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Class of 2007

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 38. Owner, Our Town Variety and Liquors

Convenience stores need to be, well, convenient.

And Meadowbrook Food Center, the neighborhood variety store located a quarter-mile from James “Chip” Harrington’s Ludlow home, simply wasn’t. Instead, he said, it was poorly laid out, generally overpriced, and stocked with too many dust-collecting items. Harrington, a community corrections officer for the state who was looking for some kind of investment property in 2003, was intrigued.

“The store had been here for 50 years and had a lot of potential, but it wasn’t being managed properly,” he said, and when it went up for sale, he and his wife Noel, a registered nurse at Baystate Medical Center, jumped at the opportunity to turn the business — which they renamed Our Town Variety and Liquors — around. They cleaned up the property, streamlined the inventory to focus on liquor and the most commonly sold grocery staples, and lowered prices.

“We were completely out of water when it came to this, so it was a big learning curve,” he said — but a lucrative enough one that he left his state job in 2005 to devote himself completely to the store, which, since the change of ownership, has seen annual non-lottery sales rise from $300,000 to $750,000, and lottery revenues increase from $600,000 to more than $1 million.

“It was a very disorganized store and didn’t have much of a flow to it. Customers have to clearly see everything, identify what they’re looking for, and get out; that’s the purpose of a variety store,” Harrington said. “We’re in a good location, and the customers are there. We just needed to give them what they’re looking for.”

Harrington has found much of what he’s looking for over the years in Ludlow, serving on a number of town boards, beginning with his election to the Recreation Commission at age 22. He moved on to the Board of Selectmen at age 24 and currently chairs the Ludlow School Committee.

“I’ve always had an interest in government and public service. And this is a great town with great people,” he said. “Being a business owner in town only fueled my desire to be more involved. And I can’t say no … which gets me in trouble with my wife.”

Worse, there’s no place to hide from her at the variety store. After all, the customers can see everything.

40 Under 40 Class of 2007 Cover Story
Age 33. Owner, the Western Mass. Sports Journal

13:50. That’s the time, in hours and minutes, that Tad Tokarz posted in the first Ironman triathlon he raced in two years ago. That’s how long it took him to complete the 1.5-mile swim, 120-mile bike ride, and 26-mile run. Tokarz remembers his time, but it is of no real significance to him. “My goal was to finish, and I did.”

He also remembers the winner’s time — sort of. “It was around 8 1/2 or 9 hours … which is simply incomprehensible.” That’s a word that many might apply to Tokarz’s performance as well, especially when one considers that two years before the race, he couldn’t swim more than two laps in the pool and didn’t own a bicycle. “It was just something I set my sights on, and I accomplished it.”

This is essentially the same approach he’s taken to an intriguing entrepreneurial venture called the Western Mass. Sports Journal, which, as the name implies, provides coverage of sports at a variety of levels, but always with a Pioneer Valley slant. Tokarz, who by day is the assistant principal and director of Athletics at Springfield’s Central High School, thought many of the good stories at his school and many others in the Valley were simply not being told. So he created a forum in which they could.

The Journal, now located in the Scibelli Enterprise Center at Springfield Technical Community College, and grown through the help of administrators there, has become almost another full-time venture for Tokarz, who must still find time to train — he starts each day at 4:30 a.m., is in the gym by 5, and works out twice each day during the summer — and also for community involvement. He’s on the board of the South End Community Center in Springfield, and donates time and energy to the Ludlow Boys and Girls Club and the Jimmy Fund, among other groups.

He told BusinessWest that the strict workout regimen has helped him organize his time and stay focused on goals and strategies to achieve them — both at Central High and the Journal. “Nothing worthwhile ever comes easily — when I trained for the Ironman, that was a year-long endeavor; we used to go on bike rides for eight hours,” he said. “That experience translates directly to the work I do in school and in publishing.”

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 31. Senior Manager, Wolf & Co.

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While playing baseball at Holy Cross, Daniel Morrill saw his friends keeping busy by helping needy children. He recalls being both jealous and inspired.

“I played baseball for four years there, which didn’t allow me any time to do community service,” he said. “A lot of my friends were involved in a program where they met with underprivileged kids in Worcester once a week, and one of my friends had a little brother through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. I wanted to do that, too.”

Morrill eventually did get involved, so effectively that he was named the Hampden County Big Brother of the Year in 2004. That’s typical of Morrill, who has made a habit of swinging for the fences in both his work and the community. Even as the Forty Under 40 goes to press, he’s on the move at Wolf & Co., the Springfield-based CPA and consulting firm. Before this year, he had worked as a senior audit manager, handling the audits of more than 125 clients throughout the year, including large, multi-state, publicly held bank holding companies.

“I’m in the midst of an exciting transition right now, moving into professional practice as a senior manager,” he said, a position that includes both in-house training and overseeing in-house consulting with other partners and managers on technical issues.

It’s a career he relishes, although he freely admits that he was drawn into the Economics and Accounting programs at Holy Cross partly by the fact that graduates of the program usually had no problem finding work after college. “It wasn’t difficult getting a job coming out, and when you’re 18, that’s appealing,” he said.

Getting a job is one thing, but moving quickly up the ladder is another. Still, Morrill is no longer letting work or play (golf) get in the way of serving the community, whether through an annual bowl-a-thon that draws some 50 participants from Wolf & Co. or working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, where he has served on the board of directors for several years.

“I realized the impact you could make on a young person’s life,” he said of his experience there. And making an impact, both on the job and away from it, is what the Forty Under 40 is all about.

40 Under 40 Class of 2007 Cover Story
Age 31. Editor, Turley Publications

Sarah Tsitso has always surrounded herself with words.

She says she can’t imagine a career that doesn’t involve writing, and has a strong respect for and commitment to community journalism. Beyond that, she’s an avid reader who founded a book group for women last year, to serve as an outlet for those looking to delve deeper into literature, or others who needed an audience to share their insights into favorite books (she’s a fan of the Brontë sisters: Emily, Anne, and Charlotte).

An unexpected gesture from her grandfather best puts Tsitso’s love for language into perspective, however. He presented her with a vintage Oxford English Dictionary, a gift that brought her to tears.

“Who cries over a dictionary?” she joked. “I guess it’s because language has always been treated with so much importance in my family. Words are in my blood.”

But building vocabulary isn’t Tsitso’s only interest. She champions a number of causes, including women’s rights (she’s a member of NOW), environmental preservation, and responsible government. And although she completed her coursework toward a bachelor’s degree at Simmons College in four years, she had five majors in that time: Philosophy, Environmental Science, Political Science, Secondary Education, and, finally, American Literature.

“Journalism was my third job out of college, and I fell in love with it,” she said. “There is time to learn, and to tell a story.” She began as a reporter at Turley Publications in Palmer, which owns 15 community newspapers across the region. Soon, Tsitso was promoted to editor, and has worked with three different papers since then, either growing long-held publications or launching a new one.

She’s twice been recognized by the New England Press Assoc. for her work, and continues to study the craft through professional development, having recently attended the American Press Institute’s prestigious management-training program. Tsitso also enjoys teaching, both formally and informally. She leads journalism courses for adults and children, and regularly celebrates words in all their forms with her two-year-old daughter, Vivian.

“Vivian is a huge reader,” she said, noting that while Vivie isn’t ready for Brontë, they’ve started with a different Charlotte — one who lives on a farm with her best friend, a pig named Wilbur.

“We’re doing the chapters together at night,” said Tsitso. “But no matter what time of day it is, there’s always a book in her hand.”

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 33. Editor, The Women’s Times

As she talks about all that’s going on in her life, professionally and within the community, and her efforts to squeeze it all in, Audrey Manring uses words and phrases that give new meaning to the saying about time being money.

“You scrimp and you save,” she said, describing her efforts to make maximum use of the 24 hours in a day. “Maybe you cut back on sleep … you do whatever you can just to make the time.”

This tall order got considerably taller a year ago, when Manring was named editor of The Women’s Times, a publication with a mission that suits her professionally and personally.

“It’s a nice marriage of what’s interesting to me intellectually and the kind of work I feel is important: amplifying women’s voices, telling their stories, and looking at issues of concern regionally and nationally, but from a very locally grounded perspective,” said Manring, who had several interesting stops before returning to the Berkshires in 2002.

After graduate school (at the University of Scotland), she was a freelance writer, with bylined articles in Information Week, among other publications. Before that, she was a research and writing assistant for the New York Times bestseller Flyboys.

In her current capacity, Manring wears many hats. She does some writing and art direction, considerable editing, and work done in collaboration with Publisher Eugenie Sills to brand the publication, shape its editorial philosophy, and make it more visible across Western Mass.

While doing all this, she finds time for a long and intriguing list of community work. She was, for example, co-founding director of the PapaInk Children’s Art Archive, which has collected and archived roughly 30,000 pieces from around the world. Manring is also a mentor with the South Berkshire Youth Coalition Mentoring Program, which serves high school students at risk; sits on both the steering and marketing committees for Voices from the Inside, a literary arts program for incarcerated women; and is a volunteer with Construct Inc., an agency working with housing and homelessness issues in Great Barrington.

When asked about future career goals and aspirations, Manring said she considers herself a writer first and foremost, one who would like to freelance for some national publications and someday pen her own novel. To do that, she knows she’ll need to really scrimp when it comes to her time.

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 37. Owner, Speak Easy Accent Modification

In business, perception is often reality. So Erica Walch decided to change reality for people for whom speaking English is not first nature.

“When I was teaching English as a second language, many of my students said, ‘I wish I could change my accent,’” she said, citing many accounts of people with non-intrusive accents being perceived as more fluent than they are, while skilled English speakers with difficult accents are often thought to be non-fluent.

“I found out there are programs that teach accent modification,” she said, “so I brought my own English-as-a-second-language expertise to it and put together a company.” That venture, Speak Easy Accent Modification, launched in December, has seen Walch meet her early client goals, and she is in discussions with an international consulting firm to provide training for 150 non-native English-speaking employees.

Walch’s passion for language also led her to institute the first Italian-language courses at Springfield Technical Community College. Second-semester students of the course communicate electronically with Italian pen pals, and Walch is trying to implement a virtual student exchange with a sister school in Italy.

As for Speak Easy, with immigrants arriving in Western Mass. all the time, there should be no shortage of future opportunities as word spreads.

“The population growth in Western Mass. the past three years has been due to immigration,” she explained. “If not for that, the population would have decreased. So I think that’s an optimistic sign for my business.”

Speaking of folks on the move, Walch’s other passion is Springfield itself — specifically, convincing young, successful business people to make the City of Homes their home. To that end, she has promoted various aspects of Springfield as past president of both the Mattoon Street Historic Preservation Association and the Armory Quadrangle Civic Association, and helped implement the Second Saturday Walking Tours with the Springfield Museum Association.

“I want professional, middle-class people to relocate and choose Springfield to buy a home, rather than, say, Wilbraham or Hampden,” she said. “This is where I live, and I’ve always felt it’s important to be involved in civic life. This city has so much to offer. It’s a great place to live, but it gets a bad rap.”

Kind of like a bad accent obscuring eloquent words. It turns out Walch is working to change perceptions in more ways than one.

Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 39. Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Noble Hospital

Todd Lever has big things in mind … for his generation.

“I’ve had a number of mentors over the years, and I’d like to do the same for others who are trying to break into different careers,” Lever said of one of his goals: to start a regional networking group for members of Generation X. He even has a name in mind: Xecutives.

“With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, there will be a leadership transition between Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, and an increased need for leadership and networking.”

It’s a typically ambitious plan for Lever, who seems to be happier the more thinly he spreads himself. His current job, overseeing a range of marketing efforts at Noble Hospital in Westfield, is only the latest in a series of public-relations roles in health care, including stints at Health New England, Baystate Health, and the Sisters of Providence Health System. In the meantime, he has cultivated relationships with several regional nonprofits in the human services sector. “I’ve never wanted to market widgets,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to have some close human connection to my daily business activities.”

It’s a mission Lever has taken beyond his own career through an entity called Western Mass. Strategies, his consulting practice that focuses on marketing, public relations, and government affairs within the local nonprofit sector. “I had been participating in a human services advocacy group, and I found a number of executive directors taking about a need for public relations and advocacy capacity within their organizations, because they couldn’t hire anyone on their own,” he said. “So I set up my own boutique consulting business, working for several organizations.”

Lever has been, in many ways, a public-service Renaissance man, from his Political Science studies at UMass and his election as a Southwick selectman at age 24, to his eight years of editorial writing about political and interpersonal issues for Southwoods magazine and his more recent role as a public affairs analyst on the Tony Gill Show on WAIC radio.

Still, his work keeps returning to the fields of health and human services. “I’ve been given fantastic opportunities to have some daily interaction with people and to try to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said.

All this, with nary a widget in sight.

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 28. Farmer and Owner of Red Fire Farms, Granby

Ryan Voiland’s tomatoes aren’t just tasty. They’re award-winning.

Voiland, who owns Red Fire Farm in Granby, has been entering his tomatoes in state-wide competition for a decade, and has taken home the second-highest number of accolades in the Commonwealth.

It’s not just one prize crop that continues to shine, either. Voiland said his farm produces about 75 different varieties of tomatoes, including heirlooms and hybrids, in addition to cucumbers, onions, carrots, several lettuces, and other fruits and vegetables. All of his produce is certified organic.

The business has grown from one tiny farm stand in Montague, which Voiland started in middle school and still maintains today, to more than 50 acres of land on which he produces crops for retail and wholesale buyers and for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) co-ops in Western Mass. and Boston.

In addition, Voiland promotes agriculture as a viable career path for people of varying ages. He started with a catchy name for his business — the farm’s homestead burned to the ground in 1922 after being struck by lightning, and Red Fire is a popular variety of lettuce he cultivates. He also began a radio show titled Farm to Fork, and offers apprentice and training programs.

Voiland said his parents (who aren’t farmers) have been supportive of his choice to pursue a career in agriculture, helping him with the necessary infrastructure on his first rented plot of land, which he started farming in high school and maintained while pursuing a degree at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Now based on land he largely owns in Granby, Voiland said his diverse farming model was a deliberate choice that differs from many farms of similar size.

“We grow practically every type of vegetable that can grow in this climate,” he said. “A lot of farms are more specialized, but that’s part of the beauty of our farm. We’re so diverse, we can ensure against catastrophic crop failure. A bad year for lettuce doesn’t mean the other crops will be affected.”

The model seems to be working thus far. Red Fire Farm is gradually expanding in terms of acreage, service area, and staff.

“It’s all part of a strategy,” said Voiland, who’s proving that though their work is sometimes difficult, farmers can still bring home the bacon with lettuce and tomatoes.

Jaclyn C. Stevenson

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 36. Partner, Moriarty & Primack, P.C.

Patrick Leary isn’t one to dip a toe in the water when a diving board is close by.

His total-immersion experience came as an undergraduate at Fairfield University, when some fellow students told him about their experiences studying in Europe.

He was intrigued, even though he spoke only English. “I thought I’d like to take that on and see what it’s all about to go abroad,” he said. “But it’s a real leap to do that when you don’t know anyone and don’t know the language.”

He decided on the University of Salzburg in Austria, a campus where the main language was German. To adapt, Leary was first plunked into the Berlitz School of Languages in Munich, Germany for a crash course. “They spoke to you in German, seven or eight hours a day, for three weeks straight,” he said. “I learned some basic German, enough to get by. It was a learning experience.”

During those years, Leary was a little more tentative about his career path, having already switched from a Biology major to business courses. “During my senior year, I was given an ultimatum: Accounting or Finance. I selected Accounting, and I’m glad I did. I really enjoy it.”

Specifically, Leary enjoys helping his firm’s business clients with their audits and financial reporting, as well as special situations such as new product rollouts and corporate acquisitions. “To me, it’s all about providing our clients with advice to help them grow their businesses and hopefully make the right decisions — and to be a sounding board, in many cases.”

That’s a role Leary has extended to seminars he conducts on business issues such as fraud, cash-flow planning, and managing risk. He also provides commentary during the tax season on WGGB Channel 40.

He recalled one seminar hosted by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. “It was a fairly intimate group, and it was more than just me standing up and speaking; it was a lot of give and take. And some of those people have called me since then. They’re not clients, but they want to pick my brain a little bit, and I’m happy to do that. I can draw on my experience and hopefully help them move their businesses where they want to go.”

When the complexities of business finances can sometimes seem as incomprehensible as … well, German, that’s not a bad resource to have.

40 Under 40 Class of 2007
Age 36. Attorney (Associate), Bacon & Wilson/Morse & Sacks

Mark Tanner has taken a circuitous route to the legal profession and his current role as president of the Hampshire County Bar Assoc.

Indeed, upon graduating from the New Mexico Military Institute in 1990, he enrolled at UMass Amherst (where he met his future wife and fellow Forty Under 40 honoree, Sarah) and majored in Hotel/Restaurant Management. After working in that field for a few years, he concluded that its fast pace and long hours were ideal — for someone else.

“I didn’t want to be 40 and working until 4 in the morning,” he said of his decision to first pursue an MBA (at the University of Colorado) and his Juris Doctor at the University of Wyoming. He served as an assistant district attorney in the Bronx before returning to Western Mass. and joining the Northampton firm Morse & Sacks, which merged with Bacon & Wilson in 2005.

Today, Tanner is making prudent use of all those hours he would have spent in the kitchen or the back office. While devoting much of that time to his family and especially his two young daughters, he is also building a law practice focused primarily on plaintiffs’ personal injury, land use and zoning, and general commercial disputes. Meanwhile, he is also very active in the community, starting with Dan, the 12-year-old to whom he serves as a Big Brother.

Other involvement includes work with the Hampshire County United Way, the People’s Institute, a nonprofit day care center in Northampton, and board duties with CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), a group that promotes the buying of produce from farmers in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

And then, there’s the U.S. Army Reserves, in which Tanner holds the rank of captain. “If you stay in, they just keep promoting you,” he joked, noting that he has not been called into service for some time. Years ago, however, he devoted considerable time and energy to the Reserves, serving as what’s known as a “chemical officer,” calculating the effects of a nuclear fallout.

As for the Bar Association, Tanner is wrapping up his one-year stint as president, more time that has been well-spent, he believes, adding that he has focused on re-invigorating the group’s committee structure and, overall, making the organization bigger — and younger.

In short, while he’s no longer in the restaurant business, Tanner has a lot on his plate.

George O’Brien