Leadership Ohio Valley grads celebrate

GRADUATES — Members of the 2020 class of Leadership Ohio Valley celebrated their graduation Sunday with a luncheon at Williams Golf and Country Club. Graduates are, in front from left, Terri Phillips, Chris Smalley, Rain Lucas, Kelly Wohnhas and Amira Taylor, and in back, Anthony Forte, Duane Frazier, Brandon Palmeri, Sarah Farran and Lt. Gene Hunt. Leadership Ohio Valley is organized by the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Craig Howell)

WEIRTON — After a program year extended by a viral pandemic, the members of the 2020 class of Leadership Ohio Valley were finally able to celebrate all of their accomplishments Sunday.

The 10 remaining members of the class gathered at Williams Golf and Country Club gathered for a graduation luncheon to share their stories, reflect on their experiences and hear a few more words of encouragement.

Brenda Mull, president of the Weirton Area Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the program, noted the difficulties and uncertainties faced by the class as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in many of their activities being postponed.

As leaders, though, they persevered, reorganized their plans and made the best of what they could to reach their goals, she said.

“As a class, you attempted, several times, to take that step forward,” Mull said.

Mull noted they faced a variety of obstacles, including the departure of two classmates and health issues of another, but they thought outside of the box and found ways to accomplish their goals.

“That, my friends, is what leadership is all about,” she said. “Each and every one of you can do anything you set your mind to.”

The graduating members of the Leadership Ohio Valley class of 2020 are Sarah Farran, Anthony Forte, Duane Frazier, Lt. Gene Hunt, Rain Lucas, Brandon Palmeri, Terri Phillips, Chris Smalley, Amira Taylor and Kelly Wohnhas.

Phillips, who is executive director of the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted the program provided her with an opportunity to learn more about the Weirton area and meet new people.

“This was such a great group to work with,” she said.

Farran, sponsored by the City of Weirton, explained the class showed true teamwork by accomplishing their goals through adversity.

“It was challenging for all of us,” she said, offering special thanks to Palmeri, whom she called her “partner in crime.”

Hunt, the commanding officer of the Weirton Salvation Army, reminded those gathered he has only lived in Weirton for 15 months, but feels Leadership Ohio Valley is an indicator of the type of community it is.

“It has good to meet different people who could come together as one,” he said. “This is the best place I’ve ever lived.”

The class also heard from Jill Jones, owner of J.Jones Bridal and Evening Wear, who told of her own challenges, as well as those who supported her as she built her business.

Jones, who grew up in Pittsburgh, recalled deciding to start her business following her divorce.

“I was sewing in Pittsburgh, but I needed to do something,” she said, noting the effort began with the opening of the Pampered Princess on Marland Heights. From there, Jones decided to begin selling evening wear, making connections with Jovani, to the point she outgrew her original location and moved to the former People’s Bank building downtown. That location, too, would end up being too small after only a couple of years.

“The business grew to the point we were busting at the seams,” she said.

The next stop was a larger storefront a short distance down Main Street, where she stayed for five years before again needing to move to the current location in the Three Springs Crossing business plaza.

That growth, however, would not have happened, she said, without hard work, dedication and the support of many in the community, including Edmund DiBacco, the late Arthur Recht and Dan Spanovich, as well as the landlord of her home, all of whom worked with her.

“If you believe in what you do, there are ways to make it happen,” she said, telling the class if there is a dream they have, to put in the work to accomplish their goals, and if there isn’t, to find a way to support others as they fight for their dreams.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)


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