VOR 2021 Board of Directors Candidate Biographies
The VOR Board of Directors has seven candidates renewing their positions this year. Click below to view or download their biographies.
Meet the Candidates
Mary Kay Cowen (Louisiana): Mary Kay Cowen, middle child out of seven, was born in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. Although she had always been an advocate for her younger brother, Tommy, she joined her father in his political advocacy in the late 1980’s. She became guardian for Tommy when their father, Harry Waldo, passed away in April, 2005. In 2006, Mary Kay attended her first VOR Initiative in DC alone as other Louisiana advocates were dealing with heath issues.
As a divorced mother with two children, Paul and Crystal, and a full time job, marrying Mark Cowen in 1991 finally gave her the support she needed to accomplish the many goals and obligations that came with her chosen life’s path. She has also been blessed with two granddaughters, Sitaara and Satori.
Third generation owner and President of Waldo Brothers, Inc. (a small business consisting of 3 to 5 people that sells in the Commercial and Marine Construction Industry), Mary Kay has been active in many business, religious, recreational, and DD advocacy organizations. The ones she is currently active in are:
- NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction)
- Harahan Mixed Bowling League
- VOR (served on the Board of Directors for many years and is currently on the Quality of Care in the Community Committee)
- Families and Friends of Crossroads Louisiana (unofficial President of non-formal organization)
- Human Rights Committee for Crossroads Louisiana
- Quality Enhancement Committee for Crossroads Louisiana
- Regional Advisory Committee of Jefferson Parish, serving as Committee Chair
- State Advisory Committee for Louisiana (Both the RAC and SAC are committees required by LA law under the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities to provide a conduit of information between LDH and the various areas of our State)
- Louisiana OCDD Task Force on Dental Services for Adults with DD (Co-Chair)
Larry Innis (Maryland): Larry served as VOR’s Treasurer for three years, and has generously offered to fill in as interim Treasurer for the past few months. He holds a BSBA in accounting and a MBA in Finance, and has served as Treasurer on the boards of several non-profits.
Larry also worked as VOR’s Washington Representative for seven years. In this capacity, he helped ensure VOR’s visibility on the Hill by attending key Congressional meetings, hearings and coalition conferences. He has worked directly with VOR’s Legislative Committee and Director of Government Relations and Advocacy, providing consultation on legislative positions and grassroots strategies. Annually, he participants in a legislative briefing for family advocates as they prepare to carry VOR’s message to Capitol Hill.
In addition to his financial guidance and advocacy work on behalf of VOR, Larry spent most of his career as a legislative consultant to the boating industry. After spending two and a half years working on the Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries in the U.S. House of Representatives, Larry Innis was hired by the Marine Retailers Association of America as a contractor to set up its first Washington D.C. office in March of 1989.
As a government representative for MRAA, Larry worked on state legislative issues by advising, writing supportive letters, and testifying on issues important to state marine trades associations, including boating safety issues (mandatory education and licensing, adult and child life jacket wear requirements, and general business issues) and dealer bills in Alaska, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Maryland, Maine, Ohio, and Michigan. Larry adapted his skills in this arena to benefit VOR’s advocacy.
Ann Knighton (Georgia): As President VOR Board of Directors (several terms) VOR State Coordinator Georgia President of the Family Council of the East Central Georgia Regional Hospital. Ann has worked tirelessly to care for her daughter Erica, who resides at East Central Georgia Regional Hospital, and for all of the individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and their families.
Terry Lafleur (Louisiana): Terry Lafleur and his wife Glenda live in Ville Platte, La., in the heart of Cajun country. Terry says, “We are the parents of 3 great kids, 1 son and 2 beautiful daughters. Our youngest, Jamie, is 43 years old and lives at Pinecrest Supports & Services Center in Pineville, La., which is about an hour north of us. When Jamie was born her diagnosis was severely, profoundly mentally retarded. This was really hard for us, we didn't know what to do. After a few years at home, with my wife gong to clinic after clinic and working tirelessly with Jamie, we looked for placement. Jamie was admitted to St. Mary's in Alexandria, La. at age 5 and stayed there until age 19. She moved to a community home not far away and the way the home dealt with her behavior was with psychotropic drugs. She aspirated one night and was rushed to the local hospital where she stayed in ICU for 2 weeks with little hope to survive. She did survive and today is doing much better in the state's only ICF.” Terry reports, “After Jamie was born my wife had to stop working. I worked at Floyd's Record Shop in Ville Platte for 16 years, then got hired at Cabot Corp, a carbon black company, and retired in 2010 after 30 years service. I am president of our Pinecrest Parent's Association since 2008. Like many of you here, our work and advocacy continues.”
Linda Lotzi (Maryland): Linda lives in Maryland, her sister Lauren lived in Pennsylvania at the White Haven Center, one of the state’s remaining state run centers, until she passed away earlier this year. Lauren had lived at White Haven since 1968. Linda became her guardian in 1994 when her parents passed away.
Linda teaches in a school for autistic students, and is concerned about how they lose their services when they turn 21. Many parents are unable to cope with them, some even afraid of them.
Linda has served on VOR’s Board of Directors since 2011.
Mary Reese (Maryland): As a native of the Nation's Capital, Mary Reese is known as the family matriarch, life long volunteer, for her distinguished career in administration of volunteer and non profit organizations and as the legal guardian of Virginia Massa, who passed away a few years ago after living her last years at the Holly Center.
In 1996, Virginia was displaced by the State of Maryland from her closing ICF home into a community agency residential house. After of few years it became apparent to Virginia's legal guardian and father, Bill, that she could not receive the care she required in this setting. Bill, with the assistance of his fiance Mary, initiated action to have Virginia returned to care at a state ICF where she would receive the services she requires. Mary became Virginia's co-guardian, and upon Bill's passing in 2005, she became Virginia's sole legal guardian to continue to advocate for her re-admission to a ICF.
Virginia and Mary have been deeply grateful to VOR for arranging pro bono legal assistance during the 8 year struggle while seeking admission to Holly Center, Salisbury, MD. Virginia was admitted to Holly Center on December 17. 2012. In 2013, The Governor of Maryland appointed Mary to the Citizens Advisory Board for Holly Center. Virginia thrived at Holly Center under the care of the experienced and loving para-professional and professional staff.
Joanne St. Amand (New Jersey): Joanne is a retired research scientist, a volunteer and a sister. She and her brother are co-guardians for their 66 year old sister Rosemary. Rosemary was born with profound intellectual disabilities and has lived in an ICF since she was 20 years old. Joanne is an advocate for individuals with intellectually disabilities and a VOR Board member since 2013. She has spent the last 9 years actively addressing issues, educating the public and fighting hard against the state of New Jersey to prevent the closure of two developmental centers (ICFs).
Joanne served as President of VOR from 2017 to 2019, and has chaired VOR’s Legislative Committee for the past year. She is currently the president of the Association for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities (formerly Woodbridge Developmental Center Parents Association), and the Green Brook Regional Center Family and Friends Association. She is also a founding member and president of Save NJ Developmental Centers. She has been recognized as an outstanding volunteer in Cranford, NJ, by the Cranford Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor, and by the NJ Senate and General Assembly for the 21rst District’s “Pride in Cranford Award.” Joanne resides in Cranford, NJ with her husband, Bob.
Mary Vitale (Missouri): For over 40 years Mary has been an active guardian for her 68 year old brother who is severely intellectually disabled, has challenging behaviors, and several medical concerns. Mary has worked on the local, state, and federal levels to maintain a continuum of care for persons like her brother and has been a member of VOR for over 20 years. Mary has served as a VOR board member for the last 10 years, serving on several committees, and currently chairs VOR’s Issues Oversight Committee.
Mary has been a VOR Annual Conference attendee since 2007 making Congressional visits annually. Mary says she has seen the importance of the VOR organization because she has benefited from VOR information and support over the years. Mary believes that VOR has helped her to make educated choices about the care of her brother.
Currently Mary serves as President of the Bellefontaine Habilitation Center Parents Association (www.parentsassociationbhc.com), a position she has held for the past 8 years.
Mary attributes her work as a librarian for 25 years as helping to develop and hone the necessary research skills that continue to prove so very useful in her advocacy work today.
Rita Winkeler (Illinois): Rita has been part of the DD world her entire life. Her younger brother is developmentally disabled, and at this time lives in a CILA. As his guardian Rita is very involved in his daily life, visiting him weekly. Rita’s son Mark is profoundly disabled and has resided at Murray Developmental Center (a state facility) in Centralia, Illinois for the past twenty years. Rita recently retired from teaching elementary school for twenty-one years, with a Master's in Education, and also achieved the status of a National Certified teacher. Serving as the treasurer of the Murray Parents' Association for over 14 years, Rita has also been the President of the organization for the past 11 years. She also serves as a board member of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, a state organization that represents all seven of the Illinois state developmental centers.