Three 'Remarkable Women' honored in inaugural event in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — Those who go above and beyond for their communities don't always receive recognition for their many efforts.

For three local women, Wednesday represented a departure from that tradition, as they were presented with the first annual Remarkable Women Awards in ceremonies at Bennington Honda.

The three awards honor leaders in entrepreneurship, business and community through the Lindy Lynch Community Leader Award, the Business Leader Award and the Entrepreneurial Leader Award.

Honored were: Lisa Byer, executive director of Catamount Access Television; Shannon McLenithan, senior VP of retail lending at the Bank of Bennington; and Elizabeth Wilwol, owner of The Gift Garden, respectively.

Each award was introduced with a description of its purpose, along with names of the nominees and their biographies.

The Banner and the Manchester Journal presented the awards at the event, which was sponsored by multiple entities, including Bennington Honda.

The awards represent a "great way to celebrate all the talented and smart women in Bennington County," said Susan Plaisance, advertising sales manager at the Banner.

Byer received the Lindy Lynch Community Leader Award. The award honors Lynch, who died in August at her home in North Bennington after a long battle with cancer.

Her daughter, Megan Campbell, presented the award in honor of Lynch, who was particularly well-known for her organization of Bennington's popular Garlic and Herb Festival, known as Garlic Fest.

Although Lynch is no longer with us, her legacy as an indispensable volunteer who served her community lives on, Campbell said before presenting the award to Byer, who was a close friend of Lynch.

"It's a little bittersweet," Byer said. "Lindy was an incredible role model and an incredible friend. It's an honor to be in her footsteps."

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Byer also said she was honored that her staff nominated her for the award.

"I think it's great that we're honoring so many people that contribute to our community, and it's even better that they're all women," she said.

Byer, one of 10 nominees for the award, has worked in community access television for over 20 years, and grew CAT-TV from one to three channels, seeing the transition from analog to digital. Most recently, she led the legal fight to ensure Comcast fulfills the Vermont Certificate of Public Good, and won a settlement to ensure that CAT-TV and others will continue to have services.

Byer has led many community endeavors, including the Capitol Christmas Tree, Moosefests and the Catamount Prowl, and is also an active Rotary member and a member of the board of Second Chance Animal Center.

"Lisa has always put Bennington first, volunteering for nearly every community event to include Garlic Fest, the Car Show, Pancake Breakfast, Brewfests, and many more," said William Gardner, in nominating Byer for the award. "She epitomizes the spirit of Lindy Lynch and was also a dear friend of hers."

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McLenithan received the Business Leader Award.

"I'm really excited," she said after the ceremony. "Honored to be nominated in with the class of folks that I did."

She said she did not expect to be selected. McLenithan was one of four nominees for the Business Leader Award.

Her career spans two decades, from bank teller to loan administration and operations, to a senior position. She has helped "scores" of successful women in the development of their best attributes, and mentors them to do better and be better, said Wendy Chenaille, in nominating McLenithan.

"In banking and in life, she sets the bar of excellence for her peers and family," Chenaille said in her nomination.

McLenithan also serves in many organizations, including the Pownal Economic Development Committee and the Chamber Board of Directors, and is a Garlic Fest volunteer.

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In her nomination, Chenaille also said it was difficult to decide which award to nominate McLenithan for, as she is a savvy businesswoman who also exemplifies the virtues of Lindy Lynch.

Wilwol received the Entrepreneurial Leader Award. She was one of three nominees.

"It's an honor to be recognized with a lot of local businesses," Wilwol said after the ceremony. "Everyone's a remarkable woman in Bennington."

Wilwol has been in the floral industry for over 30 years, 27 of which were spent working for The Gift Garden before purchasing the store with her husband, Dwain, in January 2015 after the previous owner retired. Besides balancing the day-to-day operations, Wilwol designs, merchandises and is the primary buyer for the store, and supports making downtown Bennington successful, said her husband, Dwain Wilwol, in nominating her.

She also serves as the Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Better Bennington Corporation, and participates in the Society of American Florists' national program, "Petal it Forward," giving away two free floral bouquets to people on the street — one to keep and one to give away.

Wilwol was also nominated by John Shannahan, executive director of the Better Bennington Corporation.

"Beth participates in all the downtown events and keeps one of the most attractive storefronts in downtown," Shannahan said in nominating Wilwol.

A panel of five judges selected the recipients: Shannon Barsotti, community development director for the town of Bennington, David LaChance, news editor of the Bennington Banner, Berta Maginniss, executive director of the Wilson House, Christopher Oldham, executive director of the Park-McCullough House Association, and Jason Battis, general sales manager of Bennington Honda.

"It feels good to be able to do something for the community, and for people who give back to us," Battis said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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