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Class of 2009

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Gregory Schmidt

Age 29: Associate Attorney, Doherty, Wallace, Pillsbury & Murphy, P.C.

Gregory Schmidt loves Western Mass.

“I came back here after college because of the quality of life. Eveything is fantastic about this region, and I want to see it thrive and be the best place it can be,” he said.

That’s why the member of the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield is intensely devoted to volunteer work and his job as an attorney specializing in commercial financing, secured transactions, and real-estate law.

“Small businesses are the lifeblood of the community. I chose my field so I would be able to help others accomplish their goals and dreams,” said Schmidt, adding that he works with banks to help facilitate the establishment and growth of businesses.

The father of 11-week-old William is a member of Springfield Technical Community College’s Scibelli Enterprise Center Advisory Board and works with clients in the Springfield Business Incubator.

“I feel I’m in a unique position to offer advice and services to small businesses. The center is a fantastic venture, and I am proud to be part of it. It helps the whole Western Mass. economy,” he said, adding that growing businesses provide jobs for local people.

Helping is high on Schmidt’s list, especially when it comes to cancer research and programs. His wife had Hodgkin’s disease when she was in high school, and his grandfather and a college friend survived it. “Any dollar raised to combat this is a worthwhile venture,” he said.

Schmidt has been involved with the Jimmy Fund since his college years in Boston. “I did anything I could to help them make their events a success,” he said.

He’s also on the planning committee for the American Cancer Society’s 2009 Evening of Hope Gala, an event he called “a very worthwhile venture.”

It’s the way he feels about everything he does to make the Pioneer Valley the best it can be.

—Kathy Mitchell


40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Kathy LeMay

Age 38: Owner and Founder, Raising Change

You might say that Kathy LeMay has written the book, both literally and figuratively, on philanthropy and how it is, or should be, defined.

Through the Florence-based company she created called Raising Change, LeMay says she builds bridges between philanthropists of all kinds and nonprofit agencies that can benefit from their generosity. She’s become quite accomplished at this bridge-building, raising more than $100 million in the fields of women’s human rights, hunger, and poverty relief, and also directing another $100 million in philanthropic dollars to organizations working to make a difference. Meanwhile, she just completed her first book, The Generosity Plan, which contains the stories of several dozen people, most of them non-millionaires, and their acts of charity.

“The subtitle of the book is Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World, explained LeMay, the top scorer among this year’s 40 Under Forty nominees. “It’s based on the premise that philanthropy has nothing to do with million-dollar checks. Instead, at its core, philanthropy is giving of yourself and resources to benefit humankind.”

LeMay said the book, like her life’s work, has been a passionate pursuit, and an endeavor that reflects lessons and experiences from a career as what she calls a “professional social-change fund-raiser.”

“I enjoy what I do a ridiculous amount, and I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve met in my 15-plus years of social-change work, and the chance to share their stories and show what regular people do every day to change the world is just a lot of fun for me.”

LeMay, who has appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Oxygen TV, and a number of radio shows, and has been nominated for a Reebok Human Rights Award, says people can order advance copies of the book on Amazon.com, and she expects it to be on the bookstore shelves by next January, with a book tour to follow.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Gretchen Siegchrist

Age 30: Owner, Media Shower Productions

In a way, it began with a farm in Vermont — a special place, not only because Gretchen Siegchrist grew up there, but because it had been in her family for more than six decades.

Which is what made it so difficult to part with. When the time came to decide whether to preserve the land or sell it for development, her family was unable to reach an agreement. That’s when Seigchrist starting filming.

“People can be authentic in front of a camera,” she told BusinessWest. “It allows them to communicate in a way that’s different from any other medium.” The footage became the basis for The Barber Farm, a documentary about her family history and the importance of land conservation.

Pulling stories out of people is what Seigchrist does best, but she didn’t delve into filmmaking immediately. Instead, she began her career as a newspaper reporter.

When she read about how video would become the future of journalism, she returned to school to get a master’s degree in Media, using the farm documentary as her thesis project.

The film won several awards. But upon graduation, Siegchrist saw a more lucrative opportunity in the business world. “I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t going to make a career in documentaries,” she said.

After freelancing for a year, Siegchrist launched Media Shower Productions, a Northampton firm that makes training and other videos that companies can easily put on their Web sites. She also maintains an About.com Web site on video-making and is a founding member of Northampton Area Young Professionals.

As for the land in Vermont, that story has a happy ending. After seeing the documentary, a local farmer decided to rent the land. Now the farm remains at the heart of Siegchrist’s family — and a followup documentary is in the works.

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Ned Leutz

Age 25: Account Executive, Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency

Ned Leutz is not a good secretary. His administrative skills are lacking, and he doesn’t know how to operate a fax machine. But in his case, that turned out to be a good thing.

When Leutz arrived in Northampton fresh out of college, he pictured himself working for a nonprofit organization. “It turned out, I wasn’t qualified because the only positions available were administrative,” he said. “When I got to an office, I really didn’t know how to run a fax machine or the copier.”

He opted for plan B, a temporary job at the YMCA, where he bumped into Bill Grinnell, a principal with Webber & Grinnell Insurance Agency, which hired him to sell. Eager to seek out his first sales prospects, Leutz joined the Northampton Chamber of Commerce. At the first meeting, however, Leutz stood at the bar feeling awkward. “I thought, ‘oh my god, all these people are gray-haired, and they all know each other already,’” he said.

It was clear the chamber suffered from a dearth of younger members.

“It seemed like there was this whole group of young people out there who didn’t know about the chamber,” said Leutz. “And yet, they constitute the future of our community.”

His solution was to help form the Northampton Area Young Professionals (NAYP). The group was a huge success from the get-go and today boasts 160 dues-paying members.

NAYP not only funnels young blood into the chamber, it hosts an annual golf tournament to raise money for Safe Passage to support victims of domestic violence. And last year NAYP orchestrated a coat drive with the United Way of Hampshire County, an organization that recently asked Leutz to join its allocations committee.

It looks like Leutz is serving the nonprofits after all, only not in the way he originally intended — which is a good thing.

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Erik Skar

Age 38: Financial Services Professional, MassMutual Financial Group

Erik Skar has a motto. “There is no try; there’s only do,” he said.

The 38-year-old — who holds degrees in Psychology and Religion and is father to 3-year-old Julia, who speaks four languages, and 6-month-old Sofia — loves life and describes his own as a dream.

“I’ve been blessed beyond my understanding. If it was any better, you’d have to wake me up,” he said.

It’s a reality-based dream, however. Skar is a Pioneer Valley Montessori board member, belongs to the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and the Wilbraham Rotary, is past president of Quaboag Business Networking International, serves as a Big Brother, and volunteers for Best Buddies of Western Mass. He rediscovered golf last summer and is on five tournament committees.

Skar has traveled the world, lived in Europe, and beat out 6,000 other candidates to appear on Survivor in Norway, which was filmed in Malaysia. “I’ve seen so much and cannot give back enough,” said the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield board member, who was on the Junior Olympic Soccer Team in Norway at age 16.

He is overwhelmed by the opportunity to transform lives in Greater Springfield, in efforts ranging from mentoring to volunteering. Everything he is involved in has personal meaning, and even his job isn’t work to him, he says, because selling disability and life-insurance policies changes lives when tragedy happens.

“It’s fun when you finally find what you are born to do,” he said.

For Skar, that means “cramming” as much as into every day as possible.

“There is incredible affluence surrounded by incredible poverty here, and therein lies the opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “Springfield has a screaming need for people who want to make a difference, and it doesn’t take much.”

He finds YPS inspirational and loves being surrounded by members. “They are doing incredible things that are almost beyond the scope of understanding,” Skar said.

That’s what happens when your motto and dream are action-packed.

—Kathy Mitchell

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