Celebrating influential women of Westfield

Starting as a week-long local celebration in California, Women’s History Month, which recognizes and commemorates the achievements that women have made to American history in a variety of fields, has been celebrated nationally since 1995. March is a time to reflect on the courage of women and celebrate their efforts. Westfield has strong women in various positions of leadership and Hi’s Eye has selected a few of Westfield’s most influential women to discuss.

Mayor Shelley Brindle broke barriers when she was elected to be Westfield’s first female mayor in November 2017. However, her mayoral campaign wasn’t the first time she shattered the glass ceiling. Prior to her role in local politics, Brindle was in the
executive suite at HBO, a position historically held by men. Brindle noted, “It never occurred to me [that] I couldn’t [do it] because I was a female; I’m accustomed to being in places where women didn’t exist. I felt that being authentic and succeeding was really important because [it shows] other women that they don’t have to live up to these prescribed notions of what leaders look like.”

In her current run as mayor, Brindle has continued to set a precedent and serve as an inspiration for the young girls of Westfield, showing them what a strong female leader can look like. “I try to bring that same sense of accessibility to being mayor, so that girls … can see how they could be elite, and be that type of leader too,” said Brindle.

Editor-in-chief of The Westfield Leader, Lauren Barr, bought the local newspaper when its previous owner retired, and she took control of Westfield’s oldest business. Barr’s personal success speaks volumes regarding female leadership in the community. She said, “While I am the publisher and the editor-in-chief, it is a team that’s behind me, which is largely made of women at this point.”

Barr’s advice to the young girls of Westfield is to always remember to defend their voice, especially when they are being silenced. “As women, we are much more likely to be interrupted by men. Never be afraid to say ‘Excuse me, you’re interrupting me and I’m going to finish my thought.’ Don’t let them stop you, even when it’s not intentional. You have to speak up because your voice and your questions are just as important,” she said.

Sandy Mamary became the first female Athletic Director at WHS when she applied for the job 11 years ago. “Our school district is a very unique district in the fact that we look to hire the best person for the job, and not the ‘best gender.’ I think that goes along with how we focus on our students in the classroom; we try to make sure that everybody has equity,” said Mamary.

Mamary commented on the difficulties of growing up as a “Title IX baby” without many female role models. The introduction and expansion of the sports programs at WHS such as girls golf, girls ice hockey and girls and boys volleyball, are ones that she considers some of her proudest moments.

“I used Title IX for equity, so when there was an interest in boys volleyball… if we have girls volleyball… we have to be able to incorporate that. And I was probably more proud of that than anything, because the whole point of Title IX is equity; equal for all,” she said.

Stepping into the role of WHS Principal, Mary Asfendis noted the various women who served as important professional role models for her. “I would say many of the [female] administrators in the Westfield Public Schools have always been very supportive and influential and pushed me to be better at my job. Seeing someone like Dr. Dolan, who was a superintendent for so many years… she certainly was a model to live up to,” said Asfendis.

Asfendis has advice for young women: “I don’t think gender is a limitation and I don’t think it has to be a limitation. If you’re doing your best and reaching toward your goals, I think there’s no reason why you can’t achieve any goal you set for yourself. Being a woman is not an obstacle; it brings a perspective to things that are important and a voice that’s important to be heard.”

Women’s History Month is a crucial time to commemorate those who have shaped the nation’s history. As we celebrate the defining women of our past and present, Westfield can take pride in the influential women who make this town what it is.