The Ladies Who Rock Whidbey Island


By Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ with photos by Alan Kissam

You’re about to meet four exceptional leading ladies from Whidbey Island, Washington. They are living out their dreams, leading their community and inspiring the next generation as they share their special gifts and talents.  Each step they take moves Whidbey Island’s economic and tourism forward to what success looks like.

Join Lisa D. Smith and special guest co-host travel writer Linda Kissam, “Food, Wine & Shopping Diva,” for a special Tourism Excellence Panel Discussion focusing on four exceptional leading ladies who are living out their dreams, leading their community and inspiring the next generation as they share their special gifts and talents, on Big Blend Radio.

They’re like a band. Each plays a different instrument. Each brings a different voice.  Separately they are great, but together their music rocks the ages.  Say hello to Sherrye Wyatt (Public Relations and Marketing Manager at Whidbey and Camano Islands Tourism), Karen Krug (Owner Spoiled Dog Winery), Judy Feldman (Executive Director at the Organic Farm School) and Mona Newbauer (Owner of Sweet Mona’s Chocolate Boutique).

Their leadership styles and journeys are each unique. However, together they have created a tangible thread where their actions are aligned with vision, where community is a priority — all while supporting and encouraging others to step into their greatest self by providing ways for them to do so. They are change makers of the highest order.

These ladies are building a better community through their leadership. Their decisions have a measurable impact on local businesses, regional economies, and the tourism marketplace.

The particular qualities of these women’s leadership take on a new significance and new power structure in today’s world. I believe that the strengths these four women possess and the behaviors that set them apart will end up leading their communities forward in the coming years using collaboration, conviction, inclusiveness, creativity, and mentorship.

Success is not a one-time shot. It is about composing a life over time. Taking the time to understand their journey and celebrate their successes along the way is a big part of this article. Each participant was given the same three questions. The first was about their past contributions and achievements.  A second one about their current contributions and mindsets.  The last was a question about their vision for themselves and their community moving forward.

Come celebrate their journey with me. Meet the ladies who rock Whidbey Island!

Sherrye Wyatt: In a word, she is the “organizer” of the group. The holder of the grand map to a successful tourism program. She can take a jumbled out-of-sorts puzzle of achievement waiting to happen and understand how to reconstitute it back into a successful ending. Her special Super Woman skill is helping businesses collaborate for the greater good of a sustainable tourism platform. She is a goal setter who understands what “local” means. Her best quote of the interview concerned how the community can attract tourists, “Be who you are. We do not need to change for visitors. We do not need to create things so people will come.  We need to strategically promote what we have.” The Island’s visitor market is mainly Seattle and surrounding communities at the present, but she thinks that Whidbey Island is perfect for the international traveler and business retreats. I think she’s right on target with that vision. She believes the future of the community remains in the hands of the local caretakers.  “Retaining our green space is a top priority moving forward.” I wish Woodinville, WA would have had Sherrye on their team. Growth in tourism can take its toll on smaller communities.  Having someone who cares about supporting local character, group cooperation and resource sustainability like Sherrye Wyatt, “Is a good thing,” just like Martha Stewart use to say.

Karen Krug: In a word, she is the “teacher” of the group. She holds the key to innovation. She has a lot of “firsts” attached to her resume. She created the highly successful Farm Tour to connect tourists and locals to Whidbey Island’s agriculture bounty. Her thought was if she could get people to understand what farming is and does for a community, there would be a lifelong connection of support and good will. She brought in the first successful commercial Pinot Noir grapes to the Island. Winning gold medals along the way was a suggestion to others to think outside the box. As she says, “Innovation and learning is key to growth and success.  Think what you can do, not want others say you can’t do or haven’t thought to do.” She is eager to teach everyone who comes into her winery not only what she has to offer, but what else there is to see and do in the community. She serves on many community committees, lending her expertise and passion for quality. She believes the Island’s future is in the hands of those who commit to quality and enriching the Island through innovative thought and action. Keep your eye on this one.  She’s a mover and shaker, taking everyone along for the ride.

Judy Feldman: In a word, she is the farm to fork “integrator.”  She leads the way to a sustainable relationship between agriculture, education and the end users, in and outside of her community. She is the model of how to make things happen through connections and perseverance. In 2011, she “inherited” a failing farm school. Yes, Virginia, there is a school that teaches anyone interested how to be a farmer.  She took on the ominous task of saving a community gem that had no home or funding.  Most people would have run. Judy moved through the maze of potential failure with grace, connections and determination. She also understood that even when she found a local backer to give her land and a safety net for the school, there was more than a curriculum to build. She needed housing, tuition assistance and a commitment to make sure there were yearly recruits. Today she oversees the training of aspiring organic farmers.  During the full-time, 8-month program, students spend a third of their time participating in weekly classes and field trainings, going on bi-weekly field trips to other farms, and engaging in the writing of a personal farm business plan. Her vision is to “never go stale in attitude or action.” “I hope that this school outlives me by at least 50 years.” Quite a vision.  Quite a visionary.

Mona Newbauer: In a word, she is the “Rocky” of the group. Her motto of never giving up no matter what punches come along is an example to others to thrive beyond “no.” Having gone through a tortuous journey to create her business, she’s learned the value of, “…doing whatever it takes to reach your goals and never, never giving up. There is always a way. Be strong,” she says. She once dressed up as a nun and stood in the streets with a sign that said, “Sweet Mona’s Chocolates. There’s Nun Better. Seeking an Angel Investor…” Now that may not have gotten her an investor right then, but she persevered again and again until she found the right partners to help her create her sweet spot of success. The “life lessons” she’s battled through would make most faint on the spot. That being said, she shares her journey with those who need motivation, served on a wide variety of community committees and hands out business advice on demand. She makes a mean chocolate truffle, provides jobs, and has a soft spot for those who are struggling in their career path. “I give people a start.” Ask her about the art she hung in her first shop. It tells the story of a woman who shares her success with others.  Her future plans include building affordable apartments above her sweet shop and continuing down the path of perseverance, tenacity and community service.

What did I learn from these women?

Stay open to serendipity–the joys and opportunities that appear unexpectedly in life–whether at work or in your personal life. Beware of missing or dismissing opportunities that present themselves when you’re least looking for them.  But mostly, be open to saying: “Yes, let’s try it and see where it leads.”  Lucky, lucky Whidbey Island.  With these four ladies rocking your island, you have nothing but success to look forward to.  Just sayin’…

Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer based out of Southern California, who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit

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