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Women who've been driving forces in transportation get their due

Dianne Craig holds a top leadership position with Ford Motor Company.

It's been quite a success story for the Hamburg native who began working at Ford 31 years ago in an entry-level position.

Craig and three other women were inducted into the Women's Transportation Hall of Fame on Saturday at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum downtown. About 150 people were on hand, surrounded by vintage cars that included a 1964 Ferrari Lusso coupe, a 1902 Buffalo Electric, a 1913 Ohio Electric and a 1922 Automatic Electric.

Early women's bicycles from the 1890s were displayed, along with about two dozen female mannequins dressed in period garb from the 1890s to the 1950s.

"I am thrilled and obviously very honored to be inducted into the Women's Transportation Hall of Fame," Craig said. "I am quite humbled and excited to think I had a teeny-weeny role in helping with transportation in this wonderful country."

Craig is Ford's U.S. director of sales, overseeing a network of more than 3,000 Ford/Lincoln dealerships that generate $92 billion in annual revenue. During the previous five years, she served as president and CEO of Ford Motor Company of Canada, the best-selling automotive brand in that country.

Joining her in entering the hall of fame were Clarice Burgwardt, co-founder of the Pedaling History Museum in Orchard Park; the late Melinda Burgwardt Gibson, who captained the New York State Wheelmen, which is dedicated to preserving bicycling's heritage; and Joann Villeneuve, board chairwoman of Villeneuve Automotive Museum being developed in Montreal, who was married to the late six-time Grand Prix winner Gilles Villeneuve and is the mother of Jacques Villeneuve, a Formula 1 champion driver.

"It's really an honor to be standing with those women," Villeneuve said. "You see yourself as being a normal person doing a normal thing in life and then you realize, well, no, it was a bit more than that. So it feels very special."

Villeneuve said it's good to see women being remembered for their contributions.

"Women were a big part of it, and I think it was a forgotten part of history," she said. "It's good to recognize that there were a lot of women involved in transportation in one way or the other."

The four inductees join the previous six enshrined into the Women's Transportation Hall of Fame in 2009. The museum's current exhibit space for women's role in transportation is expected to double or triple in the museum's planned expansion.

Family members and Ford and Lincoln dealers were on hand to see Craig's induction. She had oversight of Western New York dealers from 2000 to 2004 while working in Pittsburgh as regional manager in charge of marketing and sales.

Craig, a graduate of Hamburg High School, returns frequently to the area to visit her parents and other family members.

"My whole family is still in Western New York," she said. "I'm the only one who defected."

Craig graduated from SUNY Fredonia with a degree in mathematics, but rather than go to graduate school – and needing to go to work – she took the entry-level position at Ford in sales, marketing and service, where she began to work her way up.

Key to her development, Craig said, was finding female mentors. There weren't many when she started out, but she had some, including a former boss.

Today, the situation has changed significantly, Craig said, and she tries to mentor and encourage other women. Craig said Ford Motor Company now has many women in leadership roles throughout the company.

"I have been given a lot of opportunities at Ford to achieve my aspirations," Craig said. "The company is really focused on diversity. It's definitely core to our company.

"I have also been an advocate of encouraging women to consider careers in the industry. I think there are lots of opportunities, and I think we have seen women progress over the years, and certainly I have been blessed to have the career I have had."

Craig said being inducted in Buffalo made the honor that much more special.

"I love my hometown," Craig said. "Hamburg was a great place to grow up – a wonderful community with wonderful neighbors, and fantastic schools."

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