Kaitlyn Coogan

Equinox Staff


Music played, people laughed, tears were shed, and women were empowered at the 22nd annual Outstanding Women of New Hampshire awards on Wednesday, March 28 in the Mabel Brown Room.

Family members, faculty, and students gathered to watch four people receive this award, two of whom were members of Keene State College community: senior Dorian Petranech and Nona Fienberg, dean of arts and humanities. The other two were Mary Ellen Jackson, executive director of New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits in Concord, and Melinda Feola-Mahar, executive director of Pilot Health LLC and the Monadnock Collaborative.

“I think this is great to hear all these women’s stories, its inspirational,” said Forest Seymour, counselor and coordinator of the sexual violence prevention program.

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This night was not just filled with awarded women but also music from the band Accidental Harmony and the KSC a cappella group Chock Full O’Notes.

“Being a male, I don’t know the necessary daily obstacles women must face in society that benefits men. This shows me the accomplishments of these women who went through these obstacles, through these barriers, they’re still able to be accomplishments and recognized for it,” Colber Prosper said, coordinator of multicultural student affairs.

Petranech, the KSC winner of the award, left the audience speechless and moved after her thank-you speech. Petranech may be considered a nontraditional student but according to Director of Academic and Career Advising Pat Halloran the women who nominated Petranech, she is far more than that.

“To call you a nontraditional student doesn’t begin to describe it,” Halloran said, addressing Petranech. “You’ve seen more than your share of life’s challenges, hardships, and adventures. You’ve also displayed true grit, amazing resilience, and huge intelligence.”

Holleran referred to the life Petranech held before finding KSC. Petranech was kicked out of school at the age of 17 and left home to hitchhike around the south and west for many years whining up in New Orleans somewhere along the way. She made money panhandling and the tips from bystanders who watched her juggle fire batons.

About nine years ago, Petranech reached out to her mother for help because Petranech was pregnant, poor, and recently sober. Her mother took her home to Hillsborough, N.H. Petranech gave birth to her son named Bud in 2003.

“I accept this award very humbly, in honor of a few types of people,” Petranech explained. “First of all to the junky who stayed clean today, for the homeless lady who panhandled six dollars off, for the mothers and parents who are there for their children day after day and nobody ever gives them an award. And for the criminal who gets lost in the system. And for my parents and my mother who taught me to be outstanding and not give up,” she said.

Petranech and her son ended up living in a shelter in 2006 while she attended technical college. She met a counselor who encouraged her to attend KSC. Without actually expecting to get it, because KSC could be Yale as far as she saw it, Petranech applied and was accepted. Petranech is expected to graduate this year with hopes of getting a job in social work and continuing her education at a graduate school.

Petranech told the audience that she would not be here if it wasn’t for her mother who always believed in her and she wouldn’t have even tried if it wasn’t for her son.

“My son Bud, is the only reason why I am doing anything at all,” she said. “I’ve made millions of mistakes, so many mistakes that they’re disturbing to me. So I measure my success by how many mistakes I’ve made because I feel like if I’m not making mistakes, if I’m not afraid, then I’m not doing anything worthwhile.”

During her acceptance speech, Petranech said she would be giving the award to her mother who always thought Petranech would be something even when Petranech had no faith in herself.

Feinberg, KSC dean of arts and humanities who also won the award, was nominated by Irene Herold, dean of the Mason Library, for her teachings, scholarly attitude, administrative work, and how she acted as a role model for women’s education and empowerment.

“Throughout your career, Nona, you have been a positive and eloquent voice for women’s education and empowerment,” Herold said.

Feinberg has dedicated a large portion of her life to KSC. For the past nine years she has been Dean of Arts and Humanities and even before that she spent ten years of her life as professor of English as well as eight of which chairing for that department.

Even though she will be retiring as dean she has not left KSC behind, she will be returning as a full-time teacher in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies for the next school year.

Before finding her way to KSC, Fienberg was a student at the University of Toronto double majoring in English and history. During her freshman English class she met her would-be husband Lorne Fienberg for the first time. They married and moved to California for graduate school: he studied  American Literature and she studied Renaissance literature focusing on works by women. Fienberg said during her speech that her husband is the motivation behind her work.

“I chose my husband young and I chose my husband well,” Feinberg said. “Lorne is adventurous and risk taking, he knows things about me that I don’t know, that I could never know,” she said.

Jackson was awarded for her ability to help the women who traditionally are underpaid or not paid at all. She is also awarded for her leadership skills and expertise in the nonprofit sector of the N.H.’s economy and culture.

Feola-Mahar’s passion is for people with severe and persistent mental illness. After joining the Monadnock Family Services as a clinical supervisor, her career launched. She was named director of adult case development of Pilot Health LLC and implemented a way of connecting older adults and adults with disabilities to the health care and social service system called ServiceLink. ServiceLink is now a part of Monadnock Collaborative.

President Helen Giles-Gee finished the award ceremony by calling all four Outstanding Women to the front of the room so they could receive a standing ovation while Fienberg’s words rang in the ears of all who heard her say, “Stick with it. Together we’ll make it golden.”


Kaitlyn Coogan can be contacted at kcoogan@keene-equinox.com.

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