From Alaska to Texas

Lauren Padawer

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

Glacial facial

So, you may wonder, how did a nice Jewish girl from Ladue wind up as a salmon fisherwoman in Cordova, Alaska, population 2,267?

That same question has left Patty Padawer scratching her head many times. Still, she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter, Lauren Padawer, 35, who in addition to owning and operating a $100,000-a-year commercial fishing business, is the founder of Alaska Glacial Mud Co., where she manufactures spa-quality skin products made from glacial mineral mud that she hand-harvests from the vast Copper River. 

If the latter business sounds familiar, it may be because you caught Lauren’s recent appearance on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” The show boasts a panel of self-made millionaires (and billionaires), known as “Sharks,” looking to invest in the best businesses and products launched by American entrepreneurs. Approximately 8 million viewers tune in weekly as small business owners give a two-minute spiel in the hopes of convincing the Sharks to back their companies.

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Unfortunately, on Jan. 17, Lauren didn’t prove successful. None of the Sharks bit on investing $100,000 in exchange for 20 percent of her company, which she started in 2006. She told them she made $36,000 last year selling her mud skin-care products to wholesale buyers and through her website, But what she really wants, she explained to the Sharks, is to break into the high-end resort and hotel spa market.

Despite not getting the money, Lauren says she couldn’t be happier with the outcome and her appearance on the show.

“The exposure I got is worth a lot more than the amount of money I was asking for,” Lauren said Monday when we spoke by phone. “There have been a 100 or so wholesale inquiries since the show aired, and a couple of dozen inquires about making an investment in my company.”

Just in the month of January alone, she says, she’s had half the number of sales that she had in all of last year. 

“What’s going to result ultimately are some great connections because of the exposure, but I won’t have to give up such a large percentage of my business,” she said. 

As for a little background, Lauren celebrated her bat mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Amoona, graduated in 1996 from Ladue Horton Watkins High School, and attended Washington University where she earned a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her college years “influenced my dedication to environmental work and informed my concept of tikkum olan,” repairing the world, she says, adding that she was extremely active in groups such as the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life and the Jewish Environmental Initiative.

At age 23, she took a job in Alaska as a program manager and grant writer for a non-profit whose mission includes protecting pristine areas of the Copper River and Prince William Sound from unsustainable development. Eventually, a desire to raise awareness and support wild salmon habitat along the Copper River gave way to the creation of Alaska Glacial Mud Co. A percentage of its profits go to organizations that fight for wild salmon wilderness preservation, habitat restoration and sustainable community development.

In 2009, after working as a salmon biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Lauren purchased a commercial salmon fishing boat and permit, and has been working since then as a commercial salmon fisherwoman while also running her mud business. She operates her own fishing vessel to harvest all five species of wild Alaskan Pacific salmon.

Lauren’s mother Patty describes her daughter as “a granola type of person” who is athletic and always loved the outdoors. “By the same token, she cried when I wouldn’t buy her Guess jeans and argued with me about when she could wear make-up,” said Patty. “I call her my little Renaissance woman.”

Although we were on the phone, I could sense Lauren playfully rolling her eyes at her mother’s recollection. She laughed and added: “I work on diesel engines on a fishing boat in the summer and sell spa products. I love knowing there are wider places in the world where ecosystems are highly productive and intact and I love the idea of a business based on renewable resources.

“By the same token, I enjoy hot water and indoor heating and hair dryers.”

Lauren lives with her boyfriend in Cordova, a city that is rich in fish but not many Jews. “I’m guessing there are 10 of us here,” she said, “but no one is looking for a minyan.”

Texas calling 

Last week’s Jewish Journal from San Antonio, Texas had a familiar face on its front page: Ronit Sherwin, former executive director of Nishmah in St. Louis.

Sherwin, 41, has accepted a job as the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio. The position takes effect on March 1. 

Currently, Sherwin is executive director of Hillel at the University of Delaware, a position she has held since July 2011. In 2005, she and Karen Sher co-founded Nishmah, a Jewish non-profit that works to empower girls and women. Sherwin ran the organization until she left for Delaware. 

“I’m very excited,” Sherwin said, referring to the new San Antonio position. “I feel that my experiences starting Nishmah, being a Hillel director and all my work at the Jewish Community Center movement in the early part of my career have given me the experience to take on this job.”

Sherwin explained that San Antonio contacted her after learning that she was moving there to be with her fiancé, Rabbi David Komerofsky. He, too, was a Hillel director, in Austin, and the two met through the organization. He recently accepted a new job as Associate Vice President for Advancement at Hillel.

Sherwin said the move to San Antonio is so her fiancé can live closer to his 14-year-old twins. She has 4-year-old twins, and reports that all the children get along well. 

The couple plans to be married in Cleveland in June. Sherwin grew up in Cleveland; Komerofsky is from Akron, Ohio. They got engaged over the summer.

Meanwhile, Sherwin is coming to St. Louis this weekend for the Nishmah Women’s Shabbath Retreat at Pere Marquette, where she will conduct workshops as its “scholar-in-residence.” Sherwin has a master’s degree from Harvard School of Divinity. 

“Nishmah is always going to be in my heart,” she added.