WCU Woman of the Year - Mary Pat Knauss

   Read about our Board President Mary Pat Knauss' recent award from West Chester University!

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WILS Names Mary Pat Knauss ‘80 Woman of the Year for 2014

Mary Pat Knauss has been an active advocate for women throughout her life, first as a mentor for professional women and now in her community service career.  Mary Pat’s professional life spanned a 27-year career with Hewlett Packard/Agilent Technologies.  In its Life Science and Chemical Analysis division, she worked in marketing and then transitioned to focus on strategy and business development.  Her education – a B.S. in Chemistry from West Chester University and an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, provided her with both the scientific background and the business acumen to guide new business creation. 

Mary Pat retired early with the intent of devoting her retirement to giving back to her community.  Her passion for supporting women in the workforce led her to Wings for Success, a Frazer nonprofit which provides professional clothing, wardrobe guidance, and life skills workshops to low-income women seeking work.  With her business skills and commitment to women’s success, she was able to quickly become a key member of the Wings team and use her knowledge to grow the organization and support women who are working to make a better life for themselves and their families.

Mary Pat joined Wings in 2007 and quickly expanded her contributions to leverage her professional expertise.  Tapping into her corporate leadership experience, Mary Pat became Wings’ Board President and began to help the organization develop its vision and strategy for the future.  She continues to guide Wings as they implement the structured operating techniques necessary for a growing organization.  With a unique blend of compassion and drive, Mary Pat helps Wings impact clients today, while lighting the way for an even more impactful future.

Mary Pat contributes to her community in a wide range of other capacities, including serving on the Board of the Kennett Run Charities and volunteering with Longwood Gardens.  As a member of the Business Advisory Council for the West Chester University School of Business, she supports the Dean of the Business School in achieving excellence and relevance in its endeavors.  She also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Mill Creek.

Retirement has allowed Mary Pat to pursue several personal goals, including an increased focus on personal fitness.  She is an avid cyclist and has competed in two triathlons in the past year.  In addition to her work with the Kennett Run, she joined forces with two fellow cyclists to organize a benefit bike ride for the local YMCA, raising money to support the Good Kids campaign.  She continues to seek ways to combine her passion for athletics with her support of worthwhile organizations and her desire to promote fitness in her community.

Mary Pat’s greatest joy in life comes from her family.  She is blessed with three children – a son and two daughters, all young adults successfully finding their way in the world.  She and her husband Keith take great pleasure in spending time with them and supporting them in their endeavors.

Mary Pat’s accomplishments are driven by a belief in the power of women to positively change their communities and their world, best exemplified in two quotes from inspirational people:

“When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier; they are better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up.  And what is true of families is true of communities and eventually, of whole countries.” - Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” - Anne Frank


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West Chester University Foundation - P.O. Box 541 - West Chester, PA 19381 - 610-436-2868


Woman of the Year: Mary Pat Knauss helps disadvantaged women dress for success

Staff photo by Fran Maye Mary Pat Knauss of East Marlborough will be honored on May 1 by the West Chester University Foundation as Woman of the Year for her community service helping disadvantaged women enter the work force. 

The West Chester University Foundation will honor a Kennett area woman next week as Woman of the Year for helping disadvantaged women enter the work force.

Mary Pat Knauss, board president of Wings for Success in Frazer, is to be honored May 1. Wings For Success provides work-appropriate clothing that helps economically disadvantaged women get proper attire for job interviews and promotions. The nonprofit agency has helped more than 8,000 women in Chester County during the past 16 years.

A retired Hewlett-Packard executive with a degree in chemistry from West Chester University, Knauss has an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Whether we like it or not, first impressions matter,” Knauss said. If financially struggling women don’t have the proper attire, she adds, “they will often get overlooked for a job — and they can’t afford it.”

Knauss said 80 percent of women who Wings for Success helps are single mothers, and 95 percent earn less than $10,000 a year.

“It’s quite a dichotomy,” she said. “On one hand, we live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, and on the other hand, there is considerable hidden poverty. Poverty won’t go away, so these women continue to need services. There is so much need in our community, and it’s extra special to give back to the community you live in.”

Knauss said her “wake-up call” came when she was in her mid-40s, after her mother and mother-in-law both died within nine months of each other.

“I knew right then there was more I needed to do with my life,” Knauss said. “Our life is finite. Keith (her husband) and I worked at finances, and I was able to retire with the intent of giving back to the community. When I started in business, there were not a lot of women, so I really appreciate women helping women.”

Knauss has helped Wings for Success grow and is using her corporate management skills to help the nonprofit become sustainable.

Wings for Success is now looking to expand by adding a second office in southern Chester County.

“I was lucky to have a choice to work,” Knauss said. “They women I’m helping really don’t have a choice. They have to work. They need support. They need help. And I really like helping women. I’m feeding my soul, not my bank account.”

The agency has financial eligibility requirements, and referrals come from domestic violence centers, homeless shelters and food cupboards. Funding comes from foundation grants and fundraising initiatives.

Wings For Success has a proven track record of helping low-income women become successful. The program helps women to get a professional outward image, and they grow their inner self-image to feel confident seeking employment, succeeding in the workplace, and becoming financially self-sufficient. Not only do they get free clothing, they also learn how to dress for an interview and are provided with up to two weeks of outfits. Each woman is guided by a personal clothing stylist who ensures a proper fit.

The Woman of the Year Award recognizes a woman who displays leadership and service qualities worthy of special recognition. It is awarded for distinguished and exceptional achievements in her profession or volunteer activities that have positively impacted women or girls.

The awards program is a fundraiser for the Women in Leadership and Service Student Scholarship Program.

Knauss also serves on the board of the Kennett Run Charities and volunteers with Longwood Gardens. As a member of the Business Advisory Council for the West Chester University School of Business, she supports the dean of the Business School in achieving excellence and relevance in its endeavors. She also serves on the board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Mill Creek.