YWCA announces Women of Excellence honorees


PIQUA—The YWCA Piqua has announced the selection of the 2019 Women of Excellence and Young Woman of Tomorrow honorees. The Women of Excellence Honorees are Deb Oexmann, of Troy, and Lorna Swisher, of Tipp City. The Young Woman of Tomorrow honoree is Cassidy Hemm of Piqua.

The women will be honored at the 23rd annual Women of Excellence Awards Luncheon, a gala celebration scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Piqua Country Club. The keynote speaker for the event will be Jenny M. Lewis, president and CEO Miami Valley Hospital Foundation Good Samaritan Foundation.

In announcing the honorees, Leesa A. Baker, Executive Director of the YWCA Piqua, said: “Many nominations were submitted from clubs, schools, organizations and individuals. The selection was difficult and an impartial panel of judges, composed of men and women from throughout the county, did an excellent and thorough job in selecting this year’s honorees. We are certainly pleased with the selection and are happy to be honoring these three outstanding women who continue to distinguish themselves in their life endeavors.”

Oexmann’s childhood days of hanging out with her mother at the Smithsonian and her father in the woods helped shape a life of dedication to the outdoors and wildlife.

Those experiences guided her to Miami University and Miami County’s Brukner Nature Center, where an internship opened doors to a career in environmental education and awareness.

Thirty years later, Oexmann is the nature center’s executive director, a role she has held since 2008.

“I was very impressed with her enthusiasm for natural history and interest in teaching children about our natural world,” said Joan Heidelberg, Brukner Nature Center’s director emeritus. “She has developed and taught the love of nature and the importance of protecting it to thousands of school children and adults as well. Anyone who knows Deb, knows that, when it comes to being environmentally conscious, she doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk.”

Born in Florida to Rita and Norval Oexmann, she remembers watching Gemini program space launches when her father worked in the program for the Air Force and hours in the woods and waters, shadowing him while hunting and fishing.

When the family moved for his work at the Pentagon, she recalls visits with her mother to the Smithsonian.

“I think that helped shape a lot of who I became,” Oexmann said. “I kind of had it in my head I wanted to be like Jane Goodall. I have always loved being in the outdoors.”

The family landed in Kettering when her dad was assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base. She graduated from Fairmont East High School and studied zoology and then environmental science at Miami University in Oxford. The search for a master’s program, internship led her to Brukner Nature Center and long-time directors, Joan and the late Bob Heidelberg. Joan hired her as a teacher naturalist. “It worked out well. I never looked back,” she said. The center has continued to grow and has undergone a complete renovation, including, most recently, a new wildlife quarantine building.

“It is still fun. I still have things I want to do,” said Oexmann who lives on the center grounds with husband Richard Wagar.

Swisher never dreamed a part-time, short-term job with Mainstreet Piqua organization would become a career she’s loved for more than 20 years. The executive director of the downtown advocacy organization said she loves her work. Those around her said it shows.

Swisher came to Piqua in 1985 as a Rotary exchange student from Zimbabwe, living with host family Del and Dorie Perry, who became family. She attended first Edison Community College and then Grove City College in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1990 with a degree in communication arts.

She worked briefly in the Upper Valley Medical Center public relations department and for five years with WPTW radio in Piqua. She was hired to a part-time job with Mainstreet Piqua in 1997, but soon was made full-time.

“No two days are the same. I love the variety, it stretches me creatively and professionally,” Swisher said. Her duties might include talking with a potential new downtown business, working with the beautification committee, coordinating volunteers for any number of events or partnering with the city on another project or promotion.

“Lorna exemplifies servant leadership. Her entrepreneurial spirit is advancing a cause greater than herself. She expends her energies to make Piqua a hometown for everyone, each and every day,” said William Lutz, executive director of The New Path, Inc. and a former Piqua city employee. “If you know Lorna, her warm and engaging spirit is the epitome of excellence,’ Lutz said.

Swisher credited many people willing to give time and energy with helping make her job a success. “I surround myself with really good people. That helps,” she said. She also praised Miami County nonprofits for their working together spirit that helps everyone be more successful.

She said Dorie Perry played a key role in her life with other major influences coming from former Piqua chamber leader, Lisa Whitaker, Leesa Baker of the YWCA, Mainstreet Piqua volunteer, Ruth A. Koon and the late Cheryl Stiefel Francis.

Much credit goes to her husband, Tom Swisher, and daughters Savannah and Sarah, Swisher said, noting her daughters have helped with Mainstreet activities since they were toddlers and Tom is on hand whenever needed. Savannah is a graduate in architectural engineering from the University of Cincinnati while Sarah is studying marketing at Wright State University. Swisher enjoys playing tennis with Tom, baking and cooking, reading and walking with the family dog, Tulip. They live in Bethel Township.

“If you want to change something, you have to get involved. That is something I have really impressed on my kids. You have to be a part of the solution, you can’t just be a whiner on the sidelines,” Swisher said. “Show up, work hard, be true to yourself and don’t let the turkeys get you down. They will try.”

Cassidy Hemm isn’t afraid to share her leadership skills. That willingness is evident in activities at Miami University in Oxford, where she is beginning her senior year. A Piqua native, Hemm attended Piqua Catholic schools and Lehman Catholic High School.

A senior majoring in strategic communications and public health, she is the daughter of Susan Walker Hemm and Jeff Hemm. “Cassidy has a wide variety of qualities many leaders can only hope to have,” said Claire Coyne, a 2019 Miami University graduate in business who worked alongside Hemm at the university. “During stressful situations, she always remains calm and collected as everyone turns to her for advice and support,” Coyne said. “Her impact on Miami University’s campus has been significant and the university as a whole is a better place because of her continuous efforts in so many areas.”

Among Hemm’s activities at Miami are serving as student leadership coordinator at the Wilks Leadership Institute where she works in leadership development programming for underclassmen. The programming might include peer coaching, peer facilitating and workshops.

She also serves this year as the executive chair of the Miami University Student Foundation, which is the Alumni Association’s student arm. Hemm oversees multiple committees of the 75-member student organization working on programs such as homecoming and family weekends. The volunteer position is, she admits, “very time-consuming” but satisfying as she and others work to create better collaboration among the university’s student organizations.

Hemm is also active in Greek life as member of Alpha Omicron Pi and overall activities including the organization’s centennial observance. She is the chair of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education Affiliated Student Advancement Professionals district cabinet.

Among other activities are volunteering for Hospice of Miami County, serving on the university Honors Student Advisory Board and the Student Faculty Relations Committee. She also completed an internship this past summer with CareSource in Dayton.

Keeping up with studies and other activities can be a challenge for any student. “I think being passionate about areas I am studying helps me to kind of keep things in check, and in balance,” Hemm said. “The environment at Miami University helps accommodate that balance by providing office space for the student organizations on campus for efficient use of time between classes and other meetings,” she said. “In addition,” she said, “the small class sizes and approach-ability of professions encourages academic focus.”

“Time is valuable,” Hemm said, encouraging other young people to give areas of possible interest a try. “Then, hone in on the things you want to further develop, whether professional or something you are passionate about. Figure out how to get a good balance of each of those parts of your life,” she said.

For more information about the Women of Excellence Awards Luncheon planned for Oct. 17th or to reserve a ticket ($50), stop at the YWCA Piqua at 418 N. Wayne Street or call 937-773-6626. Seating for the event is limited.