The Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus, retired Belmont County Court of Common Pleas judge, addresses the audience at the “Women in Leadership” seminar at Ohio University’s Eastern Campus.

The Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus, retired Belmont County Court of Common Pleas judge, addresses the audience at the “Women in Leadership” seminar at Ohio University’s Eastern Campus.

Pictured (from left) are Ginny Favede, Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini, Denise Penz, the Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus, Kelly Bettem, Leia Hunt, Diana Crutchfield, and E. J. Schodzinski, director of external relations at Ohio University Eastern.

Pictured (from left) are Ginny Favede, Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini, Denise Penz, the Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus, Kelly Bettem, Leia Hunt, Diana Crutchfield, and E. J. Schodzinski, director of external relations at Ohio University Eastern.

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Women leaders celebrated at Ohio University Eastern

The Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus delivers inspirational keynote address


A large crowd turned out for the “Women in Leadership” seminar at Ohio University’s Eastern Campus on Equal Pay Day – Tuesday, April 10. The open forum, which was part of Ohio University Eastern’s 60th Anniversary celebration, featured a networking and social hour, followed by a panel of local female leaders, and concluded with a keynote address by the Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus. 

OVCES Executive Director and PROJECT Best Co-Chair Ginny Favede served once again as moderator for the panel discussion. The panelists included Kelly Bettem, president and CEO, Belmont Aggregates; Diana Crutchfield, attorney, Berry, Kessler, Crutchfield, Taylor & Gordon; Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini, head of school, Wheeling Country Day School; Leia Hunt, founder of Leia’s Kids, Indian Creek High School; and Denise Penz, executive director of wealth management, Home Savings Bank.

Ohio University Eastern Dean Paul Abraham was pleased with the results. “I want to congratulate everyone involved with this special event. It was exciting to see such a large audience of women and men, which included many students from our campus and area high schools, being inspired by an engaging group of esteemed speakers.”

Favede concurred with Abraham’s assessment. “Our panel was chosen for its diversity and was composed of leaders in banking, business, education, law and philanthropy,” she said. “The discussion was engaging and passionate. Despite their different career paths, they shared much common ground with respect to leadership qualities, which included hard work, encouraging others, standing up for what is right, and essentially trying to make the world a better place one step at a time. It was very motivating and, at the same time, ironic.”

Bettem grew up in St. Clairsville and is an Ohio University Eastern alumna. She detailed her career path, which included a long stint at Ohio Valley Medical Center from 2000-2016. “I would take the complex assignments that nobody else wanted, pushing hard to come up with answers to better the company, while also preparing myself for future senior management roles,” she said. She was eventually recognized for her efforts, becoming vice president and chief operating officer in 2010. 

In 2016, Bettem decided to take a risk and purchased a trucking company with her husband, John. At his urging, she is now the president and CEO of Belmont Aggregates. “Looking back, it is hard to imagine that I would be running a trucking company,” she said with a smile. “Don’t be afraid to take risks, you can be your own worst enemy or your biggest ally.”

Crutchfield has been an attorney for 35 years and is a partner at a local law firm. She has also taught women’s studies courses and encouraged the audience to take a class to learn more about the challenges that have faced women over the years. "I don’t think there's any question that we are the beneficiaries of all of those years working to be able to vote, working for equal property rights and eventually the civil rights movement,” she said. “We have come a long way and we still have a long way to go. Most importantly, we all have the ability to succeed.” 

Hofreuter-Landini faced the challenge of low enrollment when she took over at Country Day School in 2009. The school is now flourishing with full class sizes and 180 students attending from junior kindergarten through fifth grade. She said, “If I were asked to start my leadership journey again, I would remind myself to just get started. Forget the fear of failing. Dismiss any thoughts of being an imposter. Jump into the arena. Falling on your face will be the greatest learning possible." This concept of seeing any failure or problem as new information from which the school and its leaders can grow has allowed the school to open the Center for Multisensory Learning and expand its footprint on the Ohio Valley.

Hunt was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, at the age of 2. She has endured 31 surgeries and a multitude of treatments, which eventually stopped the spread of the aggressive disease, but left her unable to see in her left eye. She recently established Leia’s Kids to help children with cancer.

“I love helping others,” she said. “We have raised money through bake sales, lemonade stands and dress-down days. You name it and chances are we have done it. It was so wonderful to be able to make our first donation to a young boy who is battling brain cancer. I will never forget that experience and the look on his mom’s face.”

Hunt also gave a moving tribute to her own mother, Bonnie, that moved many to tears. “My mom is my inspiration and the person I look up to the most. She was always there for me, in good times and in bad. She is amazing and I love her with all of my heart.”

Penz joined the military out of high school with the thought of earning enough money to attend college. She loved her experience in the Navy and served two tours before an automobile accident forced her to become medically discharged. “That was a life-changer,” she said. “I enjoyed serving my country so much that I planned on making a career out of it. After the accident, I was forced to switch paths, attended night school to earn a college degree, and began a new career as a teller at a local bank.” 

The Honorable Jennifer L. Sargus, retired Belmont County Court of Common Pleas judge, returned to St. Clairsville to give an inspiring keynote address. “The people of this valley are good people,” she said. “After listening to the panel discussion and audience participation, I firmly believe this room has enough leadership in it to float an armada.”

“Leadership emerges from hardships and gives us the courage to change the world. Case in point, we just heard about one panelist’s fight for her life and another’s serious accident. Like them, refuse to feel self-pity, find the courage to overcome and eventually try to help others. That is real leadership, and, let me assure you, it is not gender-based. We have accomplished and we will continue to accomplish great things as a race, male and female.”

Judge Sargus graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1978. She served in the Belmont County Public Defender’s Office for two years before joining the Belmont County Prosecutor’s Office. She worked with the United Mine Workers prior to joining a law firm where she specialized in federal black lung litigation, representing miners in three states. 

In 1981, Judge Sargus was hired by the firm of Schrader, Stamp, Byrd, Byrum and Johnson. After being hired, the firm realized that because she was a resident of Ohio she could not sit for the West Virginia Bar exam. Recognizing that the state was discriminating against non-resident lawyers, she sued the West Virginia Board of Bar Examiners and prevailed, establishing that the Constitution prohibited discriminating against lawyers simply because they lived outside the state. This case became a precedent that the United States Supreme Court cited in other cases around the country dealing with the same issue. 

Judge Sargus went on to become a partner in the firm of Volk, Frankovitch, Anetakis, and Recht, which was then the largest firm in Wheeling, West Virginia. She also served on the board of the Ohio Bar Title Association. She was appointed by Governor Richard Celeste to the Belmont County Court of Common Pleas in 1989 and served for 24 years. During that time, she became a co-founder of the Belmont County Drug Court and established the Intensive Probation Department within the court. Both programs aimed at allowing people to rehabilitate themselves and live productive lives. 

Judge Sargus had an active docket, presiding over five capital murder cases in the course of her career. Although currently retired, she continues to serve in cases where needed around the state. She is also an adjunct professor of law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, where she teaches trial advocacy. 

Judge Sargus cited her proudest accomplishment as marrying Ed Sargus and raising two children, Edmund and Christopher.