Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Mary Schnack

May 20, 2015 | Advocacy, Uncategorized

A little over a week ago, a sad occasion brought many of us together in Sedona, Arizona, to celebrate the life of an amazing mother, daughter, friend, mentor and inspiration to all of us who knew her: Our NAWBO® sister Mary Schnack. On February 20th, Mary lost her long battle with cancer. Words cannot describe the void she has left in the world and in our hearts, but as we celebrated her life that day, I think we all realized what an important legacy she has left to inspire and encourage us as we create our own legacies in the years to come. For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of knowing Mary as closely as some of our NAWBO® sisters, I’d like to tell you a bit about her life. Born on July 3, 1956, Mary grew up on on a farm outside of Bennett, Iowa. In 1974, she graduated from Bennett High School, where she excelled in music, speech, drama and especially basketball. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the prestigious University of Iowa School of Journalism in 1978. A specialist in communications for 30 years, Mary was an award-winning writer, reporter, public relations professional and advocate. She traveled the world giving business communications seminars, predominantly to women business owners. As an extension of that work, Mary started “Up from the Dust”—an import company dedicated to helping women business owners in developing countries. Mary continued to run two businesses—traveling the world helping others and raising her daughter while fighting a courageous 16-year battle with cancer yet never allowing her cancer to define her. She always remained positive, with an uplifting attitude, and focused on the things she loved most: the outdoors, movies and her huge network of friends. Her first love and proudest accomplishment, however, was her beloved 29-year-old daughter Erika. The week between Mary’s passing and this beautiful celebration of her life, many of Mary’s NAWBO® sisters shared memories of her with us. Mary’s dear friend and co-founder of the Women’s Festival, Patty DeDominic, spoke about how Mary has been her “very best girlfriend” for the past 10 years. She told us how she was in awe of Mary’s ability to regain optimism in life despite the challenges she faced in regards to cancer, caring for her special needs daughter, being a single mom and being a devoted social entrepreneur and women’s advocate. She said, “Mary set a new bar for brave women and selfless dedication to the advancement of women’s business and women’s advocacy, and even in the last two months of her life, I learned so much from Mary and the people around her who loved her.” Another friend, Julie Weeks, remembered Mary as “relentlessly positive” and as “a real social butterfly with friends all over the world.” When they first met in the ‘90s, Mary had already faced several bouts of cancer that didn’t get her down, or slow her down, a bit. Mary would say, “I had another surgery, but now I’m off to Tunisia,” or “I just had a treatment, but now I’m off to Kenya.” Julie says, “She epitomized someone who kept moving for as long as she could.” As part of NAWBO®, many of us also talked about the impact she’s made on our organization’s success: the engagement and energy she brought to her tireless work to empower women in their lives and businesses. Mary was an integral part of NAWBO®’s impact in advocacy and international relations from our early years through today. Mary helped us realize what a leader we could be for fledgling women’s business groups from around the world, especially in developing countries. She brought women from Kenya to our Women’s Business Conference to see for themselves the power that is created when women come together. With Mary’s support, these women went on to found the Kenyan Association of Women Business Owners (KAWBO). For these things, and so many more, Mary will be greatly missed and never forgotten. Let’s all honor Mary in the months and years to come by continuing to lift up and empower one another and women business owners from around the world.

—Evelyn Strange, NAWBO® National Chair

If you are interested in making a contribution in honor of Mary, here are two funds that have been set up by her friends and family:

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