By McKenzie Long
March 8, 2022 is International Women’s Day. This year the theme is break the bias, reminding us that personally held stereotypes and unexamined biases can affect women’s work, goals and achievements. Today we advocate for gender equality and celebrate women’s contributions and accomplishments by highlighting the women who are a part of EP Climbing USA; they serve in a variety of roles across departments, and each woman has a unique story that has brought them to where they are now.
Allison Osantowske, Sales Manager
“I sell climbing walls. Everything from gyms to parks and rec,” said Allison Osantowske, who has been working in EP’s sales department for 10 years. “I’m probably unique in the fact that my age group is where you’ll actually start to see people in the climbing industry who have only worked in the climbing industry. For anybody older than me, there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to work in climbing.”
Osantowske started climbing in college when a fellow student invited her to a climbing gym. “Six months into climbing I dropped out of college and moved into a tent to start backpacking and climbing with some guy I had just met,” she said. “My parents were not super excited about this. I remember my dad saying, ‘You’re never gonna make a career out of climbing.’”
Eventually Osantowske moved back to her hometown of Detroit where she worked for a climbing gym and then for a startup hold company. “When I was with the hold company, somebody from a climbing magazine asked if they could do a story on me because I was the only female hold shaper. I actually said no, because I didn’t want to be known because I was a female shaper. I just wanted to be known as a shaper,” Osantowske said. “I had such amazing mentors. Even though I was often the only woman, they helped me figure out everything. If anything, I felt that being a woman in this industry gave me a leg up.”
Osantowske was at the hold company for five years, and then moved to Colorado to work in media sales for Climbing Magazine and Urban Climber. “I was not a huge fan of Colorado. I apparently told everybody that I worked with how much I hated Colorado, even the people that I was trying to sell things to,” she said. One of EP’s sales team members came to town for the CWA conference, and Osantowske took him out to dinner to encourage him to advertise with her. After a few drinks he told her he was quitting his job. “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Why did you just waste my time?’ He said, ‘I know how much you hate your job and you hate Colorado. I actually think you’d be really good for this job at EP.’ So I showed up at the conference the next day with my resume. I really, really wanted that job,” Osantowske said. “I even moved out to Bend before they offered me the job.”
Now Osantowske lives in Eugene, where in addition to climbing she loves snowboarding, camping, fishing and surfing. She is also enjoying the challenges and joys of life as a new mom.
Jan Keyser, Controller and HR manager
Jan Keyser has been the Controller and HR manager at EP USA for six years. Before that, she worked in an HR role for around 20 years. “I’m responsible for overseeing accounts payable and HR entries, making sure all of the financials are accurate and produced on a monthly basis—benefits, new hires, payroll,” Keyser said. “I am not a climber, but I am an avid lover of the outdoors. I’ve been living in central Oregon since 1995. I came here from a manufacturing background in Silicon Valley and moved up here and ended up working at a llama ranch. That was interesting. Then I worked at Mount Bachelor for eight years as their accounting manager. I learned to ski, though I’m more of a flat ground kind of a gal. I prefer swimming and hiking.”
When Keyser left Mount Bachelor she worked as an accounting manager and then controller for a copper recycling company for 11 years until the company closed down. During that time Keyser also ran her own lakeside marina and store. When the recycling company closed, Keyser took a summer off before searching for a new job. “EP called me and I came in for some interviews, five of them, actually.” She landed the job and has been here ever since.
“Where I come from in Mount Bachelor, the management team was male dominated, I was the only woman there. It was the same with resource recycling. I’m used to being the only female on management teams and it can definitely be challenging at times, but I’ve got it nailed.”
Keyser has two grandsons and a granddaughter on the way. She loves gardening and plans to install a greenhouse in her backyard this coming spring.
Carol Loesche, Accounting Assistant
“My official title is accounting assistant, but I’m really Jan’s sidekick, so that means I do everything that she doesn’t wanna do that I’m qualified to do,” Carol Loesche said. “My background is not in bookkeeping, but my husband and I have owned several businesses over the years, so it was kind of through osmosis that I learned how to do accounts payable, accounts receivable, and all of that.”
Loesche moved to Bend almost five years ago to be closer to her grandson, who lives in Portland. “When I interviewed with Jan, I said, ‘I don’t climb, I don’t speak French, and I don’t want your job,’” Loesche said about her beginning at EP, a company which was originally founded in France. “Somehow they still hired me.”
Though Loesche is not a climber, she does like the outdoors. She is also an avid reader and a self-described political junkie. “My passion is really saving the world. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work for nonprofits and Wednesday is my favorite day because I read at the Boys and Girls Club to the Honey Bears, from K to three years old. I’m also very involved in the League of Women Voters; I’m very passionate about voting.”
Betty Jamieson, Production Team
At EP, Betty Jamieson creates volumes and paints metal. “I glue the volumes together when they come out of the scan room. Then I make ’em pretty afterwards and wrap and pack ’em and send ’em off,” Jamieson said. “I’ve been in warehouse pretty much most my life. Not painting so much, but it’s something I enjoy.”
After a career spent in production, working in a male-dominated industry was nothing new for Jamieson. “When I started [at EP], I was the only woman over in production. Before, I worked at a Fred Meyer distribution center for 10 years, driving a forklift and pulling orders and unloading trucks. And it was just a natural thing to be around men. A lot of industries have more men. But I grew up with a family full of boys, and to this day, I have some best friends that are guys, so it wasn’t a real big issue for me.”
Outside of work Jamieson likes to camp, fish and hunt. In the winter she enjoys skiing and in the summer she prefers to be out on the water in a boat. She has been working with EP for six years. “I like what I do. I take a lot of pride in it and it’s good.”
Donna Ledford, Shipping and Receiving
Donna Ledford loves making things. In her garage at home she makes cabinets. She has worked in furniture shops, built doors, and has had a career in production for over 25 years. “I manage the loads that are going in and going out. I load the trucks when we ship to the job sites and I arrange all the shipping for the tools and when they need to get there and when they need to get back. I absolutely love it.” In her position, Ledford also supports the sales team and project management team by preparing quotes and estimating project costs.
“I also drive the forklift. I love that part. Well, I love it all.” Ledford has lived in Bend since 1979. Before working at EP, she worked as a caregiver providing in-home care for elderly people. “It’s gratifying to be able to help someone like that, but it is also very tough emotionally,” Ledford said. “I did that for a few years and decided to get back into production and landed here at EP.”
Though Ledford is not a climber herself, she has 11 grandchildren and some of them like climbing and rocks. “I just thought it was the coolest thing ever when I started here and realized the process that everybody goes through [to climb]. I’ve learned so much through everybody and to be able to share that with my grandkids is really awesome.”
Fiona Lewis, Production Team
Fiona Lewis is one of EP’s newest hires, having started in November 2021. “I’m fresh out of college and just moved to Bend in August. I was looking for some kind of job that didn’t have a terrible schedule and ended up here and like it.”
Lewis works in the holds department as part of the pouring team. “I’m involved in the production of the holds themselves. I get to pour them in all the pretty colors. That’s fun,” Lewis said. “It’s polyurethane, so it’s Part A, Part B, and pigment. We mix it together in certain proportions and that initiates a chemical reaction that causes it to harden into solid plastic. We mix it as a liquid, pour it into all the molds, and it takes about 10 or 15 minutes for it to solidify, and then we pull them out.” She particularly enjoys going to climbing gyms and seeing and using holds that she helped create.
Lewis’s dad was very involved in mountaineering, climbing and backpacking, so she grew up around climbing and the outdoors and participated in the co-ed branch of the Boy Scouts. As an adult, she still likes climbing, and is also interested in oil painting and photography.
“I think the biggest problem I find in climbing is that, if you’re the only woman in the room, you have to be one of the most competent people in the room in order to get taken seriously. Luckily, I would say most of us are very competent people, so this is not necessarily difficult, but it is frustrating when you can’t be the one to make mistakes. If you are the only one, you have to be able to keep up, and that can be hard.”
These women, in a diversity of positions, are an integral part of EP Climbing USA. On International Women’s Day and every day, it is important to recognize the roles and impacts of women in order to build a more inclusive and gender equal world.
About the Author
McKenzie Long got her start in the climbing industry as a belay instructor at RockQuest Climbing Center, followed by an internship at Alpinist. She lives in the mountains of the Sierra and works as a writer and graphic designer. She has co-authored two climbing guides, including Supertopo’s High Sierra Climbing, and is the author of This Contested Land: the storied past and uncertain future of America’s national monuments. She loves cream in her coffee, bright color palettes, and smooth sandstone cracks.
EP Climbing is a pioneer in the climbing wall and accessories industry, designing, manufacturing and installing custom solutions for the sport of climbing around the world. EP is active in a variety of markets: from commercial climbing gyms to school & university walls to complex structures for regional/national/international competitions, tactical training, and outdoor parks. EP offers solutions that cater to every environment, climber, and climbing discipline. Built in Bend, OR since 1988.