Meet a Matriot: Cathe Kobacker

Cathe Kobacker is a woman of many titles. She is one of the original founding marchers who returned from the 2017 Women’s March with an idea that more women in elected office could be the solution to our country’s political stalemate. She is one of The Matriots most loyal supporters, a Matriarch, and a member our our Research Committee. She is a community activist who helped found The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, served on the board of the YWCA,  and has dedicated over 30 years of her life to advocating for end of life care. In 2004 in Cathe was recognized as a YWCA Woman of Achievement for her many years of community service.  Cathe is an amazing woman, Matriot and member of the Columbus community – we are proud to count her among our hive!

Cathe, you are one of The Matriots PAC original founding marchers. You traveled to Washington D.C. for the Women’s March in 2017 and returned with the inspiration to create The Matriots PAC. Can you share with our members why you think The Matriots’ vision for more women in elected office is the solution to today’s political rancor?

When we returned from the Washington March the founding marchers sat down and consensus was that marching was not enough. The amazing thing is that I was struck by the wide range of ideas that were given a hearing. The path was made clear after by much research and interviews with Trail Blazers.

The idea that we could sit with a group of strong-willed women with diverse points of view and come up with the PAC idea is a perfect example of why we need more women  in political office. Thanks to the PAC and Sally Crane Cox’s coming up with the name The Matriots I know we are doing something important. Keep in mind we are 51% of the population and have 21% of the political representation in Ohio.

In 2004 you were recognized as a YWCA Woman of Achievement for your many years of community service and activism. What is your advice to women hoping to make difference in their communities?

Believe in what you are doing and gather interested people around you. There is a lot of talk about passion these days and I think of it more like what my Mother used to call “stick to it ness”. Recognize what you are good at and find people who have skills you do not. I got important training from my fellow board members of the YWCA. Hospice volunteering and the Harmony Project Tapestry  choir at the Ohio Reformatory  for Women have taught me that there are important and satisfying lessons in all volunteer work.

You’ve invested more than three decades in community hospice efforts, a passion that took you around the world to study best practices and culminated in a TED Talk in 2016. Can you tell our members what you learned on your journey and how you found this passion for hospice and palliative care?

Forty years ago a close family friend was dying of a brain tumor. There was no hospice care in her community so a “we group “ formed to support her family.

When I returned to Columbus I found we had a hospice program in Columbus and I signed up as a volunteer. Supporting Good, wholistic end of life care has become a driving force in my life. I also have worked to change vocabulary so that people living with a life limiting illness are not required to use battle metaphors unless they themselves choose those terms.

The Matriots endorsed 34 women in 2018 and 9 women in the May primary election. Can you tell our members about a candidate who inspires you and why?

How to pick? What impressed me about the candidates was the diversity of training and experience they brought to their races. The experience of doing research on these women made it clear to me that we are on the right path to have more women in all levels of Ohio politics.

Now for something fun: Tell us about your favorite thing to do in the great state of Ohio. It could be a hobby, a favorite place to eat or something we might not know about our state!

One of my favorite hobbies is watching equine competitions. Two young women I have known most of their lives compete at national and international levels in different disciplines. They are cousins and both are from Columbus, Ohio (Ellie O’Neal and Ali Wolff) they make me proud every time I watch them.

My other is walking half-marathons. I have walked eight 1/2 Columbus Marathons. Nothing like thirteen miles on a cold October day..come join me.

Meet The Matriots: Emily & Kate Law

Emily and Kate Law are a captivating pair of Matriots members. Hailing from Cincinnati, Emily (left) and Kate (right), are a mother daughter duo working hard to help The Matriots elect more women to public office in Ohio. Beyond their financial investment in The Matriots PAC, the duo recently hosted a House Party to connect us with their friends and family to raise money to help female candidates.  

Emily & Kate, you are both members of The Matriots PAC. How did you learn about The Matriots and what drew you to our work?

Emily: Last year I happened to sit down next to Helen Fite, Communications and Political Relationship Manager for The Matriots, at a Columbus Young Professional’s Coffee with a Cause on women empowerment. We each asked the inevitable question “What do you do?” She told me all about The Matriots and I was absolutely blown away by the story and mission of the organization.

I was drawn to The Matriots because women are severely underrepresented in elected office in Ohio. I appreciate that The Matriots is a nonpartisan organization focused exclusively on getting Ohio women into office. The specificity of The Matriots’ mission allows them to make a significant impact changing the landscape of politics.

Kate:  I learned about The Matriots from Emily! Since her high school days, she has had her ear to the ground on politics. Her Ohio State undergraduate political science degree was a perfect fit for her instincts. I knew to trust her judgement on finding The Matriots as a group to support

Emily, you are young professional pursuing you master’s in public administration. Why do you think that it is important for younger people to invest in the political process?

Elections matter and the excuses that “you are not political” or “one vote doesn’t matter” can no longer fly. We’ve seen the power elections have in shaping policy on the local, state and federal levels. While voting is critical step, I would like to see more of the Millennial Generation and Gen Z engage in the political process by canvassing for an issue or candidate, donating or even running for office one day. By investing in the political process, young people can ensure that their voice is heard.

Kate, you and Emily graciously hosted a House Party in April. You helped connect us to your network of family and friends and in the Cincinnati area. Can you share with our members about your experiences hosting a Matriots event?

Hosting a party was an easy yes when Emily approached me with the idea. I was in full support of helping The Matriots expand their reach into the Cincinnati area. Since the 2016 election results, I have personally felt an increased urge to get involved with elections and have many friends who feel the same way. We hosted a small group ranging in age from 22 to 86. It was a great way to learn more in a comfortable setting.

Emily, The Matriots endorsed 34 women in 2018 and 9 running in May primary elections in 2019. Can you tell our members about a candidate who inspires you and why?

Ra’Cole Taltoan is current Class of 2019 Endorsed Candidate running for Youngstown City Council. What impressed me about Ra’Cole was her life-long commitment to public service. Ra’Cole not only attended board of elections meetings and resident’s councils in her community, but also served as an AmeriCorps Vista member. She is a fantastic example of the many opportunities women have to engage in the political process.

Now for something fun: Tell us about your favorite thing to do together in the great state of Ohio. It could be a hobby, a favorite place to eat or something we might not know about our state!

Kate:  Emily and I have spent many hours combing through all that Columbus has to offer including the Columbus Metro Park hiking trails with her black lab Luna, The Columbus Museum of Art, the Short North shops and restaurants, The Franklin Park Conservatory and more!

Meet a Matriot: Valerie Lemmie Thomas

Valerie is a Founding Member Class of 2018 and a member of The Matriots board of directors. Valerie is a brilliant strategic thinker with extensive experience in public policy. She is from the Dayton area and currently serves as the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation.

Before serving at the Kettering Foundation, Valerie served as city manager for the cities of Petersburg, Virginia as well as Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio.  Additionally she was a commissioner on the Public Utility Commission of Ohio and the acting chief of staff for Congressman Turner, of Ohio’s 10th district. She has served on several boards, including the House of Representatives Committee on Urban Redevelopment and President Clinton’s Greenhouse Gas Advisory Committee. We are so fortunate to have Valerie as a member and leader of The Matriots PAC!

You are a member of The Matriots board of directors, and serve on several committees, what drew you to our work?

As a career public administrator, my goal was to ensure the organizations I managed were efficient, effective, and economical, the values recognized in the profession as the pillars of good government.   As one of the first African Americans and women to serve as city manager, I represented the importance women and people of color brought to the governance process.  When I learned about The Matriots and their core belief in the need for more political leadership and participation by women, it resonated with my personal and professional experiences and career.  Additionally, professional standards dictate that city managers are nonpartisan, so joining The Matriots has provided me an opportunity to use my knowledge and understanding of local and state government to help encourage and support women who stand for public office.   Through our collective power, The Matriots help ensure the interest of women and families will be central to public policies enacted by elected bodies in our state, strengthening our communities and enhancing the quality of life for all.

You served as the city manager for both Cincinnati and Dayton, can you share with our members what accomplishments from your time in office that you are most proud of?

As a city manager, I aspired to achieve the ideals articulated in the Oath of the Athenian City-State to “…transmit this City not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”  I wanted to make a profound difference in the quality of life of those who lived and worked in the cities I managed, and most importantly, to change the order of things so that those who’d been traditionally disenfranchised had a voice and recognized their power to act as democratic citizens.

Building bridges across political, gender and economic divides; finding pathways to success for those who’d been previously marginalized; and promoting women and people of color to key management and leadership positions in local government are some of the relational accomplishments of which I’m most proud.

On an operational level, I’m most proud in Dayton of the (1) redevelopment we began in the downtown of housing and amenities, including, with the approval of the Cincinnati Reds and Major League Baseball, bringing major league baseball to town —the Dayton Dragons have been sold out for the past twenty years and continue to be a major attraction, catalyzing restaurants, housing and other amenities; (2) in a collaborative partnership with Montgomery County and Five Rivers Metro parks, the redevelopment of the riverfront to what is now RiverScape; (3) the construction of a performing arts center in collaboration with many public and private stakeholders; (3) building and renovation of the first market-rate housing in the inner city of Dayton for generations;  (4) partnership with Miami Valley Hospital and the University of Dayton that resulted in the redevelopment of the previously disinvested neighborhood anchored by these two institutions, to create new housing opportunities for residents and students and a new small business corridor; (5) development of an innovative program, in collaboration with Sinclair Junior College, to train minorities and women for positions in the city’s public safety forces (unfortunately, not sustained) and (6) the creation of innovative development financing tools, including the port authority.

In Cincinnati, it was (1) the successful implementation of the Collaborative Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to change police practices, policies and procedures in response to allegations of racial profiling and the use of force against people of color; (2) creation of a development financing authority to lead and finance redevelopment in the downtown and Over- the-Rhine, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC); (3) related partnerships with other institutional partners including the University of Cincinnati; (4) retaining key headquarter companies in the downtown; and (5) supporting and financing neighborhood redevelopment.

You were also appointed commissioner by Governor Taft and Governor Strickland to the Public Utilities Commission. Can you share with our members what your role was and why the commission’s work is important?

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is important because it affects every household in Ohio through its regulation of utility service providers, including electric and natural gas companies, local and long distance telephone companies, water and wastewater companies, rail and trucking companies.  As commissioner, you approve the rates utilities can charge end users, help ensure utility system reliability and the incorporation of renewal energy resources into the energy mix.  During my term as commissioner, we implemented the competitive retail markets for electricity and natural gas.  I also served as president of the Organization of MISO States, a regional state compact that was established to represent the collective interests of states and local utility regulators with the operator of the bulk wholesale power transmission system operator.

Now you are the director of exploratory research at the Kettering Foundation, a nonprofit foundation conducting research focused on what people can collectively do to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation. Kettering’s primary research question is: what does it take to make democracy work as it should? In your opinion, what does it take to make democracy work as it should?

The Charles F. Kettering Foundation studies how to make democracy work as it should and our research is conducted from the perspective of citizens and what they can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities and their nation.  Our core insights suggest that a robust democracy requires responsible citizens who can make sound decisions about their future and can act on these decisions in democratic and complementary ways with government to produce public goods.  We define citizenship not as a legal status, but as a practice that is more than voting and serving on juries.  Citizens are more than consumers, constituents, clients and customers—they are people who work collectively with government to address shared community problems.

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.

The joy of my life is raising our twelve year old grandson.  He is a delightful, happy, sensitive young man who lights up our life.  For a class project, he and two classmates created a business—they sell keychains they designed and 3-D printed along with baked goods they make.  Their in-school enterprise is so successful they’ve hired two classmates to work for them!  Aden loves sports, playing Forte Night and watching You Tube videos and his active life keeps my husband and me engaged and active!

Meet The Matriots: Sarah Brandon & Michael Bowen

Sarah and Michael are Founding Members Class of 2019 and proud Cleveland residents. This power couple met at Shaker Heights High School, where Michael says he fell in love with Sarah the moment he saw her. Sarah is a realtor and Michael is an associate attorney at Taft, Stettinus & Hollister LLP, where he is a member of the litigation team. Both Sarah and Michael are active in their communities. Michael served as the Campaign Director for Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson in 2017 and recently helped Matriots endorsed candidates, Julianna Johnston Senturia during her race for Mayor of Shaker Heights. 

As Founding Members Class of 2019, why did you both join The Matriots PAC and why do you feel that our work is important?

We both have role models—especially former Shaker Heights City Councilwoman Lynn Ruffner (Mike’s mom)—who played a role in Cuyahoga County politics. We believe that women in elected office are necessary. They provide diversity in thought and leadership. Any organization that puts women elected officials at the forefront is something we must support.

Sarah and Michael, you both have been heavily involved in the Cleveland community, from your perspective what makes Cleveland special?

We were born and raised in this town and we have loved living here. Cleveland is a place full of culture and vigor.

Michael, you’ve been involved in politics most of your life, can you share with our members what you learned from your experiences and what drew you to work in politics?

I caught the political bug early helping on my mother’s campaigns. The number one lesson I have learned about politics is what appears to be going on with the naked eye is not necessarily true. Being one-step ahead of what is actually happening is key.

Sarah, in 2018, The Matriots endorsed our very first class of endorsed candidates. Can you tell our members about a candidate who inspired you and why?

A candidate that inspired me last cycle was Juliana Johnston Senturia, candidate for Mayor of Shaker Heights. And that is not just because my husband ran her campaign! She is a Jewish woman like myself and it was so empowering to see her put herself out there. Regardless of what came up during the election, and it was a tough one, she stayed positive, stayed true to herself and kept working hard until the very end.

Now for something fun! You two recently got married, tell our members how you met and when you knew the other was the person you wanted to spend your life with.

We met at Shaker Heights High School Sarah’s freshman year in 2001. Mike fell in love with her the moment he saw her in the cafeteria that first day. The feeling was finally mutual 10 years later.

Meet a Matriot: Tom Grote


Tom Grote is Matriarch and past member of The Matriots PAC board of directors. He was instrumental in our organization’s early growth and  is active in his community. He currently is leading the opening of the Grote family innovation center and is a partner at Grote Turner, which works with companies and non-profits to clearly define and align purpose in their organizations. He sits on the COTA board of trustees and previously served on the board of trustees for the United Way of Central Ohio. He helped found Equality Ohio, and most recently co-chaired the capital campaign for Stonewall Columbus. Tom lives in German Village with his husband, Rick Neal, their daughters Amoret (9) and Sophia (7) and their newly adopted dog, Muppy.

You joined the board of directors of The Matriots PAC when it first formed. What drew you to our work and how did it feel to be the only man on the board of an organization dedicated to women’s leadership?

My husband and I and our girls, Amoret and Sophia, participated in the DC Women’s March in 2017.  I was impressed by the energy and tone of the March. There were thousands and thousands of mostly women, and it was intense.  But intense in a peaceful, determined way. It was powerful. And I was proud that my girls had that experience. Amoret’s take away was one of the chants, “My body, my choice.”  She uses this as a way to claim her own power about all kinds of things. She has internalized this and her daddies could not be more happy and proud.

The women who founded The Matriots were also at that march.  And that is what drew me to them. They have that same peaceful determination.  The Matriots are right that we need more women in office. Because we need more of that peaceful intensity making the decisions that affect our communities and our children’s futures.  

I was proud to be the only man on the Matriots’ steering committee and board.  There is a different dynamic in a group of women rather than a group of mostly men.  Most of the dynamics are better in that there was more discussion and more sensitivity to points of view, and less worry about who got credit.  There were some tears and sharing that were helpful as well. There were comments made that are not typically made in front of men, I think. Some were surprising to me, but I will take them to the grave 🙂

You were instrumental in the founding and success of Equality Ohio, a statewide organization that advocates and educates to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Are there similarities between that experience and helping to get The Matriots off the ground?

So many similarities.  Both statewide, political organizations led by highly motivated volunteers seizing a moment in history.  Both working with many constituencies, challenging them to come together despite differences and backgrounds.  Most importantly, both with an opportunity to define a bold vision and inspire folks to donate time and treasure.  I was able to lean on my experience with Equality Ohio, particularly around challenging us to be bold and clearly define our vision.  The Matriots’ bold goal: 50% of all officeholders will be women in ten years! It is bold, but achievable. And achieving it will make Ohio better.  

In addition to grassroots organizing, you have spent the last year helping your husband, Rick Neal, campaign for US Congress. How was that experience and did it change your view of politics?

I could write a book on this one.  I learned so much. First off, many folks complain about the work around running for office.  But, if you have the right attitude, it can be fun. Our family was all in and we had a blast.  We liked the campaigning. And we liked being able to stand up for our values, particularly in this time of Trump.  While Rick did not win his race, we did get to participate in taking back the house, particularly since Rick ran against the chair of the NRCC.  Despite the loss, this was a huge win for our democracy. Democracy works, but not for the lazy. We got to show our kids that first hand. No regrets.    

What motivates you and Rick to be so politically active?

Rick is a peace corps guy.  He took an oath to uphold the constitution.  He has community in his DNA. For me, I had some dark days in my life dealing with my sexual orientation.  I had an awakening as I navigated through that process. I am deeply connected to a sense of WE versus ME. I resonate with leaders who fight for all of us.  I want to be that type of leader too. So, I usually say yes to opportunities that show up around social justice and community. And a lot of those opportunities are political in nature.  

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest.

Given that we had to fight for the right to marry and adopt our kids, family is everything to me.  I love spending time with my kids. And I love being goofy with them. The best times are blaring Alexa to kids bop and 70’s disco songs and singing and dancing our hearts out.  This gay boy is un-stereotypically a very bad dancer, just ask my girls. But those are the best times ever!

Meet a Matriot: Harriet Warm

1) You were among the first of the Cleveland-area people to join The Matriots PAC, and signed on as a Founding Member. What about The Matriots’ work appeals to you?

Having attended a girl’s school, a women’s college and been on the all-female board of a hospital, I know how effective women can be. I was dismayed by the limited number of women running for office, even in 2018.

When I was introduced to The Matriots, I immediately felt they could be my proxy. They could sort out the abilities of Ohio women running for office, something I could not do effectually as an individual.  The fact that they focused narrowly on Ohio and offered a range of support to candidates seemed to me a recipe for success over time.

2) You moved to Ohio several years ago from New York City, where you worked at Citibank.  What is your view generally on politics in Ohio?

Politics in Ohio seems much more personal. New York City is so large that it is difficult to have an impact.  Because it is predominantly Democratic, the action is usually in the primaries.  In Ohio one often personally knows one or more candidates and there is a feeling that individual support can truly make a difference.

3) What are your observations about the differences between Cleveland and Cincinnati politically?

When I grew up in Cincinnati there was no Democratic Party. There was only the Republicans and the Charterites.  My father ran as a Charter candidate one year. They needed someone to put on the ballot and, as a young lawyer, he agreed to do it. Of course he lost, but as a child I remember listening avidly to the tallies as the votes were counted.

4) You have a particular passion around the arts, have been a board member of Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the founder of the Leadership Council at the Cleveland Museum of Art and now work on a larger scale through the National Museum of Women in the Arts. How does your work in the arts support your belief in women’s leadership?

Both MOCA and NMWA were founded by women and have had powerful women directors for many years. The CMA has a growing number of women in key roles and three recent major exhibitions featured women artists or were female inspired. Working with all three of these institutions how can I not see how much women can accomplish?

5) Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest. 

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a zest for travel. I’ve hiked the Annapurna route in Nepal, spent time in Bhutan, visited India multiple times, toured Europe, South America and much of Africa. Now I’m especially focused on family trips. I am traveling in January, with my two daughters, to Sri Lanka, and in February to Charleston for a long weekend.  It’s a rare treat to explore new territory with them and see how they support each other.  I’m fortunate to have this kind of fun in my life!

Meet a Matriot: Kirsten Knodt & Mairead Reddy

Ever wonder who created The Matriots bee logo, or maybe our popular car magnet? Meet the Matriots Kirsten (left) and Mairead (right) of Reddy or Knot design. Mairead (rhymes with parade) studied graphic design in Waterford, Ireland and has over 25 years of design and print production experience. She speaks cmyk fluently and has great Photoshop skills to boot! Kirsten (K-ear-sten) is a wordsmith and a graphic designer and loves to help clients communicate powerfully with just the right images and words. Reddy or Knot is a small firm creating big ideas for companies like Marriott International, Aloft Hotels, Element Hotels, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts, Mastercard and Columbus College of Art and Design – and of course, The Matriots PAC! We are incredibly grateful to have Kirsten and Mairead’s support, both as members and graphic designers.

You have very generously supported The Matriots PAC with your creative design and branding work at Reddy or Knot since even before the organization filed as a political action committee. What about the Matriots’ work appeals to you?

Most of our work is for corporations, so we’re excited when we get to work on smaller brands with a worthy cause. It means we get to be in on something that we feel is important and help create it from the ground up.   

Have there been particular experiences that have informed your personal journey as feminists?

Kirsten: I remember that my elementary school curriculum was mostly project based. For one project I dressed as Geraldine Ferraro and for another Harriet Tubman. I come from a long line of feminists, so it was no surprise that I always chose women to emulate and idolize.

Mairead, you are a native of Ireland. What are your observations about women’s leadership in America?

For 21 years of my life (from 1990 to 2011) we had back-to-back female presidents in Ireland. I’m not saying those two women didn’t face loads of discrimination—and maybe I’m naïve—but I don’t feel women are on quite such uneven footing in much of Europe. People’s differences, whether it’s their race, gender, sexuality, disability, etc. are not used against them in the same way that they are in the States.

Kirsten, your company has top-name clients, from Starwood Hotels to Mastercard. Have there been challenges unique to being a woman business owner?

As a certified women-owned business, larger corporations look favorably on doing business with us. And in our field, the clients we work with at those companies are typically women so I can’t say that we have experienced challenges unique to being women. We’ve been quite fortunate in that respect.

Now for something fun: Share with us an anecdote about yourselves, a hobby or a personal interest.

We both love to play tennis. Mairead discovered the sport for the first time recently, and I rediscovered it after loving it as a kid but not playing for 30 years. Mairead’s enjoying it so much, in fact, that she played on Halloween dressed as Billie Jean King. The hair got in the way after a while.

Meet a Matriot: Congresswoman Joyce Beatty

Since 2013 Congresswoman Beatty has proudly represented  Ohio’s Third Congressional District. Prior to her service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Beatty was Senior Vice President of Outreach and Engagement at The Ohio State University and a member in the Ohio House of Representatives for five terms. While serving in the Ohio House, she rose to become the first female Democratic House Leader in Ohio’s history. She is a Founding Member of The Matriots PAC and proud grandmother of two toddlers.

You were an early supporter of The Matriots PAC, providing encouragement, advice, and funding. What about The Matriots PAC’s work appeals to you?

I was encouraged and delighted to see a diverse group of women uniting to support and advocate for like-minded women. Like The Matriots, I want to see more women in government at all levels. Too often women are on the sidelines because they don’t know how to get involved. The Matriots reached out to me and genuinely wanted to be educated about integrating politics, issues, and people—they listened, learned, and they put words into action. Further, I believe they realized in order to accomplish great things they had to harness the talents, skills, and unique perspectives of the founding women, as well as raise dollars to support candidates. They were bold and committed to helping women in a bipartisan fashion.

You entered political life in 1999, when you were appointed to take the seat previously held by your husband, Otto Beatty Jr. What led you to step out of private life and pursue a political career?

I believed it was an opportunity for me to build on the legacy Otto had created, but to do more and to create a platform for women. I realized there were legislative changes that needed to take place to make life better for all Ohioans. I was engaged in the community, and had a successful business, but I believed I could marry my experiences to politics and policy and make a difference—especially for women and minorities. I have a voice that resonates with people, and early on I made a commitment to use that voice to speak up for the voiceless and speak out on civil and economic injustices, education, and healthcare. Just think, there had never been a female Democrat leader in Ohio’s history until me. That is why I knew I had to be in the room to make a difference.

As a woman who has served in both the Ohio House and U.S. Congress, what advice do you give to our candidates running for the Ohio legislature?

Always speak truth to power and remember honesty, integrity, respect, and civility are great core values to guide you. Have a firm conviction to your values and constituent needs. Be confident and courageous. Don’t look for the easy way out—remember the actions you take during times of challenges and controversy will be looked upon. Learn the rules of engagement, know you will have to make sacrifices—but put family first, plan well, and know it always seems impossible until it’s done. Realize some days will feel like you are on the journey alone—but remember others have walked in your footsteps and now we are marching and running for higher offices.

I remember the week I was sworn in to the Ohio legislature, there was a bill being debated regarding women’s issues—I felt compelled to address the House and I was prepared. However, the tradition was new members waited before speaking so soon on the House floor. I broke the rules—I spoke out. While that incident led to me being called into Speaker Davidson’s Office, it had a pleasant ending. My actions garnered her respect—and soon a powerful Republican leader and I, a Democrat, became friends. People are watching you—so give them something powerful to watch. Remember: When women succeed, America succeeds!

You and Congressman Steve Stivers (R-OH15) have formed a close political partnership and are known for working successfully across the aisle. How do you manage that and is that something increasingly difficult to achieve these days?

Working together and sharing ideas should be a natural thing to do. However, in today’s political climate it has become increasingly more difficult to work in a bipartisan fashion. Congressman Stivers and I believe in civility and that one can disagree without being disagreeable. We became friends prior to serving together in Congress. We met when there was a problem that brought us together, and we resolved it with a win-win—and that jump-started our belief that opposite parties can work together. It has not always been easy, but we have worked together closely on a number of issues and have crafted legislation that helps all of our constituents in Central Ohio and beyond. Steve and I know that working across the aisle is better for everyone. So that is what we set out to do with the creation of the Congressional Civility and Respect Caucus. Now we have 34 members (17 Democrats and 17 Republicans) and counting in the Civility and Respect Caucus.

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby, or a personal interest.

I am very lucky to have a great supportive family—but my grandbabies are the greatest joy. My two grandchildren call me Grammy—like the “Grammy Award” because we are our greatest gift to each other. They keep me focused—they are smart, beautiful, loving—and FUN!

Meet a Matriot: Sophia Fifner

Sophia is the Community Relations Chief for Columbus Recreation and Parks, where she helps ensure that Columbus residents have access to health and wellness opportunities. She has more than ten years of experience working in both the private and public sector, including  as a Senate staffer on Capitol Hill and as a political fundraiser for a Fortune 100 company in Columbus.


You are a Founding Member of The Matriots PAC and serve on our 88 Woman Campaign committee. What about The Matriots PAC’s work appeals to you? 

I am fearlessly passionate about women and girls. I support The Matriots PAC because its goal to ensure women hold at least half of all public offices in Ohio by 2028 is ambitious, inspiring, and necessary. If we are going to change the trajectory of our community, support for women must extend beyond the walls of our home and office. The Matriots PAC serves as a nonpartisan vehicle to challenge the status quo. Therefore, as a mother, leader, and conservative, supporting The Matriots PAC is simple.

You are a community activist and a huge advocate for women and girls, as well as a woman of strong faith. How do these commitments complement one another, in your view?

My Christian faith is the foundation for every element of my life and serves as the lens through which I view the world. I keep my faith by demonstrating my values and returning to scripture for guidance when faced with difficult decisions. Thus, my advocacy for women and girls is purely an extension of my faith. A verse that truly resonates with this belief is Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” I speak up because I aim to give voice to those who are voiceless.

As the Community Relations Chief for the City of Columbus Department of Recreations and Parks, can you share an anecdote about how this work has shaped you?

In my role, I have gained a significantly deeper understanding of how access to our programs, services, and facilities has a transformational impact on the lives of everyone. From the casual jogger to the child who receives one of the more than 500,000 meals we serve over the summer, recreation and parks is fundamental to the fabric of our community. This work has shaped me because I see first-hand how leveraging public-private partnerships can move the needle on building communities. Through collaboration, we are able to extend our services and reach key populations where services are needed most. Currently, one of our biggest projects is rebuilding the Linden Community Center and Park. I’m excited to be part of the team working to bridge and steward these relationships with the ultimate goal of providing equitable access to all.

You are also a mother of a young girl. Tell us a little about her and what you hope for her future. 

Caroline is the apple of my eye. She is passionate about being outdoors, playing with George Washington (our standard poodle), and reciting the alphabet song at least a dozen times. At nearly two years of age, I’m confident she is destined to accomplish great things. There’s a piece of wall art that hangs in our kitchen, which reads in part, “be fearless in the face of adversity.” This simple phrase encompasses everything I hope for her future. I hope she is an advocate for others. I hope she is a bold and fearless leader. I hope she lives in a world where all women are equal.  

Now for something fun: Tell us about a family member, hobby or a personal interest. 

My affinity for and support of pageantry and specifically the Miss America Organization is no secret. As a former state competitor and current volunteer, I love its mission – to prepare great women for the world and prepare the world for great women. Nearly 15 years ago, this organization gave me the opportunity to use my voice to advocate for women and girls. And, by the age of 25, I had the confidence and gumption to champion character education in local schools, advocate for legislation like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and interview Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In addition to the glitz of pageantry, I enjoy watersports and traveling to historic places with my husband and visiting one of Columbus’ more than 350 parks with my daughter Caroline.

Meet a Matriot: Dr. Mary Jo Ruggieri

Mary Jo is an author, speaker and researcher, the founder and director of the Institute of Holistic Health Careers and the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. She is a retired assistant professor of 25 years from The Ohio State University, where she also coached national and Olympic athletes in synchronized swimming.  Dr. Mary Jo was a two-time Olympic coach in 1988 and 1992.

1) You were among the first to join The Matriots as a Founding Member in 2017, our inaugural year. What about The Matriots PAC’s work appeals to you?

What appeals to me about The Matriots’ mission, purpose and PAC is very clear:  total focus on the political support of women!  My realization, after the 2016 election was — if we do not rethink the way our country is delivering politics, especially elections, and especially with regards to women’s value in politics, then we will lose everything we have worked and struggled with for 200 years as women.   I was angry, especially coming out of the second wave of the women’s movement in the ‘70s, to realize we were fighting the same battles we were fighting before. I said “no more” will I support a political system that disregards and devalues women in this country.  I chose in a flash to become a Founding Member of The Matriots whose vision aligns with mine and who will focus on a strong support of women in politics.  Together We Can. 

2) You spent many years as a coach at The Ohio State University and led the synchronized swimming team to 17 of 19 national collegiate championship titles, with 11 of those occurring in her last 11 years as head coach, a record that remains to this day among Division I collegiate sport programs. How did that experience influence your desire to see women in leadership?

My experience as a faculty member and as an athletics coach at The Ohio State University definitely molded who I am today.  When I came to OSU in the ‘70s we were in the middle of the Title 9 battle for equality in sports.  I got a crash course in all facets of discrimination against women:  lack of privilege, lack of rights, lack of access, lack of control, and lack of any power to make decisions for ourselves. Many of the great OSU women leaders took us under their wings and taught us what we needed to know to fight with class, think out of the box, and make significant changes that opened up a new world to us.  We stood on their shoulders, learned their secrets of rhetoric of agitation and then followed in their footsteps when they were too tired to fight anymore.  We continued the battle for many years and challenged the glory of the Scarlet and Gray to give women their rights as students and athletes.  This experience influenced us to understand how to build good women into good leaders.    

3) You now focus primarily on integrated medicine and wellness. Tell us a little bit about women’s health as an economic issue that impacts society as a whole.

Having the privilege to coach high-profile women athletes brought me into the field of Integrative, Holistic and Preventive Healthcare. I quickly realized that to truly have optimal health and to grasp the deepest meaning of health, it was necessary for me to broaden my scope of working with young women beyond just the physical. Women’s healthcare issues became very important in understanding that women were not treated equally with regards to access in our healthcare system.  Research was limited on the health conditions of women and women reacted much better to a mind-body approach to healthcare.  Being in a very traditional system of healthcare, I can say that I found myself in another long struggle to get people to believe that what we were doing in a holistic approach to healthcare for women was beneficial.   When I retired from OSU we had already established a Center for Integrative Health and Wellness to benefit our community with a focus in women’s healthcare issues.   

4) You now divide your time between Cleveland and Columbus. What are the political issues that our state faces that you would like to see addressed by the women we are promoting for office?

After meeting many of the women that The Matriots selected to support for political offices, I realized how this support made a big difference. They all spoke about how passionate they were about making significant changes in the state of Ohio for the greater good of women, taking back and protecting women’s rights, women’s choices, and empowering women with economic stability. The reality that Ohio is ranked so low in the USA for women being represented at the political level made it even more important for women to succeed.  The candidates were excited and happy to be part of a focused group that supported them and wanted to help them become a political success.  The Matriots and the group support have given them a voice. The most notable process is seeing all The Matriots and the elected women coming together to support them as candidates.  This reminded me of the support and camaraderie I experienced with the women’s movement in the ‘70s.     

5) Now for something fun: Tell us about your family, a hobby or a personal interest.

As a woman from an immigrant Italian family, with all of my grandparents coming from Italy, I grew up with strong, bold Italian women and men who listened to them and supported them.  Of course, the men would say the women had the power, so do not argue with them; just support them.  My dad was a professional baseball player and I was always in the dugout with his team as the batgirl.  Even then I could never understand why girls did not have teams. My family is a huge focus in my life. I deeply enjoy spending time with my extended family, including my nieces, nephews and their families. The apple of my eye is my daughter, Elena, who graduated from Columbus School for Girls and now at 24 is in animal biology and wildlife management. She is a very empowered young woman who wants to become an advocate for animals and the environment. It gives me great personal satisfaction whenever I am able to travel the world, speaking and teaching about women’s health issues. I especially enjoy going to holistic centers and spas, where I can get hot stone massages, polarity therapy, detox and good yoga classes.  My favorite place is in Austria outside of Vienna called Rogner-Bad Bluma!