Diverse obstacles

In this issue, we put the spotlight on women to highlight not only their invaluable contributions, but also their hard work and tenacity, often in the face of adversity.

I spoke with Bet Godard, a member of the Akron Woman’s City Club since 1973, for our Uniquely Akron feature. She told the story of how the club bought the Grey Lodge in 1945 as its long-term home, and recalled how the women’s husbands were “furious” about the purchase, saying the $250,000 they borrowed to buy and renovate the building would bankrupt them all. Five and one half years later, she said the ladies had paid off the mortgage and the club was free of debt.

I also talked to Tessa Reeves, founder and owner of Neighbors Apparel, a North Hill business that almost exclusively employs refugee women living in the city to create its line of hand-woven clothing and accessories. Reeves, the subject of this month’s Building Stronger Communities, started the business-with-a-mission, now in its third year, with no experience running a company while working full-time at another job.

But to me, the story that stands out the most this month is Hu Huang’s, a Smart Women Awards honoree who works as director of international logistics and customs compliance for Kichler Lighting. Born in Shanghai, China, Huang grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was sent to a farm for forced labor to work in the rice paddies 12 hours a day for five years at age 15.

After the Cultural Revolution ended, she learned English by listening to a radio program, then came to the U.S. to get an education. As she tells it:

“In 1985, I came to the U.S. with a suitcase, a one-way ticket and $25 in my pocket. Fresh off the boat, I was determined to gain an advanced degree … Within two days of arrival in Cincinnati, I suddenly realized that I had become a hostage of fear, alone in a foreign land. Culture shock, academic challenges and the language barriers intellectually disabled me, and handicapped my social interactions. It was an overwhelming experience. However, I tried my best to adjust to the new environment and kept reminding myself — failure was not an option.”

I’m proud to recognize these women, and the others featured in these pages, who never let adversity stand in the way of achieving their goals.

Adam is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.