Originally published August 25, 2017 | Lancaster Eagle Gazette | By Jeff Barron
Not only is Debra Smith the first lady of Lancaster, she is also the 2017 Athena award winner.
She was honored with the award Thursday at the Lancaster Country Club, with Ohio University Lancaster senior Macie Sollie winning the Emerging Athena award.
The Athena award celebrates a woman who is a leader of other women in the business world. The Robert D. McGraw family sponsors it each year.
“We live in such a wonderful community where everybody honors people and we support each other,” Smith said. “I truly can tell you that the things that I do are not in any effort to be recognized. We, as a community, work very well together and I just try to be a part of that.”
Smith, the wife of Mayor David Smith, is an associate professor of health sciences at Ohio University Lancaster.
She also has a long history of service to the local area. That service includes sitting on the Fairfield Medical Center Board of Directors from 2009 to 2014 and serving as the current chair of the Sharing Hope Leadership Team/Bridges Out of Poverty Work Group, which fights poverty in Fairfield County.
Smith has also worked with The Recovery Center, the Fairfield County Opiate Task Force and the LancasterChorale, among other endeavors.
Smith said being the city’s first lady has also taught her about community service.
“My husband was a wonderful example to me,” she said.
She said being the mayor’s wife is a challenge when there are certain issues she becomes aware of.
“And you become much more embedded in the community’s, not only celebrations, but their struggles,” Smith said. “And so it becomes very personal. It’s too much to call it a burden, but that emotional addition to your life does stretch you and make you want to be a better person.”
While Smith did not know in advance of her win, Sollie did know in advance of winning the Emerging Athena award. She is a student teacher in the Liberty Union school district and teaches first grade.
“Education to me is empowerment,” Sollie said. “I love making sure that my students have the strong base that they need to succeed in life. And that’s really my goal, to know that I can encourage other students to grow, I can teach other students to learn and I can make sure they grow into our community and succeed and make it better.”