Woman inspires next generation, as businesswoman and arts activist

Local News

What does it take to become a strong leader?

Our Morgan Koziar shares a local woman’s story who shows not only support for a thriving business, but the arts community in Blair County.

One woman has worked hard to pave the way for the arts and entertainment in the heart of Central Pennsylvania while inspiring the future generation of leaders.

President of Benzel’s Pretzel Bakery, Ann Benzel says she’s learned the secret of success.

“I learned that there is a magic potion out there…it’s called hard work,” she said.

While she took over the family business 16 years ago, she started with the company long before that. Ann knows what it’s like to work your way to the top.

“I actually became involved way back when probably in 1986, I came in on the weekends and the evenings. I filled in…in our factory store. It was in 2003…that my husband decided to retire.”

When Ann took over the company in 2003, Benzel’s went from being a regional bakery to a national distributor. And she doesn’t stop there. Her work outside of the family business is making a difference in the community.

“I really found my place in it all with the arts,” she said.  

Kate Shaffer, Executive Director for the Blair County Arts Foundation has worked with Ann for over 30 years on the board.

“The vision I have is Ann and I cleaning the theater,” said Shaffer. “Like Cinderella, in our scrub clothes. Because we were just up against that period of time and we had to get everything ready so it was Ann and I scrubbing, and cleaning floors and washing windows.”

Shaffer says Benzel put thousands of volunteer hours and and her own dollars into the Mishler Theatre.

In 2017, Benzel won the governor’s Patron of the Arts Award for her support of the Mishler and many other community projects.

“She has been an unbelievable asset and her impact on the theater is incredible,” said Shaffer.

Last year, Kate nominated Ann for the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, Lifetime Achievement Award.

“And I think I’m not the only one I think there were many people that nominated her,” said Shaffer.

Ann is the first woman to win that award. She’s hoping to inspire the future generation of leaders…like these Mount Aloysius students at a recent event.

“There’s no reason no matter where you come from or who you are that you can’t succeed,” said Benzel.

Benzel is committed to always encouraging people to find their passion and climb the ladder.

“You’ve got so much that you can share with this community,” Benzel said, and she went on to say, “You can make it a better place, you can make it a better world but you just have to try and don’t be afraid.”

Those who know her, say she’s left her mark on community theater in Central Pennsylvania and everyone she’s met along the way.

“She’s just a great lady, she’s a great friend,” said Shaffer. “She’s been a great friend to the arts and her impact on the community will be felt for generations.”

For a woman that has done it all, you may wonder what’s next. Ann says she’d like to slow down, but doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

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