Home 40 Under 40 Archive by category The Class of 2015 (Page 2)

The Class of 2015

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
State Representative, 4th Hampden District; Captain in Army Reserves; Age 35

John Velis

John Velis

John Velis is committed to public service.

He is an attorney, state representative for the 4th Hampden District in Westfield, decorated combat veteran, and captain and judge advocate general jobs officer in the Army Reserves. His military service includes time in Afghanistan, where he was in charge of all ISAF-NATO law efforts throughout the Zabul province, and was instrumental in bringing parties together that had been at odds for hundreds of years to resolve disputes.

“Nothing gives me more pride than putting on my Army uniform. I plan to stay in the Army as long as I can,” said the Democrat who won his seat in the House of Representatives during a special election after it was vacated by Republican Don Humason; it had been held by Republicans for 43 years.

“I don’t recall a time when partisan politics at the federal level was as vitriolic as it is today; I am committed to problem solving and supporting things that are good for Westfield and the people of Massachusetts, whether it means voting with my party or against it,” Velis said, explaining that the willingness of warring parties in Afghanistan to compromise and build a consensus inspired him to run for office, as he believes that should be happening in the U.S.

Velis recently sponsored a bill titled the Stolen Valor Act that would make it a misdemeanor to fake military service for financial gain, and would make Massachusetts laws against “this egregious crime the toughest in the nation.”

He is the only Western Mass. state representative on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and has been successful in his bid to obtain funding for Westfield Senior Center, downtown businesses, and Noble Hospital.

Velis is a basketball coach for the Greater Westfield Boys & Girls Club and had to resign from the Westfield Citizens with Disabilities Committee after winning the election. He was also an intern for the Hampden and Hampshire County DA offices, Hampden County Superior Court, the Mass. State Treasurer’s Office, and the White House during the George W. Bush administration.

“It was instilled in me at a very young age to put the good of others before myself,” he said. “Public service was stressed in my family, and I have always been encouraged to do it.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Anchor, WSHM CBS 3 Springfield; Age 26

Cherise Leclerc

Cherise Leclerc

Cherise Leclerc remembers how still, how quiet — how eerie — it was in Watertown that Friday in April, four days after the Boston Marathon bombings and just hours after a night of confrontation between police and suspects left one of the alleged bombers dead, another still on the loose, and Greater Boston in an unprecedented state of lockdown.

“That whole day was so strange; it’s just not right to see no one of the streets, no one driving … nothing,” said Leclerc, who worked then, as now, as an anchor with CBS 3 Springfield. She and a fellow crew member had driven to Watertown at 6 that morning and, upon arriving, were — like all other media members present — left to watch, listen, and keep viewers updated as best they could.

And if what transpired during the morning and afternoon was surreal, what happened at 6:30 that evening, just as Leclerc and her co-worker were finally getting a bite to eat, was even more so. “Suddenly, about 30 state police and Watertown police cruisers came roaring by,” she recalled, adding that she was only a block away from where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was eventually captured in a boat. “We could hear the flash bangs, see the helicopter overhead, and then we heard on the walkie-talkie, ‘we got him … suspect in custody.’”

That day comprised one of many highlights in a career in local television that officially began just a few days after the June 1, 2011 tornado, when she was still officially an intern, and that has seen Leclerc quickly rise to anchor of the 4, 6, and 11 p.m. news broadcasts and become a fixture on the local news scene.

There have been many memorable stories since, including the enshrinement of two Western Mass. police officers at the National Police Officers memorial in Washington, D.C. (coverage that garnered an award), but Leclerc is more proud of the day-to-day work of keeping viewers informed and covering stories that matter to them.

When not doing the news, Leclerc occasionally presents a program she created called B-YOU-tiful, which empowers young people to embrace themselves and live a positive and healthy lifestyle. She’s also completed two marathons as part of Team Endure to Cure, raising more than $1,000 for children battling cancer to carry out their wishes.

As for her own wishes, she says her career is a dream come true. “I’m from Hampden and grew up watching the local news, and now I get to be on; it doesn’t seem real sometimes.”

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
President, Pride Stations and Stores, LLC; Age 39

Marsha Del Monte

Marsha Del Monte

Marsha Del Monte was hired by Pride Stations and Stores roughly 13 years ago to be office manager. But she didn’t actually make it all the way through the month-long training regimen for that position.

Instead, she moved onto what would become a rather fast track to the presidency of this company, which now includes 25 locations across Western Mass. and Northern Conn.

“There was a woman here, whom I would consider my mentor early on, who said, ‘you’re going to be bored in this job, I can tell; we’re going to put you in a position where you can interact with more people and be more creative,’” said Del Monte, relating how her first real job with the company was as director of training.

She was in it only about a year before she went to then-president Bob Bolduc and said she was getting bored with that assignment. He promoted her to director of operations, with a mindset that she would eventually succeed him as president — and that script has certainly been followed.

Indeed, as Bolduc, the company’s founder, has transitioned into more of an advisory role, while also keeping firm control over new-development initiatives, Del Monte now oversees most of the day-to-day operations. These range from marketing to operations; from human resources to loss prevention; from managing the company’s ever-expanding food-service operations to setting the prices one sees posted above the gas pumps.

It’s certainly a big job, but one that Del Monte covets both for the wide variety of work and the many challenges involved.

“Every day is different, but I can say that mostly it comes down to managing projects and pushing people to improve what we’re doing out there,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s a lot of pushing and helping our people do their jobs better.”

As she carries out all of her various assignments, Del Monte serves, in many ways, as the face of Pride Stations and Stores within the community, acting as liaison to Link to Libraries, Springfield School Volunteers, and other groups with which the company is involved, and also working with many trade associations that comprise an alphabet soup of acronyms. There’s the NACS (National Assoc. of Convenience Stores), NATSO (National Assoc. of Truck Stop Operators), and IOMA (Independent Oil Marketers Assoc.), among others.

There’s a lot to do, but Del Monte excels in this multi-faceted role because she takes pride in her work — literally and figuratively.

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Senior Academic Counselor, Holyoke Community College; Holyoke City Councilor; Age 39

Jossie Valentin

Jossie Valentin

Jossie Valentin has been helping people — often in the most difficult of circumstances — all her adult life. It’s a road her mother foresaw.

“My mom always said she knew, since I was a little kid, that I would be helping people in some way,” Valentin said. “We would always talk about that. She was a huge part of instilling this in me; she made a lot of sacrifices for me to get a good education and go to college and make sure I was on the right path.”

Armed with degrees in psychology and forensic psychology, and licensed as an alcohol and drug counselor, Valentin’s former roles include program director of the Arbor House, a substance-abuse residential treatment program in Holyoke, and program director of the Psychiatric Evaluation and Stabilization Unit at the Hampden County Correctional Center in Ludlow.

Since 2006, she has served Holyoke Community College students as a bilingual senior academic counselor. “Because it’s a community-college setting, there’s such diversity of students in terms of age and other factors,” she said. “We can have somebody just out of high school or someone who just got laid off from a job, starting on an all-new track.

“I specialize in working with students most in academic trouble,” she added. “Some students are on academic probation or have been dismissed from the college and are trying to get back on track. A lot of personal issues come up to cause them to fall off track.”

Also in the spirit of helping people, Valentin also won a seat on Holyoke’s City Council in 2013.

“All my professional experiences prepared me to be city councilor in Holyoke, working with our community. I wanted to get involved with different initiatives within the community — it’s not just about serving on boards or putting my name out there, but getting to know people of diverse backgrounds and trying to help them. You can get a call from a constituent asking about a pothole and end up talking about mental-health or substance-abuse services.”

Valentin also co-founded the 2014 Holyoke Walk Against Violence rally, and is the co-founder of the Holyoke LGBT Task Force, an organization that recognizes the dignity of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities — an offshoot of the mentoring work she and her wife, Myriam Quiñónez, did helping Holyoke teenagers (including future Mayor Alex Morse) establish a ‘pride prom’ for LGBT youth.

“My mother had high expectations of me,” she concluded, “and I need to make sure I’m giving back and paying it forward.”

— Joseph Bednar

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Founder and CEO, Woman of Confidence Coaching and Consulting, LLC; Age 39

Dawn Leaks

Dawn Leaks

Dawn Leaks believes everyone has a God-given purpose in life. “Some people are operating within it, but others are not,” she said. “They stay in a job or profession just because it pays the bills.”

Her desire to become an entrepreneur was born in her teens, and in February the business she founded in 2012 — Woman of Confidence Coaching and Consulting, LLC — became a full-time endeavor. “My mission is to help people live the life of their dreams with passion, purpose, and confidence,” she said. “I help people find clarity and develop a clear action plan to move forward with what they were meant to do.”

The former state director of communications for the American Red Cross is serious about her work and saw “passion and compassion demonstrated in extraordinary ways” when she coordinated public affairs for the Red Cross after the 2011 Springfield tornado and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Today, she works as a personal coach, handles communications and marketing for businesses and nonprofits, and is a contributing writer for Lioness magazine. “Effective communication can help people have more harmonious relationships and attract the right clients,” Leaks said.

Her professional career has included working for MassLive, the Urban League of Springfield, Springfield Public Schools, and Leadership Pioneer Valley. She has an MBA in entrepreneurial thinking and innovation from Bay Path University and brings that expertise to her volunteer and civic endeavors.

Leaks is on the advisory board of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., a board member of New England Public Radio Inc., sponsorship chairman of the Arts and Humanities Award Gala, former columnist for African American Point of View, and former board member of the Next Level Development Conference of Women of Color.

“My work allows me to meet amazing people who have a big vision for their life, but are not sure how to make it happen,” she said. “I help them to strategize and stay motivated so they can reach their goals.”

The certified John Maxwell speaker, coach, and trainer grew up in Springfield and says she’s optimistic about the city’s future. “I hope that being a successful entrepreneur will help me do my part in the great revitalization taking place here.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Operations Manager, CRD Metalworks LLC; Age 36

Patrick Davis

Patrick Davis

Patrick Davis says his Williamsburg-based company, CRD Metalworks LLC, flies under the radar.

“We’re not trying to be too big for our britches; we’re very earnest, humble people, doing the best we can,” he said of the forestry-products manufacturing firm, which employs 15 people full-time. “We’re nestled here in the hills of Massachusetts, and we’re proud to be local employers in our industry. We’re not a household name in Western Mass., but ask someone working in the forestry industry who we are, and they’ll know immediately.”

Specifically, he noted, “we are the nation’s largest manufacturer of firewood-processing equipment. Basically, a firewood processor takes a length of tree and splits the wood; it’s all mechanized.”

Davis didn’t plan on working in the forestry industry; as co-founder of Montague Webworks, he was an Internet marketing professional serving clients throughout the Valley. Christopher Duval, CRD’s owner, hired Davis in 2007 to help grow his business, and in 2009, Davis sold his marketing firm to his partners to work full-time as CRD’s operations manager. In that role, Davis manages virtually all aspects of the rapidly expanding enterprise.

“Since 2009, we’ve multiplied the growth of the company 15 times; we were a $300,000 company, and now we’re a $10 million company,” he said of the firm, which now ranks as the number-two company in its industry domestically, with about 400 active clients in 41 states and 12 foreign countries. “It’s been quite a ride. We’ve done that through our marketing efforts, but also because we have an exceptionally good product. It’s a family-owned company, and our market segment loves that.”

Despite the challenges of his wide-ranging job, however, Davis finds plenty of time for civic involvement as well, chairing the Orange Town School Building Committee and serving on the boards of his church and area professional organizations.

“I just got elected to the elementary-school board in Orange,” he said. “I live in a small community, and I was raised in a very small, tight-knit, Roman Catholic family. I’m a firm believer that you should put your resources where they can be most effective. I don’t fancy myself a politico, but if you have the leadership ability to speak on behalf of others who can’t or choose not to do it themselves, it’s important to do so.”

Davis also sees civic involvement as setting an example for his two children.

“I take my role as a father very seriously,” he said. “When they ask questions, it gets them involved, too, and they know it’s important to do things for others.”

— Joseph Bednar

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Certified Financial Planner, New England Financial Group; Age 38

Keith Tatlock

Keith Tatlock

The ‘lock’ in Keith Tatlock’s last name reflects his mission in life. Security is important to him, and the principles he learned in the military permeate everything he does.

Tatlock is a major in the Air National Guard at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, where he serves as aircraft maintenance officer, as well as an award-winning certified financial planner. “The military has played an important role in the backbone of who I am,” he said. “It allowed me to develop skill sets and leadership abilities, and the camaraderie and discipline were a natural fit.”

In fact, Tatlock has demonstrated the Air Force values of “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in everything” throughout his career.

He became a certified financial planner in 2005, and leads a team that manages $70 million in assets for New England Financial Group (NEFG). He has more than 300 clients, has grown the business by more than 28%, and has been recognized among the top 10 of company producers. “It’s important to help my clients put a plan into place that will protect them during different stages of their life,” he said.

Tatlock was named NEFG’s Associate of the Year in 2006 and its Top Associate in 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013. In addition, the group he oversees was recognized as the company’s Top Advisor Team in 2012 and 2013. “Money is a very sensitive subject, and integrity is an important factor in my work,” he said.

Tatlock is a member of the Financial Planning Assoc. of Massachusetts, where he supports military personnel, especially those stationed overseas. He’s also a chartered federal benefits employee consultant who has been feted for his work with federal employees, the military, and public-school teachers.

He and his wife Christina are parents to 5-year-old Jake and 1-year-old Lyla. Meanwhile, he has received four Accommodation Medals for Meritorious Service and climbed the ranks in the Air National Guard, where his leadership skills were recognized in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He was deployed to an undisclosed location in support of Operation Freedom in 2012 and says it has been easy to transfer his military leadership skills to his civilian career. “It’s important to help keep people secure,” he said. “If you are not putting in 110%, you are not putting in your top performance.”

— Kathleen Mitchell

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
President and Owner, Universal Plastics Corp.; Age 36

Jay Kumar

Jay Kumar

Jay Kumar spent nearly a decade on Wall Street as a proprietary trader for J.P. Morgan Chase, eventually rising through the ranks to executive director. He did very well for himself on ‘the Street,’ but there was something missing in terms of professional satisfaction, feelings that came to the surface during what Kumar called some “deep soul searching” when new financial regulations, specifically the so-called Volcker Rule, passed in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, shutting down ‘prop trading,’ as it was called.

“I was talking to my father about the idea of small-business ownership,” he recalled. “I did some thinking about it and liked the idea of buying and running a small manufacturing business.”

He talked further with a family friend who owned a few such ventures, and those discussions only whetted his appetite. That friend knew of an established Holyoke business, Universal Plastics, that was on the market.

In June 2012, Kumar purchased the precision thermoformer and has become a thoroughly hands-on owner with the operation. Since taking the reins, he has expanded the company through acquisition of Mayfield Plastics in Sutton in late 2013, while also introducing greater automation and adding new equipment that has increased efficiency and opened doors to new business.

The seismic career shift has been everything he anticipated, and more.

“I was excited by the idea of building something,” he told BusinessWest. “In my old career, I didn’t really get to build — it was much more about numbers and the computer screen; you never really saw what you were doing.

“Here, you could see we were making things; my first day here, they showed me the underside of a pool table they were making,” he went on. “You could see all these very tangible things that were being made, and that intrigued me.”

What also intrigues this father of two are the challenges to securing a qualified workforce for the years and decades to come. To that end, he has continued and expanded a long tradition of opening the doors to Universal Plastics to young people with the hopes that they might come to understand and then capitalize on the opportunities in the manufacturing sector.

“We try to encourage people to know what manufacturing is,” Kumar said, “and that it can be an exciting place to work — and a rewarding place to work.”

— George O’Brien
Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Co-owner and Partner, A. Crane Construction; Age 32

Andrew Crane

Andrew Crane

Andy Crane says he doesn’t have much downtime between work and family, but he devotes a decent chunk of what he does have to “old-man softball” and especially touch football. He plays mostly defensive tackle in the Western Mass. Touch Football League, and when its fall season ends, the squad plays through the winter in a domed facility in Greenfield on Friday nights.

“I really like football. It’s a good release, although it’s almost time to give it up — my joints are starting to creak and crack,” he joked, adding that he won’t have to look hard for new uses for that time if he is forced to retire.

Indeed, Crane, the father of two (ages 7 and 1) is co-owner of A. Crane Construction in Chicopee, a venture started by his father (also named Andrew) that specializes in all phases of residential and light commercial construction and also manages condominium complexes and other types of commercial real estate.

The Cranes divide the various, and many, responsibilities, with the elder serving as primary salesperson and the younger handling outside operations and most day-to-day activities. They make all the key business decisions as a team, and together they’ve generated strong, steady growth over the past several years.

While providing effective leadership for the company, Crane is doing the same within the community. He is immediate past president of the Home Builders and Remodelers Assoc. of Western Mass., and is still heavily involved locally as chair of the organization’s building maintenance committee and the Home Show committee, and he’s also on the state board.

He’s also on the board of the Pioneer Valley Red Cross and serves as chairman of the committee that selects the organization’s Hometown Heroes, and he played a key role in an Extreme Makeover project in 2011 as construction manager.

Most recently, he was named to the board of Westmass Area Development Corp., which oversees several industrial parks in the region, the latest being the Ludlow Mills initiative.

He’s been on that board only a few months, but he takes great pride in its mission to spur economic development.

“I really enjoy the work — bringing economic opportunities to the region is rewarding on many levels,” he explained. “I don’t see any other way to grow Western Mass. other than bringing industry here; with industry comes people to work here, and when people work here, I get to build houses for them.”

In other words, he gets to help build momentum in many different ways.

— George O’Brien

Photo by Denise Smith Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2015
Podiatric Surgeon, Western Massachusetts Podiatric Associates; Age 36

Dr. Anthony Sarage

Dr. Anthony Sarage

From his grade school days, Dr. Anthony Sarage was intrigued by medicine. “I always wanted to do something in the medical field — that was always something interesting to me — but there were so many different medical specialties out there.”

What wound up grabbing his interest were the lowly feet — not a part of the body people often think about enough, or at least not as much as they should, especially as they get older or are especially active.

As a podiatric surgeon, he treats patients of all kinds — from newborns to geriatric patients — at Western Massachusetts Podiatry Associates, P.C. in East Longmeadow.

“I joined back in 2007 and have been a partner for the past four years,” said Sarage, who performed his residency in reconstructive foot and ankle surgery. “There’s a wide variety of things we see on a daily basis, from medical management to surgery to sports medicine. It really is a comprehensive foot and ankle practice.”

The practice boasts additional locations in Northampton and Ware, and Sarage performs surgery at Baystate Medical Center, Baystate Mary Lane Medical Center, and Mercy Medical Center. He has also served as a trustee of the Mass. Podiatric Society since 2012, an examination reviewer with the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners since 2008, and the Springfield College Alumni Assoc. since 2000; at college, he racked up numerous academic awards and was class president for four years.

In addition to the variety of conditions he treats on a daily basis, his practice also has a partnership with the Baystate Wound Care Center, he noted, an important aspect of podiatry since effective wound treatment is often a key factor in limb preservation.

Sarage understands the importance of healthy feet for an active lifestyle, as he and his wife, Dawn — a nursing administrator at the Hospital of Central Connecticut — are avid fans of the outdoors, enjoying running (including half-marathons), cycling, and golfing, among other activities. But he’s a sports fan of the more passive kind, too.

“I’m definitely big into the Patriots, Bruins, and Yankees,” he said. “Yes, a Patriot and Yankee fan. That’s not an easy thing to be.”

Sarage’s love of family — he and his wife had a daughter, Lea, late last year — is just one more reason podiatry makes sense for him.

“My job is more conducive to a 9-to-5 schedule, as opposed to being up all hours of the night and weekend,” he said. “That’s a big draw, the lifestyle and family standpoint.”

— Joseph Bednar
Photo by Denise Smith Photography