Akron is mourning the loss of a leader who brought courage and compassion to helping women and children.

Lynn Budnick, executive director of ACCESS Shelter since 2008, died Wednesday at the James Cancer Center in Columbus after having beaten back cancer four times. Budnick met her most recent health challenge head-on. She had planned on retiring this year in her mid-60s, promising to stick around long enough to pass along her wisdom to the next executive director.

“She was a light,” said Jackie Hemsworth, ACCESS director of advancement and acting executive director until the charitable organization's board of directors can find a permanent replacement for Budnick.

“She was pretty amazing. She was obviously the leader of our organization. But she a friend and mentor to me and really incredibly inspiring to everyone that met her,” Hemsworth said. “What we’ve been talking about here is that she had the ability to make you feel special.”

Budnick advocated tirelessly for the 500 women and children served each year by ACCESS. Before that, she focused her passion on the arts, serving as general manager of the Akron Civic Theatre and working for two decades with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center.

Budnick was an inspiration to those who help the less fortunate. Joe Scalise, who runs the 211 homeless hotline as director of Housing Services for the United Way of Summit County, always looked up to Budnick. Then she called him three years ago to seek his advice.

“It was one of those moments when I thought, ‘I must be doing something right,’ ” said Scalise, “because to have someone that knowledgeable and passionate and inspirational ask my advice was probably the best compliment I could ever have received.”

“It’s a very sad for our community,” he said. “She was always a passionate and fierce advocate for whatever program she wanted to run and was probably one of the most knowledgeable people about best practices in shelters.”

For her dedication and unflinching optimism, Budnick received the 2018 GAR “Glass Half Full” award in 2018 and the "Courage" award from the Summit County Historical Society and the Woman's History Project of the Akron Area in 2016.

The work of providing housing, building women’s self-esteem and serving children at ACCESS will continue without interruption, Hemsworth said.

Budnick’s family, which is planning a celebration of her life next week, has asked that donations in lieu of flowers be sent to ACCESS Shelter. To give, visit www.access-shelter.org/support-us or call 330-376-0997.