Remarkable Women 2014: Game Changers

This year's Remarkable Women know the rules of the game but aren't afraid to shake things up.

The rules of the game provide structure and dependability. The following Remarkable Women of NH know how the game is played and when it’s time to shake things up. Game changers aren’t here to stack the deck in anyone’s favor, but they offer a chance for an upset victory, a new deal and a roll of the dice for change.


This year's women:

Mary Flanagan: Founder of Tiltfactor Laboratory and Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College
Corinne Rober: Owner of the Margarita Grill and Bear Rock Adventures
Gail McWilliam Jellie: As Director of Agricultural Development helped create NH Made and the NH Farm to Restaurant Connection
Elaine Hamel: Founder of Girls at Work
Beth Ann O’Hara: Founder of New Thalian Players and mom to Sarah, Susan and Laura Silverman and Jodyne Speyer
Carole Soule: Owner of Miles Smith Farm
Carla Gericke: Leader of the Free State Project
Mary Ann Kristiansen: Founder of the Hannah Grimes Marketplace and Center
Meri Goyette: The driving force behind efforts to transform Nashua into a haven for artists and art lovers
Sarah Jane Knoy: Built the Granite State Organizing Project


photo courtesy of Tiltfactor Laboratory

Mary Flanagan

The Good Gamer

Exceptional people can change the way life’s games are played, but can games change people? That question has been central to the work of Mary Flanagan, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth College.

She founded Tiltfactor Laboratory, a research and creation lab dedicated to socially conscious games. She created the first Internet adventure game for girls, The Adventures of Josie True, in the 1990s.

Flanagan first came to New Hampshire as a visual artist on a fellowship at Peterborough’s MacDowell Colony. Even then, she used game-like elements in her work, and the game-like twist of fate that has drawn her back to the Granite State is not lost on her. “Games offer the ability to make meaningful choices,” she says.

And while the current reputation for gaming is as a slacker pastime or worse, she’s hopeful. “Look at the power of games in our culture. What if we could tap that for a different purpose?”
 – Rick Broussard


photo by Coleman Moffett/Cole Scott Photogaphy

Corinne Rober

The North Star

Complaining about the North Country economy is one of those constants in the state’s internal dialogue. Corinne Rober, who owns the Margarita Grill in Bartlett and Colebrook’s Bear Rock Adventures (linked to the new 1,000-mile Ride the Wilds ATV trails) is leading the charge in trying to change the game for business up there.

Her approach is summed up  in an acronym she uses to set her own moral compass: SOHL for Sustainable – Organic – Healthful – Local. This theme guided her resurrection of the 30-year-old Margarita Grill to become a bona fide foodie destination. It also informed her appreciation of the native role that ATVs and snowmobiles play in North Country lifestyles. “They really open up the environment to people who otherwise might never experience it,” she says.

By making such local ventures trendy and hip, she’s giving visitors from near and far good reasons to give her region another look. “If we pull these pieces together, it’s an amazing opportunity for others in the community to work together and sustain themselves.” — Rick Broussard



photo by melissa boulanger

Gail McWilliam Jellie

Heart and Soil

When Gail McWilliam Jellie took the job of state Director of Agricultural Development 20 years ago, farming in New Hampshire was in decline. Dairy farms, by far the largest segment of farming back then, were going out of business.

To change that trajectory, McWilliam Jellie put in place a new vision of agriculture. A series of successful marketing initiatives were launched in partnership with other players in the industry — from the creation of NH Made in the late 1990s to the more recent NH Farm to Restaurant Connection, Buy Local and Certified Local programs.

Ongoing promotional efforts have significantly expanded agritourism and farmers markets (the number has grown from 12 to 85). Over the years, smaller farms growing specialty crops and livestock have supplanted the disappearing dairy farms. Their goal is to create opportunities for all NH farmers. “The landscape has changed considerably,” McWilliam Jellie says. The numbers bear that out — the most recent  (2012) USDA Census of Agriculture shows that New Hampshire, despite the smallest state staff in the Northeast, is a standout when it comes to the growth of agriculture.

While most states showed a decline in farm number since 2007, New Hampshire (and all of New England) gained five percent. In the five years before 2007, the number was up 24 percent. McWilliam Jellie says, “The future is bright.” – Barbara Coles


photo by Peter J. McGinnis

Elaine Hamel

Working Woman 

One morning last summer, Elaine Hamel had just taught a group of young girls how to build a picnic table at her workshop in Goffstown. After they ate lunch at their very own table, too many girls piled into the nearby hammock — bringing it tumbling to the ground.

“I went over and said, ‘I guess you’ve got to fix it, don’t you?’” Using the skills they had just learned, the girls worked together to drill a new hole and install the hardware back into the tree where the hammock had been hanging — fixing it as though it had never broken.

“That’s what happens. You get them in this mindset that they can do anything, and it’s so powerful for them. That was one of my favorite moments ever,” says Hamel, the founder of Girls at Work, a nonprofit that partners with other nonprofits in New Hampshire and New England to teach at-risk girls how to use power tools to build everything from pegboards to chairs to picnic tables.

photo courtesy of elaine hamel

Hamel’s goal is not to get girls into the construction trades, but to build up their confidence and show them that they are strong and capable. “We help them tap into their internal power tools,” says Hamel, a general contractor herself who founded Girls at Work in 2000. Since then, more than 6,000 girls have gone through the program.

Hamel has recently become an ambassador for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Manchester, not only teaching woodworking skills to the Big and Little matches but working to recruit more volunteer mentors for the kids in need of those relationships. “It’s so huge for these kids,” says Hamel. “To tell people that they can make such a small commitment and make such an enormous difference, I’m happy to venture into this.”  — Kathleen Callahan


photo by matthew lomanno

Beth Ann O’Hara

Mother Power

Beth Ann O’Hara is something of a legend in the New Hampshire theater community, so perhaps it’s not altogether surprising she raised her daughters with a certain theatricality and comedy. She vividly remembers one of the lasting lessons she taught her daughter Sarah — you may know her as the comedian and actress Sarah Silverman — at the tender age of 10.

“Sarah says to me, ‘I’d love to feel what it’s like to have a pie in the face,’” O’Hara says. For most parents, such a comment might elicit little more than a passing chuckle before moving on. O’Hara, however, is not most parents, and as such she went to work. With the meticulous mind for detail of a seasoned production manager, the soft-spoken O’Hara recalls carefully baking the pie, lovingly topping it with fresh whipped cream (this is the one detail she’s foggy on. “I hope it wasn’t shaving cream,” she laughs), and, after sitting her daughter down at the kitchen table, smashing her in the face with the pie.

Anyone can appreciate the obvious appeal of delivering a pie to the face of someone you love, but for O’Hara, the occasion was simply another opportunity to encourage and support uncommon curiosity, creativity, and self-expression on the part of her daughters – no matter how silly or contrary to the norm it seemed. The results are striking, with O’Hara’s daughters not only successful, but eager to challenge traditional expectations in their chosen fields.

Sarah went on to redefine the possibilities for women in comedy and entertainment, starring in her own television series, acting in several others series and films, and writing a successful book; Susan is a Rabbi, an activist who was arrested while demonstrating at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and a mother of five; Laura is an actress who’s appeared on the likes of “House,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “The King of Queens”; and Jodyne writes for The Huffington Post and authored the book “Dump ‘Em: How to Break Up with Anyone from Your Best Friend to Your Hairdresser.” There’s a trend here, and you could argue it boils down to pursue your dreams, obstacles be damned.

"O’Hara’s daughters are not only successful, but eager to challenge traditional expectations in their chosen fields."

“I like to think I’ve had an artistic influence on my kids,” O’Hara says. That seems to be true, but they certainly weren’t the only ones who benefited over the years from her guidance. In 1983 O’Hara volunteered to aid her late husband, John O’Hara, who knew some students who were putting together a play at Manchester’s Notre Dame College. Her involvement with the production evolved into the founding of a theatre company linked with the school, which she christened the New Thalian Players.

What began as a volunteer effort became a passion to which O’Hara would devote nearly 30 years. She set about doggedly making each play the best she could, even if that meant overcoming obstacles by devoting all her time to helping with rehearsals, set design and costume design. During her tenure, the New Thalian Players put on a variety of shows – like “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Cinderella” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” — first at Notre Dame College’s campus and then, after the college closed in 2002, in various venues across the state like the Palace Theatre, Southern New Hampshire University or in Veteran’s Park.   

The New Thalian Players ceased operations in 2013, but O’Hara’s impact was enduring; she received the Francis Grover Cleveland Lifetime Achievement award at the 2003 NH Theatre Awards. Appropriately enough, three of her daughters presented her with the honor. When Sarah took her turn at the mike she declared, “We are here to celebrate …” followed by an awkward pause that stretched until the audience laughed, nervously. “Oh, my God, I’ve forgotten your name,” she said. “You know what, I’m just going to call you Mom. If that’s OK.”

Click here for the video of of O’Hara’s daughters Sarah, Susan and Laura presenting her with a lifetime achievement award.

It was a subtle reminder that the award was for her work on behalf of the New Thalian Players, but also as the director of countless childhood productions — dining room renditions of favorite scenes from plays or high-volume sing-a-longs of favorite songs from Broadway musicals during family car rides. She remembers scenes from “The Music Man” that all the girls knew by heart; they’d sing them and dance in front of a full-length mirror in the family living room.

Her daughters have grown up and moved away in the pursuit of their own dreams, but it’s these memories and the family’s enduringly close relationship that keeps O’Hara sunny and positive even after a recent spate of health problems; she’s suffered three strokes in the last few months. O’Hara still has problems walking for long periods (“Not that long, and not that straight, but I can do it”), but she’s happy to report she’s recovering and encountering few other long-term effects save the occasional difficulty remembering things. 

“Everyone lives pretty far apart, but we’re still close,” O’Hara says. Now, she says, on the occasions when the entire family can be together in the same place at the same time, it’s enough simply to spend time in each other’s company. No rehearsals or Broadway sing-a-longs are required, O’Hara says, to find herself fulfilled and happy these days.

And yet in the next moment, a sly smile blooms on her face, and you’d swear you caught a twinkle in her eye like the shine of a spotlight crossing the stage.

“You know, we did that scene from “The Music Man” a year or two ago, just to see if we still remembered it,” O’Hara says. “And you know what? We remembered every word.” —Ken Gagnon


Carole Soule with her husband, Bruce Dawson, and one of their bovine friends, Missy, at Miles Smith Farm.
photo courtesy concord co-op

Carole Soule

Humane Herder

A former vegetarian, Carole Soule now dedicates her life to providing Granite Staters with home-grown, naturally and humanely raised beef. In the past, she says, “I wouldn’t eat meat because I didn’t know how it was made.” These days she does, but she’s selective — there’s no mystery meat allowed. The only beef she’ll consider is what comes from her 36-acre property in Loudon.

On Miles Smith Farm the mission is to treat animals with kindness, respect and to give them the best life possible. Her hearty Scottish Highlander cattle range free and completely within the borders of New Hampshire, across 150 acres of both the farm’s and leased pastures.

In a world where “pink slime” is a topic of conversation, Soule is dedicated to changing our definitions of meat and our attitudes towards the animals that feed us. “I want humans to treat animals humanely, especially cattle,” she says. “They are intelligent entities and have a lot to offer us. They are incredible creatures.” — Kristin LeComte


Carla Gericke works the crowd at a Free State meeting.
photo by Judd Weiss

Carla Gericke

Free Spirit

Writer and lawyer Carla Gericke is the daughter of a diplomat who lived on three different continents. She immigrated to the US in the 1990s, so, she says, “I’ve never accepted geography as fate.”

That perspective may be what makes her the leader (and cheerleader) for the Free State Project, which is about three-quarters of the way to its goal of finding 20,000 “liberty-minded” individuals willing to uproot and move to New Hampshire. That’s the number required to “trigger the move,” explains Gericke, but Free Staters who moved in early (and plenty of libertarian locals who greeted them) have already made changes in the state.

She credits legislative decisions for jury nullification and marriage equality to the influence of Free Staters, plus lots of lower-profile action. “Some start pro-liberty organizations like the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, or private charities like Shire Sharing, or start businesses like the brothers in Manchester who founded Lamassu, the world’s first Bitcoin ATM,” she says. “The early movers I know are productive people and good neighbors who take pride in the Granite State and consider it home.” — Rick Broussard


photo by dana read

Mary Ann Kristiansen

Local Leader

The “buy local” movement might seem commonplace today, but back in 1991 when Mary Ann Kristiansen started her soap-making business, it was practically a foreign concept.

Instead of bemoaning the lack of a local market, Kristiansen decided to make one. In 1997 she founded the Hannah Grimes Marketplace in Keene to not only create a space to sell local products, but to help others learn necessary business skills.

Later, in 2006, the Hannah Grimes Center was established to house the many educational programs that are a valuable resource to entrepreneurs.

The ultimate goal is to sustain (and grow) a thriving local economy. “I love the things that people make,” she explains. “Unless economically viable, locally grown and made products would disappear.”

With resources that range from a business incubator program to workshops and seminars, Kristiansen and her team are a vital part of keeping that local economy alive and well. — Kristin LeComte


photo by don himsel courtesy of nashua telegraph

Meri Goyette

Gatekeeper of the Arts

Meri Goyette, 88, has been the driving force behind efforts to transform her hometown of Nashua, a center for business and tax-free shopping, into a remarkable haven for artists and art lovers.

She was seminal to the development of the Nashua International Sculpture Symposium, an annual event that lures renowned sculptors from around the world to place public art installations around the city.

Recently the inauguration of the Meri Goyette Arts Award was held with a champagne luncheon and auction to help raise funds for “Viven’s Dream,” a 40-by-35-foot mural on a wall in downtown Nashua.

She’s also involved with the annual New England Sculptors Exhibition in downtown Nashua and is relentless in her effort to protect the über-modern sculpture at the Rivier University roundabout from being moved to a less conspicuous spot. “That sculpture so perfectly represents Nashua as the Gate City — the Gateway to the Arts,” she says.

Goyette walks with a cane “or a good looking guy if he’ll take my arm,” so yes, years might have slowed her down a tad, but she fully plans to keep going until the day she dies — to which she’s also given some creative thought. “I want a New Orleans-style funeral parade down Main Street — Dixieland jazz and all.” —Stacy Milbouer


photo by melissa boulanger

Sarah Jane Knoy

Champion of Change

For Sarah Jane Knoy, it started at a desk in the corner of a church basement. From there she built a thriving organization — the Granite State Organizing Project — that has the ambitious goal of promoting a “just society.” And, for the first time ever in New Hampshire, the principles of community organizing are being used to accomplish that goal, principles Knoy learned well in her prior job as a community organizer in Chicago. She says, “What we do is unique in New Hampshire. We bring disenfranchised people to the table as equal partners. The people who are affected help define the problems, envision solutions and mount campaigns for change. It’s not well-intentioned outside experts doing it.”

GSOP — a non-profit, non-partisan coalition of religious, community and labor organizations that now has a small staff and “easily 100” volunteers — focuses on problems such as affordable housing, school reform, jobs, transportation, access to health care, and refugee and immigrant rights. Knoy says, “Sometimes we march, sometimes we hold signs at a public meeting, sometimes we testify, sometimes we meet with officials — we use a whole range of tactics.”

Don’t call the work of GSOP “liberal,” though it might seem to be. Knoy says, “Our members are very diverse ­— we have Catholics, Evangelicals and Unitarians. Everything is agreed to and voted on by all members.” — Barbara Coles


Categories: Remarkable Women