Rhonda Wood was recently selected for induction into the Alameda County Women’s Hall Of Fame, joining an elite group of local women who have been so recognized.
Over twenty years ago, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Alameda County Health Care Foundation, and the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women established a permanent Women's Hall of Fame to honor outstanding local women for their contributions to the community.
Wood said that she felt proud and humbled to be part of a very diverse group of 12 women being recognized for their contributions to the community, for their leadership and their inspiration. The induction took place at a gala event held March 21 in Oakland to benefit the Youth Scholarship Fund and community partners providing resources to women, youth and families.
Wood, both an aviator and winemaker, was chosen for her pursuit of careers considered “non-traditional” for women. Asked the secret to success in such careers, or any career, actually? Her simple answer: “Passion.”
Each inductee was featured in a two-minute video introduction at the gala. In Rhonda’s, she walks through the vineyard describing her path to aviation and winemaking, commenting on the Livermore Valley's growing stature in the wine world, and how she hopes to use this honor as a way to inspire more young women to pursue their passion. She also highlighted the concept of being able to change your mind, to pick a different path. "You don’t have to stick with the first thing you do out of college."
Says Wood, “Being chosen for the Women’s Hall of Fame is quite an honor. It has led me to the realization of what it means to have had not just two careers, but two nontraditional careers and how I can pay it forward as a role model to young women.” She has often spoken to students at career days about her first career in aviation, which she began pursuing at age 16, and her second, as winemaker, after the birth of her first son, Harrison. He’s also in the wine business, working in national sales for Darcie Kent.
Bit by the flying bug at age 15, she knew she had found her calling. Her Dad, a CPA, had a friend who had flown planes in WWII and had become a commercial airline pilot. Thinking it might be a good career, he arranged for his friend to take Rhonda on her first ride. Literally, this was the first time she’d ever been in any type of aircraft. They flew out of the Livermore airport. Once she took to the skies, she was hooked. A few rolls and loops and her path had been set. She graduated early from high school and went to junior college, studying science and technology, intent on fulfilling her dream.
In the airline industry, she says women had to work really hard to prove themselves constantly, but it was nonetheless a rewarding job. In fact, she’d still be a pilot if US Airways hadn’t moved out of San Francisco. “When you can fly in and out of your home base, it’s a lot easier than having to commute,” she says. While she was pregnant, she read that beer was good for breast milk and began to brew her own.
Realizing that she and Michael far preferred wine to beer, she began to wonder why she wasn’t making wine instead. The couple had always talked about someday moving to “wine country,” not yet realizing it was in their own backyard. Once they planted their first vines, she knew this was the second career she would embrace.
“You have to know what you like. I love being outdoors, being connected to the land,” she explains, reflecting that along with the science and engineering behind both flight and wine production, there’s another common theme: art. “There’s an art to flying and an art to winemaking. Flying is the best view of the world. Walking in the vineyard is the best part of winemaking. Being one with the airplane and one with the vineyard. That’s the passion.”
She’s happy to report she never experienced discrimination in the wine industry: it’s a very cooperative bunch of grape lovers. However, it still concerns her that there aren’t more women winery owners.
It’s interesting to look at the statistics for women in the wine industry. Since 1982, when Milla Handley became the first of the modern era to put her name on a bottle that contained wine she had made, the wine industry had grown exponentially. Lots of women work in the wine business, but still, on average, only 10% of the 3400 wineries in California have lead women winemakers.
Rhonda feels privileged to be in a position working with the GetSet Program — Girls Exploring Technology, Science and Engineering together— within the Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton High schools. GetSet is an extra-curricular enrichment program for Tri-Valley high school girls in grades 9-12 with interests in science, technology, engineering, and math. Through field trips and hands-on workshops, GetSet is designed to encourage the exploration of a variety of STEM related careers and to demonstrate the link between current classes and future career paths.
Rhonda has been invited to speak to the young women at an event called "Dinner with a Scientist" (DWaS). The event will take place Tuesday, April 21 at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton from 6pm-8pm. Professional women involved in STEM careers (not just scientists), share a meal and conversation with GetSet members. The dinner gives the girls a chance to practice networking, in a more intimate setting than they would at a career fair.
Says Wood, who believes strongly in encouraging students to learn more about science and technology, “This honor made me realize that I need to reach out to other young women and help them to see other choices they may want to consider when making life and career decisions. “