Eighth-grade students listened to four female speakers on Monday as part of a YWCA program titled "Empowerment and Economic Advancement of Women and Girls.” (DHI Media/Jim Langham)
Eighth-grade students listened to four female speakers on Monday as part of a YWCA program titled "Empowerment and Economic Advancement of Women and Girls.” (DHI Media/Jim Langham)

VAN WERT – Kelly Houg, marketing director for the YWCA of Van Wert County, told a group of eighth grade students on Monday afternoon that attention needs to be given to “equal pay day” these days. She noted that “equal pay day” is Dec. 31 for men while women have to work until April 10, four months or longer, to make the same amount of money as their male counterparts.

Monday, eighth grade students from the Van Wert area met with four professionals who led discussion in “Empowerment and Economic Advancement of Women and Girls.”

Those professionals present included Libby Gardner, who spent over nine years in the U.S.Army, Candy Lammers, who heads up CSL Development, Stacy Adam, Van Wert County Economic Development Director, and Vicki Brunn, Van Wert City Schools Superintendent.

Houg told those present that to empower means to strengthen, stand with or help give power to someone in their task, to “give someone power.”

“Economic advancement,” she said, “is to make sure that women advance equally in equal pay for equal work.”

Houg introduced the four guest women as, “women who did not allow themselves to be stopped, women with successful careers who chose not to listen to other voices.”

For Libby Gardner, the career that allowed her to develop into a woman of courage and fulfillment of dreams was that of serving in the United States Army.

“Plenty of women served with me but there were, at the time, only a small amount of females serving in the U.S. Army,” said Gardner. “I was working at a bank and I thought, ‘is this really the way I want to spend my life?’”

Gardner said that she was influenced by watching “Making of a Marine” on television.

“I decided to join the Army,” said Gardner. “I was married at the time. The first thing I discovered when I joined was that there were a lot of men that didn’t want to line up with women. I had to earn their respect but they didn’t have to earn mine. They thought they already had it."

“I knew I had to have thick skin,” continued Gardner. “In the end, I felt like it was the most important thing I ever did with my life. I was very proud that I had been a soldier.”

Stacy Adam, Economic Development Director for Van Wert County, said that a big advantage she had in going into a world of management many times surrounded by men was the fact she had awesome support by her father as she was growing up.

“My father encouraged me so much that I didn’t think of being a female in a male world,” said Adam. “I had a man from Alabama who told me that he couldn’t see how I could manage anything in a world surrounded by men. That was the first I had even thought of such thing."

“The thing I would like to leave with you is that life is full of ups and downs,” continued Adam. “That’s true in any of life’s works. It’s not always going to be fair, but you have more control than you think. Be confident and deliver all that you can and they will tend to pay you because you delivered.”

Like Adam, Van Wert City Schools Superintendent Vicki Brunn had outstanding support from her father as she was growing up.

“More than anyone, my father made me believe that I could do what I wanted to do,” said Brunn. “If I worked hard enough, I would never question if I could do it.”

Brunn said that she started as a teacher in the classroom, but she wanted to move up in the world of her educational background.

“I saw things that I would like to do but couldn’t do,” said Brunn. “I worked hard to move up the ladder in education and here I am – a superintendent. I don’t think I ever expected to move up that far."

“Follow your dreams,” added Brunn. “Find out what you are passionate about and go at it.”

For Candy Lammers, who founded and leads CSL Construction, her break into the world of male jobs came from a husband that understood her and asked her to work beside him in bridge construction. She then moved into the world of construction of Van Wert Schools, one woman with a construction job of 110 men.

“Here I was a construction manager in a $54 million school project,” said Lammers. “It was a lot of responsibility. Everyone who works as a project manager is responsible for the safety of each person on that project."

“I travel all over building schools these days. It is always something bigger, always something with a higher purpose, always looking for the most important thing of all, God’s higher purpose in your life,” said Lammers passionately.