Four Rochester women who stand out
Twenty years is a long time to watch a city’s landscape evolve and change as businesses succeed and fail along with the people behind the projects.
On March 4, 2002, I added a brief section to the Business and Professional Notes column that then appeared every Monday in the PB under the heading “Heard on the Street.”
That item covered some changes that were “afoot and under foot for the downtown block of First and Second Avenue dominated by the Rochester landmark, the Kahler Grand Hotel.”
That included replacing Kahler Downtown Liquors with Rochester’s first Starbucks and moving Victoria's Italian Cuisine Restaurant into the space that previously housed The Greenhouse Bar and Restaurant and the Timeless Treasures antique store.
That 2002 blurb grew to become its own weekly business page column. Then it made the leap to the Local section to fill a weekly spot. Later, it moved to Page 2A and was published twice a week. Eventually, it became a daily column. Amid those transitions, I launched a very erratic business blog called “Kiger’s Notebook” in March of 2005 followed by joining Twitter in May 2008.
Throughout all of the business churn from the celebration of the passage of the Destination Medical Center legislation to dramatic losses caused by the housing recession, it has never been the money or the buildings or the inventions that have made this beat interesting.
It has always been the people making things happen that fascinate me.
The most high profile business people in this Midwestern city have been predominantly Caucasian, middle-aged men. And yet, many women leaders have been key to telling Rochester’s story, going back to Mother Alfred Moes.
Given the theme of this issue of Pulse, I thought I would highlight just a few of many, many women that I have met during the course of reporting on business whose stories have shaped Rochester.
Sister Generose Gervais
The late Sister Generose Gervais helped shape Rochester with her no-nonsense work ethic.
While her comment of “No money, no mission” is quoted almost as much as Dr. Mayo’s “The needs of the patient come first,” she always reminded people that wasn’t the whole statement. “... People fail to recite the entire quote: 'No mission, no need for money.' Without mission and appreciation of the long heritage of putting the patient first, we are simply earning money and have no reason to be in health care."
She also made and sold amazing pickles and baked goods at fund-raising events.
Dr. Kah-Whye Peng
Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Kah-Whye Peng, an early innovator in the field of oncolytic virotherapy, co-founded two Rochester biotech start-ups that are quickly growing into major companies.
Internationally known for her pioneering work in virus engineering and translational sciences, she founded Vyriad and Imanis Life Sciences with Dr. Stephen Russell.
After raising $9 million, her companies built a state-of-the-art headquarters and development labs to create and manufacture anti-cancer vaccines in 25,000-square-feet of space on the Rochester Technology Campus, the former IBM campus.
She is responsible for preclinical discovery, clinical correlatives and analytical methods in virus manufacturing at Vyriad. In 2019, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals signed a deal for "a strategic research collaboration" with Vyriad.
Christina Valdez, a former long-time Post Bulletin reporter, is notable to the Rochester community beyond her work as a top-notch journalist and her willingness to sit by my unsanitary desk for years.
Valdez took the risky step of leaving a successful news career to become an entrepreneur and do something that had never been done before in Rochester. She opened the city’s first Spanish immersion child care facility—Listos Preschool and Childcare—in 2015.
Listos was the first to operate in that niche and proved that there is demand for that type of care.
In 2021, two Twin Cities organizations—Tierra Encantada and Casa de Corazón—came to Rochester to build facilities to provide the kind of care that Valdez took to the risk to champion six years prior.
Retired Realtor Marilyn Stewart was a leader in the local real estate scene for 35 years as a leader.
She served on the Future Scan study, which set out a long-range vision for the city's future. That study articulated a goal—a need for more higher education in Rochester—that she worked on for decades with many others.
Stewart, a former elementary school teacher and an advocate of continual training in real estate, became the top proponent for a University of Minnesota campus in Rochester. She served on groups such as Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges or GRAUC.
Eventually, her years of lobbying paid off and UMR became a reality.