Burbank’s Trailblazing Businesswomen Shine at Senator Portantino’s Legislative Luncheon

Award Recipients. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Under the warm glow of the Castaway Restaurant’s chandeliers, an atmosphere of celebration enveloped the room as community leaders, family members, and friends gathered on December 6 to honor 41 extraordinary women, nine of whom have strong ties to the Burbank community.

These women, heralded for their professional acumen and civic engagement, were the guests of honor at State Senator Anthony Portantino’s district legislative update and awards luncheon. The event, a blend of official ceremony and heartfelt family moments, drew an audience of nearly 400 — a testament to the impact and inspiration these leaders have fostered in their community.

State Senator Portantino encapsulated the spirit of the occasion, saying, “Their credentials and achievements prove to girls and young women that they can be anything they choose.” A record-breaking number of nominations for the awards this year underscored the community’s recognition of these leaders’ contributions, he said.

Senator Anthony Portantino. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Among the esteemed Burbank honorees stood Lucy Simonyan, an entrepreneur whose vision and dedication have left an indelible mark on the community. Celebrated not only for her innovative downtown boutique, Lusanet Collective but also for her generous volunteer work, Simonyan embodies the spirit of service and entrepreneurship. She seized the opportunity to turn the award ceremony into a dynamic classroom for her daughter Angelina, an eighth-grade student at John Muir Middle School. For Angelina, watching her mother and other women be honored was more than a moment of pride; it was a vivid demonstration that the proverbial glass ceiling is meant to be broken. The award, Simonyan noted, was “a testament to the dedication and resilience that women bring to the business world. It’s a reminder that every challenge overcome is a step toward progress. Success is a journey and not an end goal.”

The familial theme continued with honoree Claudine Hager, who, with her husband, resurrected Burbank’s oldest restaurant, Chili John’s, to its former glory. As a mother of three daughters and a full-time buyer for Princess Cruises, she expressed astonishment at her husband Stephen’s decision to nominate her as a small business owner, emphasizing her preference for behind-the-scenes work. Yet, her husband’s gesture spoke volumes about the significant contributions she’s made and how success is often a quiet accumulation of daily efforts.

“I want my daughters to know that anything is possible. Don’t let people tarnish your dreams, you can accomplish anything when you put your mind to it and you’re willing to do the hard work. People in general don’t want you to succeed, they take more pleasure in your defeats than your successes,” Hager said.

For Gloria Salas, a pillar in the tapestry of Burbank community leadership, learning of her nomination was as unexpected as it was humbling. “It threw me for a loop,” she admitted. The source of the nomination? Her husband, Tim Murphy, quietly put forward her name in recognition of her tireless dedication. Salas reflected on the honor with a saying that resonates with her deeply: “There’s an African proverb, ‘I am because we are,’ and that embodies my thinking. We all grow and succeed together, not alone.” Achievements are not singular triumphs but the fruits of collective effort, she said.

Salas’s commitment to human rights and community service is evident through her active involvement in organizations such as the Zonta Club of Burbank Area, where she not only contributes but also leads as the Lieutenant Governor for Zonta International District 9, championing the values of non-violence, justice, equality, inclusivity, and diversity.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Laurie Leshin, Director, Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Another honoree was Jennifer Audette, the CEO of Polam Credit Union, a Burbankian born and raised, whose deep-rooted connections to the community were mirrored in her dedication to local schools and her own daughter’s education. Her pride was palpable as she shared, “Being honored for the very work that is my passion means the world to me.” She went on to note that the recognition was a validation of the “people helping people” philosophy that credit unions are founded upon.

Carol Flynn, a dedicated Burbank local and director of marketing for California Pizza Kitchen, was honored for her leadership and community commitment. Her passion for helping others was evident as she recounted the company’s heartfelt response to the pandemic, notably their generous donation of thousands of pizzas to those on the front lines. She noted that her daughters are a constant source of inspiration, particularly the one who, while at Luther Burbank Middle School and Burroughs High School, helped to found the nonprofit ChangeWorks and led fundraising initiatives for a peer battling cancer, demonstrating that compassion and action often start at home.

Opening the luncheon, Senator Portantino shared the latest legislative advancements, setting the stage for keynote speaker Laurie Leshin, whose own story of shattering glass ceilings as the first female director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory resonated with the room’s palpable energy of empowerment.

The event also honored other Burbank leaders, including Mary Cutone of the Burbank Community YMCA, Mary Frinter of Burbank Audiology Center, Nadia Geller of Nadia Geller Designs, and Jaime Keyser of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.

The luncheon wasn’t merely an event; it was a vibrant showcase of the progress women have made in business and leadership, a collective inspiration that promises to keep the glass shards flying from the soles of the next generation of women’s shoes.

    Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center