EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article appeared in the April 19, 2017, edition of The Review.

This year’s Athena winner is just as comfortable behind the wheel of a hearse as she is busting her Latin moves during Zoomba classes at the local YMCA.

Melissa Gardner, director of the Women’s Division of the Alliance Area Chamber of Commerce, introduced Nancy Castellucci as six past award recipients looked on during the April 18 annual dinner. Castellucci’s tenacity was crucial as she worked her way up to become a licensed funeral director at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home after attending the University of Mount Union for eight years as a nontraditional student while a single mother with two sons.

"Her unique blend of precision, extreme attention to detail and strong organizational skills are complimented well in this field by her sensitivity, flexibility and compassion," Gardner noted. "Perhaps it is that combination of traits that led one of her nominators to declare that she is one of the best at what she does in her industry."

A lifelong Alliance resident, Castellucci is a graduate of Alliance High School and a Mount Union honors graduate. She has been a licensed funeral director with Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home since 2008 and an employee since 1994. She is a member of the YWCA, YMCA, Women’s Division of the Alliance Area Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis and the Alliance Woman’s Club.

Even though she acknowledged that she is rarely at a loss for words, Castellucci had very few to offer. "I love what I do, and I love this community," she said, concluding that the success of organizations like the YWCA, YMCA and Kiwanis locally is due to people working together.

Dr. Debra Lehrer, the 2011 Athena award winner, announced that Kaylen Sanor, a West Branch High School senior who will study early childhood education at Ashland University, was the Woman of the Year scholarship winner.

Speaker Richard Merriman, president of the University of Mount Union, informed the 200-plus attendees of the five-year strategic plan for Mount Union, specifically meeting the challenges of providing an affordable, quality education to future employees who will be working with diverse populations.

Outgoing chamber Chairman Dustin Burgess introduced Rob Todor, who will succeed him this year, Ken Loiselle, Greg Blasiman and Mark Locke as well as asked all chamber directors and employees in attendance to stand. He touted that chamber membership stood at 400 as of March 31.