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ATHENA Award celebrates outstanding leaders


The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual ATHENA Award on March 20 honoring Debbie Shantz Hart as the ATHENA Award recipient and Jarica Oeltjen as the Virginia Fry Rising Star Award recipient.

Over 400 members of the business community gathered at the White River Conference Center to celebrate these outstanding individuals who have achieved the highest level of professional excellence, contributed their time and energy to the community and assisted others in realizing their full leadership potential.

Debbie Shantz Hart, owner of Housing Plus, LLC and distinguished lawyer and visionary real estate developer, received the ATHENA Award from 2023 recipient Stephanie Stenger, president of Stenger Management, LLC.

“The conventional wisdom today is to tell leaders that you no longer have to do it all. This year’s ATHENA clearly missed the memo because everything she does, she does it incredibly well,” said Stenger.

Friends and family of Shantz Hart shared heartfelt messages in a video, highlighting her impact and why she deserves the prestigious award.

The ATHENA Award is named after the Greek goddess of wisdom, craft and warfare, whose characteristics serve as a model for the award recipients. Referring to Athena’s character in “The Odyssey,” Shantz Hart noted Athena was also a great mentor and teacher.

“Instead of solving problems herself, Athena granted those in her favor the tools to achieve their goals thereby pushing them to be their best,” said Shantz Hart.

Shantz Hart described the ATHENA Award as an honor and recognition of not only her own efforts but a celebration of collective strength, resilience and empowerment of women everywhere.

“One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that power comes from not only individual achievements but lifting others up as we climb. As women we possess a unique ability to nurture, support and inspire each other,” said Shantz Hart.

Jarica Oeltjen, deputy general counsel at FORVIS, LLP, received the Virginia Fry Rising Star Award from 2023 recipient Heather Hardinger, director of consumer experience and DEIB at CoxHealth. Hardinger commended Oeltjen for her spirit of excellence, dedication and leadership.

“I am honored to pass the torch to someone whose passion and commitment have shown brightly in our legal community,” said Hardinger.

Oeltjen acknowledged all the women in the room and encouraged each to find ways to reclaim their girlhood with pursuits that bring them joy and happiness.

“Virginia Fry was a person who throughout her life did things that she enjoyed doing as a girl. For me, reclaiming my girlhood has been a way to take care of myself and has made me better for the people around me,” said Oeltjen.

Keynote speaker Julie Cummings, managing director, audit, head of talent & culture at KPMG, shared three key lessons from her career. She inspired those in attendance to lean into their strengths, be open to feedback and be vulnerable.

“Don’t go it alone; always take others with you on your journey and you will surely go far in all your career endeavors,” said Cummings.

The Chamber’s annual ATHENA Award remains a testament to the exceptional Springfield business leaders, highlighting their achievements and how they empower people, businesses and organizations in our community.

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