What’s the difference between ordinary and extraordinary?
A little “extra!”
The Extraordinary Rochester Women Award recognizes women who have made a difference by giving a little “extra” to inspire others and to make their own lives the best they can be. We are proud to introduce: Cathy Tisel Nelson, who uses her musical gifts to help others see their own talents; Julie Goodman, a nurse, wife and mother who answered the call for caregiving even after she retired; Christy Cass, a youth group leader who is a true model of living; Melissa Eagle Uhlmann, a teacher of refugees who fosters classes into family units; and Kelly McDonough, who treats her employees like family.
Supporting letters illustrate how they caught the attention of their nominators and how they continue to make a difference in our community. Nominations were made in the form of essays explaining nominees’ qualiﬁcations and extraordinary-ness! Selected highlights follow.
Having a boss who believes that “work/life balance
will reap huge rewards in productivity, commitment
and loyalty” is truly the definition of extraordinary.
As the CEO of First Alliance Credit Union, Kelly McDonough has built her reputation as a successful and compassionate leader, creating a workplace culture that fosters flexibility, respect and true engagement.
Kelly’s love of learning and inspiring others to do their best began when she was 14 and placed in foster care. Her foster mother was a major influence on Kelly, demonstrating what it is like to be a loving and nurturing parent. She encouraged Kelly to pursue education, advocate for others and be true to herself.
These qualities have translated into extraordinary leadership wherever she has worked.
After Kelly finished college and obtained her CPA, she responded to a position at a local credit union in Vermont. Hired as the vice president of finance, it was there that another mentor taught her the importance of leading with integrity. She found out how wonderful it was to make an impact in the lives of others through good communication and team building.
First Alliance Credit Union is a not-for-profit organization, and it is run based on the premise of what is right for the member, not the credit union. It has been the perfect fit for Kelly, who has been the CEO since 2003.
Kelly is truly motivated by finding the right solution for every credit union member. Their financial well being matters to her, and the credit union’s success is dependent on helping members achieve their financial goals. Kelly lives by, and guides others with, the motto, “When someone is hurt, we help them, when rendered homeless, we shelter them, and during hard times, we reach out to them.”
Working alongside someone like Kelly is an honor. She treats us like family, which is saying a great deal as she considers the close relationship she has with her two adult children to be the personal accomplishment of which she is most proud. Kelly takes the time to know her staff as individuals, finding out what excites them about work, what they do well, and where they want to grow, and then she helps them succeed. She invests in all of us, making First Alliance Credit Union an exceptional place to work.
–Lisett Comai Legrand,
Assistant Vice President, First Alliance Credit Union
Christy Cass is a tremendous force for good among the teens and young adults of Rochester through the youth group she and her husband lead. She loves these kids like they are her own, night and day. I’ve seen her take them out to eat, go shopping, snowboarding, play games, pick them up from school, get ready for dances, talk them through a break up, talk them out of drugs, talk them into telling their parents about stuff parents should know, teach them how to have respect, love them when they’re acting bad, help them when they’ve fallen, hold them when they cry and yell at them when they’re acting dumb. And they love it. Every part of it.
Christy has helped girls who were pregnant before they wanted to be and helped other girls live when they wanted to die. She has stood by while families have broken up just so she could hold onto the kids who fell apart because of it.
There is a well-worn path to Christy’s door. Teens flock to this sassy, blonde hairdresser like she’s a celebrity! She’s not afraid to tell them when they’re acting stupid or to confront them when they’re hurting someone else. She’s also not afraid to dream big with them and launch them into the world when it’s time. I know college freshman girls who have called back home crying … just to talk with Christy because they miss being away from her.
I’ve seen her help the family of a student who died and yank another student back from the edge of a massive drug addiction. I’ve seen her cry with students who’ve lost a parent and with parents who’ve lost their child. She has that magical ability to step into the lives of those she cares about and walk their journey with them, every step of the way; from the awkward sixth grader who shows up on the first day of youth group all the way until high school graduation … Christy is there for all of it.
Christy has had a staggering and beautiful influence in the lives of so many teenagers. But don’t take my word for it … just listen to what teens and their parents say:
“Christy is an amazing person and a great role model in many people’s lives, including mine. She’s a mother to the whole youth group and is always there to talk if anybody needs help.” Zach F., 15
“Christy always knows when something is going wrong even when no one else does! She’s the first to ask you to dinner or coffee just to talk and hang out. She inspires me so much and is by far my role model in life.” Lydia P., 16
“There’s no one like Christy. She’s had such an impact on my life that it is HER life that I’ve decided to model mine after.” Jordan F., 17
“It was a horrible time for us. Our daughter had been assaulted. She was devastated. We couldn’t seem to reach her. The only person she wanted to talk to, to cry with, was Christy.” Parent of a Rochester teen.
“When I think of the ‘ultimate woman of God’ I think of Christy Cass. She’s a walking testimony of living your dreams, and having an undying love for the Lord.” Josie J., 22
“I love Christy’s willingness to reach out to girls and make them feel welcome. When I first came to youth group she would sit by me every week because I didn’t know anyone. She’s an awesome role model.” Jaymi T., 15
“Christy’s house became like our house. She fed us. She talked to us. She helped us work out our stuff. She and Andy still always treat us like we’re their family. Heck, after we’d all watch a movie with them, they’d go to bed and we’d still be in their house just talking about life, God, love, food, whatever!” Heather T., 20
“She cares for, reaches out and mentors so many teenage girls including both of my daughters, one of whom is now grown, married and has a child of her own. Words can’t begin to express my gratitude for Christy…a mighty woman who is willingly used by God for the good of so many.” Karry P.
Melissa Eagle Uhlmann
Melissa has done extraordinary things for the refugee population in Rochester. She has written and teaches the nursing assistant curriculum for the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association (IMAA). The ultimate goal is employment within a health care setting, thus providing a way for these students
to become productive citizens in their new country and make a better life for their families.
This is no standard class, though. Each of Melissa’s students has a unique history and culture they come from as well as challenges to education and employment. Melissa has to account for and deal with student challenges like post-trauma symptoms, culture shock, changes in gender roles in their new country, cultural differences and misunderstandings in class and society, differences in acceptable religious expression, poverty, fatigue, inability to meet personal financial expectations, English language learning, cultural differences in the education setting and embarrassment due to change in social status in a new country.
Despite the challenges each individual may bring to class, Melissa has been able to foster her classes into an almost family-like unit with rapport and everyone working for each others’ success. She has had recurring success in providing her students with the knowledge and skills needed to pass the state exams to become registered nursing
assistants as well as succeed in life in the United States. Many have gone on to further educational opportunities for higher degrees within health care. “Teacher Melissa” is a repeated “thank you” in all of her students’ graduation speeches.
Additionally, Melissa volunteer-instructs English on a weekly basis to the monks at the Rochester Buddhist Support Society. She came into this without any background in teaching English as a second language. Nevertheless, Melissa was able to establish a rapport with her students through her open, positive and light-hearted attitude. She was able to bridge communication gaps with the monks through her use of humor and her willingness to change techniques if she found something was not working. Beyond face-to-face work, she found success in providing them with audiobooks of literature as well as outside experiences like trips to Oxbow Park.
Furthermore, Melissa has done all this while educating herself to become a nurse at Olmsted Medical Center. Melissa is an exceptional nurse in the same way that she is an exceptional teacher: she treats everyone as a singular human being with needs and feelings. She approaches her patients with an unassuming open-mindedness that allows her to connect with her patients and give them superior care. Her mantra is: “How would I want my grandmother to be treated if she were in the hospital?” and she lives it.
I would be remiss if I did not also note that Melissa is a wonderful mother to our five children. One example of this is in how she worked to resolve my oldest son’s vision issues. Melissa “had a feeling” that something was amiss with my son’s vision. At the time, we were homeschooling and my son had extreme difficulty learning to read. He could not follow well on the page and was often falling out of his chair in the process. Melissa persisted in inquiring with friends and specialists about what could be behind this for several years. She finally got a recommendation to try the Vision Therapy Academy in La Crosse. After being diagnosed with several correctable problems (that are otherwise ignorantly mislabeled as ADD, dyslexia or behavioral disorder),
Melissa herself drove my son to La Crosse once a week for nearly an entire year. The other days, she worked with him on the exercises he brought back. My son is now on the ‘A’ honor roll at his school.
Cathy Tisel Nelson
Cathy’s love of music and enthusiasm draws people to her and to the congregation to which she is the music director. Cathy not only plays the piano in a way that warms one’s heart, she sings with the voice of an angel and composes beautiful heartfelt songs.
The music she writes touches the hearts of all those who are privileged enough to hear it and I believe it resonates even louder for those who get to enjoy being a part of it. Cathy is an encouragement and such an inspiration to those she directs, both children and adults, many of whom show their love for her by simply ‘having’ to stop by after she plays music or sings, to give her a hug. She warmly receives and reciprocates this affection.
In addition to all of these gifts, Cathy also has an amazing ability to improvise. I love it when there is an unexpected gap of free time so that she can fill it with her own spiritual gift of music. I have felt honored to be a member of Cathy’s women’s choir and to enjoy not only her musical genius but her truly compassionate nature. She once said to me, “I believe in you,” at a time when I really needed to hear it. Cathy has the honesty and rare integrity for me to know that she truly meant it. I will always treasure that.
A friend asked, “Why do you keep nominating Cathy Nelson every year?” I replied, “Because she is the best choir director I have worked with.”
As a choir director, she is encouraging, honest, sincere and enthusiastic. She truly cares about every person in all of her
choirs. Cathy is so sensitive to other’s feelings that she goes out of her way to encourage with hugs, smiles and many kind words. If she feels someone may have been hurt by unkind words from another she truly takes time to help the hurt person recognize their own goodness.
She is so beloved that the youth of the parish look forward to the time that they can join her youth choir. The youth choir last year had over 70 students.
But Cathy is not just a wonderful choir director; she is an accomplished pianist, a gifted vocalist and a composer.
I am not the only Cathy T. Nelson fan. When I attended a workshop at Assisi Heights, I complimented some of the sisters on their lovely choir. One of the sisters said, “But you have Cathy Nelson directing you!” Cathy Nelson spent time working with and for the Sisters of St. Francis. She has spent time composing and publishing lovely hymns that are used at Assisi Heights, Holy Spirit Church and other venues.
Cathy has not always had an easy road; she recently recovered from a loss of her singing voice. Through the stress, the doctor visits, the different therapies, she was still encouraging to others, she still played a brilliant piano and she still composed songs of joy.
Now that she has recovered her voice, I get a thrill when I can pick out her joyful voice at a service. Cathy is a devoted mother, daughter, wife, friend and of course, a brilliant choir director.
I would like to nominate my mother as an extraordinary woman of caring because she has dedicated her whole life to helping others, while being totally selfless and demonstrating extreme caring for all around her.
She is a retired RN, having served the community for 48 years at Mayo Clinic, the entire time raising four children successfully and with much love. Never did her children go without; she worked nights and shorted herself on sleep in order to do all the little extras that a perfect mother does.
Upon the eve of her retirement, when she was finally planning to do some wonderful things for herself, her husband suffered a stroke and became dependent upon her for almost all activities of daily living. She has worked tirelessly to help him convalesce and stay in their home. She has nursed him around the clock without the least bit of complaint and is able to maintain a positive caring attitude.
She continues to plan every day with her husband’s needs in the forefront and continues to demonstrate her love and attitude of immense caring to those around her.