The 2014 Inductees represent a wide range of generations and impact. All were selected because of their stature in their era and their accomplishments. These amazing women represent the entire state of Minnesota, more than 150 years of Minnesota history, and amazing contributions to our State’s economic success.
The following 12 women are the newest Inductees into the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame:
Born in Bowlus, Minnesota in 1915, Ethel Selinski’s formal education ended when she completed eighth grade. She married at age 16 and began working on the production line at the Sanitary Sausage Company in Northeast Minneapolis. Tragedy struck when her husband drowned, leaving her, at age 28, with two young daughters. By that time Ethel had moved off the production line at Sanitary Sausage and into the front office as a bookkeeper. Her position put her in close contact with the company's founder, Otto Arnold, who became her second husband in 1948. When Otto died in 1958, the grieving Ethel was stunned to learn the company was in dire straits – $185,000 in debt and less than a week away from bankruptcy. Drawing on her experience as a production worker, shrewd business savvy and unwavering commitment to quality, Ethel returned the company (later re-named Ambassador Sausage Company) to profitability within three months and out of debt within a year.
Ethel’s company had 75 employees working two production shifts to produce over 48 varieties of fresh and prepackaged sausage products, including spice sausage for restaurants, bratwurst, and their famous old fashioned hot dogs. When Ethel sold the company in 1991, it had $5 million in sales and was the only remaining independently owned sausage company in the Upper Midwest. Ethel’s business outlasted all 18 of the competitors who were operating when she began working at her husband's company.
Ethel became the first woman to serve on a bank board in the Twin Cities when she became a member of the Board of Directors of Northeast State Bank in 1967. She was an active supporter of the community, particularly of the canine unit of the Minneapolis Police Department. At age 73, Ethel was named the 1989 Small Business Person of the Year by the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce. Ethel died in 2000.
Genevieve (Gen) Griffith was born in Minneapolis in 1917. After she married John Bolger, the couple founded a publishing business in 1934 which they converted into a commercial printing venture known today as Bolger Vision Beyond Print. She was instrumental in building the company into one of the largest printing firms in the nation. Her specialties were sales and human resources. After John’s death in 1992, she took the helm and built it into a firm with more than $30 million in annual sales, 200 employees, and two facilities located within a mile of each other. Major clients included 3M, Guthrie Theater, Honeywell and Ann Taylor.
Gen became a legend in the printing industry. She made her mark in a male-dominated industry and broke the “paper” ceiling for other women to follow her lead. At printers' conventions, Gen was the only woman among a thousand men. Because of the respect she earned, whenever Gen was at an industry event, they would address the room by saying, “Gentlemen and Mrs. Bolger.” She was a businesswoman who cared about the needs of her female employees. Her answer to the problem of being a working mother was to bring the children – her own and her employees’ – into the printing plant on a snow day or when employees were working overtime.
In 1982, Gen was named "Man of the Year" by the Printing Industry of Minnesota. In 1986, Printing Industries of America honored Gen with the Lewis Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest individual honor awarded in the graphic arts industry. She served on the board of directors of the Minnesota Institute on Black Chemical Abuse and was active with the League of Women Voters. She was so respected that Gen also was asked to run for statewide office, as lieutenant governor and secretary of state, however, she declined the opportunity. Gen died in 2006.
Mary Lou Peil grew up on a dairy farm near Bloomer, Wisconsin. In eighth grade she established her first “business” selling milk to a local creamery. While in high school she developed an innovative herd management tool to establish the profitability of each of their animals. After building her public relations expertise in a rapidly-growing corporation, Lou (then known as Lou Brum) joined a small local public relations firm. There she met her future business partner, Sally Anderson (2014 Inductee Sally Sandoe).
Lou and Sally launched Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc. in 1978. Within three years they were known as one of the top public relations firms in the Twin Cities. By 1985, with revenues of $2.7 million, they ranked among the top 50 public relations firms in the United States. In December 1986, the firm merged with Padilla & Speer to become the 10th largest independent public relations firm in the nation with combined revenues of more than $5 million. Lou was co-founder and first president of the Public Relations Exchange (now IPREX). This network of public relations firms across the U.S. and worldwide enabled Brum & Anderson to compete more effectively with the large national firms. Today IPREX is a $200 million network with 100 offices worldwide.
Brum & Anderson was named by Inc. magazine as one of the 500 Fastest Growing Companies in America in 1984. Lou was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the 1985 YWCA Leader Luncheon. They received numerous communications awards. Lou served as a board member for the Minnesota Racetrack, Inc., Morison Asset Allocation Fund, Inc., and the Minnesota Council on Foundations. She served on the boards of the Courage Center and Courage Foundation where she also served as the chair of their major capital campaign. She has been very active in Rotary for many years. Lou is currently a board member of Mill City Commons.
Marilyn grew up in the family-owned business that was founded by her father, Richard Tickle, in 1930. While she was not encouraged to be an engineer, her father was enlightened enough to make her an owner of the Adjustable Joist Company, a highly unusual occurrence in that era. Marilyn was the co-owner, vice-president and director of the construction company that built many of the first skyscrapers in America. The Adjustable Joist Company provided the concrete formwork for one of the most celebrated skyscrapers of all time, The John Hancock Center in Chicago, as well as local iconic buildings such as the First National Bank in St. Paul. Marilyn developed their equal opportunity programs and served as the company's representative to the industry-lobbying group, the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota. The company had 90 field employees and generated $8 million in revenue. Marilyn and her brothers sold the business in 2000.
Marilyn broke the mold of her generation to become a leader in a "man's world.” Throughout her career Marilyn has served as a champion of gender equality inside and outside of the workplace. She has been an influential force in civic, philanthropic and educational endeavors. She has also been a dynamic advocate for the advancement of women in the Twin Cities community. Marilyn was one of the early members of the Minnesota Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO). In 1974, Marilyn initiated and chaired People Power, which was the first national conference on voluntarism. She received the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 2006.
Marilyn has worked tirelessly on behalf of the University of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Foundation, the University Women's Cancer Center and the University of Minnesota Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Marilyn served as chair of the Board of Trustees for Metropolitan State University. She has also provided significant financial support for cancer research.
Judith (Judy) Simpson was born in Orange, New Jersey. She honed her skills in market research at The Pillsbury Company. As the first woman to run a profit center there in the early 1970s, she developed a consumer research service that also provided research to other Fortune 500 companies. In 1974, with Pillsbury’s support, Judy and two other managers left with their staff of nine people and founded Custom Research Inc. (CRI). At its peak, CRI had 125 full-time employees and 200 part-time telephone interviewers. The business was profitable every year and achieved a compound annual growth rate of 15 percent over their 25 years of ownership. Judy and her business partner, Jeff Pope, sold the company in 1999. At the time of the sale, the company had revenues of $30 million. CRI’s impressive client roster included Johnson & Johnson, Procter and Gamble, and Coca Cola.
Judy received the first Woman Business Owner of the Year award given by Minnesota NAWBO in 1982. Her company won the Minnesota Quality Award in 1995 and the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1996. In 2009, she received the University of Minnesota’s Outstanding Achievement Award. Judy has been featured in numerous articles and publications, including Inc. magazine, a Harvard Business School case study and in the bestselling book by Leonard L. Berry, Discovering the Soul of Service.
Judy was the first woman named to the board of directors of two Fortune 500 companies; International Multifoods and Tonka. She has been a member of the Committee of 200 (C- 200), Young Presidents Organization and World Presidents Organization — all invitation-only membership organizations of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. She served as a board member in organizations including the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, United Way and the Minnesota Orchestra. In 2013, she became a Director at HealthPartners, Inc.
Cynthia (Cindy) Sumstad grew up in the small town of Barrett, Minnesota. After college, she began working as the office manager for an orthodontist in Fergus Falls, Minnesota who could not keep up with the amount of lab work that his practice demanded. Cindy met John Kelly, the lab technician who came in to help with that work. Cindy and John joined as business and life partners when they married in 1976 and founded NorthStar Orthodontics, Inc. As the orthodontics field evolved, Cindy worked closely with orthodontists across the nation to understand their needs and gain their trust. She shared her deep insight into new and emerging orthodontic appliances with John, who then developed techniques in the lab to build what the doctors required. John died unexpectedly in 2008 and Cindy has continued to grow the business.
Today NorthStar is a full-service orthodontic laboratory that provides both fixed and removable dental appliances for approximately 150,000 patients each year. They produce 100 different products and have worked with over 5,000 orthodontists and dentists. They have served 1.5 million patients since their founding. With annual revenues of $5 million and 85 employees, her company is a major employer in northern Minnesota. NorthStar has a Green Coordinator to monitor their progress and growth in implementation of sound ecological practices throughout their lab. The emphasis on innovation continues as Cindy recently expanded their product line to include digital services.
Cindy is active in many community organizations and was awarded the Minnesota Jaycees “10 Outstanding Citizens” award in 1989. Minnesota State Community and Technical College – part of MNSCU – recognized Cindy and John as their 2012 Hall of Fame Inductees. Cindy places a strong emphasis on community service and NorthStar provides both time and financial resources to several service agencies. They support the American Cancer Society, Minnesota Food Share and local schools in the Park Rapids area.
Amanda Lyles Weir
Born before the Civil War in the 1850s, Amanda Churr grew up in Peoria, Illinois. She moved to Minnesota and married her first husband, Thomas Lyles, in 1875. At that time, there were very few African Americans living in the state. Thomas owned a barbershop in the Opera House in St. Paul. After the unthinkable deaths of her two infant children in rapid succession, Amanda established her own business near her husband’s in 1880. Initially called The Hair Bazaar, the business offered hair styling services to African-American women, access to a bath parlor and sold hair care products. Amanda evolved her business offerings to include renting costumes for mourning, weddings and elegant events. By 1897, the business was called Mrs. T. H. Lyles Hair Emporium. Amanda operated her hair styling business until 1902. She worked closely with Thomas in the funeral home business he had started and took over its management after his death in 1920. His obituary referred to Amanda as having been a “devoted wife of great business ability.”
Amanda was active in the growing national movement of African-American women in the late 1890s and early 1900s. She organized literary societies in St. Paul and was instrumental in raising money for their promotion. These salons featured distinguished guests, including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, and Mary Church Terrell. She spoke out on race relations and gave speeches across the nation in support of anti-lynching laws. Amanda spoke up about the importance of giving women the right to vote. She also worked in community service, including supporting organizations such as the Red Cross.
A woman of great faith, Amanda helped found the St. James AME church in St. Paul, which is still in existence today. She was an excellent pianist and an accomplished musical composer. She was the first successful African-American woman business owner in Minnesota. Amanda died in 1937.
Mary Margaret Willoughby was born in Duluth, Minnesota and is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe. She got her start in the electronics industry in 1967 right out of high school. Mary launched GreyStar Electronics, Inc. in 1993 because she wanted to create jobs in this depressed area of northern Minnesota. Even as a single mother raising three children, Mary never lost sight of her goal to build a successful business from the ground up.
GreyStar Electronics manufactures electronics cable, wiring harnesses, and circuit card assemblies for the aerospace and defense industries. The company manufactures 54 different components and sells to clients across the United States and India. It has revenues of almost $2 million. Key clients include Honeywell, the U.S. Army, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard. A consistent focus on quality culminated in GreyStar staff and management achieving the high quality Gold Supplier Standard recognition from Goodrich Aerospace/UTC. Mary has broken down many barriers in a business typically dominated by men. She contributes her success to her faith, family, and many loyal employees.
In 2006, Mary was named Minnesota's Minority Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration – she was the first person from Duluth to win this award. She has also been named the Congressional Businesswoman of the Year, University of Minnesota Duluth Mature Entrepreneur and was the recipient of the Minnesota American Indian Chamber of Commerce Eagle Award. Mary has opened her business to school tours and helped provide electronics components for student lab projects at Duluth’s Lincoln Park Middle School. She serves on an Advisory Committee to Work Experience Programs for Duluth Public Schools. She is active with the Befriender Ministry, the Perpetual Adoration Chapel, and Habitat for Humanity. She also visits with shut-ins to share their faith together.
Sally Menz was born in New York City and had many different addresses before Minnesota became her home. Sally graduated from Carleton College with an English degree in 1960 and worked various clerical jobs until she became a secretary for 3M’s corporate public relations department. After leaving the workforce to focus on raising her family, Sally Anderson found herself divorced in the mid-1970s and in need of a job. She was hired as the receptionist at Edwin Neuger & Associates, but was soon promoted to account work where she met fellow 2014 Inductee, Lou Burdick (then known as Lou Brum). In 1978, with a typewriter, a card table and $2,000, Sally and Lou started their new firm: Brum & Anderson Public Relations, Inc., - and the two women focused their new company’s services on providing a high quality of work. They created an innovative approach to their services by tying public relations goals to their clients’ business objectives.
Within three years of opening, Brum & Anderson was ranked among the top five PR agencies in the Twin Cities. They were the first of the big PR companies to provide paternity leave. Their client roster included 3M, Honeywell, Group Health, Stroh Brewery Co. and Canterbury Downs. Sally sold her share of Brum & Anderson to Lou in 1984 to pursue an emerging business in Colorado with her second husband: the design, construction and sale of Celtic folk harps.
Brum & Anderson Public Relations was honored with a Golden Trumpet award from the Publicity Club of Chicago with employees of Norwest Bank for handling emergency communications after the 1982 Thanksgiving Day fire in Minneapolis. They received numerous Minnesota Classic Awards from the Public Relations Society of America for their work with the American Red Cross, Minneapolis Housing Council, Minnesota Orchestral Association & Sommerfest, National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, Norwest Corporation and Minnesota Racetrack, Inc.
Marlene Johnson grew up on a family farm that had a working sawmill. After graduating from Forest Lake High School in 1953, she married and moved to Lindstrom to start a family. In 1962, she began working at Plastic Products Company (PPC) as a bookkeeper and in 1975 she married her second husband, the company’s owner, Willard “Smitty” Smith. Marlene was abruptly confronted with running PPC when Smitty died of cancer not long after their wedding. At the time of his death, PPC was experiencing hardship and declining sales. Marlene fought to keep the business afloat and to ensure that their employees did not lose their jobs.
Marlene turned the struggling company into a thriving, award-winning business, one that for years was repeatedly ranked as one of the nation’s largest woman-owned businesses. Today, PPC is one of North America's largest manufacturers of custom plastic, metal and ceramic injection molding. When Marlene retired in 2013, the company had over $150 million in revenue and nearly 900 employees in plants located across the United States. Her impressive client list includes companies such as 3M, which they have served for more than 50 years. Marlene was awarded membership into the highly exclusive Committee of 200 (C-200), an invitation-only membership organization of the world’s most successful women entrepreneurs and corporate leaders. She was one of the earliest members of the Minnesota NAWBO Chapter.
Over the past 50 years Marlene has not only served as a corporate leader, but she has been regularly involved in efforts to improve the community and has received numerous accolades. Her philanthropy is also celebrated by many area organizations. Marlene has a passion for preserving historic landmarks, protecting the environment and drawing tourists to the Chisago Lakes area. Her company also supports church and school activities. Marlene funded the refurbishing and preservation of Lindstrom’s landmark water tower, now prominently featuring a Swedish coffee pot. Marlene died in 2015.
Born Rosenella Cruciani in 1915 in Minneapolis, this daughter of Italian immigrants dropped out of Edison High School at age 16 to help support her family by cleaning houses. At age 19, she married baker James “Jim” Totino. They dreamed of opening a restaurant, but needed $1,500. Demonstrating the ingenuity that would make her famous, Rose baked a pizza and took it to a banker. Impressed, he loaned the couple the money they needed and in 1951, they opened Totino's Italian Kitchen and introduced pizza to Minneapolis. In response to customer requests, they began selling pre-baked and ready-to-eat pizza as a take-out business that grew so rapidly that they were soon making as many as 500 pizzas a day.
After a disastrous failed attempt to make frozen dinners, Rose and Jim were on the verge of bankruptcy in 1961. They applied for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration that was essential for their survival. Within three months of receiving the loan, Totino’s Finer Foods was producing frozen pizza that could be baked at home (an unheard of concept at that time). Totino’s eventually became the top-selling frozen pizza in the United States. By 1975, the company reached nearly $40 million in sales and had more than 400 employees. When they sold the business to Pillsbury that year for $22 million, Rose became that company’s first female corporate vice president.
In 1976, Rose became only the second woman to win the Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Rose was the third woman inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 1993, she became the first woman inducted into the Frozen Food Hall of Fame. The Totinos donated millions of dollars to charities and educational institutions in Minnesota. Her charitable foundation, Charity Inc., still provides support to the community today. Rose died in 1994.
Jeanne grew up in Enderlin, North Dakota. After earning degrees from the University of Minnesota in Music Education and later an MBA with a finance concentration in 1981, Jeanne was an executive at First Bank System (now US Bank). Desiring to reduce her stress to better manage her multiple sclerosis, Jeanne resigned and decided that entrepreneurship would allow her to use both her creativity and her business skills.Jeanne founded
MindWare in 1989 and opened a retail store in 1990 to sell a variety of brainteasers, puzzles and desk accessories. MindWare eventually became a creator and wholesale distributor of educational toys. MindWare sells “Brainy Toys for Kids of All Ages” to parents, homeschoolers and educators in the United States and Europe, as well as licensing products around the world. In 1995, an expansion into new markets collided with a slowed economy. Jeanne managed the cash crunch without a bank loan through hard work, a deep understanding of the drivers of her success and by developing metrics to monitor them. Jeanne grew MindWare to an $18 million company before she sold a majority interest of the firm in 2003. Today MindWare is owned by Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
In 1997, Jeanne was named Minnesota’s Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. In 2002, her company was identified as one of Minnesota’s Top 50 Fastest Growth Private Companies. MindWare earned the Parents’ Choice Award three years in a row. From 2000 to 2002, Jeanne served as a member of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Small Business Advisory Board. She has been active in non-profit endeavors including the Minnesota State Arts Board and Metropolitan State University’s Center for Women Entrepreneurs. She established the Jeanne M. Voigt Foundation in 2003. Currently, she is currently working in Africa to train women in entrepreneurial skills. She also serves on the boards of several private companies.