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Dennis named Business Woman of the Year at EXPO special event

JACKSON — A luncheon honoring the current class of 50 Leading Business Women culminated with the announcement of Jane Dennis of Pass Christian as the Business Woman of the Year. A packed house celebrated the accomplishments of the 50 honorees on the second day of the 24th Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO.

The program to honor leading business and professional women was begun 10 years ago by the Mississippi Business Journal. A Woman of the Year has been named since 2000. All 50 women were recognized with a video presentation at the luncheon before the finalists were presented from the stage.

Luncheon sponsors were the Mississippi Economic Council, St. Dominic Hospital, BellSouth, Cingular Wireless and Regions Bank.

“This was my first opportunity to attend and participate in this event and it exceeded my expectations,” said Candie L. Simmons, regional marketing director for Regions Bank. “The Business Woman of the Year Luncheon provided a great opportunity for Regions Bank to show our support and be a part of an event that recognizes women in the business world. Regions has been a proud sponsor for several years and we look forward to continuing our great relationship with the Mississippi Business Journal and the business EXPO.”

In addition to Dennis, the 12 finalists included Diane Davis Barentine, president of Davis Pizza Enterprises; Margaret K. Druetta, general manager, network operations of BellSouth; Angeline D. Godwin, president/CEO, Area Development Partnership of Hattiesburg; Ann F. Guice, senior vice president/trust officer, The Peoples Bank – Asset Management & Trust; Janet Y. Harris, chief nursing executive, University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Also, Amanda K. Jones, partner, Bradley Arant Rose and White, LLP; Katherine Kerby, attorney, co-owner/vice president, Gholson, Hicks & Nichols, P.A.; Rica Lewis-Payton, deputy network director, Department of Veteran Affairs; Joy Lambert Phillips, general counsel/senior vice president, Hancock Bank; Katrina Poe-Johnson, family medicine physician, Kilmichael Hospital and Clinic; Cathy Martin Robertson, executive vice president, BancorpSouth.

“EXPO is a good opportunity for us to recognize excellence in the business community,” said Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. “The luncheon was a sellout and the 50 Leading Business Women are deservedly well recognized throughout the state.”

The 2007 Business Woman of the Year was surprised at her selection. “It’s exciting and rewarding to get recognition. I think it’s more for what I do in the community,” she said.

The majority stockholder and corporate secretary-treasurer of Specialty Contractors of Gulfport, Jane Marie Rumpf Dennis was born and reared in Mobile, Ala., where she was a top-flight student at Alba High School, graduating with honors. She first entered the family construction business at the age of 16 as receptionist and payroll clerk.

After graduation from Auburn University, she returned to the company and has been a pioneer for women in the construction industry. In 1980, she joined the National Association of Women in Construction and in 1984 was elected president of the local chapter.

Dennis and husband Dave, president of Specialty Contractors, have a tremendous amount of community involvement along the Gulf Coast. It’s something she learned first hand from her family and hopes to pass on to their children, Kate and Padrick. Kate is a second-year student at the University of Mississippi Law School and Padrick is a senior at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.

“My parents and grandparents were involved in the community and led by example,” she said. “I’ve been taught to do that. I think both our children are seeing the importance of service and giving back to the community.”

Although she gets many requests to participate in many capacities in the community, Dennis acknowledges that part of what drives her are organizations that involve children.

“They are our future and some don’t have the positive role models they need,” she says. “I credit the Sisters of Mercy at St. James Elementary for helping with the development of our children.”

Dennis is a former president of the St. James Parent-Teacher Organization and served as vice president of fundraising for the Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse. She and Dave are serving as co-chairs for the fund raising to build a new Catholic high school for Biloxi-Gulfport, an effort that is moving along again after being side tracked by Hurricane Katrina.

She played a key role in the early rebuilding efforts following the devastating storm. Gov. Haley Barbour selected Dennis to be part of the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding & Renewal. She was named the first female president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. Currently, she co-chairs the foundation’s major Build Back the Coast campaign.

“I’m co-chairing this committee with Margaret Taylor,” she said. “The mission is to put money into non-profit organizations to meet the long-term needs of rebuilding. We want to help the faith-based groups who come to help us build back. With much of the work done by volunteers, the money will go farther.”

Dennis also finds time to serve on the Auburn University Human Science Philanthropy Board, a group that is making contributions to improve the quality of life in places around the world.

On a national level, she was tapped by the Small Business Administration to serve on the Regulatory Fairness Board.
She and Dave continue the legacy of Specialty Contractors, a company founded in 1955. “All of our 100-plus employees came back after Katrina and are all very dedicated,” she said. “We will stay the course and continue to be fair and honest in the way we treat our customers.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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