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Women in Business With A Delta Connection


Oprah Winfrey was once quoted as saying that, “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” And that advice is spot on when it comes to business, politics, or serving the community in any capacity, especially in today’s fast-paced, digital world.

And when it comes to women who are the movers and shakers of their organizations, businesses or communities, whether behind the scenes or out in front where they’re the driving force of the entire operation, passion and energy are vital, considering some are juggling home and family among their other interests.

Dawn Rosenberg Davis is one such very busy woman. Davis is the Communications Coordinator for the Yazoo County Convention and Visitors Bureau and has been in that position for 4½ years. She also has a husband and two children and family responsibilities that keep her as busy at home as she is at work. At the Yazoo County CVB it is her responsibility to maintain and update their website, keep all their social media current and handle all of their media in general.

“I don’t do just the social media,” Davis said. “I also design and place all of our ads and cultivate and promote tourism for Yazoo County.”

Davis’s background is in photography and when she worked for herself in that field she learned a lot about self-promotion and self-advertising.

Dawn Rosenberg Davis
Dawn Rosenberg Davis

“I’ve worked as a professional photographer too since 2005,” she said. “And in that aspect, as far as running my own business and promoting my own work; I gained a lot of experience in promotion and advertising.”

Davis was born in Jackson and raised in Yazoo County by her parents, who were originally from North Dakota. So Yazoo County is very near and dear to her heart and so are her co-workers who help make her job that much easier.

“There are three people in our office, myself, our director, Shanitra Finley, who is doing a remarkable job and our receptionist, Genie Finley, which I like to call our genie-in-a-bottle because she makes miracles happen. We are a team and that’s one reason we won CVB of the year for the third year in a row from the Mississippi Tourism Association. Without the other two ladies I work with, my job would be impossible because they’re terrific.”

Davis is so proud of her hometown that she couldn’t imagine doing anything else for her profession.

“I have learned so much about Yazoo County that I could have never imagined before. We have people coming here from all over the world because we have what they want to see and do: Yazoo is authentic, colorful, and unique, and travelers and tourists love us for it,” she said. “Tourism has become the 4th largest private sector employer in Mississippi. It’s a huge business, and it’s one I hope Yazoo will continue to capitalize on. My ultimate goal is to help not only tourists and travelers discover the beauty that is Yazoo County, but to help our residents discover that beauty as well, just as I have.

I truly believe this is one of the best places in the world to live and raise a family. I feel so blessed to be here, and to be able to do what I love for a place that I love.”

Sarah Smythe was born and raised in Washington County. She graduated from Mississippi State in 2008 with a degree in apparel/textiles merchandising. Today she is co-owner (with her mother, Sherry) of Lagniappe in Greenville.

Sarah Smythe
Sarah Smythe

“My mom has had Lagniappe for almost 25 years,” Smythe said. “So it was obviously something that had always been in my life. While I was in school at State, I was an apparel/textiles merchandising major and I decided to open up a clothing business in Starkville. On my own, that would have been my first-step.”

Smythe said she opened up the clothing store in Starkville because she saw the need for it there with the college community making it robust with opportunities and she ran that successful business for two years.

After graduation, Smythe sold the Starkville business and decided to venture away and explore the possibilities of a big city, so she moved to New York.

“Once in New York, I started in the apparel industry as personal assistant to different fashion designers,’ she said. “But I realized quickly that my heart was in retail and in a year I switched gears and went into retail working for Jonathan Adler, who is a very well-known interior designer and retailer in New York. I managed their Upper East Side, Madison Ave. store, which at the time was one of their least successful stores, but grew significantly while I was there.”

After working for Adler, she was hired by a London-based company, The Conran Shop, and stayed with them for a year, traveling back and forth between London and New York.

Today, Smythe is back home in Mississippi and loving every minute of it. She came back about two years ago to regroup after her time spent in New York and London.

“I really thought that I’d wind up somewhere else in the South,” Smythe said. “But once I started visiting Lagniappe and coming to work with my mom on a day-to-day basis, I saw so much potential with the store that I decided I didn’t really want to go anywhere else. I love the people here and being close to my family and I also love being in a business that’s mine, instead of working for someone else.”

Smythe said Lagniappe’s was always a great store, but since her return she has really wanted to expand on the business and make a real destination for the customer.

“Mom dealt with the store when the economy was down and I came back when the economy was on the upswing,” Smythe said. “So I kind of took that and ran with it. I try to keep us involved with the big events that are going on in town, such as the Hot Tamale festival. It’s one of our biggest events and we usually bring in about 20 authors to the store. From the standpoint where I am now, this feels more exciting than what I did in New York. ”

Tonya Rice is Workforce Coordinator for Mississippi Delta Community College and has been there for four years. She grew up in Fayette, Miss. in Jefferson County. She did her undergrad at Alcorn State where she received a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She attended grad school at Murray State in Kentucky and received her master’s in Occupational Safety and Health.

Tonya Rice
Tonya Rice

“That master’s degree led the way for me to work in the field of industry,” Rice said. “I studied all the requirements for maintaining a safe work environment. My first job in the Delta was at John Richard in Greenwood as a safety director. It also provided segue for me to get into human resources. So safety and a little bit of human resources is my background.”

Rice came to the Delta originally to be with the man she would marry, who lived then in Greenville and already worked for MDCC. She was seeking jobs in the Delta when she began working for John Richard.

At MDCC, Rice works with a number of businesses to help find solutions for their training needs.

“A lot of their training needs may involve current workers, we call them incumbent workers,” she said. “We help facilitate and organize their training at the worksite or some businesses choose to come to the Capps Center and have the training done here. That way they’re away from the work environment and away from any interruptions.”

Rice feels the rewards of her job, even with balancing work and family, each and every morning she gets up to go to work.

“The biggest joy that I receive from my job is seeing an unemployed participant get the skills that they need to qualify for a job,” Rice said. “Those training opportunities can be a life changer for them. And that’s so important to me.”

Cleveland native, Lucy Janoush, has worked both in front and behind the scenes of her community for many years. From Executive Vice President—Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Foundation to Legislative Assistant to both U.S. Congressmen Jamie Whitten and David Bowen in Washington, D.C. and many things in between, Janoush has been both honored and fulfilled by her public service works.

Lucy Janoush and her daughter, Mary
Lucy Janoush and her daughter, Mary

Today she is President of the Cleveland Music Foundation, which is the non-profit that is building and operating GRAMMY Museum Mississippi.

“When they started to assemble the board to put the GRAMMY project together, the city of Cleveland asked me would I be on the board and serve as the chairperson,” Janoush said. “That’s how I got started with the GRAMMY project.”

Janoush said out of all the things that she’s ever done and enjoyed doing, the GRAMMY project is like the icing on the cake.

“It’s one of the most fun things that I’ve ever been a part of,” Janoush said. “I have learned so many things from working on this that I didn’t know, which is always fun to me. And I have met so many people, including celebrities and heard so many wonderful musical performances. It’s just been a great experience.”

Over in Greenwood, Lisa Cookston is serving her second term on the city council. She also just took on another job, managing Thomas Antiques in downtown Greenwood,

“I was teaching for seven years before I transitioned into city government. So for a time, I was doing both,” Cookston said. “When I was teaching I worked with a lady who heard me asking questions at a town meeting and suggested that I run for city council. So I thought there is no way. I just had never even considered something like that. But finally I gave in and asked, well, why not me? So I ran and received 75 percent of the votes.”

Cookston represents Ward 2 in Greenwood and advocates for better roads and streets and tries to resolve any problems that may arise for the citizens in her Ward.

“On the Council, we’re responsible for making city policy,” she said.

Her background in teaching was as an adjunct instructor at Mississippi Delta Community College. She was an English major and graduated from the University of Mississippi, but her main focus was in fundraising and PR.

“I have served as Mainstreet Director in Greenwood,” she said. “I’ve done events for The Alluvian and I also write freelance.”

Cookston said the enjoyment she gains from public service is the community involvement.

“I grew up in Greenwood, moved away for a while,” she said, “but ultimately came back to my hometown. I’ve just always loved my hometown and I just want to be involved and serve in any capacity that I can.”

As far as running for the City Council again when her term is up in 2017, Cookston isn’t sure about that.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” Cookston said. “I’ve really enjoyed serving, but I’m just not sure where my career will be at that point. The antique store is something that I’m also very interested in and excited about. So, we’ll see.”

Brandyn Skeen
Brandyn Skeen

Brandyn Skeen works for Gainspoletti Financial Services. Originally from Biloxi, Miss., Skeen moved to Cleveland when she married her husband, Shea Skeen, who is from Cleveland.

“We met in college at Mississippi State University,” she said. “After we moved to Cleveland, I graduated from Delta State with a degree in Criminal Justice. My plans were to go to law school, but after we got married and started a family those plans changed.”

Skeen and her husband have three children McKinnon-19, Peter Vincent-11 and Christopher-8.

Today Skeen works with financial planning clients at Gainspoletti Financial Services.

“While the practice was originally founded on public accounting my focus is on financial planning and investment management. I originally came into the practice as an administrative assistant and I still work as Gary Gainspoletti’s assistant in some capacity. Gary and I began to forge a path into what my strengths were and he really let me navigate toward where my interests lay in this field.”

Skeen has been with the firm for a little over five years and today her job consists of trying to bring educational awareness about finances and financial situations to women.

“I try to bring to the forefront for them what is important and what they really need to know when it comes to understanding their financial futures,” Skeen said. “What’s rewarding about that to me is the fact that I’m able to empower women to become a little more comfortable with finances and its situations, because for so long this area had been seen as a man’s dominion. For example, what happens when a male spouse passes away and his wife is left to deal with everything? That’s just one scenario. So empowering and educating women is extremely important to me so that when the time comes to make crucial financial decisions they are prepared.”

Skeen said she owes a lot of her desire to educate women about finances to her husband.

“For a while after we married, I was under the impression that my husband was going to pay all the bills and handle everything about our finances,” she said. “I was a product of my upbringing and that was the way I had been raised. But he had different ideas, thankfully. He put me right in the middle of it. Even to the point where I’d tell him over and over, I don’t want to deal with any of this. When McKinnon was a baby, he’d actually hire a babysitter so he could take me somewhere and teach me to balance the checkbook. I remember asking him why he was making me do this and his response was: because when I tell you we don’t have the money, I want you to see that we really don’t have the money.

“I love what I’m doing,” Skeen said. “And I definitely want to continue on this path and maybe someday be able to broaden the path and reach out to women beyond the Delta and let them know that they have a resource and an ally when it comes to financial knowledge and empowerment.”

Angela Rogalski is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at angela.rogalski@hottytoddy.com. This story first appeared in the Delta Business Journal, a publication owned by Scott Coopwood, a HottyToddy.com contributor.

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