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Meet 2022’s Power Women of the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Photos by Tessa Marie Images

They are all poised, passionate and persistent. Meet this year’s 20 Power Women of the Main Line and western suburbs.

By Kim Douglas, with additional reporting by J.F. Pirro and Michael Bradley

Click here to learn about Main Line Today‘s Power Women Summit.

Natanya Sortland Alice Choi Diana Perez-Rodgers Diane McGraw Patti Brennan Imaani J. El-Burki Dr. Janine Darby Krista Ross Jennifer Licate Dr. Marianne Ritchie Dr. Rina Kapoor Matti Perilstein Marcie Bramucci Denise Dillon Michelle Leonard Trish McFarland Katie Jacoby Dr. Tara Sexton Cathleen Kelly Rebar Beth Johnson

Natanya Sortland

Natanya Sortland

In 2014, when Natanya Sortland lost her vision after suffering a life-threatening subarachnoid hemorrhage, she became one of VisionCorps’ first Chester County clients. At the time, a therapist found her in a panic trying to get dressed and navigate her living room. “Life became a challenge,” says Sortland, who lives in Charlestown Township, “getting dressed—a scavenger hunt.”

The Lancaster-based nonprofit worked patiently with Sortland, convincing her that “blindness would remake me, not define me,” she notes.

This past May, Sortland scaled a building for the second year in a row to raise awareness and funds for the blind. “A challenge to rappel off the side dressed like the Statue of Liberty helped me get my life back,” says Sortland, a Virginia native who moved to the area at 21 to study musical theater before opening a pet-sitting business.

These days, Sortland encourages others to join her in her annual rappelling adventure. This year, she tackled a 10-story building in Lancaster. “I was the only one the first year,” she says. “Then we got connected to the United Way of Chester County, and their president, Christopher Saello, climbed with me this year.”

Other organizations who helped Sortland get her life back are also beneficiaries, including the Mind Your Brain Foundation and the Fighting Back Scholarship. Every time she walks out the door, Sortland considers herself an ambassador for those with vision loss. “My cane is like a superpower, and I’m a blind ninja trying to figure out how to navigate this world,” she says. “I’m the one cutting through crowds at the Eagles game like butter with that cane.”

Visit visioncorps.net

Alice Choi

Alice Choi

Alice Choi

Among her 200,000 online followers, Malvern’s Alice Choi is known as the Hip Foodie Mom. Her visibility peaked in 2018, when People magazine tapped Choi for a “Mommy Bloggers to the Rescue” feature that highlighted different back-to-school categories on parents’ to-do lists. “There was organization, style, kindness, travel, home, ‘me’ time and food—that last one was me,” says Choi, who moved to area from Wisconsin in 2019 for her husband’s job.

Growing up, Choi was a self-described tomboy who loved playing outside and getting her hands dirty. Food and eating were a close second. She was on the drill team in high school, performing during half-time at football games. Choi didn’t get serious about cooking until she had her two daughters, now 15 and 11.

With a background in advertising and marketing, Choi opted to stay at home full time after the birth of her second child. When it was first launched in 2012, Hip Foodie Mom was simply a way to share what she was up to in the kitchen with family and friends. “Everything grew organically as I connected with brands via social media,” she says. “Our digital world and social media have changed so much over the years. It’s amazing what you can do and how creative you can be online.”

Visit hipfoodiemom.com

diana perez-rodgers

Diana Perez-Rodgers

Diana Perez-Rodgers

Diana Perez-Rodgers’ kids were in grade school when the George Floyd murder made headlines. “They had so many questions,” she recalls. “My oldest son wanted to know why police officers did that to someone who looked like his dad. We knew the conversation would come up some day—but not like this.”

Convinced that DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) needed to be part of the school experience beyond multicultural studies, Perez-Rodgers founded Radnor RISE (respect, inclusion, solidarity and equity). Through the parent teacher organizations, she worked to place DEI committees in schools, and she co-chairs one at Ithan Elementary in Wayne. “There’s work to do every day, and a new goal with every conversation,” she says. “We’re just looking for progress.”

In an earlier life, Perez-Rodgers forged a successful career in broadcast journalism, hosting a variety of news segments for ABC. After taking some time off to be a mom, she briefly considered returning to journalism. “But it’s all or nothing, and you have to start all over when you go back,” she says. “I really enjoy spending time with my 8- and 9-year-old boys.”

After quickly passing the test for her real estate license, Perez-Rodgers joined Keller Williams Main Line after just two phone calls. “When something happens quickly and everything falls into place, it’s like the universe is telling me this is the way,” she says. “It’s like every other part of my life—I started small and kept my nose to the grindstone.”

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Diane McGraw

Diane McGraw isn’t about to be overshadowed by her late husband, Tug, the pitcher who helped the Phillies and the New York Mets to World Series titles. McGraw has her own thriving career and living legacy. Her 2021 book, Behind the Scenes—Explore and Navigate a Career in Sports and Entertainment, covers it, and her ongoing Dare to Dream Experience perpetuates it. Then there’s Legends for Peace, the international soccer event she organized to benefit the Ukrainian relief effort. That happened at Subaru Park on Sept. 25. “Everything else brought me to this,” says McGraw, the president and executive producer at McGraw Productions in West Chester.

McGraw Productions specializes in the production and management of branded entertainment, events and sports, tourism, destination and cause marketing, film/video production, and digital media. Most of it benefits nonprofits and various causes. Once held on local college campuses, Dare to Dream is now national in scope, targeting the mentorship of students aiming for careers in sports and entertainment.

Beginning her career in the late 1980s, McGraw became one of the country’s first female executives in sports and entertainment, making a mark around the country as president of sports commissions in California, Florida and Kentucky. She was also executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress. Among other events, McGraw has bid for, hosted and promoted the 1994 World Cup Soccer Championships, the PGA and Senior PGA championships, AVP Volleyball, the MLB All-Star Game, the Army-Navy Game, several U.S. Olympic and NCAA championships, and more.

The Ridley Park native credits her Scottish father with inspiring “good skills,” and her Italian mother for her “bold” grooming. “I was the adventurer,” she says, reflecting on her personality among six siblings.

At 21, McGraw headed for New York City to pursue an acting career, later discovering that her true calling was behind the scenes. “I just love to organize and produce,” she says.

McGraw met her late husband when she was executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress. Their first date was opening day at Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards. They married in 1995. She was his post-baseball agent and manager until his death of brain cancer in 2004 at age 59. “It’s funny,” she says. “He was a relief pitcher, and now I’m doing relief for Ukraine.”

Together they’d “cook up things,” including the 20th anniversary reunion of the 1980 World Champion Phillies. Some day, she’d still like to honor his love for cooking with a restaurant—Tug McGraw’s Home Plate. “I always said I was married to Peter Pan,” she says. “He was the kid who never grew up. I had four boys—Tug and our three sons, Matthew, Ian and Christopher.”

– J.F. Pirro

Visit mcgrawproductions.com

patti brennan

Patti Brennan

Patti Brennan

Growing up in Newtown Square, Patti Brennan headed to Washington, D.C., for college at Georgetown University. Four years later, she was back. “All the communities on the Main Line are so special,” she says.

The same could be said of her nationally ranked firm, Key Financial, whose integrated strategies have set it apart for more than 25 years. “Pie charts, lots of pretty colors … yada, yada, yada,” says Brennan, who tops Forbes’ 2022 list of best wealth advisors in Pennsylvania and ranks 13th in the country. “My firm focuses more on what you want to do with your money. Each family is unique—their goals, objectives. The money needs to align. We assume the next wicked bear market is starting today. What impact does the volatility have on you?”

Once an ICU nurse at Lankenau Hospital, Brennan has always been interested in financial security. “There’s a domino effect in everything we do—for example, in the different seasons of life, our spouse may change and goals may change,” she says. “At 60, you’re working because you want to—if I’ve done my work correctly.”

Between four children and two businesses, Brennan has had to battle to maintain a social life. “But I hope to look back in 20 to 30 years and see that I helped raise the standard for an industry that’s way too focused on the pie chart, versus the families and what they want to do. Hopefully, I was efficient and effective.”

Visit keyfinancialinc.com

power women

Imaani J. El-Burki

Imaani J. El-Burki

Earning an undergraduate degree in communications from Temple University, Imaani El-Burki originally had her sights set on a broadcasting career. Things changed when she went to work on her master’s and doctorate degrees at Drexel University, where her research focused on social life, media representation and social hierarchies. She started connecting with Drexel faculty members, and a fellowship followed. Moving on to a position at Lehigh University, she continued her research and came into her own as a mentor. “The administration realized that students wanted more time with me,” she says.

Now, as Swarthmore College’s assistant dean and director of its Intercultural Center, El-Burki is convinced that student success comes down to identity and self-awareness. “The whole student needs to be developed, not just their minds,” she says.

In her research, El-Burki has homed in on the relationship between historical inequality, social reality and the search for balance between the two. Her expert knowledge of culturally sensitive engagement comes with an academically sound real-world understanding. Interestingly, she doesn’t consider herself a feminist, which may raise some eyebrows in academia. But she lives her philosophy. “I think there’s a way to say something works for me or for my kids without having to impose it on others,” she notes.

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Dr. Janine Darby

Dr. Janine Darby

“The most pressing question at annual appointments was always about weight loss,” says Dr. Janine Darby. “It affected everything.”

Darby has firsthand experience in that area. At one point, she was 30 pounds overweight. “I was declining going places,” she admits. It was enough to compel Darby to leave her family practice and launch Lifestyle Changes in 2019. She became her first client, giving up Dunkin’ Donuts (among other things) and dropping the extra pounds in three months. “I was very strict—and I’ve kept it off,” says Darby, who lives with her husband and four kids in Eagleville.

In her 2020 book, Get Your Sexy Back, Darby outlines the importance of macros, exercise and what she calls the “Three Ms”—mindset, meal planning and movement. It’s all incorporated into her 12-week programs. “Ninety percent of weight loss is nutrition, so I bring the exercise component in last,” she says.

power women

Krista Ross

Krista Ross

Krista Ross loves numbers and people. “I took to technology faster than anyone,” says the former computer software consultant, who lives in Berwyn.

As for the people part, Ross is helping save lives as executive director of the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Starting in 2008, Ross teamed up with the former Villanova University football coach to build the Get in the Game program, which now has hundreds of college teams recruiting their peers for the Be the Match registry to give hundreds of patients a second chance at life. “I wasn’t trying to find a job,” says Ross, who had four kids at home at the time. “But I had an itch.”

With Talley’s inside access to coaches all over the country, Ross went to work for 30 hours a week as a volunteer for the first five years. “We got a PO Box, a flip phone—and it worked,” she recalls.

This past spring, Get in the Game added 171 schools and 40,000 donors to the Be the Match registry. “There’s only a 30% chance that a family member will ever be a match,” Ross says. “We all have DNA twins out there—complete strangers.”

Ross and Talley were neighbors and members of the same gym when he introduced her to Be the Match. She was “awestruck” by all the athletes working to sign donors. “I thought, ‘This is a win-win-win,’” says Ross. “Athletes have a powerful platform—I wanted to turn sports into a source for saving lives.”

Visit college.bethematch.org

jennifer licate

Jennifer Licate

Jennifer Licate

Fifteen years of counseling elementary school students uncovered Jennifer Licate’s love of bibliotherapy—and a noticeable gap in its application. Through storytelling, bibliotherapy helps kids cope with everything from anger to grief. “They can talk better about characters in a book, because talking about themselves is scary,” she says.

Licate’s Navigating Friendships series shows children that they aren’t alone in their struggles, offering solutions through the characters in the books. “Kids don’t realize how normal they are when they struggle,” says Licate, who’s a counselor for the Chester County Intermediate Unit at St. Norbert Catholic School in Paoli and Bishop Shanahan High School in Downingtown. “They’d come to me feeling sad about being ignored, not invited or a part of something, and wanting to understand.”

When Licate had trouble finding books for fourth-to sixth-graders, she started writing them herself in 2020. My Anxiety Is Messing Things Up, I Lost My BFF and He’s Not Just Teasing! are quick-read chapter books in her Navigating Friendships book series. The latter won the globally recognized Mom’s Choice Award. New additions to the series include Why Is Drama Always Following Me? and Why Is He Spreading Rumors About Me? Three more books are written and awaiting release.

Licate’s 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son are always the first to read her books. “My husband actually gave me the idea for Anxiety Is Messing Things Up and the push to do it,” she says. “It wound up being so relevant with COVID.”

Visit boystownpress.org/navigating-friendships-series

power women

Dr. Marianne Ritchie

Dr. Marianne Ritchie

When it comes to colon cancer, Dr. Marianne Ritchie has been passionate about getting the word out about the related risks, developing the Blue Lights campaign in 2014 to encourage screenings. A gastroenterologist and associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, the Main Line resident hosts the only all-medical radio talk show in the Philadelphia region. Ritchie is now in her third season of Your Radio Doctor on WPHT-AM. The hour-long show airs in 37 states and is also available via livestream.

A graduate St. Joseph’s University and Jefferson Medical College, Ritchie was the first woman to earn a clinical GI fellowship at the pioneering Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. At the peak of the successful career that followed, Ritchie made family a priority and took a break when her mother died suddenly and her father’s Alzheimer’s symptoms worsened. “Memories of last moments with my dad are the gift,” she says.

In 2012, Ritchie founded the Pink PLUS program, which bundles screenings for breast, uterine and colon cancer into one visit, so working moms don’t have to miss two days of work. “More people die each year of colon cancer than breast cancer, but people don’t know it,” she says. “What you don’t know in healthcare can kill you.”

Visit bluelightscampaign.com

dr rina

Dr. Rina Kapoor

Dr. Rina Kapoor

There was a time when Dr. Rina Kapoor felt like she was simply refilling pills and handing her patients off to nutritionists and weight-loss centers. That’s not so much the case anymore. Board-certified in both internal and integrative medicine, Kapoor is founder and CEO of ARA Integrative, a functional medicine practice in Chadds Ford. An internist for 15 years, she brings conventional medicine to a functional practice. “The current climate limits foundational medicine—diet, nutrition, sleep, stress,” notes the busy mother of three boys. “Doctors just don’t have time, and most chronic conditions exist in those foundational pillars.”

Kapoor pursued a two-year fellowship with the University of Arizona’s Dr. Andrew Weil, considered the father of integrative medicine, immersing herself in cellular mechanics, the microbiome and gut health. This past November, she opened her clinic and was suddenly running her own business after years of being affiliated with Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital. “There was a lot of leaning on my children for social media [expertise] and having to become savvier,” she says.

Kapoor currently operates a solo practice, working with primarycare doctors who are on board with complementary care. “A lot of people are tired of taking medicine and looking for alternatives. I’m seeing change,” she says. “Patients are happy.”

Visit arainegrative.com


Matti Perilstein

Matti Perilstein

When Matti Perilstein started her career as a healthcare management consultant for Fortune 500 companies, she noticed a disheartening recurring theme—a gap in end-of-life care resources. “In healthcare management consulting, the data shows we do well in getting individuals in treatment,” she says. “We’re not so good on pausing to ask questions about goals to steer care.”

As CEO and cofounder of Eternally, Perilstein partners with healthcare organizations across the country to facilitate advanced-care planning conversations. The Narberth-based company was selected for the esteemed Cedars-Sinai Accelerator program from a pool of over 400 applicants. Eternally’s planning process includes making care plans official in a living will, relieving the burden on loved ones. “Historically, 83% of those who have access to advanced-care planning were Caucasian,” Perilstein notes. “Eternally is operational in California, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with costs covered by healthcare, so we can serve racially diverse populations.”

Due to the aging of America, it’s predicted that hospitals will be at capacity by 2030—and the pandemic put an exclamation point on that sobering statistic. That in mind, Eternally changed its business model, becoming a telehealth practice with doctors and nurse practitioners on staff. “It was amazing to be able to support people during COVID,” Perilstein says.

Visit myeternally.com

power women

Marcie Bramucci

Marcie Bramucci

“There are generational considerations in theater arts now,” says Marci Bramucci, the new executive artistic director at Media’s Hedgerow Theatre. “Many young people have only seen performances on screens because of the pandemic.”

A Delaware County native, Bramucci headed north after earning a master’s degree in theater arts from Villanova University and another in arts administration from Columbia. After working as managing director at Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, Maine, she returned home to serve as People’s Light’s award-winning director of community investment for eight years.

Bramucci is now on board at Hedgerow as it celebrates its centennial year. The intimate theater seats only 100—and she hasn’t wasted any time making an impact, recently receiving a LEAD Community Assets Award from the Kennedy Center’s Office of Accessibility and VSA for her work at the theater. Her efforts have included audio-described performances and sensory tours for each production. This past April, she worked with local chapters of the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre to open a wordless, movement-based play to the deaf and those with hearing loss. “I want to activate the artist in all of us—on the whole continuum of experience,” she says, “from emerging and established voices to those who’ve typically been marginalized.”

Visit hedgerowtheatre.org


Photo courtesy of Villanova University

Denise Dillon

When Villanova University’s women’s basketball team stunned the University of Connecticut last February, dealing the Huskies their first Big East Conference loss in nine years, Denise Dillon didn’t point to a superior game plan or a stirring locker-room speech. The win came courtesy of a mindset forged by Dillon and her staff from the moment she started as the Wildcats’ head coach in Spring 2020. “Every practice plan and every workout plan were about going against UConn,” Dillon says. “That has to be our mentality, no matter what.”

More than anything, the win showed that Villanova may be able to compete consistently against its more celebrated rival. UConn owns 11 national titles and has won or shared 29 Big East titles since 1989. “We won a game in the tournament because of the win over UConn—that gave the players confidence,” says Dillon, in reference to the team’s first-round NCAA tournament win over Brigham Young University before losing to the University of Michigan. “We were a very young team, and that group kept going.”

A 1996 Villanova graduate, Dillon returned to campus after 17 years as Drexel University’s head coach. The Broomall native and Cardinal O’Hara High School alum follows legendary coach Harry Perretta. Her charge is to build more than just a team that pops up in national discussions occasionally—one that can sustain success and become capable of making deep NCAA tournament runs. That level of success will require improved recruiting and a commitment from the university similar to what it’s done for the men’s team. “I think Villanova expects excellence,” Dillon says.

As a Wildcat, Dillon earned all-Big East honors three times, scored more than 1,000 career points and later was enshrined in the Big Five Hall of Fame. She assisted Perretta for four seasons before moving on to Drexel, where, in her sixth year, she won the Colonial Athletic Association title and reached the NCAA tournament. In 2013, she took the Dragons to the Women’s NIT title, and she closed her tenure there with four consecutive seasons of at least 22 wins.

When Perretta announced he was retiring, the school hired a search firm and conducted interviews before concluding the best option was somebody the school knew quite well. “At every turn, Denise made so much sense,” says Mark Jackson, the school’s athletic director. “She’s so well thought of in the game.”

Dillon enters the 2022-23 season with a talented team that will be expected to build on last year’s success. “I don’t think this is a rebuild,” she says. “It’s more of putting my mark on it and continuing to climb.”

– Michael Bradley

power women

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard can’t recall a time when volunteering wasn’t a part of her life. As a student at the Agnes Irwin School, she had a mother who was always involved in something. Fundraising for the Devon Horse Show and Bryn Mawr Hospital were two favorites as a child. “I sold hot dogs, lemon sticks—anything,” recalls Leonard, who lives in Bryn Mawr. “I never thought it was extraordinary.”

By the time she’d graduated from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, Leonard had chaired many of the junior committees in Philadelphia. It was a way of life for the math major and raging extrovert. “Working in a bank as an accountant wasn’t a fit,” she says. “No talking eight hours a day? I eventually broke out in hives.”

Five years ago, Leonard kicked off her Tasty Talks luncheons, inviting speakers from online, print and broadcast media to connect with the community. Each guest selects a charity to benefit from the evening’s donations. More recently, her monthly Dine & Dish dinners have raised funds for the Mann Center, the ALS Therapy Development Institute, the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County and many other organizations.

A realtor since 1987, Leonard has found another successful calling helping buyers and sellers. “There’s so much creativity in real estate—no two sales are the same,” says the Keller Williams agent. “I was recently invited to the wedding of two people I introduced as a buyer and a seller. My relationships run deep.”

trish mcfarland

Trish McFarland

Trish McFarland

Trish McFarland lives and breathes Delco, making her the perfect fit as the Delaware County Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever female president. The Cardinal O’Hara High School grad grew up in Drexel Hill. She left home just long enough to attend West Chester University and learn the ropes under Rob Powelson at the Chester County Chamber of Business & Industry. She found her place at the Delaware County Chamber, and later took a three-year break. “The chamber world is a lot with young children,” says McFarland, who now has three teenage daughters.

In 2015, board members encouraged her to apply for the top leadership role at the chamber. Five years later, in response to the COVID crisis, McFarland’s team orchestrated an unprecedented conference call for up to 5,000 people. “We worked more hours than ever during the pandemic to expedite whatever services businesses needed,” says McFarland.

“We just kept putting information out there. We hosted webinars with experts and were the first to do a virtual event.”

Now, with a recession looming, McFarland’s team is gearing up to aid suffering businesses. “We listen to the members—we advocate for them,” she says.

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Photo by Austin Crowley

Katie Jacoby

Katie Jacoby was always a good kid and an excellent student. But things did get a bit dicey once she learned how to drive. “My friends and I would go to heavy metal concerts in Philadelphia,” she says. “Generally, our parents knew where we were. But occasionally we’d concoct bizarre excuses about late-night study sessions and after-school meetings so we could sneak into these shows.”

Clearly, Jacoby had plan when she arrived with her violin at Downingtown’s School of Rock. Now she’s one of two touring orchestra members on the Who’s latest tour. She fills the concertmaster seat and is the featured violin soloist on “Behind Blue Eyes” and the iconic rock anthem “Baba O’Riley,” sandwiched between legends Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. “With over 40 people on stage at once, the sheer magnitude of the show is astounding,” she says.

Now based in New York City, Jacoby was born into a musical family in Hockessin, Del., and began playing violin at age 6. At the School of Rock in Downingtown, she worked with music director Eric Svalgard, whose eclectic tastes inspired her. “Eric had kids performing both intricate Frank Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra songs, which really resonated with me,” she says. “Progressive rock bands often featured the electric violin.”

At 15, Jacoby emailed the Who’s manager, offering to play the violin solo in “Baba O’Riley,” to no avail. Half a lifetime later, she connected with Daltrey in 2018 while working as a violin consultant on the film Mozart in the Jungle. She toured with him that summer when he performed the Who rock opera Tommy with a full orchestra, and things fell into place from there. “This is a dream and an immense honor,” she says.

Jacoby has also performed with KISS drummer Peter Criss, Elle King, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and A Great Big World. Her other credits include work with the Ed Palermo Big Band and a gypsy jazz trio called the Showdown Kids. She also has a new self-titled EP.

Right now, though, Jacoby is just soaking up her time with the Who. “Seeing an entire arena full of audience members has been a beautiful thing, especially after the isolated days of the pandemic,” she says.

– J.F. Pirro

Visit katiejacoby.com

dr tara sexton

Dr. Tara Sexton

Dr. Tara Sexton

Though her proudest professional moment was breaking away to establish her own dental practice, raising two “funny, kind, bright, compassionate kids” as a single mom has been Dr. Tara Sexton’s most rewarding challenge. “There’s some fairy dust in any success you have,” says Sexton, who founded Main Line Smiles in Bala Cynwyd. “It can all be taken away in a minute—and it’s easy to forget.”

A 1988 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine, Sexton was the first female practitioner at Center City’s prestigious Amsterdam Group. There, she worked three days and taught for two. But lecturing at international symposiums was cutting into family time, so the single mom started her own practice.

As an assistant clinical professor of advanced restorative dentistry at Penn Dental Medicine, Sexton continues to teach advanced cosmetic techniques. She’s also appeared as a dental expert on ABC, NBC, FOX and KYW Newsradio. “At the end of the day, I love what I do,” she says.


Cathleen Kelly Rebar

Cathleen Kelly Rebar

A magisterial district judge in Montgomery County for over 10 years and the founder and managing partner of a successful law firm since 2012, Cathleen Kelly Rebar has a robust resume that spans the legal spectrum. With offices in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Connecticut, her firm, Rebar Kelly, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

Rebar has been a Top 100 Lawyer, a Super Lawyer and one of Exelon’s 15 Most Dynamic Entrepreneurs. An independent thinker who followed her own path, Rebar is the product of a blue-collar upbringing who’s been in the workforce since age 13. “I wasn’t encouraged to attend college or have big dreams,” says Rebar, who grew up on Long Island, New York, and now lives in Lower Providence Township. “Grades didn’t matter, sports weren’t relevant, and college was viewed as an expensive mistake. It took a lot of strength to venture out on my own.”

In time, she found a four-year college near home (LIU Post) where she could outgrow her roots. “When I graduated with honors, for the first time I believed that if I worked hard enough, I could accomplish anything,” says Rebar, who went on to Villanova University for her law degree. “That was a life-changing moment for me, which set the road map for the rest of my life.”

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Beth Johnson

In 1963, when Beth Johnson started preschool at Friends’ Central School, her mother had a very simple message: “We have to do well here.”

As a Black student from Philadelphia’s Wynnefield section (even an extremely young one), Johnson was expected to show that she belonged. The early ’60s were turbulent, and Black children were constantly being watched and judged. That didn’t change at a Quaker school like Friends’ Central.

Johnson may not have understood her mother’s mandate, but she heeded it, doing quite well at FCS. In late February, the school’s board unanimously appointed Johnson its new head. She’s Black, female and an alum— all firsts. Johnson, who’s worked at Friends’ Central in many capacities for nearly three decades, had been its interim head since January 2021. “My mother would be so pleased,” she says. “This is my alma mater, the school my daughters graduated from and my grandsons attend.”

Johnson isn’t the only member of her family with Friends’ Central firsts. Daughters Tanya and Kristen are the first second-generation Blacks to graduate from the school, while 14-year-old grandson Omar is on track to be the first third-generation grad. Board clerk Jim Wright is aware that hiring Johnson helps FCS demonstrate its commitment to diversity, but he also extols Johnson’s credentials and ability to connect with all parts of the Friends’ Central universe. “Her performance as interim head of school was special,” says Wright. “She put a team together and addressed issues we thought were important. She increased admissions, brought in more tuition money and improved fundraising. She’s incredibly engaged in our community.”

According to Wright, Friends’ Central didn’t conduct a national search to find its new full-time head. Instead, it engaged a consulting firm to do a six-week study of the school, its constituencies and its environment. “They told us that, in their experience, they’d never found such remarkable enthusiasm in a school community,” Wright says. “That gave us the sense that we could move ahead. It was completely unanimous.”

In addition to creating the Office of Diversity, Equity and Justice, Johnson is overseeing the creation of the centers for Innovation and Design and Ecological Study. Though she earned a master’s in education at Penn’s Education Leadership Program in 2009, she contends that it wasn’t with an eye on being head of school someday. Even now, she never misses an opportunity to connect with students, who call her “Miss Beth” and “Head Grandma.” “I feel really good,” she says. “I want to serve the school, do a good job and leave it in good shape for the next person.”

– Michael Bradley