Detailed History

The History Of The Elgin Business Women’s Network – Part 1
(Part 1 deals with the beginning of the EBWN as seen through the eyes of a member)


 Written by Aniko Varpalotai, presented at the WRED General Annual Meeting in Stratford, November 15, 2000
Retyped and Added to by Gail McNaughton, February 14, 2011
Some information taken from Ontario Farmer, December 19, 2000


The Elgin Business Women’s Network (EBWN) was organized by a small group of business women in and around Shedden during the summer of 1997.  Vicki Luke, who owed The Closet Exchange in Shedden, a second hand clothing consignment store, together with Janice Norley, who provided bookkeeping services, were the founding members of the group.  It had struck them that there were numerous and diverse small businesses in the area, owned and operated by women, and that there might be some value in getting together as a group to share ideas and experiences and organize some learning opportunities from which they would all benefit .  Vicki had already had some experience with WRED when she opened her own business, and was able to introduce the group to this organization and its many resources.


WRED was a Women & Rural Economic Development group, based in Stratford, and had a micro loan program to help women starting or upgrading a small business.  It is no longer in operation.  It had four offices across the province and was affiliated with 23 women’s business networks providing information resources, skills training and had a biannual conference attended by over 300 women.  They were the only ones providing such a service in Ontario said Executive Director, Carol Rock.  Carol and Liz Wagner, the co-founders of WRED got together a group of 12 women from across the province interested in rural economic development.  They had a conference in 1993 and came up with 75 strategies for increasing rural economic development, especially as it pertained to women.  WRED was founded shortly after to implement those strategies.  In the early 1990’s it was the women who were more interested in small, on-farm businesses while men were insistent that they should be able to survive on what they’re paid on their primary product said Carol.  That meant that there were still strong lines between farm and town, agriculture and rural business.  Those lines began to blur thanks to groups like WRED.


There were more than 2,000 women who regularly attended the WRED Meetings and about a quarter were paid members of WRED.  Memberships and fees for services made up a part of WRED’s budget, as does funding for government programs such as the Trillium Foundation and from Industry Canada.  WRED was a charitable organization so it received money, that way too, in sponsorships.  WRED also signed a memorandum of understanding with OMAFRA although Carol saw the role of government agencies and non-profit organizations as different.  Non-profits were the most economical way of delivering some services, as they weren’t encumbered by the mechanisms of government and aren’t needed to extract a profit, like a private business, she said.  However, she said that most of the focus on recent OMAFRA restructuring was due to the loss of core agriculture services, the loss of help for organizations, meeting rooms and aid in photocopying and mailing was also damaging.  Volunteers were already tapped into quite heavily.


With the EBWN, many members were just starting a small business of their own and most had no previous business experience so there was a lot to learn.  Many of the businesses were also of a non-traditional nature, often home or farm-based, and so there was no other obvious business related organizations which seemed like a natural fit for this group.  Among the business owners who became involved with this local group were: organic farmers (McSmiths), a home-based jam and candle making business (Debbie McCallum, also located on a farm), a blueberry farm (Irene Puddester), a fruit and vegetable market (Joy Westlaken), several alternative health practitioners (massage, holistic, health), a bed and breakfast (Heather Miklos), crafts persons who made clothes, quilts, and pottery, a Rhea farmer (Mary Pfeffer), who was in the process of working with the University of Guelph to develop health products from Rhea oil and proteins, a goat farmer who was making goat’s milk soaps (Aniko Varpalotai and Cecilia Preyra) a furniture upholsterer (Yvonne Brookes), a music teacher (Sharon Little) and photographer/greeting card maker (Gail McNaughton), a dried flower grower, cosmetics salesperson (Mary Sanderson), artist and financial planners and accountants.  All had in common that they lived in Elgin County, primarily in the smaller rural communities which spread across many miles.  Some had full-time jobs and were just getting initiated into the joys and difficulties of operating a small business.  Others were looking to their small business as a new start and the provider of enough income to live on.


At early meetings they brainstormed about the needs and issues facing small businesses and produced an agenda of topics they wanted to discuss as a group.  Some of these meetings were set aside for sharing personal experiences and learning from one another.  Other meetings featured guests: experts in certain fields.  Most meetings were held at the homes/businesses of the members and this way they were able to see first hand where one another lived and view the products of group members.  Other meetings were organized at local restaurants and coffee shops, in part to support local businesses, but also to make it a more formal social event too.


Some of the topics that emerged as common issues included: marketing, advertising, developing a business plan, financial planning and retirement planning, tourism and the opportunities available in the County to promote their businesses and products, “show and tell” nights where they talked about and demonstrated their products/services and got feedback from fellow businesswomen.  Also at each meeting the co-ordinators relayed news from WRED, gave out newsletters and encouraged the group to take out individual memberships in WRED.  The EBWN pooled their own business resources, and the Shedden Library agreed to create a space for these books and videos for the use of the EBWN members.


The EBWN could probably best be characterized by the sharing that went on at each meeting, by the non-threatening environment which many of the women commented on, by the absence of cut-throat competition that many feared from a business organization, the support and informal exchanges that occurred even between meetings, and the general helpfulness and usefulness of the meetings.  They met every 6-8 weeks.  There was a small Planning Committee which took the ideas and developed an agenda, organizing hosts, speakers and refreshments for each gathering.  New members were welcomed and encouraged, some spin-offs took place with some members forming alliances with the help of WRED, and others organized an annual business showcase in Dutton where the members, and others (mostly women) showed and promoted their businesses and products to the public.


The group celebrated one another’s successes, members brainstormed if a fellow member had a problem or difficulty, they brought resources, which they have found along the way, to the attention of one another, they purchased bulk products together for a better price and they promoted one another’s products and services and tried to support each others businesses if they were in need of a product or service.  Members said that they learned at least one new thing at each meeting, that they looked forward to the opportunity to discuss mutual interests, and they become friends and colleagues in many ways, and have developed their own smaller networks of individuals who they worked with and whose products they use, sell and promote through their own businesses.  As women they also shared the stresses, pressures and joys which are unique to women in society.  The EBWN was seen to be particularly valuable and valued in this respect as it was women only and therefore a comfortable and comforting place to gather and feel less inhibited about questions, problems and successes than in a larger and mixed environment.


Among the issues that the members have raised and that the EBWN continues to address are:

  • Not being taken seriously as a woman in business
  • Expectations of women who have employees, and who are doing sales and marketing – on-going stereotypes
  • A lack of familiarity with or access to computers
  • The benefits of home and community based business
  • The stresses of time and multiple roles re: family, children, and expectations of spouse

For me personally, and for my own business, it has been a great learning experience, the EBWN has widened each time I attended a meeting and while it is difficult to measure in objective terms how my business has benefited, I know it has and so has our community from the interconnections among the many women who initially only had one thing in common – that we were all women struggling to establish and grow a business in Elgin County.

Compiled by Susan Fortin-Smith and Gail McNaughton from information provided by Cecelia


(Part 2 provides a list of early members & attendees of the Elgin Business Women’s Network)


If you can add to this list or provide further details please contact Gail McNaughton at


Roxanne Bale, Rosy Rhubarb

Susan Boyd

Sue Bennett, Body Wise International Inc.

Yvonne Brooks, Country Seat Upholstery, TriVita, Mary Kay

Cindy Denness, The Cherry Valley Co.

Patricia England

Susan Labatte, Holistic Health Provider

Leona Leveque

Sharon Little, One Quality Note

Vicki Luke, The Closet Exchange

Cathy McSmith, McSmith Organic Farm

Debbie Macallum, In A Jam

Cathy Mezenberg, Mezenberg’s Perennials & Dried Flowers

Janice Norley, Berkshire Securities/Integrated Administration

Mary Pfeffer, Pfeffer Rhea Farm, YouNique At Home

Pam  Playford, Little Shop Of Art

Irene Puddester, Blueberry Hill

Mary Sanderson, Weekenders/Watkins

Margaret Silverthorn, Health Essentials Holistic Services

Heather Miklos,

Gazebo House, Mary Kay, Harbour House Market

Celia Preyra, Lavender Lane

Aniko Varpalotai, Lavender Lane

Mary Kay Baker, Pride Pet Services

Joy Westlaken, Empire Valley Farms

Val Misener-Vella, Val’s Nail Care

Susan Baldwin, Corner Mug Shop

Miriam Barry, Stacey’s School House

Heather Bell

Linda Berkelmans, The Mouse Trap

Georgie Breen, Dutton Casual Corner

Katie Burton, Stepping Out

Claire Champ, The Balloon Express

Suzanne Ferguson, Primerica

Emily Finch, Honorary Member (Shedden & Port Stanley Libraries)

Darlene Ford, All Travel

Janet Given, Bittersweet Lane Country Collectibles

Margaret Gruenbauer, Marg’s Accounting & Tax

Marianne Hatch

Sherry Johnstone, Partylite Gifts

Evelyn Karasinski

Jackie Littlejohn, Enrich International

Joanne Lakeman

Heather McAdam, Creative Memories/Bookkeeping

Susanne Mauer, Port Talbot Orchard

Liz McPhail, City Cuts Hair Design

Winnie Mitchell, Uniquely Ontario

Joanne Nicalkiewicz, Tidy House Trading Co.

Siobhan O’Shea, USC Scholarship Consultant

Jennifer Penz, Welcome Wagon

Liz Postma, Usborne Books

Sandy Ross, Word’s Worth

Kelly Roberts, Unique’s Rustic

Linda Smith, Enrich International

Wendy Swan, Wendy’s Ceramics & Craft Boutique

Karen Watson, Princess House Crystal/Aloette

Cheryl Barendregt, Hawk’s Cliff Farms

Heather Anne Campbell, The Duffy Group Partners In Planning

Linda Monkman, Lifestyles Marketing

Cheryl Morrow, Home Childcare

Brenda Murray

Joanne Summers

Pam Trainor, Trainor’s Cove

Elizabeth Kornaker

Julie Khan, Better Than Flowers

Gail McNaughon, Dog & Pony Productions, The Photographic Heart, Welcome Wagon, Find Your Passion

Karen Huggett, Tidal Wave Inc. Natural Beauty & Wellness Products

June-Anne Reid, Evergreen Studios

Sandra England, Evergreen Studios

Anna Barbosa, Fastway Couriers

Anne Kenny, Elgin Business Resource Centre

Susan Fortin-Smith, Smith & Associates

Renee Carpenter, Details By Renee

Terry Weese, Carmed For Pets

Judy Marshall, Cottage Furniture

Janice Mirza, Initial Impressions

Iris Fretter, The Iris Patch Flower & Gift Shoppe

Paula Harris, Harris Stamps, Yoga

Nancy Row, Jabez Therapeutic Riding Ranch/

Michelle Barnes, Our Sanctuary

Gemmell Neilson, Neilson & Associates

Sandra Plaquette, The Pampered Chef Canada-Corp.

Janet Christensen, Passion Maps, Unlimited Potential

Yvonne Ethier, Stampin’Up

Krista Schneider, Sunshine Designs

Susanne Spence-Wilkins, Town & Country Landscaping

Terry Ranta-Hall, Wind’n Willow/Wind’ n Willow Staging

Mary Simpson, The Woodgreen House

Susan Paterson, The Yellow Cottage Garden & Gifts

Jean McDougall, Your Back & Beyond

Maureen Bedek

Lori Stanek, Avon

Renee Melvin

Patti Steip, Elgin Business Resource Centre

Michelle Sherman

Herma Van Meppelen Schrepink

Michelle Barnes

Linda McEwen, Artist

Carmen Hughes

Rosalynd Brown

Michelle Fournier, Centrepiece Marketing

Mary Lou Kominek

Marilyn Davidson

Angie Da Costa, Massage Therapist

Charlene McConlos

Rhonda Landgren, Personal Trainer

Sharon Jackson, Consultant

Sharon Berman

Maggie May, Maggie’s Catering

Katherine Bragg, Trans Outsource

Sabina Sawiczewski

Tilda Whmenga, Sun Financial

Deb Dikker, Salvation Army

Wendy White, Wiener’s Floral Design


Researched by Susan Fortin-Smith & Gail McNaughton and compiled by Gail McNaughton.


((Part 3 also deals with the beginning of the EBWN as seen through documentation, flyers, meeting information, WRED Newsletters, History of WRED,  Shedden WRED Group activities, WRED Annual Reports, EBWN Committee Meetings. )


The early name for EBWN was Shedden WRED Group.


We have Meeting Minutes from:

August 13, 1997, October 8, 1997, January 14, 1998, February 17, 1998, March 14, 1998, January 17, 2007


From a flyer for Spring, 1999 the following Meetings/Events were scheduled to take place:

February 10 – Business Resource Centre, Shedden Library

March 20 – Business Showcase in Dutton

April 13 – Video On Women Entrepreneurs

May 13 – Personal Selling – presentation by Via Wilson & Greta Kennedy – included a dinner and silent auction


From a flyer for 2000, the following events were scheduled to take place:

January 25 – “Info & Tips On Completing Tax Returns” with speaker Bob Neilson, Cenaur Computerized Accounting, dinner meeting at The Beanery

March 6 – Review of new Economic Development tool Kit at the Corner Mug Shop in Dutton

March – Business Showcase in Dutton

April 25, 2000 a flyer announces a networking dinner at the New Serum Diner whereby there would be a panel discussion on tourism by tourism specialists “Tourism Opportunities For Your Business”.

June 7 – Tour of Moore Water Gardens in Port Stanley

July 18 – Summer Potluck Picnic in Pinafore Park

September 27 – Show & Tell


January 2007 is when Anne Kenny took over as Facilitator.  Other Committee members were: June-Anne Reid, Karen Huggett, Mary Pfeffer, Yvonne Ethier (these three were the Website Research Team), Mary Pfeffer was also the Treasurer, Susan Fortin-Smith handled Advertising & PR and Gail McNaughton was the Communications Pivot (Janice Norley and Claire Champ had done this role previously)


April 17, 2007 we celebrated our 10th Anniversary with a celebration dinner at The Salty Pickle.  Master of Ceremonies was Wendy Stevens from BX93.  Opening Remarks were given by Anne Kenny, Yvonne Brooks said grace, Helen LeFrank from the Elgin Business Resource Centre was the speaker.  Thank You to the guest speaker was made by Yvonne Ethier, Special Presentation was made by Mary Pfeffer.  Master of Ceremonies Thank You was made by Aniko Varpalotai & Cecilia Preyra.  Closing Remarks were made by Suzanne Ferguson.


The Weaving Of An Organization: WRED and The Rural Women’s Business Networks – 1998

A Thesis was presented to The Faculty of Graduate Studies of the University of Guelph by Samantha Albert, February, 1998


WRED Newsletters that mentioned our Shedden WRED Group which then became Elgin County Business Women’s Network:


Spring, 1996 – we are not listed


Spring, 1997 – we are not listed


Fall, 1997 – we are listed as Shedden WRED Network (November 12 Meeting with information on local stats and demographics at Gazebo House; December 10 – Christmas Potluck at the home of Janice Norley, discussion to follow on the Winter Agenda)


Winter, 1997 – still called Shedden WRED Network – listed under Network Contacts & Coming Events


Spring, 1998 – still called Shedden WRED Network (April 8 Meeting at Wayside, also a planning meeting for a display at the Rosy Rhubarb Festival at the home of Janice Norley)


Summer, 1998 – still called Shedden WRED Network


Spring, 1999 – we are not listed


Summer, 1999 – there is an article located under Network News – Elgin County Business Women’s Network:

“Recognizing that a number of women in Elgin County owned their own businesses and having a desire to connect with them, Janice Norley and Vicki Luke brought the Elgin County Business Women’s Network to life.

The Network has operated as in informal group, meeting in people’s homes and community spaces, often over potluck dinner.  This atmosphere is very conducive to providing mutual support and learning in a financially accessible manner.  As Janice points out, the format makes it feel like a “meeting of friends”.  The group has met on a monthly basis for the last 2 years.

This past May, Janice and Vicki decided to hold a more formal networking dinner with door prizes and all, in the same style as most of the other WRED Business Women’s Networks.

Attendance of 65 women demonstrated that women in Elgin County want to network!!  The evening was a great success with support from Vi and Greta, the original Durham Network Coordinators, as well as the creativity and hard work of Janice, Vicki and some of the other Network members.

Vicki and Janice enjoy helping others and the Network provides the setting to assist business owners in making new contacts as well as sharing information with others and learning from guest speakers.  The Network will continue to be a mixture of the larger networking events and the smaller more informal gatherings in order to meet the diverse needs of the businesswomen in Elgin County.”


Fall, 1999 – there is an article listed under Christmas Network Dinners:

“Elgin Business Women’s Network will be holding their Christmas dinner on Wednesday, November 24, 1999.  The networking will begin at 6 P.M. at the Seven Dwarf’s Restaurant, London, Ontario.  The Speaker, Sandy Ross, is the owner of Word’s Worth Communications, and founder of the Homepreneur Network in London.  She will be speaking on marketing for micro-businesses.  We will also be having Jennifer Penz attending who is with Welcome Wagon Business Promotions.  She will have a display to show us.  The cost of the dinner is $23.00 (gratuity and beverages extra).  Please call Janice at 519-764-2519 for details and to register.”


Summer, 2000 – listed under Upcoming Network Events & also under SW Ontario Networks  – September 27 – Show & Tell


Spring, 2001 – Not listed


Winter, 2001 – Not listed


1998 & 1999, 2000 WRED Annual Report – we are listed with our Network Coordinators – Janice Norley and Vicki Luke.  2000 WRED Annual Report only lists Janice Norley as the contact.

The History of WRED as well as the WRED Mission Statement are in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 Reports:


History of WRED:

“WRED was established as an outcome of a Provincial Economic Development Conference held in Guelph in April of 1993.  Using the conference as a strategic planning session, the conference organizers were able to determine what rural women in Ontario wanted and needed to become economically active and independent in Ontario’s economy.  A list of 70 strategies were presented, the top ideas including Self Employment Training, Business Women’s Networks, Membership & Access to capital.

From the conference WRED developed programs and services including:

Self employment training, rural women’s business networks, mentorship, life skills training, farm diversification training and loan funds.

Since 1993 WRED has successfully provided business development assistance to 525 women (1999 Annual Report) with estimated gross sales of over $10,000,000 (1999 Annual Report).  There are now over 450 new businesses (1999 Annual Report) operating in rural Ontario because of WRED initiatives.  More recent initiatives include the formation of Women’s Investment Clubs, an Economic Literary Program, an effective communications course (Smart Talk) and a Rural Business Alliance Project.

WRED operates a central co-ordinating office that provides support to four regional teams.  This structure allows for initiatives at the local level, while providing the regional teams with the advantages of a larger organizational framework.

Women and Rural Economic Development continues to provide enterprise development services and support in rural communities in Ontario through a decentralized, flexible and cost-efficient structure.”


Programs and Services include the following:

Self-Employment Training (SELF Start, Business Basics, Entrepreneurship Training for Rural Youth (Entry))

Creating Enterprise Opportunities through Partnerships (CEO)

Support to Existing Businesses (Director of Business Owners, Business Women’s Networks, Advance Business Workshops, Mentoring Partnerships, Technical Assistance, Member Services)

Economic Literacy Curriculum

Micro Lending

Smart Talk Communications Program

Business Alliances & Joint Ventures Initiative

Resource Centre

Investment Clubs

The Learning Centre – located in Stratford – joint venture between WRED, Time Training & Conestoga College


Mission Statement of WRED:

“WRED, a registered charity, is a community economic development organization dedicated to enhancing the sustainability of rural Ontario communities.  WRED provides programs that enhance business development, life skills, networking, access to capital, business diversification, including agriculture and awareness of rural community economic development.  WRED ensures women’s participation, builds local leadership capacity, offers rural perspective, and seeks to build partnership alliances.”


Women In Rural Economic Development

Aniko Varpalotai did research into the education and training of rural women who have begun their own businesses.  The aim was to analyze the effectiveness and impact of the Women In Rural Economic Development programs in WRED.  She did interviews and provided summaries.  She got a grant to conduct this study.  The results were shared with the WRED office.  The preliminary results were shared at the International, National and Provincial conference in February 2000 in Nanaimo, B.C. on “Issues Affecting Rural Communities”.

(Part 4 deals with our most current History and the development of our website)

By Gail McNaughton, September 18, 2011


In November 2006 it was decided that there was more of a need to formalize the EBWN, to have an Admin. Committee, to audit our finances on a yearly basis, to have another signing authority and a need for a formal website contract.


Groups go through transition and change and evolve with the membership.  In January, 2007 Gail McNaughton took on the role of Communications Pivot so that the EBWN members could get information about the EBWN as Janice Norley had resigned and nobody was left to look after the business of the EBWN.  At one time both Janice Norley and Claire Champ performed this function which was very time consuming.


On January 10, 2007 the EBWN membership were sent a note to tell them about a planning meeting on January 17th at the Superstore Community Room and this would be facilitated by Anne Kenny from the ECFDC.  At this meeting we would determine where the EBWN wanted to go and what we wanted, were we going to develop a website, were we going to have an EBWN show and sale, how many of us are members, where will we meet on a monthly basis, do we need roles as Facilitator, Treasurer, Secretary, Communications Pivot, Membership, Special Events.  Our account balance at this time was $1,731.32 which was very healthy for a Network.


At the Meeting it was decided that Anne Kenny would be the group’s Facilitator for a three-month period.  Mary Pfeffer would be Treasurer/New Member Liaison, Gail McNaughton would be the Communications Pivot, Susan Fortin-Smith would do Advertising, and Promotions help out with the Membership Lists and coordinate the EBWN booth at the Chamber’s Small Business Sample Show.  Paula Harris would continue to do the typed copy of the Membership List so would coordinate with Mary/Susan when new members had paid their membership and then could be added to the Membership List.


In early 2007 the website concept was discussed. A website Task Group was set up of Yvonne Ethier, June Ann Reid, Karen Huggett and Donna Lunn.  February 20, 2007 the meeting was devoted to discussions and decisions regarding the website and options were presented by the Website Committee.


A retainer was given to Kim Marcotte of Quantum RBS to begin the website development after a RFP process.  She had done the following to date and that was to register a DNS as  The original concept of the website was to allow members of the EBWN to post their own promotional highlights and events and have a home page to showcase business.  This was tabled and eagerly received at the home of Sandra England in September, 2006.


Suzanne Ferguson had been acting as the Coordinator to retain guest speakers for our meetings.  Yvonne Brooks had signing authority so she and Mary would now have signing authority together.


The website was up and running March 8, 2007.  Yvonne Ethier was doing the website updates.


Paula Harris resigned doing the Membership Directory and it would take a new format.


Nik Peterson did initial business cards for the EBWN which were handed out to our membership to pass along to other women.

In June, 2007 the Admin. Committee put together a Mission Statement, solidified their roles with Job Descriptions (that keep evolving) and a list of Member Benefits.


In September, 2007 there was discussion of arranging the EBWN membership in “pods” to plan the meetings and deliver presentations.  This was a concept that Suzanne Ferguson put forward.  Our meetings never evolved in this direction.


In February, 2008 Susan Fortin-Smith began work on an EBWN Survey and on May 21st gave an overview of the results.


In February, 2009 an RFP was put out for the redesign of the EBWN website and Ann-Marie Cheung of FG New Media  won the bid so she began our website on June 25th after a revised proposal was accepted.  Ann-Marie was working with Jean Renick who was doing some consulting on the project.  The website team was still in place.   On November 18th Jean Renick updated us with the benefits of our website which got everyone pretty excited.  On December 9, 2009 we had a website launch for our members.


In 2009 the EBWN joined the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce and in 2010 we joined the Dutton Chamber.


In 2010 several things happened.  Lori Wall and Linda Crawford joined the Admin Team which had their first meeting on January 20, 2011.  The  Admin. Team was very glad to receive new members so that the roles could be divided.  Mary would continue as Treasurer.  Gail McNaughton will handle the Registration Table at meetings and call upon both Lori Wall and Mary Pfeffer to help.  She will also facilitate the Admin. Meetings and prepare the agenda as well as contact new potential members who have questions or from leads generated off the website.  Facilitation at monthly meetings will be handled by Anne Kenny, Susan Fortin-Smith and Gail McNaugnton.  Face book will be handled by Ann-Marie Cheung and Linda Crawford.  Website will be handled by Ann-Marie Cheung.  The Membership List is compiled and updated by Susan Fortin-Smith.  Pr/Advertising is done by Linda Crawford with Susan Fortin-Smith’s assistance when needed.  Admin. Meeting Minutes is the responsibility of Lori Wall who is also the East Elgin Rep, as is Yvonne Brooks (who is not on the Admin. Team but is connected in this function as the West End Rep.)


The Admin. Team established DIVA awards that are decided upon by the Admin. Team with no set criteria and so far have had Melissa Bishop and Yvonne Brooks as Divas.  Some policies and procedures have been set up and documented.  We had a news story done in the St. Thomas Weekly News by Heather Derks.  We continue to support Salvaide as our not-for-profit of choice helping women in El Salvador with entrepreneurial business opportunities.  Gail McNaughton submitted the EBWN nomination for the St. Thomas Annual Honours program but we were not successful as a recipient.  We have had a variety of different meetings including a Success Meeting, Income Tax Tips, How to Use & Get the most our of our EBWN website, Tips for promoting your business as a group discussion, summer social, Christmas event, Mix and Mingles, tours of member businesses, talks from members of our own group, fundraising for FreshStart at some meetings, participation at the Business Sample Show which is a St. Thomas & District Chamber event, Wedding Acknowledgment as part of a meeting, new postcards done by Ann-Marie Cheung as well as bookmarks, our own show and tell events.


We host meetings at a variety of venues including local restaurants, golf courses, and in homes.  The annual Christmas event has been held a number of times in the home of Karen Huggett.  Karen and her family live in a church so we all enjoyed their ceiling high Christmas tree.  Yvonne from Abbeywood Emporium had us in her store one year and her decorated store was outstanding and a real thrill as we tasted different products.  Susan Fortin-Smith also opened her home to our group and pot lucks are our preferred venue.  Summer fun took us to the home of Anne Kenny who lives in Aylmer and who can forget our Hat parade.  We even attended Mackie’s On The Beach in Port Stanley who was celebrating a 100-year milestone in business in 2011 and we ate lots of fries there.  We’ve been known to dress-up at meetings with themes and award prizes.  The Admin. Team, in particular, dressed as The Lime Green Beans at the Success Meeting and sang a song and Gail McNaughton gave them each a doodle art as a thank you.  We had a bonfire and tour at the farm of Pamela Anderson which was a nice casual atmosphere at Lavender Sense.  The Arts & Cookery Bank was another highlight with members going by bus and entertained with games to play on the bus which were coordinated by Anne Kenny.  Where there are women who come together there will always be lots of fun.  Who said professionals in business can’t have fun.  These are special moments we share as colleagues and friends and April Laroche has diligently taken photos and supplied them to our EBWN website so we can all have Remember When’s


We support all women regardless whether they are in business for themselves, are part of a corporate business or not-for-profit, are retired, just want some friends or are in between careers.  At the time of writing the above the EBWN has over 60 members and between 25-30 attend each monthly meeting.  We are enjoying meeting registration on-line and our website has the capability for us to pay our memberships and meals on-line where applicable.  The cost of membership is $40.00 and that includes a listing on the website, use of the website blog, membership in both the St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce and the Dutton Chamber of Commerce and attendance at each EBWN monthly meeting and volunteer opportunities both on a casual basis and on the Admin. Team.



Aniko Varpalotai presented Irene Puddester with an Honorary Lifetime Membership in the EBWN.  Irene is one of the original 10 who started the

It is my pleasure to say a few words this evening in recognition of one of our longest serving members: Irene Puddester.   It is highly appropriate that we recognize and celebrate Irene’s achievements  today,  at this, our annual ‘Success Meeting’.

Irene Puddester, owner/operator of Blueberry Hill Farm in Rodney, Ontario, is one of the original founding members of the Elgin Business Women’s Network.

Irene completed the Women in Rural Economic Development (WRED) Programme in 1996, and our own group is one of the networks  which evolved from WRED, which was intended to help rural women plan and launch their own businesses.

Since that time, Irene has been an inspiration and role model for many of us, as she built a successful business at her blueberry farm.  Now on the eve of her retirement from active farming, the Elgin Business Women’s Network would like to award her with a Lifetime Membership and hope that she will continue to join us and mentor us as we continue to grow our own businesses.

Irene’s story is certainly a lesson in perseverance, taking risks and working hard in order to achieve success and make dreams come true.  Irene left a career in Toronto, where she had raised her three boys as a single mother after having been widowed at an early age.  Irene was looking for an alternative to city living and daily commutes.  She had no experience in farming but the blueberry farm was already established and in her words: “I liked the property, the blueberries were here, so we decided that we could make a go of this thing.  If I just learned how to grow blueberries and learned how to sell them, then we’d be fine, and that’s just what we did!”  She adds: “I’ve been independent for a lot of years.   I was widowed when my children were very young , so being a woman… I guess the independence the farm gives to me is a bonus after having worked so many years for someone else, and knowing that I can handle life having raised three children on my own, I’ve always felt I had accomplished something, but I never really had the confidence of knowing that I had done it right… “  She adds: “Being a woman in business has never been an easy thing; it has certainly improved a lot in the last few years, and WRED, I think has had a lot to do with it….”

WRED provided her with marketing, bookkeeping and business planning skills.  She gained confidence from sharing ideas with the other women in the programme,  in her words: “WRED encourages a totally different approach to doing business – it’s okay to work together rather than compete…”  Irene also got involved with other community organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and Elgin Tourism where the networking and collaboration with other business owners continued.

Although she had no related experience at all prior to buying the farm, and the learning curve was steep at the beginning, it helped that she enjoyed meeting people, “which helps a great deal during harvest time because we have a “You Pick”, and it’s constantly meeting people, and in order to get out and sell, which is something I’ve never been able to do , and I still don’t do it well, but I happen to have a product that is good and people enjoy so it’s not a difficult sell, I certainly couldn’t sell something I didn’t believe in….”

These quotes are from an interview with Irene completed in February 2000, four or five years after she established her farm and completed her WRED program.   We know how successful she has become as a business woman, farmer, sales-person  and community volunteer during the ensuing years.  Irene’s blueberries regularly sell out at local farmer’s markets, and her You Pick has become a popular annual event for many of us.  I can personally attest to her wonderful berries and the recipes she has shared over the years so we can enjoy them year-round – her farm is a popular destination for families and friends and we have shared this experience with the children in our families as we picked berries and made jam and pies together.

Irene brings both integrity and humility to her business dealings and her relationships.    While Irene likely has mixed feelings as she prepares to leave her farm, she can take great pride in her accomplishments  at her farm and within the larger business women’s network in our area.   She is a valued member of the Elgin Business Women’s Network, and we are pleased to honour her this evening and wish her well in her retirement!


Aniko Varpalotai





Elgin Business Women’s Network – twenty years ago a few gals who helped on the family farm, whether their parent’s or their husband’s, and wanting to assist financially to the wellbeing of their family, compared notes with others in the same position.  About the same time as WRED was founded.

One of the teachers I remember well is still in business with a large farmgate operation just east of London.  A fellow student is now the butcher for her on-farm meat shop – all of the meat comes from their farm as does the feed for their animals.  The year we were students, they lost everything in a horrific barn fire.  Neither of these gals live in Elgin but as you know, other successes have grown.


EBWN has strong roots after all these years (1994) and a membership to be proud of.  Your current ADMIN committee is to be commended for their successful endeavours.  Being part of this group as a whole proves your desire to be successful in your chosen field and we are all here for each other as well as ourselves.  It’s one of the joys.


Thank you; I am so honoured to be invited as a “lifetime” member.  That’s pretty special!


Hopefully Blueberry Hill will remain the peaceful, happy place it has become over these years for whomever takes over and that they are able to maintain the product as it has developed.   While I am still here, you are most welcome to visit and enjoy the surroundings.  During harvest time please feel free to pack a lunch and enjoy a day in the sun.  Also, Port Glasgow Beach on Lake Erie is only 11 km away.  A neat little beach to cool you.  Don’t forget to bring your EBWN address list and visit your fellow members’ businesses along the way!


Aniko – thank you for your kind words.  Aniko and Cecilia – Congratulations on your imminent retirement and may Lavender Lane be  your successful, happy place always.


Again, THANK  YOU !!!


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