SJ Magazine invited 11 prominent SJ women to share their thoughts and ideas over dinner at The Capital Grille in Cherry Hill. Our Women’s Roundtable has become an annual event, gathering accomplished women who are always very open, sharing insights they’ve gleaned from personal experiences. It is a night of warm conversation and friendly exchange.



Sharon Hammel
Chief Retail Officer, Republic Bank

Wanda Hardy
Managing Principal, WP Hardy Consulting

Dawn Kaplan
Partner, Weinberg Kaplan & Smith

Pamela Brant
President, Symphony in C

Sharla Feldscher
President, FH Public Relations

Anika Ragins-Riley
Executive Director, Rowan College at Burlington County

Lucy Beard
Executive Director, Alice Paul Institute

Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez

(Ret.) Judge Marie White Bell

Patty DiRenzo
Parent Advocate, Addiction Awareness

Jimena Florez
CEO, Chaak Healthy Snacks



On Their childhoods…

My father passed when I was 3 months old. I think it changed my mom forever. She was overly protective, so I was very stifled as a child. What’s interesting is that she was a stay-at-home mom, but she wanted no parts of that for me. The message was: you have to be prepared to take care of yourself, because you just don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring. – Dawn Kaplan

I grew up in a segregated community. I went to an all-black elementary school, and there was a white school within a half block of my home. We had to walk at least six blocks to the black school, and I was a very angry young lady because of that. – Marie White Bell

When my mom divorced my dad, she got married again after four years. She was with someone that didn’t treat her well, but she stayed because of my brother and me. That made me think I needed to be independent, so if I’m unhappy I can say, “I’m unhappy, and I’m leaving.” When I was 8 years old, I started selling things at school so I could make my own money. I knew I had to create my own destiny. – Jimena Florez


On their fathers…

My father is a great example of a male who is really giving, who thinks more like the female side than the male side. So it’s very complicated for me to find a person I can be in a relationship with, because I am always comparing, “Why can’t you be like my dad and really give, just give?” – Jimena Florez

My father was a salesman, so in the summer he would take us on trips with him. I really got to see him in action. I learned persistence from him. You just keep at it. Even if you get a million “nos,” you’ll eventually get a “yes.” – Pamela Brant

My stepfather is not well-educated, so he tends to offend people, which was a great lesson. I could see through what he said to the real person inside him, so I learned how to work with people. When someone comes into my office and expresses themselves in a way that may be offensive, I can see past it. I’ve learned to appreciate people and what’s inside as opposed to just the surface. – Carmen Rodriguez

My father was very interested in education. When I was in first grade, he bought a set of encyclopedias, and at the end of the week I had to tell him what I had learned. In elementary school, I had to read the dictionary and provide for him 10 words that I could recall. He was a very unusual person, but he was also a great man. – Marie White Bell

My father was always hugging me and telling me I was beautiful. To have that extra pat on the shoulder from my daddy, that’s a real gift in my life. – Sharla Feldscher

I have a close relationship with my father. He’s always there for me and my sister and our families. He’s the one picking people up from the bus. It’s really amazing. Those are the same things he did for us when we were little. – Anika Ragins-Riley


On mentors…

The role I serve in today was actually the role my mentor had for 30-some years, and she passed away suddenly last October. She inspired me to do what I do; she really believed in me. We were dear friends. I didn’t move into her office for months, and then one night, when nobody was there, I moved in. I sat down by myself for a little while, came to grips with it and realized she would be very pleased that it was me. I decided doing my job well would be the best way to honor her. I wake up every day thinking she would be pleased. – Sharon Hammel

One of my mentors was Judge Alexander Wood III, who introduced me to the court system. When I started practicing in Burlington County, there were only three female attorneys. Sometimes when I would go to another county, the judge would think I was a litigant, not the attorney. I would come back and tell Judge Wood. He would call the judge to say he was not appreciative of the way I was treated. Alexander Wood III was a wonderful man; I’ll never forget him. – Marie White Bell



Overcoming obstacles…

When I was 19 or 20, I was engaged, and my fiancé became schizophrenic – he changed overnight. I was never afraid of him, but yet, he was extraordinarily dangerous. It was a pivotal point in my life. I had to process and digest that sometimes things happen that you didn’t even know could happen. There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s some things you just can’t change. – Sharon Hammel

Our life changed completely when my family declared bankruptcy. My dad lost everything. We lost everything, everything, everything. So I just started from scratch. I was building myself every single day and being grateful for being able to build myself. When things go wrong, everything becomes a blessing if you see it in a different way. – Jimena Florez

I lost my son to a heroin overdose. The person with my son didn’t call 911 because they were afraid of being arrested. I couldn’t figure out why somebody would leave my son to die. So I advocated for the Good Samaritan Law in New Jersey, which is if you call 911 to report an overdose, you won’t get arrested. It was passed in 2013. I went from being a legal secretary to a parent advocate because of the loss I endured, because I don’t want other parents to go through what I’ve gone through. – Patty DiRenzo



On Feminism…

I was a Girl Scout. If I went back to Girl Scouts right now, I wouldn’t recognize it, because it reflects how women’s roles have changed. My husband was a Boy Scout for 10 minutes, yet he knows exactly when that pinewood derby is every year, because the Boy Scouts haven’t changed. That demonstrates how women’s roles have changed and men are trying to figure out how theirs should change. – Lucy Beard

You have to have a voice, no matter what. Because today, believe it or not, we are at the table, but they don’t want to hear us. That’s still happening. – Wanda Hardy


On being a working mom…

I was raised in an environment where a woman did it all, but she didn’t work outside the home. There’s this guilt that I’m not at home, so I’m going to do all the things I’m supposed to do at home and also work. It’s very challenging to find, not necessarily the balance, but a way to juggle it all. – Anika Ragins-Riley

I tell my husband all the time a wife needs a good wife. – Sharon Hammel

I have four kids, and I am the sole provider in my household, so I have to do it all, because there is no other person to bear the load. I have guilt a lot of times, because sometimes I’m so tired when I get home I just want to sit. And then afterward I think, “Oh, I should have cooked something instead of buying pizza.” But my kids have grown up understanding that mommy has to work hard because there are people who need help. – Carmen Rodriguez



On feelings of failure…

When I got my first book published, it took six years. I got 16 rejections from publishers. But I didn’t give up. People would say, “Why do you keep trying?” But why would I not? Why would I put my manuscript in a drawer? – Sharla Feldscher

I failed the bar exam three times. I just wasn’t a good test taker. How I handled those failures showed who I was going to be. If I had given up – that would be the failure. But my continued drive – that was the success. – Dawn Kaplan 


July 2017
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