A Publication of WTVP

Walking in her footsteps

by Laurie Pillman | Photos by Ron Johnson |
From left, Ben Elder, Mom Stephanie Cain, Nate Elder and Cassie Elder
From left, Ben Elder, Mom Stephanie Cain, Nate Elder and Cassie Elder

Some daughters embrace the careers in which their mothers have thrived

Even in the best of circumstances, mother-daughter relationships can be complex. Combine the personal with the professional, and it can get even more complicated.

Alas, as we approach another Mother’s Day in this month of May, Peoria Magazine went in search of those mother-child relationships that not only work but spill successfully over into work. Below are three examples:

The real estate developers

Diane Cullinan Oberhelman founded Cullinan Properties, Ltd., the real estate services firm, in 1988. She remembers how fulfilling it was to see people buy their first home or find the right place for their business to flourish. Forty-three years later, her development and property management company has grown to more than $1 billion in projects throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Texas.

Diane Cullinan Oberhelman with daughter Kathleen Cullinan Brill
Diane Cullinan Oberhelman with daughter Kathleen Cullinan Brill

That’s impressive on its face, but Oberhelman says her children, Kathleen, Maureen, Alison and Allen, are her biggest achievement. All four grew up going to meetings with their mother. Kathleen Cullinan Brill, at 42 the oldest of the siblings, is now the executive vice president and director of business development and strategic partnerships at Cullinan Properties. 

‘Like many kids, I wanted to do anything but what my parents did’ — Kathleen Brill

“Kathleen is the only child directly in the Cullinan Properties company as a leader. The other three touch it in some significant way from time to time,” Oberhelman said.

“My daughters have taught me how to be a better person in so many ways, from a grandmother to a mother,” but with Kathleen that has extended into the workplace, “from closing deals to marketing,” said Oberhelman. “Her ever-enthusiastic personality makes it so enjoyable to make presentations together!” 

Brill is the first to admit she did not think she’d follow her mother into real estate.

“Like many kids, I wanted to do anything but what my parents did,” she said. “I laugh about that now. “

After Brill earned her business degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a friend introduced her to a commercial real estate group in Chicago. She excelled there, but in 2006, the CEO of Cullinan Properties hired Brill without her mother’s knowledge. Oberhelman says it was a great decision.

As for the VP, with three children of her own ages 5 to 10, she is proud of her mother for starting her own company when that was not a commonplace thing.

“Her enthusiasm to meet new people and get out of her comfort zone” served as a model “as I embarked on my own experiences,” said Brill. “My mom is always thinking outside of the box and finding meaningful ways to connect with people, which has certainly benefited me.”

The nurses

Stephanie Cain clearly remembers discovering her path early on. A seventh-grade career test told her to become a doctor, teacher or nurse.

“I decided nursing was for me,” she said. “I wanted to help people. You can be a nurse practitioner where it’s not a doctor, but you get to diagnose, prescribe and treat. You’re always teaching in nursing, either new nurses or student nurses. So I got the best of all worlds.”

First, Cain took the time to start a family. When her youngest son was born with a hole in each lung and her middle child developed an autoimmune issue that attacked his kidneys, Cain watched the nurses care for her children. It reignited her passion for health care, and she returned to nursing school.

“I knew it was my calling,” she said.

‘Nursing is a profession that I can honestly say, it’s a family’ — Stephanie Cain

Today, Cain is a nurse practitioner at OSF HealthCare with board certification in advanced practice registered nursing and executive nursing. She also has raised an entire family of nurses, from her daughter, Cassie Elder, to her sons Nathaniel and Benjamin Elder.

“Some of the stuff she would tell us was really hard for her and for her patients. It expanded my ability to hear what the patient went through, to step in and see it from their perspective,” said Cassie. “[Mom’s] experiences helped build my experiences. I still call her when I leave work, sometimes to complain about my day or to share a funny story, and sometimes just to cry because something was rough.”

Cassie Elder started down a pre-med track in college but eventually switched because she wanted to carry out care plans instead of making diagnoses. Now, she specializes as a traveling nurse with Medical Solutions, taking temporary positions when facilities need extra help.     

Recently, Elder had a seven-month rotation on OSF St. Francis Medical Center’s acute neurology floor. She was happy to find a supportive staff that included her mother and brothers. Cain said the other nurses quickly realized they were family.

“They looked at our faces, and then we both laughed. They’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, you sound just like your mom! You look just like your mom!’”

Elder notes that her contract kept her in different areas of the hospital ministry, but she did get occasional breaks with her mom, who isn’t shy about dispensing advice.

“Don’t be the chaos,” Elder recites. “Just breathe. Be calm. It’ll all be okay.”

Cain enjoys seeing her children involved in something bigger than themselves.

“I’m proud and excited for them,” said Cain. “Nursing is a profession that I can honestly say, it’s a family. It’s a connection that people have.”

The music educators

Molly Sloter found the same kinds of connections with musicians and theater people. Before she retired, Sloter was an accompanist and instructor in Bradley University’s music and theater departments. She continues to play for choirs and pit orchestras throughout the Peoria area.

Maggie Sloter with her mom, Molly Sloter. Dana Sloter is pictured
Maggie Sloter with her mom, Molly Sloter. Dana Sloter is pictured

The amount of teaching and playing she did during her daughters’ youth worried her when they were younger.

“It was a logistical nightmare,” Sloter said. “I felt really guilty about dragging them around places, but the influence it had on them is that they knew the world was filled with really good people who were musicians. I didn’t know how that was going to play out. I just knew my job as a mom was to involve them in a bunch of different things so they could figure out what they liked enough to pursue and hopefully find a job.”

The comment makes her eldest daughter, Dana Sloter, smile.

“I knew when I started playing in the band that I wanted to be a music ed major. Not a band director. Not the job you get after the degree. I knew I wanted to be a music education major because you could learn all the instruments.”

‘Your only obligation is to use your God-given talents to make the world a better place’ — Molly Sloter

Still, Dana and her sister Maggie Sloter didn’t expect to end up in their current careers. Maggie was interested in several career paths. Dana wanted to be a musician but didn’t think she was the right fit for a professional orchestra. Neither wanted to teach. Their mother didn’t plan on being a teacher, either, but went on to inspire students inside and outside of the classroom, often helping them during vulnerable times.

Today, Dana Sloter is an adjunct faculty member at Drake University in Des Moines and teaches music lessons at nearby Simpson College. She also plays for churches and community theater.  

Maggie Sloter stayed in Peoria, forging her own path as a performer and educator. She worked as the grants and fundraising coordinator at Corn Stock Theater for two and a half years. She’s since moved on to direct the choir and bell choir at Salem Lutheran Church, to teach voice and brass lessons through Kidder Music, and to serve as an independent contractor to the Madison Theater Preservation Association.

“It’s so funny to me that when Maggie and I were little, we felt so different,” said Dana. “And now we do different versions of the same thing.”

How did Molly Sloter’s career influence her daughters?

“I feel like growing up in rehearsal environments and getting to know lots of different people, the biggest takeaway is that everybody has something to offer. We all have different skills. We all have a different value. I know that being open, honest, and effectively communicating about my feelings and my experiences helps other people. And I learned that from you,” Maggie tells her mom. “From people who would go to your office at Bradley freaking out, asking ‘who’s a grownup who’s not going to shut me down?’”

Like any mother, Molly worries about her children and their futures. Still, she sees them growing on their respective paths and knows everything will work out.

“I would be concerned no matter what their degrees are in because the world is such a crazy place. I know that they’re doing good work,” said Molly. “I used to tell them that your only obligation is to use your God-given talents to make the world a better place. And they absolutely are doing that.”

Laurie Pillman

Laurie Pillman

is an author and freelance writer/editor, based in Peoria