Smart Business Ideas Can Thrive Even in Perilous Economic Times

How One Widow Turned Her Sorrow Into a Platform for Other Women

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My dad started Advertising Age in the beginning stages of the Great Depression (only he didn't know it was the beginning of the Depression), so I've always been partial to new businesses that get started in less-than-ideal times.

These are certainly less-than-ideal times. And they are particularly so for Sandy Pesman, 77, the first features editor for Crain's Chicago Business, whose startup -- her first, by the way -- comes at a time of great personal loss.

When Sandy's husband, Hal, died in 2007 after 55 years of marriage, she had to adjust to "many strange challenges and issues." Sandy sat down and wrote a piece, "Welcome to the widowhood -- where women thrive alone."

Sandy told her son, Curt, an author, magazine editor and publisher, that she might start a blog/chat group so she could help other women to get through this "maze," as she called it.

Curt said, "Why stop there? If you're going to spend your talent and time, we have to make a real website." Curt suggested the site have a blog/chat feature, plus a kind of Craigslist, offering tested-and-true solutions to problems confronting new widows. They set a budget of $3,000.

Sandy said Curt's idea made sense since both of them have spent 20-plus years with the best publishing companies in the world, and they both understood what it would take to succeed. They called their site Widows List.

At the same time Sandy's daughter, Beth Pesman Preis, publicity coordinator for Glenview/Northbrook School District 30, joined the team. Beth was widowed at 33 and remarried a few years later, so she brings a young widow's view to the site. Sandy is the host, Beth is the co-host and Curt is publisher.

The mission of Widows List is to "provide a platform where 'women in the widow 'hood' have a voice, and where they can discuss their unique challenges, conflicts, solutions and joys, families, friends, jobs and leisure time." The site offers places where widows have found answers and trustworthy service providers.

Even before the site was up and running, Sandy talked with a woman who owns a wig company, and she was so excited about the concept she asked if she could buy an ad. She did, and it's on the home page. That's the only one so far.

The most important topic on the website is finance, because everyone wants to take care of widows' money. "You don't know who to trust," Sandy told me. Other subjects are real estate ("No sooner than you come back from the cemetery, people want to know when you're moving. And then where do you go?"), travel, insurance and home maintenance (for widows who, like Sandy, don't want to move).

The content changes once a week. One article discussed setting up a health-care power of attorney: "Now that you're a widow, you must make it clear who has the legal authority to make health-care decisions for you if you can't make them for yourself."

Sandy also talks about the need to separate personal and work lives. "Many widows work full time, some are retired and work part time or from your homes. In any event, you still have to blend your careers and personal lives. You had to do it while rearing families, and now you must do it again in a new way."

Sandy says, "Each day has been a new adventure. To me, it's just the next step in a very rewarding career." (She syndicates the Dr. Job column on careers to newspapers, and she worked for the Chicago Daily News and North Shore Magazine).

I can personally attest that Sandy's husband, Hal, was a great guy. He was a friend of Sandy's older brothers; their families were good friends, and he was Sandy's patrol boy when they were in grammar school. "We had one of those great marriages," Sandy told me. "When you saw Hal, you liked him. We had so much fun."
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