By Jeff Manes
On Sept. 29, Maria D’Ambrose was named one of the 2016 Influential Women of Northwest Indiana in the Up and Coming Women in Government category. The awards banquet was held at Avalon Manor in Merrillville where 22 women were honored in 11 categories. There were more than 200 nominees.
I met with D’Ambrose at the Newton County Government Center in Morocco where she works as an administrative assistant for the Newton County board of commissioners in the economic development department.
D’Ambrose, 35, lives in Brook.
“I grew up in Tinley Park, Ill.,” D’Ambrose began.
“My dad worked as a mechanic for Joe Rizza Ford in Orland by day and at his race car business by night. My mom worked doubles at South Suburban Hospital. I can remember being out in the shop with my dad and being covered in grease. Grandma would come into the shop and yell: ‘No, no, no! That’s my baby girl.’ She’d clean me up and put a dress on me because that’s the way it’s supposed to be for a girl. Five minutes after Grandma left, that white dress would be covered in grease.
“I have a brother who is seven years older than I am. He worked at the roller rink in Tinley Park. So, I was there every Friday and Saturday night at the age of 5 or 6 handing out skates for him while he ran the food shop.”
“I also remember the World Music Theater being constructed. It has had multiple names since then.”
So has Comiskey Park.
“We could sit on our back deck and listen to the music. I remember the Grateful Dead performing there. We lived on Sayer Avenue which was the only unincorporated road in Tinley Park. Because we were unincorporated, that’s where the Deadheads all camped. The police couldn’t do anything to them. To a teenager, it was really cool to see all those fans along both sides of our road. Not so cool for Mom and Dad when they would wake up, have their first cups of coffee and see someone (urinating) in their front yard.”
And then your parents relocated to southern Newton County.
“I wanted nothin’ to do with that move. I didn’t speak to them for two months when they moved me here. I was like: ‘This is horse (manure).'”
“It was the middle of my sophomore year in high school when we moved here. I didn’t even know this area existed. I thought this was just in movies.”
Probably not a lot of Italian-American kids who went to South Newton High School when you did.
But now you love it here in God’s Country.
“I love raising my kids here. I couldn’t imagine doing it where I grew up. I’m a city girl through and through. You bring me to the city and I light up. But I have children. And that’s much more important than anything. We live right across the street from a park. My 8-year-old is allowed to go over there as long as I can see him. That’s not something that would’ve ever happened in Tinley. We weren’t allowed to play in the front yard because that’s where you could get snatched up. You played in the fenced-in back yard.”
Tell me about your kids.
“I have an 8-year-old son who is in 4-H. I’m learning it right along with him. He did aerospace. Next year, Lyric wants to do the Lego building. He’s fearful of large animals.
“In the past, I always worked multiple jobs, but then we learned that Lyric is on the autism spectrum. He needed mom more than mom needed that second job. So, I gave up the second job to be there for him with the struggles he was having in school. When we had him tested a year ago, we were told one (in) 68 boys now has autism.”
Alarming how those numbers continue to increase.
“I’m very proud of Lyric. This is the first year he’s not in special classes. He’s going full force like every other kid.
“Treyton, our first baby, was a stillborn. He will always be very much a part of our family. Our third baby is a girl; her name is Arya Honey. In Italy, they spell it Aria.”
Great names. Very unique.
“I call my little brother Jose because there’s just so many Joes in our family. It gets confusing. You scream out Joe and everybody in the room turns around and looks at you.”
“It’s very rewarding. I work with many different people on a daily basis.”
“It would be difficult to put my job description on paper. Everything that’s Newton County comes across my desk at one point or another. I set the phones up for everybody who has a county phone. I work with elected officials, the county attorney and with people wanting to visit the county. I work with the commissioners and the county attorney. I set up all the agendas for the commissioners’ meetings. I’m the liaison who makes connections. What I do today is definitely not what I’m going to do tomorrow. That’s what I like about the job.”
How long have you held this position?
Final thoughts from one of the most Influential Women in Northwest Indiana?
“I’m very much into pumping up other females, boosting their confidence. We all need to work together. I think in the world we live in today, any magazine or website that you look at, there’s this certain figure that a female is supposed to fit into. And I think it’s all bull (manure). So, if we can get away from that, that would be fantastic because there’s more to us than what we look like.”
After those spirited comments, I realize this is a real no-brainer. Humor me. Who are you voting for in the presidential election?
Well, I got faked out of my jock strap on that one. All I can say is, what I hear today is definitely not what I’m gonna hear tomorrow.
That’s what I like about the job.
This article was originally published in the Post-Tribune.