Kristin Ellsworth

Peeps Eyewear
Madison, Wisconsin

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She not only founded a children’s frame company; she’s authored a book, “Princesses Wear Glasses,” published a book, “Glasses, A Board Book,” and advocates for children’s vision, as well as being the co-founder of Great Glasses Play Day.”

I started my business six years ago, when my daughter was 4,” said Kristin Ellsworth. “She had been prescribed glasses but refused to wear them because ‘Princesses don’t wear glasses!’ From that instant, I was determined to create a fun, new way for children to experience their first pair of glasses and Peeps Eyewear was born.

“Two of my very first mentors were Leslie and Richard Morgenthal,” she added. “I shared my dream to empower children to feel good about wearing glasses and increase awareness of early childhood vision health and she and Richard have encouraged me to never be afraid to ask for help from people in the optical industry.”

Despite the help, Ellsworth still has challenges. “My biggest challenge is communicating to parents the importance of investing in a good pair of glasses and proper service even when budgets are tight. There’s no substitution for proper fit, professionally measured pupillary distance and quality lenses.”

But she sees hope on the horizon. “In my six short years, I have noticed an increase in the number of women becoming doctors of optometry and leaders in retail. My experience with women mentorship has been very positive and involved lots of collaboration and support. I’ve seen many women who are concerned about vision health support each other, through the Optical Women’s Association (OWA) and elsewhere.”

She says… “I would encourage women interested in a career in the optical industry to join the OWA right away. Work on identifying their strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be patient, don’t give up and have fun.”

Mary Rose Jaszczynski

ClearVision Optical
Biltmore Lake, North Carolina

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Mary Rose has a keen eye for style and has her finger on the pulse of customer needs. She is known for her mentorship and level-headed approach to delivering sales excellence.”

Mary Rose Jaszczynski has enjoyed a long and successful career in the optical industry starting in the 1980s as a sales rep for Neostyle. In 1996, she transitioned into sales management and in 1998 she joined ClearVision Optical as regional sales manager for the Western region. In 2007, Jaszczynski moved into her current position as business development manager where she works primarily with buying groups and associations to create more meaningful and profitable partnerships.

As part of the ClearVision management team Jaszczynski trains sales consultants and sales managers, and works closely with the marketing department and David Friedfeld, president of the company. “I am very proud of the reputation that I have built and equally proud of the reputation that ClearVision and the Friedfeld family have built over the past 66 years. I am fortunate to work for a company that shares my values and vision,” she said.

Jaszczynski feels there are many opportunities for women in optical “without the typical glass ceilings and limitations based on gender that exist in other industries. Basically, the sky is the limit,” she said.

“Eyewear has changed from a corrective necessity to a fashion accessory with almost limitless choices for the optical consumer. The creativity and innovation continues to inspire me and the career opportunities are still excellent, particularly for women. If you love fashion and business, optical is a perfect environment.”

And what does she love most about her job? “It allows me to interact with people I’ve known for decades while exploring new possibilities.”

SHE SAYS… “Maya Angelou said, ‘I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Kate Monahan

VSP Optics Group
Sacramento, California

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She energizes her sales team and has a deep commitment to excellence, which inspires everyone around her.”

Kate Monahan’s roots at VSP Optics Group run deep. Her father, Robert Monahan, was a friend of John O’Donnell, the company’s first CEO. He became the first sales consultant for VSP, then known as California Vision Service (CVS). “My greatest mentor was my father,” she said. “He passionately and honestly represented this industry, his customers’ needs and his peers with great integrity.”

Monahan began working at CVS herself in 1978, while still in high school. “It felt natural to me, since I had been exposed to the company’s culture by attending company picnics and other events. I grew up a VSP brat,” she joked.

Three years later, Monahan left to become an optician at a Sacramento optometric practice. She remembers a formative experience there. “I dispensed a pair of -6.50 glasses to a young woman. She was speechless. She stood up and walked to the window with tears rolling down her face. She realized she hadn’t really seen the world before that day.”

Monahan mastered her dispensing skills and then joined a multi-location practice. After working outside the industry, she rejoined VSP in 2000. Since then, she has worked in customer care, lab sales, network recruiter and provider education, national sales training and education for VSP Vision Care, national sales training and development VSP Optics Group.

As head of sales training, Monahan “onboards” new employees as part of “VSP Boot Camp.” She draws on her deep and broad experience with the company to impart its key values and history.

SHE SAYS… “I am inspired whenever I share learning with someone who then applies it, makes a difference and then passes it along to another for the same.”

La Jeanne Niles, ABOC

Carl Zeiss Vision
Lewisville, Texas

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She always goes a step beyond her job to cultivate and grow her team and others.”

La Jeanne Niles is a senior level sales executive with many years of experience in national account sales, marketing and management. She is currently responsible for managing key accounts and key account managers for Carl Zeiss Vision. Her colleagues credit her with being innovative in her approach to mentoring and managing employees, and fostering “an environment of communication that enables those she influences to achieve their highest potential.”

“I’ve been in the optical industry all my life,” said Niles. “I started my career in a small optical lab in Tulsa, Okla., then worked as a dispensing optician for Drs. Berenson and Cope before working at Zeiss.” In her 22 years at Zeiss she has held a variety of positions, and is currently working in the retail managed care channel. She has also been active in industry organizations, having served on the board of directors for the NAVCP (National Association for Vision Care Providers) for three years and NASHO (National Association of Specialty Health Organization) for two years.

Niles credits several industry veterans with mentoring and influencing her: John Potocny, Jim Bunnelle and the late Bill Benedict. “Each one invested in me and contributed greatly to who I am today. I have also learned a great deal from the customers I have managed over the years, some strong women who have also influenced me greatly.”

SHE SAYS… “I believe that it is important to give back. I have been a member of VOSH for the last 20 years. Each year, we travel to a third-world country and perform eye exams and give new glasses to the poorest of the poor. We not only provide vision—we change people’s lives.”

Debby Bauer-Robertson, ABO, NCLE

Ruff Eyes/Jeanne I Ruff, OD, LLC
Williamsburg, Virginia

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Debby is passionate about opticianry. She is generous with her knowledge and skills. She is committed to raising the bar for opticians through mentorship and education.”

From working part-time in an optical office while in high school to becoming president of the Virginia Opticians Association, Debby Bauer-Robertson’s career trajectory has been fueled by a passion for her profession. As a teen, Bauer-Robertson worked for Dr. Stanley Jason, who recognized her talent for interacting with patients. She learned to help people insert contact lenses and was fascinated watching the optician fabricate eyeglasses. “I was hooked and have enjoyed helping people to see more clearly ever since,” she said.

With over 35 years of experience, Bauer-Robertson loves being an optician because “we are rewarded every day by providing the gift of better vision.” She remembers the first time she made eyeglasses for a child. “His mother called to say that her son not only could see, but now realized that “Big Bird” was a yellow bird and not just a yellow moving part on the TV!” Managing the Ruff Eyes dispensary, Bauer-Robertson enjoys helping patients select eyeglasses that complement their coloring and lifestyle preferences, a talent that utilizes her strong people skills and builds patient loyalty.

From 2009 to 2011, she served as president of the Opticians Association of Virginia, with a strong commitment to education and mentorship. Her emphasis on helping others traces back to her own career mentors, including Robert Flippin and Shelby Powers, and to her family for inspiring her “to always be who I am and never settle for less.” Bauer-Robertson encourages women “to become involved in their professional associations, help each other succeed and give back to a profession that has given so much.”

SHE SAYS… “You can never have enough eyeglasses!”

Mary Anne Stangby

Sears Optical, a division of Luxottica
Mason, Ohio

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Building and mentoring a great team of leaders to take smart risks that lead to results, she’s comfortable handing over responsibility and making everyone feel they are contributing while setting an authentic example for other women.”

With 20 years of experience in optical, including well over a decade at the executive level with Luxottica Retail, Mary Anne Stangby was the first female general manager in North American optical brands in Luxottica and won the 2013 Ohio National Diversity Council’s Glass Ceiling Award recognizing women and minorities in business who are breaking barriers at the top. She started with LensCrafters in a training role, led the training organization for Luxottica North America, moved into store operations for Sunglass Hut, and then led the business and segment development group for Sunglass Hut. In December 2012, she was asked to lead the Sears Optical brand and continues in that role today.

Her advice to women: “It’s important to let your perspective be heard. I’ve seen capable women in business soften their language. We make much better decisions when everyone can fully participate, so dive into the conversation! Mentor others; you learn as much, sometimes more, in that journey.”

She observes a stronger presence for women in optical over the last decade. “From the OD and optician community to thought leaders and executives, not only are women simply more present, we are rising to the top of organizations in optical retail and driving change and innovation,” she said. “Of the four major Luxottica Retail optical brands in North America, two are led by women. This wasn’t the case 10 years ago. It’s an exciting change, and we still have room to grow.”

SHE SAYS… “This industry is about helping the world see—every interaction I have with people in the industry confirms that this is a unique blend of our business and our calling.”

Karen Stotz, ABOC, NCLEC

Pech Optical
Sioux City, Iowa

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “Through her many CE webinars, she has touched many lives with the quest to deepen their own knowledge base in our industry.”

Some 36 years ago, Karen Stotz began working as a receptionist in a private optometrist’s practice. “While working with and helping patients to see better, and watching the joy of them walking out the door with a new sight on life, so to speak, I fell in love with our industry,” she said. “One cannot image the excitement of a patient who has a need and you are able to help give them the desired results that they need to simply do daily functions. I was hooked.”

Stotz moved up to managing an ophthalmology practice that had a dispensary. Since joining wholesale lab Pech Optical 20 years ago, she has worked in many different positions, including customer service, to marketing, to quality control, finally becoming a member of Pech Optical’s education department.

Stotz has been instrumental in developing the lab’s internal education curriculum, as well as training employees who work in the surfacing and finish departments, office and customer service. She has helped to develop Pech Optical’s quality assurance department, including implementing auditing procedures. An accredited speaker for both general and technical ABOC and NCLEC, she delivers monthly webinars for the company’s accounts and quarterly ABO webinars for dispensers.

She enjoys the constant swirl of activity that goes on in a large lab like Pech. “There’s never a day when I do the same thing twice. Every day involves something new,” she said.

SHE SAYS…“We must maintain the highest level of perfection to provide the best sight possible to satisfy every man, women and child wearing a product of our industry. This is the challenge.”

Barbara S. Wagner

Santinelli International
Hauppauge, New York

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “As the daughter of optical pioneer Joe Santinelli, Barbara is immersed in an industry she has passion for, and excels at all levels.”

Santinelli International is indeed a family affair and as marketing manager for the company, Barbara Wagner has been an integral part of the business dynamic for the last 12 years. Wagner said she was “born and raised in the optical industry. My father, who founded the company when I was young, initially worked from home so when other kids were playing with ABC blocks, we Santinelli kids were playing with lens blocks.”

Today, she oversees the company’s brand development, advertising and promotion, and efforts surrounding the website, social media and public relations. In addition, Wagner orchestrates Santinelli’s involvement surrounding some 25 trade shows and special events, including International Vision Expo, SECO as well as many local and state shows for various organizations.

“I’d like to think I have a good balance of strategic, outcome-focused thinking and come from the creative, ‘unabashed idea’ generation. Thinking outside of the box, remaining enthusiastic and coming up with innovative solutions with actionable plans are all key.

“Being in the optical business allows each of us to improve the sight of millions of Americans which in itself is so rewarding. Each sector plays a role, be it in medical/diagnostic, lenses, equipment or frames. Together, we make a huge difference in people’s every day activities. I never thought I’d love it as much as I do.”

SHE SAYS… “It’s a great industry—incorporating medical, technology and fashion, so there are many options within optical to choose from and excel in. Find the one you love—because as the saying goes, ‘choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’”

Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD

The Ohio State University College of Optometry
Columbus, Ohio

CHOSEN BECAUSE… “She is a mentor and an inspiration, always striving to achieve more and contribute to the advancement of optometry.”

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley School of Optometry, in 1982, Karla Zadnik, OD, PhD, worked at UC Davis for six years, and then returned to Berkeley for a PhD in physiological optics. Recruited to Ohio State in 1996 as an assistant professor, she is now the dean of the College of Optometry. “I am most proud of my Glenn A. Fry Award from the American Academy of Optometry in 1995, my Mert Flom Teaching Award from Berkeley Optometry in 2011, and being inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame in 2014,” Zadnik said.

Zadnik’s accomplishments are many, including chairing the first-ever multicenter study funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI) in optometry, the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Keratoconus (CLEK) Study; chairing a 20-year, NEI-funded study of risk factors for myopia development—the Collaborative Longitudinal Evaluation of Ethnicity and Refractive Error (CLEERE) Study—which discovered the connection between outdoor activity and myopia onset; advising seven ODs through their PhDs in vision science at Ohio State; and since 2000, chairing the biannual summer research institute, co-funded by the AOA and the American Academy of Optometry, which has resulted in $78 million in extramural funding for optometric research.

Zadnik takes pride in her role as mentor: “I love seeing people I mentor achieve their potential. I create, encourage, cajole, inspire and motivate. I think I often get the very best out of the people who work with me,” she said.

SHE SAYS… “Women will sustain, nurture and develop the optometric profession in ways I can only now just imagine.”