Trailblazing Through Time: Innovative Women of The Dayton Foundation

Born in 1863, Julia Shaw Patterson Carnell was no ordinary woman of that era. Known for her astute business sense and financial savvy, Julia was the first woman in Dayton to serve on a bank’s board of directors and was a major underwriter for the Dayton Art Institute. The well-known community leader and philanthropist’s $93,750 stock gift – combined with her brother-in-law John Patterson and nephew Robert Patterson’s gifts – provided the $250,000 seed money to give The Dayton Foundation its start in 1921.

Julia’s story is one of many examples over the last 100 years of women associated with The Dayton Foundation who have made their marks in the community and the world. Here are a few other stories of the trailblazers, innovators and “firsts” who have helped shape Greater Dayton into what it is today.

Anne Greene


Anne Greene

When Anne Greene signed on in 1980 as The Dayton Foundation’s first female Governing Board member, she brought with her a tenacity and enthusiasm to effect change in Greater Dayton. Already an accomplished community leader, Anne was a self-proclaimed “professional volunteer” and the impetus behind many community-changing efforts, such as advocating for racial equity in the 1960s and working to save Victoria Theatre from bankruptcy in the 1980s.

“She was perfectly willing to step out front personally and do all the hard work required to make a difference,” said Fred Smith, retired chair of Huffy Corporation and former chair of The Dayton Foundation’s Governing Board, in 2003. “This was evident when Mrs. Greene, a leader in race relations in her day, agreed to chair the Dayton Human Relations Commission in 1964. It was a racially tense time in the city’s history.”

She was perfectly willing to step out front personally and do all the hard work required to make a difference.
– Fred Smith, former Governing Board chair

Anne’s propensity to make an impact through her volunteer work was matched only by her generosity. She and her husband John Greene, an investment broker, gave liberally and often anonymously, supporting a wide variety of nonprofit organizations through their Dayton Foundation funds.

Anne, who died in 2003 at age 83, is remembered as a trailblazer who exuded dignity and grace with a commanding presence. “Because of Anne’s legacy, community leaders quickly recognized that there’s no reason to put a third-grade man on the board when you can get a first-class woman,” Fred Smith said.

Thyrsa Svager


Aleksandar and Thyrsa Svager

Though she was a brilliant mathematician with a genius level IQ, Dr. Thyrsa Svager’s true calling throughout her long and distinguished career at Central State University (CSU) was to help her students thrive.

“Education was very important to her,” said Aleksandar Svager, Thyrsa’s husband, in 2009. “She once paid for a student’s full tuition, because she wanted the student to have an opportunity to succeed.”

Education was a value instilled in her by her parents while growing up in Wilberforce, Ohio. A child prodigy, Thyrsa graduated from the Wilberforce University Preparatory Academy at age 15 and went on to graduate from Antioch College. She was one of only four African-American students at Antioch, and was close friends with fellow student Coretta Scott King. After college she earned a master’s degree and ultimately a doctorate in mathematics, becoming one of first females in the country to achieve this feat.

She began her career at CSU in 1954 as an assistant professor of mathematics and retired in 1993 as provost and vice president for academic affairs. Thyrsa left an indelible mark as evidenced by a video tribute posted to the Foundation’s Facebook page in 2017. The post went viral, and likes, comments and shares came flooding in from former students who remembered the beloved educator.

“I owe my computer programming career to this woman. She was the first to teach a computer course at Central State in 1967,” one former student commented. “The course was FORTRAN, as in the movie ‘Hidden Figures.’ I was a chemistry major, but her training inspired me to computers.”

When Thyrsa passed away in 1999, Aleksandar established the Thyrsa Frazier Svager Scholarship Fund through the African-American Community Fund of The Dayton Foundation. To date, the fund has awarded scholarships totaling $101,000 to assist 29 African-American women in completing their degrees in mathematics.

“Thyrsa was an amazing, beautiful woman,” Aleksandar said. “She always had the best interests of her students at heart and wanted them to have the same opportunities that she had. This fund is her legacy.”

Judy McCormick


Former Governing Board chair Judy McCormick and Cari Hopkins at the Centennial Culmination Event

It seems only fitting that for The Dayton Foundation’s first female Governing Board Chair, Judy McCormick, “people” are at the root of everything she does.

“This region has so many advantages, the most important of which may be its quality of life,” Judy said. “I appreciate the warmth of the people who live here and a person’s ability to have an impact. I hear from people who have lived elsewhere, as I did, how extraordinary the welcoming culture is in our community.”

Although originally from Colorado, Judy was impressed with everything Dayton had to offer when she and her late husband, Bill McCormick, decided to call it home in the 1960s. The former classroom teacher has dedicated herself to dozens of local and national nonprofit organizations over the years, including the National Kidney Foundation Board, the Dayton Philharmonic Volunteer Association Board and the Children’s Medical Center (now Dayton Children’s) Women’s Board and Executive Committee.

In the living out of ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself,’ how better can we do this than by helping others?
– Judy McCormick, former Governing Board chair

She was first introduced to the Foundation in 1999, when she served as a Governing Board Member, and became its first female Governing Board Chair in 2004. Under her leadership, the Foundation grew by $43 million, delivered $68 million in grants over two years to nonprofits, continued the important work of the Diversity Task Force and launched the Neighborhood School Centers initiative with Dayton Public Schools to help rebuild neighborhoods in Dayton and assist families. She was deeply engaged during her tenure with the Foundation and has continued to serve on its Marketing and Public Relations Committee.

Judy credits her generous spirit with being raised by parents who taught her to give back. She manages several charitable funds through the Foundation, including a Charitable Checking AccountSM and a Family Foundation PlusSM Fund to make her charitable giving easier.

“In the living out of ‘loving thy neighbor as thyself,’ how better can we do this than by helping others?” Judy said. “The Dayton Foundation offers us a streamlined and efficient way to make our own charitable gifts, as well as opportunities to be a part of a bigger effort when our gift is added to the gifts of others. At the Foundation, everyone is welcome, and everyone can have an influence.”

Jenell Ross

Jenell Ross

As president of Bob Ross Auto Group and a dedicated community leader, Jenell Ross carries on a vision her parents started when they founded their company back in the 1970s. Bob and Norma Ross were pioneers in the industry as the first African-American male and female to own a Mercedes-Benz dealership, thus creating a foundation for a successful family business that continues today.

“I am most proud of continuing the Bob Ross Auto Group that was founded by my parents 47 years ago. I am in my 24th year, and I still feel that I am trying to fill the boots – not shoes – that my parents left behind,” said Jenell, who recently was listed as one of 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry. “It is a privilege and an honor to continue the legacy of my late parents.”

Her parents also inspired her to pay forward her blessings. She credits their examples of community service and helping minorities and other individuals who may not otherwise be invited to participate for spurring her desire to help others.

“They weren’t content with their own success but truly worked to ensure they opened doors for others, especially those who, like them, were often underrepresented,” Jenell said. “My parents were committed to diversity and inclusion long before those concepts became common business conversation.”

Through funds she created with the African-American Community Fund of The Dayton Foundation, Jenell honors her parents’ memories by raising money and supporting causes important to her.

“Breast cancer awareness is very important to me, as my mother battled breast cancer for eight years before her passing in 2010. I founded the Norma J. Ross Memorial Foundation in her name.

I also created the Robert P. Ross Sr. Foundation to help provide scholarships and educational opportunities for minority youth,” Jenell said. “I am committed to embracing and lifting all people. I truly believe leveraging my voice and resources to speak truth, while working to lessen the divisions that still exist in our community, will help create an even greater region.”