The Women's Leadership Event has been a tradition in Red Wing for 33 years. Each year one community member is named Business Woman of the Year. This year, the award went to Jennifer Olson, the director of food and beverages at the St. James Hotel.
Six women were nominated for the 2019 award. The others are:
• Shelley Buck, the president of the Prairie Island Tribal Council
• Deb Knowlton, a consumer and mortgage lender at First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Red Wing
• Stef Binner, the creator of Underground Boxing
• Ruth Greenslade, the healthy communities supervisor for Goodhue County Health and Human Services
• Stacy Wegner, the executive director of the Red Wing collectors Society
Olson was nominated by the Ozzie Encinosa, the general manager of the St. James.
Part of the nominating letter stated: "Since hiring her as the food and beverage director of the St. James Hotel, Jen has impressed me in many ways: her passion, purpose and leadership has helped raise our service levels and customer satisfaction."
Olson began her work in food and beverages at the Red Wing Country Club (now Red Wing Golf Course). She went to school for nursing but returned to the world of drinks and food. She has held her position at the St. James since October 2017.
Once Olson left the stage with the award and bag of gifts for the winner, she answered a couple of questions from local media. When asked how she felt, Olson replied, "Grateful."
Olson shared that along with being the first woman to hold her job at the St. James, a majority of her 80 person team members are women.
"I think it's pretty unique, especially in this industry. I have a fantastic team," Olson said beaming.
Seeking to offer ‘inspirement’
Back by popular demand, Katy Smith was the keynote speaker at the 2019 Women’s Leadership Event.
Smith was an educator for over 30 years and Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2011. This year Smith talked to the 170-plus local women present about inspiration or, as she called it, “inspirement.”
“In 2017 I was walking away from a job that I loved very much, in a classroom that I loved very much. After 29 years of being there because I started to wonder, ‘who are you if you’re not a teacher in this classroom?’” she said.
Work is important for Smith, but it is not everything. She encouraged others also to have lives outside of their jobs.
Smith concluded her talk by saying, “I sometimes think about my little girls and my grandson and when they ask, ‘Who were you in inspirement? Who were you besides your work?’ that we all have really great answers for that.”