Each month we randomly select a WIL member to spotlight in our e-newsletter.
Here is a collection of those features so you can get to know our membership better!

Sara Horn
Station Manager at WAOE/My59 

What was your first job?  During the summer when I was 11 years old, I was employed by my best friend’s aunt to hand out flyers promoting the grand opening of a local shoe store here in Peoria.  Instead of walking the neighborhoods and putting them in mailboxes like instructed, I tacked them to doors in several apartment buildings – ignoring the ‘No Soliciting’ signs.  There were lots of complaints made directly to the shoe store, and I didn’t get paid. 

What led you to your profession?  Luck, kind of.  As a sophomore journalism major, I found myself three credits short at the start of the Fall semester.  All writing classes were full.  So, out of desperation, I registered for the only class that was still open and could count as an elective to my major – Intro to Radio/Television…and the rest is history

What do you like most about working for your company?  The variety.  When asked to describe what I do as the station manager of a broadcast television station, the best way is to say, “I do a little bit of a lot.”  I monitor the technical specs of the broadcast signal, schedule programming, work with Sales on campaigns, correspond and file regular reports with the FCC, etc.  Some of what I do is a lot of fun and some of it is really boring…but it is all interesting in some way, and I love it.

What do you like most about WIL?  The wonderful women I continue to meet and the many friendships I have made over the years.  Broadcast television is still primarily a male-dominated field.  So, there are very few female colleagues for me to turn to for support and advice.  As a result, I find it very frustrating and lonely at times.  For that reason, I greatly enjoy and really appreciate the opportunities WIL provides that allows me to meet and to interact with so many strong, smart, sassy and fun women.

Who or what inspires you?  Knowledge. I always want to know “why” and to learn new things.  I find it interesting and a lot of fun to continue to understand the world around me. That also means I know a lot of odd tidbits and trivia.  So, if you get the chance, ask me about the origin of the fork.  It is fascinating!

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I am an identical twin born under the sign of the Gemini. (Birthday is May 28th

Misty Tunyuck
District Sales Coordinator at Aflac

What was your first job? My first job, I was 15 working at Sunset Lanes in Pekin as a Daycare assistant during Bowling leagues. I continued working there throughout High School taking on more shifts and more duties behind the counter and in the snack bar. 

What led you to your profession?  Having a part-time sales job along with my full-time career has always been a staple in my life. With motivation from family and friends, they helped me to see that sales is my calling.  I started with selling cars for two years at Peoria Toyota. Due to some changes in my personnel life, I had to search for a position that was flexible in my schedule and no weekends.  I was nominated by a close friend to join the Aflac team.  After two months of studying, classes and passing my exams, I became licensed in the state of Illinois for Life and Health Insurance. 

What do you like most about working for your company?  Aflac is an amazing company to be affiliated with. They provide a work environment which values its associates and employees. There are opportunities for career advancement as well as personal growth and management is very engaged and seeks to maintain a challenging but rewarding work experience.  Making this career change a year ago was the best decision I have ever made.

What do you like most about WILCI?  Every woman in WILCI is an inspiration to me.  To be surrounded by successful, driven women is extremely motivational. I have only been a member for a few months but the overwhelming acceptance and compassion to get us new members involved is wonderful! Looking forward to making life long friends. 

Who or what inspires you?  I am blessed to have many fascinating people that have inspired me in different ways throughout my life.  My number one is my children, they drive me to be better and more successful everyday.  Being a role model to your children is scary and awesome at the same time. You don't want to mess up but when you do the way you handle it and bounce back is vital.  Also, my sister has always pushed me to truly believe that I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I would not be where I am today without her in my life. There are six women that I have the pleasure of calling my best friends and I can't leave out Jimmy, my significant other. Together they are my rock, my motivation, my laughter, a shoulder to cry on and a voice of reason.

Erynn Dykstra
Life & Health Producer, Hecht-Stout Insurance Agency

What was your first job?  Neighborhood Video Store

What led you to your profession?  I was a Real Estate Broker for over 12 years.  When my son was diagnosed with Autism, I “retired” and devoted my time to him and his therapies.  Now that he is doing well in High School, this opportunity became available and I jumped at the chance to get back in the work force.

What do you like most about working for your company?  The people at Hecht Stout have been incredibly welcoming and helpful..  I love the flexibility of being an independent contractor, this way I am still available to pick my children up from school and be active in their schools.  I also love all the people that I meet when I am doing Worksite Life enrollments.

What do you like most about WIL?  I have really enjoyed connecting with other women and I have enjoyed the various speakers

Who or what inspires you?  I am inspired by seeing other women succeeding in their careers and life.  Being around other women that are making things happen makes me want to try even harder.

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I had an art studio at the Studios on Sheridan for the last 6 years, where I did mixed media and textile art. I just recently moved my art studio to my house so that it is more convenient for me to create.

Jennifer Cunningham
Branch Manager, CEFCU

What was your first job?  Dance Instructor

What led you to your profession?  While in college, I did an internship working for the Cashier of Illinois Central College on their Accounting floor.  I loved the bookkeeping aspect and working on the spreadsheets while I was there.  It led me to apply at CEFCU once I graduated with my Associates degree.

What do you like most about working for your company?  I love that CEFCU lives up to their reputation in caring for their community.  I am proud to say I work for CEFCU.

What do you like most about WIL?  I enjoy the opportunity to meet new members and guests and the networking that WIL offers.  I also enjoy the presentations we have and have used the information in my current position. 

Who or what inspires you?  My WIL family.  Being able to hear the messages that we share while together is powerful and encouraging.

Other interesting tidbit about me:  Surprise, I’m a HUGE Disney fan!

Kristen Berchtold, CFRE
Director of Development at
South Side Office of Concern (SSOC)

What was your first job?  My first “professional” job (I’m not counting the restaurant and waitressing jobs I had throughout high school and college) was as a Marketing Manager for a company that manufactured electronic safety equipment for the construction industry.  When that company was purchased by a competitor, I took a position with the Girl Scouts and my non-profit career began!

What led you to your profession?  Back when I was in college, studying philanthropy and not-for-profit management wasn’t an option - and I probably wouldn’t have pursued it, even if it was!  I majored in Marketing and Communications.  I worked at the Girl Scouts for a few years and was asked to manage the annual Cookie Sale – which I did for 6 years.  It was an amazing endeavor – we sold over $1 million of cookies each year through the efforts hundreds of dedicated volunteers.  That was my first foray into not-for-profit fundraising and from then on I was hooked!

What do you like most about working for your company?  The incredible impact we have!  SSOC is dedicated to ending homelessness by taking people off the streets and placing them in permanent homes.  We then provide whatever level of service or support that family or individual needs to maintain residential stability.  Our success rate is phenomenal - 96% of the folks we place into housing do not return to homelessness!  A stable home is the key to safety and security, health and well-being, financial stability, self-sufficiency and independence.   There is no bigger impact you can have on someone’s life than helping them find a home!

What do you like most about WIL?  I am passionate about women supporting other women – and WIL is all about that!  I have met so many amazing women who I am now proud to call my friends.  I love that we celebrate and invest in each other’s success!  I am also passionate about professional development and believe we never stop learning and growing.  Professional organizations, like Women in Leadership,  provide opportunities to network and build knowledge and skills that strengthen our community by creating a stronger workforce.

Who or what inspires you?  I am inspired by volunteers - those who share the blessings they've been given to make our community better.  Working in not-for-profit management for 25 years, I am deeply aware of the value that volunteers bring to charity organizations. The fact is that most not-for-profit organizations could not survive without the time, talents, and expertise of caring, dedicated volunteers! 

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I am not so sure this is particularly interesting, but I have been married for 30 years and have two sons, 8 chickens, a part-time cat, and an incredibly goofy dog.  I love to garden, read, travel, go to music festivals, and redecorate.

Allison Renae McDonald Vershaw
Independent Beauty Consultant at Mary Kay Inc.

What was your first job?  Other than babysitting when I was 10, my first job was working at an orthodontists office as receptionist while in HS and before I graduated from Bradley University. My first "adult" job after graduating from Bradley University was working at Jumer's Hotel in Peoria as a Sales Manager.

What led you to your profession?  You know, I have always had a passion for fashion and all things beauty. I've worked in retail and have been told on numerous occasions that I could pull off a brown bag and make it look cute! I haven't tried that - but I guess it's a Halloween costume someday! But what I have done is always believed that people want to feel loved, appreciated, valued and supported.  When you don't have those in a career, why settle? So, when my father passed 3 years ago at the age of 68, I realized that my job wasn't going anywhere and that I had so much more to offer, I made the decision to leave a corporate position with a "guaranteed" salary to start my own business and make more money working less! Was it scary? Absolutely! Was it worth it? Most definitely. Is there really such thing as a "secured" position or "guaranteed" income? Not in today's society. Entrepreneurship has ups and downs - I have learned many lessons, overcome challenges and have a team of women all across the United States and in 40 other countries cheering, mentoring, and helping me achieve my goals.  Couldn't you get excited about that? It has truly been the best $100 investment!!

What do you like most about working for your company?  Our values: Faith, Family, Career - all in alignment. We truly keep God at the center of our business, the flexible schedule allows me to be the mom I want to be for my daughter that I don't have to ask for "time off", and with the career - I choose to be around amazing women all the time, can make as much or as little money as I want, work when I want, promote myself up the ladder of success, earn jewelry and prizes including free cars! But you know what...those are just some of the "perks". What I LOVE is being able to help someone else feel important. To help someone feel beautiful again. To be a listening ear and talk through a situation. It's not about the money or the prizes...it's about empowering women and changes lives one face at a time. And I suppose it's like my girlfriend fix...when you are missing your friends or when you know someone needs a "pick me up" - I invite them over and play with the products! It's a win-win! 

What do you like most about WIL? What I have always loved about WIL is that we are all cheering for each other!  We don't care how much money you make, where you buy your clothes, who you work for, etc.  What we care about is YOU and your success and helping you achieve whatever it is you desire in life. It's a safe place where you can (and should) feel like family when you walk in for lunch each month.  If you don't...sit at my table!  LOL 

Who or what inspires you?  People who venture out and try something new.  People who believe in themselves when nobody else does.  People who jump and know that no matter where they land, it's further than where they started. It's confidence, it's grace, it's passion, it's humility.  When you believe without conviction that you will achieve something - you will!  YOU CAN DO ANYTHING! 

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I was a Peoria Pirate Cheerleader in 1999-2000 - such a FUN time!!   I have a beautiful 9 year old daughter, Kherington, who is truly the light of my life (and a little mini me - watch out world)!

Vickie Clark
Financial Advisor at Waddell & Reed

What was your first job?   When I was 15, I started working as a grocery store clerk to earn extra money for clothes and spending money.  I also de-tasseled corn in the summer. I will attest that was the hardest physical job that I’ve ever had!  My first job after college was at the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.  I started as a secretary/receptionist and worked my way up to Chief Operating Officer/Financial Officer and Interim President three times.

What led you to your profession?  It’s always been important for me to make a difference in others’ lives.  Most of my career was with regional non-profits and affecting the greater good of the community.  As a financial advisor, I am able to continue with that “greater good” mentality but with individuals and businesses.  This gives me a more personal approach to helping others.

What do you like most about working for your company?  I like owning my own business and delivering a personal service model for clients.  I especially find it meaningful to work with women who have had significant changes in their life—like a job change, divorce, or losing a spouse.  Helping them create a strategy for their financial security and financial enjoyment is what drives me.

What do you like most about WIL?I enjoy surrounding myself with strong, powerful women.  It is inspiring. 

Who or what inspires you?  I am constantly inspired by others.  We can constantly learn from each other.  The traits that inspire me include integrity, compassion, strength, giving more than you get, and making the world a better place.  I find a number of women at WIL have these qualities.

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I love dogs.  When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian.

Heather Fitzanko   
Vice President at AAA Certified Confidential Security Corp.

What was your first job?  Well, my very first job was babysitting. I was 14 and I babysat my cousins, age 2 and 5 months. That was an experience!!  My first job on the books was working as a cashier at K-Mart. Other jobs I have had: bank teller, airline passenger service agent, waitress, office clerk and heavy weight handler. I have been blessed with the opportunity to experience many professions. I enjoyed every job I have had.

What led you to your profession?  A friend who also was a head hunter led me to this position. 

What do you like most about working for your company?  Information destruction is a unique industry.  It is still growing and changing. I enjoy developing relationships with customers and creating new products or solutions. I get to tap into my creativity, problem solving and analytics. CSC is a family owned business. I have a lot of respect and admiration for the owner, Tom Simpson. Again, I am blessed.

What do you like most about WILCI?  I enjoy the relationships!  WIL is a group of supportive professional women.  I have made quite a few lasting friendships through WIL.

Who or what inspires you?  I am inspired when individuals overcome hardships and setbacks and then continue the momentum to touch the lives of others.  Elizabeth McCombs, a former WIL member, inspires me.

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I love the outdoors; hiking, kayaking,biking, and gardening. However I don’t camp. When evening comes, I want a bug free bed and running water.

Kathy Schaeffer 
Director of Business Development & Marketing at Stellar Systems, Inc.

What was your first job?  Secretary at State Farm Claims Office in Peoria

What led you to your profession?  I decided I did not want to be in the secretarial field any longer; I thought there would be more opportunity for advancement in another profession.  I walked into the Continental Regency in July of 1991 and was hired on the spot as a Front Desk Representative.  I worked my way up through the ranks as Second Shift Manager On Duty, Assistant Guest Services Manager and then Senior Sales Manager.  I then went onto Director of Sales at the Holiday Inn Brandywine.

What do you like most about working for your company?  Our President/Owner, Andy Fograscher, truly believes his employees are his greatest asset.  There is absolutely no stress, no drama and no gossip . . . I work with all men!

What do you like most about WILCI?  I love meeting new people in various professions and of various age groups . . . especially the younger professionals . . . I learn something new from someone at every meeting.  It’s a wonderful networking opportunity.

Who or what inspires you?  My Dad and his oldest sister, My Aunt Dorothy . . . they were not only my mentors . . . they taught me the importance of hard work, ethics and morality. 

Other interesting tidbit about me:  I would love to be a stand-up comic . . . I just might try it some time when there is open mic night!!  There is no one I like to make fun of more than myself!!

* Kathy serves on the Women In Leadership Board as VP of Special Events.

Betsy Bladel
Semi-Retired / Academic Organizational Advisor for Common Place

What was your first job?  My first job was selling women’s clothes and helping with window display at a shop in Peoria’s Sheridan Village. Some of my good friends worked there along with a friend whose uncle owned the shop. I was sixteen at the time and rather shy, so against my parent’s consent , I thought I better work with the public to reduce my shyness and I loved getting a discount for any clothes that we bought!

What led you to your profession?  I worked retail for many years, selling clothing, gift ware, and high-end toys. All these stores were specialty and I did their window displays. I truly loved being a bridal consultant with china and crystal , setting tabletops and working with brides. Eventually, I started working in Peoria Public Schools and loved twenty years working with teachers and tutoring primary aged children. 

As I worked, I returned to school and received my degree in Library Tech from ICC, worked at Fondulac Public Library and then received my BS in Organizational Leadership from Eureka College. I was hired at Eureka College as the Director of Lifelong Learning, working with non-traditional students. After five years at Eureka, I worked in a corporate setting shortly, substitute taught for Peoria Heights School District and then retired after being in the workforce for forty-two years.

What do you like most about working for your company?  After I retired three years ago, I felt I still had some talent left to give, so now I am very part-time as an Academic Organizational Advisor for Common Place. Many years ago, I remember telling a librarian that someday, I would retire and assist in adult literacy and so I am enjoying getting to know the wonderful staff and students of Common Place. I like the caring environment and teaching techniques that the tutors demonstrated to their students to succeed.

What do you like most about WILCI?  I cannot say enough about the great women leaders that I have met since I started attending WIL in 2009. After becoming VP of Mentoring, my friendships deepened and respect for the members' leadership broadened. You always have a friend and mentor in the WIL membership!

Who or what inspires you?  Servant leadership and helping in the community has inspired me for many years. I serve on three Board of Directors and two committees and I cherish their missions and believe in their vision. 

Other interesting tidbit about me:   I love the arts, container gardening, architectural design, and vintage advertising graphic design!

* Betsy serves on the Women In Leadership Board as VP of Mentoring and President Presumptive. 

Whitney Goldstein
Financial Advisor at Robert W. Baird

What was your first job? I worked in jewelry sales at K’s Merchandise Mart here in Peoria.  For those not local to the area, it was a local department store on Pioneer Parkway that sadly closed while I was in college.

What led you to your profession? It is something I grew up with as my father is also a financial advisor.

What do you like most about working for your company? Baird is a large employee-owned global investment and wealth management firm.  Headquarters is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so the Midwest values that resonate so heavily in this community drive nearly every aspect of the firm.

What do you like most about WILCI?  It’s a great opportunity to meet other like-minded women.

Who or what inspires you? My father.  He is my business partner and mentor.

Other interesting tidbit about me:   I have been in karate for 23 years.  I am a 4th degree black belt and two-time international sparring champion.

Kim Martin
Author, Speaker, Community Difference Maker at I've Decided
Owner at Curves

What was your first job? My first job was at McDonalds.

What led you to your profession? I was looking for a job that would be closer to home and I applied for a management position for a local Curves in Georgia where I lived at the time and was hired. 2 years later, I bought my first franchise. That was almost 21 years ago. : ) Additionally, I love seeing people achieve success in their goals, and so a few years ago I founded I've Decided, an organization designed to motivate people to make a positive lifestyle choice or fulfill a dream. 

What do you like most about working for your company? There is nothing I love more than to see someone achieve success in their goals and especially their health goals. I am in the business of changing lives, and I love it!

What do you like most about WILCI?  I love networking and having lunch with all the amazing women who are a part of our group.

Who or what inspires you? I am inspired by anyone who is faced with challenges but keeps their chin up and keeps going with a positive and grateful attitude. 

Other interesting tidbit about me:  Most people don't know that I use to weigh 211 pounds at my heaviest point. I struggled with weight most of my life until 12 years ago, when I decided to practice what I preach. I have lost about 70 pounds and kept it off for about 9 years now. I love to run and have ran 5 marathons. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I could run a marathon!

Stephanie Petri
CPA and Tax Manager at CliftonLarsonAllen LLP

What was your first job?  I worked in a small town department store called The Connection.  I restocked the merchandise, assisted people in the changing room, and checked people out at the register.  It was a fun first job.

What led you to your profession?  My cousin was an accountant at ADM in Decatur while I was in high school.  I had an assignment to job shadow someone and I chose him.  I enjoyed the day I spent with him and ADM and thought I would look into taking an accounting class before heading to college.  I found I really enjoyed it and the rest is history!  I never thought I would have found my niche in taxation, but after several tax internships, it felt like a good fit.

What do you like most about working for your company?  CLA focuses a lot of attention on career building and having their employees own their career.  Many accounting firms have a specific promotion path and it’s very difficult to veer away from it.  CLA believes each individuals career can and should be different.  We firmly believe people are happy in their careers if they love what they do, so we support it and really listen to what each individual wants.  Then we help them make that goal a reality.  We have an open and honest dialogue with the individuals we coach at CLA and if their ultimate goal is to work for their family business, but they want public accounting experience before they do that, we schedule them on engagements in that specific industry so they are more prepared for the next chapter of their lives.  This concept is definitely unique to CLA and I’m proud to work for a company that embraces career building.

What do you like most about WILCI?   I’ve said this before, but the relationships that I’ve developed since first joining WIL are my favorite part.  I’m a relationship person and am so happy to have met such wonderful and inspiring women.

Who or what inspires you?  My mom and dad were amazing parents and still are.  I call them nearly every day after work to talk about the day and what’s going on at work and with the kids.  My dad and mom have always encouraged me to work hard to achieve my goals and I have a lot to thank them for.

Other interesting tidbit about me:   I don’t really have any hobbies.  My family is my hobby!  My husband Jared and I have two kids, my daughter is 5 and my son is 7.  Their activities keep me very busy outside of work and WIL.  Jaden loves sports and plays baseball and basketball.  Stella is a creative spirit and loves to color, sing, and also enjoys tumbling.

Jess McMullin
Director of Sales & Marketing at the Peoria Civic Center

What was your first job? When I was 14 years old, I pedaled my bike to the local bakery to make $3.75 an hour. What started as cashier and clean-up duty evolved into a lifetime of baking!  I fried the donuts, baked my way through college, and today I am still decorating cakes & cookies as a hobby and fundraiser for St. Jude.

What led you to your profession? Each job has developed me and led me to the next opportunity. It's been a bit of a zig-zag path, but I've been blessed doing a lot of fun things called 'work'.  I graduated with a double major in Political Science and Communications, which led me to working for a newspaper, professional sports teams, brewing company, government, owning my own business, and now at the Peoria Civic Center. The common thread through my career has been about managing creative ideas and building relationships.

What do you like most about working for your company? From concerts to conventions, the Peoria Civic Center (PCC) is a major hub of entertainment and business for downtown Peoria. It's an exciting industry, but also very challenging. My primary responsibility is filling the convention center side of the PCC.  The events we host employ a lot of people and have a tremendous residual effect on surrounding hotels, restaurants and shops. I am driven knowing that the work we do significantly impacts the lives of others. Most of all, I enjoy the many good people I meet who are on the same mission to make our community successful.

What do you like most about WILCI?  Through the years, I've learned that energy is contagious. Oprah Winfrey once said, "Surround yourself with people who lift you higher." That quote encompasses WIL for me. Our monthly luncheons always lift my spirits!  I enjoy networking (and becoming friends) with positive-minded women who are striving to do their best at work, home, and in our community. 

Who or what inspires you? My kids drive me everyday - sometime crazy, but more often, they drive me to be a better person. They inspire me to think bigger picture, be more creative and patient, and remind me when to take a break and play.  All my life, my mom has been my compass and greatest cheerleader. It's an absolute honor when people say I remind them of her.

Other interesting tidbit about me:   I'm a Wisconsin girl through and through... love my football, cheese and the great outdoors. In my free time, I like to camp, hike, run, cycle and garden. My favorite kind of Happy Hour is playing Uno or Yahtzee on the deck with my family (and wine!). Several years ago, I started a quest to run a half or full marathon in every U.S. state. So far, I have 29 completed.  

Barb Mishler
Senior Account Representative at Henricksen

What was your first job? My first job was filing orders and, from what I can remember, typing up the company new letter – using a typewriter – which would then be mimeographed!  This was summer employment (I am not going to count de-tassling!)

What led you to your profession?  I was interested in residential floor plans and home design in high school.  I took a drafting course at that time,  which I really enjoyed.  When I went to University of Illinois, I had no idea what I wanted to major in.  But when I found out they had an interior design program, I was all in. 

What do you like most about working for your company?  Really two things – I love transforming business and educational spaces because I know what an impact that makes on our work and study environments.  But working for Henricksen makes me realize they are the only company I want to work for.  I truly respect and enjoy working with our management and the rest of the staff.  I have experienced firsthand other companies and the way they work and treat their employees and there has been no comparison.  It was very evident when I came to work for Henricksen, how respected they are in our industry as Henricksen also treats their vendors with consideration and as partners. Henricksen opened their doors in 1962, and their sales volume when I started was around $1.25 million. We now sell more than $262 million in commercial furniture across the country.

What do you like most about WILCI?   The women I have met in WIL are fantastic and a great inspiration.  I have made many good friends.

Who or what inspires you?  That is a hard question, since so many people have been an inspiration to me.  Many years ago I was interviewed for an article on Henricksen for the local business magazine, and the answer I gave then was my dad, so that is a great place to start.  I learned my business ethics from him – he was hardworking, honest and fair. 

Other interesting tidbit about me:    I have been working in this industry since 1978 (Yes, I know, some of you were not even born yet!) and for Henricksen since February of 1983.  In 1982, I was not happy with the company that I worked for at that time and contacted the owner of Henricksen to expand their market and  open this office in Peoria.  (The home office is in Itasca, Illinois and at that time had 3 offices in the Chicago area.)  I felt comfortable with the management right away and they took a chance on me too.   Since then, they have also opened offices in Milwaukee, WI, Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN and New York, NY.  It was a valuable lesson to me, an introvert, to step out of my comfort zone and reach for excellence.  It has certainly been life changing.

© 2017 Women In Leadership of Central Illinois, PO Box 1521, Peoria, IL 61655  

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software