PITTSTON — Seven successful women came “to the table” to share their life journeys during a “Women of the Round Table” event held March 18 by the Friends of the Pittston Memorial Library.
The second annual event commemorates National Women’s History Month.
Wyoming Area Superintendent Janet Serino described her life as a “long and winding road, with potholes.”
Serino said when she graduated from high school, women who wanted to go on to higher education had three choices: be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.
Fortunately, Serino was passionate about teaching. Upon graduating from Misericordia University, Serino got a job teaching half-days at Wyoming Area.
But, she really wanted a full-time job — and her own classroom.
Over four years later, she finally got that phone call from Sacred Heart of Jesus in Dupont, offering her her very own seventh-grade classroom.
Although she was a little anxious about what her new job would entail, Serino plunged in passionately and successfully, even developing an “Auntie Reader” character, which sometimes meant she would don a purple wig and a night gown in exchange for students meeting reading goals.
She was so successful that several years later, she was asked to be principal. Again, she plunged forward.
“The superintendent must have seen something in me because I didn’t have my prinicpal’s certificate,” Serino said. “I worked toward it through the summer that year.”
Serino, who served as a Wyoming Area principal since 2001, was named superintendent in 2013.
“I was the first woman superintendent of the district,” she said.
Roseann Ricotta, president of the Pittston Area School Board, shares Serino’s commitment to education.
The key to success, Ricotta said, is to learn the art of compromise.
“I sometimes vote ‘no,’” she said. “Sometimes I think it might not be my first choice, but we can make it work.”
Ricotta is the youngest of seven girls, and always knew she was different.
“On Friday, my sisters would get paid and they would buy me something special,” she said. “I wanted an Annie Oakley costume.”
Annie Oakley, an American sharp shooter, embodied the confidence and willingness to think outside the box, a trait Ricotta said benefits women.
Now retired, Ricotta worked for the Social Security administration throughout her career where she became a training coordinator.
“As a woman, I’ve always wanted to have a place at the table,” she said.
Carol Coolbaugh, who also spoke at the event, started out being a Kool-Aid mom with her children often bringing their friends home.
When her son Eric turned 15, all that changed.
“Eric struggled with addiction and it was really difficult,” she said. “Unfortunately, nine years ago, he lost his battle with that addiction.”
Coolbaugh is now an advocate for removing the stigma of addiction from individuals and families.
“When Eric died, we donated money to the DARE program and it was somehow healing to see his name as a sponsor of an event that helped other people,” she said. “I’ve spent the last nine years meeting a lot of other people who share my vision for addressing the stigma of a disease that rips apart not just individuals, but families.”
Presenter Judge Lesa Gelb told attendees, “I absolutely love, love, love this year’s theme, ‘Nevertheless, she persisted.’”
Gelb said, “When I was little, my sister asked me how I pictured my wedding. I told her I wasn’t planning my wedding; I was planning on decorating my Senate office.”
Gelb said the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment compelled her to become a lawyer.
“I was only 11,” she said. “But, I remember thinking that becoming a lawyer would allow me to work for justice.”
A friend of hers who attended law school in 1975 had only three or four women in her class.
By the time Gelb got to law school in 1985, about 50 percent of the students were female.
Still, she said, that didn’t mean women were rising about the glass ceiling.
“Although the women were being lawyers, they weren’t equal with men financially or in CEO positions,” she said.
She encourages women to use their time purposefully.
“Only do what you are passionate about,” she said.
Sister Mary Ann Cody also shared her journey with attendees, recalling how her father emphasized the importance of humility.
“He used to say, ‘Just in case you think you’re important, remember you pay the tolls, too,’” she said.
Cody, who spent much of her life teaching, recalled an Easter several years ago when a video was shown at church services in which Bishop Joseph Bambera told parishioners that, in addition to priests, others would need to assume leadership roles in diocesan churches because of a shortage of priests.
Cody now serves as Parish Life Coordinator at Our Lady of the Eucharist parish.
“It works because the people of the parish want it to work,” she said. “I’m never standing alone.”
Lori Nocito, executive director of Leadership Wilkes-Barre, said her position is fueled by a love for people and desire to serve the community.
“Years ago, I was watching the Today Show and they said ‘stay tuned for the secret to happiness for women,’” she said. “And even though I was late for work, I waited to hear what the secret was.”
What Nocito heard did not come as a surprise, though.
“The secret to happiness for women is friendships,” she said.
Nocito said she recently returned from Bhutan, a country that has a formal “happiness initiative.”
“When I asked them why they were so happy, they said, ‘Our healthcare is free. Our education is free. And, we love our leaders,” she said.
Being positive, she said, is a key to success.
Wrapping up the event, Barbara Pirrella Sico regaled attendees with several funny stories that brought laughs from the audience.
“It’s a family tradition,” she said.
Sico, regional director of Bayada home health care, said riches comes not in money, but in health.
She recalled one afternoon spent at the home of a mother with three children, all needing around-the-clock care.
“I cried all the way home,” she said.
Sico, who has been with the company for 23 years, moved back from Philadelphia in 1994, bringing her sense of humor with her.
“We had a big yard sale when we moved,” she said. “My husband brought out a set of encyclopedia to sell with a sign that said, ‘Encyclopedias for sale. No longer needed. Married. Wife knows everything.”
Maria Capolarella-Montante, president of the Friends, said the discussion goes hand-in-hand with National Women’s History Month, which is celebrated in March.
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