The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce has announced nominees for the 2012 Palo Verde Business Woman of the Year and the 10 women are well known in the community for not only their business but their service.

Dr. Rashmi Bhatnagar, DMD

Bella Vista Dental Care

Dr. Rashmi Bhatnagar has been in practice for more than 12 years. She is a member of the Arizona Dental Association, American Dental Association, Academy of General Dentistry, Foothills Study Club and the Spear Study Club. She is also a member of the Crown Council, a prestigious group that dentists must be nominated into. As a mother of twins she is also a member of Multiple Moms Mingle.

Bhatnagar said what sets her apart from other dentists is simply her passion for what she does.

“I obsess over my patients’ smiles,” she said. “I will go through the entire weekend thinking about a patient and how I can better their health. My patients seem to appreciate that. It’s not something I purposefully do, but I really care about the people I’m treating.”

BellaVista Dental Care was chosen Best Dentist in the 2010 Ahwatukee Foothills Best Of edition.

Bhatnagar has an active interest in giving back to the community. She is a sponsor of the Festival of Lights, the Desert Vista Marching Band, the Kiwanis Spring Fling, and the Fourth of July Red, White, and Boom. This is her second year being nominated for the Palo Verde Award.

“I’m humbled considering the women that are nominated every year,” she said. “I owe a lot of my success to my team. I have a fabulous team. I have a fabulous patient base that are very supportive of not only me as a clinician, but of my family. We love to be involved in our patients’ lives.”

Lindy Lutz Cash

Foothills Ace Hardware

Lindy Lutz Cash and her husband, Kevin, purchased Foothills Ace Hardware in January of 2007 after Kevin had spent almost 25 years working for Ace corporately. Since then the couple has become very active in the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce. Cash serves on the Women in Business board.

Outside of the chamber she volunteers for the Festival of Lights and the Fiesta Bowl Parade. Ace Hardware is also a drop-off location for many drives to benefit the Kyrene Foundation.

“We really believe in both the business community and the community at large,” Cash said. “We do as much as we can to give back.”

Though Cash is on the Women in Business board, she says it was a complete surprise to find out she was one of the nominees.

“I am very honored,” she said. “It’s a group of amazing women, I know almost all of them. I know who all of them are, and I actually know all but one personally. I’m truly honored to be in a group of such high quality women.”

Cash said her goal for the next year is just to encourage more people to shop locally.

Sheila Coonen

Connecting to Serve

Sheila Coonen moved to Ahwatukee Foothills in 1979. In 1986 she was asked to be a parish nurse for Mountain View Lutheran Church and listen to the concerns of the widows and caregivers in the community. She began to notice many people had the same problems, and as people were connected they were excited to collaborate together to find answers.

In 2008 Coonen formed Connecting to Serve, a 501 c-3 nonprofit, so that this mission of connecting people to others with the same passion could be extended to the public.

“What we discovered is our community is absolutely full of talented, experienced people that want to get involved and make a difference in the lives of others,” Coonen said.

Connecting to Serve has brought together faith-based groups, community groups, schools and individuals to create groups dealing with homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, community gardening and senior advocacy.

Coonen said she was surprised to find out she was nominated because she really doesn’t consider herself a business person.

“I’m so humbled,” she said. “I don’t even think of myself in the same category.”

In November Connecting to Serve will have a meeting focusing on foster care and Coonen said she hopes a new task force will come from that.

Coonen is a member of the chamber of commerce, she attends Mountain Park Community Church, and is active in the Ahwatukee Community Network’s local advocacy teams. She also works with CityServeAz and Arizona Serves.

Christine Ellis

Sonoran Mountain Realty

Christine Ellis was a social worker for years before she got into real estate in 2003. She was doing both for a while and when it came time to choose, Ellis went with real estate. She became a broker in 2006 and has been a coach for new agents.

She released her own book, “Real Estate Agent CEMETERY: How to Survive the Fears, Challenges and Mistakes that can Kill Your Real Estate Career,” in May.

“You don’t ever do anything with any intention of getting anything for it,” Ellis said about being nominated. “When I do something I do it because I love Ahwatukee and I love working with the people I work with. When someone recognizes you for it, it’s really awesome. It’s beyond words. It’s really cool.

“The other nine women who are also nominated are dear friends. Some I don’t know as well, but I know of them and I know how great they are. It’s nice to be recognized with all these awesome people. I’m so grateful to get to hang out there with nine other women who, to me, really do so many great things. It really is just hard to comprehend how awesome these women are. I feel honored to be up there with them.”

Ellis said she has a real passion for the Ahwatukee community and her goal for the next year is to focus on local clients and encourage more people to move to Ahwatukee.

Kendra Fleetwood

CK’s Tavern and Grill

Kendra Fleetwood is the operating owner of CK’s Tavern and Grill in Ahwatukee Foothills.

Her family purchased the business in 2004 and asked Fleetwood, who was working at Intel at the time, to come and manage it. Fleetwood said it was a no-brainer to take the job and get the chance to work for herself.

“We’ve been very lucky,” she said. “We’re known in the community for not just being a bar or a restaurant or live music or a place for kids to be able to go after their baseball game. We’re the neighborhood place that they can feel comfortable and not just go for one specific thing. That has helped us a lot to get through this economy and hard time. It’s been a rough couple of years, but the community is what keeps us in business and my staff has been amazing this whole time.”

This is the second time Fleetwood has been nominated for the Palo Verde Award.

“It was still a surprise this year,” she said. “There are so many ladies in Ahwatukee that have their own businesses, and volunteer, and are on boards. It’s amazing how many strong women there are in Ahwatukee.”

Fleetwood said her goal for the next year is to keep being consistent at CK’s and focusing more on fundraising. She would like to increase donations for Crisis Nursery of Phoenix, the Kyrene School District, God’s Garden, Breast Cancer Research, YMCA Strong Kids Campaign, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, all causes they helped fundraise for in 2011.

Norma McCormick

Clean ‘n Fresh Cleaning Services

Norma McCormick has been cleaning professionally for more than 20 years and is the owner of Clean ‘n Fresh Cleaning Services, LLC and Arizona’s Finest Oriental Rug Cleaning, which both specialize in healthy indoor environments and green products. She is the only woman-owned carpet cleaning and rug plant in the state of Arizona.

Currently in the process of becoming LEED, she conducts cleaning classes and seminars by educating residents and businesses on safe and non-toxic methods. McCormick makes it a priority to also give back to the local community. Her business provides carpet, tile and grout cleaning to Valley locations of Maggie’s Place, a community of homes that provides hospitality for pregnant women who are alone or on the streets. She currently serves on the board of directors for the chamber of commerce. She’s a member of Toastmasters and the Kyrene Corridor Rotary Club, where she served as president from 2011 to 2012. In 2009, McCormick was awarded Rotarian of the Year by the Kyrene Corridor Rotary Group. She has done fundraisers with the Child Crisis Center, United Food Bank, My Sister’s Place, and is also involved with Junior League of Phoenix. She previously served on the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), Phoenix Chapter Board of Directors.

“It’s a privilege to be a part of the Ahwatukee community,” McCormick said. “The dynamic base of women business owners and residents has really encouraged and inspired me.”

Martha Neese

Von Hanson’s Meats and Spirits

Martha Neese is the owner of Von Hanson’s Meats and Spirits in Chandler, but she resides in Ahwatukee Foothills.

“I’ve been coming down here as a winter visitor since probably 1985,” Neese said. “My mother- and father-in-law retired to Ahwatukee around that time so I would come down to visit them. I’ve kind of watched the community grow. When I decided I was going to retire or be a snow bird for a while before I retired there was no question where I wanted to be.”

Neese was an attorney for 28 years before retiring to the Valley. She was a nationally certified trial attorney and a certified civil trial specialist. Neese is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, which is one of the most prestigious groups of trial lawyers in the United States. She recently came out of retirement to work part time and help with personal injury litigation at Beauchamp Law Office, P.C. in Ahwatukee Foothills.

This is Neese’s third year being nominated for the Palo Verde Award.

“It’s a big honor,” Neese said. “I’m with some incredibly wonderful, successful women.”

Dr. Amy Puls

Natural Healthcare Specialties

Dr. Amy Puls has been in practice for almost 30 years specializing in holistic health care and alternative therapies. She is the clinic coordinator for Natural Healthcare Specialties.

Puls worked as a physical education teacher for some time before going back to school to study chiropractic. That’s where she met her husband and together the two moved to Arizona and opened their practice in Tempe. In 1987 the couple moved to Ahwatukee Foothills and opened their business here in 1993.

“When I look back I just feel like we have worked hard, but yet every day has been just a fun day,” she said. “I feel blessed that I can increase people’s awareness on health and wellness, and most importantly on holistic health care and alternative therapies. I’ve done a lot of classes out in the community and I really enjoy that. Ahwatukee is just a great place to have a business. You get a lot of support here.”

Puls is active in the chamber of commerce, especially with the Women in Business group. She’s also involved in Event Networking and Seven, two local networking groups. She also belongs to the Wellness Council of Arizona.

“I love what I do and am very passionate about my profession,” she said. “I feel so lucky. I get to live and work in this community. It’s really like the cherry on top of the whip cream.”

Liane Rouzaud

Midfirst Bank

Liane Rouzaud has been in banking since the age of 19, when she started as a teller in Los Angeles. She spent 16 years at Wells Fargo before transitioning to Midfirst bank five years ago. She is currently the banking center manager.

“We are truly a community bank that believes in becoming involved in the communities we serve,” Rouzaud said. “Midfirst is fully supportive of my outside-of-the-bank activities, which is so great. If I need time to go serve on a committee or go to the Y or go to the rotary, they are 110 percent behind me. It’s great to have an employer who supports all my activities.”

Rouzaud is active in many different community organizations. She is president of the Ahwatukee Foothills Rotary, board chair for the Ahwatukee Foothills Family YMCA, and a chair person for the Ahwatukee Community Network.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be nominated,” she said. “It’s really a privilege to be with such a great group of Ahwatukee business women. I feel so appreciative to be included. There are some great women who have been nominated that do so much for our community.”

Darla Salem

A-Peeling Faces

Darla Salem worked in the corporate world for years before following her passion for health and wellness in 2001.

In 2006 after years of working as a massage therapist, aesthetician, and spa manager she opened her own salon inside the Signature Salon Studios. She won first place in the Ahwatukee Foothills News Best Of for Aesthetician and Massage Therapy in 2009, and first place in Aesthetician and third place in Massage Therapy in 2008. She was also awarded Best of Greater Phoenix for Beauty & Day Spas in 2008.

“I think my business background in the corporate world has really helped me,” she said. “It really worked well. Not that it was without its struggles, but that part I really knew. I just had to get licensed in what I really had a passion for, which was skin and body.”

Salem is constantly educating herself on the most recent developments in skin care, massage, mineral make-up and waxing. She said each year she tries to bring out a new product or a new side treatment.

Salem has also served in many charitable causes. She has volunteered as a certified facilitator for the “look good feel better” program for the American Cancer Society and for the Arizona State University Art Museum as a certified docent. She also volunteered for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association, acting as a mentor to a youth. This is her second year being nominated for this award.

“It feels great to be nominated,” Salem said. “I really truly am honored to be nominated along side such strong entrepreneurial women that I’ve known for a long time. I know first hand how hard everyone works. We’ve really become advocates for each others success. It is really great to know that we are always there to support one another in business.”

The winner of the Palo Verde Business Woman of the Year award will be announced during the third annual Palo Verde Award Gala on Saturday, Nov. 3. The event will be from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa, 5594 W. Wild Horse Pass Blvd. For more information, visit

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or


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