The ninth annual 40 Under Forty class of 2015 celebrated their big night on June 18 with style, class, and Flair — as in wrestling legend Ric Flair, a guest of presenting sponsor Paragus Strategic IT, who delivered brief, heartfelt words to this year’s assembly of high achievers, and a standing-room-only crowd of supporters, at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. Paragus was in the spotlight in another way, as CEO Delcie Bean (40 Under Forty class of 2008) won BusinessWest’s inaugural Continued Excellence Award (see photo at right), sponsored by Northwestern Mutual and presented by Kate Kane, managing director of its Springfield office, and BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien. But the night belonged to members of the class of 2015, who proved, yet again, that this region has no shortage of young professionals who are making an impact in business and in the community. Below, we present some scenes from a memorable, exuberant evening. Photos by Denise Smith Photography[email protected]
From left: class of 2015 honorees Elizabeth Barajas-Roman, CEO, Women’s Fund of Massachusetts; Terra Missildine; owner and operations manager, Beloved Earth Co.; and Erin Buzuvis, professor of Law and director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies, Western New England University School of Law.
From left: Jennifer Levesque, operations manager, R. Levesque Associates; with her husband, Robert Levesque (class of 2015), president, R. Levesque Associates; and Christopher Novelli (class of 2015), architect, Studio One Inc.
From left: class of 2015 honorees Dr. Anthony Sarage, pediatric surgeon, Western Massachusetts Podiatric Associates; Jim Angelos, owner and executive director, InspireWorks Enrichment Inc.; Gregg Desmarais, vice president and store manager, TD Bank; Kate Lockhart, development director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County; A.J. Crane, co-owner and partner, A. Crane Construction; Terra Missildine; owner and operations manager, Beloved Earth Co.; Jennifer Gallant, chief financial officer, Polish National Credit Union; and Patrick Davis, operations manager, CRD Metalworks, LLC.
Joel Mollison (class of 2015), president, Northeast IT Systems; with his fiancée, Christine Gryknkiewicz, respiratory therapist, Cooley Dickinson Hospital.
From left: Marcelia Muehlke (class of 2015), owner, Celia Grace Wedding Dresses; and Sarah Shube, owner, Creative Art Therapies.
From the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, a 40 Under Forty sponsor, from left: Jennifer Meunier, director of Business Development; Trista Hevey, director of Alumni Corporate Relations; and Kyle Bate, academic advisor.
Sarah Williams (class of 2015), vice president of Global Risk Management, MassMutual Financial Group; with her husband, Richard Williams, investigator, Investigators LLC.
From Northwestern Mutual, presenting sponsor of 40 Under Forty, from left: Tim Steffen, director of recruitment; Nico Sananiello, financial advisor; Kate Kane, managing director; Rob Walker, financial representative; and Taylor Hassa, financial representative.
From Paragus Strategic IT, presenting sponsor of 40 Under Forty, from left: Lisa Lococo, office manager; Delcie Bean IV, CEO; Dave DeRicco, account representative; Anthony Schiappa, account representative; Tyler Lucas, COO; Sarah Powers, financial administration; and Margie LaMotte, executive assistant to the CEO.
From Fathers and Sons, a 40 Under Forty sponsor, from left: Bill Visneau, sales associate; Marissa Monti, business manager; Shera Rosarario, sales associate; Steven Langieri, sales manager; and Jon Schulz, sales associate.
From Moriarty & Primack, P.C., a 40 Under Forty sponsor, from left: Tax Director Bob Supernaut; Tax Associate Shelley Sheridan; Audit Associate Jessica Peet; Tax Associates Laurie Bonan and Chris Walker; Manager Rebecca Connelly, Tax Manager Tim Prozost; and Partner Doug Theobold.
Kate Campiti, associate publisher, BusinessWest, welcomes the more than 650 attendees of the ninth annual 40 Under Forty gala.
Joseph Bednar, senior writer, BusinessWest; and Denise Hurst (class of 2014), quality improvement manager and human rights coordinator, Department of Mental Health, and vice chair, Springfield School Committee, get ready to welcome this year’s 40 Under Forty honorees to the stage.
From Health New England, a 40 Under Forty sponsor, from left: Steven Webster, director of marketing and digital strategy; Jessica Dupont, risk adjustment manager; Robert Ravenscroft, clinical healthcare analyst; Nicole Santaniello, content management specialist; Sandi Bascove, marketing operations manager; Elaine Mann, marketing content strategy manager; Yvonne Diaz, account executive, existing business; and Patrick McColley, UX/CX architect manager.
George O’Brien, editor, BusinessWest, shares a laugh with wrestling legend ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, a special guest of 40 Under Forty presenting sponsor Paragus Strategic IT.
George O’Brien and Ric Flair shared the privilege of presenting awards to the class of 2015, including, from top to bottom, Eric Devine, Information Technology Services officer, Country Bank for Savings; Jessica Fraga, continuous improvement consultant, MassMutual Financial Group; and Danielle Williams, attorney, Fierst, Kane & Bloomberg LLP.
Photo gallery from the June 18, 2015 BusinessWest 40 Under Forty Class of 2015 Gala
The Top Young Business and Community Leaders in Western Massachusetts
That’s a word that could be used to describe any of BusinessWest’s classes of 40 Under Forty winners. But with the class of 2015 (see the list below), an adverb like ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ would sem to be necessary.
That’s because this group of winners represents virtually every sector of the economy — from financial services to manufacturing; retail to healthcare; technology to nonprofit management; education to law. They also show the seemingly innumerable ways to give back to the community — from serving as a Big Sister to teaching young girls how to cheer; from service on nonprofit boards to work repairing homes in Springfield’s neighborhoods; from taking a leadership role in an Extreme Makeover project to service on the town of Orange’s School Building Committee (see the profiles of the five judge’s HERE).
The Class of 2015 will be feted at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala, set for June 18 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House. Always one of the most anticipated events of the year and best networking opportunities on the calendar, the gala will feature lavish food stations, entertainment, and the introduction of this year’s class, with individuals walking to the podium backed by a song of their choice. Download the flipbook of this year’s 40 Under Forty HERE
Tickets to the gala are $65 each, with tables of 10 still available. Tickets can be ordered by calling (413) 781-8600, ext. 100, for more information go HERE.
State Representative, 4th Hampden District; Captain in Army Reserves; Age 35
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
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
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
Senior Academic Counselor, Holyoke Community College; Holyoke City Councilor; Age 39
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.”
Founder and CEO, Woman of Confidence Coaching and Consulting, LLC; Age 39
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.”
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
Certified Financial Planner, New England Financial Group; Age 38
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
President and Owner, Universal Plastics Corp.; Age 36
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.”
Co-owner and Partner, A. Crane Construction; Age 32
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
Podiatric Surgeon, Western Massachusetts Podiatric Associates; Age 36
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.”
Associate Attorney, Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C.; Age 29
When Amelia Holstrom was growing up, her parents held jobs in management and spoke about their work at home. As a result, she witnessed their struggles when they had to terminate an employee and saw how others reacted in the small community where they lived.
“I’ve always wanted to be an attorney, and my parents helped to shape my worldview about how difficult it is for business owners and managers to do the right thing,” Holstrom said. “When people think about businesses, they tend to forget they are run by ordinary individuals who have to make difficult decisions.”
Today, she takes pride in helping clients with a wide array of employment and labor-related issues.
“An employer never wants to terminate an employee. They understand the person may have a spouse or a family and needs the paycheck,” she told BusinessWest. “People are deeply affected by it, and it’s never a decision that is taken lightly. So I help my clients make decisions about employees, so they can do the right thing and operate within the law. It’s always a real challenge to follow complicated and seemingly ever-changing employment laws.”
Meanwhile, her compassion for others is also reflected in service to the community. She is on the board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts, which she joined after her niece became a scout, and believes in the organization’s mission of helping girls “develop courage, confidence and character.”
Holstrom is also an ad hoc member of the personnel committee for the Food Bank of Western Mass. and organizes her firm’s participation in the annual Legal Food Frenzy conducted by the Mass. Attorney General’s Office to help local food banks solicit donations. The cause has always been important to her, and Holstrom coordinated a program that served the hungry and the homeless in Burlington, Vt. when she was a college student. “These people are often overlooked. There is a stigma associated with being homeless, but assistance, food, and programs are needed to help them,” she said.
Holstrom is also a speaker on employment-related issues for a wide variety of organizations, contributes regularly to the Massachusetts Employment Law Letter as well as her firm’s blog, and writes for local publications, including BusinessWest. “It’s important to me to support people at all levels,” she said. “My work is meaningful because I have always wanted to help people and build lasting relationships.”
Last month, Holstrom and her husband Stephen began another relationship — with their new baby boy, Carter.
— Kathleen Mitchell
Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies, Western New England University School of Law; Age 38
Erin Buzuvis says that, when most people hear the phrase ‘Title IX’ — which states, in part, that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance” — they inevitably think of sports.
And while equality on the playing field, something lacking before this legislation, is certainly a part of this now-44-year-old statute, there is much more to it, said Buzuvis, who would know.
Indeed, she is one of the nation’s leading authorities on Title IX, has published numerous articles and book chapters on the statute, and has been quoted on the subject in a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“One thing we’re seeing nationally is increasing recognition of Title IX’s application to areas other than athletics, which is not to say that we’ve reached full equality in athletics and we’ve decided to move on,” she explained. “Title IX is a very generally worded statute about sex discrimination and education, and there is now increased awareness of Title IX’s application to campus sexual assaults.
“Roughly 100 schools are now being subject to investigation by the Department of Education for their lack of sufficient policies and practices to prevent sexual assaults on campus,” she went on, adding that this was an aspect of the statute that had been unexplored in recent years.
Exploring the wide range of issues involved with gender and sexual equality is the informal mission of the Center for Gender & Sexuality Studies at Western New England School of Law, which Buzuvis helped launch in 2012 and now directs.
The center serves as an educational resource for the law school, the university, the legal community, and the general public, she explained, adding that it enables WNEU Law to provide students with unique opportunities to learn about gender and sexuality legal issues — and there are many of them — and graduate with a concentration in that emerging area of the law.
“We’re working on an upcoming program about housing-discrimination issues and challenges, and the legal response to those issues for the LGBT community, and we had a program last year on domestic-violence issues in the NFL,” she said, adding that the center was created to shine a spotlight on such matters — and keep that light on.
— George O’Brien
Joseph Ruggeri’s life has been rife with opportunity. His family owned a business, he attended private school, and he was able to travel. “It was a given that I would go to college, do well, have a career, and make money. My life has been very fortunate,” he said.
However, he knows that many people lack the same opportunities, and as a result, Ruggeri says he has devoted his life not only to “establishing his reputation as a hardworking, fair, and trustworthy member of the community,” but also to opening doors for others.
He volunteers for many organizations, but he says his most important assignment is to be a good father and family man. Ruggeri and his wife Taffy have a 4-year daughter, Sofia, and a 1-year-old son, Anthony. “I regard the measure of my success by how I raise my kids and the quality of my family life,” he said.
Ruggeri took over his grandfather Alfonso’s real-estate business and said he was an excellent role model. Today, he takes pride in helping people purchase homes. “When someone buys a home, they are investing in the future,” he said. “A home is something that can appreciate in value.”
Ruggeri serves on the board of Greenfield Public Library, Friends of the Greenfield Public Library, and the Greenfield Community College Foundation, and is co-chairing its annual fund-raising campaign for the third year.
“The library is important; some people can’t afford a computer or even to buy a book, and it gives them access to those things, while GCC provides the opportunity to get an affordable education,” he explained. “It can break cycles in families when a person earns a college degree.”
He added that GCC also allows teens in high school to take classes before graduation and helps people get the education or training they need to enter a new profession.
He is proud to be an elected clerk of the Greenfield Board of Assessors, and has held the position for six years. Ruggeri is also a two-year appointee of the Greenfield Building and Construction Committee and former member of the Greenfield Sustainable Master Planning Committee.
“But, most of all, I am a proud father,” he said. “My family and wife motivate me and give me purpose in life, and I want my children to have opportunities here in the future.”
That was the very concise summation offered by Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni when asked to talk about his first few months in office and the ongoing transition he’s orchestrating. And he stressed both words as he elaborated.
“It’s been even busier than I expected, and that’s saying something. We had to keep up with the wheels of justice — nothing stops for the new DA,” he told BusinessWest. “But it’s been very exciting.”
Since being sworn in early in January, the state’s youngest district attorney, who recently turned 34, has been working to bring both a sense of stability and needed change to an office he had served previously as an assistant DA to Mark Mastroianni.
These were some of the many focal points during a grinding campaign last spring and summer that saw the Springfield native and graduate of Western New England University (he earned both his bachelor’s degree and juris doctor there) triumph over a crowded field.
Over the past several weeks, he has initiated several personnel moves — a critical part of any transition — while also making a fundamental change, a so-called ‘unit structure’ within Superior Court.
“We’re going to have more-defined units, with specialized prosecutors, from homicide to drugs to guns to major felonies,” he explained, “as opposed to being more diversified, as they have been for the past several years.
“When you specialize, you’re more familiar with the typical issues in certain kinds of cases,” he went on. “You deal very often with the same police officers, whether it’s narcotics detectives or homicide detectives, so you develop a strong repertoire with them, and you become more educated on the issues.”
And, ultimately, victims of crimes are better served by the DA’s office, he said, adding that the changes he’s implementing are getting a good response, both internally and externally.
What hasn’t changed, it seems, are the age jokes. They keep coming, although there is a softer tone than what was experienced during the campaign, when opponents used it against him.
“A woman came up to me at a function recently and said, ‘didn’t you go to college with my son?’” he recalled. “She got a kick out of it, and I thought it was funny. The jokes are in much better spirit than before I won.”
— George O’Brien
CEO, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts; Age 38
Elizabeth Barajas-Román has lived in many places — she was born in Lincoln, Neb., attended college in Ohio (Oberlin) and Cambridge (Harvard), and spent many years in Washington, D.C. But in many respects, home has always been the public library.
“When I was young, my mother essentially educated herself, at the public library, in how to set up her own business,” she explained while tracing the origins of her passion. “And that helped set us in the right direction when it came to education. Supporting the public library is something that’s always been close to my heart.”
And it still is today in her new place of residence — Northampton, where she spends many hours at both the Forbes Library and the Lilly Library in Florence, engaged in a host of programs.
While doing so, she is writing the next chapter in what has already been an intriguing career. Indeed, after stints as a city planner in Cambridge, director of Policy & Operations for the Justice Research Institute in Boston, reporter with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, director of Policy for the Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and campaign manager for Pew Charitable Trusts, she became CEO of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts last summer.
Her ambitious goal is to scale up the WFWM’s already-impressive track record for supporting programs for women and girls and position them as leaders within the community, and the organization is making considerable progress with meeting it.
Indeed, the Women’s Fund is currently seeking proposals for an additional round of grant making that will total $240,000 and include initiatives in each of the four western counties.
Meanwhile, she’s been meeting with a number of groups and individuals to gauge specific needs within the community and generate opportunities to continue and enhance partnerships that help expand the WFWM’s mission and broaden the already-considerable impact of its philanthropy.
It’s a learning experience that is ongoing and occupies most of her time. However, she is involved within the community in several other ways, most recently as a member of state Treasurer Deb Goldberg’s Financial Literacy Trust Fund Board, which plans to incorporate a range of initiatives, including money management, college affordability, and programming to support wage equality in the Commonweralth.
“The Women’s Fund’s mission is to invest in the lives of local women and girls in order to create a better community for all,” said Barajas-Román. “Serving on the board will provide an important perspective for our work in Western Massachusetts.”
Chief Financial Officer, Springfield Public Schools; Age 32
Patrick Roach wants to improve the Springfield public-school system.
“I care about the city, and want to make sure that every resource is allocated and invested appropriately so students get the services that will give them the best chance to succeed,” he told BusinessWest.
His efforts have been highly successful, and as a result of his innovative thinking and strategic fiscal management, the district was able to present a balanced budget to the School Committee for fiscal year 2014-15. That accomplishment was particularly significant because Roach had to deal with a $16.8 million budget deficit, but was able to include new initiatives to help students.
“Education is the great equalizer,” he said. “But although it puts everyone on the same footing and gives children opportunities to do well in life, a lot of our kids don’t have the same support at home that children in suburban communities get.”
He was responsible for the merger and reorganization of the accounting and finance departments, streamlining the procurement process, reducing unemployment service costs by more than $1.5 million annually, and other money-saving measures. As a result, Springfield received the prestigious Meritorious Budget Award from the Assoc. of School Business Officials International for four consecutive years, and the school department was feted with the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award from the Government Finance Officers Assoc. of the U.S. for three consecutive years.
Roach and his wife Deanna have three children — 6-year-old Patrick Jr., 5-year-old Dominic, and 2-year-old Audrey — and he considers the time and effort he puts into his job an investment that will pay off in the future, especially since his children attend Springfield Public Schools.
“I love my family, and they are behind my motivation to work hard,” he said.
Roach is the volunteer classified personnel training program coordinator for the Mass. Assoc. of School Business Officials, a board member of the Springfield Parking Authority, and a former board member of SABIS International Charter School.
“Parking has to do with economic development and improving the infrastructure so it looks new and helps people feel safe,” he said in reference to that important assignment.
“I put a lot into my job and work nights and weekends,” he added. “And although I never pictured myself in government, I really enjoy this. I care about public service, this city, and its schools.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
Growing up on Cape Cod, Christina Gay worked for a ferry company during her teenage years, and by age 19, she was handling a good deal of the company’s operations, from reservations to making handbooks to hiring and firing employees.
“I realized that’s what I needed to be doing — being that operational person who runs everything in the background,” she said. Later, a stint working for a website-design firm cultivated a love for the tech environment. “I liked working with engineers, people of a technical nature. We get along well. I’m a pretty straightforward person, and they tend to be straightforward people.”
Gay later took a job with Atalasoft and worked for Bill Bither, a 2007 Forty Under 40 honoree, for more than four years. But when that company was sold to a larger corporation, “it wasn’t fun for me anymore. I needed to be on the ground again, making stuff happen.”
She found such a role with Hitpoint Studios, a growing video-game design and development firm that recently moved from Amherst to downtown Springfield.
“I love it,” she said. “I like working in technology, and I’ve been playing games since I used to break into my brother’s bedroom and put up with his teenage boy smell to play his Nintendo and chase the princess. I love being able to work with people who make games.”
While she doesn’t handle the IT side of the business, Gay does oversee everything on the administrative side, from bookkeeping to financial reporting to human resources — skills she also brings to her community work, including her role with the board of directors of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, where she serves as the resident HR expert and helps guide the organization’s fund-raising efforts.
In an industry notorious for being a boy’s club, Gay said she has found a welcoming home at HitPoint, one where she can advance — and balance — her career, her volunteerism, and family time with husband Neale and 3-year-old daughter, Clara.
“They’re grown-ups at HitPoint,” she said. “They get it. They know I’m going to get things done; there’s a mutual trust that’s built up there.”
That said, “we have a laid-back atmosphere. There are so many opportunities to make your own rules and have fun and play around with things — ‘what if we did it this way?’ There are very few boundaries, not this attitude of, ‘do it this way; we’ve always done it this way.’ Some of the best things come out of that environment. It’s just so much fun to be a part of.”
— Joseph Bednar
Owner and Executive Director, InspireWorks Enrichment Inc.; Age 32
Remembering the learning opportunities he had as a kid, Jim Angelos worried that today’s students are missing out. So he decided to do something about it.
Armed with a degree in business and sports management from Elms College, Angelos launched InspireWorks Enrichment in 2007, partnering with local school districts and municipal park and recreation departments to offer after-school programs and summer camps.
“I had opportunities when I was younger, and I wanted to make sure kids today have something — especially with specialty subjects like music and art being cut out of school budgets,” he explained. “Unfortunately, right now, in a lot of school systems, teachers have to teach to a test, and they’re cutting out other programs. School systems see us as a way to enhance the curriculum.”
Starting with Agawam, then Longmeadow, with plans to expand into other communities, InspireWorks’ after-school offerings focus on a broad area of learning, such as science, engineering, or painting.
These curriculum-based enrichment programs, aimed at students from kindergarten through grade 8, aim to balance education and entertainment, Angelos noted. “The goal when designing classes was to disguise the learning; the kids just see it as a fun program.”
But it’s fun with a purpose, because the programs attract students with a predilection for a certain subject and enhance what they receive in school. “The after-school programs allow us to go in depth around certain subjects. For example, if they sign up for our science classes, they may already have an interest in that area, and we go into things like rocketry, physical and chemical reactions, dry-ice demonstrations, things along those lines.”
Meanwhile, the summer programs in Agawam and Chicopee (so far), like the after-school programs, strive to go beyond what kids might get at other camps, with activities ranging from swimming, archery, and sports to cooking, science, engineering, and fine arts.
“We’ve been fortunate to get a lot of positive feedback from our parents,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he’s also struck up a partnership with the Connecticut National Guard to offer programs for children of parents serving overseas.
With a full-time staff of about 30 people, InspireWorks served more than 2,500 students last year, and also maintains a camper leadership training program to help young adults develop leadership skills and job experience — starting the circle all over again.
It all comes back to what Angelos finds most gratifying about his company. “It gets kids excited about learning.”
— Joseph Bednar
Chris Novelli says he’s been drawing, designing, and stretching his imagination for about as long as he can remember.
“I would draw little floor plans of my room and rearrange the furniture on a monthly basis almost,” he recalled of his grade-school years. “I had no idea what an architect was … I was just trying to find different ways to make my room better.”
He soon came to fully understand what an architect was, and after drafting classes in high school further fueled that desired to create, he attended the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Fast-forward several years and one intense internship at Studio One Inc. in Northampton, and Novelli is now a fixture at that company.
He’s been an integral part of a number of intriguing projects, including historical preservation and adaptive reuse of the Colle Opera House in Turners Falls, a long-abandoned landmark transformed into offices for technology companies; design and renovations of the both the interior and exterior of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Springfield for its 100th anniversary; design and construction of the new Hubert Place for WestMass ElderCare, an affordable senior-living facility in South Hadley; and, most recently, design and construction of the new Magazine Commons for Mental Health Associates, affordable housing for people with disabilities who were displaced from their homes by the 2011 tornado.
Each of these projects and countless others came with specific challenges and, usually, a very high degree of difficulty, said Novelli, adding that clearing such obstacles and devising solutions to complex problems is just one of many things he loves about his profession.
“You get to be creative on a daily basis, and there’s incredible variety — each day is different,” he explained. “One day I’m working on something that’s totally creative and artistic, the next day I’m working through technical details. The next time I’m on the job site working with the general contractor, and the day after that I’m giving a lecture at UMass. There’s always something new and different going on, and I really like that aspect of my work.”
Meanwhile, Novelli makes ample time for his family — wife Lisa and children Ethan, Samantha, and Jocelyn — and his community, Wilbraham, donating time and imagination to both the town’s Vision Task Force and Vision Action Committee. Indeed, drafting a blueprint for effective work-life balance is just another challenge he’s embraced.
Municipal Services Coordinator, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission; Age 29
A quick look at Joshua Garcia’s résumé reveals a deep commitment to the community — and especially his hometown of Holyoke.
Indeed, he has served on the city’s School Committee — a role he reluctantly relinquished after moving out of his ward to accommodate a growing family — and currently serves as board chairman for Nueva Esperanza, an agency devoted to promoting entrepreneurship and spurring economic development in the city. Over six years, he served in a number of capacities for the Holyoke Housing Authority, and he has officially announced his plans to run for city treasurer this fall.
But while Holyoke is his passion, the region is, well, his new job — at least in a manner of speaking.
Since June 2013, Garcia has been serving the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission as municipal services coordinator. In that role, it is his responsibility to coordinate collaborative partnerships between the PVPC’s 43 member communities and provide project-management expertise. He’s also tasked with providing technical assistance to local governments to facilitate what he called “cross-jurisdictional shared municipal opportunities” with the goal of reducing costs and improving service efficiencies.
“My role is to get municipalities to cross-collaborate in order to share resources,” he explained. “When it comes to specific municipal functions of local government, be it inspectional services or public health … instead of communities focusing on trying to provide these themselves, we encourage them to work with a nearby municipality and share resources.”
As examples, he cited a scenario where two communities, each paying a part-time inspector, could collaborate and together hire one full-time employee, and another where smaller towns could share a full-time public-health nurse. In both cases, the participating communities would save money.
And such creative steps will become necessary in the years to come, he told BusinessWest, because municipal budgets are getting increasingly tighter. “It’s about trying to bring regional solutions to local issues.”
While concentrating on the region, Garcia is also firmly focused on family. His twins are now 3 years old, and his wife, Stefany, has battled back from a bout with lupus that nearly claimed her life.
“They worked a miracle there,” he said of the doctors and nurses that treated Stefany. “And all of this has shifted my priorities; I’ve been focused on family and creating a bright future for them.”
Faith plays an important role in Hayes Murray’s life, and he believes that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
“My wife and I have been blessed with good families and two children, and I have an amazing job,” he told BusinessWest. “The people I work for encourage and give me opportunities to volunteer because philanthropy and giving back to the community is ingrained in their mission.”
Murray oversees small teams of auditors at Springfield-based Wolf & Co., was promoted to a position in management four years after he was hired, and is part of the firm’s initiative to expand into New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
He is a member of the company’s philanthropy committee, and organizes and participates in numerous events throughout the year. He mentors four staff accountants and has spent five years as a role model and advisor to students in the Westfield State University Accounting Mentor Program.
Murray is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Mass. Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Young Professional Society of Springfield.
He and his wife Kara are parents to a 4-year-old daughter, Eden, and 2-year-old son, Weston. They are adopting a baby boy at the end of April, and are eager to do so. “We have love in our hearts and room in our home to help a child in need,” he said.
Murray enjoys working with children and teaches Sunday School to ninth- and 10th-graders at Westfield Evangelical Free Church every weekend. “I love working with students at Westfield State and teaching on Sundays. It’s fun to be with kids and develop lasting friendships with them,” he said.
He volunteers monthly at the Open Pantry in Springfield, where he serves lunch to the needy, and has been on the board of Angels Take Flight for two years. “The organization helps children who are moving from foster home to foster home and don’t have any luggage to put their possessions in,” he said. “It’s important for people to step in and advocate on their behalf.”
To that end, he has helped organize fund-raisers for the nonprofit company, as well as preparing its financial statements and filing its tax returns. “I truly believe,” he said, “that we are called on to care for those who can’t care for themselves.”
Chief Financial Officer, Polish National Credit Union; Age 39
Jennifer Gallant’s interest in finance was sparked by a memorable business teacher in high school. The class was in accounting, however, and she didn’t see herself as the numbers-crunching type.
“I did two years of accounting in college, but I switched it up to do finance,” she said. “I like the analytical side; I have a lot of accounting experience, but I prefer analyzing numbers versus crunching them, and that’s what got me into finance.”
Gallant started her career as a teller at a local credit union before working her way up to CFO, later joining Polish National Credit Union in the same capacity. “I do asset and liability analysis, I oversee the budget, I approve and monitor all expenses, I do investing, I analyze the rates, and I supervise the accounting department,” she explained. “I’m a member of the executive management team; we all work together to run the credit union.”
She said she enjoys the challenge of analyzing the budget and making sure the credit union is operating within it — and, if not, determining why and taking steps to fix it. But she also enjoys mentoring high-school and college students who are interested in finance — in effect, paying forward what that business teacher did for her.
“We have a branch at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, and the tellers are high-school students, so we interact with a lot of students already,” she explained. “If we see potential there, or if someone expresses an interest in some area of the credit union, we’ll bring them on as a summer intern. It really helps show them the big picture of the credit-union industry.
“We’ve had some enthusiastic candidates go on to college to study finance, accounting, or business management,” she added. “I enjoy sharing my experiences with the interns, helping them figure out what they want to do. If that future is here, locally, that’s fantastic.”
Along with her full-time job, mentoring roles, and raising three children, Gallant also finds time to give back to the community through such organizations as Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, where she serves as board member, finance committee member, and HR committee chair.
“I love the feeling I get from helping people,” she said. “I understand everyone leads a busy life these days, and it’s easy to let those things fall by the wayside, because you don’t have to do them. But if everyone had that mentality, who would do those things? I just think it’s important.”
— Joseph Bednar Photo by Denise Smith Photography
By now, many people in the Pioneer Valley know Marcelia Muehlke’s story — or at least how it starts.
She was getting married six years ago, and as preparations got underway in earnest, she began an extensive search for a maker of fair-trade wedding dresses. “For my wedding, I wanted a dress that would reflect my values for human rights and environmental sustainability, and I was concerned about child labor being used on my dress,” she recalled. “So I said, ‘I’ll just find a dress that I can feel good about instead of worrying about.’”
Upon finding no dress label that could meet those standards, she set about creating one. Indeed, not long after completing her MBA at UMass, she traveled to Asia and set up a supply chain that could create high-quality garments that she and her clients could feel good about. She began working with a group of women in a sewing group in Cambodia, contracted with a designer in New York, and got her business — her dream — up and running.
She would call it Celia Grace, a brand derived from her own name and a word she says has many definitions, “including ‘goodness’ and ‘beauty,’ which is what we stand for.”
Three years later, she’s selling dresses across the country and in Europe, and is being touted as one of the region’s more intriguing, and successful, entrepreneurial success stories. Awards and accolades include a Grinspoon Entrepreneurial Success Spirit Award in 2011, a finish in the money at the UMass Pitch Competition in 2012, and a second-place finish at Valley Venture Mentors’ pitch contest during the Western Mass. Business Expo in 2012.
Her success in those competitions reflects the quick and now-global success of the brand, which is, in many ways, the right product at the right time — when a growing number of women are paying as much attention to where and how a dress is made as they do to how they look in it.
“We enjoyed some really exciting growth last year, and this year is off to a great start,” said the mother of a 1-year-old daughter. “This is the high season for wedding dresses, and it’s just an exciting time for us.”
She joked that she’s still waiting for a top celebrity to choose her label and thus give the brand a marketing boost and perhaps even more credibility. But otherwise, her product — and her dream — are exceeding every expectation.
— George O’Brien
Assistant Director, Office of YMCA Relations, Springfield College; Age 38
Erin Friedman says the philosophies of Springfield College and the YMCA have a lot in common.
“Our mission is all about educating the whole person — spirit, mind, and body — for leadership and service to others,” she said of the college where she’s worked for the past decade, “and the Y’s values and principles are truly aligned with that.”
Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that the two entities share a history and heritage, and a partnership that dates back to the establishment of the college in 1885, when it was known as the School for Christian Workers, she noted. “Today, that partnership with Ys across the U.S. and around the world still exists at our core and our foundation.”
One of Friedman’s roles in the college’s Office of YMCA Relations is to “recruit and ultimately place the next generation of YMCA leaders, preparing leaders to work in a wide range of careers,” she explained, adding that the YMCA is primarily focused on youth development, social responsibility, and healthy living.
Among the students examining opportunities in those areas are Bronwen Stern and Jessica Lajoie, juniors at Springfield College whose letter to BusinessWest was among many supporting Friedman’s nomination to 40 Under Forty. They talked about traveling with their advisor and mentor to YMCA conferences locally and across the country, connecting with potential employers and learning experientially.
“For us, Erin is not only an advisor, but a role model. She is the most kindhearted and selfless person we know,” they wrote, noting, as one example, her involvement with the Sexual Assault Victim Advocate program on campus, which helps people who have experienced a sexual assault. “She truly is devoted to not just making Springfield College better, but improving the community of Springfield as a whole.”
Friedman said she stresses real-world learning for a reason. “A college degree today is not enough; you need to be able to distinguish yourself,” she said. “It’s important to connect with opportunities to learn beyond the classroom, and connect with professionals from all over. Our ultimate goal for young people is to become the best version of themselves as possible and help them discover what they’re really passionate about.
“If you’re in a job where you’re counting days to Friday and or counting the hours in the week,” she added, “perhaps you’re not where you need to be. For me, it’s highly rewarding helping people find meaning and purpose. That’s what we can provide.”
— Joseph Bednar
As a student at Greenfield Community College in the mid-’90s, Joel Mollison couldn’t have imagined himself forging a career in information technology, much less starting his own business in that field. But circumstances changed things, and in a big way.
“I got into this industry by default,” he explained. “I actually started out as a mechanical engineering major and found out I hated it. But along the way, I bought a very expensive computer to do some of my engineering at home. I had a problem with it … I had a warranty from Staples. They wanted me to send it out for six to eight weeks during the middle of the semester, which simply wasn’t feasible.
“So I wound up fixing it myself — taking the cover off, replacing the parts, voiding the warranty, and all that fun stuff,” he went on. “That’s when I got under the hood and decided that this was something I was interested in.”
In other words, he learned by doing, a pattern that would continue after he changed his major to information systems and followed up his associate’s degree from GCC with a bachelor’s from American International College.
Indeed, after surveying a job market that was still quite weak after the dot-com bust that followed Y2K, he decided his best option would be to go into business for himself. He called the venture Joel Mollison Computer Services before taking on a business partner and changing the name to Northeast IT. Today, there are 10 people on the payroll, and the company has a diverse portfolio of clients ranging from municipalities and chambers of commerce to small businesses such as law firm Royal LLP.
A dozen years after getting started, Mollison said business ownership continues to be a learning experience, with no shortage of challenges and new ones seemingly every year.
“There were some lean years in the beginning because I really didn’t know what I was doing,” he recalled. “No bank would touch me, so I started things with credit cards and boot-strapping. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but you learn from those mistakes, and you get better as the years go on. It’s all worked out, but it’s been a long ride — with a long way to go.”
While that ride continues, he’s set to embark on another learning experience — he and his fiancée, Christine Grynkiewicz, are planning a wedding for this fall.
Continuous Improvement Consultant, MassMutual; Age 36
When Jessica Fraga stands at a podium or in front of a room of students and counsels them about dealing with their past — things they’re not particularly proud of and might be ashamed of — and not letting those issues hold them back from achieving their dreams, she speaks from the heart, and from experience.
Indeed, while attending kindergarten, she was living with her mother in a green Oldsmobile after her mom fled an abusive situation and seemingly exhausted all other options. “I was really young, and I didn’t fully understand, but I knew this wasn’t right,” Fraga recalled, adding that her mother forbade her from talking about her living conditions with anyone out of fear that she would lose her daughter — not that she wanted to talk.
Things eventually improved for the two, but Fraga remembers always being “the poor girl in town,” a stigma that eventually wore her down, prompting her to drop out of high school.
But both she and her mother somehow found the strength and determination to rebound and improve their lives. They both got their GEDs, and they graduated together from Bay Path University. Fraga would go on to earn an MBA, which she put to good use first at Baystate Health in Human Resources and now at MassMutual as a continuous improvement consultant.
“I get to help people find ways to do what they do more efficiently,” said Fraga, who’s also an adjunct professor at Bay Path, teaching a number of business courses. Meanwhile, inspired by those who helped her in her youth, she finds ample time to give back to the community.
She serves on the board of directors for HAPHousing, chairs its resource development committee, and was the featured speaker at its annual fund-raising event, The Way Home. She’s also served on the Mass. Rehabilitation Commission Advisory Council as well as the Women’s Leadership Council of the United Way of Pioneer Valley, supporting financial literacy for young women and STEM programs for middle-school girls. In 2012, she co-created — and was the featured speaker at — the LGBT Coalition Conference on Career and Life Skills for Transgender Women, and she currently volunteers with the Knockout Project, a nonprofit started by her husband, Jay, which raises awareness about the dangers of concussion and brain injury.
On top of all that, she often tells her story — something she once couldn’t do, but now does to inspire others to put the past behind them and a bright future in front of them.
— George O’Brien
Owner and Operations Manager, Beloved Earth Co.; Age 33
Terra Missildine says there’s a lot more to being a ‘green’ cleaning company than simply using organic products. And she would know.
Indeed, she and her husband, David, started such a company — Amherst-based Beloved Earth — before the business community and public at large really knew, or appreciated, what green cleaning was. And they’ve learned many things over the years as they’ve set the standard in this realm.
This includes everything from determining which product manufacturers are truly green — they all say they are — and which ones are simply capitalizing on a movement by using that word, to ‘batching’ customers to reduce travel time and thus their carbon footprint.
“We respect a triple bottom line,” said Missildine, noting that the company focuses on what she called the 3 ‘Ps’ — people, profit, and planet. “We want to be a positive impact not only for our clients, but also in the community, for our employees, and for the environment.”
As she retold the story of how she and David got into this business — something she does often and in a wide array of forums — Missildine said it happened out of both desire and necessity.
“In 2005, my husband and I were newlyweds, and he found himself unemployed suddenly,” she recalled. “I was in school studying sustainable living at UMass Amherst. So we decided to start a company together, and we wound up being the first green cleaning company in Western Massachusetts, and it just took off from there.”
The two knew what they were doing when it came to cleaning, but learned on the fly in terms of doing it in an environmentally friendly way. Today, the company boasts a deep portfolio of residential and commercial clients across Western Mass., including the Eastworks building, Hilltown Cooperative Charter School, Brain Balance Achievement Center, Keller-Williams Real Estate’s locations, and many others.
Meanwhile, as she and her husband continue to grow Beloved Earth, Missildine is also advancing another business initiative, one that will focus on the specific needs of entrepreneurs with young children. Again, she’s working from experience — she and David have a 1-year-old daughter.
“I’m hoping to open the doors of a co-working space in the Holyoke area that has on-site childcare,” she said. “It will specifically cater to the parent-entrepreneurs, the work-from-home professionals, and freelancers, so they can be great parents and great businesspeople, without having to choose one over the other.”
When she first started out in law, Bridget Fiala worked for a firm that handled a broad variety of work, but she never found a niche she especially liked.
That changed when she joined Marinosci Law Group, which is strictly a real-estate law firm, handling both commercial and residential transactions and refinances. “I represent people who are buying and selling their houses, as well as the bank in regard to the transaction,” she said.
Fiala finds the work appealing, she noted, because she can usually put her head on her pillow at night without dwelling on the often-troubling aspects of other legal practices.
“I like working with people at what can be a very exciting time in their lives — when they’re buying a house for the first time or selling their first house. Maybe they recently had a baby, and they’re trying to find something bigger. Whatever the case, it’s usually not a terrible situation, unlike people who work in family law, bankruptcy, things like that.
“It’s a pleasure helping people with a good part of their lives,” she added, “something that generally makes them happy.”
As a political science major in college, Fiala has long been interested in government and politics, which led her to run for West Springfield’s Town Council in 2013, becoming one of its youngest-ever members.
Meanwhile, she has donated her time and energy to a number of local civic organizations, including the West Springfield St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee, Dr. Seuss Read Across America, Clean Up West Springfield, Operation Santa, and Taste of the Valley, to name a few.
“When I graduated law school and had the ability to give more of my time, I was also burdened with debt — so it felt like all I had to give was time,” she said. “I was able to donate my time to give back instead of writing that big check.”
Fiala is most gratified that so many of her community-oriented efforts revolve around her hometown.
“It’s huge for me. I was born and raised in West Springfield, and I was a user of all those programs, so this is my way of giving back,” she said. “I love the town I live in. I’m not going to go anywhere else; I want to raise my family here and help grow the town and make it better, get involved, and try not to miss out on an opportunity to help out if I can.”
— Joseph Bednar
Andrew Melendez acknowledged that the role of executive director of the recently opened YMCA of Agawam, a branch of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, is a huge step forward career-wise, but one he certainly felt ready to accept at age 26.
Indeed, his résumé was already loaded with intriguing and challenging assignments, including his time as manager of the substitute teacher program for the Springfield Public Schools.
“I was one of the first ones at the central office every day — I was there at 6:30,” he explained. “There are 52 schools, and we probably had about 300 subs working every day. It was an incredible experience … I had a $5 million budget I had to approve payroll for.”
Other career stops and work within the community included time as program director of Homework House for the Sisters of St. Joseph, a stint leading the Holyoke office of the Latino Chamber of Commerce, another as literacy coordinator for the city of Holyoke, as well as current service as board president of the Valley Opportunity Council (VOC) and work on the Holyoke Charter Commission. He’s traveled to Honduras to volunteer to teach children English, and created a program in Holyoke for walking school-age children to school with a role-model chaperone.
All of that has helped make him ready for what he called “a dream come true” — a chance to run his own Y.
This is a multi-faceted position, one where he’s handling everything from budgets and payroll projections to supervising the staff of 12 to coordinating lifeguards and swimming lessons for the town of Agawam. His main responsibility, though, is to meet the many, and diverse, needs of the Agawam Y’s 1,500 members and program participants.
“I really enjoy working with the members, tending to their needs, and seeing the happy faces of success and accomplishment,” he said of his work. “We have members from 3 months old to 103 years old, and it’s rewarding to help them meet whatever goals they set down.”
When not doing that, he volunteers his time and energy to a number of groups and causes, from the board of the Westfield State University Foundation and the Non-discrimination and Diversity Council to the VOC, which he described as “an amazing learning experience. As president of the board, I’m always talking with legislative leaders and city leaders and working with that $35 million [budget] every day.”
— George O’Brien
Director of Education and Marketing, Fazzi Associates; Age 38
At a time when the population is getting older and tens of millions of Baby Boomers head into their retirement years, the work Lindsay Doak is doing is more critical than ever.
Specifically, Doak — director of education and marketing at Fazzi Associates, a home-health and hospice consulting and research firm — designed the National Healthcare Learning Center, an online education delivery system utilized by healthcare organizations throughout the world. “It has really taken off,” she said. “We have more than 50,000 logins to the center every month, everyone from IT coding to management.”
Her latest initiative is work with community colleges and other institutions to deliver training that will fully certify home-health coders — an important project because of a national shortage of medical coders. The targeted program allows low-income workers the opportunity to move beyond minimum-wage jobs.
“There’s a huge need for coders because the code set is changing so much,” she said of the healthcare industry’s move from the ICD-9 standard to ICD-10, set to launch this fall.
In addition, the educational alliances Doak has built at Fazzi with state and national organizations like the National Assoc. for Home Care, the National Physical Therapy Assoc., and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization are helping improve care and reduce rehospitalization for the growing population of American seniors.
“The Baby Boomers are now entering home health care, and with healthcare reform, home health has become a big player to reduce costs and keep people out of hospitals,” she said. “When we can take care of patients at home, we really reduce those costs. And the need for these services is going to expand exponentially.”
Meanwhile, Doak makes time to volunteer in the community, including work with the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and a former spot on the board of the Hampshire Regional YMCA. She’s also a board member at Whole Children, an organization that offers a wide range of after-school, weekend, and vacation enrichment programs for children, teens, and adults, especially those with special needs.
“That gives me great satisfaction,” said Doak, who chairs the group’s marketing and fund-raising committee, and is currently promoting next month’s Wild Goose Chase fund-raiser at Look Park. “I have a child myself, and my child isn’t perfect; I see the struggles, what it’s like to have a kid dance to his own beat. A lot of schools don’t accept that, so an organization that accepts anyone, that’s all-inclusive, there’s such a need for that. It’s so fulfilling to be a part of it, and make sure these kids are successful.”
Director, Office of Planning & Economic Development, City of Holyoke; Age 32
Marcos Marrero called it “a completely unexpected but certainly welcome development.”
He was referring to Holyoke’s inclusion on Popular Mechanics’ list of “The 14 Best Startup Cities in America.” The Paper City placed sixth, directly behind Oakland, Calif., Portland, Maine, and Baltimore, Md., and just ahead of Boulder, Colo., Reno, Nev., and Des Moines, Iowa, all considerably larger urban areas.
“I’m not even entirely sure what they based this on,” Marrero told BusinessWest. “I don’t know if they used metrics or if it was their editorial board or if they had some internal scoring method.
“Whatever it was, we’ll take it … it’s validation that people are taking notice,” he went on. “This is not a ranking of the best 14 cities in the country in which to do business — it’s saying, ‘these 14 cities are doing something special; take a look.’”
Getting people to take a look on Holyoke is one of the many accomplishments Marrero has to his credit since becoming director of the city’s Office of Planning & Economic Development in 2012. He’s also played a key role in completing one of the largest urban-renewal plans in the state; securing funds for design and construction of a new train station; helping to win a three-year, $250,000 grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston for the SPARK (Stimulating Potential, Accessing Resource Knowledge) initiative through the Working Cities Challenge; reincarnating the Holyoke Redevelopment Authority, where he serves as Executive Director; growing the city’s creative economy; bringing new businesses to the city’s downtown; and much more.
Marrero, a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico and Princeton University, said much has been accomplished in the city he now also calls home, but there is considerably more left to do. He equated putting the pieces together to a game of dominoes.
“We’re faced with many challenges, but there are also a lot of assets here, and you can be very creative in how you package those and how you work in partnerships to attract people to the city,” he explained. “It’s paying off, slowly but surely. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Holyoke’s not going to be revitalized in a year.
“At the state level, we’ve been getting a lot of recognition,” he went on. “When other communities consult with state government leaders, they say, ‘talk to Holyoke; see what they’re doing. They’re in a similar situation, and they’re moving forward.’”
Information Technology Services Officer, Country Bank for Savings; Age 35
Eric Devine says the desire to excel at everything he does is programmed in his DNA.
He is responsible for Ware-based Country Bank’s information-technology system, and has played a significant role in the institution’s recent technology-upgrade efforts aimed at streamlining services. In fact, Devine and his staff were recognized countless times for their ability to meet and surpass expectations, and although he admits his job can be challenging, he loves it and looks forward to going to work every morning.
“I am very competitive with myself and strive to exceed demands,” he told BusinessWest. “I like to be the best at everything I do and believe I am fortunate to work for a great company with a great team of people.”
Devine served as president of the John Boyle O’Reilly Club for eight consecutive terms and stepped down in January to spend more time with his wife Jennifer and their 5-year-old twins, Alana and Erin. But he began going to the club with his father when he was a child, and says it has always played an important role in his life. “I grew up in the Irish community, and the club is my second home.”
He was the 2015 Springfield Grand Parade Marshal for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and a member of the Parade Committee. During his tenure at John Boyle O’Reilly, Devine helped to host a wide variety of events, expand the number of children’s sports teams, and raise funds for many worthy causes.
He was feted with the Christopher Burnham Award in 2014, which was presented to him by U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. He received the Paul G. Caron Award in 2008 and is actively involved with Griffin’s Friends Children’s Cancer Fund at Baystate Health Foundation. Inc. and participates in the group’s Marathon Challenge as a marathon runner and fund-raiser (he also ran the Boston Marathon in 2013).
Devine also serves on an advisory committee at Porter and Chester Institute and helps determine what students need to learn to be prepared for the workforce. In addition, he served as the 2014 chairman for the Committee to Elect Aaron Saunders for State Senate. He and his wife are also on the Boston 2024 Olympic Citizens Advisory Group.
That’s quite a schedule to keep, but Devine is undaunted. “I am passionate about always doing my best.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
Development Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County; Age 24
That was the word Joel Morse, associate director of Corporate Support for WGBY, summoned repeatedly as he nominated Kate Lockhart for inclusion in the 40 Under Forty Class of 2015.
He didn’t use it in the context of her work as development director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampshire County (BBBS), although that was implied. Rather, he deployed it to describe all that she has accomplished at age 24 and how she continues to inspire people with her energy, imagination, and commitment to the community.
“She’s an incredible example of how someone can overcome severe obstacles (extreme poverty, putting herself through college, and being the sole guardian of her two siblings),” wrote Morse, “and still be an example to her business associates, professional colleagues, and friends.”
Lockhart, a UMass Amherst graduate who interned at BBBS in 2013, has become, in many respects, the face of the agency in Hampshire County. She coordinates its four annual fund-raisers, including the hugely successful bowl-a-thon, handles public relations and marketing, works with individual donors, and represents the organization at chamber events and other functions.
In short, she plays a huge role in creating, facilitating, and nurturing the many types of relationships, especially those within the business community, that BBBS needs to meet its mission of serving at-risk young people.
She’s also a Big Sister, or ‘big,’ as they’re called, to Karen, age 10, her ‘little,’ despite being only two years out of college.
“I really believed in the work that we did, and knew I could be a ‘big’ — so why not?” she said, adding that she went through the same rigorous screening process as all candidates. “We do all kinds of things together, but basically I just try to incorporate her into my life.”
She balances all these responsibilities with a new and all-encompassing one. Indeed, she recently gained custody of her two siblings, ages 12 and 15, removing them from what she called a “bad situation.”
Lockhart, who has been involved with nonprofits since her years at UMass, is active within the community on many levels. She is the founder and co-president of the Young Professionals of Amherst, and recently joined the board of the Amherst chamber. She is also on the Winterfest committee of the Friends of Amherst Leisure Services and Supplemental Education. She is also active with the UMass Alumni Assoc., and is presently part of the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact.
Chris Desrosiers remembers Hadley Printing — the small, one-man shop started by his grandfather, Alexander, and then acquired by his his father, Mark, and uncle, Dean — being a huge part of his life growing up. He recalls being at the shop handling odd chores while in grade school, before graduating to more serious roles on the production floor during summers in high school.
But he never intended to be part of any third-generation ownership team. In fact, after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology and its printing management program, he went to work for a printer in Boston. Everything changed, however, in 2003, when Dean decided he wanted to sell his ownership stake in the company. Chris saw this as a unique, and unanticipated, opportunity to return to Western Mass. and scratch an entrepreneurial itch, and he partnered with his brother, Greg, to acquire those shares.
A decade later, they completed the acquisition, buying out their father, and today they’re full partners in a business that is setting the tone in a changing, increasingly competitive printing industry.
While Greg is focused primarily on sales and marketing, Chris is involved with operations, and he played a huge role in expanding the company’s services to the larger-scale printing projects demanded by many commercial customers, thus helping it double sales since 2003.
The third-generation owners have invested heavily in equipment and people, a trend that continues with the acquisition of a new Kumari five-color, 40-inch press recently installed at the Holyoke plant. “This will help us take that large-format commercial segment to a new level,” he explained. “This investment will pay dividends.”
He’s expecting a similar return on investment from the time and energy he’s contributing to efforts to groom the next generation of printing professionals, through his involvement with Dean Technical High School and its graphic communications program.
“A business like ours is so technology-driven, it’s really a trade handled by craftsmen,” he explained. “The staff we have here is in their 40s, 50s, and 60s; we have a lot of talent here, but over the next 10 years there’s going to a be a lot of attrition, and finding people who not only have interest, but also the talent and experience, is tough these days. I got involved at Dean because I wanted to help develop new talent for this trade — and this business.”
— George O’Brien
Vice President of Global Risk Management, MassMutual Financial Group; Age 37
Sarah Williams acknowledged that it’s not easy explaining — in layman’s terms, anyway — exactly what she does as vice president of Global Capital Risk for MassMutual.
A brief bio issued by the company puts it this way: “Williams is responsible for leading the assessment and analysis of international capital standards, including field testing for the proposed International Assoc. of Insurance Supervisors Common Framework requirements. She also oversees MassMutual’s enterprise risk appetite analysis and reporting.”
Williams, who came to MassMutual roughly a year ago after a lengthy stint at the Hartford, where she handled a variety of roles, provided an effective translation to that synopsis.
“As a result of the financial crisis, there’s a great deal of change happening with regard to regulation of the financial-services industry,” she said, noting that this includes insurance companies like MassMutual. “My job, and I really enjoy it, involves determining what we should be doing today to strategically position ourselves to continue to be competitive and profitable given all of these new regulations that are coming out.”
This is a job that takes her abroad at least a few times a year — she recently returned from Rome, for example, and has made trips to Switzerland, Canada, and the Netherlands in recent months — and to Washington, D.C. frequently. There is little time for sightseeing, however, she said, adding that this is definitely business travel.
When not assessing risk for MassMutual, Williams is kept busy with work within the community, and also as part of what she called a “football family.”
With regard to the former, she is treasurer and immediate past president of the corporate board for the YMCA of Greater Springfield, and also leads Springfield Youth Cheerleading, an organization devoted to promoting and teaching that activity.
“When my sons were little, my husband ran the youth football program, so I took over the cheerleading program in Springfield,” she said, adding that she cheered herself in high school. “We have about 80 girls in that program every year.”
As for the latter, well, the cheerleading is part of it, but this family also watches and plays the game. Indeed, Williams’ husband, Richard, is offensive-line coach at Springfield’s Central High School, while her sons and stepson all played for Central, and her youngest son is the projected starting quarterback at Monmouth University in New Jersey next season.
Robert Levesque has always loved to work. “I’ve never had a job I didn’t like,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he comes from a family of entrepreneurs and co-founded R. Levesque Associates Inc. in 2001 with his father, Raymond Levesque.
His dad died from cancer — which led Robert to become a board member at the Cancer House of Hope — but the company has thrived, and he takes his great satisfaction in helping clients develop innovative, environmentally sound, and cost-effective projects that promote sustainable development.
“I love the excitement, challenge, creativity, and problem solving related to the use of land and its development,” he said, as he explained how he helps clients navigate the quagmire of local, state, and federal regulations required to achieve their goals.
“We’ve gone from working out of a walk-out basement to a business with 16 employees, and have acquired two buildings and two small businesses — Ecotec and D.L. Bean Engineers and Surveyors,” he said.
Although he believes in organic growth, quality is extremely important to him, and he is proud to provide affordable solutions to people working with their own money.
Levesque and his wife Jennifer are parents to 9-year-old Aiden, 8-year-old Payton, and 5-year-old Ryann. “My wife is very motivated and is a huge support to me in everything, including the business,” he said.
Levesque is on the board of the Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity Restore Committee and the Westfield School Building Committee. He is a corporator for Westfield Atheneum and a former board member of the city of Westfield’s Industrial Development Corp. and the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce. His company was chosen as the 2014 Greater Westfield Chamber Business of the Year, and Mayor Daniel Knapik presented him with a commendation naming him Business Man of the Year.
But his passion is Stanley Park, and he sits on its board of directors.
“It’s a gem in the city; most people don’t realize it’s a private nonprofit that needs good stewardship,” he said. “I grew up in Westfield, and if I’m asked to join an organization and feel I can contribute something, I do it. I don’t like sitting still; I like to be involved.”
— Kathleen Mitchell Photo by Denise Smith Photography
Gregg Desmarais knows that everyone faces challenges and obstacles in life.
“But I tend to see the silver lining in things and try to change bad situations into good ones,” he told BusinessWest.
Last April, he recruited a team of volunteers from TD Bank to landscape and paint an elderly widow’s home during the Revitalize Community Development Corp.’s National Rebuilding Day. They were unable to finish their work due to freezing rain and bitter cold, but he convinced them to volunteer again the following Saturday.
“It’s so rewarding. I take advantage of any opportunity I can to get out of my suit and tie, get my hands dirty, and give back to the community. I want to make Springfield as healthy, safe, and beautiful as it can be,” said the RCDC board member, who served as chairperson for three years during the Community Foundation’s annual Valley Gives fund-raiser.
Desmarais’ dedication and passion for people have helped him succeed at TD Bank. He started four years ago as an assistant store manager in Agawam, was promoted to manager and assistant vice president of his hometown bank in Westfield, and was later chosen to lead the institution’s flagship office in downtown Springfield in 2013.
Since that time, he has been assigned to high-profile projects and won many accolades. He was a 2012 TD Bank nominee for the CEO Leadership Award; feted as a TD Bank Top Performer in 2012, 2013, and 2014; and selected to attend the bank’s prestigious TD Leadership Training Program.
Desmarais also earned two quarterly ‘Wow Stars,’ which recognize top performers in specific areas within a seven-region area with more than 100 offices.
He said his parents instilled a strong work ethic in him, and family is his highest priority. He and his wife Michelle are parents to 2-year-old Ryan, and the family roots hard for the four-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Desmarais is a former member of the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s grant approval board and wakes up every day wanting to do better than the day before. “I love helping people get their dream home and plan for retirement,” he said. “I also love helping people stay in their homes when they can’t afford necessary repairs. Any opportunity I have to give back to the community makes me feel good.”
— Kathleen Mitchell
To most of the world, they are Asha, Henry, and Stanley Crenshaw, cousins, teenage heirs to the massive Crenshaw Family Foods empire, and sole survivors of the tragic, and suspicious, explosion that wiped out the entire Crenshaw family — except for their beloved Uncle Fletcher.
To the forces of greed and chaos, however, they are the Mighty Magical Majestics, keepers of ancient mysteries and defenders of civilization. And they are a product of the imagination possessed by Danielle Williams — by day an attorney with the Northampton-based firm Fierst, Kane & Bloomberg LLP, specializing in litigation, housing, and intellectual-property law — and co-creator Armani Barake Scott.
“It’s basically a melding of our families — his children and my niece and nephew, and it’s been a great experience and a lot of fun,” said Williams as she explained the Majestics concept and the inspirations for the superheroes themselves. “It’s based on Egyptian mythology, and trying to understand the legacy they stumble upon. They only have bits and pieces — they’re trying to discover who’s after them and who killed their family.”
In the partners’ first Majestics comic book, Anubis Plague Part 1, the young superheroes head to the Midwest in hopes of finding answers to a pattern of powerful and very suspicious storms that are destroying industrial farms and killing herds of cattle.
As the title suggests, there is much more to this saga coming — another three parts are planned, said Williams, adding that, as she and Scott continue writing — they share those duties and together decide plot lines — they are also working on a webisode based on their concept.
While continuing to develop the Majestics through GADA, the entertainment company created by the partners, Williams continues her law career, one that began with her battling crime in a different way — as an assistant district attorney in Hampden County — before she followed a friend’s advice, moved to New York City, and began mixing legal work with creative writing.
She returned to Western Mass. several years ago, and has become active in the community she has always considered home. She is a founding board member and board secretary of Veritas Prep Charter School, a member of the MacDuffie School Advisory Board, and vice president of the Greater Springfield Chapter of the Links Inc. She has also done volunteer work with PeaceJam New England and the United Way of Pioneer Valley — efforts that are heroic in their own way.