By Burton Speakman
This year’s Athena Award winner based her success on two things: hard work and luck.
Karen Abrams, senior vice president and trust adviser for PNC Bank, was selected from 25 nominees for the award, which celebrates the achievements of women in the area’s business community and is presented by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce and The Vindicator.
“This is overwhelming because all the women nominated are just exceptional,” Abrams said at the 2012 Athena dinner Thursday night at Mr. Anthony’s.
She said her first incident of luck came after graduating from law school when she was the first woman hired into the Debartolo Corp.’s legal department after moving to the area with her husband.
“We decided to move here in 1980. All our friends in Cleveland thought we were nuts,” Abrams said.
Since then, she said, she has been lucky to make good decisions in both her professional career and the philanthropic activities in which she has been involved.
The recipients of her volunteer efforts include the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, Fellows Riverside Gardens and Mahoning Valley College Access Program.
Dr. Betty Jo Licata, who introduced Abrams, said Abrams is “well respected and admired” within the community.
She has served as a mentor to many women within the community, Licata said.
“The thing that has given her the most pleasure is serving as a mentor to her daughters,” Licata said.
This was the 20th anniversary of the Athena Award in the Mahoning Valley.
The Valley’s first Athena Award winner, Helen Paes, talked about how different it was to receive the award in the first year.
“We didn’t know the impact it would have in years to come,” she said.
The first Athena event in the Mahoning Valley drew about 100 people, compared with 700 who attended Thursday. The fact that local event is the fifth-largest in the country is a testament to the chamber staff and everyone in the community who supports the event, Paes said. The foundation for the event’s future success was laid in the early years.
“It’s an honor to be included among the recipients and nominees,” she said.
Martha Bushey, another former Athena recipient, said that when she won, she was not sure just how much the award meant.
For weeks after being named, she received calls, letters and congratulations from colleagues, friends, acquaintances and even strangers, Bushey said.
Each of the women who were nominated are a champion to their families, friends and colleagues, said Cynthia Anderson, Youngstown State University president and former Athena award recipient.
The keynote speaker for the event was LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member Annika Sorenstam.
All the women who were nominated understand that hard work is necessary for success, Sorenstam said.
During her time in golf she was able to accomplish more than she had ever dreamed, she said.
“I was able to climb my own Mount Everest, but when I was up there I could see other peaks,” Sorenstam said. “I had other passions to pursue.”
Now her goal though her foundation is to help children to “follow their dreams” and stay active, she said.
“To be successful you have to be passionate about whatever you do,” Sorenstam said. “You need to learn how to set goals. I think goals are the roadmap to success.”
The key to life is to continue seeking challenges. To get better, a person needs to work on their weaknesses, she said, adding, “There are no shortcuts to success.”