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Meet nine self-made women leading by example

A woman who is self-made has achieved wealth, status, etc., through personal effort and hard work rather than by accident of birth. Through sheer will and grit, she has risen to financial and social prominence. 

According to some experts, women now own over one-third of the world’s private wealth — which is increasingly self-generated. Here on the Coast, women business owners, CEOs, doctors, attorneys and other professionals are changing the conversation, building their own brands and charting a course for the future. 

Meet nine pioneers who are paving the way and setting an example of female greatness.

Angel Myers McIlrath

When she lost her daughter, Angel Myers McIlrath found her mission.

In 2017, her beloved only child, Sophia, died from diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — a form of brain cancer — at the age of 7. In Sophia’s honor, McIlrath founded the SoSo Strong Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation to fight this deadly disease.

A Coast native who has spent most of her life in Jackson County, McIlrath also is the first woman elected to serve as district attorney for the 19th Circuit Court District.

Her daily manta helps her overcome life’s obstacles: “Angel, life is tough — but girl, you are tougher.”

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?

“Everyone measures success differently. For me professionally, I’m in a job that I love. I fight for victims. My passion to seek justice drives me, and making a difference in our communities is success.”

Was there a moment when you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“Professionally, I have never wanted to give up. I’ve been tired and beat down, but I never wanted to give up. Obviously, the death of my daughter was a pivotal moment in my life where I was faced with two choices: live or die. I chose life then and continue to do so every day, but each day is hard.

It may sound silly or simple, but just get your makeup on, put your shoes on and get out and face the day. Make that first small choice to move forward, and you will handle what comes your way. You just do. I pray and seek God’s wisdom constantly. Learning to endure, persevere and be content with life will help you push through any situation.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“Pray. I pray throughout the day. I read scripture. I do life with Jesus, and it keeps me focused and positive.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level?

“Self-doubt, overthinking, fear of stepping out of our comfort zone, being our own worst critic, feeling unworthy of the seat at the table — all these things can be barriers, but they are self-imposed. Be brave, friends. You belong. Your voice and perspective are relevant and important.”

What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“The force of one may be small, but the force of several can be great. As you go through your education and career, it is important to connect with other women who inspire you, who are willing to offer guidance, support and valuable constructive criticism when needed. Don’t limit the connections to your field; some of the best connections come from chance meetings or connecting during a community event.  Being willing to lead, as well as learn, will help you hone your strengths and identify opportunities that you may not see otherwise.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“This question pricks my heart because I wanted to leave a legacy for Sophia. I wanted my daughter to see where hard work, setting goals and perseverance would lead. I hope Sophia’s friends and other little girls will see not just me, but other women, in positions of influence and be inspired to pursue their own dreams.”


Angelyn Treutel Zeringue

 

Angelyn Treutel Zeringue is in her glory when she has too much to do.

The president of SouthGroup Insurance also is an influencer, a Christian, a grandmother, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a caregiver, a volunteer, a community leader, a speaker, a friend, a mentor, a nature lover, a self-described technology geek, a certified public accountant, a Trusted Choice Insurance Agent and much more.

Her favorite quote: “Those to whom much is given, much is expected.”

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?

“I have always had a spark that drives me to be the best, help the most and truly make a difference. I feel blessed to be involved in almost every local organization and initiative with the goal of making everything better. I feel that I have been very blessed throughout my life, and I am compelled to give back with my time and treasure.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“I have loved, lost and learned to love again. I have had to start over from zero following catastrophic weather events. I rely on faith, family and friends to make it through, and I always strive to do everything faster and better. I push myself to learn more skills, communicate more effectively and become a better professional and person.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“I begin and end each day with prayer. Throughout the day, I listen to Christian music. I intentionally strive to always have a good day and smile through it all. I look for beauty in every place and person I see.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“There are no barriers, only places we don’t need to waste our time. Women are great at handling large projects and motivating a team. Sometimes moving up is not possible, but going in a different direction is a better choice. From a financial standpoint, becoming a chronic saver at a young age will be beneficial throughout your life. Live below your means, have fun and love, love, love.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“It took many years, but I now recognize that I can’t do everything on my own. It is essential to develop the leaders of our future. My greatest achievement is working with future leaders and mentoring them to become the best they can be. I work to educate, motivate, inspire and help others at every opportunity. I love going to work every day because I love helping people.”


Dr. April Ulmer

Given the emphasis that Dr. April Ulmer’s parents placed on education, it’s perhaps not surprising that they raised two future physicians and a securities broker. In addition to heading her pediatric gastroenterology practice, Kids and Tummies LLC in Gulfport, Dr. Ulmer — known to many as “The Tummy Doctor” — also is a wife, mother and owner of The Yard Milkshake Bar of Flowood, Mississippi.

“My enterprising spirit comes from my father who owed businesses as a young man,” she says. “My fiery independence and strong maternal instinct come from my mother.”

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?

“My parents taught me as a child to always move to the front of the class … of the room … of the discussion. They taught me that what I think and say are worth knowing and hearing, which has made me comfortable with leading. I also credit resilience, which has allowed me to recover from setbacks, disappointments and slammed doors. It reminds me that no matter the obstacle, I’ve overcome worse. Even if my course is not as I planned, I still can succeed.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“There have been many of those moments over the years. What pushes me through is remembering the hardships my ancestors endured so that I can be here today, living my purpose. I owe it to those who endured sexism, racism and worse to persist no matter how tough it gets. It’s important to me that my life demonstrates that ‘good’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘easy,’ and anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“I’m learning to listen to my body. When it tells me that I am physically, mentally or emotionally tired, I listen to it and do something relaxing or enjoyable for myself. I schedule a standing day off from work every month and recently discovered yoga and meditation. Brief meditations and breathing exercises really can help recenter and recharge me in the middle of a busy workday.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? 

“Glass ceilings, lack of support and being raised to ‘play nice’ or downplay abilities are persistent barriers. I opened my own practice largely because of maltreatment by my employer. (I was) shamed for taking any time off, even to care for sick children, undervalued compared to male counterparts despite my significant contributions, etc. I finally decided I was done apologizing for what I needed and finished letting them try to make me ‘smaller.’ I never have regretted my decision.”

What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise? 

“Say what you mean, delegate tasks and ask for what you need. Requiring assistance doesn’t mean you’re not capable. Assistance frees you up to focus on the things most critical to your success. Always remain curious, and never stop perfecting your skillset.  Seek advice from those with more experience and/or resources. Don’t underestimate your abilities. Reject imposter syndrome. Always acknowledge those who helped you along the way, and always pay it forward.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“I want to leave behind a legacy of generosity and kindness. My goal is for there to be evidence of the good I did as a doctor, philanthropist and mentor that endures long after I am gone. I want my life to serve as an example for young girls like my daughters of what women can accomplish when we trust in God, work hard and believe in ourselves.

I volunteer with several community organizations focused on improving the lives of children. I maintain an ongoing dialogue with fellow physicians and health system administrators to expand pediatric subspecialty access here on the Gulf Coast. Kids and Tummies is continually searching for new and better ways to serve our community’s healthcare needs. Our most recent endeavor to improve access to quality pediatric gastroenterology care is the addition of our second clinic location in Ocean Springs.”


Geneva Dummer

One of two children raised by a single mother, Geneva Dummer also had an active, loving father.

“Both parents instilled in us the self-satisfaction that comes with a job well done,” says Dummer — who has worked since she was 10, joined the U.S. Navy at 18 and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Wyoming. She continued her education at the University of Tennessee College of Medical Health Sciences, earning a Master of Science degree. 

She now owns and operates The Meeting Place, a shared office facility and business incubator. Dummer also remains active in the community, having served on numerous boards of directors of nonprofit organizations

 “I don’t look for limitations,” she says. “I look for solutions.”   

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been? 

“I enjoy solving problems.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“Absolutely! I always find a way to accomplish the task. Keeping a level, patient and unemotional mindset is key. There is something to be gained from every situation, even if it didn’t go the way I thought it would, so I never mind when things take a slightly different path, or when people aren’t as honest as they appear to be initially.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“I have a mental list of prioritized tasks for the day, and I accomplish at least three of them in order of priority completely each day. Crossing them off feels amazing!”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“Mindset is important. I don’t spend my time blaming other people for a solution I was unable to provide.  Women typically are not as blatant about defining their worth and refusing to take less. Use real, data-based values, not arbitrary, ‘speak-it-and it-will-be-so’ values, and be ready to define and defend them. Also, don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“I believe alternative office options can have a huge impact on economic development, even before COVID helped make the point. I also believe everyone should learn at least one trade skill. There is no feeling like fixing something that was considered broken. I want to pass that on to our youth, and I intend to do so through a summer camp program for sixth, seventh and eighth graders here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”


Heather Ladner Smith

A Bay St. Louis native, Heather Ladner Smith attended Mississippi State and law school at Loyola in New Orleans. A partner in Butler Snow LLP, she strives daily to make the Coast a better place to live and raise children

“I knew that I wanted to come back to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to start my career and life,” Smith says. “I now live in Bay St. Louis with my wonderful husband and our three adorable (and strong-willed) children.

 What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?

“My parents and grandparents. Growing up, they always told me that I could do whatever I want and be whoever I want. ‘The sky is the limit’ was the philosophy around our house.  When times get hard, my family (now including my husband) is there to remind me that life is not always easy or fair, but hard work and dedication will pay off in the end.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“Absolutely — sometimes every day, and especially after having children. Being a working mom is difficult, and the stress is something that cannot be described in words. However, when I go home to my loving family, I remember that it is all worth it.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“One of the reasons I love my job is that I can see the improvements my clients are making to our community. Having just the slightest involvement in these improvements makes me proud and eager to do more. Also, a vanilla latte always seems to help.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“Women sometimes can be the largest barrier to other women. Women need to stop looking at other women as threats. Instead, we should work together to identify our strengths.

Also, confidence is important, and confidence should not be confused with arrogance. As women, we should always speak and deliver with confidence.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“I don’t think that I am trying to build a legacy — at least, I have never thought of it in that way.  I am simply trying to be a good mom, a good wife and a good attorney. If I can accomplish that, then my parents and grandparents were right — the sky truly is the limit!”


Holly Lemoine-Raymond

Ask Holly Lemoine-Raymond about her background, and she replies, “What haven’t I done?”

The broker/owner of HL Raymond Properties LLC and executive producer/director of HL Raymond Productions has worked at a casino and dental office, opened her own restaurant and now heads her own real estate brokerage and film production company.

“The common thread is my love for the Gulf Coast and the people in our community,” she says. “I am busy for sure, but I always try to make time to volunteer, give back and showcase the beautiful area we call home.”

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?

“I have always enjoyed thinking outside of the box and pushing to not just meet expectations, but to exceed them whenever possible. My mother was an extraordinary role model. Her hard work and whatever-it-takes attitude, combined with her genuine love for people, set a great example for me. My goal was to teach my son how to be successful while remaining humble and kind. I know I am partial, but I am so proud of the young man he is today.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“We all have moments where we are overwhelmed and think, ‘Maybe I will just throw in the towel.’ I always search to find something to help me refocus or give me strength to stay on track. Every time someone told me that I could not do something, it motivated me to push harder and not only to achieve, but to excel.”

What do you do every day to stay focused and positive?

“I try to surround myself with people who are motivated and positive. I seek out encouraging and uplifting information to feed my mind and soul. I rely on my faith as well. A combination of all these things keeps me upbeat. I truly love my profession. In real estate, there is such joy in jumping the hurdles and getting my clients to their happy place. It is very rewarding.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“I try to move past obstacles by not giving them too much power. I will identify the barrier so I can reach even higher to overcome it. Women may have more struggles at times, no doubt, but women also possess a mighty power source that they can tap into. We just have to remember to harness that strength and use it. We also must remember to turn around and help each other along the way.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now? “I would like to leave a legacy of dedication and kindness — dedication to my family, friends, coworkers, profession, clients and community. I want those I cross paths with to feel my genuine concern and kindness toward them. I want to make a difference for the better in people’s lives, even if it only causes a small ripple effect.”


Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson has an extensive finance background, having worked for casinos as an auditor in her early 20s before going into corporate finance, where she continued to strengthen her skills in every facet of accounting. Now, she is owner of the Three Strong Women Corporation, a female-owned-and-operated business that sells mobile data and fiber internet services throughout North and South America.

Having taken a large (and scary) leap of faith, Johnson says the company recently celebrated its first $1 million in revenue.

“My passion is working with numbers and problem solving,” she says. “I hope to continue teaching others the skills I have learned in finance so they can one day run their own company.”

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been? 

“I try to surround myself with smart people who inspire me to be better. Taking big risks and not being afraid to fail sometimes also contributes to my success.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“Giving up has never been an option I was willing to make. Too many people relay on me to make smart business decisions. I have had to learn to pivot quickly if something didn’t go according to plan.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“The first thing I do when I sit at my desk is make a list of things to do for the day. I feel a sense of accomplishment in marking each task completed throughout the day.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“Women in business tend to lack support and opportunities. Women must learn to make bold moves and maintain a ‘thick skin.’”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“I started this company with my daughters in mind. I want to build an empire. They all work for me in different departments so that one day, they will be the next generation of women running this business.”


Marketa Piernas

After starting her career in public accounting, Marketa Piernas went on to work as an accountant for fortune 500 companies. As a certified public accountant and owner and operator of Premier Tax and Accounting Services, she helps a diverse clientele in industries ranging from film and TV to transportation and apparel.

“My mother taught me that the sky is the limit and that any and everything was attainable,” she says.

What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been?    

“I grew up watching my mother work two jobs to make sure my brother and I had everything we wanted and needed. I remember working the entire summer my senior year of high school to save up $3,000 to help my mom purchase my first car. I didn’t spend any money that summer and focused on the goal that I had set for myself. Once I had a goal in mind, I initiated the plan to achieve it. This is still my mindset today.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through?

“I can remember failing one of the four parts of the CPA exam and thinking maybe it wasn’t meant for me to become a CPA and that I had chosen the wrong career path. However, I quickly remembered how far I had come, and I would not let this one exam defeat me. I prayed, and my continued faith in God helped me prepare mentally to push through. I studied even harder, pushed myself to new limits and soon after passed the exam.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“I have a quick daily prayer that I say when I open my eyes: ‘Thank you, God, for all you have done and will do, and if you never give me anything else in life, I am grateful for what I have at this very moment.’ I ask for continued guidance in my steps to walk in His light. A negative mindset will never achieve positive results.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

Women always have to be twice as smart and twice as quiet as their male counterparts. If you are too bold or too opinionated, you are viewed as a problem. Women have to continue projecting confidence, creating buy-in and cultivating a strong verbal presence as we sit at the table. Lastly, we must show we are capable and able to run a successful business, just as a man can.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?

“It’s a must that I create generational wealth for my children. As part of my legacy, I want to give them something to build on and help give them get a jumpstart in life. I am building a brand that can be passed on to generations to come. I want my children to leave behind a memory and name that they will be proud of and something that they can pass on to their children’s children. Hopefully, one of them becomes a CPA and my clients’ children become their clients. If not, the goal is to give them the financial structure and hard work ethic to help them become whatever they want to be in life.”


Yuki Northington

Besides being an artist, interior designer and owner of Social Chair and Art & Interiors, Yuki Northington serves her community in Rotary, the Merchants Association and five Mardi Gras organizations. She holds degrees in art and interior design from the University of Missouri and the University of Northern Iowa, respectively, and spent her time in school serving as the social chair of her sorority, as well the University of Missouri’s first female mascot (Truman the Tiger) and as a member of the Panhellenic Board for Diversity. 

“I was raised to use my talents to help others,” she says, “and that continues today.” 

 What drove you to be as successful as you’ve been? 

“I wanted to be a strong role model for my kids, especially my daughters. It always has been important to me that my daughters know they should be able to provide for themselves. I wanted to build a business that I could pass on to them one day. I wanted my family to respect me and my career as much as they did their dad.”

Was there a moment where you wanted to give up? How did you push through? 

“Just like all small businesses, (mine has been challenged by) Katrina, the BP Oil Spill, recession and the COVID pandemic. I just kept going, and even on days when I had one customer, I showed up and was open. Customers have to be able to depend on you. I kept the doors open during lean times by not paying myself and reinvesting everything back into my businesses.”

What do you do every day to keep focused and positive?

“Say prayers of thanks.”

What are the barriers to women succeeding at a higher level? What must women do to push past limitations, whether financial or otherwise?

“Women have to work smarter and multitask. You have to know what you are talking about and have the confidence to stand up for yourself and know your worth. Sadly, we still have a long way to go when it comes to being treated equally. Women still are expected to have dinner ready and birthday parties planned.

It is crazy that I can buy my building, but the bank still has my husband’s name on the contract — same for my car, I paid cash, and his name is still on the title. You have to accept that not everyone is going to like you, but you still have to stand your ground.”

What kind of legacy do you want to leave? How are you building that legacy now?  

“I want to be remembered as someone who truly gave back to her community. Every festival, event and donation, I want to work for Bay St Louis to help it remain the special place that it is.”

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