You Go, Girl!

Seven local women who define—and redefine—success on their own terms.

Nancy Glass
Emmy-winning TV personality and producer-at-large
Page 2

Mondo Murage
Director of institutional research at the Haverford School
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Frances Koons
Star runner at Villanova University
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Kelly Smyth
Blacksmith at Newlin Grist Mill in Glen Mills
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Elizabeth Vale
Executive director of the White House Business Council and senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Lock
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Elise Fialkowski

Business immigration lawyer and partner at Klasko Immigration and Nationality Law
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Kathleen McCarthy
Catholic radio show host
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(Photo by Shane McCauley; makeup by Jess Moss and hair styling by Kelly Brown, both of Currie Hair Skin Nails)Blonde Ambition

Emmy-winning TV personality and producer-at-large Nancy Glass has it all: looks, brains, a happy marriage and a job she can’t wait to get to each morning. Ask her how she got there, and you’re sure to get a subtle roll of the eyes.

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“I feel like when people talk about the past, they’re longing for something that’s gone. What I do now is more interesting, fun and exciting than I’ve ever done,” says Glass, who lives in Bryn Mawr. “I love today, and I’m excited about tomorrow. The only way I look is ahead.”

Right now, she’s looking toward the new projects created and produced by her 8-year-old company, Nancy Glass Productions, with offices in Bala Cynwyd and Los Angeles. The list includes the TLC docu-soap Married in Manhattan, a makeover show for DIY Network, and two pilots for A&E. Then there’s the History Channel show featuring Gladwyne-based explorer Todd Carmichael, who broke a world record crossing Antarctica solo.

With the pilots still under confidentiality agreements, Glass can’t talk about content—and even if she could, she’d likely hold out. But she’s happy to gush about her staff. “We’re on a constant stream of deadlines,” she says. “The more successfully we meet them individually and as a team, the greater the respect level. Good rapport starts with respect.”

Glass definitely has the respect of HGTV and the Fine Living Network. Her current work for those channels is practical and reality-based, centering primarily on home improvement, budgeting and dining—shows like Save My Bath, Kitchen Impossible, Girl Getaway and Worth Every Penny. Broadband programming projects include Dinner Date, Ask Alice and Furniture Show.

“Meetings are a waste of time,” says Glass from a hip, green office space filled with couches. “We’re always in motion, writing proposals, working on a budget, editing video. If we need input, we’ll just initiate a conversation on the spot. It helps us all to stay focused on our individual responsibilities, but it also allows us to gain greater insights into what else is happening around the office. You don’t get that when you pick up and move into a conference room.”

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Having spent plenty of time looking and acting the part in a conventional mainstream network environment, that casual office environment suits Glass just fine. Those outside the area are likely to remember her as the host of the syndicated newsmagazine American Journal and a senior correspondent/weekend anchor for Inside Edition. In fact, she’s married to Inside Edition executive producer Charles Lachman.

But don’t let any lapses in corporate protocol at Nancy Glass Productions fool you. This is a serious business—one that involves a lot of time, expensive equipment and big budgets. Yet, time after time, Glass’ offbeat sense of humor helps soothe frayed nerves on deadline while providing a bit of levity at the bargaining table.

SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio has also proven a good match for Glass’ sense of humor. As co-host of The Pet Hour, she “provides color,” while co-host Cindy Connors acts as the show’s expert.

“When Cindy begins to talk in cheery tones about why a dog would drag his rear-end across a carpet, I add my take on it: ‘Ick-ick and blecch,’” says Glass. “It’s deep stuff.”

—Dawn E. Warden

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(Photo by Shane McCauley)Kenyan Pride

With some coaxing from a first-grade teacher, Mondo Murage’s passion for education emerged early on. “She taught me that education doesn’t end in the classroom,” says Murage. “As a society, we have to be innovators in how we teach. We have to be more creative.”

Though she’s the director of institutional research at the Haverford School, Murage has another calling: to educate 1 million children. She thrives on the examples set by some of the most powerful and inspiring women in history—names like Harriet Tubman, Wangari Maathai, Toni Morrison and Jane Goodall. “They always tested the boundaries of right and wrong,” says Murage, who lives in Edgemont. “They paved the way for women like us.”

Murage works with Akili Dada, a nonprofit foundation devoted to empowering the next generation of Kenyan women by providing scholarships and leadership training via an international mentoring network of peers and professionals. The organization is based in Kenya, and Murage travels back and forth, giving whatever time she can. “Our goal is to help one girl at a time. We pay for scholarships and tuition in Kenya,” she says. “We teach leadership skills that will enable young girls to become leaders in their own communities and grow as individuals.”

As it happens, Murage wears many hats. She’s also a doctoral student at Columbia University and a supportive mother of 15-year-old twin girls. “I view barriers as stop signs that help me focus,” she says. “Because I define my destiny, I always find other alternatives.”

And when it comes to education, Murage believes learning should be transformative, prompting positive changes in the lives of others. “We shouldn’t give back to be praised or to get recognition. It should be a natural reaction,” she says.

—Kionna Lipscomb

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Going the Distance

Villanova University’s Frances Koons doesn’t mean to get spiritual. But for her, running is a form of prayer. It’s a great solution in a time of stress—and she’s had the stress and success to prove it. “I do pray when I run, and I’m all alone with my thoughts,” says the eight-time All-American and seven-time Big East Champion.

Koons also advanced to the semifinals in the 1,500-meter event in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., and she’s already set her sights on the 2012 Trials in London. “Super shy” and tiny as a child, Koons has been running competitively since fifth grade—and it helped her confidence. “I can’t imagine my life without it,” she says.

But that’s what happened two years ago, when a scan in the ER at Bryn Mawr Hospital detected kidney cancer. Surgery removed the tumor and preserved her kidney. “It didn’t make sense,” Koons says. “The disease is most associated with 60-year-old male smokers. I was 21, female and in the best shape of my life.”

She was forced to sit out her senior cross-country season at Villanova, and a case of anemia cost her spring track freshman year. Between the two, she recouped a fall and spring season at age 23, finishing off a fantastic fifth year. She followed it with victories at a July 1,500-meter race in Nigeria and then in her first mile-long road race in Charlevoix, Mich., in honor of Ryan Shay, a marathoner who died of a heart attack less than five miles into the U.S. Olympic Trials last year. The trips speak volumes about her future. “I want to be in this sport for years to come,” she says.

Pursuing a graduate degree in applied statistics at Villanova, Koons is now training as a professional athlete. If she qualifies next February, she’ll compete at the 2010 World Indoor Championships in March and work to extend her training into longer distances.

Koons wasn’t about to let cancer beat her—though she did cry when she was first diagnosed. “Once,” she says. “It was just with my mom and dad. I got it all out, and then I thought, ‘We’re going to take care of it. It’ll be OK.’”

—J.F. Pirro

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(Photo by Shane McCauley)Fired Up

At the Newlin Grist Mill in Glen Mills, blacksmith Kelly Smyth is wearing a blouse uniformly smudged with soot. Her hands are just as black. “Wait, let me make myself pretty,” she says with a faux pampering of her grayish, short-cropped hair.

She scoops a bucket of water from the millpond and totes it to her shop. Enormous antique bellows fan her fire, but slowly and selectively, Smyth pours water onto a mound of coal. She burns 100 pounds a week, and sometimes 5,000 pounds a year. “This is called working a wet fire,” she says.

Smyth has worked plenty here and at other historic sites. Recently, as part of the reconstruction of St. Mary’s City, Md., she reproduced the hinges for a chapel door and the hardware for its print house. But it was work on the Kalmar Nyckel—a replica of the ship that first transported Swedish settlers to Delaware in 1638—that brought her to the region. With a bent for nautical hardware, she’s worked on five historic replica vessels, including Discovery for the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia.

Originally from upstate New York, Smyth has a degree in outdoor education from Northeastern University in Boston. She first learned about blacksmithing at Ashokan Field Campus, an environmental education center in the Catskills. Later, she was a shore-side industries interpreter at the Mystic (Conn.) Seaport Museum before leaving for a year’s experience outside Kiel, Germany, in an architectural shop. There, she learned sculpture, gates and railings. “The big, heavy stuff,” Smyth says.

Smyth spent five years in a blacksmith’s costume at Colonial Williamsburg before connecting with shipbuilder Allen C. Rawl and his Kalmer Nyckel. She’s also participated in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and consulted with the Smithsonian to review hardware recovered from Cleopatra’s Barge. Built in Salem, Mass., in 1816, it was owned by the king of Hawaii when it sank in 1824.

At Newlin Grist Mill, Smyth is unsalaried but gets the space to work and teach, paying for her own materials. She’s sought grants, but she’s only been a bridesmaid so far—though she isn’t dressed like one.

“I don’t know any other female blacksmiths, but they’re out there,” Smyth says. “It’s dirty work, but I’ve paid for my truck with money I didn’t spend on pantyhose and makeup.”


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All Obama, All the Time

Earlier this year, Elizabeth Vale traded the comforts of her 10-bedroom Haverford home for a Washington, D.C., apartment, leaving behind a high-profile job as portfolio specialist for Morgan Stanley.

Ah, the sacrifices one makes when the president calls. These days, Vale is business liaison for the White House Office of Public Engagement and the executive director of the White House Business Council. She also serves as senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. The OPE plays a significant role in federal outreach efforts, representing hundreds of interest groups as gatekeeper and messenger. Vale has a relationship with at least 50 business constituents. One of her main responsibilities is to maintain dialogue on issues and policy, and to “illustrate through real-life examples” new policy to both the business sector and the general public as it’s being introduced.

Vale first met Barack Obama in February 2007, when they were seated at the same table at a Democratic Party dinner. She’d already led the effort to secure the Teamsters’ endorsement of Bill Bradley’s 2000 presidential run. Two years later, she’d overseen voter registration drives in Montgomery County for Gov. Ed Rendell.

Vale didn’t think it would be possible to feel so connected to a candidate again. “At the time, Sen. Obama was unknown nationally, and he was greeted with a lot of skepticism,” she recalls.

Vale recalls that she was immediately struck by Obama’s intellect and uncanny naturalness. “He has a unique way of calibrating to whomever he’s speaking with,” she says. “I call it perfect pitch.”

The more she got to know the future president, the greater her desire to return to the campaign trail. “It was like falling in love again,” she says.

To help with Northeastern campaign operations, Vale opened her home to a roster of guests that included Jeremy Bird, Obama’s South Carolina field director. “It was thrilling,” says Vale. “Everyone went off to their respective regional offices, but the beginning and end of each day were filled with riveting conversations.”

Critical to Vale’s ability to jump into the presidential campaign with both feet: Her children were out of the house, and her husband was supportive. Among other things, she served as co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Initiative in Pennsylvania, co-hosted two fall fundraisers in Philadelphia and Chicago (raising a combined $11 million), and was a member of the Globalization and Trade Policy Committee.

Today, she continues to reap the rewards of her commitment. “I gave what I had—my time, my house, my car,” she says. “I really believed—and still do—in [Obama].”

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One for All

Paoli’s Elise Fialkowski is all about the big picture. And when it comes to immigration, that means lightening up on both nationalism and policy—something the Obama Administration also has on its agenda. As a partner at Center City-based Klasko Immigration and Nationality Law, Fialkowski is one of the country’s top business immigration lawyers.

“Comprehensive immigration reform is next on Obama’s list once he tackles healthcare,” she says. “And it’s going to gather steam as more and more senators start pushing draft legislation through.”

Right now, the focus is on unauthorized workers and noncompliant employers. “But you’re going to see increased lobbying for better facilitation of visas for high-level foreign nationals, scientists, engineers and mathematicians whose talents are crucial to staying ahead of the curve—and the economy,” she says.

Fialkowski sees our visa-waver program—which is far less user-friendly than similar ones in Canada and Europe—as a major obstacle to a stronger, more talented workplace. “There’s the notion that foreigners are taking work away from Americans. But the reality is that, at the graduate level, our universities are 50-percent foreign nationals who’ve been educated in the U.S. for as long as a decade,” she says. “Ultimately, it’s about an exchange of information—and we’re losing out.”

Fialkowski’s first foray into the specialty came while working as a litigator for Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in Philadelphia. In the 15 years since, her clients have ranged from multinational corporations to everyday individuals. She also advises employers on compliance with the Immigration Reform and Control Act. “It’s different than litigation, which is mostly about battles,” she admits. “You really feel like you’re helping people and helping to create successful businesses, particularly with pro bono cases.”

Much of that pro bono work involves reuniting deported immigrants with their families. In one of her proudest moments, she helped a leading Romanian aquaculture farmer come to this country. “Americans have a narrow view of immigrants, but the term encompasses Russian ballet dancers and Olympic gymnasts who will potentially train other future performers and athletes,” she says.


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In the Spirit

If you want to know how grace impacts others, Kathleen McCarthy has a desk drawer full of letters. Then there’s the photo of the blind listener who claims McCarthy’s Catholic radio program, What the World Needs Now—on Rosemont’s In His Sign Network—saved her life.

“We’re all wounded healers with a story to tell,” McCarthy says, bobbing her head to the song “God Is Love,” written by Jared Haselbarth (an assistant lay dean at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood), as the lead-in to her weekday program that airs from 5 to 6 p.m. on 800 WTMR-AM and at

McCarthy, 61, has been a Catholic lay evangelist for almost 40 years—the last two-plus on air. For this evening’s show, she’s wearing a lime-green blouse and matching sandals, white pants, a gold cross, and a Sacred Heart. She trades her gold earrings for a set of headphones as engineer John Letterio clips slips with the names of callers on a clothesline on the other side of the broadcast booth window. First, it’s Mike; then Guido, a longtime caller and soon-to-be deacon.

Every Friday—“the healing day”—McCarthy takes spontaneous prayer requests. Thursdays, she teaches from the Catholic catechism. Tonight’s special guest is Edele Finnegan of the Pro-Life Union of Southeastern Pennsylvania. She speaks of excluding abortion from President Obama’s healthcare reform package and organizing an upcoming rally, all while forwarding the notion that every life is precious from womb to tomb.

“Amen to that,” says McCarthy, a widow and cancer survivor who has 12 children, 40 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “If God didn’t want me to be a counselor, he wouldn’t have given me all these children.”

And McCarthy wouldn’t be on the air—or in her second year as the network’s president—if not for an uncanny experience at a church she didn’t normally attend. Three times the board asked her to succeed the network’s late founder, Dominic Lettieri. At devotions, she was simply asking for the wisdom to say “no” a final time, while still “saying ‘yes’ to God’s calling and plan for me.” She knelt, sorted through the missalettes, and opened to a page on which the first line read, “You are called to be a radio transmitter.”

McCarthy committed, then sent out an urgent letter for financial support to keep the nonprofit afloat. The response provided further confirmation for her leaving a full-time career as a corporate trainer for a volunteer position.

McCarthy’s exemplary faith walk has come full circle. Having been estranged from the faith for 12 years, she made a trip to a church in St. Augustine, Fla., on her 29th birthday. She never missed Mass again. She ended up at prayer-group meetings, eventually starting them in seven different parishes. She offered private and group spiritual counseling, traveling for speaking engagements. Her first book, What the World Needs Now, is in its fourth printing. Her second, He Is Alive!, is in the works.

Next May, she’ll direct the network’s third annual Weekend of Healing at Malvern Retreat House. She’s even spoken to the Philadelphia chapter of Theology on Tap, a young adult ministry, over beers. “Young people are tired of a watered-down gospel,” she says. “They want an absolute one, something to stand up for and believe in, something that puts a fire in their hearts in the search for wisdom and truth.”


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