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Class of 2009

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Marco Alvan

Age 36: Owner and Coach, Team Link Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Marco Alvan was introduced to martial arts when he took up judo at age 7. But at age 15, he made a switch that changed his life.

That was when he learned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under the tutelage of the Gracie family, whose forerunners founded the discipline about 80 years ago. He proceeded to earn a black belt and win national tournaments in his native Brazil.

But he had other goals in mind, and in 2001 he came to the U.S. and settled in Ludlow, where he has family, to open a school.

“After so many years of fighting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I realized I could help fans learn what I had learned,” he said. “The sport was growing, but there wasn’t anyone teaching it around here.”

He launched Marco Alvan Jiu Jitsu in the basement of a friend’s house, and now boasts several locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In 2007, a good friend from Brazil, Gabriel Gonzaga — a heavyweight title contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship — joined him at the school, which underwent a name change to Team Link Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

“It’s a fantastic martial art,” Alvan said, noting its emphasis on grappling and the use of leverage and proper technique to overcome size differences between competitors. “The Gracie family showed that smaller guys could defeat bigger guys using Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. After that, a lot of people started to practice it.”

Team Link was New England champion three years running, and has boasted several fighters ranked in the top 10 worldwide, competing regularly against top international fighters. Alvan also conducts workshops for law-enforcement officials on the effective defensive tools inherent to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu — and he’s introduced his kids to the sport, too.

“Ludlow used to be known as a soccer town,” he said. “Now it’s recognized for mixed martial arts. I’m happy to take this reputation to Ludlow. The town helped me a lot and supported my school. I’m very happy here.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Tony Maroulis

Age 36: Executive Director, Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce

Tony Maroulis likes to tell a story — a long one.

Early in his career, this former New Jersey boy wanted to be a novelist, so he moved to New York City and began work on a science-fiction piece that went on, and on, and on. “It was experimental fiction,” he confessed. “I was obsessed with it.”

To support his literary efforts, Maroulis took a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I started off as a security guard and wound up working in the Operations department as an exhibitions assistant,” he said. The job fueled a passion for art and introduced him to the woman he would later marry. The couple settled down in Pelham, where Maroulis continued to work on his novel while staying home to raise their first child (they now have two).

By the time the baby was walking, Maroulis found a new outlet for his passion: local arts and culture. In 2004, he held a marketing role at the Emily Dickinson Museum. Later he served as project coordinator of Museums10, a consortium of museums associated with the Five Colleges. And last year, Maroulis took over as executive director of the 600-member Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, introducing successful new programs like the ‘brown bag’ series.

“We invite members to present on topics on their expertise without doing it in any hard-sell way,” he said.

In 2007, Maroulis and his wife co-founded Wünderarts gallery in Amherst. He also serves on several boards, including the Amherst Walk Committee, Art Show Amherst, and the Amherst Club, to name just a few.

These days Maroulis writes to promote the local economy. As for his original piece of fiction, it was published somewhere, “but it’s impossible to find,” he said. “It’s not that bad — the main problem is it’s dense.”

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Renee Stolar

Age 28: President, J. Stolar Insurance Agency Inc.

After Renee Stolar’s father passed away suddenly in 2005, she wasn’t about to let his dream die, too.

After all, she and her brother remembered the humble beginnings of J. Stolar Insurance Agency in Three Rivers — a business their father launched from his basement in 1980.

“My brother and I grew up with it. We spent our whole childhood watching him build this business, and we felt very strongly that we should continue it, not only for Dad but for the family. Our father was active in the community, and this was a way to continue that.”

At the time, Stolar was teaching middle school in Palmer, and her brother was still in college, so she had a decision to make. Having suspected she might eventually work in the family business anyway, she made a quick career switch and took over as president of the agency.

In doing so, she has managed to introduce some fresh ideas and grow the company — which certainly wasn’t a given early on, when few of the agency’s clients were familiar with the founder’s daughter.

“We have a phenomenal client base — really loyal people who stuck with us after my dad passed away and they weren’t sure what was going to happen,” she said. “I love taking care of the things that are important to them — their business investments, homes, sentimental jewelry, cars, the toys in their garage.”

Stolar acknowledges that she left teaching before she expected to, and still keeps in touch with some of her former students. “I loved dealing with children, and I’ve always been passionate about that,” she said, “but you never know what’s coming down the road ahead.”

Sometimes, it’s a motorcycle — specifically, one that a man named Joe Niedziela came in to have insured with the agency last spring.

Today, he and Stolar are engaged to be married — proving, of course, that some unexpected curves are blessings indeed.

—Joseph Bednar

 

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Gina Barry

Age 36: Shareholder Attorney, Bacon Wilson, P.C.

Gina Barry wasn’t one of those kids who always knew she’d be a lawyer. In fact, she was more interested in marine biology or horse training — until a guidance counselor saw some legal aptitude in her and coaxed her into law.

It took her awhile, but she eventually found a niche she loved.

“In law school, I started to gear myself toward elder law and estate planning because I’ve always been someone who wants to champion the underdog, and protect individuals who often — not always, but often — need a strong advocate on their side,” she said.

“I see people in the middle of great family turmoil,” Barry added, noting common challenges like paying for nursing-home care. “We can devise a plan so that they see the light at the end of the tunnel. I like being able to resolve those issues so the family remains intact.”

And not just people. Her love for animals has led Barry to cultivate an aspect of her practice that handles estate planning for pets. Because Massachusetts law does not allow money to be bequeathed to an animal for its future care, she creates monetary trusts that benefit a specific caregiver with instructions to care for the pet — whether a dog, a cat, a horse, even (in at least one case) a llama.

But Barry doesn’t stop there. She recently launched a nonprofit called The Joy of Jasper that rescues at-risk horses and provides care for them for the remainder of their lives, and also involves at-risk youth in that care.

“When I was a girl, I had a horse named Jasper who was literally my best friend and helped me through a lot of teenage issues, including self-esteem and even discipline issues,” said Barry. “I wanted to bring horses back into my life in such a way that I could share that experience with other teenage girls.”

Sounds like they need a strong advocate on their side.

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Seth Mias

Age 27: Owner and Executive Chef, Seth Mias Catering

While studying restaurant management at UMass Amherst, Seth Mias never figured he’d one day own a successful, fast-growing catering operation. He assumed he’d gradually forge a solid career in the management side of food service — which he did at first, managing the Northampton Elks Club in Florence about seven years ago.

What happened next was sort of a happy accident in moonlighting.

“They allowed me to do my own catering as well,” said Mias. “I started doing 75 to 100 parties a year — more a side job than anything else. But it took on a life of its own and grew to the point where I stopped managing the Elks and ended up doing catering full-time.”

Nowadays, Leeds-based Seth Mias Catering books about 400 parties a year — weddings, retirement parties, class reunions, corporate events, you name it. Largely by word of mouth, Mias has developed a reputation that placed him second in last year’s Best in the Valley poll in the Valley Advocate.

“It’s been a cool experience,” he said. “I’m able to meet a lot of people, network, and get involved in the community” — efforts that include donating goods and services to many community organizations.

Describing himself as a “hands-on type of guy,” Mias is involved with all facets of catering, from cooking to scheduling to meeting customers. Although he’s not trained as a chef, he’s a constant learner, picking up skills with each new challenge — like the clients who wanted a traditional Chinese buffet for their bar mitzvah.

“I enjoy the cooking most,” he said. “You’re able to learn something every day. But a close second would be meeting the clients and spending time with people. That’s the kind of person I am.”

Mias expects the business to continue growing, and why not? “It kind of started as a hobby, and it turned into a career that I didn’t expect.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Tara Tetreault

Age 29: Co-owner and Co-founder of Jackson & Connor

Tara Tetreault says she’s flattered by comments from those who applaud her entrepreneurial spirit and her first-year success with the men’s clothing store Jackson & Connor in Northampton — especially with the economic downturn and the negative impact it’s had on all types of retail.

But she’s more proud of the feedback she’s getting for her work within the community, and how it seems to be generating momentum and more energy for causes and organizations ranging from Best Buddies to the Northampton Chamber of Commerce; from Clarke School for the Deaf to Northampton Area Young Professionals.

“I think that my actions have, in some ways, spawned other people to act,” she said. “I’ve seen it amongst my peers, with people saying, ‘I never thought to do that,’ or ‘I never thought to get involved with that.’”

Elaborating, Tetrealt said she and her partner, Candace Connors, have taken the attitude that, if they are going to do business in the Greater Northampton area, they need to be actively involved with that community.

This mindset has translated into actions ranging from hosting a Northampton Chamber ‘Arrive at 5’ event coinciding with their first anniversary in business, to active involvement with Best Buddies, a group that is committed to enhancing the lives of those with intellectual disabilities.

“It’s all about making connections,” said Tetreault, who told BusinessWest she is humbled by those who remark on her success in business to date, but is more energized by the words and actions of those who want to work beside her within the community.

“It’s nice to see other people get motivated by what we do — it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling,” she explained. “It comes when other people decide to act in kind — to look in the mirror and see not just themselves, but also the larger picture, and how it’s not just about you, it’s about all of us being in this together and supporting each other, making it work, and making the area a better place.”

—George O’Brien

 

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Maggie Bergin

Maggie Bergin Age 36: Owner, The Art of Politics

Maggie Bergin is passionate about the future and Holyoke, where she lives and has established her business, The Art of Politics, after serving in Washington, D.C. as the legislative director for the International Economic Development Council.

She was hired for that position after graduating from Smith College with a bachelor’s degree in Government and working for Congressman John W. Olver. The Grand Rapids, Mich. native decided to leave Washington to return to Western Mass., where she felt she could make a great impact working directly with area residents, agencies, and organizations.

“Information is power, and I have valuable information to give people about the political world,” she said. “I know how to move things forward and know where the levers and push points are in the political world.”

She also knows where the money is and how to get it, and is teaching her clients how to navigate political waters and get results. “I love my work and clients. It’s such a pleasure to help them.”

She also loves the urban nature of Holyoke and says it doesn’t take much to make a real difference there.

Bergin serves on the board of directors at Wistariahurst Museum. “It physically sits at an economic crossroads representing different parts of the community and is one of the city’s economic-development resources,” she said.

Bergin also helped create the Friends of Pulaski Park, a group that is working with state and environmental officials to clear the grounds between the park and the Connecticut River to make it as visible as it was during the Victorian era.

She views Wistariahurst and the park as valuable entities in the revitalization of Holyoke.

So, in many ways, Bergin’s passion is for the past, present, and future. “I look forward to helping Holyoke figure out what the next 50 years will look like,” she said.

—Kathy Mitchell

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Marjory Moore

Age 33: Guidance Counselor, Chicopee Public Schools

Every now and then a fresh-faced kindergartner at Bowie Memorial School in Chicopee looks up to see Marjory Moore walk into the classroom with her puppets: ‘Patient Puppy,’ ‘Be Calm Bunny’ and ‘Slow Down Snail.’

The fuzzy friends are part of a program called Second Step, which Moore, a guidance counselor, uses to coach young children on how to deal with frustrating emotions that can occur in certain situations, such as two kids wanting to play with the same toy at once.

Moore is proactive in seeking out kids who need help. “I like to deliver the program in the classroom so the kids can associate me with someone who can help them solve problems,” she said. It’s just one aspect of the work she does working with kids in kindergarten through grade 5.

Moore was once a kindergarten teacher, so it’s no surprise she has a special fondness for the little ones.

“I realized when I was really young I wanted to work with kids,” said Moore, who demonstrated her organizational skills at an early age, too. “When I was 16, I started a babysitting club. I used to organize all the girls my age and matched them with families I knew.”

Moore puts her empathy, understanding, and boundless energy to work in the community as well. During the holidays, she takes time to serve food to the needy.

In addition, she recently organized a mentor program between students and military personnel at Westover Air Reserve Base, helped organize a citywide fund-raiser for Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, and also volunteers her time to Faith in Action for the elderly.

“I’m a happy person, and I like to make other people happy,” she said. “So I want to do whatever I can to help other people out, because people have helped me.”

—Amy Castor

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Chris Thompson

Age 29: Director of Sales & Service, Springfield Falcons Hockey Club

Chris Thompson has a large collection of hockey memorabilia in his office at the MassMutual Center, from assorted pucks and sticks to a framed copy of that famous photo of Bobby Orr flying through the air as he scored the winning goal to cap off the Boston Bruins’ dramatic charge to the Stanley Cup in 1970.

Maybe his favorite, though, is an old hard hat with the Springfield Falcons logo. It’s a leftover from a strange chapter in the team’s history — the renovation and expansion of the old Springfield Civic Center and the resulting hardships for fans. Those season-ticket holders who made a two-year commitment to the team during that trying time five years ago were made members of the so-called Hard Hat Club and given one of the collector’s items.

Thompson found one of the hats while going through some old boxes in Falcons headquarters, kept it, and gave it a place of honor in his office. He says it speaks to his general job description — “building relationships” — better than maybe any words could.

“That’s essentially what I do,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he takes what might be considered an unusual title in sports management (director of sales and service), but this line on his business card says it all. “Service is just as important, if not more important, than sales. I make sure people enjoy the overall experience.”

This service is provided to fans, sponsors, and other types of clients, said Thompson, and constitutes the ideal job for someone who loved sports while growing up, and wanted to make this field his career.

While not working for the Falcons, the energetic Thompson is involved with a number of community activities, especially the Young Professionals Society of Greater Springfield, which he serves as a board member, and the West Springfield Park and Recreation Department.

With those groups, as with the Falcons, his job is to build relationships.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 Class of 2009

Dan Bessette

Age 35: Marketing Director, GetSet Marketing

Everyone has a story of how they found their rhythm in life. Dan Bessette found his through music. In college and during the years after, he played drums with his brother in a blues band.

The Wayfarers, as the band was called, played in venues all over Springfield, with frequent appearances at the downtown club Theodore’s. Bessette, who earned a degree in Business Administration at UMass Amherst, managed and promoted the band, while his brother, a graphic artist, designed the outfit’s eye-catching posters, which became the envy of all the other bands in town.

To support his drum habit, Bessette held down various day jobs. He worked three years as a marketing director at Falcetti Music, a company that sells musical instruments, and later sold airtime at radio station WRNX, until one day he, his brother, and a Web developer friend decided to launch their own gig.

“We started working for the music market,” said Bessette. “I spun that into other businesses, and it grew from there.”

In 2003, the trio rented some hip office space in an old mill building in Springfield (where the first monkey wrench was made) and formed Get Set Marketing, a full-service firm that keeps prices low by printing multiple jobs on a single press plate. The company’s slogan, “Apart from the Herd,” is personified by a rubber cow that travels around the world.

Bessette is a board member for the Young Professionals Society of Springfield, and was an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. “It’s something I’ve always been proud of,” he said.

While he may not be in the music business anymore, Bessette still keeps a set of drums in his office for whenever he needs to let off steam.

“My music,” he said, “keeps me sane.”

—Amy Castor