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The Class of 2017

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017


Scenes from the Class of 2017 June Event

The Log Cabin in Holyoke was once again bursting with energy and excitement as more than 700 people packed the house to celebrate the 40 Under Forty class of 2017 — the 11th class of successful young professionals so honored by BusinessWest since the program’s inception in 2007.

Photos by Leah Martin Photography


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40 Under 40 Cover Story The Class of 2017

Announcing the 11th Annual Top Young Business and Community Leaders in Western Massachusetts

40under40-logo2017aA year ago it was a first; now, it would have to be called a trend.

Women again outnumber men within the 40 Under Forty class of 2017, as the photos will reveal, although it’s quite close, actually. But who’s counting?

What people should be counting are the years and the numbers of area residents now in this special club, if you will. That would be 11 and 440, to be exact.

As the profiles (list of links to profiles below) reveal, each story of a 40 Under Forty winner is different and in some way unique, hailing from industries ranging from law to banking; from education to transportation; from media to healthcare — not to mention many others. Many are advancing the work of long-established businesses, while others, with an entrepreneurial bent, created their own opportunities instead of waiting for them to emerge.

40 Under Forty Class of 2017

But there are, as always, some common denominators, including excellence within one’s profession, a commitment to giving back to the community, dedication to family and work/life balance, and a focus on ‘what else’ they do in each of those realms.

The class of 2017 (go HERE for the PDF flipbook), its diversity, and its and individual and collective accomplishments will be celebrated at the annual 40 Under Forty Gala on June 22 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke. A limited number of tables are available, but a number of individual seats and standing-room-only tickets are still available.

The gala will also feature the announcement of the winner of the third annual Continued Excellence Award, a recognition program that salutes the 40 Under Forty honoree who has most impressively added to their résumé of accomplishments in the workplace and within the community, as chosen by a panel of judges.

Speaking of judges, we thank those who scored the more than 150 nominations for this year’s 40 Under Forty competition (see story HERE). They are:

Ken Albano, managing partner of the Springfield-based law firm Bacon Wilson;
Jean Deliso, CFP, president and owner of Deliso Financial Services;
Samalid Hogan, director of the western regional office of the Mass. Small Business Development Center Network and member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2013;
Patrick Leary, partner at the Springfield-based accounting firm Moriarty & Primack and member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2017; and
Matt Sosik, president and CEO of bankESB.

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Photography for this special section by Leah Martin Photography

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Vice President, PeoplesBank; Age 39

Michelle Chase

Michelle Chase

Michelle Chase says she has a simple, yet quite poignant outlook on her career, parenting, and … every facet of her life, really.

“With whatever I’m doing, whether its running, with the kids, at work … I’m always trying to think of a way where I can leave my mark, or I can leave my legacy,” she explained, adding that she believes she’s been quite successful in those efforts to date.

As she elaborated, she started with a reference to a quarterly coffee hour she spearheaded at PeoplesBank, where she has been employed since 2011, currently serving as assistant vice president and manager of the branch in Westfield.

“A member of senior management speaks at that coffee hour about their career development and how they got to where they are — the career path they took, the mistakes they made, the things they did well,” she said of the gatherings, staged at the institution’s headquarters in Holyoke. “And it has spread like wildfire at the bank; we’ve run out of room for the people who want to attend. I left my mark — that event will continue long after I leave the bank.”

Chase is also leaving a mark, her mark, in the community through contributions to groups and causes ranging from the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (where she volunteers with everything from the CEO luncheons to dodgeball) to the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce; from Habitat for Humanity to the Springfield Boys & Girls Club.

She brought this passion to serve and help others together with another recently developed passion — running — to help in the fight against breast cancer. Indeed, soon after her best friend was diagnosed with that disease, she organized a 5k race called the Breast Run Ever.

And she believes she’s making her mark as a parent through … well, all of the above, by setting a solid example for her children, daughter Emma Daunais, 14, and son Chase Daunais, 11.

“One of the reasons why I do the things I do within the community is to lead by example and hope that these are things that they pick up and they want to do themselves someday,” she explained. “I’d love it if they’d say, ‘my mom did these things, and I want to follow that lead.’”

As she said, she likes to leave her mark, and it’s a mark of excellence and commitment to the community.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Teacher, English Language Learners School; Children’s Author; Age 26

Katherine Kraver

Katherine Kraver

Katherine Kraver jokes that she’s “retiring in reverse.”

That’s a reference to the fact that she’s collecting stamps on her passport — dozens of them — when she’s in her 20s, not 60s, 70s, or 80s. But she’s not traveling to destinations as diverse as Costa Rica, Croatia, India, Jordan, and South Africa to relax, sightsee, and snap photos for albums (although she does some of that).

No, she’s going to learn. Only she has another name for it.

“I keep it to business,” she noted, adding that this means absorbing everything she can about these countries, many of which are the birthplaces of students in her third-grade classroom at the ELL (English Language Learners) School in West Springfield.

“Every school vacation, I pick a student in my classroom, and I travel to their home country to learn more about their culture, customs, language, history, and some of the experiences they may have gone through,” she explained. “Students are more willing to learn when they feel you’re really connected to them, like if I know a little of their language, or a tradition, or something else I can connect to them with.”

And these trips have yielded more than insight, perspective, and those connections. Indeed, they have provided storylines and inspiration to tell those stories, in the form of children’s books told from the perspective of a child.

Her first, It Was Just a House, written when she was just 24, was inspired by her trip to a Middle Eastern refugee camp. Her second, The Boy with the Red Shoes, released last year, was motivated by her trip to Haiti following the earthquake there in 2010.

“I wrote that first book to teach other students about what that child might be bringing into our classroom, and how we can be compassionate and empathetic, as well as to teach my co-workers and adults about these people we know so little about,” she said, adding that it was the same with the second tome.

While she likes to talk about where’s she’s been, Kraver is more fond of discussing where she’s going next, to do more learning and perhaps gain the inspiration to pen additional books.

In fact, just a few days after the 40 Under Forty gala in late June, she’ll be off to Venice and a host of other destinations in Italy.

Retiring in reverse? Not even close. This will be another ‘business’ trip.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Executive Director, Palante Theater Co.; Holyoke City Councilor; Age 29

Nelson Roman

Nelson Roman

Nelson Roman loves the theater and played many roles in well-known productions during his youth. But his life story is more compelling and inspirational than any script.

“I’ve gone from hopeless to hopeful through the things I’ve done and am making my dream become a reality,” said the Puerto Rican, bilingual founder of the black-box-style Palante Theater Co. in Holyoke, whose first production will be a Puerto Rican/Latino play.

A decade ago, after learning he was HIV positive, Roman became homeless and spent two years on the streets of Holyoke before a state program changed his life.

Today, he has secured the initial investment for his theater, plans to launch a capital campaign to fund it, and has support from the Urban Theater Co. in Chicago and the Mass. International Festival of the Arts Victory Theatre in Holyoke.

His goal is to give local people an inexpensive venue to see live productions and showcase young talent via plays and films that raise awareness about social issues and celebrate the Puerto Rican and Latino cultures.

Roman is also working to help revitalize South Holyoke. The Ward 2 city councilor was first elected in 2015 and views himself as a connector between government and the neighborhood. He started three neighborhood associations, helped create Taste of South Holyoke and the Holyoke World AIDS City Event, chairs the Joint Committee of the City Council and the School Committee, and serves on the council’s Development and Government Relations Committee.

In 2012, he founded the Imperial Court of Western Mass. Inc., a nonprofit that raises money to provide services to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and people who have HIV or AIDS.

“Five years later, we were able to give out $65,000 in grants to organizations that include the AIDS Foundation of Western Mass. [he served on that board from 2013 to 2015], the Holyoke House of Color, Springfield Pride, and Northampton Pride,” he said.

Roman served on the board of the Springfield Puerto Rican Cultural Council from 2014 to 2016, and has been feted with the Audre Lordes Founder Award and an International Court System Commendation.

“Every day when I wake up,” he said of his approach to life, “I think, ‘what if I am not here tomorrow? Have I done everything I can to make a positive difference in my community?’”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Co-owner, Camp K-9; Age 36

Alessandra Connor

Alessandra Connor

Ali Connor and her husband, Nick, wanted a change.

They both worked in upper management in the retail world, but the hours and lifestyle weren’t amenable to a growing family, which, in the spring of 2015, included a 2-year-old son, Reid, and another son, Wyatt, on the way.

That was the year their careers went to the dogs.

“We realized we wanted to do our own thing,” she told BusinessWest. “We tried a couple of things based on our experiences, but they didn’t pan out.”

But, dog owners themselves, they both loved animals and realized that their hometown of Westfield didn’t have a day camp for dogs — so they started one.

“We cater to customers who have busy lifestyles,” Connor said, noting that Westfield officials were excited about this new entry into the business community. “They saw what we offered was a lot different than the traditional kennel concept.”

At Camp K-9, which offers both day-care and sleepover services, the Connors emphasize getting to know not only the dogs, but their owners, in order to provide personalized care. Besides daily play groups, the facility arranges monthly events — like a Picnic in the Paw’k Pawty on April 24 — and allows dogs access to an indoor dog park and ‘fun-gility’ gym to socialize and exercise.

“We have fun,” she said. “We try to make the experience like a preschool daycare. A child might have arts and crafts or hobby days, and so do we.”

While brightening the days of their canine visitors, Ali and Nick also donate resources and energy to organizations including the Westfield Animal Shelter, Rainbow Rescue, T.J. O’Connor Animal Hospital, Westfield schools, the Kiwanis Club, Shriners Hospitals for Children, 126th Brigade, Children’s Miracle Network, Heroes at Home, Rays of Hope, and Westfield Little League, among others.

“I would love to do more, but we do what we can,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she takes pride in supporting groups that make life better for Westfield-area residents — by running a successful business that makes life easier for dog-loving families.

“There’s a bond you don’t get with other animals,” Connor said. “The companionship of dogs is so important to me, and it’s important to our customers. We were the first customers here, and as customers, we ask, ‘what do we want our dog to be doing?’”

Answering that question on a daily basis has been a rewarding experience, she added. “It’s great owning a business — a fun, family-oriented business — with someone you love.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Vice President, Internal Control, PeoplesBank; Age 32

Trisha Leary

Trisha Leary

It’s a challenging, tightly regulated world for banks these days, so it’s hard to overestimate the importance of auditors. But let’s hear Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, tell it.

“I formerly served as the CFO, so I know how important financial audits and risk-mitigation efforts are to our safety and security,” he noted by way of explaining why Trisha Leary was promoted from Risk Oversight officer to vice president of Internal Control. “Trisha is the person our leadership team turns to for information on federal and state banking regulations, risk management, and related reporting.”

Leary started her career in a different corner of the financial-services world, as an accountant with Wolf & Co., primarily focusing on banking. “That’s how I got into banking,” she said. “I started auditing banks from a public perspective, then came to be the internal auditor here. I focus on policy and procedure, and make sure we’re doing what we say we’re doing.”

In doing so, she gets to interact with every department in the bank. “We’re looking at everything from the teller line to financial statements, making sure everything is in line; we get to see how everything operates, and it’s interesting. I get to work with a bunch of great people.”

Like most PeoplesBank employees, Leary also has one foot firmly planted in community service, volunteering for the United Way Day of Caring — her projects have included revitalizing a rec room at the YMCA of Greater Springfield, restoring and painting fences surrounding Wistariahurst Museum, and landscaping and cleaning up Forest Park Zoo — and serving as treasurer for Girls Inc., a cause especially close to her heart.

“I’m honored to be on the board,” she said of the nonprofit, which provides girls with opportunities to reach their full potential through programs in STEM studies, leadership development, and life skills, among others. “I have two girls myself, and I see the impact this organization has on girls’ lives.”

Leary also volunteers for the bank’s social committee, employee appreciation committee, and holiday committee, but finds it most gratifying to reach out to the community.

“As fun as it is being an auditor, it’s more satisfying when you can go out and help others,” she added. “The bank is very good about allowing opportunities for getting involved; it’s something we pride ourselves on. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Owner and Instructor, MEGAdance; Age 32

Megan Shaw

Megan Shaw

Megan Shaw has been passionate about dance and fitness all her life, so, about eight years ago, she started teaching Zumba.

Noticing that her classes at the YMCA were always packed, she took a leap in 2012 and launched her own fitness business, MEGAdance — which she characterizes as a “high-energy dance party workout” — from a small church basement, starting with only eight students. But it grew quickly by word of mouth, and today, she’s moved to much larger facilities in Greenfield, where her classes typically draw 40 to 50 people.

“MEGAdance is a place where people of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and fitness abilities work out, dance, and have fun without fear of judgment,” she told BusinessWest. “I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is celebrated, supported, and encouraged to be themselves and express their own rhythm in class and in life.”

Shaw said her classes are a judgment-free zone for women and men of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. “I love that women in their 70s come to my class; it’s very inspiring. And I strive to create a positive environment where everyone is supported and encouraged to be themselves. We are a fit family.”

It’s also a business that gives back to the community, offering free classes in low-income communities, schools, nursing homes, and at the Center for Human Development, and holding fund-raisers to support the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Community Action, and most recently, the Peruvian Red Cross to help flood victims.

Shaw, who speaks Spanish fluently, is especially fond of Peru after spending the past two summers there, participating in internships that promote sustainable agriculture and working with indigenous communities.

“Because I come from a humble background and understand the struggle to live with few resources, I feel strongly about supporting the community,” she said, both in Peru and in her own backyard. To be able to do that while sharing her passion for dance, well, that’s just gravy.

“The goal in my professional life is nothing short of breaking the status quo and transforming my community through dance fitness, community building, and radical self-acceptance,” she noted, adding that seeing lives change for the better is only half the story.

“It’s reciprocal,” she said. “They change my life, too.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Donor Outreach Manager, Baystate Health Foundation; Age 31

Jenna Conz

Jenna Conz

Jenna Conz says a career in the world of giving is a natural fit.

“I grew up in a family that was really involved in the community; our family culture was giving back,” she said. “That was ingrained in me from an early age, and it followed me through my experience at UMass. When I was job hunting, I had a real passion for being involved in the community and seeing the impact of what fund-raising can do.”

A development position opened up at the Jimmy Fund, and from there she made her way to Baystate Health Foundation, where she spent her first five years fund-raising for Baystate Children’s Hospital, which involved another of her loves, event planning, and saw her managing some of the health system’s signature events, from the Children’s Miracle Network Radiothon to the Max Golf Classic.

In that role, she got to hear plenty of patient stories, both heartwarming and heartwrenching, and occasionally inspiring, like the young patient who was transported in an adult-sized wheelchair and started a fund-raiser to purchase pediatric wheelchairs — one that took off when he shared it on the Radiothon.

Since 2015, Conz has taken on the role of donor outreach manager, overseeing stewardship of foundation donors across the health system, in so doing exposing herself — and others — to a wider range of patient success stories.

“I am so appreciative of the relationships I’ve formed, personally and professionally,” she said. “I get to meet people who have had amazing care at the children’s hospital or the Cancer Center, and hear life-saving stories from the Emergency Department. I feel so honored to share those stories in the community, letting people know about all that’s going on here.”

But Conz is doing much more than soliciting gifts. Outside the workplace, she’s doing plenty of giving herself — of her time and energy, to organizations like Northampton Dollars for Scholars and the Easter Seals. All the while, she’s thankful for a career that continues to bring her face to face with life-changing stories.

“It’s incredible to see the high level of care right here in our backyard; it’s incredible,” she told BusinessWest. “My job is to make sure people continue to choose Baystate as their charity of choice.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

President, Treasurer, and Director, Five Star Transportation Inc.; Age 35

Nathan Lecrenski

Nathan Lecrenski

Plenty of 40 Under Forty winners know how to use careful navigation, vision, and execution to drive their careers in the right direction. For Nathan Lecrenski, those aren’t just metaphors, as he leads his family’s school-bus transportation business where it needs to go.

Lecrenski’s been steering Five Star Transportation Inc. since 2013, when he and his brother Darren bought the business from their mother. Since then, Five Star has grown revenues by nearly 300%, resulting in the creation of more than 110 new jobs, eight new contracts, 125 new buses, and expansion from three terminals to five throughout Hampden and Hampshire counties, with plans to add a Cape Cod location this summer.

“Numbers are my thing,” he said of his significant achievements. “I got my bus-driving license when I was 19 and a half years old, and had my own route in Amherst for almost two years.” Lecrenski is also a mechanic and can run any part of the business, but says what he likes most is planning and “supplying clients with what they’re looking for.”

Like technology, for example. All of Five Star’s radios are digital, securely controlled from any location. There’s GPS on every bus, which means Lecrenski knows if a driver speeds, and he can track any bus on any route, at any time, which could throw a (virtual) wrench into the old ‘my bus didn’t come’ stay-at-home excuse.

“Our company was started in the ’60s, a decade before the first personal computers came out,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how technology has driven innovation and success in the transportation industry.”

But Lecrenski says the real key to his success is the relationships he’s forged, not only with his brother, but with his vendors, clients, and business associates. “Nothing we do is a one-man or one-woman job. Partnering is the real key to success; it’s given us the support and control we need to grow.”

Lecrenski, who has two boys, Grayson and Preston, with wife Stephanie, inspires teamwork on the home front and in his community as an active volunteer with Boy Scouts of America and as a youth soccer coach, coaching Grayson’s team for three seasons.

“I’ve learned, on board a bus or on the field, there’s usually one child who leads the group,” he said. “Once you’ve earned their respect, the whole group comes together.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Principal, Customer Relationship Development, Sumner & Toner Insurance Agency Inc.; Age 36

Jack Toner

Jack Toner

Jack Toner is a third-generation business owner who you might say is going the distance. He’s an insurance agent by trade, and a marathoner for fun.

“The insurance business is always evolving and changing; on any given day you might come across a new risk that you need to manage,” he explained. “Running is a mental and physical recharge for me.”

He’s also on the run for his clients, some who’ve been with Sumner & Toner for more than 40 years.

Toner said the insurance industry is all about partnerships, bringing agents and customers together to tailor policies to meet each of their specific needs. “I like meeting people and figuring out not only how to help them prepare for the unexpected, but also make a positive difference in their lives.”

He got a jump start on changing lives for the better two years out of Georgetown University, when he taught English as a second language in China. “I was working in D.C. and decided I wanted to see the world and do something different,” Toner said. “It was amazing to experience their culture, and share ours.”

When he returned, he worked as a leasing agent for just over a year. He decided to come home to work at his family’s agency because it was an opportunity to not only carry on a family legacy, but build on a solid foundation of success.

“In 1967, our family became involved in a local independent insurance agency that was founded in 1933 in Springfield,” he noted. “The agency took its present form in 1998, when my father, Bill, and Warren Sumner III merged their two agencies. Today, Warren’s son Bud is my partner in the agency.”

Toner, who lives with wife, Elizabeth, in Longmeadow, is also involved in the community, serving as a leader for the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield, Habitat for Humanity, and the Springfield Rotary Club. He also serves on St. Mary’s Parish Council in Longmeadow, and is a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus.

“I truly believe in the Rotary’s mission, ‘service above self,’ and serving humanity, whether it’s in our own backyard or across the world,” he said.

He added that he’s blessed to have loving parents who taught him that the world was bigger than him. “They told me to be patient, humble, and considerate, and that would lead to success.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of New Beginnings Early Education & Care Center, Springfield Partners for Community Action; Age 38

Tabitha Desplaines

Tabitha Desplaines

When Tabitha Desplaines was a child, she’d pretend to be a teacher, imagining her stuffed animals were students.

“I loved school, and teaching was all I wanted to do,” she said, adding that, when she was 17, she got pregnant and figured she’d hit a roadblock on her way to a career in education. But her mother had other ideas.

“She told me I was going to finish high school on schedule and go on to college; I had her full support, and together we figured it out.”

So Desplaines graduated high school with an 11-month old. Then she not only earned her college degree, she graduated at the top of her class. In her valedictory address, she praised her mom for helping her achieve her goals. “It was a struggle, getting through college, having a young child, but I looked to my mother, who was a single parent; she always figured out a way to take care of our family and give us what we needed, and that’s something I’ve taken with me my whole life.”

Desplaines planned to teach kindergarten, but when she couldn’t find a job in the public-school sector, she took a position at a private early-education and child-care center. There, she worked her way from the classroom to administration, leading to her present job as director of Early Education & Care for New Beginnings.

“I like teaching and guiding people — children and adults,” she said.

Her boss, Paul Bailey, says her experience of being a young, single mom “enhanced the skills she needed to become an ideal mentor, model, and (at times) shoulder to cry on for parents, students, and staff.”

Desplaines told BusinessWest she’s able to do what she does because she has a great family. She and her husband, Joshua, will celebrate their 14th anniversary this year. Her son Connor, who’s almost 21, is in college studying business.

She says her proudest New Beginnings achievement has been leading the center’s journey to accreditation, which was earned the year after she started. “I believe every child has a right to a quality education,” she said. “And I want to make sure our children have the skills, tools, and resources they need to grow and succeed. If there’s no funding, I try to find it.”

Desplaines says she’s always at the table, making herself known, because “it’s really important to me that these children get the best education they can.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Co-owner, On Point Construction Services, LLC; Age 36

Keith Locke

Keith Locke

Most people plan a day or a week ahead. Imagine planning a detailed, multi-year, multi-million-dollar, heavy civil construction schedule from start to finish. Then consider the road rage at stake if the plan goes awry.

Well, Keith Locke and his partner are the driving forces behind a company that’s in many ways like aspirin for the headaches everyone has experienced with road, building, and bridge construction.

They started their business to streamline project scheduling and improve elements critical to the success of construction contracts. They met working on the replacement of Northampton’s Calvin Coolidge Bridge in 2001. Locke was an intern, studying civil engineering at UMass Amherst.

“The project’s scope and overall value more than doubled from the original bid throughout the course of construction,” said Locke. “I learned first-hand about the importance of accurate project planning.”

After he graduated, he went to work for the contractor that replaced the bridge, Cianbro Corp., and, while with the firm, worked on many large, multi-year projects in the area, including the fish lift over the Holyoke Dam, as well as the Mt. Tom Power Plant. He gained experience juggling multiple projects simultaneously on his next job, at Baltazar Contractors of Ludlow. “This really honed my time-management skills and introduced me to a lot more industry contacts,” he said.

By 2010, Locke said, there was a noticeable shift in the culture of construction planning. “Project demands were increasing, and resources were decreasing. State agencies wanted projects completed faster and cheaper, but there were fewer available people and resources to plan and execute the work.”

Thus, On Point was launched to improve project controls. “My partner and I saw a need in the industry to provide more efficient solutions, from constructability reviews and contract-time determinations, to schedule compliance, claims preparation, and general project management,” he explained.

Locke also lends his planning expertise to his community, serving on the Southampton Planning Board and volunteering with the PTO at his children’s elementary school — he and his wife, Juliet, have three children, Livia, Kameron, and Jesse — where he’s currently leading a drive to build a preschool playground. He’s also coached his son’s soccer team and his daughter’s softball team.

Locke says On Point has helped him find the right work/life balance. “Seventy- to 80-hour work weeks are common in the construction industry. By specializing on just a few key aspects of the industry, we can fit a lot more in our days.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Management Consultant, Jen D. Turner, MBA; Age 39

Jen Turner

Jen Turner

Jen Turner calls herself “a beyond-the-box business-performance advisor,” helping small businesses throughout the Pioneer Valley grow and succeed.

“I like working with smaller companies and helping them through transitions,” she explained, adding that she’s been partnering with business owners for six years. Before that, she held traditional jobs in the sales, finance, retail, medical, and software industries. They provided typical benefits, but not a lot of work/life flexibility or job security.

“In my last full-time salaried position, I could see the writing on the wall,” she said. “The company was not really doing well, and I was laid off.”

She seized the opportunity and struck out on her own. “It was a natural progression for me. I had my MBA, and knew I could apply the same analyzing, optimizing, and collaborative skills I’d honed for 17 years without being tied to a traditional 9-to-5 schedule; I wanted the freedom and flexibility to create my own schedule and release my creative spirit.”

So she did, finding her out-of-the-box niche by splitting her time as a financial analyst with the Delta Group and working with more than 30 area companies in industries like agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, fitness, advertising, nonprofits, and even her own.

“I just went through rebranding myself,” said Turner, “and I worked really hard to find the right look and feel for what I do. I’ve tried to be fun without losing sight of the hard work, skill, and determination it takes to help businesses grow and thrive.”

She also has a successful track record working with businesses at the brink of failing, helping them make a comeback and thrive. “It’s been really rewarding to do this work,” she said.

And it’s given her the flexibility she needs to not only volunteer in her community, but also find time to stretch creatively. “I wear many hats,” said Turner, who lives with husband Brad, son Gaius, and daughter Althea. “I’m a wife, a mom, a money manager, and an artist who’s discovered life really is about balance.”

Turner also serves as co-chair of the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School Family Assoc., treasurer of the Belchertown Cultural Council, volunteer for Leadership Pioneer Valley, and vice president of the Quabbin Art Assoc., which she founded.

“Everything I do is for my family,” she said, “and I couldn’t do it without their support.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Executive Director, Springfield Central Cultural District; Age 26

Morgan Drewniany

Morgan Drewniany

When Morgan Drewniany was living on a reservation in New Mexico — studying soil chemistry and writing about the intersection between environmental and social justice as a project for Hampshire College — a career curating public arts programs may have seemed an unlikely next step.

But her desire to work in community development after college led her to the assistant director position at the Springfield Business Improvement District. When the director’s chair at the Springfield Central Cultural District (SCCD) opened up in 2014, she lobbied for the opportunity to run that agency.

“I said, ‘give me six months. If it’s not a good fit, you’ll know it.’ But it worked out well.”

It certainly has, on many levels. For example, Drewniany has spearheaded street and storefront initiatives like utility-box painting and Art Stop pop-up galleries, with the goal of promoting walkability and livability downtown. “To see the artists install their work, and at the same time see property owners make their spaces look amazing, and therefore make their tenants much happier, we’ve made several people’s day. Everyone feels more invested.”

Then there are broader programs like SCCD’s participation in Futurecity Massachusetts, which aims to reposition the cultural assets of Springfield, Boston, and Worcester as economic drivers.

Other SCCD initiatives have included an online video map to accompany the Downtown Springfield Cultural Walking Tour, and one-off events like a free concert last fall with three local organists in Old First Church in Court Square, playing the church’s full-size 1958 Aeolian-Skinner organ with its 56 ranks and 3,241 pipes, demonstrating the potential in a historic building and encouraging future activity there.

Besides connecting art and culture to the city’s economic-development efforts, many of these initiatives also provide income to local creatives, an outcome Drewniany values, noting that too many people take the arts for granted and think it’s enough for artists to produce works in exchange for exposure alone.

Leading a nonprofit that counts some 55 organizations as members, Drewniany told BusinessWest she enjoys helping people connect the dots between culture and commerce, bringing vibrancy and quality of life to Springfield.

“We can use art to solve public-safety issues, economic-development issues, and education issues. And more often than not, it’s a grass-roots approach; the community is involved in deciding what kinds if placemaking they want to see,” she said. “I always say art has a unique capacity to solve a number of problems in the most inclusive way.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Commercial Real Estate Broker, NAI Plotkin; Consultant, Lopez Consulting LLC; Age 38

Wilfredo Lopez Jr.

Wilfredo Lopez Jr.

Freddy Lopez has overcome many challenging obstacles. Having grown up in Springfield in an impoverished neighborhood where violence was a part of daily life, he’s self-taught, and takes pride in using his hard-earned knowledge to help clients and more than 13 community groups find solutions to challenges.

Lopez first realized he could make a difference in 2007 when the housing market crashed. He was a residential real-estate broker, and as lending guidelines tightened, he began educating clients about credit and financial literacy.

A few years later, he changed his focus to commercial real estate and was encouraged by his mentor, Evan Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin, to get involved in the community. At that point, he began to realize how much he could offer neighborhood groups and organizations.

“I wanted to work for the common good of all people and became a community activist,” Lopez said.

He has been a member of the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield since 2007, and serves on the board or is a member of groups that are too numerous to name. They include Springfield’s E3, Neighbor to Neighbor, Common Capital, DevelopSpringfield, Springfield Partners, and the steering committees of FutureCity 2025 and MGM’s Community Partners Network.

“My goal is to alleviate challenges for people in any way that I can,” he said. “I want to empower people based on their individual abilities and starting points.”

Lopez is passionate about the Alternatives to Violence Project in Springfield, which he has chaired since 2013. “Violence in inner cities is considered normal, and that needs to be addressed and changed,” he said. “The goal is to educate one person at a time about conflict resolution.”

The father of Lexus, 15, Jaylene, 10, and Diego, 9, Lopez serves on the board of trustees for Sabis International Charter School, which his children attend. His involvement with the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Committee is also important to him because it celebrates his culture, diversity, and inclusiveness, and caters to the largest demographic in the City of Homes.

Lopez is a member of Leadership Pioneer Valley’s class of 2016, is director of business development for Metrocare of Springfield LLC, serves as a senior consultant at Lopez Consulting LLC, and manages a multi-million-dollar portfolio at NAI Plotkin.

But all his diverse roles have a common thread. “I find inner peace in helping others.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Doctoral Student, Springfield College; Project Coordinator, ParaDYM Inc.; Age 30

Sedale Williams

Sedale Williams

When he was young, Sedale Williams never dreamed he would be able to attend college. But today, he is finishing his doctorate and has dedicated his life to helping young and underprivileged individuals realize their potential.

“An adolescent’s confidence is fragile, and they need to know they are capable, can set goals, and can realize their dreams,” said Williams, who grew up in several neighborhoods in Springfield and didn’t get the encouragement he needed in school, but set his sights on a doctorate in psychology after taking a course in the subject at Central High School.

Several months ago, Williams left his job as a clinician at BHN Carson Center for Human Services in Westfield to finish the doctoral program at Springfield College. He will return to Carson in August and is currently project coordinator for ParaDYM Inc. in New Britain, Conn., which serves at-risk youth.

Williams worked with the homeless in San Diego from 2010 to 2012 and saw a high incidence of underlying mental-health issues, which he said are often repressed in the African-American community. He served in AmeriCorps to support the Springfield College School Turnaround Initiative, was a peer advisor at Westfield State University, and has volunteered and worked on special projects at UConn, University of Hartford, United Way of Pioneer Valley, Hampden County Sheriff’s Department, Carl Robinson Correctional Institute, Springfield Academy for Excellence, and Veritas Prep Academy.

He is on the board and steering committee for Brothers United to Inspire Lifestyle Development, helps facilitate the annual Constructing Kings Male Youth Summit, and collaborates with Springfield youths and the community to lower the dropout rate. “I like working with middle-school students because that’s when you see a dropoff in interest in schooling,” he said.

In 2015, Williams was a speaker at the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s 93rd annual celebration and feted with its Youth Generate Presidential Service Award, presented at the 15th annual Boston College Diversity Challenge, was awarded the Key Program’s Deborah Feldstein-Bartfield Memorial Scholarship, and will speak at the 125th national conference of the American Psychological Assoc. in August.

Williams’ family has always supported him, and Springfield College advisor Peiwei Li has helped him stay motivated.

“I take on a lot that’s challenging,” he said, “but I want to pay it all forward.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of Risk Adjustment, Health New England; Age 33

Jessica Dupont

Jessica Dupont

Jessica Dupont is passionate about hockey. Really passionate.

That’s quite evident from the manner in which she can talk about everything from the ‘Broad Street Bullies,’ those famous Philadelphia Flyers teams that won Stanley Cups a decade before she was born, to the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL’s latest expansion team, but not, she believes, its last, due to the sport’s ever-rising popularity.

Dupont, the highest scorer among the 150-plus nominees for the 40 Under Forty class of 2017, is also passionate about giving back to the community, which she does through involvement with organizations ranging from Dress for Success Western Mass. to Square One. So she was really enjoying herself last month at a unique fund-raiser for Dress for Success called Hockey in Heels, undertaken in conjunction with the Springfield Thunderbirds. The event was staged this year just prior to the March 11 tilt against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

“That event,” she explained, “brings my two favorite things together: Dress for Success and creating programs that will empower women to re-enter the workforce, and hockey, which is my favorite thing ever — NHL, AHL, you name it.”

Dupont is quite passionate about something else, too. That would be health insurance (a most unlikely career choice for this sociology major from Mount Holyoke College) and the broad goal of making sure those who have it understand it and get the most out of that critical benefit.

When asked what she does as the Director of Risk Adjustment, there was a noticeable sigh, because the explanation — at least to those not in the business — doesn’t come quickly or easily. She summed it up this way:

“I work with the physicians in our community to make sure the care they’re delivering to their patients is properly documented and coded, so that we have accurate data to build our clinical strategies around,” she explained. “We can only build interventions, do work, and make sure we’re getting paid appropriately if we know what’s going on with our membership base.”

Slicing through all that, she said her work involves making sure health insurance works for all the parties involved — HNE, those who provide the care, and, especially, those receiving the care. And she finds that work, and the company’s “holistic approach,” rewarding.

“We’re very member-focused,” she said. “And we try to take care of our members, because they live in our communities: they’re our neighbors, they’re our family members; they’re not just a number.”

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Special Events & Tourism Planner, Yankee Candle Village; Age 34

Molly MacMunn

Molly MacMunn

Molly MacMunn often finds it difficult to attend events.

That’s because staging events for Yankee Candle is what she does for a living. It’s not a job, really, but a passion. So when she’s merely attending a gathering, she’s usually not focused on enjoying herself; instead, she’s observing, taking mental notes, and gauging what works and what doesn’t, always with an eye toward making her next event better.

It will be the same at the Log Cabin on June 22 when she accepts her 40 Under Forty award, but she vows to allow herself to have a good time.

“Events can be hard for me because I’m always looking at things from a different perspective,” said MacMunn, who noted that events are big part of the experience at the Yankee Candle complex in South Deerfield. They occur year-round, but the pace picks up when the leaves start to turn, and it stays that way through the holidays.

“Early fall … that’s when we put our running shoes on,” said MacMunn, who must wear them almost all day those months, because she is now a marathoner — she’s competed in several to date — and member of a Deerfield-based running club called Wicked Early.

By running in the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tenn., she has even managed to meld this new interest with yet another passion, giving back to the community — work that takes many forms, from staging events for Franklin County Young Professionals to judging the spelling bee at her daughter’s school.

In many ways, MacMunn said, it is her daughter Isabelle’s autism — or, more specifically, the manner in which many have helped her cope with this challenge — that has inspired her work within the community.

“I was a really young single mom, I was in college, I was working … I just felt lost,” she explained. “My sister, whom I’m very close to, said, ‘you’ll never be given more than you can handle, but that doesn’t mean you have to handle it alone.’ And I took that to heart.

“I found myself in a vulnerable position, and I relied on my community of friends and family,” she went on. “Now that my daughter is much older and I’m in a better place in my life, I feel there are many people who are given a lot to handle, and I would like to be part of the solution.”

Needless to say, she has succeeded in that quest.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Founder and CEO, Olive Natural Beauty; Age 28

Jessica Dupuis

Jessica Dupuis

When Jessica Dupuis was selling cosmetics in a Boston apothecary in 2008, she began researching the ingredients they contained. The products aren’t regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and her concern about customer safety grew when she discovered more than 1,500 ingredients known to cause health problems are banned in Europe but haven’t been eliminated in the U.S.

Dupuis felt the marketing was misleading, there was no transparency, and manufacturing benefited companies rather than consumers. So she began making soap and other products in her kitchen and giving samples to friends and relatives.

“I wanted to do something good for women that wouldn’t damage their health or the environment,” she said. “These products are being washed down the drain and are affecting the planet.”

She moved back to Amherst in 2010 and decided the following year to market her products to retail stores. She was working as an assistant to Tom Horton of Sustainable Resources, and his wife introduced her to people at Joia Beauty in Northampton, and they sold out of her products in weeks.

She continued to sell her product line, and in 2012, with help from fiancé (now husband) Graham Immerman, Dupuis launched a campaign and raised more than $7,000 on Indiegogo to donate safe skin-care products to women in need.

That same year, Horton introduced her to Paul Silva at Valley Venture Mentors (VVM). In 2015, Olive Natural Beauty won the first VVM Accelerator program for startups in Springfield. She and her team of 10 per-diem workers prepared and packaged 300,000 units of products and generated $250,000 in revenue by the end of that year, and she gave the keynote speech at the 2015 Grinspoon, Garvey & Young Entrepreneurship Conference.

Last year, Dupuis hired 13 local women to help fulfill orders and was featured multiple times on ipsy, the largest beauty-product sampling program in the world. Since then, 200,000 ‘ipsters’ have been introduced to her safe skin care, and she has mentored many VVM entrepreneurs seeking help with their startups.

“I dreamed about having my company become successful, but never thought this would happen,” she told BusinessWest. “It has been a very humbling experience, and I am not only proud but very grateful to people who have helped me.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Co-owner, Iron Duke Brewing; Age 34

Michael Marcoux

Michael Marcoux

Michael Marcoux never intended to go into the craft-beer business. He was actually working for the Pert Group, a marketing research company, when a beer-brewing friend, Nick Morin, asked him to look over his new business plan.

Marcoux liked it — a lot. Soon, the two were partners in a Ludlow-based venture called Iron Duke Brewing.

Marcoux says their philosophy is a celebration of hard work, which applies to both themselves and their customers. “Ludlow is an area where people know how to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty,” he said. “So our whole premise is celebrating a hard day of work by sitting down at the end of the day and having a pint.”

Customers visit the brewery’s taproom for those pints, but can also buy Iron Duke beer at more than 60 area bars and about 15 package stores — impressive distribution for an outfit that officially launched just two and a half years ago. But they don’t intend to grow too quickly. “The big thing for us is consistency — making sure we’re not putting out products that taste different four weeks later.”

Iron Duke keeps about eight styles in production at any given time, from light to dark brews, from smooth to hoppy; its flagship beer is a dark Irish porter. “I don’t think we realized how varied people’s tastes are, but that’s great for us; we get to experiment.”

That sense of experimentation has driven the craft-beer industry, which claims countless enthusiasts willing to travel to search out new styles. “People have had the chance to experience beer outside regular domestics — ‘what’s new? What’s different? What haven’t I tried?’” Marcoux said. “That’s the new mentality.”

He and Morin employ four full-time employees and four part-time bar staff, with plans to hire two more full-timers this year and perhaps reach 15 employees within five years. Meanwhile, they’re pouring their success into a number of nonprofits and community organizations, supporting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, St. Elizabeth Church, the Special Olympics, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and local youth sports teams, to name a few.

Now that he’s working for himself, Marcoux says there’s little about his job that he doesn’t find refreshing. “The weekend is my favorite part, when I can sit down in the taproom and talk to people about beer and their experiences — where they’ve been, where they’re going next … just sharing a mutual love for beer.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

President and CEO, Franklin First Federal Credit Union; Age 34

Michelle Dwyer

Michelle Dwyer

It’s one of the more unlikely career journeys in the region’s financial sector.

“I fell into the world of banking,” Michelle Dwyer told BusinessWest. “I was working retail, and I was like many people who get to a certain age and realize that’s not the career path for them.”

Working with a job-placement center, she was matched to a temporary teller position at Franklin First Federal Credit Union.

Nine years later, in 2016, her business card read ‘president and CEO.’

“As I worked my way up, I was lucky to have people who were very supportive, and the timing was good with people retiring, giving me opportunities to learn and move forward,” she explained.

In her current role, Dwyer oversees an institution with 7,000 members, 18 employees, and more than $50 million in assets. But she sees her most important role as connecting the credit union with the community and building relationships with Franklin County residents and businesses.

To that end, she has increased the credit union’s involvement in a variety of community activities, including sponsorship of events and organizations like Greenfield’s Movies in the Park series, the Clarkdale Cider Run for CISA, the Fire Bird 5k benefiting addiction-prevention efforts, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, just to name a few. It’s a spirit of giving back she has strived to cultivate at Franklin First Federal by encouraging fund-raising and volunteerism.

“A lot of it comes from when I was little; I always tried to go volunteer and help people,” Dwyer said, adding that, as she got older, “I had big dreams about creating these big programs, but reality and finances set in. Now I’m in a position where I can go out and make an impact. It’s a huge opportunity for me.

“It goes along with the credit-union spirit of going out and helping people,” she went on. “Credit unions started when a group of farmers helped each other, or a group of business owners helped each other. Obviously, we want to make money, but it gets rolled back in to help our customers.”

While she enjoys the various aspects of her role, Dwyer is still a bit shocked at how rapidly it came about.

“It was a very quick progression in 10 years,” she said. “But it’s so gratifying. I wouldn’t have chosen my path any differently.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Associate Attorney, Egan, Flanagan & Cohen; Age 33

Vanessa Martinez

Vanessa Martinez

Vanessa Martinez has been advocating for others since she was a young child.

It’s something that gives her great satisfaction, and her decision to become an attorney was driven by that skill coupled with a desire to give back to the community, which was instilled in her and her siblings by their father, Santos.

Martinez became a legal assistant at age 14, was involved in numerous youth programs at New North Citizens Council, and served as an HIV and AIDS hotline counselor during her teens. She is the first in her family to earn a college degree, the only one with a graduate degree, and worked her way up through the ranks of the legal profession.

Today, the associate attorney at Egan, Flanagan & Cohen focuses on real-estate and business law.

“About 70% of my clients are first-time homebuyers who don’t understand the process, so I am here to guide them through it,” she told BusinessWest.

Martinez has been a presenter at first-time-homebuyer seminars for Springfield Neighborhood Housing, Springfield Partners for Community Action, New North Citizens Council, HAPHousing, Holyoke Housing Authority, and Chicopee Neighborhood Development. She is a member of the Hampden County Bar Assoc. and past vice president of its real-estate section, has served as a volunteer for the Lawyer on the Line program and the District Court Lawyer for a Day program since its inception, and is currently vice president of the board of Gandara Mental Health Center Inc., a nonprofit that provides mental-health, substance-abuse, and preventive services to children, adults, and families in Massachusetts.

She was a guest speaker at a Springfield College event titled “Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King,” at a Meet the Law event at UMass Amherst, and on a Springfield Technical Community College career panel for students majoring in criminal justice. In addition, Martinez has been recognized for her continued commitment and pro bono services to Hampden County District Court.

“From a very early age, God blessed me by putting key people in my life who guided and supported me,” she noted. “The Western Mass. community has given so much to me that I feel like it’s not only my desire, but my obligation to give back.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

President, Geeleher Enterpises Inc.; Age 39

Ryan Geeleher

Ryan Geeleher

By the time most people reach their late 30s, they’ve been on countless job interviews. Ryan Geeleher is 39, and he’s never experienced one. He doesn’t have a résumé, and, as he says, he’s never held a ‘real’ job.

“I always planned to have my own business,” he said. “I wanted to be my own boss.” He started Geeleher Enterprises as a senior in high school, forgoing usual teen routines to mow lawns and plow snow, assisted by a couple of part-time helpers. “It was a sacrifice, but one I don’t regret.”

Geeleher graduated high school and went on to study landscape contracting at UMass Amherst’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture. While there, he not only earned a degree and honed his business skills, he also continued to grow his business. When he graduated in 1999, he poured what he’d learned into the company.

“Everything kind of snowballed,” said Geeleher. “I started getting larger commercial-site and snow contracts, so I bought more machines.” By 2000, he had a half-dozen or so employees, and while he suffered through economic downturns in the years that followed, he says he’s always been fortunate to keep his business growing with the help of a great team of employees.

Over time, he expanded services to include both private and public contracts, ranging from large-scale excavation to municipal utility installations. Today, Geeleher Enterprises is a multi-million-dollar company with 35 full-time employees year-round. In the winter, that number can flex up to as many as 50, to service some of the largest retail, commercial, and medical properties in Western Mass.

Geeleher remains hands-on, running equipment and filling in as a laborer as needed. He’s also the first one to get a call in the middle of the night to fix a water-main break or plow snow. He says he doesn’t mind because it’s his name on the door.

He also gives back to the community, chairing the Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals and supporting Team Justice, a nonprofit founded by three Southwick police officers to provide area youths with positive role models and give them the opportunity to compete in motocross, a sport Geeleher has enjoyed since he was 14.

Still unmarried (but attached), he remains devoted to the business he’s nurtured for 22 years. “It can consume you,” he said, “but it’s worth it.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Associate Attorney, Bacon Wilson; Age 36

Daniel Morrissey

Daniel Morrissey

As a child growing up in Springfield, Daniel Morrissey was influenced in countless ways by a Norman Rockwell illustration, a copy of which hung in the family’s kitchen.

This was the iconic “Golden Rule,” which depicts a large group of people representing different ages, faiths, and races coming together, with the words ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

“That picture represents how I try to conduct my personal and professional life,” said Morrissey, an attorney with the Springfield-based firm Bacon Wilson specializing in immigration law but also litigation, personal injury, and other work. Because his mother certainly wasn’t about to part with her copy of “Golden Rule,” he bought one for his office, so it would be there for him to see every day in that setting, and plans on getting another for his kitchen, so that his four young children might become similarly inspired.

Fluent in Spanish after studying it at Cathedral High School, UMass Amherst, and then abroad in Oviedo, Spain, Morrissey said he was encouraged to pursue a career in law by his parents. While a full-time teacher, he studied at Western New England University School of Law at night, spending his summers at Middlebury College and in Guadalajara, Mexico, obtaining a master’s degree in Spanish. Often asked to help people with issues related to immigration law, he said he wanted to assist them, and relished the day when he had his J.D. and could really make a difference.

That explains why he loves going to work every day — because this kind of work is often life-changing.

“We help people get their citizenship; we help people bring their families over for permanent residency or a visit,” he said of immigration law. “There’s also tons of work on the employment side of things, and we also help people who are persecuted in their home countries and are coming here for asylum.

“It’s extremely rewarding work because the same people who were asking me questions when I was in law school and I didn’t know what answers to give them … now I can help those people,” said Morrissey, who is also active in the community, as incoming president of the Springfield Kiwanis Club, a member of the Forest Park Civic Assoc., and chairman of the Springfield Zoning Board of Appeals. He has continued to ply his love of teaching as an adjunct professor of Spanish and immigration law at Elms College.

Summing up what he has done with his 36 years, one could say it’s a textbook case of life imitating art.

—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Owner, Pete’s Sweets; Age 26

Peter GrayPeter Gray wasn’t long out of culinary school when he found his way onto Next Great Baker, a cooking-competition show on TLC hosted by “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro. But, perhaps due to his youth, he didn’t feel stressed.

“I was there to learn and have fun,” he recalled. “All the others were there to win $100,000 and keep their failing bakery alive so they could feed their family.”

Indeed, he did not win, but during one of his weekly visits to a WMAS morning radio show to discuss the previous night’s episode, the topic of starting his own business came up. He had been putting out feelers to find a job working for someone else, but instead wound up moving into space in East Longmeadow where a gelato outfit operated during the summer. Since then, he’s not only taken over the whole property, but has expanded three times.

Gray has been passionate about baking from a very early age. In fact, he presented an oral report in fourth grade on his future company, which he then dubbed Peter’s Sweets; the teacher of that class is one of his customers today. And through high school, he made birthday cakes for friends as a side hobby. So perhaps owning his own shop was inevitable.

“It’s such a celebratory business,” he said. “Florists have to deal with funerals, but we just deal with celebrations — weddings, baby showers, anniversaries, birthdays. And we don’t sell coffee here, so we don’t have angry coffee drinkers in the morning. No one comes in angry for a cupcake.”

Gray is especially gratified when customers come in again and again. “I’ve done baby showers, then that child’s first birthday, then the second birthday. And I want to be the baker who bakes that child’s wedding cake.”

Environmentally and civically minded, he follows a compost food-waste and recycling policy and hosts food drives for area pantries, and also donates time, resources, and, yes, sweet stuff to various nonprofits and community organizations, as well as the East Longmeadow Police Department, which gets a delivery each month as a thank-you for responding to the needs of his hometown.

Growing up in East Longmeadow, Gray recalls helping out in the kitchen at age 5. “My mom would always joke, ‘I’m not a baker; I don’t know where he got this.’”

It’s more clear where he’s taking it — to new heights of sweet success.

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Owner, Murray Tax Services/Murray Financial Group; Age 38

Kevin Murray

Kevin Murray

Kevin Murray says he’s always been entrepreneurial, starting with a paper route when he was a kid. Today, he’s charting his own route, establishing and running two successful businesses simultaneously, while also finding time for family, fun, and his community.

Murray was working for a Fortune 500 financial corporation during a transitional time for the company. “A lot of my colleagues who had been there for years were being let go, and it made me realize I wanted to work for myself and my own bottom line, and not be at the mercy of someone else’s.”

He went back to school while he was still working, and got a master’s degree in taxation and accounting. He also scored a part-time job for a tax firm to learn the ropes, and got married. With a son on the way, he realized he didn’t want to lose precious time running on a corporate treadmill, and he launched Murray Tax Services, starting with about 35 clients.

By the time he cut the corporate cord for good and went out on his own, he had about 230 clients, but was just getting started.

“The financial-planning side is what I always really wanted to do,” said Murray. “The tax business is an asset that pays year-round, and that set the base for the financial-planning piece.”

Murray says being a business owner is a completely family-driven proposition. “I put my kids on the bus every day and get them off every day,” he explained, adding that he enjoys the flexibility that comes with being the owner. “I go to every hockey practice, and I try not to miss things; I work around their schedules.”

Of course, tax season takes a toll. “Right now [late March], I’m working 20-hour days, but my wife, Christa, and I work it out. I couldn’t do any of this without her. To us, it’s all about family, and we always make time for them.”

Murray also makes time for his community, serving on  Wilbraham’s Finance Committee and as treasurer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hampden County. He also coaches hockey for his daughter, Adalyn, and his son, Jameson.

Murray also likes to brew craft beer as a hobby. “I’m really passionate about it,” he noted.

But home brews don’t compare to the home life he cherishes with his wife and kids, he said. “They’re what it’s all about.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Vice President, The Dowd Insurance Agencies; Age 33

David Griffin Jr.

David Griffin Jr.

David Griffin wears plenty of hats as vice president of the Dowd Insurance Agencies, from account executive for commercial sales on the property and casualty side to a sort of IT director.

“I drew the short straw on that,” he laughed, recalling that the firm’s leadership, which includes his father, David Griffin Sr., took his Millennial tech savvy for granted. “They needed to get the agency caught up with technology, and they looked at each other and said, ‘you know more about this stuff than we do.’”

But Griffin likes the variety of tasks at Dowd, where he’s worked for eight years.

“I was always interested in the insurance field,” he said, noting that he majored in finance at Bentley University and interned at Dowd the summer after his junior year. “I saw what they had to offer, saw what my dad did on a daily basis, and decided to go into this full bore.”

No day is the same, he went on. “I spend the day talking to different people from different industries, getting a feel for what it takes to have a successful business, how the markets impact what they do, and the trials, tribulations, and strengths of their business. The thing we always preach internally is that we want to be a trusted advisor for businesses that choose us as their agent.”

Griffin said he enjoys being part of a multi-generational family business — not just the Dowds, who are on their fifth generation at the 119-year-old firm, but also working with his father. “Culturally, it’s a great fit.”

Griffin — whose own immediate family includes his wife, Corrinne, and son, David — also manages to fit plenty of community service into his schedule, serving on the foundation board of the Sisters of Providence Health System, the Wistariahurst Museum board, and the United Way Resource Development Council. He also serves on the board of the Holyoke Rotary, where he supports programs that promote reading and boost literacy.

“It’s something that, growing up, was preached to us by our parents,” he said of his volunteer work. “In the Rotary, the dollars we raise not only stay in Holyoke, but go to their projects worldwide, so you’re helping people across the globe. To see first-hand how that works is very rewarding.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

President, Noonan Energy Corp.; Age 37

Ted Noonan

Ted Noonan

Ted Noonan says he’s extremely proud of his family history and the company that was started by his great-great-grandfather in 1890, and is doing his part to add to that legacy.

His father, Ed, introduced him to Noonan Energy at age 7 and served as a role model who inspired him to become active in the industry. Noonan pumped diesel fuel in his youth, drove an oil truck in high school, joined the company as a full-time employee in 1998, and worked his way up to the role of president.

Under his leadership, the company has acquired several oil companies, started a plumbing division, and further diversified into home-energy audits and providing lighting improvements and air sealing through the Mass Save program.

Noonan overhauled the company’s service department, streamlined the dispatch system and fleet, and spearheaded the company’s transition to Bioheat fuel, advocating for its use, he says, because it is better for the environment.

He has been interviewed by trade publications regarding the proposed natural-gas pipeline expansion in New England, is immediate past chairman of the board and current board member of the Mass. Energy Marketers Assoc. (MEMA), is an executive committee board member and vice chair of the New England Fuel Institute, and advocates for his industry in Washington, D.C.

“The industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, but everyone wants to be comfortable, either warm or cool depending on the season, so we focus on being able to offer those services,” Noonan said. “And the more I get involved, the more I realize the value of giving our employees a future they can feel good about.”

In 2013, the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce named Noonan Energy a Super 60 company, and Noonan and his father were feted with the Industry Leadership Award by MEMA. He served as corporator for Country Bank from 2013 to 2016 and is on its board of trustees.

Noonan Energy supports many charitable organizations, including the Gray House in Springfield and others that provide discounts for fuel deliveries. The company also supports local sports teams and has donated four $250 gift certificates as part of the Noonan Warm Wishes contest on 94.7 WMAS.

“My family has always been very giving,” said Noonan, who has three sons — Brady, 9, Dillon, 6, and Ethan, 3 — with his wife, Jessica, “and that will continue under my leadership.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Associate Director, Springfield South End Community Center; Age 37

Wesley Jackson

Wesley Jackson

Many recognize “Do the Right Thing” as the title of a movie. Wes Jackson has made the phrase his life mantra, helping boys and young men at risk realize their potential.

Jackson started at Springfield’s South End Community Center 17 years ago, as an intern coaching basketball. Today, he manages day-to-day operations there, a multi-faceted job made more challenging five years ago when a tornado destroyed the center, pushing services to various satellite locations. But he says his biggest challenge is keeping kids on the right path, one he followed because of his own experience.

“I grew up on Parker Street in Springfield, across from the former Green Leaf Community Center,” he explained. “The programs they developed kept me out of trouble, and I wanted to do the same thing in my life.”

Jackson has stayed close to nearly 50 area boys and men who’ve gone through the programs he’s involved in, including two more jobs he holds, coaching at the Springfield Commonwealth Academy and serving as athletic director for the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke. “I like working with them and shaping their lives,” he said.

Many of these guys call him ‘Pops’ or ‘Dad,’ and two men, in particular, have seen their lives change for the better because of his influence.

In 2011, he was leading a discussion group as part of the RISE character-development program, when a young man revealed he was being bullied. “Kids were calling him names, making him feel bad about himself,” he said. With the support of the boy’s parents and school, Jackson worked with him to build his confidence. After the bullying stopped, the student excelled academically and went on to captain his high-school football team. He’ll graduate in June.

Jackson gave a second young man the life skills he needed to leave a life of crime behind, moving the boy into his home for two years following jail time for selling drugs. He got the boy on the basketball team and literally showed him how to ‘do the right thing’ on a daily basis. The young man got a job, graduated from high school, and went on to earn degrees from Holyoke Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams.

While not yet a father, Jackson considers all the kids he works with his own — he’s pictured (center) with a few individuals who have been through the center’s programs — and looks forward to helping them grow, succeed … and lead.

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

CEO, GigXero Inc.; Age 37

Kristopher Pacunas

Kristopher Pacunas

Kristopher Pacunas may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but this superman of the Internet is using his amazing powers in a never-ending battle for the ultimate online experience — one high-density building at a time.

Pacunas is the founder and CEO of GigXero, which installs and services high-speed (gigabit and above) Internet connections nationwide, with large-scale commercial and mixed-use residential buildings already under contract in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Illinois. GigXero access is 20 to 100 times faster than incumbent cable companies.

“I think the Internet is as important as electricity — you can’t go without it,” said Pacunas. “But if you’re always experiencing slow downloads or constant buffering, it can cost businesses a lot of money. My goal is to create a superior Internet experience that will make a big difference in everyday life.”

He launched GigXero in 2015, starting with an apartment building in Amherst. Residents list the high-speed service as their favorite amenity. He also completed a $200 million development in Newark, N.J., providing high-speed, low-cost Internet access for buildings and their tenants, including at least one Internet-dependent business that brought in 1,000 jobs simply because of the extremely fast, reliable, and secure service.

“We’re focusing on where we can make the most difference,” Pacunas said.

He has been achieving goals through technology since attending Springfield Technical Community College. He left before graduating, he explained, because he became distracted by job opportunities, including his position as IT director for Belchertown, which he started while still at STCC. In 2001, at the age of 22, he aced five interviews to become Amherst’s IT director.

“The fourth and fifth interviews were basically just exercises for the town to find reasons not to hire me,” said Pacunas, who now lives in Belchertown with his wife, Courtney, and their six children. “They wanted to be sure my age wouldn’t be an issue.”

One of his proudest Amherst achievements is a mile-long, contiguous, and completely free public outdoor wi-fi network, enabling seamless connectivity throughout the town. “You could eat, shop, or walk without skipping a beat, a big plus to economic development,” he noted.

The secret to his success? Pacunas says it’s simply his passion for what he does. “I’m a highly driven geek who thinks he can make the Internet better.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Chief Operations Officer, Caring Health Center; Age 31

Jacqueline Johnson

Jacqueline Johnson

Jacqueline Johnson has more than 15 years of professional experience working as a grass-roots community organizer and leader of diverse teams. But it’s her life experience that has shaped her success.

Raised by a strong, single Latina mother in Northampton’s Florence Heights projects, Johnson’s upbringing not only prepared, but motivated her to be the best she could be.

“My mom was 15 when I was born. Growing up, I saw a lot — drugs, alcohol, poverty. If it weren’t for my mom, my life could have turned out very differently,” said Johnson. “She told me to go to school, work hard, and do well.”

So she did, overcoming whatever challenges she faced. “I went to school in Northampton. None of the kids looked like me or spoke like me. They were mainly middle- to upper-class, and predominately white. There were a lot of economic and racial barriers, but I took every opportunity I could to grow.”

She started volunteering when she was 11, using her own street smarts and know-how to help kids at risk. She says the youth-development work gave her a sense of identity, and the beginning of a lifelong investment in social justice and community advocacy.

Johnson graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in politics and urban development. She went on to earn a master’s in social justice from UMass Amherst, and started working for Springfield’s Caring Health Center when she was 21, as an HIV program director focused on management and prevention for people at high risk, specifically Latina intravenous drug users.

“I realized the odds were against me,” said Johnson. “I was helping people I grew up with, and it hit home that I could have been one of the program’s participants.”

Today, she’s the center’s chief operations officer, who never loses sight of what sustains her: the personal and professional relationships she’s made throughout her life. “I respect them all — friends, co-workers, and, of course, the people who come through our doors every day. They all inspire me and are the reason I love coming to work.”

Besides leading CHC through its development and expansion of new sites and services, Johnson also works tirelessly to secure funding and improve healthcare accessibility for the region’s diverse residents. She’s also served as a liaison to Northampton’s mayor and to the Latina community, and is a frequent public speaker and motivator — following in the footsteps of the mother who inspired her.

 —Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Business Development Coordinator, Eastern States Exposition; Age 39

Gillian Palmer

Gillian Palmer

Gillian Palmer worked in the insurance field for MassMutual for a decade before one aspect of her job piqued her interest … in a career change.

“My last position at MassMutual was in the concierge program for top producers, and that gave me a lot of different hats, like business consulting and event coordinating, which I found I loved,” she said.

That led her to the Eastern States Exposition, where she’s wearing at least as many hats these days, and loving the look of all of them. As business development coordinator, Palmer travels the country, meeting with tour operators and other groups, looking for new events to bring to the fairgrounds in West Springfield, and keeping its always-busy schedule stocked throughout the year.

She also serves as food and beverage manager during the 17-day Big E each fall, which means coordinating that critical element during the fair itself, but also lining up offerings well in advance. “I travel around the country to different fairs and find out what’s going on in food, who’s frying what, and what the latest creations are.”

While area venues do compete for events year-round, Palmer described her industry as much more collegial than, say, insurance. “That’s what makes my job fun. The challenge for me is I’m always trying to find something new and cutting-edge.”

At the same time, Eastern States is known for its annual traditions, including car shows, gun shows, home and garden events, equestrian competitions, and agricultural and livestock shows — not to mention the really big event each September and October.

“Coming to the fair since I was a little girl, and now being behind the scenes and working at the company, it’s humbling and super satisfying,” she said. “To be a part of the last couple years, with the 100th anniversary, was amazing.”

It’s a feeling of connection with the community that Palmer seeks in other ways as well; she’s on the Bay Path University Alumni Council, special events chair of the Springfield Rotary Club, board director of the Professional Women’s Chamber board, vice president of marketing and communications for Meeting Professionals International’s Connecticut River Valley chapter, and volunteering for the American Heart Assoc., the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“It has always been important for me to give back,” Palmer said. “I feel this world is so much bigger than me, and I’ve always wanted to do my little part to make a difference.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Program Director and Morning Show Host, 93.9 the River; Age 39

Christopher Belmonte

Christopher Belmonte

‘Monte’ Belmonte (only his mother still calls him Chris) says he probably owes his career to a solid Al Gore impersonation.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but that impression definitely helped get him started in radio. He was an intern at a Boston station in the fall of 2000, and started doing the Gore impersonation (off the air) well into the campaign. One of the show’s hosts thought it was quite funny and put him on the air. It caught on, and, as everyone should recall, that race didn’t end the first Tuesday in November; it wasn’t official until all those hanging chads in Florida were counted weeks later.

So Belmonte kept on doing the impersonation, and people at the station soon realized he had many other talents. Fast-forwarding a little, he and his future wife relocated to this region, and Belmonte took a job with 93.9 the River, and he’s been there ever since, now serving as program director and morning-show host. He still does an occasional impression — he says he can do a decent Donald Trump — but adds quickly that this is not what he’s known for.

What he is known for, and what certainly impressed the 40 Under Forty judges, is his work in fund-raising, specifically for two main causes — helping those fighting cancer, and battling hunger.

With the former, his work focuses on the Cancer Connection, which promotes itself as “a place to find strength,” and it involves pitching a tent in the winter on the old courthouse lawn in Northampton to raise both awareness and money. The first year, the program raised $5,000; by the 10th, it was raising more than $100,000.

As for the latter, Monte’s March has become part of the region’s lexicon. He started with a single shopping cart and a trek between Northampton and Greenfield, collecting money for the Food Bank of Western Mass. as he went. Now, he has several “hot-rodded” carts thanks to students at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, a two-day trek between Springfield and Greenfield, and some people to keep him company, including U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. Last year, the march raised more than $200,000.

“The congressman was with me the whole way, and listeners sign up to independently fund-raise, and they join me on the expedition,” he said. “The march has really taken off.”

In some respects, the region has Al Gore to thank for all this, but mostly it’s indebted to the man who can impersonate him.


—George O’Brien

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Vice President, Commercial Lending, Westfield Bank; Age 31

Brittney Kelleher

Brittney Kelleher

Westfield Bank saw something in Brittney Kelleher when they scoured the region’s business schools looking for a lender in training. Fresh out of Bryant College, she had offers in the Boston area too, but Western Mass. was closer — in both distance and rural spirit — to her hometown in Upstate New York, so she accepted the offer.

That was 10 years ago, and she’s been with Westfield Bank ever since, working her way up from underwriting commercial loans to putting them together for companies ranging in size from small outfits to those posting $20 million in revenues.

“It’s been a fun ride,” she told BusinessWest. “There’s always something new every day. I like numbers, I like the analytical part, and I like the social aspect of it, talking to people. As a commercial lender, I have a portfolio of clients I manage, and I take care of their lending needs here at the bank; anything they need, they call me up.”

Kelleher enjoys the relationships that grow from that process. “I’m out there visiting with them, seeing how they’re doing, giving them loans for equipment or a line of credit to buy a building to expand. That’s the best part of the job — watching companies grow from less than $1 million in sales, moving up to $5 million sales, on track to do $10 million. It’s fun watching that progress.”

She especially enjoys learning about the many businesses and organizations that make up the Valley, an education gleaned from her service on the boards of several entities, from Community Enterprises and the American Red Cross to the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield and the Holyoke Rotary.

Through the Rotary, she helped to create Eat, Drink and Be Holyoke, which drew hundreds of people downtown to experience the city’s cuisine and entertainment. “People got to see more of Holyoke than they might otherwise. I’ve grown fond of Holyoke, so it was great to see.”

Kelleher said she follows the philosophy of “if you’re not going to do it, who will?” in giving back to the community, even though, like other 40 Under Forty honorees who balance career and service, her work keeps her plenty busy. “You have to find time — set aside time, actually — and do it, and it all kind of falls into place. It’s definitely worth it.”

—Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Director of Development, Community Foundation of Western Masssachusetts; Age 34

Jenny Papageorge

Jenny Papageorge

When Jenny Papageorge was in college, she interned at the Eric Carle Musuem in Amherst and solicited donations for a fund-raiser there. The art history major found the experience gratifying, and it morphed into a passion for community philanthropy.

Today she is director of Development for the Community Foundation of Western Mass. and helps generate $8 million to $10 million in annual gifts.

But her professional success is matched by her volunteerism. “My great-grandparents emigrated here and became civically involved,” she told BusinessWest. “It set the bar for civic engagement and is an example I want to set for my daughter.”

She ran two half-marathons on her own to raise money for Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, and serves on its Patient and Family Advisory Council and Development Committee. That’s important to Papageorge because a family member has received cancer treatments there for 20 years, and she is grateful for the program.

“I was already working in philanthropy and knew the value of bringing supporters to an organization, so I rallied others around a cause that impacts so many people,” she said.

Papageorge’s career began at Historic Deerfield, where a mentor encouraged her to get involved in Women in Philanthropy. She is a member and was president and chair of co-programming from 2009 to 2015, during which she oversaw the board and an operating budget of $25,000, and developed programming for monthly breakfasts. She organized and hosted its Growing Philanthropy Conference at the MassMutual Center and appreciates being part of that community.

Papageorge also helped develop the one-day Valley Gives program, which has raised $5.9 million from donors in four years, and is on the membership committee for the Springfield Regional Chamber and the board of Northampton Young Professionals. She is a 2015 graduate of Leadership Pioneer Valley and co-chaired the Spirit of Girls Breakfast for Girls Inc. of Holyoke in 2012. She has also been on the grants committee of the Easthampton Learning Foundation for three years.

“I was born and raised in the Pioneer Valley and have met a lot of people who really care,” said Papageorge, whose family includes her husband, Sean, and daughter Charlotte, 4. “I find what I do incredibly rewarding, and I want to encourage others to give back to causes they believe in.”

—Kathleen Mitchell

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Owner and President, Vivid Hair Salon & Spa Inc.; Age 35

Basia Belz

Basia Belz

When asked what she does for a living, salon owner Basia Belz will tell you she’s a master color specialist and stylist. But this hairstylist is truly a cut above, modeling more of the Old Masters, using hair as her canvas.

“I love that, in just a few hours, I can miraculously transform someone, and help them see their inner beauty,” said Belz, adding that her salon specializes in hair coloring and hair extensions, and helping brides look their best. But it’s more than beauty that drives Belz. She goes to great lengths to make a difference in her community.

“I’ve volunteered since I was a child, and I love to give back,” she told BusinessWest, adding that helping cancer patients feel and look good is one of her top priorities. “My grandmother had cancer, and I’ve devoted a lot of my time to events and fund-raisers in her honor. I want to make her proud.”

Belz is a longtime supporter of the Rays of Hope Foundation, creating pink pieces (hair extensions) for a cure. She’s also earning certification in wig fitting and maintenance to help cancer patients when they lose their hair. Belz says she wants to make each client feel special and cared for.

She’s been in the business for more than 19 years, graduating from Dean Technical High School’s cosmetology program, and earning business degrees from Holyoke Community College and Western New England University. She started her own salon when she was just 23, and has grown her business from one full-time employee to an expanded, full-service salon with a team of 10.

With her business thriving, she’s become even more active in the community, raising thousands of dollars for various organizations through her Vivid Community Care Projects.

“I enjoy bringing people together for a great cause and great time,” said Belz. She’s hosted numerous fund-raisers, like ‘paint parties,’ and sponsored a girls softball team in Westfield. She’s partnered with Westfield State University at a mental-health fair and was back on campus April 9 for the Buzz Off for Cancer event, shaving heads in honor and support of children who have the disease.

“I want people to see the passion that I have, and show other stylists that they have so much potential,” said Belz. “I love what I do, and I’m grateful I have the opportunity to change people’s lives for the better.”

—Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Associate Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical & Administrative Sciences, Western New England University; Age 37

Daniel Kennedy

Daniel Kennedy

Professor Dan Kennedy is one of eight founding faculty members of Western New England University’s College of Pharmacy, a dream come true for a guy who’d always wanted to teach.

“I grew up in a family of teachers, and my mom was a principal,” he noted. “You might say it was pre-scripted.”

Before joining WNEU, he taught science at Emmanuel College while completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School. When he got the chance to help build a program from the ground up, he moved west. “It was a great opportunity to not only take on roles that normally come later in a career, but also work with a diverse group of academics ranging from engineers to arts professors, which is something you don’t always experience.”

Kennedy said getting the program up and running was a professional high, but what means most to him is shaping the student experience.

“I’ve been amazed to see the growth and maturity of the students,” he said. “Seeing them develop is really rewarding.”

He also says it’s now rare to go into an area pharmacy and not run into a student or graduate, noting that “it demonstrates the impact the young program is having in the health field here.” The college is set to graduate its third class this spring.

Kennedy is the author of two patents and a third patent application. He’s also heavily involved with the American Assoc. of Colleges of Pharmacy, and serves on the editorial board of the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

He is the faculty advisor to the Pharmacy Student Governance Assoc., which organizes an annual Day of Service to introduce students to community service. To date, hundreds have participated, visiting area nursing homes, animal shelters, and food kitchens. He also coaches softball and finds ample time for his wife and three children.

Kennedy is also an active researcher, and he’s mentored or co-mentored many students, almost all of whom have been involved in his research projects. The graduating class of 2015 recognized him with its Unsung Hero Award for going above and beyond helping, teaching, and mentoring. He also received the student-named Better Than Chuck Norris Award for making difficult subjects seem easy.

“What I try to instill in all my classes is that knowing isn’t enough,” he said. “You have to put things together to form the big picture and understand what’s happening.”

 —Alta Stark

40 Under 40 The Class of 2017

Assistant Vice President, Commercial Portfolio Loan Officer, Farmington Bank; Age 37

Candace Pereira

Candace Pereira

Candace Pereira maintains a true work-life balance while continually setting new goals. The single mother of Hailey, 8, has always enjoyed being busy, and worked her way up the stepping stones of the banking world.

She began work as a teller almost two decades ago and earned an associate’s degree from Springfield Technical Community College in 2001. But at age 25, her love for learning and desire to advance in her career led Pereira back to school, and she graduated from the UMass Isenberg School of Management in 2007.

Two and a half years ago, when mentor Mike Moriarty at United Bank moved to Farmington Bank, she moved with him. But a month after she started her new job, her brother, Bob Driscoll, was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

He spent a month in intensive care, and when he was released, she moved him into her home. It required ongoing remodeling and adjustments, but they have always been close and share the same friends.

Pereira said Farmington Bank’s attitude of “family first” helped her to achieve a realistic work-life balance. She took over her brother’s finances and learned to structure her day so she can fit everything in that is meaningful.

That includes her role as board member and treasurer of the Gray House in Springfield. “They serve the working poor who don’t qualify for services,” she said of the organization, adding that she brings her daughter to help out at its food pantry so she learns the value of community service.

“It only takes a few people to make something happen,” she told BusinessWest. “Once you begin volunteering, it has a snowball effect because you see how much it does for others.”

Pereira is a member of the grant committee at the Farmington Bank Community Foundation and board member of the East Longmeadow Educational Endowment Fund. She is active in several chambers of commerce and young professional societies, where she has assisted with fund-raising.

She also has a number of professional certifications and enjoys helping business owners achieve their goals with the help of bank loans.

But she schedules everything down to the hour on her Outlook calendar to ensure she has time to spend with family.  “You need to be grateful for it,” she said, “because you may not get another chance.”

—Kathleen Mitchell