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Celebrating Women’s History Month in Toledo

Each March we celebrate Women’s History Month, a time to recognize the contributions of women in history and in our city today!

By Kendahl Plank
Posted On: March 1, 2024


Toledo has a rich history and a current landscape filled with influential women. The Glass City is the birthplace of women like writer and activist, Gloria Steinem, and Marcy Kaptur, longest serving woman in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Toledo was also the home of Ella P. Stewart, one of the first African-American female pharmacists in the United States and Josina Lott, a pioneer in the developmental disabilities field.

In Toledo we can also boast of Christine Brennen who became a sports columnist for USA Today, a commentator on ABC News, CNN, PBS NewsHour and NPR, and a best-selling author. We remember Mildred Benson, a journalist from Toledo who wrote some of the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries and created the detective's adventurous personality, and Stephanie Radar who was born to Polish parents in Toledo and later became a spy during WWII. 

Whether it is looking at our past or present, the women of Toledo have and continue to pave the way for the leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Take a journey with us and read along about some of the stories that Toledo women in business are living today!


Highlighting the Stories of Toledo Women

Kate Fineske

Kate is the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Historical Society and its National Museum of the Great Lakes. She has an undergraduate degree from the University of Toledo and a Masters of Business Administration with a emphasis on non-profit business from Lourdes University. Kate joined the museum’s team in 2019, and quickly became a key member of the organization’s leadership—helping guide the mission forward through a period of unprecedented growth and change. In January 2024, she became the museum’s Executive Director, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the organization’s operations and furthering its new vision to become the place where all Great Lakes conversations happen. With over 20 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, communications, and education, Kate is passionate about history, a strong advocate for arts and culture, and has served and supported numerous community boards including currently serving on the School Board for The Maritime Academy of Toledo.

Tell us about your path to becoming the Executive Director at the National Museum of the Great Lakes and the challenges you faced along the way.

“Finding my role at the museum and coming to the museum feels like coming home to me.

What people may not know is I moved to Toledo to go to the University of Toledo in 1994 as an art major. I graduated with a degree in marketing, communications & graphic design with a concentration in music. I play the upright string bass and piano. I tell you this because arts and culture have always been a deep passion of mine.

I see challenges as learning opportunities that have made me who I am today. Parenting and motherhood were a really big challenge in my life as a leader. I took a step back for probably more than a decade from my career. My children taught me a ton about myself. They really did define who I am.

I started my career as a graphic artist for HART Inc. But when I got pregnant with my oldest who is now 21 years old, I worked close to 80 hours a week in advertising. I put 100% of everything I am into everything I do, and I just couldn’t see myself being a great professional and also being a great first-time mother. So when I decided to leave what they started to do was turn over a lot of their non-profit work to me. That is how I began my experience in non-profit work. I was a mother, it led me in that direction, and then parallel to that I joined a non-profit supporting local mothers.

What I realized was, you can take the professional work away from me but you can’t take my drive. I put my drive into motherhood and this organization that needed to be rebuilt. I took this organization from less than a dozen folks to over 100 people locally, which got the attention of the National Association of Mothers' Centers. I became the Assistant Executive Director…that is really what provided me with more of my non-profit interest outside of marketing and communications.

I was hired to ultimately become the Vice President of Engagement and Brand Strategy at the United Way of Greater Toledo and during that time went back and got my MBA at Lourdes.

It all helped me meld together all of my passions. So, motherhood was a huge challenge, but it also kind of led me to where I am today. And I really think it has made me a better leader.

I love landing at the museum and I really do believe and hope that this is my last step in my professional career. I feel like I’ve landed at home. It’s been just a wonderful opportunity to utilize all of my skills and bring them together for this incredible organization that has so much potential growth but also has deep rooted history. I am excited about that.”

What are some advantages of being a woman in business?

“Other women! Other women have been what have really helped me to succeed. Being able to reach out to other women during transition to hear their experiences. It’s other women’s roles as leaders that have really helped to inspire and lift me up.

When I was a part of the National Association of Mothers' Centers, one of the big training tools that we used was teaching mothers and women about how to have facilitated conversations and how to listen. I really did learn the power of listening, and I have learned so much from doing that. I don’t think that listening is a skill that you can single out just to women, but I learned it because of the women that I surrounded myself with.”

What is your vision for the National Museum of the Great Lakes as you step into this new role and how will it impact the community?

"To get to that vision I want to take you back to how I found NMGL…I was looking for a space to have an event, and one of my colleagues said ‘you should check out this new museum in town.’ I said, The National Museum of the Great Lakes? What the heck is he talking about? I went over there and I was blown away! It is so much more than we understand, its incredible.

When the role came up, at the time they were looking for a communications and development director. I just saw the biggest opportunity. My three passions are arts and culture, education, and economic development. NMGL really felt like it pulled those three things together.

Toledo is here because of the role of the Great Lakes in our community and we have a deep-rooted history with the great lakes. I attended The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers Conference in Cleveland. On the second day one of the premiers said ‘If the Great Lakes were a country, it would have the third largest economy in the world.’

All of the sudden it came to me! From economic conversations, to history conversations, to water quality and environmental conversations, to recreational conversations, this region is looking for a place to have those conversations. Why shouldn’t Toledo be that region, and why shouldn’t the National Museum of the Great Lakes be the place where those conversations are centered. I am excited about making that happen.

The fact that we are going to be breaking ground on a 5,000 sq ft. expansion this April…will allow us to be a bigger player in those conversations. We are going to have dedicated space for temporary exhibits. We will be able to have multiple large scale exhibits annually which will help bring more people to the museum. We are going to have dedicated space for Great Lakes community education at the museum. That is important because it allows us to bring those community, regional, and world-wide conversations our grounds."


Sierra Ortiz

Sierra is the Associate Director at Women of Toledo (WOT) an organization with a mission to educate, engage, and empower the women of Northwest Ohio. She oversees expansion and development at Women of Toledo and supports their program staff with advocacy and mentorship, planning for International Women’s Day, National Equality Day, Multicultural Twilight Market, and He for She. Ensuring that they have the funding and partnerships in place to carry out Women of Toledo’s vision. 

What brought you to your role at Women of Toledo?

“My grandparents were migrant workers. My grandpa is from Mexico, my grandma is from Texas. They were both Tomato pickers in Toledo. My mom is one of three…she is the first one to graduate from college and then she went on to get her master’s degree. She was a single mom raising me for a couple years, getting her masters, working hard. She has been titled a prolific Latinx leader. She is the CEO of a major behavioral health organization here in Toledo.

I always saw myself rooting for the underdog. From my grandparents to my mom, I see that marginalized, underrepresented and underserved minorities don’t have the platform, and sometimes also not the privilege to get done what they can do.

How do we bolster, how do we provide a platform, how do we showcase the talents, the intelligence, and the diverse skills that those populations have?"

In the pursuit of answering these questions and finding fulfillment in her work, Sierra has held positions at several organizations in the community such as Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center, Adelante: The Latino Resource Center, Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, Imagination Station, and serving on the board of Eberly Center for Women.

“All of these places are amazing institutions…this [Women of Toledo] is the fulfillment that I was looking for. I am out in the community, meeting with partners, talking about the amazing work that we are doing. I get to go to the programs, I get to be in the young women mentorship circles. I get to help plan and organize International Women’s Day…I get to help create this platform and this space for storytellers to share their lived experience.

The Multicultural Twilight Market with the BIPOC immigrant refugee women minority business owners, being able to give them a platform and showcase their talents, their skills, their businesses. That is so fulfilling!”

What does the work that Women of Toledo is doing mean for the Toledo community?

“It means finding your sense of belonging. It means feeling included and welcomed. Nina [Women of Toledo Founder and Managing Director] noticed that when she went to networking events that people tended to all look alike. We aren’t taking away from the chambers, rotary groups, or BNIs. But we are creating a sense of inclusion and belonging for BIPOC, immigrant, refugee, and newcomer women.

We’ve created our He for She group, where men who want to show up as advocates for women in the workplace, marketplace, community, and family can talk about ways that they can provide a platform for the women who are already talented enough, experienced enough, that have the skills and the abilities but may have been looked past, time and time again.

When you are new to a city, a state, new to this country, and you didn’t know where else to find that sense of belonging…welcome home, we are here to welcome you and include you. We can help connect you to people that feel like your people.”

What are some of the biggest challenges that Women of Toledo faces as a women-led organization?

“There’s a lot of them. DE&I is being swept under a rug right now, it was almost this fad, this trend, but Women of Toledo existed before corporations and businesses used the term Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

I am proud of the work that we do, but it is being tied into funding and opportunities that are no longer politically popular.

People are intimidated by what they don’t know. So, when we provide platforms for people to tell their stories, and those people don’t look like you, they don’t talk like you, they don’t dress like you, they have a story that is opposite of what you support. They feel threatened. They want to stick with the status quo.

We call ourselves disrupters. We don't go into spaces and say ‘This needs to go or we are going to take over.’ We say ‘Hey I see you, if you want to join us, we are over here.’ But some people don’t want to join us...and they want us to stop doing what we are doing."

What advantages have you encountered being a woman in business?

“We rock, we are amazing! We know how to nurture, we know how to relate. We can go to somebody and empathize with them and understand what they are longing for. There is something about Women that we know how to do it all, and then we go home and make dinner, and share partnerships, take care of ourselves and our community. We are good at it all.

Another advantage that I personally have, I went to an all-girl high school, Notre Dame. So, I was just used to be in a classroom full of girls. I was able to share my opinion, express what I was feeling, not feel intimidated…So now I just take on the world, and when somebody shows sexism, I just look at them and say ‘Excuse me?!’ No! I’m talking. It is the advantage of being raised by strong women.”


Photo by: Colleen Schmidt Photo

Claire Cameron-Ruetz

Claire is the owner of Dollop Shop, a bakery located in the Cricket West Shopping Center specializing in scratch-made sweet treats, cocktails, and community events. Claire left her career as a doctor to spend more time with her family and baking was the first thing she had done in a long time that made her feel good. You can usually find Claire hanging out with her husband and son, or at Dollop Shop with her signature light-up-the-room smile greeting you as she bakes and dreams up new recipes, designs and cool and creative events to share with all of us. 

How did Dollop Shop come to be?

“I really came to have this shop because I was surrounded by women who were really hell bent on lifting me up and pushing me forward, before I knew I was ready. I want to emphasize…I was unsure, but these very wise women around me were like ‘no, you are ready!’ I never forget that.

First it started when I was baking out of my house…it was my neighbor Jennifer who was like ‘This stuff is amazing you have got to sell it!’ That was the first time someone was telling me don’t sell yourself short on this.

The next was our neighbor in Cricket West, Margaret Penn, she owns Yogaja. She said to me ‘you know the space is open next door, I think you need to be in it.’ I was like ‘I don’t think anybody really wants me there,’ She was like ‘Well I already gave your information to the landlord.'

When I look at that moment…It was one of the few moments where I really looked at myself seriously. I have a business, I have talent, I have products to sell, and I deserve this. I put in hard work and will continue to put in hard work. Seeing a friend see me that way, put it in perspective for me…I am a businessperson.

The inspiration then, for how we executed it was, once we looked in the space and started imagining ourselves there...there was this huge upstairs space that wasn’t being used. It is so cool and cozy and fun to have this little…upstairs space where you can hideaway and have your sweets.

My husband was very into cocktails and we had always had this very far off dream of having a little dessert and cocktail shop…and we had this idea that maybe down the line we will get a liquor license and do that. So that is where the vision started.

I really loved the idea of having this very cozy space that felt like going over to your eccentric aunt’s house for a cup of tea, and just a place where you felt safe and where things were a little magical maybe."

What challenges have you encountered as a woman starting her own business?

“Well the restaurant industry in general is hugely dominated by men. But I think being taken seriously in general is a hurdle and it’s not always automatic for people which is frustrating.

The general response when people find out that I was a doctor…most women are like ‘wow that is so cool’ especially women. It hits women hard…they get it. A big turning point in my story that a lot of women identify with is that I had my son and my priorities completely shifted. There is so much more when you choose a career as a woman, than just choosing to work or not to work, it is an inherently motherly instinct to want to have a career for yourself that is also compatible with your way of life and it feels almost impossible.

So, for the most part I have had a great response, but every now and then the response that I get is a snide comment about 'taking a pay cut'...or how it was a 'waste of time and money that you spent on your education to then do this.' And I don’t think anyone would say those things to a man.”

That was a big hurdle in leaving medicine. There is an expectation that I am supposed to feel lucky that I got the opportunity to go to medical school. In some respects, I was, but I also worked my ass off to get there, I did all of that work, nobody gave any part of that to me.”

What advantages have you had as a woman in business?

“I think my customers really like the personal touch that I lend to everything I do, whether it is the decorating or making stuff. I like to make those one-on-one connections with customers. I have a huge advantage working with brides. I know exactly what they are going through. Brides nowadays…want to express themselves, and have unique things because they want the things at their wedding to reflect them. I have a big advantage there. Our brides become these long-term clients…they become regulars.

Women are the biggest purchasers of things like birthday cakes and stuff. It’s not just because women like sweets its because women are often in charge of that kind of task in their household. So, an advantage I have is I understand what they are looking for. I speak that language.”

What does having a space like Dollop Shop for things like book clubs, tea parties, and social gatherings mean to the community?

“One of the things that I love about this place is that it has evolved. The events have become so popular. The first big events we started doing were tea parties. I thought there had to be a gimmick to get people to come. And my mom was like ‘have you ever considered that people might want to just come have tea?’

Every time we have a tea party it is sold out. The community is consistently showing me that they want new and exciting things here. That is one of the things I love in Toledo…people want to try new stuff. This is a cool place where people want to do cool stuff. I am here for it. It feels very exciting.

We are right here in Old Orchard and we get so many families in on weekends. It always touches me. I like that this is a place where people can connect, have a safe space, and have a place where they can relax. It is aesthetic, it is enjoyable, it is not just a place to purchase things.”


Click here to read even more stories highlighting Toledo women in business!



Notable Women from Toledo

Gloria Steinem | Writer & Activist

Stephanie Rader | Undercover Intelligence Agent

Christine Brennan | Sports Columnist

Mildred Benson | Journalist

Ella P. Stewart | Pharmacist

Marcy Kaptur | Politician


Special Events 

Check out this list of Women’s History Month events, exhibitions and activities coming up to educate, honor and empower all month long. 
New events will be added as they go live.

Girl Power!
Imagination Station | 1 Discovery Way, Toledo, OH 43604

Saturday, March 2 | 9 a.m. - 5
Girl Power! is designed to introduce girls in grades 3-8 to what's possible with STEAM. Through hands-on workshops and activities and opportunities to hear from a diverse group of local, female professionals, Girl Power! aims to ignite a curiosity for the sciences and empower girls to follow their dreams.

International Women's Day
Hiltons at Toledo Downtown
Friday, March 8, 2023 | 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.
International Women's Day (IWD) is an annual global day celebrating women's social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. As part of their advocacy awareness in our community, Women of Toledo (WOT) is organizing an IWD signature luncheon.

OWAHN Toledo Women's History Month Happy Hour
TolHouse | 1447 North Summit Street
Wednesday, March 13 | 5 -7 p.m.
OWAHN is hosting a happy hour at Tolhouse in celebration of Women's History month! Mix & Mingle with folks in the industry and enjoy a drink and light bites sponsored by John G. Construction.


Celebrate women today and all year long by doing business with and supporting Women-Owned Businesses. Some great resources for finding Women-Owned Businesses in Toledo include, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and Her Hub of Greater Toledo.