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A Century United: United Way’s Volunteer Women Leaders

March 24th, 2023

In honor of United Way of Central Ohio’s centennial celebration throughout 2023 and Women’s History Month, we want to recognize the female community leaders who have been instrumental in guiding our mission and vision throughout our history.

Nancy Jeffrey paved the way for women leaders at United Way by serving as the first female campaign chair in 1972 and first female board president in 1976. You can read more about Jeffrey and her groundbreaking leadership here.

Ten years passed before a second woman, Paula Spence, was elected as board president in 1986 and 1987. Spence was a Columbus businesswoman who served as president and vice chairwoman of HMS Partners, a local advertising agency. She retired in September 1998 and passed away at the age of 88 in 2020. Referred to by some in the community as “the velvet knife,” Spence had the unique ability to bring people together and get things done, all while being gently persuasive.

In 1998, Nancy Zimpher became board president, but served only two months before she relocated to Milwaukee to serve as the first female chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Yvette McGee Brown was selected in 2001 as United Way’s board president, becoming the first Black woman to fill that role. At the time of her election, she was serving as the first Black judge and second woman judge on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Division of Domestic Relations and Juvenile Court. During her tenure as board chair she led the launch of Start Smart and the expansion of United Way’s commitment to race relations by focusing on cultural diversity and ethnicity. Brown was an early graduate of Project Diversity, which began in 1989.

Judge Brown’s term was followed by Tanny Crane, who served as board president for 2002 and 2003. Crane had also chaired United Way’s campaign in 1999, after serving as a board member for eight years. As president and CEO of Crane Plastics (now Crane Group), Tanny was no stranger to following in her father Robert’s footsteps. She succeeded him in leading the family business and also carried on his legacy of community service through United Way leadership. Robert Crane Jr. served as United Way’s campaign chair in 1974 and as board chair in 1977 and 1978.

Tanny Crane’s term as president saw the departure of Brian Gallagher as he left central Ohio to lead United Way of America, and the hiring of Janet Jackson who served as president and CEO of United Way of Central Ohio from 2003 to her retirement in 2017.

In 2008, Ann Pizzuti was elected as United Way’s board chair, and she retained the position in 2009. Ann and her husband Ron are best known locally and internationally as renowned art collectors. The Pizzutis are ranked among “The World’s Top 200 Collectors” by ART News and have travelled near and far in search of additions to their collection. Ann’s two years as board chair was a significant time of change for the organization. In addition to the launch of the LIVE UNITED campaign, she oversaw the realignment of funding as United Way narrowed its focus to support four key areas: Education, Income, Health and Home. In 2009, she led the establishment of nine Bold Goals, with the intent of meeting the goals by 2020.

Lisa Ingram became the seventh woman to serve as United Way board chair when she was elected in 2017, serving for two years in the position. Ingram, who became CEO of White Castle in 2000, joined United Way’s board in 2012 and served as treasurer before being elected to the chair position. She was also chair of the organization’s Tocqueville Society. Ingram’s tenure as board chair coincided with the first two years of Lisa Courtice as the organization’s new president and CEO.

Finally, Barbara Benham, executive vice president and chief public affairs officer at Huntington National Bank, became United Way’s board chair in 2021 and served in the role through 2022. During her two years as chair, her leadership was instrumental as United Way launched Success by Third Grade, made significant changes to its investment process, adjusted to pandemic challenges and relocated to the new Community Impact Center on Front Street.


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