You probably know her. She’s the vibrant spirit who, when life handed her a lemon, she took it and made the sweetest lemonade. Now she shares a cup with you as you sit on the back porch and chat about life. She enriches the lives of others through her unique passion and charitable efforts. She is a mother, a co-worker, a friend. She is a Lee’s Summit Woman of Influence.
When a family friend, Stephanie Vest, was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Vicki Gardner and her fellow neighbors rallied and coordinated a 5K to help cover the young family’s expenses. Although Vest sadly passed away in December 2008, this experience opened Gardner’s eyes to the fact that many families who have a loved one undergoing cancer treatment have financial needs they are unable to meet.
In 2011, Gardner helped form the Stephanie Vest Foundation to both memorialize her friend and provide financial grants to families who have a loved one undergoing cancer treatment. Financial assistance is awarded to Kanas City metro families with at least one dependent and is tailored to cover individual families’ needs such as mortgage payments, rental payments, cleaning, groceries and other nonmedical expenses. The foundation is unique because it offers immediate financial relief to bridge the financial gap when a parent cannot work due to cancer treatment.
“When we make that phone call, it’s the best feeling in the world,” says Gardner, who manages the foundation. “Many times, people break down and cry. That’s what keeps me going is the family’s response.”
The Stephanie Vest Foundation is funded by a 5K each October and a trivia event in February. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to families receiving assistance. To date, more than 90 families have received assistance totaling $200,000. For more information, visit StephanieVest.com.
When Christine Loneman completed her degree in hospitality management from the University of Missouri-Columbia, she returned home to join her family’s businesses, Faulkner’s Ranch. It was a natural transition for the Kansas City native, who grew up helping in her grandparent’s western wear store and as an event producer for Benjamin Ranch, where she coordinated events of all sizes, including rodeos, conventions, weddings and picnics.
Loneman’s passion for hospitality and events, as well as her family tradition of service, guided her in developing the ranch into a place where anyone can experience Midwestern hospitality. Now, thousands of families and school children visit the ranch each year. Loneman says she is grateful to work alongside her father, mother and brother each day. She is energized as she sees the Faulkner’s experience coming full-circle as a year-round event venue.
“It thrills me to get inquiries from people who have come to the pumpkin patch as a child and are now looking for a wedding venue,” Loneman says. “I love that we’ve been a strong family tradition in the community and are a happy memory for so many children.”
Loneman is proud of Faulker’s work as a partner in education with Summit Technology Academy. With her event planning background, she is currently helping develop Summit’s hospitality and tourism program coursework. In addition, she is active in the cultural sorority Beta Sigma Phi as well as Lee’s Summit, Grandview and South Kansas City Chambers of Commerce.
Tracee Cobb was working as a third-grade teacher when she was invited to join Young Life high school student ministry as a volunteer, and God wrecked her in the very best way, she says. Now as the area staff director for Young Life in Lee’s Summit, Cobb spends her days investing in the lives of high school students at Tuesday night club, summer camp, in small-group settings or when she invites masses of students over to her house for dinner. She attends students’ sporting events and becomes part of their lives.
“The biggest reward is getting to love kids no matter where they are,” Cobb says. “We listen to them and say Jesus offers them a fuller life than they can imagine. We hope that one day it might click, but we love them even if it never does.”
Cobb says it’s her privilege to walk with students through all life’s ups and downs and to maintain a connection over the years. She describes being able to comfort one student seven years ago when the girl’s father ended his life. Even today, she maintains a strong bond with the former student.
“My alumni don’t leave. They become family and friends in this lifelong ministry,” Cobb says. “Young Life is like this giant family where leaders love one another, and we model that for students.”
After losing her 22-year-old son, Kyle Zammar, to a rare cardiac condition in May 2006, Susie Gale chose to use her grief to honor her son’s legacy. In 2012, together with family and friends, she created Mantels and Martinis, a holiday home tour which raises money to carry on the work Zammer would have done as a special education teacher and coach.
The popular December event featuring New Longview-area homes has now raised more than $80,000 for Special Olympics in Eastern Jackson County and the New Longview Foundation. In 2016, Gale became president of Kyle’s Gift, a 501(c)(3) corporation that will channel Mantles and Martinis funds to continue supporting the Special Olympics and provide grants to support the social, emotional, physical and educational needs of special needs children and adults in western Missouri.
“I’m so very grateful that so many good-hearted people have come together through Kyle’s Gift to carry on some of the work he would have done,” Gale says. “It’s such a joy to see Kyle’s legacy and loving spirit live on.”
As a retired Lee’s Summit teacher turned realtor, Gale has instructed thousands of students in language arts and in the district’s gifted program, which she helped create. She has given her time to numerous organizations over the years, including the Lee’s Summit Educational Foundation, the PTA, ReDiscover, Habitat for Humanity and Harvesters.