at the library from the moment I could be read to.
Memories of my mom were typical mom moments and others that set her apart; always reading a book or two, red pen in hand grading term papers for Valley Forge High School in Parma, as a substitute teacher in the Vermilion Public School District, and, eventually as her youngest entered middle school, she became a full time English teacher at Sailorway Middle School in Vermilion. Before my mom passed, my favorite times with her included going out in Vermilion for an ice cream cone or a meal and having past students come up to us and share their favorite memories of my mom as their teacher. Many of her former students ended up choosing the same path, and were educators themselves. What a legacy to leave!
Fast forward to being a mom myself (and yes, I always had a little side gig for my own fun money, you were right mom!). Raising and enjoying my own four daughters through their early and college years, I am surrounded by these strong young adult women today. Although they’ve flown the so called coop I stand cheering and proud as they are civically involved and up-and-coming industry leaders that are taking advantage of all that is available to them. My mom was so proud of my girls, her influence strong and ever evident exemplified by their high school and college term papers where she was the subject of their English term papers when asked to write about someone of influence in their lives.
Like my mom’s entry into the workforce, I worked part time for EA when my youngest was in intermediate school which has now grown into a full-time job. I am so fortunate to be around women who inspire and challenge me and to be working for a woman-owned company. Our fearless leader has been a model of professional excellence and personal strength. She has led our team through the best and worst of times, both hers and ours. Through my 12 years at EA, I’ve been offered leadership roles and encouraged to take the next step in my professional journey with the confidence that was shown in me. Grab yourself a Margy Judd-like leader to work for.
Our team has three men with the remaining 17 EA employees, women, both locally grown and transplants from other states and countries. I’ve leaned on and learned from them on how to stand up for myself, how to listen and lead, and how to be a team player. Whenever one of us feels like “I can’t,” the women of EA are there to say, “Yes you can.” My mom shared with me early on that we each have a story to tell and are the hero of our own journey, that we aren’t in charge of the cards we are dealt but of how we play them. If you know one of these EA ladies or will be fortunate and get a chance to meet them, ask about their story. And proudly tell others yours!