Nikki Bowman, the 2008 founder of New South Media, Inc., recognizes that Appalachian women have always been strong figures, and began an effort a few years ago to honor some of them. Publishing regional lifestyle and travel magazines for a national audience, New South Media, Inc. is responsible for WV Living, Morgantown, WV Weddings, WV Living Outdoors, and West Virginia Focus.
Through WV Living, Bowman initiated the annual “Wonder Women” awards three years ago saying, “These women bring that mountain spirit to everything from technology and manufacturing to activism and law, in every part of the state. We celebrate them – and express Great Expectations for their up-and-coming sisters.”
Bowman frequently speaks about the need for West Virginians to become invested in their communities and to take pride in their heritage. Through her magazines, she is a passionate advocate for encouraging West Virginians to discover the hidden gems in their own backyard.
Wonder Women honorees this year include three area women, who’s biographies were provided in the magazine. They are published here with permission of WV Living. For more information or to order a copy of a recent issue, visit www.wvliving.com.
Katherine Coleman Johnson
Katherine Coleman Johnson was a high school freshman by the age of 10, unlikely for anyone today, but all the more unlikely for a Africa American girl in Greenbrier county in the 1920’s, when schools for African Americans stopped at the eighth grade. Ambitious for his children, Johnson’s father worked in White Sulphur Springs but sent the rest of the family to Institute, where Johnson finished high school and attended West Virginia State College, graduating summa cum laude with degrees in mathematics and French.
After working as a teacher and later staying home to raise her children, Johnson took the opportunity in 1953 to work for NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Her job title: “computer.” In a time before electronic computers, NACA developed the practice of employing women mathematicians to calculate the precise results of wind tunnel tests. By the 1950’s, NACA had begun directing its women computers into early space research. Johnson’s extraordinary ability with numbers found a home at Langley Research Center’s Guidance and Navigation Department in Hampton, Virginia, where she came to stand out for her inquisitive nature.
Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard who, in 1961, became the first American in space. “Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start,” she later said. “I said, ‘let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.” Even after electronic computers came into use, astronaut John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his 1962 flight on Friendship 7, on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She contributed to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program.
Johnson worked for NASA until 1986. “I went to work every day for 33 years happy,” she said. She has been awarded several honorary doctorates and in November 2015 received the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
In May 2016, NASA named a new building after her: the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility I, Langley, VA. In August 2016, Lego advanced consideration of a proposed “Women of NASA” set of five figures, including Johnson, for possible future production.
And on the big screen in 2017, look for the Fox 2000 Pictures film Hidden Figures, the story of the role Johnson and two African “computers in skirts” colleagues played in providing NASA with critical data for the first successful space missions.
Krystal Tawney, of Lewisburg, has spent the past few months commuting between Lewisburg and Charleston to see patients at her clinics, Pinnacle Dermatology Skin & Laser Center.
A dermatology-certified nurse practitioner with an entrepreneurial bent, Tawney has been traversing Interstate 64 to follow her dream to help people with skin problems. The seed was planted with she was a year old and her grandmother died from melanoma. Later, Tawney worked through teenage cystic acne with a healthcare provider. “She got me on a regimen and I thought, ‘I want to do this.’”
The Sofia native and West Virginia University graduate envisions the clinics, opened in December 2014 and April 2016, as full-care service centers where patients can be treated for medical issues and receive anti-aging procedures.
In her spare time, Tawney also serves on the board of directors of Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg and volunteers for the Greenbrier Humane Society.
Nancy Bulla, of Lewisburg, was the first woman broadcast journalist in Charleston to host a daily public affairs program focused on political discussions, and a weekly medical forum in cooperation with the WV Medical Association, bringing to light subjects previously not discussed in public forums. Ratings for her noon and 6 p.m. half-hour program quadrupled in the first year of broadcast. She received awards from the WV Press Association, WV Press Women, United Press International and the Associated Press.
Bulla co-founded Mountainet, West Virginia’s first commercial radio news network, in 1981. Considered a pioneer for setting the standard of broadcast media in covering politics and lawmaking at the capitol, she spearheaded statewide syndicated cable news television programming. Bulla was the first female news reporter to be asked by the capitol press corps to moderate the gubernatorial debate between Governor Arch Moore and House Speaker Clyde See, in 1984.
Bulla designed and implemented the first public/private cooperative between The Greenbrier Resort and the State of West Virginia to attract international businesses. She was also one of four managers hired in 1985 to implement the state’s lottery law. As the agency’s communications director and drawing manager, writing and overseeing the agency’s drawing rules and regulations, Bulla also served as interim deputy director of marketing on several occasions. With the Lottery’s staff of 11, she let and reviewed bids for advertising and game vendors, helped train 2,000 retailers, and opened seven regional offices to launch sales within just four months. In 2000, the National Association of State and Provincial Lotteries recognized West Virginia for having one of the four best-conducted drawings in the country.
Bulla was and continues to be involved in a long list of community endeavors. She founded and coordinated the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s concerts for children, served as President of the WV Humanities Council, was consultant/tutor for Indo-Chinese refugees, served as a seminar instructor for Australian diplomats, and participated in dozens of music endeavors statewide. She served on the governing and community boards of Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, the Charleston Symphony, the board of directors for Charleston’s Vandalia Housing Project, and as vice-president of her PEO chapter in Lewisburg.
With a bend to those in need, Bulla initiated an animal rescue effort in Charleston that now includes thousands of participants in a multi-state effort, initiated a program prior to Hospice with noted oncologist David Lee for end of life care, and was appointed a member of the Visiting Committee, Eberly College Center for Women’s Studies at WVU.
Asked about her award, Bulla said she was a bit taken aback. “I never thought, then or now, of ‘first’ anything. I can think of so many women who could be on that list in my place. Until I was hired by the Lottery, I was juggling a number of jobs in order to pursue my passion, which was raising two daughters. My greatest joy has been being involved in their lives.”
Bulla retired from the Lottery in 2010 after more than 25 years, and returned home to Lewisburg. Having served the Presbyterian Church USA in numerous capacities, she currently pastors the Union Presbyterian Church, in Monroe County.
Previous Area Winners
Residents of the local area were honored during the first two years of Wonder Women awards as well.
Receiving the award in 2014:
Cathey Sawyer came to the Greenbrier Valley Theatre more than 20 years ago when she answered an ad for an artistic director who would grow a summer-only company into a fully professional theater. In the two decades since, Sawyer has done just that, transforming the GVT into West Virginia’s only professional live theater company and an anchor of the arts community in Greenbrier County and across the state.
Growing up in Pocahontas County, Sarah Riley was frustrated by the limitations she felt in school and in the community. After leaving the state for a college career at Harvard, Riley was inspired to come home to provide West Virginia’s girls with the nurturing atmosphere she never had. She is the director of High Rocks, an award-winning leadership organization promoting the education and encouragement of young women in Pocahontas, Nicholas, and Greenbrier counties.
Ashley Jenkins joined Rainelle’s volunteer fire department at 17. She was elected to chief in January 2014, one of the first female fire chiefs in the state.
Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall is one of only four Carnegies in the world. Susan Adkins served executive director for 10 years, and under her careful eye the budget for this cultural gem has more than doubled.
Lewisburg native Mary Lindquist’s career started in a seventh grade mathematics classroom and later encompassed international leadership on a grand scale. Her work now affects students and teachers worldwide.
Receiving the award in 2015:
Mary Pearl Compton, of Union, was termed by award presenters as “a champion of equality.” She served as delegate in the West Virginia House from 1988 to 2002. The former delegate sat on the chamber’s Education Committee and served as chairwoman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee, helping impoverished areas of West Virginia gain access to good education, health care, and employment opportunities.
Margaret Hambrick, of Alderson, is known for the work she does to preserve history – she’s the president of the board of the Greenbrier Historical Society – but she has also made history. When Hambrick was just 29 years old, she became warden of the Federal Correctional Institute in Morgantown, making her the first female warden of a male prison in the federal prison system.