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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

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

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