Awards presented for ‘remarkable’ leadership in particularly challenging times

GODFREY, IL – As a part of the annual LeadHership Seminar presented by the RiverBend Growth Association on Oct. 8, three of the area’s leading women were honored for “doing remarkable things” in the Riverbend.

The seminar and accompanying award presentations are hosted yearly by the Growth Association and its Emerging Leaders & Inclusion Leadership Committee.

The 2021 LeadHership “Empowerment” Award, the highest recognition given during this annual event, was presented to Toni Corona, director of public health, Madison County Health Department.

Toni Corona accepts her Empowerment Award from Stefanie Withers

Jen Jackson of Helmkamp Construction, serving as emcee for the virtually hosted 2021 LeadHership Seminar, presented the Empowerment Award to Corona. “Toni was nominated, then unanimously selected by our committee, for her leadership and strength over the last year,” said Jackson.

“Toni brings a welcoming and encouraging presence with her wherever she goes, and her sincerity is engaging. Her positive outlook, her ongoing efforts, and her unyielding fight against the pandemic are respected by all. And her enthusiasm for life and concern for community is, dare I say, contagious.”

-Jen Jackson

Corona was further recognized for her dedication to her home state, and specifically Madison County. She was honored for maintaining professional integrity throughout extremely stressful times, as well as for maintaining high standards of professionalism and a strong work ethic.

“Toni has worked non-stop, seven days a week, for up to 12 hours a day for many months to ensure public health and safety, as well as educational awareness specific to Coronavirus,” Jackson added. “She is the epitome of service with a smile, and not only serves as a professional and committed employee but also devotes her time outside of work in volunteerism and advocacy as well.”

Beyond leading Madison County through the pandemic, Corona also regularly advocates for the community by serving on numerous local boards, striving to further improve the quality of life for Madison County and its residents.

After receiving the award, Corona said, “It’s quite an honor to receive this award. I am so appreciative to be recognized by such an esteemed group of professional women. I’m fortunate that my career in public health has created an opportunity to lead with values of service and purpose – this is my ‘WHY!’  I’m blessed and grateful, and I wish to thank the RiverBend Growth Association for sponsoring this valuable program of women empowering women.”

-Toni Corona

Two LeadHership “Inspire” Award honorees were also recognized at this year’s seminar.

One Inspire Award was presented to Dr. Kristie Baumgartner, superintendent for Alton Community Unit School District 11.

Baumgartner was promoted to the district superintendent position two years ago. Not long after her promotion, she was thrown into leading the district’s navigation through the COVID-19 pandemic. “Her leadership in doing so has been nothing short of admirable,” noted RBGA Communications Director Debbie Hagen during the awards presentation.

Stefanie Withers presents Dr. Baumgartner her Inspire Award

“Kristie works tirelessly to provide the best work environment for employees and the best environments for students. She will do what is necessary and safe for the students and staff, so they have the best experience possible. She manages to keep a pulse on the entire district and is dedicated to the staff, students, and their families.”

-Debbie Hagen

“Dr. Baumgartner leads by example, and besides leading the district, can often be seen shoveling show, pulling weeds, running bus routes, and cleaning buildings. She not only leads with character and integrity but also shows up for and celebrates everyone – staff and students. She genuinely cares and it is evident. Kristie empowers and inspires everyone to be the best version of themselves,” added Hagen.

“I was both honored and humbled by the recognition. I have the great fortune to work with so many amazing colleagues including teachers, staff, and administrators. They inspire me each and every day in how they serve our students and families. You simply won’t find a more caring or dedicated team than we have right here in Alton.”

-Dr. Baumgartner

The second “Inspire” Award recognized Dr. Manpreet Sandhu, who serves as OSF St. Anthony’s chief of staff, an oncologist for the Moeller Cancer Center, and as medical director for the home hospice program.

With the highest patient experience scores seen across OSF’s 14-hospital system in Illinois, she has grown the Cancer Center base and hospice program at St. Anthony’s by serving Riverbend region patients locally. Sandhu also spearheaded bringing real-time clinical cancer trials to the region by teaming with the Cancer Research Center of the Ozarks and the American Cancer Society.

“It gives me immense joy and satisfaction to see our cancer patients lead happy and meaningful lives after their cancer treatments. Our ultimate goal is long-term survival and with our continuing commitment to using leading technology and the best, evidence-based approaches to treatment, we are helping more and more patients do just that, while also making sure they have good quality of life throughout their cancer journey, from diagnosis through survivorship.”

-Dr. Sandhu

“Dr. Sandhu received this award because she is an outstanding leader who is compassionate, caring, intelligent, and dedicated,” RBGA Member Engagement Director Stefanie Withers shared. “She spends all of her time with patients – caring for them, explaining their diagnoses, and calming the anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis. She believes that patients should not have to go far from home for cutting-edge care.”

The team at OSF Moeller Cancer Center with Dr. Sandhu holding her award

“A physician, chief of staff, oncologist, home hospice leader, and a mother, Dr. Sandhu also educates the nurses and medical assistants throughout the day and by example, empowering them to help patients manage their disease, weaknesses, and challenges. To endure and overcome life’s many obstacles.”

-Stefanie Withers

The RiverBend Growth Association presents the annual LeadHership Seminar to provide a space for women to meet, network, learn, and grow. Year after year, an audience of nearly 200 women from throughout the RiverBend community participate in the event.

In 2022, the LeadHership Seminar is scheduled to take place on Friday, October 14.

The finalists are chosen from nominations submitted by their peers within the RBGA membership to be recognized at LeadHership ‘s annual seminar with the inspirational and empowerment awards for “doing amazing things in their career and community every single day.”

The inaugural LeadHership awards were given in 2020 to Alton City Treasurer Cameo Holland, Sheena Whitehead of the American Cancer Society, Karen Cooper with Illinois American Water, Carrie Cohan of Madison County Child Advocacy Center, and Alton Police Department Officer Emily Hejna.

In early 2019, the RBGA team created the Emerging & Inclusive Leadership Committee out of a need that was recognized to nurture diversity and inclusion among all the people and businesses who make up the RiverBend business community.

This committee is tasked with identifying and developing new leaders in the membership as well as creating a platform for business owners to incorporate inclusive practices in their organizations. With the committee’s mission, business professionals are empowered to be recognized, feel like they are heard, develop within their organizations, and be a part of a greater diversity of leadership in the region, regardless of their age, gender, race, or nationality.

The RiverBend Growth Association is the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development organization for the 11 communities known as the Riverbend. For more information about the Growth Association, please visit or call (618) 467-2280.


This article was prepared for the RiverBend Growth Association by Melissa Meske Publications,