“I have trouble sitting still,” Halvorson said. “I like being busy and having things to do.”
One of the reasons Halvorson was chosen as the 2012 Woman of Achievement is her ability to keep up with her rigorous schedule — she owns five Taco John’s franchises across western Kentucky, homeschools her four children and is the head trainer for her in-home dog training company.
Keeping up with such a frenetic pace helped Halvorson stand out to an independent panel that selected her out of 10 finalists for the honor.
The Paducah/River City Business and Professional Women’s organization, and the Four Rivers Business Journal, put out the call for the second year for nominees to be recognized as strong female business and community leaders. Sleep Outfitters — fittingly founded and operated by Kim Knopf, a successful female entrepreneur — sponsored this year’s Woman of Achievement installment.
A luncheon on Oct. 25 recognized every finalist and officially named Halvorson the 2012 Woman of Achievement.
Halvorson’s fast professional pace began straight out of college.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, advertising and theater from Southern Illinois University and immediately began working for Taco Johns on marketing programs. She calls it being in the right place at the right time, but only a few years later she had taken over management of 17 franchises in four states. In 1999, five years after graduating college, she purchased seven stores to run on her own.
It was only two years later that Halvorson found out she was pregnant with her first child. She opened the Taco Johns in Benton, graduated with her first master’s degree in business from Murray State University, and had a baby girl, Rosemarie, all within the year. A year later she gave birth to a son, Patrick, and only a year after that brought another son, Robert, into the world. It was around that time that she noticed Patrick had a different nature than her other children and began suspecting he had autism.
“I was doing all of this research, reading books and taking notebooks full of notes,” Halvorson said. “I needed to know all I could about what I was up against. Then it just occurred to me that I should go back to school, because I was basically doing all of the work anyway.”
After the birth of her third son and fourth child, Joe, in 2005, Halvorson went to the University of Louisville to earn a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis on autism. In 2010, she completed her doctoral studies at U of L, earning a Ph.D. in special education.
Along the way, Halvorson also opened Von Halvorson Shepherds, Inc., where she breeds German shepherds and trains them from birth. She uses the daytime hours to homeschool her children, takes mornings, nights and weekends for training the dogs, and overseas marketing, advertising, financial duties and maintenance for all five of her franchises.
Reports come in from each store around midnight, Halvorson said, which leaves her up until the early morning hours, but she acknowledges her good fortune when it comes to making her own schedule and being able to spend time with her children.
Rosemarie, 10, Robert, 9, and Joe, 7, are all a year ahead in school, she said, and Patrick has been able to stay on track and not fall behind, like many autistic children tend to do.
“I’m thankful to be able to be in a situation where I can be home with my kids and teach them,” Halvorson said. “I never really wanted to have a family, to have four children, and just leave them at home or take them to school and not be able to spend time with them.”
Halvorson hopes to open a sixth Taco Johns location soon. She said she is happy and blessed to be where she is in life, and advises anyone who wants to succeed to set their goals high.
“For me, I write my goals down and work out a plan to achieve them,” Halvorson said. “I don’t let anyone or anything get me off track. If you want something bad enough, you have to go for it.”
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.