We are celebrating what it means to be phenomenally female by sharing the stories of five local women who are living out their own versions of success. Each lady featured is on a path unlike the other, but they all share a common trait — at home or in the workplace, they are an example of the immeasurable contribution women have made to our culture and society.
Marceline Catlett was once a student of the Fredericksburg City public school system. She is now their first African-American superintendent.
“I have come full-circle,” she says.
A lifelong learner and natural teacher, Catlett has always possessed the desire to lead and serve. She chose to funnel that energy into public education, where she has served for 40 years—13 years as a teacher and 27 years in administration.
“I always loved learning, school and the educational process,” says Catlett. “I love children and people and have always admired my teachers. I consider every situation a teachable moment.”
Just as important as her passion for education is her understanding of how her example affects the children in her life.
“You can find an answer to any life challenge between two hard covers.”
“I am a role model,” she explains. “You sign up for that when you choose to be a mother and teacher. As teachers, we are professional parents. In Loco Parentis—in place of a parent.”
Catlett firmly believes that being a mom made her a better educator.
Catlett and her late-husband, Vic, poured their all into raising their son, Mario, who admires his mother for always being available, for her listening skills and lessons in morality, and for the calming effect she imparts.
What’s next for Catlett and FCPS?
“Our goal is to move forward and upward, leading at the speed of change,” she says.
Catlett’s words to live by: “You can find an answer to any life challenge between two hard covers.”
Dr. Diana Almy
When Dr. Diana Almy graduated from dental school in 2005, she knew exactly where she was headed.
“I wanted to return to my hometown and serve the community here,” she says.
Almy is the owner and one of the doctors at her all-female practice, Fredericksburg Orthodontics. For 16 years, they have provided braces and other services to align teeth and occlusions in children and adults.
“I love the marriage of art and science, and also being able to work with my hands,” she says.
But it’s her patients and making a difference that matter most.
“The best part is meeting new people and helping transform their smiles.”
She feels especially rewarded when she can help boost her teenage patients’ self-esteem or give her adult patients the smile they always wanted, while also improving their oral health.
In addition to taking care of her patients and team, Almy is the mother of four children, ages 10-18, and she firmly believes having a career has helped her kids become more independent and grounded.
“I hope in the future they admire the way I have been able to find a balance between motherhood and career,” she says. “While it might not always be easy or perfect, it has been done with love and dedication.”
Almy’s words to live by: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
According to Miriam-Webster’s dictionary, someone who manages their home is called a homemaker, but Nikki Ducas prefers the acronym CFO, Chief Family Officer.
“I make sure my children are educated and maintain basic hygiene, and I keep a tidy living environment,” she says. “I teach them to my standards and will hopefully train them to be self-sufficient young adults.”
Five years ago, Ducas decided to dedicate even more of herself to her family by taking on the enormous task of homeschooling her two boys, James (12) and Marc (8).
“I love being here to see them learn, develop, and do everything together,” she says. Good days or bad days, this devoted mom would not want to have it any other way. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to do what I do for them daily.”
Ducas attributes her ability to focus on family care to the fact that she and her husband, Peter, are such a strong team.
“We make all financial, child-rearing and major life decisions together,” she explains. The couple has been “inseparable” for over 23 years and will celebrate their eighteenth wedding anniversary in October. She values the example their loving and respectful relationships sets for their boys.
Ducas’ words to live by: “Try, try again. Practice makes better. Don’t doubt yourself.”
When Dianna Flett retired from the United States Army after 21 years of service, she did what every retired lieutenant colonel with time on their hands does: she became the president of her children’s elementary school PTO.
“I was thrilled at the energy and bold nature of the young people I was meeting,” says Flett. “They had such potential and joy.”
However, through stories her four sons brought home from school, in addition to her own research, Fleet soon discovered that young girls struggle with confidence—their self-esteem peaking around ages 9-12. While she found this information to be “crushing,” Flett also felt inspired to act.
Flett is the founder and facilitator of Girls Smarts, a program that aims to empower girls in grades four through six as they transition from their preteen years into their teens. Teenage girls face unique challenges. The workshops help them navigate these challenges by addressing important topics such as body image, bullying, relationships and goal setting.
“I’m proud of the example I have set with my work at Girl Smarts,” she says. “My husband and children are proud of it, too.” Flett hopes that her lifelong work of service and action will inspire her sons. “I hope they pursue work that makes them proud. Life is too short to waste your time working for a paycheck. I hope I showed them to work on making a difference.”
Flett’s words to live by: “She never stopped believing she could.”
Interview w/ Girl Smarts participant, Jane Riley
Junior at Penn State University
Tell me about yourself and your future goals. My major is biology, and I have aspirations to become an OB/GYN.
What was your Girl Smarts experience like?
I remember learning quite a few things — how to carry myself, how to make friends, how to articulate myself and how to be confident.
What did you take away from that experience?
I can achieve anything that I set my mind to. I’ve worked to get to where I am today, and if I didn’t have that push from Girl Smarts so young, I would not be striving to accomplish all that I want to.
How has your Girl Smarts experience inspired your future?
Girl Smarts has inspired me to approach things with confidence and humility. To assert myself, while being kind. I try my best to lead by example for younger girls who strive to be their best selves.