As a youth growing up in a small town in northern Illinois, imagining where life may lead was not something to be dwelled upon. Somewhat idyllic, this upbringing was the foundation which provided a love of learning, the enjoyment of all people, a deep passion for foods and the unconditional love they deliver. Though my mother, for some reason, thought it likely I would end up working with food, I do not have specific remembrance of any particular calling at that time.
Perhaps it was the combination of caring parents, along with a host of multi-faceted individuals, that nurtured an inner drive to create smiles and encouragement in others. John, my father, was self-employed, politically involved and a mentor to many. Alberta, my mom, was—and continues to be—the best example of faith, encouragement and a positive attitude for all those she encounters. Childhood was a loving blend of learning basic baking lessons at the kitchen counter with Mom while watching and listening as Dad managed a host of business dealings. Simply put, it was never dull, and this continues to hold true even today!
Being a Girl Scout is where my inner voice really began to emerge. Wonderful experiences in Girl Scouting are the most memorable of my youth. Making new friendships, leadership development opportunities and an insatiable love for Mother Nature were profoundly defining for me during this period. So much so, that when it came time for college, I ventured westward to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. Graduating in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, I decided to remain in the area, taking my first post-college position in insurance sales with Metropolitan Life Insurance. Quickly, I discovered this was not the career path for me.
Back to the drawing board I went, hoping to find a position more closely aligned with my spirit. Shortly thereafter, an open position for a prep cook at a new restaurant was advertised. Not having restaurant experience was not considered a deterrent. Quite frankly, I had limited work experience at all! Rationalizing that the position couldn’t be difficult and that I was a fairly good cook, I put on a confident smile and went to apply, only to be denied an application because of having no experience. With some gentle persuading, the owner acquiesced during the interview by requiring the submittal of an apple pie, buttermilk biscuits and a BBQ sauce, all homemade, to prove my cooking skills could match my persuasion skills. Ironically, the name of the restaurant was Apple Valley Family Restaurant. It is at this establishment my professional foodservice path began.
In 1982, while visiting my sister, Barb, here in Peoria, I made the decision to relocate to the Midwest. O’Leary’s Restaurant had just opened on Willow Knolls Road in a wonderful heritage building. There was an immediate connection with the atmosphere and theme which made me feel at home. As it turned out, they, too, had a position available in their kitchen as a prep cook, which I gladly accepted. My career path can be best defined as learn-as-you-go! By the end of that first summer, I had assumed the duties of kitchen manager. This included the orchestration of not just the general dining selections, but the special occasion banquet menus as well. I chuckle at how many times over the course of my career I am really teaching myself while leading others at the same time. Fortunately, with cookbooks spread across my desk, plus a willing and committed staff, our patrons enjoyed many memorable dining experiences.
Apple’s Bakery, my current business, was born as result of the O’Leary’s customer desiring to have scratch bakery products available to enjoy in their homes. Five years ago, Apple’s Gluten Free Kitchen was launched as a division of Apple’s Bakery, Inc. Apple’s Gluten Free Kitchen, our area’s only dedicated gluten-free production kitchen, was also a result of customer requests and has a stated mission to reduce stress in lives with gluten sensitivities, bringing them the tastes of delicious gluten-free bakery products.
As a food service professional for nearly 30 years, my career has been and will continue to be all about taking care of people each and every day, just as if company is coming home. I am one lucky lady to have a business that is one big public home where all are welcome.
Major Accomplishments of 2011
2011 is best described as a pinnacle year, both personally and professionally. As you can see from my earlier comments, being of service to others is at the core of who I am. Over the years, being a community advocate has keenly influenced much of my non-business time. As a small business owner, being involved at the community level is vitally important, as is engaging and working with other business and community peers, assisting with decisions aimed at growth and prosperity for our area’s future.
Prior to 2010, my involvement was more singular, primarily within the business community. 2011 has marked my initiation as an elected official as a Peoria County District 11 board member. This new community role is the most engaging and meaningful experience to date for me. Being a public servant for Peoria is a responsibility not taken lightly. To have this opportunity to serve the area, along with 17 others, as a steward of taxpayers’ dollars requires constant listening and learning.
Local government is where change begins. Working with other dedicated board members, along with a highly professional staff, I am privileged to use my voice in local government. Greater economic development throughout the county, shared services bringing greater efficiency, increased recycling initiatives, and developing eldercare strategies are my primary interests. The central Illinois region is vibrant and alive with immense potential. Peoria County is leading to the benefit of all its residents with high standards for quality of life and economic vitality.
What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life? Life is not a singular journey and is best shared to keep it all in perspective. Remembering not to take myself too seriously and to regularly laugh out loud. Maintaining a routine exercise program plays a big part as well. Most of all, saying “thank you” to all those family and friends who are so very supportive when times are good or bad…and saying “I love you” to my husband, Chris, and son, Alex, at the end of each phone call.
What is your leadership philosophy? Listen as others speak as a means to learn, share this knowledge with others as a means for broader understanding, then choose a direction to lead.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received? Why sit on the sidelines? Go get involved in what you believe. If you aren’t having fun doing it, then it is time to change.
What advice would you give to up-and-coming female professionals? Be confident in being your own person. Make your decisions based on what is important to your values and beliefs, not to others’. Make a commitment to make time for yourself each day. Always make today better than yesterday, and tomorrow better than today. Reach for your dreams, for they are there for you to behold. Believe in the difference one person can make in the world to make it better for others. iBi