Meet our 2011 Women of Vision

In 2011 we had over 60 nominations. The selection process was challenging!

We are proud to honor our 2011 honorees whose actions rose to the top of an already stellar list of accomplished women!

Here are the 2011 Women of Vision Honorees and Sponsors

Photographs beautifully taken by Christina Gressianu

Floss Blackburn

Floss Blackburn is determined that the animals who come into the care of Denkai will never again be alone, hungry, sick, afraid or in pain. She founded Denkai Animal Sanctuary in 2004 with minimal resources, on a shoestring. The Sanctuary, located near Grover, Colorado quickly become a home for hundreds of animals and a destination for visitors and volunteers each year. Flo manages the Sanctuary, administers its programs, personally provides medical treatment to the animals, handles the fundraising, and supervises the volunteers. She has grown Denkai’s budget from $7Kto over $500K in income and assets. She successfully negotiated and raised funding for the purchase of 640 acres of land with outbuildings, corrals and agricultural crops for the Sanctuary. Floss’s interests in animal welfare, especially horses, often takes her away from the Sanctuary. Now a nationally recognized horse rescue expert, she recently led her team of professionals in facilitation of the Miracle Horse Rescue in Cheyenne, WY. Today, Flo continues to reside at the Sanctuary and provide daily care for its more than 250 animals.

But there is always a need for a women of vision: In 2010, she took over and renovated another adoption facility, raising over $100,000 in the first six months of operations to bring the facility into compliance. Now the Denkai Adoption Center is another success. In addition, she created a thrift store and Dog Boarding/Grooming services to help raise money to supplement the grants she tirelessly writes for. We can’t wait to hear what her next energetic project be!

Lori Heutzenroeder

Lori Heutzenroeder is an amazing advocate for people in need in Larimer and Weld counties. Lori is part-owner and general manager of North Beach Dental and general manager of Big Grins Pediatric Dental Offices. Lori’s passion for children is shown through her tireless dedication to making sure that kids in need of dental care receive it. Through North Beach, she and her partner work with children who are on Medicaid and CHP+ insurance. They also team with Project Smile to provide free dental care to low-income children in the schools. North Beach also provides free dental care to pregnant women and battered women and employs Spanish speakers on their staff to better serve the Hispanic community.

In praising Lori, Dr. Gary Evans said, “Dentistry as a whole is facing a crisis much like medicine in that not enough dentists provide care to the under-served in an environment that seems at times to be a viscous circle of need and denial causing more need. Lori, who is not a dentist, did not set out to be in the dental field, and is completely self taught, has shown through her actions that one person can make a difference in a community and the sole ingredient necessary for that success is passion.”

Lori also recognizes the importance of literacy, and is an enthusiastic supporter of a variety of literacy programs including the Read a Hero Literacy Program and the Great Book Giveaway. She donates countless books to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Larimer County and Weld County, to low-income daycares and nonprofits, as well as low income families.

Of the thousands of children touched by North Beach Dental, her charity involvement, and literacy programs, she will likely hear from only a few. And Lori knows, the under-served very often don’t get heard. But she has listened, hasn’t she? We congratulate her and are grateful for her vision.

Sherri Frye

Sherri is the Senior Associate Athletic Director/Senior Women’s Administrator, for the University of Northern Colorado, and the school’s designated NCAA Senior Women’s Administrator.

Sherri has lots of administration duties with UNC, but she reaches out to the community in projects encouraging female athletic participation. She believes that athletics build leadership, discipline, teamwork, time management, conflict resolution and many other qualities needed to assure these young women become tomorrow’s leaders and contributing members of our communities. She was instrumental in starting National Girls and Women in Sports Day in Greeley where kids in the community can: attend free mini-clinics provided by the student-athletes at UNC, find out about various sporting opportunities in the community, and attend a University of Northern Colorado women’s basketball game…all at no charge. Sherri is also associated the Colorado Women’s Sports Fund Association, is a non profit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for girls and women to participate in sports, and encouraging and supporting their lifetime appreciation of and participation in athletics.

Our female athletes need Sherrie: In the nearly 40 years since its passage in 1972, Title IX has been consistently under fire from a wide range of critics. Just last month, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil in Seattle began a large-scale investigation into alleged Title IX violations at high schools in Idaho. 78 out of the state’s 150 school districts are being investigated for allegedly not providing female athletes equal opportunities to play sports. Before Title IX, only one in 27 girls played varsity high school sports. Athletic scholarships for women were virtually non-existent prior to Title IX. Today, 98.8% of American high schools now have a girls basketball team; 95.7% have a volleyball team; and 92% have soccer teams, which lead to opportunities for athletic scholarships and opportunities & programs like Sherri works on. Sherri fights like a bear for UNC women and Title IX.

Through her roles at UNC and SWA with the NCAA, Sherri provides opportunity for thousands of female athletes wanting to pursue their hopes and dreams by playing a college sport.

Betsey Hale

Since Betsey has come to Northern Colorado five years ago, the entire region has benefitted in economic development. In Loveland, Betsey developed the first economic incentive plan in Northern Colorado and coined the phrase “Where Art and Science Meet” in attracting businesses not just to Loveland but to the entire region. Businesses like Crop Production Services, Lightning Hybrids, and Road Narrows have relocated to Loveland bringing hundreds of jobs because of Betsey’s professionalism, attention and boundless efforts. As Omsbudsman, she has retained jobs and streamlined government regulatory processes for employers and entrepreneurs. It is no wonder that Loveland landed NASA’s ACE projected to bring 7,000 jobs to the vacant Agilent campus. Loveland’s proposal under Betsey’s leadership outshone the rest in its thoroughness.

Countless community leaders have described Betsey as a “passionate advocate for women in business, the Loveland community and a cheerleader for all of Northern Colorado. She is a “big picture thinker” with an exceptional ability to connect to a regional set of partners. Betsey is visionary in realizing that collaboration and partnerships allow for “all boats to rise”. And, of course, her leadership is credited with orchestrating the highly political ACE/CAMT negotiations for Loveland keeping all parties at the table with her relationship management skills. It’s been said that “Economic development has been a man’s world and her achievements and ethical standards have made her a peer.”
(Shown here in a photo taken by Jenny Sparks, appearing in the Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Betty Aragon-Mitotes

Betty is a tireless advocate for the Hispanic community in Ft. Collins. She co-founder & director of the Museo de las Tres Colonias, a small museum located in an old adobe home. The Museo is a showpiece for history in the Andersonville area, the Hispanic men & women who worked in the sugar beet industry, Hispanic culture and its impact on the Fort Collins community, Hispanic celebrations and culture. A gathering place in the community, the Museo sponsors the Posadas at Christmas, providing gifts for needy children and food baskets for families that are struggling.

Did you know that the famous actor, Edward James Olmos, and international muralist and award winning illustrator, Rafael Lopez visited the Museo?

In addition to the Museo, Betty is the voice of the Hispanic community in North Fort Collins and her the Buckingham neighborhood. She is also an advocate for the poor, speaking up on their behalf and supporting organizations like La Familia and The Northside Aztlan Center in their work to reach low-income and Hispanic families and children. Betty has worked on city wide issues impacting Hispanics, organized clean ups and neighborhood night out celebrations.

Betty’s next project will be to build an interpretative center to compliment the Museo, and complete their second oral history video. The Museo continues to encourage a culture of acceptance, understanding and social justice. Betty says, “What we have accomplished has only been possible by the community embracing the Museo, and the partnerships.”

Jenny Langness

Jenny is the Executive Director of Alpha Center, a Christian medical clinic that offers education, counsel, support and medical services to individuals facing the consequences of choices made with their sexual health. Services include pregnancy testing and limited ultrasound, pregnancy options counsel, STD screening & testing, Post-abortion support groups and healthy relationship education. In the two years Jenny has been its Director, she has increased awareness of the Center ten-fold, increased annual revenue by 20%, created a network of similar Centers in Northern Colorado, and has made a national name for the Center within its unique industry. Alpha Center is now regarded as one of the premier Centers in the U.S. and serves as a resource to Centers all over the country. Her marketing ideas, fundraising philosophy, and professional standards for her organization are being incorporated into Centers across the U.S.

Wendy Ishii

As the founder and artistic director of Bas Bleu Theatre Company, Wendy Ishii has put her stamp on the landscape of Northern Colorado’s artistic community through her vision, determination, and knack for unifying diverse interest groups. Even the name “Bas Bleu” has raised the creative consciousness of women in the region. “Bas Bleu” is French for “blue stocking,” a reference to the 18th-century literary clubs that rallied the women of Paris in their intellectual and literary pursuits. Wendy is an innovative leader whose actions embody the meaning of social impact. Nearly 20 years ago she envisioned creating a space-modeled after 18th century European literary salons-that fostered animated conversations about politics, art and literature. She began in 1992 by renting a small, 49-seat store-front theatre on Pine Street in Fort Collins. It was a smashing success, but the community wanted more. In 2004, Bas Bleu conducted a capital campaign and was able to purchase a one-time machine shop, the Giddings Building, very close to the original site of Camp Collins near the Poudre River. It was a daring move to a previously decaying part of town that’s now percolating with trendy loft townhomes, a new city recreation space, an art gallery, and recently built office space. Wendy’s vision and commitment has become a catalyst for change in the river district of downtown Fort Collins. Bas Bleu now features a 105-seat theatre facility including an art gallery in its lobby.

An “open-armed” collaborator, Wendy partners with dozens of organizations, including Poudre Valley Hospital, in presenting many of Bas Bleu’s works and in raising awareness for AIDS, cancer, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. She also partners with Crossroads Safehouse, Lydia Dody’s HOPELIVES! Breast Cancer Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Larimer County Humane Society and Charter School T.R. Paul Academy of Arts and Knowledge, among dozens of others.

We are thrilled that this NYC transplant brought her vision to Ft. Collins!

LeAnn Thieman

In 1975, LeAnn Thieman stopped at a bake sale to buy cupcakes to support Friends of Children of Vietnam, to help them raise money and supplies for the war orphans. Within a year, she had not only become a member, but her basement was the Iowa Chapter headquarters! LeAnn was very good at bake sales, but they asked her to do more. Could she travel to Vietnam and escort six orphan babies from Saigon to their adoptive homes in the USA? Despite have her husband Mark and two young children at home, LeAnn, an ordinary person, decided to take on this extraordinary project.

By the time she arrived in Vietnam, bombs were dropping outside the city. Instead of six babies, she helped evacuate 300 as a part of Operation Babyblift. In the midst of this chaos, a baby boy chose her, and she also rescued their son.

Eventually the story behind this dangerous, dramatic rescue became pages in her first book, This Must Be My Brother.

And the story needed to be shared, so soon LeAnn found herself on a podium, speaking to her fellow nurses about balancing life in their “war zones.” Her first real speech was in Santa Fe, with her trusted buddy Ann Clarke at her side, offering speaking tips and lots of support.

Soon the Chicken Soup folks discovered that not only was she a wonderful story teller, but she was an excellent editor, as well. They asked her to be co-author one book – Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul. Now she has 12 Chicken Soup titles to her credit. As a result she’s enabled scores of writers to tell their stories in the Chicken Soup series she authors. LeAnn takes great care to preserve each writer’s unique voice while helping them refine their tale into highly publishable quality.

Oh, and that speaking thing? Well this quiet, unassuming woman took IT to a whole new level, too. In 2008, LeAnn was the first woman from the state of Colorado to be inducted in the National Speakers Association Speaker Hall of Fame.

As nominator Maryjo Morgan says, “LeAnn could be nominated on the significance of a single but major lifetime achievement alone: Operation Babylift. She could be nominated as a nurse-turned-writer-and-editor who put to use her listening skills and became an extraordinary storyteller. However, I believe taking into account LeAnn’s role as a Speaker’s Hall of Fame keynote speaker tips her nomination into the distinguished category. This segment of LeAnn’s business life illustrates her ability to convert one’s passion into making a living. She sets an example for businesswomen and mentors colleagues, freely offering encouragement and knowledgeable advice. LeAnn’s professionalism is evident in everything she does, from answering fan mail to reaching out to those touched by her keynotes. LeAnn’s book “Balancing Life in Your War Zone” could well become anyone’s handbook for a saner and more balanced life.

Kerrie Flanagan

Kerrie was a well-known freelance writer for many years, and sharing her hard-earned experience & knowledge was always one of her personal trademarks. In 2007 she took “sharing” to a whole new level and founded Northern Colorado Writers. Her goal was to encourage and support writers of all levels and genres on their journey to writing success. As NCW grew, so did the services Kerrie created: In 2006 she created her first Northern Colorado Writers Conference, bringing national-level agents, speakers and workshop presenters to Ft. Collins. NCW now has over 200 members, a website, a writer’s studio, classes, an annual retreat, critique groups and the annual Writer’s Conference, here at the Hilton in March.

Kerrie has remained dedicated to this endeavor throughout the economic downturn, often spending her own money to ensure writers stay connected with paying opportunities and skill development.

Lieutenant Leslie Young

Leslie began her career in Loveland as an Animal Control Officer, then became a Community Service Officer before being hired by the Loveland Police Dept in 1989, one of the first female officers hired. Always interested in youth, she became a school resource officer and today serves as a lieutenant with the PD.

Early in her career, Leslie recognized that our young women face special challenges, and in 1995 designed and implemented Journey: A Young Women’s Conference. This day-long conference is dedicated to the idea that women with experience and adolescent girls have much to share. Each year an average of 300 young women from grades 10 to12 come together in Fort Collins to focus on the issues faced by their generation and to provide a forum where they can:
• Discuss in a safe environment issues of personal growth, safety, and health.
• Meet women who through their lives model self-confidence and success.
• Learn new ways to deal with everyday problems.
• Begin to create networks of like-minded young women.
The conference brings together women from a variety of backgrounds, ages and competencies and tackles issues important to the healthy, successful growth of adolescent girls. The conference provides young women with role models, and gives experienced women an enlightened view of the potential of today’s youth. The Journey Young Women’s Conference is free of charge for attendees.

Leslie continues to serve youth and the community as a member of Thompson Board of Education.

In addition to her involvement with youth, Leslie created the City of Loveland Restorative Justice Program in 1997 Loveland uses restorative justice in Municipal Court, the Police Department, the School District, and the District Court. The program gives victims of crimes a chance to express how the offender’s actions made them feel, and a voice in restoration of their losses. Offenders are able to express their regret, accept responsibility, and make restitution for damages.

Of course there’s more: As a Lieutenant with LPD, Leslie does typical “cop work” but she also finds time to be involved with the Tip-a-cop program, 18+ years with Santa Cops, liaison for Alternatives to Violence and the criminal justice advisory committee for Aims.

Donna Visocky

In 2003, Donna Visocky’s 21 year old daughter Kristi died in an auto accident. Her grief was great, but Donna found a way to work through it. She knew that Kristi had wanted to make a difference, so Donna resolved to honor her memory and her causes. She sought a way to heal and to find spiritual purpose. Always open to new ideas and aware that there was more to life than what we know, Donna read book after book, looking for answers, looking for spirit, looking for peace. Inspired by what she learned, Donna felt compelled to share these messages and honor her daughter’s legacy by igniting positive change in the world.

And so was born BellaSpark Productions, dedicated to bringing many of the world’s top spiritual and motivational speakers and authors to northern Colorado. Helping people explore the stories, share them, and in the process, open our hearts and our minds to the messages of hope, love, wisdom and inspiration.

The Extraordinary Speaker Series soon expanded beyond Ft. Collins, to Denver, then in cities across the US and Canada. She brought in speakers like Shirly McLain, Doreen Virtue, Byron Cady, Gregg Braden and don Miguel Ruiz. Today the speaker series has expanded to include small group workshops in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Missouiri, the Gulf of Mexico, Peru, and Canada.

Donna bought Healing Path Magazine, and brought it into alignment with Bella Spark Productions.

And yet this was not enough: She created a foundation, Kristi’s Fund, to provide scholarships and assistance to young women in Northern Colorado. The Fund has already given over $150,000 in scholarships, supported mainly by the Kristi Visocky Memorial Golf Tournament, Kristi’s Big Night Out Party held every July, and Kristi’s Dream Ride for motorcyclists. The young women who have benefitted from the Kristi Visocky Memorial Foundation Scholarships are displaced girls and single moms, working to pull their life back together and create a better life for themselves and their families.

Through her quest to heal herself, Donna has found ways to heal others and help they grow. Through the Extraordinary Speaker Series, the Workshops, the Magazine and the Foundation, she has literally touched millions of lives. Her life is a total dedication to this cause. She began with a vision and continues to be a woman of vision as she evolves Bella Spark Productions to be a catalyst; to stimulate, inspire and embolden individuals and communities in their growing spiritual awareness by providing access to consciousness raising ideas, people and information. She IS a “Woman of Vision” on all levels!

Marilyn Schock

Marilyn Schock, CEO of McKee Medical Center, has been involved in healthcare for over 25 years. Colleagues say she has always been an inspiration to all women in her progression from Occupational Therapist to Chief Executive Officer. Marilyn’s journey with Banner began in the late 1980’s as a staff therapist after her graduation from Colorado State University. Marilyn has had several different roles as Director of Rehabilitation Services, Regional Director of Managed Care Operations, Executive Director of Mountain Shadows Medical Association, Associate Administrator at both McKee Medical Center and North Colorado Medical Center. She was hired as CEO of McKee Medical Center in December of 2009.

Marilyn’s involvement in the community is exemplary. She serves as the Chair Emeritus for the Loveland Chamber of Commerce Board and is on the Board of Trustees for the Colorado Hospital Association. She is co-chair elect for the United Way and will assume her role in 2012. Marilyn is also a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives. Marilyn is very aware of the value of corporate citizenship and directs McKee Medical Center with the Loveland community in mind. You will see McKee involved in the Corn Roast, Sculpture Show, Larimer County Fair and many other events. It is no wonder that Marilyn has been a role model and a leader in the medical community, her home town, and for all women!


Ann Azari

We are thrilled to make a special presentation at this year’s Gala. In 2010, long-time civic leader and former Mayor Ann Azari was nominated as a Woman of Vision, but she was too ill to accept. Sadly, Ann lost her battle with cancer and passed away on September 16th. It is never too late to honor a Woman of Vision! at our 2011 Gala, Ft. Collins Mayor Karen Weitkunat will present our first posthumous Woman of Vision Award to the Ann’s family, represented by Victoria Loran.

Victoria says, “My mom indeed was a woman of great vision and dreams not only for the city, but for the world. She always was insisting of her children to think what was possible…imagine, dream, and wonder (those were her words that fueled our fire to achieve great things). I think she helped many people to understand that obstacles were what made our journeys in life more of an adventure in learning and discovery.”

Ann served three terms as Fort Collins mayor from 1993-1999. She first was elected to the city council in 1989, serving three years as mayor pro tem. During her tenure she was active nationally as chair of the U.S. Department of Commerce Census 2000 Advisory Committee and co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Census Task Force. She also served on the National League of Cities Advisory Council.

She owned and operated a downtown imports store, Caspian Ltd., before joining the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment from 1983 to 1987. In that capacity she served several positions including associate director of the Governor’s Job Training Office, Director of Field Operations, and Director of Information Resources.

Ann served on the executive board of the Colorado Municipal League and on the boards of member on the Downtown Development Authority, the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County, the Platte River Power Authority and Girl Scouts Council.

Don’t you agree? Ann Azari was truly a Woman of Vision!