Female leaders dominate Lima Chamber awards

LIMA — Dr. Cynthia Spiers remembered entering a bicycle race back in her youth, even though it wasn’t the norm for a female to do that.

She decided to put all her effort into it and ended up winning the race back in the early 1960s, she told the crowd at the 21st annual Lima/Allen County Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala at the University of Northwestern Ohio’s Event Center. Spiers said she pulled ahead and won the race, but a stocking cap disguised her gender as she accepted a large trophy.

“I took my stocking cap off, and my long hair fell down,” said Spiers, who now serves as the president of Rhodes State College. “The man said, ‘Oh, you’re a girl. Sorry, that’s the boys’ trophy. Here’s your trophy.’ I’ve kept that smaller trophy for years and years and years.”

Spiers won a normal-sized trophy Tuesday night as the Athena Award winner, recognizing strength, courage and wisdom. Many women stepped to the front and claimed what they’d earned, as women-led organizations won all but one of the six categories at the annual awards.

“We need to take risks to step out and do things away from the crowd,” Spiers said, “and I want to emphasize this part, regardless of the norms of the time or of the organization or of the community in which you live.”

The event recognized women in a variety of stages of their careers, including veteran business leader Bev Beery, of Beery Insurance Services. Beery won the Woman-Owned Business Award for leading the first female-owned insurance company in Lima. She said she remembered when she attended an out-of-state training early in her career.

“All I saw were men, a sea of men, with a woman here or there,” she said after winning the award. “… I thought if they could do it, I could do it too.”

She said she’s still enthused about her work at the age of 77 and has no plans of slowing down.

The owners of Tiny Tech University, Terri Edwards and Lorri Caprella-Smith, celebrated winning the Small Business of the Year by sharing their religion, talking about the importance of Jesus Christ in their lives and decision-making at the preschool and daycare on Spencerville Road.

It’s been a joy to create something meaningful, said Ashley Blackburn, the winner of the Young Leader of the Year Award. She owns Aspire Home Health Care Services and Whitetail Acres Wedding and Event Venue in Shawnee Township.

“I’ve had the opportunity to create my own reality,” Blackburn said.

Crossroads Crisis Center received the Non-Profit of the Year Award, which was a reward for the women who work to help those dealing with domestic violence, said Christel Keller, executive director.

“This is a very unique opportunity. I hope my girls can stand here and feel this,” Keller said. “They give everything they have to domestic violence. … We help your sisters and your children and your coworkers.”

The Emerging Business Award went to The Ohio Theatre Lima, which is renovating the historic theater and offering dinner theater, food and events.

“You have an amazing city. We’re amazed by it every day,” said co-owner Joe Correll, of the Ohio Theatre Lima.

The theater has enjoyed working with the region, including visits with students from Lima schools.

“The next generation of Lima business owners and Lima leaders are going to blow your mind,” said Michael Bouson, co-owner of The Ohio Theatre Lima. “We feel so blessed to work with these kids.”

The keynote speaker was Kevin White, a training manager for Thryv Foundation. White, a world-class dancer who performed at the Grammys multiple times, talked about “renegotiating your contract” and rethinking what you’re capable of doing.

“Sometimes we say, ‘I’m done growing. I’m just going to ride this thing out,’” White said. “… The bottom line is it’s time to renegotiate our contracts.”

White, who is also an author, behavioral practitioner and life coach, urged the crowd not to make excuses to limit their own opportunities.

“You’re going to have to put in the work, and you’re also going to have to be focused,” White said, noting the importance of desiring to improve.

The theme for the annual celebration was Bubbles & Bow Ties, with many men wearing bowties and women wearing shimmery dresses. Each finalist received a bottle of champagne, courtesy of The Met.

As it turns out, the real message Tuesday was how women are dominant figures in Lima’s business scene.


Young Leader of the Year Award: Ashley Blackburn

Emerging Business of the Year Award: The Ohio Theatre Lima

Woman-Owned Business of the Year: Beery Insurance Services

Non-Profit Agency of the Year: Crossroads Crisis Center

Athena Award: Cynthia Spiers

Small Business of the Year: Tiny Tech University

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.