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What’s Shared At An OWA Past-Presidents’ Retreat? Friendship, Trust, Unbreakable Bonds And A Lotta Fun!

Here we are in April, getting ready to enjoy our first evening’s celebratory dinner. From left to right, the current OWA president Dr. Lorie Lippiatt, Robyn Crimmins (2019-2021), myself (2000-2002, co-president with Jean Scott), Tiara Claxton (2007-2019), Maureen Cavanagh (2016-2017), Lorinda Fraboni (2002-2004), Ann Englert (2011-2013) and Deb Bulken (2021-2023).

It’s a privilege for me to let you know about something special that happened just over one month ago.  It was the kind of event that simultaneously represented the past, gave a big hug to the present and signaled the power of what the OWA in the future can continue to represent for those who elect to take part in it.


A good number of OWA Past Presidents enjoyed their first retreat in sunny Punta Gorda, Fla., to take a few special days in late April to reconnect, appreciate and be reminded of the valuable connections, friendships, support and accomplishments that the association has forged across the years. 


Not every single prior OWA Past President could make the dates and a trip to Florida. But, in a real way, all the current and prior board and OWA committee chairs and members, along with staunch OWA supporters, and were “with us” at the beach.


It was a lovely and unforgettable mixture of so many things. Bright, warm Florida sunshine, happy smiles, wistful tales, the telling of so many stories, both funny… and inspiring. We recalled little victories, the big wins… overcoming challenges and an untold number of shared memories. Food, wine, a sunset cruise, brisk walks and just hanging out poolside were involved.


For me, personally, I recalled the idea of an association for professional optical women being suggested to me by a friend, Linda Little, who worked for a large optical equipment company in 1996 and was the only female executive in management. It was, to put it mildly, not easy for her. I was editor of VM for about 9 years at that point and still finding my own way in managing teams, dealing with work pressures. 


I remembered the first ‘planning meeting’ for what would be the OWA at a hotel room while some of us were in California for a Vision Expo. There were about 10 of us who were all searching for more support for ourselves and other women as our careers were getting going. How could women get to know more about the business? What was it like to be a female in communications, in marketing, in product design, in buying, in instruments, in opticianry and optometry and retail management? What about women trying to run their own company?


My recollections were that we needed to find more women to “get it done.” And if you look at the photo here of many of these past and recent OWA presidents, you’ll see several of the women who did just that.



Each year, the OWA got a little more structured, more organized about how to build a group that would cultivate women’s roles as leaders in business and make room for all women in the business to take part and reap the benefits, see the value of being part of something bigger than themselves.  Over time, with each president and new board, and the financial support from companies throughout the industry got traction, more OWA structure, programs, events and gatherings were created. 


In Punta Gorda those few weeks ago, we realized that each new president took their responsibilities to a new level – they built, to cumulative effect with the boards they served with, a deeper role for the OWA to play, even as they were each navigating the demands of their own jobs. The OWA leaned in to elevate and preserve the idea of women’s professional development through all corners of this complicated eyewear and eyewear business.


The retreats will become an annual thing. All the former OWA presidents share the gratitude and satisfaction of knowing that the organization is reaching a larger number of women than ever in its history. OWA is moving into the future – and fast! 


A record number OWA members, along with an ardent group of Professional Development Fund sponsors and individual contributors are right there with us, too. 


You and every member can benefit and play a role to take advantage of everything the OWA will continue to offer.


Written by Marge Axelrad

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Invitado
31 may

What a wonderful photo and great idea for OWA to have past presidents continue to meet and build their relationships. How exciting it has been to watch the organization grow and move in directions we never even imagined! Linda (Little) Bullwinkle

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