Local photographer’s book features senior women

by Patty Reiman

Boston Heights resident Barbara Miceli Pennington recently released a photography book featuring local women over the age of 60. “Extraordinary Women from an Ordinary Place,” tells the stories – in words and in images – of 52 senior women who have current or former ties to Northeast Ohio, several of whom have Hudson connections.

Pennington discovered a few of her book’s featured women while shopping or eating in Hudson, which she said are her favorite local destinations. She met Betty Sandwick at Chico’s and Dana Mancuso at Yours Truly. Hudson resident and author Susan Terkel is also in the book.

Her photographs with brief accompanying text tell the stories of 52 women who Pennington said have experienced, “an extraordinary challenge, thrill, disappointment, fear, achievement, pain or ‘ah ha!’ moment.” And they were all found within what Pennington calls her “ordinary community.”

Her first book participant and book cover model is Edna Bradford Ratner, co-founder of the Peninsula Art Academy. Pennington met Ratner by chance in 2003, and the meeting rekindled an earlier vow Pennington had made to herself to publish a book whose focus was “women of age.” She made that promise after working with many senior female hospital volunteers as the director of patient and volunteer services at Euclid Hospital.

“Most were females, ages 60 to 80,” she said. “As the years passed, I grew to know many of these wonderful women and their life stories. I also observed the respect for them was not often extended by some staff members.”

When Pennington retired from the hospital in 2003, the volunteers chipped in to purchase a Nikon camera since they knew she had a strong interest in photography.

“I was so overwhelmed with their generosity, I made a promise to myself to someday create a book of photography about women of age.”

A year later, Pennington joined the Cleveland Photographic Society, began taking classes and started networking with seasoned photographers. As she developed her skills and familiarity with digital photography, she entered competitions and won awards.

“Those successes gave me the courage to approach local galleries and institutions to display my work and to enter other competitions,” she said.

A home renovation project that afforded Pennington her a personal studio space combined with the chance meeting of Ratner started Pennington on her journey to publish her book. Through networking, word of mouth and referrals, she met and got to know the life stories of the other women whom she photographed individually.

Pennington asked each woman in the book to wear something black and to bring a prop that ties into what makes them extraordinary. She said many questioned how they might fit into the extraordinary category when asked them to participate. To that Pennington would simply reply, “there is something extraordinary about everyone, and I will find your extraordinary.”

The book was published late last year, and the Boston Heights author has since held several local book signings and speaking engagements. It is available for purchase ($29) at the Learned Owl in Hudson, Fireside Books in Chagrin Falls, Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights or through Pennington (barbshalo@gmail.com).

“Starting this book was a dream. Finishing this book at age 80 was a personal accomplishment. Through it, I realized there are extraordinary women tucked away in every little town, city, neighborhood and community; you just have to take the time to find them and listen.”