Inspirational Women of Johnson County 1

You may know her as your sister, your mom, your friend. She is the woman who thinks of others first and strives to make a difference in the world around them, a woman who knows her true purpose with such confidence that she will influence generations to come by the example set forth. There are many inspirational women in our community, and here are just a few that we have the pleasure of introducing to you.

Jill Geller

Jill Geller, the executive director of Johnson County Park and Recreation District, has been committed to the success of the agency and to its mission of enhancing the quality of life in Johnson County for more than 30 years. Among her significant accomplishments with JCPRD, Geller developed and oversaw the implementation of a healthy concessions initiative, known at SCORE! to make healthy menu items available as the district’s major sports venues.

In 2011, she oversaw a $1.3 million project involving the property exchange, renovation and opening of JCPRD’s Mill Creek Activity Center, a more than 20,000-square-foot indoor facility in Shawnee. In 2010, she oversaw an $8.2 million project involving the acquisition, construction and opening of the 88,000-square-foot New Century Fieldhouse near Gardner.

“The most rewarding part of my service to JCPRD is feeling like the work I do makes a difference in our community. I truly believe that parks make life better,” she says. “The work we do positively impacts our community’s health, providing opportunities to be outdoors, to be active and to make memories.”

Kathleen Rainen

For nearly 40 years, Kathleen Rainen has willingly and graciously given her time and talents to help better the human condition in Johnson County. She has worked closely with leaders, employees and volunteers at nonprofit organizations, charitable associations, hospitals and educational institutions, helping them to achieve their missions and to lessen the load of their responsibilities. When there is challenge or a cause that needs attention, Rainen takes it to heart and works diligently to solve it, rally others around it and to help fund a solution.

When her daughter faced challenges from basal cell nevus syndrome, Rainen not only sought to help her child receive care and assistance, she reached out to children and families in a similar situation. She was a shining spirit of hope to them and the staff at Shawnee Mission Medical Center Lee Ann Britain Infant Development Center.

Rainen is gifted fundraiser who also excels in board leadership and as a committee chairperson. It is her resolve to have a positive outcome for each and every event, activity, luncheon, gala and dinner in which she is involved, which includes The Junior Women’s Symphony Association, The Junior League and the Kansas City March of Dimes among many others. Because of Rainen’s generous and humane spirit and her can-do attitude, many dollars have been raised for education and medical research, and many lives of children and young people have been improved due to this truly kind and inspirational woman.

SuEllen Fried

SuEllen Fried, a kind and selfless Johnson County resident, pours herself out daily to bless the men of Reaching Out From Within and in turn, their families and communities all over Kansas. Even at 84, she makes sure she travels to every correctional facility in Kansas with a Reaching Out From Within Group at least once time a year.

Fried is described by many as pure genuine kindness, and it is contagious. She worked as a dance therapist for twenty years and was a volunteer dance and drama therapist at Osawatomie State Hospital in Kansas. In 1970 was appointed to President Richard Nixon’s Task Force on the Mentally Handicapped. She was a consultant to the National Institute of Mental Health as well as the Center for Advanced Study and Continuing Education in Mental Health.

Fried’s work with Dr. Karl Menninger led her to establish STOP Violence in 1982, an organization that developed the Kindness Kansas Citian Essay Contest and Banquet and, perhaps more importantly to Fried, a program called Reaching Out From Within (ROFW). ROFW is a monthly program at which trained volunteers facilitate inmate-led groups as they learn to change their violent language, actions and thoughts. As of 2004, it ran 10 programs in seven Kansas Correctional facilities. Before establishing ROFW, Fried started an abuse prevention program by drawing upon her dance therapy experience as she taught body awareness and how to adjust to others.

She is an accomplished author, and her books are intended for parents of children who have been bullied as well as those whose children may be bullies. She and her co-authors attempt to offer practical suggestions for minimizing peer abuse, to teach about the harm caused by gossip and name-calling and to prevent an escalation to violence. In 2002, Fried founded BullySafeUSA, which has enabled her to work with more than 90,000 students, educators, counselors, administrators and parents in 36 states. Additionally, she and her organization are working to help reduce cyberbullying on social networking sites and web pages.

“The purpose of life is to find purpose,” she says. “I am grateful for the people and passions in my life that have given me so much joy.”

Jung Spooner

Overland Park resident Jung Spooner has established a reputation as one of the leading piano teachers in America and is the star of the internet-based piano teaching show called A Life of Music that is seen by music lovers in 18 countries. She is a passionate and devoted mentor who has turned out many fine young pianists who have won top prizes at national and regional piano competitions and have been accepted to the most prestigious music schools, including Julliard, Peabody and the Cleveland Institute.

Jung inspires her students to consistently challenge themselves to develop their own technique and encourages her students to go after the goals in life. She has an immense love of music and teaching music and finds joy in inspiring students to grow and reach their potential.

“I am truly blessed to do what I love! I have the pleasure of working with students and adults of all ages, and I am so lucky to share my passion for music and doing my part to nurture the art of piano,” Jung says.

Her goal is to express to each of her students nothing is impossible through self-discipline, determination, consistency and, above all, a love for what you are doing. She gains inspiration by attending the great concerts in our area at the Kauffman Center, the Harriman-Jewell and Friends of Chamber Music Series, and right here in Overland Park through the incredible work of Reach Out Kansas.

“I literally surround myself with music. I am married to a concert pianist, Steven, and we have three kids, Alicia, Tatiana, and Franz and three pianos,” Spooner says.

Poppy Zurcher

A multilinguist, educator, published author, motivational speaker, gifted artist, beautiful mother, resilient military wife, dedicated community builder and fabulous cook are but a few of Poppy Zurcher’s strengths. Having lived with different forms of cancer since her childhood, and coming from a culture, Greece, where no one speaks of this disease, she was determined to be the voice in teaching people the importance of awareness, early detection and seeking the appropriate doctor necessary for your specific cancer.

Having lived with the very painful juvenile sarcoma as a child, and not having the money nor other avenues open to provide comfort and healing, Zurcher was adopted at the age of 13 by a couple from the U.S.

“My Papa had worked very hard and taught me how to ‘focus away from my pain’ by teaching me to bake bread. So, when I was adopted, he asked my new parents to promise him they, too, would make sure and keep me busy when I was in pain,” Zurcher says. “They kept their promise and introduced me to my English teacher in the midst of surgeries and chemo for my leg, and that is when I learned English! I now talk to friends dealing with cancer and stress the importance of not being idle during this terrible journey, but to stay focused and busy, within reason of course.”

Zurcher volunteers with the Bloch Cancer Hotline by taking calls from newly diagnosed cancer patients from all over the country and helps to connect them with a phone buddy going through the same type of cancer if they wish. She also Crochets blankets and scarves and makes monetary donations for Cancer Action, an organization that provides free services and necessary supplies, to everyone who walks through their door. When her health challenged her to the point she could not stand and do her volunteer work, she decided to donate two to three dinners for 10 people in her home annually, where she prepared and served a multicourse sit-down dinner. This dinner is auctioned off–for as much as $1,600—and each organization keeps the proceeds.

“I am convinced that everyone has a gift or more within them, and can give to help others in need,” she says.

Zurcher’s enduring advocacy on behalf of Cancer Action, Johnson County Young Matrons—who provide monetary and volunteer assistance to several wonderful philanthropies around Johnson County—in service as spokeswomen for interstitial cystitis and as a trusted member of her faith community are yet a few more of her strengths.

Meeting each unexpected life event as an opportunity to affect positive change, Zurcher embodies what it means to say yes to life. She is a force of nature determined to accept challenges as opportunities to affect positive change. Indeed, her personal motto is “celebrate life every day.”