Fabulous Women Over 40: Rita Maggart

Fabulous Women over 40, Rita Maggart, volunteer artist in women's prison

By Sheri Oneal

May almost slipped by me but I squeezed in a day this week to interview a wonderful woman for my Fabulous Women Over 40 blog series. I am proud to introduce Mrs. Rita J. Maggart! She is an artist, a writer, a floral designer and a teacher who began volunteering her time 24 years ago as a teacher’s assistant at the Tennessee Prison for Women.

Fabulous Women over 40, Rita Maggart, volunteer artist in women's prison

Rita Maggart grew up in Lebanon, Tennessee and graduated from George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. She married her husband John Maggart who was in the military and lived in Germany for 5 years before settling in Nashville. Her early career was teaching 3rd grade in Metro Nashville Schools and preschool children in Montessori schools, she believes her inner strength resides through her faith and that is what inspires her to help others. Over the years she has found comfort expressing her feelings and thoughts in the pages of journals combined with sketching images of botanicals. In 1995 Rita did a work study in England under her mentor Sheila Macqueen, a renowned floral artist and designer known for her work with Britain’s royal family. Rita then started a floral design business in Nashville where she focused on events, home decor, and event coordination with botanicals. In 1996 she decided to use excerpts from her early journals to share with others which led to her book called “In The Growing Places,” which combines her inspirational poetry, thoughts and drawings showcasing her experience with floral arrangement instruction. Nashville singer/songwriter Angel Pontier has used the book for inspiration to write songs.

Fabulous Women Over 40; Rita Maggart, books

Rita’s love of art lured her to study oil painting with artist and instructor Gayle Levee of Nashville. She has also studied Visual Communications at Nashville State Community College with Pam Hawkins and is currently studying the art of abstract painting with Lisa Jennings of Nashville.

Fabulous Women Over 40; Rita Maggart, artist

Paint pallet, Rita Maggart, Fabulous Women Over 40

What I admire most about Rita and what makes her such a fabulous woman is her desire to help others. Women’s ministry is Rita’s play it forward space and she finds solace in working with groups of women where her encouragement helps them find their true internal God given gifts. She started volunteering at the Tennessee Prison for Women in 1991 after hearing speaker Emma Thompson mention they needed volunteer teachers. Rita offered her time teaching reading in the woman’s prison system for several hours each week. Later she would teach a creative class on art and journaling which eventually would lead to arts and craft classes. She felt strongly that the art was a meaningful way of therapy for the women and became very appreciated in the process. Today Rita helps coordinate a Pen Pal ministry connecting the women in prison with women in her church. This inspirational process helps them find strength, comfort, self love, confidence and inner peace. She has continued to stay in touch with several women over the years who are still in the prison system through letter writing.

Fabulous Women Over 40; Rita Maggart

Fabulous Women Over 40; Rita Maggart, artist, teacher

Fabulous Women Over 40; Rita Maggart, prayer

Rita’s interest in life tend to center around communicating and creating. In 2005  she combined her interest of macro photography and oil painting with botanicals where she created bodies of work centered around sepia toned flowers. Using natural light and floral surroundings her work offers a beautiful fine art vision of floral arrangements. Animation artist Dave Turner AKA Digital Dave has turned her botanical photos into animation art and has made them come alive in a video montage found here.

RitaJ.Maggart1

RitaJ.Maggart2

Rita resides in Nashville tennessee with her husband John Maggart, they have 3 sons and 5 granddaughters. She has an artist studio at Harpeth Art Center & Gallery in Pegram and an upcoming Art Exhibit at the at Nashville Airport flying solo exhibition called “In Sight” which showcases 36 x 49 archival pigment prints this June, July and August in the Southwest Concourse “C.” She will be at Scarritt-Bennett November 19, 2015 with singer/songwriter Angel Pontier in a performance of poetry and music at the “Poet’s Corner.” 

If you would like to know more about Rita you can visit her site here. She truly is a Fabulous Woman who has made a difference with her creative endeavors and sharing personality.

I hope you have enjoyed this month’s Fabulous Woman and will check back for Ms. June, stay tuned!

 

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Fabulous Women Over 40: Loan Hillsten

1975 Vietnamese Refugee, Fabulous Women over 40 , Loan Hillsten

By Sheri Oneal

This month I am excited to share Ms. April in my blog series Fabulous Women Over 40. Loan Hillsten and I have had the same circle of friends for about two years. I learned of Loan’s story at a dinner party one night when inquiring about where she grew up. She is a vibrant and caring person who carries a secret past most of her friends and colleagues do not know about.

We, as Americans, are privileged to live as freely as we do. The awareness of those here from other countries is evident, and often the media shares insight to the struggles they have endured coming to America with dreams of freedom and opportunity. I have never known anyone personally with a similar journey until I met Loan. Her past is riddled with memories of fleeing her war ravaged homeland with her family in search of freedom in the United States.

Loan Hillsten AKA Loan Thi Kim Pham was born in Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam on November 24, 1963. She is the youngest of four siblings, two sisters, Le and Lan, and two brothers, Thuy and Lai. Loan’s mother, Tu Thi Trinh, was a housewife who made extra money cooking Vietnamese food and selling it at the local market. She passed away of liver cancer at the age of 43 when Loan was only 9 years old. (below photo is of Loan’s family before she was born). Loan remembers how wonderful her mom’s cooking was and how so many people loved buying her delightful dishes from the market. Loan’s father, Vinh Van Pham, fought for the South in the Vietnam War, from 1950-1954, and was left crippled when he lost both legs stepping on a land-mine.

1975 Vietnamese Refugee, Loan Hillsten

On April 29, 1975, the night before the “Fall of Saigon,” Loan and her family fled Saigon to escape definite death from the Northern Vietnamese forces who were expected to invade the next day. She remembers her brother-in-law (who was in the military) telling her dad the communist were coming to take over the city. Knowing they would kill anyone associated with the military first, they were forced to leave their home and all their worldly possessions behind. Loan remembers arriving at the pier scared, watching as people were screaming, crying and fighting to get on boats so they would not be left behind or be separated from their families. Because her dad was unable to walk he told them to go ahead and get on the boat but her brother-in-law wouldn’t let that happen and carried her dad on his back, fighting his way through the crowd to assure he was on the same boat as his family.

1975 Vietnamese Refugee, Fabulous Women over 40 , Loan Hillsten

The boat she boarded with her family held 30-40 people, with no one knowing where they were going, only that they were leaving land. The men stayed up on deck most of the time and the women and children stayed below with no bathroom and little food. She remembers hearing stories from her brother-in-law of men on the upper deck who jumped to their death in fear of what might lie ahead. When they arrived in the Philippines two weeks later they were not welcome. The U.S. military had to step in and took them by boat to Guam before they were able to come to the United States. They lived in a tent for couple weeks on this island. They had to shower out in the open and she recalls the army soldiers riding by whistling and yelling at her as she tried to cover her naked body making her feel defiled and embarrassed.

Loan’s memory of her childhood is scattered with visions most 12 year olds should never have to endure. Having only the clothes they were wearing when they fled, she and her family arrived in America. They were placed in a refugee camp, Fort Indiantown Gap, known as “The Gap” or “FTIG” located in Pennsylvania. The GAP served as a refugee camp for Southeast Asian refugees over an 8 month period in 1975. More than 32,000 Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees were resettled through the camp. Her first memory upon arriving was how cold it was and seeing snow for the first time. Each day they would gather in lines and wait for their meals, there was nothing to do all day and they were not allowed to leave the tightly secured base.

Fabulous Women over 40, Loan Hillsten

After 6 months, her family was lucky enough to have two churches sponsor them out of the refugee camp, being sponsored was the only way anyone could leave the facility. The churches helped them find a home in Urbandale, Iowa, to get them signed up for the school system and covered the cost of food and rent for the first 3 months. In their new small home, 10 people lived in a 3 bedroom house with only one bath, you can imagine the chaos that ensued each morning. Loan started elementary school where she had to not only learn a new language (since she spoke no English), but also acclimate to a fascinating and at times scary new culture.

In the years that followed, Loan and her family adjusted and assimilated to life in America. She and her siblings went on to finish college. Her American life was not, however, left unscathed even after surviving and escaping a war ravaged country, she would face the tragedy of losing two more family members to liver cancer. Her brother passed away at 25 years old, who at the time was working to complete a master’s degree in engineering. Her sister, 39 at the time, perished two years later. Knowing this disease runs in her family, Loan gets annual checkups.

1975 Vietnamese Refugee, Fabulous Women over 40 , Loan Hillsten

Today Loan resides in Murfreesboro, TN with her 15 year old son Taylor and is a Finance Manager at McKesson Corporation. Most of her friends see her as a beautiful, active and happy person, someone who is always laughing. Her friends look forward to her cooking and she always delivers something amazing to friendly gatherings, something I know her mother would be proud of because she carries on some of her cultural traditions. She is the first to help when someone is sick or needs something and she shows no sign of any of the past experiences she had to endure. This month marks the 40th anniversary of fleeing South Vietnam and the experience that led her to become an American citizen. She recently visited her father (photo below) and other family members in Iowa.

Loan Hillsten , Vinh Van Pham

It humbles me to see a woman who has gone through what she did at such a young age, yet see no sign of sadness or conflict in her life. Her strength and compassion is truly amazing she is an inspiration to me and is why I had to showcase her as a Fabulous Woman over 40! 

1975 Vietnamese Refugee, Fabulous Women over 40 , Loan Hillsten

I hope you have enjoyed Loan’s story! I would love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to leave comments below. Stay tuned for Ms. May!

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Fabulous Women Over 40: Kate O’Neill

Kate O'Neill, author, mentor, consultant

By Sheri Oneal

Finally SPRING  is upon us, thank goodness! This month’s Fabulous Women Over 40 I am featuring the wonderfully beautiful and talented Kate O’Neill! I met Kate many years ago while attending various Nashville business mixers including the Technology Council. The one thing I always noted about Kate was her energy, her smile and most of all her laughter, she always seemed to be the happiest person in the room. We joke about having the same last name but it being spelled differently…sista-from-a-notha-motha sort of thing. I have always known Kate as an extremely intelligent and powerful business woman, but when I found out about her newest personal project I knew I wanted her to be a part of this blog series. These stories are not just about the fabulous things women over 40 have accomplished within their careers but the ability their stories might have in helping others deal with life changes that offer personal growth, insight and compassion along the way. My hope is that Kate’s story might help someone out there who is in the process of dealing with the painful emotions surrounding the loss of a loved one.  

Kate O'Neill, author, mentor and consultant.

I will start with the early stages of Kate’s career, after studying at the University of Illinois she worked as a language consultant translating German and Russian documents into English. She was a technical writer for Toshiba, a content manager for Netflix, a communications consultant for Lexicom Inc., a senior business analyst for HCA and held many other positions with companies like Landmark Digital Services, Searchmonkey and Magazines.com. Out side of her technical and marketing background she worked as a songwriter and publisher for Honey Bowtie Music. Born in Park Forest, Illinois and having lived in Germany, California, Oregon and Chicago, in 2003  Kate settled in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2009 she started her own business [meta]marketer which she closed in 2014 to start her new endeavor KO Insights, where she provides training, guidance and strategic marketing for businesses. With an impressive list of accomplishments, she is also a speaker, an author, a mentor and a consultant.

Kate O'Neill, author, mentor and consultant.

While all of these accomplishments completely make Kate a FABULOUS woman over 40, the one that is closest to my heart is her recently published ebook dealing with her personal struggle of loss, called “Surviving Death.” I have always admired Kates humor and writing style within her social media platforms so I knew this book would not let me down. I was intrigued to see how she dealt with the stages of death and grief and how she moved forward in the aftermath. Although the title may seem to allude to death and sadness, Kate’s sense of humor and unique style of sharing ideas through her journal excerpts allows the reader to experience her growth while it was actually happening. Sharing her personal thoughts written in pages of her journal during the painful, drawn out years of watching her father die to cancer offers a poetic insight to the unfair side of life experience. In contrast she expresses the feelings she was faced with in the sudden loss of her husband to suicide several years later. Her process of turning those negative moments of loss into positive life lessons offer a great contribution to us all because none of us are spared from experiencing death. In the end her story presents her journey of becoming more grateful, finding the strength to rebuild, to move forward, to accept help from others and finally finding the enlightenment of joy, laughter and meaning on the other side. Kate never intended on writing this book, it happened by accident, it is the result of her healing after several very painful years of processing her loss.

Kate O'Neill, author, mentor and consultant.

Kate mentors for Jumpstart Foundry and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. She is a Chair-Elect of the Business Intelligence Systems Advisory Board at Tennessee State University as well as an executive board member for The Nashville Technology Council. She serves as an advisory board member for Evolve Women, and a columnist at The Tennessean. If you would like to know more about Kate O’Neill you can visit her business web site here. If you would like to read her book “Surviving Death” you can find it here on Amazon.

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