Like mother, like daughter: Five women who followed their mother's footsteps into the work world

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comMay 11, 2013 

Like mother, like daughter is an old adage that makes most mothers beam and some daughters cringe.

But the similarities are often too obvious to ignore.

Some daughters automatically replicate their mothers' mannerisms. Others reflect their smiles. And many eventually say their mothers' words despite personal vows not to do so.

Then there are those who go one step further, following their mothers into professional careers. Here are five stories of mothers and daughters who are bonded, not just by blood, but also by what they do every day.

Morticians

As owner of Sconiers Funeral Home, Isabella Chester needed someone to take over when she retired.

So, she turned to her daughter, Katrina, who learned the business under her mother's wing.

Katrina, 50, is now using everything her mother taught her to preserve one of the oldest black-owned businesses in Columbus.

"I think she's doing an excellent job," said 89-year-old Isabella. "It's wonderful to have younger people do the work because I'm not physically able to do it."

The funeral home, nearly a century old, was founded in 1916 by Isabella's father, John L. Sconiers I, who died in 1958.

Ownership of the business was first transferred to Isabella's mother, Susie Sconiers. When Susie died in 1979, Isabella's brother, John L. II, took the reins until his death in 1993.

Isabella was next in line and ran the business until 2007, when she retired. That's when she handed it over to her daughter.

Katrina said her parents divorced when she was in fourth grade and her mother raised her and her brother as a single parent. In those days, Isabella worked full-time as the funeral home's restorative artist, accountant and funeral director. And the funeral business became Katrina's second home.

"I never thought I'd be embalming bodies, but I was kind of forced into it somehow," Katrina said. "I had a lot of things in my upbringing that prepared me for it, even though I was not aware of it at the time.

"My mother began training me in high school to do restorative work (on corpses)," she said. "It's just a family business and I felt it was my niche to be there following in my mom's footsteps."

Katrina also discovered she had a real talent for restorative work while in high school. She was always good at art, typing and other activities that required skillful use of her fingers.

A 1980 graduate of Spencer High School, Katrina graduated from Bethune-Cookman College in 1988 with a bachelor's in business management. In 1991, she received an associate's in mortuary science from Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service. She is now a licensed funeral director, embalmer and administrator at Sconiers.

Isabella has always been meticulous about restorative work because she believes it's important for the deceased to be presented properly, Katrina said. She taught her daughter to pay special attention to areas like the mouth and eyes, so families feel a sense of peace when they look at their loved one for the last time.

"She's been a great inspiration and I don't think I would've learned as much as I have without her," Katrina said. "I don't know who trained her, but she really pays attention to detail. She's a perfectionist and she has taught me the same."

Nurses

When Liz McKnight Mathis says she's had a bad day, her mother knows exactly what she means.

Babs McKnight has been a nurse for 35 years, working mostly in child health and pediatrics at The Medical Center. Now that her daughter is a pediatric nurse practitioner at the same hospital, Babs understands what she's going through.

"You see the worst of the worse cases, especially in the pediatric intensive care unit, and that takes a toll," said Babs, now an administrator at The Medical Center. "We find in our private times together that we have a kindred spirit of understanding what the other person's been through."

But Babs, 55, and Liz, 34, make sure to tone down the nurse-talk at the dinner table, especially when husbands are around.

"We're just sensitive about trying not to always have office talk around the guys," Babs said. "They say we have our own language and they don't know what we're talking about."

Liz learned her way around the hospital as a child visiting her mother when she worked night shifts.

"I don't know that I ever envisioned doing anything other than something in health care, but I wasn't sure what," she said. She loved math and science and eventually earned an undergraduate nursing degree from Columbus State University in 2003. She graduated from Duke University with a master's in 2005.

Liz said the hours are tough, but the job is rewarding.

"It's being able to do what you enjoy, what spins your wheels, and gets your brain thinking," she said. "Growing up with my mom it just came natural, part of the territory."

Babs started her career after graduating with a nursing degree from Columbus College in 1977. She married a Columbus resident, Brian, and stayed in the area. She spent most of her career working in children's health and pediatrics, and is now in administration.

When her daughter first started thinking about a nursing career, Babs said she tried to discourage her because of all the shifts and holiday work. But now she looks at her with admiration.

"She's a much better nurse than I am," she said. "I can't help but be proud of her."

Teachers

Vicki Hardaway's mother and aunt were both teachers with the Muscogee County School District, and she followed them into the profession.

So it didn't surprise her when her daughter decided to do the same.

D'Yana, 26, started as a political science major at Albany State University in 2005. But it took one volunteer experience at an elementary school to reveal where she really belonged. She's now a second-grade teacher at Georgetown Elementary School, and she holds both a bachelor's and master's degree in early childhood education.

"I enjoyed myself so much I decided to become a teacher," she said. "I'm in my fourth year and it's great."

Vicki, 54, is assistant principal at Carver High School. She said teaching is a family legacy handed down to her.

Her mother, Kathryn Ages, taught for 30 years in the school district. Her first assignment was at J.D. Davis Elementary School, which was also Vicki's first assignment when she started with the district in 1985. Vicki and her mother were even assigned the same classroom. "It was the wildest thing," Vicki said.

Vicki's aunt, Malinda Huff, taught for 49 years before retiring in the 1980s. She and Ages are both deceased.

When Vicki graduated from Spellman College in the 1970s, she wanted to be a school psychologist. She planned to teach for one year, finish grad school, and then go back to her profession. But she loved the students so much that she never stopped teaching. She later received a master's in education from Columbus State University.

"It's a part of me now and has been for so long," said the educator of 35 years. "Some people are destined to do certain things, and I think this is what I'm destined to do -- to be with kids."

D'Yana said she couldn't help but gravitate toward the profession after growing up with her mother.

"I was always around teachers and I think that has a lot to do with why I speak so well," she said. "You have all your mother's friends around you correcting you if you say a double negative. But it was fun because if I ever struggled with a subject there was always somebody to call."

She said her mother was her biggest inspiration, and still is.

"She's the sweetest, most kind-hearted person you could ever meet," she said.

"I'm more like my dad, but always wanted to be just like her."

PR professionals

Growing up in Atlanta, Kimberly Drew knew her mother had an interesting job with the Georgia Power Company. But she wasn't sure what she did.

"She had a pager before anybody really knew what pagers were," said Kim, recalling the 2 a.m. media calls her mother got during ice storms. "I thought that was cool."

Then, when Kim became a senior in high school, she attended a Public Relations Society of America banquet with her mother, Leslie Lamkin. She looked her in the eyes and asked: "So, exactly what do you do?"

That's when Kim learned all about her mother's job as a corporate communications practitioner, and she started to pay attention. In 1990, she graduated from Agnes Scott College with a bachelor's in English.

Now, Kim, 44, is a Columbus resident with her own public relations company, Drew Public Relations Inc. Her parents, who live on St. Simon's island, are owners of Lamkin Public Relations, another PR firm. Her father, Jeff, is the graphic designer and her mother handles the writing.

"The joke in the family is that I can't draw at all, but can write, so I went into PR instead of graphic design," Kim said.

Leslie said she's thrilled to see her daughter sharing her passion.

"It feels great," she said. "It's so much fun being able to talk to her about the business. We totally understand what each other is talking about."

But both women remember when Kim was starting out. Leslie, who once served as president of PRSA, introduced her to many people but insisted that she find her own path.

"She was very much pushing me to do things on my own and differently than the way she did," Kim said. "She wanted me to do things the way I wanted to do them and find some aspect of PR that I really enjoyed."

Kim said she explored the field by working with Cohn & Wolfe Public Relations during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. She also worked as a public relations representative for Georgia Pacific Corp. for two years, and for a few public relations companies.

She soon realized that she and her mother had different interests. While Leslie spent most of her career in corporate and employee communications, Kim preferred working on special events, trade shows and media relations.

Leslie said it has been amazing to see her daughter blossom over the years. When Kim started out, other public relations professionals knew her as "Leslie's daughter."

But after Leslie left to work in D.C. for 10 years, she returned to find that her daughter had made a name for herself. "I came back to Atlanta and all of a sudden I was Kim's mom."

Educators

Zaiga and Anna Mion aren't always sure who students are calling when they yell "Miss Mion."

Sometimes, when the mother and daughter are walking around town, they both turn their heads.

But Zaiga, 68, a retired foreign language teacher, is also known by her German title, which makes things easier.

"We always know who's who because she's 'Frau Mion' in public and I'm 'Miss Mion,'" Anna Mion said.

That's how life has been since Anna, 35, followed her mother into the teaching profession. She grew up seeing both her parents work as educators. Her father, Mario, retired as a political science professor at Columbus State University in 2005. Her mother taught foreign language at Hardaway High School before retiring in 2008.

"We were a house of educators," said Anna, who teaches American government at Northside High School. "We saw the dedication of our parents working at night grading papers. It wasn't an hourly job. It was just what they had to do to get the job done."

Anna said she and her two sisters helped her mother wrap St. Nicholas Day candy for her students. And she always admired both her parents' passion for the job.

So she went to school to be a teacher.

She received a bachelor's in history from Columbus State in 1999 and a master's from Auburn University in 2003.

"Until you go into the classroom you really don't know what to expect, but I did know what it meant in terms of doing work at home and grading papers on the weekends," she said. "That wasn't a shock to me."

Anna, who has now been teaching for 10 years, says some of her students are children of students her parents taught years ago, which creates a special connection.

Zaiga, meanwhile, is just awed by what her daughter does these days in the classroom, with all the SMART boards and PowerPoint presentations.

"My goodness, if I went back into the classroom today I would have to take a class to learn all these things," said the retired educator, who has both a bachelor's and master's degree in German.

But no matter the generational differences, she and her daughter share a special bond.

"I guess anybody who sees a child follow in his or her footsteps takes pride in it," she said. "I listen to her talk about her experiences, and I smile, nod and say: 'Yep. Been there. Absolutely understand.'"

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