Today’s little girls grow up hearing that they can do anything, whether that be in the world of business, politics or education. But, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when female role models were scarce and ceilings were low.
It was at that time that these women, bolstered largely by their families, began to believe they could pursue their passions and make their marks on the world. Now, they’re serving as inspiration for a new generation of leaders.
In the following pages, you’ll read about two groundbreaking accomplishments, including the first female president of Lorain County Community College. There are the women at the helm of our area’s hospitals, as well as our two female
commissioners. Finally, there is the woman whose devotion to Elyria is rivaled only by her commitment to education, as well as the up-and-coming superintendent of North Ridgeville City Schools.
Superintendent of North Ridgeville City Schools
Ramsey-Caserio began her career as a high school English teacher, but she always knew she wanted to get into the administrative side of things. The mother of two got her chance to take the wheel in August 2018 when she started as superintendent of North Ridgeville City Schools. “I knew I wanted to make a larger mark,” she says. “That always drove me to want to do a little bit more for our schools, our families and our community.
Career Path: Ramsey-Caserio went from Beachwood to Lakewood, where she served as assistant superintendent, before landing in North Ridgeville.
Student Growth: The school district has 4,700 students. “What is most remarkable is that, over the last 10 years, we’ve enrolled 700 new students and more than half of those have come in the last two years. There is no sign of that slowing down.”
The Challenge Ahead: After a substitute operating levy failed last November, the district will try to pass it again in March, with the big difference being that the levy will expire in 10 years rather than be a continuing levy. “Right now, my main goal is to stabilize our funding. Without those dollars, we would cripple the school district.”
Community on the Move: “North Ridgeville is a growing community, and there’s a lot of excitement on the horizon. It’s a changing community.”
Two to Read: The former English teacher calls it a tie when naming her favorite book — “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
Superintendent of Elyria City Schools
For Ann Schloss, it’s always been about two things — education and Elyria. Named superintendent in January 2019, Schloss has spent her entire 27-year career in the Elyria school district, starting as a substitute teacher in December 1993 and rising through the ranks of teacher, assistant principal and principal before becoming superintendent last year.
She began her career in a very different place — working for the Cleveland Cavaliers for three years as an assistant club director. “I always loved athletics and business,” she explains. “A lot of what I learned there, with budgets and events and talking to stakeholders, I use now.”
However, her passion for education never wavered, and she returned to school to earn her teaching certificate. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she says.
These days, she says the outlook is brighter than ever for Elyria schools. “The district is preparing to open five new state-of-the-art schools that will serve all elementary and middle school students, and it is already home to a beautiful high school that’s a neverending hub of excitement in the city of Elyria,” she says. “We’re proud of the work that’s happening in our schools and the successes we see every day in our classrooms and in our community.”
President of University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center
Sink was born and raised in Columbus, graduating from Kenyon College with a psychology degree and then earning her master’s degree in health administration from The Ohio State University. “I moved south to get away from this weather,” she says, noting that she spent the first two decades of her career in Virginia and North Carolina. But when her “dream job” came along, she decided to deal with the snow and came back home to Ohio.
All in the Family: Sink’s grandmother was a nurse, her grandfather was a pediatrician, her father served on the board of a local hospital and her mother was a medical technologist. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says. “I just love health care.”
The Future of Elyria Medical Center: “We are 112 years old, and we want to be here for centuries to come to serve this community.”
Top Three Goals: To continue to modernize the facility (work has already been done on the l
obby and operating rooms), recruit additional specialists and “help the population be healthier.”
Life Lesson: “My parents really did teach us that we could do whatever we chose to do. They rose us to be confident and not to limit our dreams.”
How her Psychology Degree Helps: “Psychology taught me to ask a lot of questions and to always be open to learning from somebody else.”
Her Core Belief: “People are good and to be able to serve them is a great honor.”
Advice to Young People: “Take any opportunity you can to learn.”
Ohio Life: “The people are great and [my job] is very mission oriented. Part of what makes life meaningful to me is to be of service to others. I could not be more happy, even though I do not like the snow.”
President of Lorain County Community College
With the lowest net price of any community college in the state and partnerships with 14 colleges and universities, Lorain County Community College has propelled thousands of students since it was founded in 1963. Marcia Ballinger, who began working at the college in 1991, has been there to see nearly three decades of it. In 2016, she took the reins from Roy Church, becoming the first female president in the college’s history.
Advice to Students: “You have to follow your passion, not what others may think you should do.”
Her Favorite Quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi. “We all have the ability to do that,” she says.
One of the Students She Admires: LePreece Thomas, a Lorain resident and mother of two, went back to school at 48 and graduated last year with two degrees. “She had dreamt of a career in engineering,” Ballinger says. “But didn’t think it was possible." She is now working full time at the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center.
The Future of LCCC: The school just adopted a new strategic plan, called 10,000 Degrees of Impact, with the goal of 10,000 individuals earning a degree or certificate by 2025. That goal is as much for the community as it is for the students. “We want to help ensure that Lorain County has the qualified workforce it needs to thrive in this new economy. It’s central to who we are,” Ballinger says.
Degrees on the Rise: Digital forensics, robotics automation and allied health and nursing.
Guiding Philosophy: “Every student’s dream matters. We’re going to take you wherever you want to go, so dream big because you’re going to go far. We’re a launchpad.”
Statistically Speaking: In 2019, 60 percent of all graduating high school students in Lorain County chose to attend Lorain County Community College. “That speaks volumes about our quality and affordability,” Ballinger says.
Legacy: “We were founded as Ohio’s first community college. It has always been about innovation for this community.”
Lorain County Commissioner
For Lori Kokoski, good leadership starts with good values — and hers were handed down by her family, including her sister, who is 18 years older than her. “She was always honest, easy to talk to and always gave me great advice,” Kokoski says. “Just a great person all the way around.”
Kokoski began her career as a real estate agent, then served on Lorain City Council before being elected Lorain County commissioner in 2004. She was recently appointed secretary of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio — a post which she looks forward to as a chance to work across the aisle.
Issues important to her in Lorain County include storm water management, maintaining building standards and economic growth. She’s proud of the work the county has done on its new emergency call center.
In the end, though, it all comes down to basics. She remembers the time she was 14 years old with her sister at a local stable. She was exercising a horse on a long lead, with instruction from her sister to not let go. “All of a sudden, it starts running, and I’m holding on getting dragged everywhere,” she says. “I would not let go until my sister told me to let go.”
That was the kind of character her sister instilled in her — and that she’s tried to instill in her own three now-grown children. Stick to your word and treasure your integrity, no matter what. And, for those who don’t have a seat at the table, she has one final piece of advice: “Bring your own folding chair.”
Lorain County Commissioner
Sharon Sweda has always been involved in politics, just from different perspectives. She began her career as a real estate broker, where she encountered the issues that ultimately inspired her to move from the realm of those who question decisions to those who make decisions. She was appointed to the role of Lorain County commissioner in 2019 and will run for reelection again this November.
Issue Oriented: As a real estate broker, Sweda was concerned with far more than selling houses. “We began lobbying to have something done about all the predatory lending,” she says. “As an industry, we were lobbying against unethical practices.” She also lobbied in Columbus and Washington on behalf of property owner rights.
The Women who Influenced Her: The first was her second-grade teacher, who sparked a lifelong passion for writing. (Sweda was a freelance writer for numerous local and national publications). The second was Corky Godfrey, a Navy nurse who later served on Amherst City Council and was also inducted into the Lorain Sports Hall of Fame for her bowling achievements. Sweda knew her as her high school cheering adviser — and was never quite the same after meeting her. “You felt her strength and her enthusiasm,” she says. “She was an inspiration and fostered my ‘can do’ attitude.”
Her Other Big Influence: “My father always told me I could do anything I wanted to, once I made up my mind to do it. That’s a message young girls didn’t always hear.”
Her Goals as Commissioner: “I cringe when I hear people referencing addiction as something you just have to get tough to beat,” she says. “We need to work harder at bringing our resources and services together to help the addicted population.”
The Strong Woman She’s Proud Of: Sweda’s daughter, Steffany Congelio, is a first-grade teacher at St. Jude School in Elyria. “She has a determination and a strength, yet is also so calm and gentle,” Sweda says.
Dr. Rebeccas Starck
President of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital
Dr. Rebecca Starck never kept track of the numbers, but she's been practicing for over 20 years and has delivered many babies. Since taking the helm of Cleveland Clinic Avon Hospital, she’s had to scale back her clinical work, but she still values those moments and recognizes what they bring to her leadership role. “It’s an honor and pleasure to be involved with someone in that stage of their life,” she says. “I’m very happy to have a practice, and it’s something I truly would not want to give up.“
Now, as president of the hospital, Starck knows there are far more people entrusting her with their care. “We do carry a high standard here,” she says. “I begin to see more and more how much it has provided the community, and it’s very rewarding. We’re continuing to understand what the community needs are and to evolve to meet the needs of our community.”
The seeds for Starck’s career were planted in her childhood, watching her mother’s journey. “She was a nurse and traveled the world on medical mission trips,” Starck says. “Then she began a home health care agency and did a lot of work with cancer patients.”
As a mother of five, Starck has a strategy for guiding her own children, noting that she feels this generation is under a great deal of pressure to succeed. “First and foremost, I want them to become happy, responsible adults and to live in an environment where they can set goals that are reasonable,” she says. “It’s important for them to find their own passion and navigate into a job where they don’t feel like they’re working.”
That’s happened for her, and it’s made all the difference in her career — and her life. “It’s really been a true joy,” she says.