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Alumni Achievement Award

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Owner, Chikmedia

Meghan Rothschild today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2011.

Meghan Rothschild today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2011.

Meghan Rothschild started speaking in public when she was just 20 years old.

She had become a survivor of melanoma, a common and deadly form of skin cancer, and she began speaking out about her diagnosis as an advocate for sun safety and cancer prevention, turning a negative into a positive.

Over the ensuing two decades or so, she would become a natural behind the microphone, addressing subjects ranging from skin cancer to social media to leadership skills and how to build them. She would also become a sought-after presenter and media host, including red-carpet coverage on behalf of Explore Western Mass. (the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau) for Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement, as a panelist for the RISE Women’s Leadership Conference, and regular media-outlet contributions including The Rhode Show, Mass Appeal on WWLP, iHeart Radio, and more.

It wasn’t until recently, though, that she delivered what she called her first ‘keynote address.’ It came at the Pioneer Valley Women’s Conference staged last month at the Marriott in downtown Springfield. The conference’s theme was Unleashed, and the unofficial title of her address was “Living Authentically Unleashed.”

“These were my tips for how to live an authentically unleashed life,” she told BusinessWest. “Being authentic, unleashing your emotions, unleashing your power, bringing empathy back into the workplace and acknowledging that people are human beings and not machine — things like that.”

When asked if she lived her own life authentically unleashed, she said, “I would certainly say that, yes. It means being free of of concern over how others view you, finding your true authentic mission and purpose, not being afraid to speak your mind, using your voice to set boundaries, knowing your own self-worth, all of those things,” she added.

Building an impressive portfolio of public speaking engagements and living her own life authentically unleashed — in all those ways she described — are just two of the many ways Rothschild has grown and evolved, personally and professionally, since she became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2011 while serving as Development and Marketing manager for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.

The most obvious is the creation and continued growth of the marketing and public-relations business she founded called Chikmedia, a full-service, boutique firm that provides clients nationwide with graphic design, social-media management, public relations, expert positioning, event management, and more.

But there is more to this story, including involvement within the community that takes many forms, from a Girls & Racism town hall created in collaboration with Girls Inc. to a Campaign for Healthy Kids PSA designed to help raise funds for the children and families that rely on Square One and were severely impacted by COVID, to her creation of the Chik of the Future Scholarship, designated for a young woman of color pursuing a degree in a marketing-related field.

The sum of these accomplishments has made Rothschild a repeat finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award. In fact, this is the fourth time that panels of judges have made her one of the top scorers.

It’s easy to see why, starting with her success in business.

She told BusinessWest that, while she considers herself an entrepreneur at heart, she never anticipated growing an agency to where it would have several team members and more than 40 clients at any given point.

“I started this to really take a calmer approach to my career, and it’s been the exact opposite,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but the business has just blossomed.”

Indeed, it now boasts clients ranging from TIZO, a national skin-care line, to local businesses and nonprofits ranging from the Log Cabin to Girls Inc. to the recently opened event venue 52 Sumner.

But she is perhaps more proud of the work that she and the agency are doing in the community. She is involved with the Advertising Club of Western Massachusetts as a board member, for example; runs in several 5Ks, like the one staged recently to support Dakin Humane Society; and brings added value to the many nonprofits within the client portfolio as another way to give back.

“I do influencer marketing myself, so on social media, I’m constantly talking up my clients and sharing their events and throwing myself in the hat as a marketing tool for them — because I find that’s sort of a seamless way for me to give back,” she said.

And then, there are initiatives like the Chik of the Future Scholarship, which has grown in scope and monetary value over its five-year history thanks to the support of several local businesses, as well as the She Votes campaign spearheaded by the team at Chikmedia in collaboration with Girls Inc. The goal of the campaign was to pre-register as many teen girls to vote as possible and to raise $21,000 for the She Votes curriculum. Voting pre-registrations were outstanding, Rothschild said, and the fundraising campaign concluded 3% above goal.

“I started this to really take a calmer approach to my career, and it’s been the exact opposite. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, but the business has just blossomed.”

Maybe the best indication of how far she has come, and how her impact has grown, is her increasingly crowded schedule, filled with various speaking engagements that reflect her many areas of expertise.

Last year, for example, she was in Dallas to appear at a major beauty conference to share her personal experience with skin cancer and talk about TIZO. She also addressed the Bradley Chamber of Commerce this month and hosts a series of workshops for Head Start programs across New England.

Overall, she’s speaking four to six times a month on average, with the subject matter ranging from skin-cancer prevention to entreprenership; from social-media training to talks that would be considered motivational in nature.

She said it’s taken her the better part of a decade to “get into a really good groove,” as she called it, developing a style that makes heavy use of humor and that engages the audience in whatever it is she’s talking about.

“When the topic is something outside my comfort zone, like a motivational speech, that fuels me,” she said. “It makes me take a moment and really think about what I’m going to say. I can stand up and talk about social media for six hours and not even bat an eye, but motivational-style speaking is completely different.”

There are many things that fuel Rothschild today, everything from working with her team to grow Chikmedia to providing scholarships to girls of color looking to enter the marketing field, to … well, living life unleashed.

All that explains why she is an Alumni Achievement Award finalist. Again.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

2024 Finalists Continue to Lead by Example

Left to right: Andrew Melendez, Meghan Rothschild, Payton Shubrick, and Craig Swimm

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new award, an extension of its 40 Under Forty program. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award (AAA), and as that name suggests, it recognizes previous 40 Under Forty honorees who continue to build on their résumés of outstanding achievement in their chosen field and in service to the community.

Along with honoring one winner (or, on a couple of occasions, two) each year, the program also gives us a chance to visit with, and write about, several finalists each year — which gives our readers an opportunity to read about the interesting and impactful things going on in their lives. After all, for most 40 Under Forty alums, that award recognizes only the beginning stages of where their paths will take them.

So read the links below for the subsequent, and often surprising, chapters in the lives of Andrew Melendez, Meghan Rothschild, Payton Shubrick, and Craig Swimm. These four were chosen by a panel of three independent judges among this year’s AAA nominees. The same judges were then tasked with agreeing on the ultimate winner, who will be revealed at the 18th annual 40 Under Forty Gala on Thursday, June 20 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

As the profiles that begin on page 5 reveal, these four finalists truly embody the spirit of this award. Their stories convey leadership, ongoing commitment to the region’s economic and civic life, and an ability to pivot and evolve as opportunities present themselves. They are, in a word, inspiring.

Special thanks to Health New England for its continued sponsorship of the Alumni Achievement Award.


Andrew Melendez

Founder, Latino Economic Development Corp


Meghan Rothschild

President and Owner, Chikmedia


Payton Shubrick

Founder and CEO, 6 Brick’s LLC


Craig Swimm

Senior Vice President, Audacy Springfield

Alumni Achievement Award
Ashley Bogle

Ashley Bogle

Ashley Bogle is assistant general counsel and director of Legal Services for Health New England, where she manages the day-to-day operations of HNE’s Legal Department, from reviewing contracts to providing regulatory guidance and maintaining licenses and accreditation. A 40 Under Forty honoree in 2021, Bogle is a founding member of HNE’s diversity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) committee, which strives to embed DEIB and health equity into HNE’s strategic plan, mission, operations, community outreach, and member community. She currently serves as president of Art for the Soul Gallery’s board of directors in addition to working on other community projects.

Corey Murphy

Corey Murphy

Recipient of the 40 Under Forty award in 2009, Corey Murphy is president of First American Insurance Agency and CMS Associates, second-generation businesses started in 1986 and 1994, respectively. First American has two locations, in Chicopee and Brimfield. A veteran of the U.S. Marines who served four years of active duty and 16 years in the Reserves, Murphy has served on the boards of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and Soldier On Inc., including stints as chair of both boards. He currently serves on the Holyoke Community College Foundation Board, recently completing three years as board chair.

Amy Royal

Amy Royal

Amy Royal is the founding owner and principal of the Royal Law Firm LLP, a boutique, woman-owned corporate law firm headquartered in Western Mass. with additional offices in Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Royal is a 2009 40 Under Forty recipient and the 2023 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award winner. She is a trial attorney specializing in management-side labor and employment law and commercial litigation. Active in the community, she is a volunteer and board officer at several area nonprofits, including the Springfield Ballers and the Center for Human Development.


Alumni Achievement Award

Senior Vice President, Audacy Springfield

Craig Swimm today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2007.

Craig Swimm today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2007.

Craig Swimm was in the very first class of 40 Under Forty honorees.

That’s was 2007, for those who don’t know the history. And for Swimm, who would turn 40 just a few months later, he acknowledged that this would be his only shot at attaining that honor.

As he reflected on all that has changed since he received his plaque on the stage at the Log Cabin that spring, Craig paused a second, said “wow,” and then paused again as if deciding where and how to start.

Indeed, there have been momentous changes, in his own life and career obviously, and in radio and with his broadcast group, which now includes 94.7 WMAS, sports station 105.5 WEEI, and a new Spanish station, Nueva 98.1 WHLL. And in general, with the Great Recession, other economic ups and downs, a pandemic and its aftermath, the emergence of social media, and so much more.

As for radio and the changes that have come to the industry and his group in particular, Swimm had to do some counting.

“Let’s see — there’s been one, two, three mergers, two bankruptcies, and a lot of other changes,” he said while giving the Readers Digest version of the progression from Citadel Broadcasting, which he served as sales manager when named a Forty Under 40 honoree, to the entity known as Audacy, a huge group with a presence in more than 100 markets, including Greater Springfied.

But what he chose to focus on more is what hasn’t changed over all that time — the team at Audacy Springfield, which has remained largely intact over those years, even through mergers and downturns in the economy; the fact that station WMAS remains live and local, at a time when far fewer stations can make those claims; and especially the stations’ commitment to the community.

That commitment, through Swimm’s direction, now includes everything from book drives to job fairs to the hugely successful radiothon to benefit Baystate Children’s Hospital, which, in many ways, eptoimizes the station’s commitment to the community and Swimm’s own desire to use its impresssive reach to make an impact.

“Success to Craig is watching his team become better versions of themselves.”

“We’ve raised more than $4 million since we started this,” he said, adding quickly that the station’s efforts have also yielded books, winter coats, bike helmets, and much more.

Those who nominated Swimm for the Alumni Achievement Award — and there were several from Audacy Springfield that did so — described him as a caring and effective manager, but also a mentor.

Craig Swimm (center) with Dina McMahon and Chris Kellogg from the WMAS Kellogg Krew.

Craig Swimm (center) with Dina McMahon and Chris Kellogg from the WMAS Kellogg Krew.

“Success to Craig is watching his team become better versions of themselves,” wrote Chris Duggan, an account executive. “That can be said for current employees, but also past employees who have gone on to new careers. They all will say that they owe their success to Craig for the type of manager and mentor he was.”

Dina McMahon, an on-air personality and member of the Kellogg Krew, agreed, and talked about something she called Swimm’s ‘1% philosophy.’

“Craig has strongly supported many local organizations, but he is always looking to make something bigger, better, stronger,” she wrote. “His philosophy is always do 1% better today than the day before, and he lives by that motto.

“One of our biggest community efforts is the 94.7 WMAS Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) Radiothon for Baystate Children’s Hospital,” McMahon added. “Each year, Craig spearheads the station’s effort, encouraging more sponsors to support the cause, coming up with new and innovative ideas to encourage donations and volunteers. And he is the first to say after the event, ‘OK, let’s meet and come up with new ideas for next year.’”

Lucie Rubba, sales planner and administrator at Audacy Springfield, had this to say: “Craig possesses an exceptional resourcefulness, consistently navigating through challenges with adeptness and resilience. His ability to improvise effectively when faced with obstacles underscores his leadership prowess, demonstrating fairness and astuteness in all his endeavors. He embraces every challenge with open arms, whether it’s a 3K run/walk, a food drive, or particularly an event for children. He is invariably present, ready to lend his support in any capacity needed.”

For his part, Swimm said his job comes down to leading Audacy Springfield through the myriad challenges now facing all radio stations and groups — and all media outlets, for that matter — and also making sure that Greater Springfield, one of the smaller markets in the huge Audacy portfolio, is heard loud and clear. And while doing that, he’s always looking for new ways to make an impact within the community.

“Every day is a little different,” he acknowledged. “But I’m always focused on our two clients — the listeners and our advertisers. Every one of my decisions involves making sure we’re putting out a good product and that we’re connecting to the community.”

He points to numerous success stories, but especially the CMN radiothon and the job fairs, conducted in conjunction with MassHire Springfield, that are staged at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The job fairs have changed and evolved as the economy has, he told BusinessWest, noting that, most recently, they’ve become a way for employers struggling to fill openings to become visible and tell their stories to those looking to enter the job market or take their next career step.

“We started during the Great Recession, and I think we’ve found jobs for 10,000 people since we started this,” he explained. “Back then, we had three companies and 5,000 people show up; now we have 40 companies and 300 people show up. I’m super proud of it because we’ve found so many people jobs; people have walked out of these expos who were hired on the spot. They’re walking through the Hall of Fame, and they’re saying, ‘I got hired.’ They’re happy, there’s tears, and … you’re part of that.”

He’s been part of a great many things since he joined the 40 Under Forty club 17 years ago, and he’s continously looking for ways to add to that list, while continuing to be an effective manager and mentor. This is the very definition of the Alumni Achievement Award and the reason why Swimm is now a finalist for that honor.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder and CEO, 6 Brick’s LLC

Payton Shubrick today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2019.

Payton Shubrick today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2019.

Payton Shubrick joined the region’s 40 Under Forty club in 2019, when she was serving as ‘Innovation and Design Thinking manager’ for MassMutual.

That was one of the years when the honoree profiles consisted of answers to questions designed to provide some real insight into whom these individuals were and, well … what made them tick.

In Shubrick’s case, they certainly did.

Indeed, when asked how she defines success, she said, “living a life of intentionality — one that allows you to smile unwittingly with excitement because of what you do, understand that hard times are a necessary evil to get to good times, and live a life that the ones you love are proud of.”

When asked what three words best describe her, she replied, “innovative, tenacious, visionary.”

And when asked what she’s passionate about, she wrote, “I am passionate about challenging the status quo. It is not easy, nor it is ever comfortable, but one fearless choice at a time, one brave decison at a time, one courageous action at a time … you can change the world. In the end, some of life’s best moments are on the other side of fear.”

These answers explain the motivations for Shubrick’s subsequent career move — a bold entrepreneurial venture, a cannabis dispensary she would call Six Brick’s, a nod to the six people in her immediate family, many of whom are involved in this operation. And the words and phrases she used in those answers almost eerily portend what an extreme challenge this venture would become. Indeed, the cannabis industry has changed profoundly over the past few years as prices have fallen and the herd of players has been subsequently thinned; nearly 40 dispensaries in the Commonwealth have gone out of business over the past few years.

“The days of ‘if you build it, they will come’ are long gone,” Shubrick said simply when asked to describe the current state of the industry, casting new light and reflection on the answers to those questions five years ago and references to being innovative and visionary, and also hard times, brave decisions, courageous actions, and, yes, challenging the status quo.

“The business is definitely competitive, and prices continue to compress, but I’m extremely grateful for the team that I lead and the customer base we’ve been able to grow, and hopefully will continue to grow.”

In many ways, that’s what she was doing when she desired to take a leap, leave the relative comfort of corporate America and Mother Mutual, and not just start a business, but a cannabis dispensary — becoming a “legal drug dealer,” as she put it — at a time when many large multi-state operators, or MSOs, as they’re called, were eyeing Springfield, in a way that Shubrick, who had seen them come to the City Council first-hand while she was interning for that body, found more than a little disturbing.

“Hearing these multi-state operators talk about Springfield more as a profit center rather than as a place with people really became a catalyst for me wanting to get involved in this industry, especially acknowledging that I was a political science major and African studies major, so I understood and knew first-hand the horror that cannabis had done prior to its legalization in communities like Springfield,” she told BusinessWest. “And I really didn’t like the idea of having dispensaries owned and controlled only by wealthy white men who had no real community ties to Springfield or any real desire to see Springfield be able to leverage this industry and do better and provide not just jobs, but career paths for people.”

Inspired by this desire to challenge what could be considered the status quo, and further inspired by entrepreneurial family members — and especially her grandfather, Hercules Shubrick, who got into the recycling business long before that became meanstream and also owned two convenience stores — she launched Six Brick’s in some of the underused space in the Springfield Republican building nearly two years ago.

“Perhaps it was through complaints and the support of my family or a combination of the two, but I found myself in the process of starting up an adult-use dispensary,” she went on, “wanting to set the tone that those in the community could participate in the legal cannabis community and have authentic representation from the community, as opposed to some performative notion of hiring someone who is a person of color, but isn’t actually an owner/operator.”

Since opening, there has been success and recognition, for both Shubrick and her venture. She has been named to another 40 Under Forty list, this one compiled by Marijuana Venture, and was also named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the New England Cannabis Assoc. Six Brick’s, meanwhile, was named Best Adult Use Dispensary in the state by that same agency.

But there have been challenges as well as the industry has retreated from its strong start of a few years ago.

“Ignorance is definitely bliss; I did not know nor fully understand all that I was getting myself into,” she said. “The business is definitely competitive, and prices continue to compress, but I’m extremely grateful for the team that I lead and the customer base we’ve been able to grow, and hopefully will continue to grow.”

In other words, and to recall those answers from her questionnaire five years ago, nothing is easy, nor is life in this industry anything approaching comfortable. But she is determined and, yes, tenacious, in her quest for both continued success in this business and opportunities to help people victimized by old cannabis laws and non-violent convictions — crimes that are no longer crimes under current state law. Indeed, she has helped many get professional legal guidance to expunge their records and clean their CORI records so they can move on in life.

To sum up her accomplishments to date and her outlook on the future, we return to that questionnaire one more time, and Shubrick’s answer to the question ‘what goal do you set for yourself at the start of each day?’

“I remind myself of the words of Maya Angelou,” she replied. “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

She has certainly done all that, and this helps explain why she is not only a success in an extremely challenging business, but why she is a finalist for another honor — the Alumni Achievement Award.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder, Latino Economic Development Corp.

Andrew Melendez

Andrew Melendez today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2015 .

“How has the candidate been able to inspire others through his or her work?”

That’s a question that was added to the nomination form for the Alumni Achievement Award a few years back, with the goal of gaining some additional insight into why a certain candidate is worthy of the prestigious award — beyond the positions and titles on a résumé or a list of contributions when it comes to community involvement.

And in many cases, that question has provided some keen insight into not just what someone does for a living, but the impact of what they do.

Such is the case with Andrew Melendez, founder of the Latino Economic Development Corp. and a driving force in helping aspiring business owners get a venture off the ground or to the next level.

“He serves as an inspiration by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success,” wrote Edna Rodriguez, director of Behavioral Health for Trinity Health Of New England. “His work highlights the transformative power of empowerment, education, and community support in overcoming barriers and realizing one’s full potential.”

And she had more to say on that subject.

“By championing inclusivity and providing opportunities for all, Andrew exemplifies the belief that everyone deserves a chance to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society,” Rodriguez went on. “His story serves as a beacon of hope and encouragement for those striving to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities, regardless of their starting point.”

Melendez’s story is, indeed, an intriguing and inspiring one, with several interesting chapters. These include everything from a short stint as coordinator of an early-literacy initiative led by the mayor of Holyoke to work managing and supervising about 500 substitute teachers for Springfield Public Schools; from a stint as executive director of the short-lived Agawam YMCA Family Center (he was in that role when he joined the 40 Under Forty class of 2015) to a turn in the private sector as operations director for CVS Health, where he was responsible for the efficient operation of multiple locations. There was also a stint as Western Mass. director for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“He serves as an inspiration by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success.”

During that time with AIM, the pandemic hit, providing Melendez with some real insight into the reach and power of business assocations.

“They had an HR hotline; you could call and ask questions of a lawyer,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘this is amazing — all these multi-million-dollar companies are getting all this support.’ And I was thinking that, if all these large companies are getting support, we need to be giving support to our minority micro-businesses.”

This led to brainstorming, conducted with other leaders from the Latino community, such as state Sen. Adam Gomez, Springfield City Councilor Orlando Ramos (himself a past AAA finalist), and others to create the Latino Economic Development Corp.

The agency is unique in that it is not a chamber of commerce, nor a business incubator, although it serves as both in many ways. The LEDC provides support to entrepreneurs for all demographic groups (despite its name) in many ways and on many levels. That list includes everything from direct financial support through grants to a pool of coaches — experts who can assist entrepreneurs with everything from writing a business plan to marketing and public relations to support with coping with the huge amounts of stress that come with having one’s name on the business.

And over the past 30 months or so, the agency has made some real strides.

“We’ve brought close to 15 new businesses to downtown Springfield, we’ve given out $200,000 in mini-grants, and we’ve started a new cohort called the Latino Economic Development Institute, and we’ve just graduated 40 people in that cohort, and we have another 15 graduating this week … I could go on and on,” he said. “We have 12 different coaches doing one-on-one coaching; we’re leading the charge in micro-business support.”

Melendez, who was has been instrumental in getting the LEDC off the ground, shaping its unique mission, and running its operation, told BusinessWest that the work is impactful — and inspirational on many levels — although nothing about entrepreneurship is easy, so some of the conversations are difficult.

“Almost every day, I’m talking with someone who has this great idea that they want to bring to the table; they want to talk about creating a business plan, and I walk them through the process,” he said. “But small businesses and micro-businesses do fail; just this morning, I was talking with someone … they’re having a hard time, they’re not sure what to do, and don’t know whether to close their doors or not.

Whether it’s those first conversations — the ones about taking a bright idea to market and developing a business plan — or the harder ones, about whether to keep the doors open, the goal is the same, he said: to provide the business owner with support and a plan for moving forward.

“There are exciting conversations, and there are hard conversations,” he went on. “And I love the environment we’ve created, which is in many ways the first of its kind in the Bay State.”

For Melendez, this latest work is the culmination of everything that came before it career-wise, steps where he developed a passion for others and cultivated myriad skills, especially when it comes to organization, building teams, developing relationships, making connections, and getting things done.

All of this has come together at the LEDC, where not all dreams come true, but all dreams are given their best chance to come true.

And Melendez, through his work and the example he has set, is a huge part of the agency’s success.

As Rodriguez noted, he serves as an inspiration “by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success.”

This has made Melendez a leader, a 40 Under Forty honoree, and now, an Alumni Achievement Award finalist.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

All AAAs

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new recognition program. Actually, it was a spin-off, or extension, of an existing recognition program — 40 Under Forty. The concept was rather simple: to recognize the individual (or individuals — there have multiple winners a few years) who has most improved upon their résumé of excellence, in both their chosen field and with their service to the community. Over the past several years, the competition for what has become known as the Alumni Achievement Award has been spirited, as it was this year. Indeed, a panel of three judges, including the 2022 honoree, Anthony Gleason III, scored nominations featuring individuals across several different sectors of the economy. The four highest scorers, the finalists for the 2023 AAA honor, are profiled here. They are: Ryan McCollum, owner of RMC Strategies; Orlando Ramos, state representative and Springfield mayoral candidate; Amy Royal, founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm, and Michelle Theroux, executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The AAA winner will be announced at this year’s 40 Under Forty gala on June 15 at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House.

Select each finalist below to read their story:

Ryan McCollum

Owner of RMC Strategies

Orlando Ramos

State representative and Springfield mayoral candidate

Amy Royal

Founder and CEO of the Royal Law Firm

Michelle Theroux

Executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy

This year’s 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award is Presented by:

Alumni Achievement Award

Owner, RMC Strategies

Ryan McCollum

Ryan McCollum has grown not only his business but his civic impact since being honored by 40 Under Forty in 2012 (below).

Ryan McCollum 2012

Ryan McCollum 2012

When he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2012, Ryan McCollum had already established an impressive track record of entrepreneurship, community involvement, and simply being an advocate for, and supporter of, the Western Mass. region and its business community.

Indeed, at that time, he had established RMC Strategies, a full-service consulting and government-relations firm, as a force in the region. Meanwhile, he was involved in civic work — and helping to promote and strengthen the 413 — on many levels, from his work to help launch the Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield to his service on the board of Best Buddies.

To say that, over the past 11 years, he has only built on this deep and impressive résumé would be a huge understatement.

As an entrepreneur, he has established two new ventures — Shoe Leather, a text-messaging marketing company, and Goldilox, an online payment platform for candidates and nonprofits — and he is also part-owner of a cannabis dispensary set to open this fall in Monson, part of the growing portfolio of Holyoke-based DAZE, one of his clients at RMC.

Speaking of RMC, McCollum continues to grow that venture and take it in different directions. Indeed, while he still handles political campaigns — he served as consultant to Joshua Garcia in his successful bid to become the first Latino Mayor of Holyoke in 2021, for example — he continues to build his client list and, recently, his portfolio of work as a lobbyist. When he spoke with BusinessWest, McCollum was driving to Boston to lobby for the Coalition for an Equitable Economy. He’s also done some lobbying for a company looking to enable small businesses — bars, restaurants, and private clubs — to be a part of the burgeoning sports-betting scene across the state.

But it’s his ongoing efforts to expand his volunteer work within the community that is perhaps most impressive.

Indeed, the current list of agencies and causes he’s involved with includes Suit Up Springfield and Square One, which he serves as a board member; Roca, which he serves as an advisory board member; the Springfield Museums, where he has been a member of the marketing and communications committee; the Children’s Museum in Holyoke, for which he was a celebrity dancer for its Fancy Steps fundraiser this year; and many others. He’s even involved in work to help bring others into the game of golf, a sport he discovered years ago and is now somewhat passionate about.

“If ever Ryan leaves a board, he immediately joins two more,” wrote Timothy Allen, principal at Birchland Park Middle School in East Longmeadow and a 40 Under Forty winner himself (class of 2013), who nominated McCollum for the AAA. “Despite the success of his personal business, it is still the community side of his work that drives his daily motivation.”

Increasingly, this work in the community has involved efforts to combat racism and level the playing field for all residents of the 413 — and beyond.

McCollum is now a board member for the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley as well as the National Conference for Community and Justice, and he recently became a member of the Longmeadow Coalition for Racial Justice Task Force. And then, there’s the recently formed nonprofit he founded (with 15 friends and colleagues, many of them involved in education) called 16 Lyrics.

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles.”

“We fight to conquer and dismantle systemic racism through education, community outreach, and intensive support of those in the same battles,” he said of the agency’s mission statement. “Our first initiative has been to provide kids with books that have diverse characters, diverse authors, diverse storylines — and we do that all over the country; we’ve given out books that we’ve purchased from Black-owned bookstores to places in New Jersey, Chicago, and, of course, Massachusetts. It’s been fun, and I think we’re already making a difference.”

While his work in the community and as a business owner and lobbyist are all impressive, perhaps McCollum’s most important work, Allen said, is as a connector — connecting residents, political candidates and office holders, and organizations with resources and opportunities for growth and advancement.

“He is the person to call to connect people and form other lasting bonds, which further creates great energy and outcomes here in Western Mass.,” Allen wrote. “Instead of sitting on each board he is asked to sit on, he’s working on setting up a talent bank of young and diverse leaders to sit on boards and fill other roles he’s often asked himself to take on.

“While clearly becoming an even more of a behind-the-scenes and sometimes out-front leader in the community, it’s Ryan’s ability to push for others that sets him apart,” Allen continued. “He consistently extends opportunities to those who may not have the connections or relationships to be thought of, but have the talent and love of the community to serve as well as anyone.”

When he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2012, McCollum summed up his work — and his overall mindset — this way: “I want to leave the world a better place than I found it … this is the driving force behind everything I do.”

That is still the force that drives him, and 11 years later, there is much more to talk about when it comes to ‘everything I do.’

And that’s why he is one of the finalists for the Alumni Achievement Award in 2023.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

State Representative, 9th District

Orlando Ramos

Orlando Ramos’ 40 Under Forty photo in 2012 (below) emphasized he’s a fighter in more ways than one — and that hasn’t changed.

For his studio photograph when he became a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2014, Orlando Ramos chose to put on his blue boxing gloves and robe — he trained under legend Duke Belton and fought for several years — with a dress shirt and tie underneath.

The juxtaposition of those clothing items was well-thought-out, and quite poignant.

Indeed, at that time, when Ramos was 31 and serving as a Springfield city councilor (Ward 8) and district director for state Sen. James Welch, he was essentially sending a message — that he was still fighting … just not in the ring. Instead, he was fighting for Springfield, the city where he grew up (the Pine Point neighborhood, to be more specific), and its residents.

That fight took him to the presidency of the City Council, a role he carried out for two years, 2017 and 2018.

Today, the fight continues, but in a different setting. Sort of. Instead of City Hall in Springfield, Ramos’ professional mailing address is now the State House in Boston, where he serves as representative for the 9th District, which represents Pine Point and other neighborhoods in the northern part of the city.

But Ramos is looking to come back to City Hall, in this case the corner office. Indeed, he is a candidate for mayor in what promises to be a heated fight (there’s that word again) that will play out over the several months. We’ll get back to that in a minute.

First, there’s Ramos’s ongoing fight for the city and how it has evolved over the past several years, a progression, and an escalation, if one chooses to call it that, which impressed the panel of judges weighing nominations for the Alumni Achievement Award and made him a finalist for that coveted award.

His story of service to the community starts more than 15 years ago, when Ramos, who began his professional career as a carpenter and later was appointed union steward of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 108, was offered an internship in the governor’s Western Mass. office, whetting his appetite for public service.

He was later offered a full-time position as Welch’s district director, and successfully ran for City Council in 2013.

Ramos said he chose to take his work to fight for Springfield to the State House to essentially broaden his impact.

“I saw an opportunity to bring more resources back to the community,” he told BusinessWest, adding that he was first elected during the COVID pandemic, a time that “highlighted so many inequalities and so many needs in Springfield.”

He added that “we needed a leader with experience to navigate the Legislature, and that’s why I decided to run.”

He said his freshman term was a productive one, with three bills that he authored passing the House. Elaborating, he said the sports-betting bill that eventually passed was the version that included diversity, equity, and inclusion language that he wrote. Another bill he steered through concerned biomass plants and essentially removed state subsidies for such facilities, a measure he believes was the “final dagger” for a controversial biomass plant proposed for Springfield.

“I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job.”

The third bill concerned regulation of facial-surveillance technology. It passed both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker. He is hopeful that it will pass this year.

As for his decision to run for mayor, Ramos said he believes it’s time for a change in Springfield, and a time to seize more opportunities, especially within the broad realm of economic development.

“I see that there is a need in the city for a new vision,” he told BusinessWest. “I love my job as a state representative, but I feel there is a need in the city, and I feel that I am the right person for the job. We’ve had a lot of missed opportunities, and I feel that people are ready for a new mayor.”

He said he was the first person on the ballot and has hit the ground running when it comes to his campaign. “I’ve been knocking on doors ever since. And I’m going to continue knocking on doors until election day.”

Areliz Barboza, coordinator of the nonprofit agency known as Listening with Love, who nominated Ramos for the AAA honor, summed up Ramos’s work, and his passion for Springfield and its residents, this way:

“I believe he is an ambassador for our community. He is not only an elected official, but he is also a mentor to our young people,” she wrote. “He has the heart to serve our seniors. He has devoted himself to be the change within his family and in our community. Even with his busy schedule, he still manages to always make time to go above and beyond for our community. I believe his integrity and passion to serve our community speaks volumes and brings inspiration that creates the change we need in Springfield.”

Those sentiments explain why he has been elected city councilor and state representative, why he became a 40 Under Forty honoree in 2014, and now, why is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder and CEO, the Royal Law Firm

Amy Royal

Amy Royal had only recently launched her law firm in 2009 (the photo highlights an early client), and now the firm has a physical presence in four states.

Amy Royal is in pretty much the same place she was last year at this time … well, at least when it comes to BusinessWest’s Alumni Achievement Award competition.

Indeed, her scores from a different panel of judges have again made her a finalist for the coveted honor, which is why she is now clearing her schedule for the third Thursday in June to enable her to be at the Log Cabin to see if it is her name being announced as the AAA winner for 2023.

But in many other respects, Royal is in a different place — literally and figuratively.

She is now living in Eastern New York, where she is hard at work opening the newest office for the law firm she started in 2008 (and which earned her 40 Under Forty honors the following year), now known as the Royal Law Firm. That new office is in Albany, the state’s capital, giving the firm a presence now in the Empire State and most of New England.

“I’ve been working really hard to expand our footprint here,” she said from New York, “and obviously continue to build in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire…”

As for the Massachusetts office, it is located in the historic Alexander House, just a few hundred feet down Elliot Street in Springfield from the federal courthouse. For Royal, acquisition and subsequent renovation of the stately mansion has become a passion, one we’ll get back to later.

For now, know that this new home for the Springfield office, and Royal’s affection for it, is enough to prompt her to commute from just outside Albany to Springfield several days a week; travel time is about an hour, she said, just a little longer than it took her to get to Springfield from from her former residence in Deerfield.

Getting back to that notion of Royal being back where she was this same time last year, she is — and then again, she isn’t.

Which helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award.

Indeed, many of the same accomplishments that impressed the judges in 2022 impressed them again this year. These include her ongoing work to grow the firm, take it to new markets, and add to an already-impressive client list that includes Google, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panasonic of North America, and KeyBank.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them. It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

The latest expansion effort, as noted, is in Eastern New York, a new office that Royal believes will open some doors for the firm, which once focused exclusively on representing employers in labor and employment-law matters, but in recent years has pushed into other areas of the law, especially the broad realm of commercial litigation.

“For our clients that are national and international corporations, having a presence in the state of New York is huge to them,” she explained. “It’s an important piece to our continued growth; we had most of the New England states covered, and this was the next logical step.”

Royal said she is closing on some real estate for the New York office while also recruiting lawyers to staff it, work that has become increasingly challenging given the ongoing workforce crisis that has touched seemingly every sector of the economy, including the legal community.

Beyond the law firm, Royal has always been entrepreneurial, and that trend continues as well. In New York, she and a partner are closing on an ambitious project that will bring an indoor sports facility and childcare center together in one complex.

Meanwhile, what has also impressed the judges, last year and again this year, is her work in the community, which includes a long track record of service to the Center for Human Development, which recently marked its 50th anniversary; she is currently board president. She is also heavily involved with the Springfield Ballers, a nonprofit that provides opportunities for young people to take part in sports and which won its own honor from BusinessWest this year — the Difference Makers award. Royal is an active board member with the agency, and in the past has served as a coach.

But since being named a finalist last year, Royal has continued to build on this track record of involvement — in Western Mass., and now in New York as well. Locally, she has played a lead role in the creation of another nonprofit agency focused on young people and sports. It’s called Northeast Revolt, and it will feature multiple basketball teams that will involve young people, girls and boys, in grades 3 through high school, in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York.

As for the Alexander House, the Royal Law Firm has settled in there, but renovation work continues, she said, adding that the work has become a labor of love.

Interior renovations are essentially complete, she said, adding that work there has included rewiring; installing central air; remodeling of bathrooms, the kitchen, and office spaces; and much more.

Now, the focus shifts to the exterior and work on the historic pillars, painting the building, and restoration of the fence surrounding the property.

“We’re giving a facelift to the entire building,” Royal said, adding that the work on Elliott Street mirrors what she is doing with the law firm — and youth sports, for that matter — in many respects; she’s setting the stage for decades of growth and continued success.

And that’s why, at least when it comes to the Alumni Achievement Award, she is in the same, good place she was last year.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Executive Director, Berkshire Hills Music Academy

Michelle Theroux

Michelle Theroux was one of the inaugural 40 Under Forty honorees in 2007 (below), and has made some significant impacts since.

Michelle Theroux was a member of BusinessWest’s first class of 40 Under Forty honorees. That was back in 2007, for those who don’t know the history of this program.

At that time, she was executive director of Child and Family Services of Pioneer Valley, and as she talked with BusinessWest on that occasion, she noted that her background in dance — she began studying tap, jazz, and ballet at age 5; added dance instruction when she was just 16; and later toured nationally in a jazz-based children’s show — helped her generate the skills, including discipline, drive, and “balance,” needed to effectively lead a nonprofit.

In her 40 Under Forty picture, her ballet shoes are prominently displayed. In her profile piece, she noted, “now, dance is sort of my balancing piece. It evens out stress. Still, in my life, sleep is optional.”

Sixteen years later, as she was being interviewed as a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award — the first time she has achieved that honor — the shoes were not visible, but the arts are still a big part of her life, personally and professionally. And between her day job, the arts, and her considerable work within the community, sleep … well, that remains optional.

Indeed, she still dances and teaches dance, and that day job, one she has held for the past decade, is executive director of the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The South Hadley-based facility is a unique, college-like program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, such as autism and Down syndrome, who are looking to expand their social, vocational, and music skills in a music-infused environment.

“Our uniqueness comes from how we integrate music, dance, and other art forms into our programs so that individuals who are musically talented or art-minded can use that to scaffold to other skills, creating better opportunities for independence and developing their life skills such as money management, cooking, and more,” she explained.

Students at the school are provided with opportunities to perform locally, individually, and as part of groups, Theroux noted, and in settings ranging from local schools to Fenway Park, where students have sung the national anthem.

“It gives individuals who otherwise would not have had that opportunity the chance for their ability to be heard, not necessarily their disability,” she went on. “When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

Theroux’s role there brings her passion for managing nonprofits and her passion for the arts together in a role she finds both challenging and, in many ways, invigorating.

“This place really blended my nonprofit-management skillset with my dance background,” she said, adding that, during her tenure, she has been able to put the agency on firmer financial ground while expanding its footprint and growing its client base.

“When you hear one of our performers playing, you hear their music; you don’t see their disability — and that’s the mission behind all that we have done.”

As she leads the organization, Theroux continues to lean on those skills she honed through dance — and an impressive track record of managing nonprofits; after spearheading a merger between Child & Family Services and the Center for Human Development, she remained with CHD, serving as vice president of its clinical division.

At Berkshire Hills, she has acted as a change agent for the nonprofit, stabilizing all facets of the operation, creating an operational budget surplus, doubling the operating budget over a two-year period, expanding contracts with the Department of Developmental Services, and exceeding set goals for a capital campaign.

While building on her impressive résumé of work leading nonprofits, Theroux has also built upon a strong track record of service to the community. Most notably, she currently chairs the board of trustees for Mercy Medical Center, and is also a regional board member for Trinity Health Of New England.

But her involvement in the community takes many forms, especially in South Hadley, where she lives and works. She has been a board member for the South Hadley/Granby Chamber of Commerce for nearly a decade now, and served as president of the board from 2018 to 2022. Within the community, she is a member of the Master Plan Implementation Committee and the Redevelopment Authority, and is also a town meeting member.

Other work within the region includes a decade of service to MicroTek Inc., a Chicopee-based manufacturer of custom cable and wire configurations that maintains a focus on employing people with disabilities and supporting these individuals. Theroux has served on its board of directors since 2014, currently as its vice president. Previously, she has been involved with the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts and the Human Service Forum.

At Mercy, Theroux has led the board during a time of extreme challenge — the pandemic tested the hospital and its staff in every way imaginable.

“It was awe-striking in a lot of ways,” she said, “starting with your admiration for the healthcare workers and the day-to-day challenges that they were facing, on all levels — those on the front lines, the administrators trying to make sure everyone was safe, everyone throughout the entire system.
“And then, you’re dealing with the reality of a pandemic and patients who were fighting in the ICUs and the COVID units,” she went on. “You were seeing both, while trying to manage and make sure that you could get as many resources into place as possible to support both ends of that paradigm.”

Her work to help lead the Mercy system through those dark and challenging times is just one example of how Theroux has continued to grow as a manager and a leader since she was first named a 40 Under Forty honoree, and why she is a finalist for the AAA Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

2022 Finalists Are Inspirational Leaders within the Community


In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new award, an extension of its 40 Under Forty program. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award, and as that name suggests, it recognizes previous honorees who continue to build on their resumes of outstanding achievement in their chosen field and in service to the community. Recently, a panel of three judges identified the three finalists for the 2022 award — Amanda Garcia, Anthony Gleason II, and Amy Royal. The winner for this year will be unveiled by Alumni Achievement Award presenting sponsor Health New England at the 40 Under Forty Gala on June 16 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. As the profiles that begin on page 7 reveal, these three finalists embody the spirit of this award. Their stories convey true leadership and are, in a word, inspiring.

Amanda Garcia

Associate Professor of Accounting and Finances, Director of the MBA Program, Elms College


Anthony Gleason II

President and Co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow


Amy Royal

Founder/CEO, the Royal Law Firm



Alumni Achievement Award

Founder/CEO, the Royal Law Firm

Amy Royal

Amy Royal

Amy Royal is a big believer in that old adage — the one about how if you want something done, give that task to a busy person.

“I’ve seen that happen so much over the course of my career,” she told BusinessWest. “Those busy people — they just make it happen. They’ll return things very quickly; they get things done, and done right.”

For quite some time now, Royal, founder and CEO of the Springfield-based Royal Law Firm, has been the very definition of that proverbial busy person — and that’s probably why people keep asking her to do things, with ‘people’ meaning everything from legal clients to area nonprofits to those running the Springfield Ballers (more on them later).

Indeed, Royal is busy with all kinds of things these days, and the sum of this work inside and outside the office (and on her new office) certainly helps to explain why she is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award in 2022.

Let’s start with the office. Back in 2009, when Royal was honored as a member of the third 40 Under Forty class, she was busy putting the law firm she established on a path to consistent, diverse growth. To say that she has succeeded with that assignment would be an understatement.

Indeed, the firm has grown in size — it now boasts a team of 11 — while also greatly expanding its book of business, its geographic footprint, and its service areas.

When the firm was launched, it was focused exclusively on representing employers in labor and employment law matters. It still does a lot of that, but it has pushed into other areas of the law, as Royal explained.

“It was a long time coming before I decided to expand beyond that; we still only represent organizations, but now we do it in other practice areas beyond where we started,” she explained. “I’m representing Merck Corp. in federal court here in a products-liability claim; my litigation has expanded beyond labor and employment law to commercial litigation generally.”

Merck is just one of many national and international clients in the firm’s portfolio. Others include Google, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s, Panasonic Corp. of North America, and KeyBank.

As for geographic expansion, the firm now has satellite offices in Hartford, Providence, and Bennington, Vt. (the latest facility to open), and Royal has ambitious plans to soon be in all six New England states.

And her entrepreneurial exploits extend beyond her law firm. Indeed, she has been involved in many other business ventures, including the purchase and subsequent expansion of West Side Metal Door Corp., a distributor and fabricator of metal doors and frames. There have been several real estate development projects, the latest being her purchase of the historic Alexander House, just down the street from the federal courthouse.

Royal is in the process of restoring the 6,000-square-foot home, built in 1811, and relocating the law firm’s headquarters there.

Meanwhile, Royal has long been busy outside the office, donating her time and talents to several nonprofits, especially the Center for Human Development. She has served on its board for more than 14 years, and is currently its president. She has also served on other boards, including serving as president of United Way of Hampshire County.

She has also coached many youth sports, from basketball to baseball, and created the 501c3 corporation for the Springfield Ballers, a nonprofit providing opportunities to young people in athletic programs. She serves as clerk of the Ballers board, and has been involved in writing grants to attain the funds to create more opportunities for more young people.

“We serve more than 400 kids in the Greater Springfield area in sports like basketball, both boys and girls, lacrosse, golf, and others,” Royal explained, adding that the initiative started as a girls’ basketball league and has expanded and evolved “massively from there.”

This is a volunteer operation, she went on, where those involved often wear many hats, as she does. She was asked to coach this year, as she has many times in the past, but had to decline — for a good reason.

“This is probably my older son’s last season in AAU, so I really want to watch him play basketball,” she said, adding that this is one example of how she works to balance the many priorities in her life.

When asked where she finds the time for all that she does and is asked to do, Royal said she makes it, because each aspect of her life is important to her — her family, her law career, and her many commitments to this region, which is her life-long home.

“I grew up here, and I care about the community and see that as something that is really important,” she said. “It’s something that both my parents were involved in; they made it a priority, and I’m simply following their example.”

In doing so, she has certainly become one of those busy people from that old adage that others entrust with important tasks — and a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Co-founder of the Gleason Johndrow Companies

Anthony Gleason II

Anthony Gleason II


You might call it the ‘snowball effect.’

That’s one poetic way to describe what has happened since Anthony Gleason started his own landscaping business when he was 16, and especially since he was honored as a member of the Forty Under 40 Class of 2010.

Things have… well, snowballed. And in all kinds of ways.

The landscaping company he started with a $1,500 pickup truck and a lawnmower has grown into one of the largest snow-removal contractors in the country — the 32nd largest to be exact, at least according to the latest rankings in Snow Magazine, with more than $10 million in revenues in 2021. It now boasts a number of large contracts including the city of Springfield (250 locations), UMass Amherst and its 157 parking lots of various shapes and sizes, Western New England University, and many others, and has extended its geographic reach well beyond Western Mass.

“We’re servicing the entire state of Massachusetts — we’ll go out to Worcester and Boston — and go south into Hartford,” he told BusinessWest. “We just keep trying to grow wherever we can with the kind of work that makes sense.”

Meanwhile, the real estate portfolios of the many companies he’s now involved with continue to grow. The combined portfolio now boasts properties valued at more than $25 million, he said, and it includes office, industrial, self-storage, and other properties.

“We’re servicing the entire state of Massachusetts — we’ll go out to Worcester and Boston — and go south into Hartford. We just keep trying to grow wherever we can with the kind of work that makes sense.”

And Gleason’s involvement in the community — both on a personal and company-wide scale — continues to snowball as well, especially in Springfield. Indeed, both Gleason personally and Gleason Johndrow Landscaping have become huge supporters of the Spirit of Springfield, as both a sponsor and with in-kind donations, as we’ll see, but his work to give back extends well beyond the SOS to several other causes and organizations.

To sum it all up, Gleason, 36, who was also a finalist for the AAA award in 2019, travels back in time to when he was just getting started with that pick up truck while still in high school.

“I started with a few accounts … and I just went after it,” he said, adding that this is the mindset that has propelled his landscaping company — and many other business interests — forward, making it a force not only within its highly competitive industry, but within the community as well.

As he talked about his landscaping company and its status among the largest and most successful in the country, Gleason said it is well-positioned within that competitive market. It is large enough — with 150 employees and more than 75 vehicles — to handle the needs of large-scale clients like the city of Springfield and UMass Amherst, but also nimble enough to handle assignments of any size.

“Snow services is our largest offering and it’s what I think sets us apart,” he explained. “I do believe we’re really good at it, and we’re well-equipped. We’re going to continue to grow, but we’re going to try to do it modestly and do it the right way, with the accounts that make sense for our business model.”

With all this success in business comes a responsibility to give back, said Gleason, and he does this in many ways, perhaps most notably, and visibly, with the Spirit of Springfield and its many endeavors.

Since 2015, Gleason Johndrow Landscaping has been heavily involved with the SOS’s annual pancake breakfast, touted as the largest in the world. A team of 20 from the company provides help with logistics and operations — everything from loading batter onto a refrigerated truck to dispensing supplies to three cooking tents and 10 beverage stations.

Starting that same year, the company has been a sponsor of Bright Nights at Forest Park’s ‘Happy Holidays Springfield’ display. In 2017, the company was the lead sponsor, and Gleason the co-chair, of the City of Bright Nights Ball, the SOS’s largest annual fundraiser. In the years that have followed, it has supported the gala as a Golden Circle Sponsor.

But, as noted earlier, Gleason and the company have given back in many other ways as well. Examples include the donation of labor and resources to Southampton’s Norris Elementary School playground project, support for the Gunnery Sergeant Thomas J. Sullivan Park in Springfield, and ongoing support to a host of agencies, including Empty Arms Bereavement, the Mayflower Marathon, Springfield Cultural Council, Susan G. Komen Foundation, and many others.

While doing all this, Gleason has become an inspiration, role-model, and cheerleader of sorts for employees and others in the community, said Judy Matt, president of the Spirit of Springfield, who is one of many who nominated Gleason for the AAA award.

“He continues to inspire others by meeting with employees, colleagues, and friends to assist them with personal financial management, budgeting, and retirement investments,” she wrote. “He has encouraged employees to purchase homes or multi-family buildings, and often has helped them reach their goals of home ownership. He is always willing to donate his time and knowledge and to share his story of success so that others can achieve even greater accomplishments; this has been one of his main objectives throughout his career.”

You might say this objective is just part of the snow-ball effect, a success story that has many chapters still to be written.


George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Associate Professor of Accounting and Finances, Director of the MBA Program, Elms College

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia

Amanda Garcia has some simple advice for those she counsels in the Entrepreneurship program at Elms College — and pretty much everyone else she mentors at one level or another.

“I tell them not to be afraid to fail, and that you can learn from failure,” Garcia, now a repeat finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, told BusinessWest. “A lot of times as an entrepreneur, whatever you start with is not what you end up with. So I encourage the students to understand that failure is OK — just learn from the failure and figure out what you can do better next time.”

And this is advice that extends to all those in business, she went on, not simply those who happen to own the business.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new,” she explained. “A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

Suffice it to say that Garcia practices what she preaches, and that simple philosophy helps explain why she is again a finalist for the AAA award. Indeed, she has demonstrated several times that she is not afraid to fail, taking on new career challenges, new initiatives in the realm of higher education, and even her own entrepreneurial venture, an accounting firm that bears her name.

Most all of that has occurred since she was honored as a member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2010. At that time, she was vice president of Operations for Junior Achievement of Western MA. And while she’s still heavily involved in JA, as we’ll see later, she has shifted her career path from the nonprofit realm to higher education.

“If you’re too afraid to fail at something, you’ll never take the risk to start something new. A new program, a new initiative … any of that is a risk, because you’re putting your name on it, and sometimes things don’t go well.”

At Elms College, where she started as lecturer in Accounting, she is currently an associate professor of Accounting and Finances and interim director of the MBA program, which she co-founded in 2012. Since then, she’s helped grow that program to include graduate degrees in several areas, including Accounting, Financial Planning, Healthcare Leadership, Management, and many others.

Meanwhile, Garcia helped launch the Entrepreneurship program at the school, and currently oversees that initiative and is co-director of the First-year Seminar and Innovation Challenge for students in that program.

Explaining that initiative, she said it is aptly named — students are placed into teams that are challenged with conceptualizing a product and service and pitching it in a competition that earns the winners some capital to take their venture forward.

“Students learn about design thinking, they learn how to pitch, they learn about innovation and how to tackle big problems that seem to have no answer,” she explained, adding that as an advisor and leader of the program, she also teaches them how to work in teams and be a good team member.

As for those big problems with no answers, she said that over the years, teams have addressed some of them with imagination, determination, and solutions in various phases of development.

“Last year’s winner pitched a roommate-matching app where the students would design the surveys to determine what is important to them in a roommate,” she explained, noting the importance of such a service. “A bad roommate is the number-one reason for a student leaving college or not living on campus.”

As for her own entrepreneurial venture, Amanda Garcia, LLC, launched in 2008, she has grown it from a sole proprietorship to three employees. It specializes in small business, rental properties, and tax planning for individuals with investments.

While the many aspects of her work keep her busy, she makes time for giving back to the community, especially Junior Achievement.

Indeed, she still has strong ties to the organization, serving as its accountant, co-chair of its annual golf tournament, a JA volunteer, and chair of the JA EnTEENpreneur Challenge, where, again, she is helping young people develop ideas and begin the process of transforming them into businesses.

Summing up all that she does, as a college professor, an accountant, and as a JA volunteer, Garcia said she is educating people and helping them succeed, as she has, in business and in life. It’s a role she takes very seriously, said Jennifer Connolly, president of Junior Achievement of Western MA, who nominated Garcia for the AAA award.

“Over the years, Amanda has helped dozens of area students and their families navigate applying for college, and then mentored those students through their college years,” she said. “She maintains close contact with many of her students after graduation, mentoring them as they navigate the world of work. She gives of herself, her time, and her money to support many organizations in the area.”

Overall, Garcia doesn’t have much direct experience with failure, so she can’t exactly speak from experience there. But she has considerable experience when it comes to overcoming fear of failure and accepting new challenges — on the job, with her business, and with everything that life can throw at someone.

Helping people overcome that fear and reach higher is just one of the ways she is making an impact in the region. And it’s just one of many reasons why she is a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award.


George O’Brien


Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

In 2015, BusinessWest introduced a new award, an extension of its 40 Under Forty program. It’s called the Alumni Achievement Award, and as that name suggests, it recognizes previous honorees who continue to build on their résumés of outstanding achievement in their chosen field and in service to the community. Recently, a panel of three judges identified the five finalists for the 2021 award — Tara Brewster, Gregg Desmarais, Anthony Gulluni, Eric Lesser, and Meghan Rothschild. The winner for this year will be unveiled with Alumni Achievement Award presenting sponsor Health New England at the 40 Under Forty Gala on Sept. 23 at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. As the profiles that begin on page 7 reveal, all five finalists embody the spirit of this award. Their stories convey true leadership and are truly inspiring.


Tara Brewster

Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank

Gregg Desmarais

Vice President and Senior Private Client Relationship Manager

Anthony Gulluni

Hampden County District Attorney

Eric Lesser

State Senator, First Hampden and Hampshire District

Meghan Rothschild

President and Owner, Chikmedia


Past Alumni Achievement Award Winners:


Carla Cosenzi
President, TommyCar Auto Group, Class of 2012
Peter DePergola
Director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health, Class of 2015


Cinda Jones
President, W. D. Cowls, Inc., Class of 2007


Samalid Hogan
Regional Director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, Class of 2013


Scott Foster
Attorney, Bulkley Richardson, Class of 2011
Nicole Griffin
Owner, ManeHire, Class of 2014


Dr. Jonathan Bayuk
President of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. & Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center, Class of 2008


Delcie Bean
President, Paragus Strategic IT, Class of 2008

Alumni Achievement Award

Hampden County District Attorney

It’s called the Emerging Adult Court of Hope, or EACH for short.

The court, blueprinted by Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni in partnership with Springfield District Court and the Massachusetts-based youth-justice nonprofit Roca, is one of very few in the country to focus specifically on high-risk young adults typically aged 18 to 25.

And it was created with the goal of helping these young adults — whose brains, research has shown, are still developing, and whose understanding of consequences and of risk taking is not the same as it is for adults — break the cycle of crime and incarceration that has ruined so many lives by intervening and putting them on the path to not just a job, but a career.

“These are young people who are starting off 100 steps behind, really at birth,” Gulluni told BusinessWest. “They are born into really poor situations, disadvantaged situations with poor role models around them … they never get off on the right foot in school, they’re not supported, they’re not enriched, they’re not resourced, and they end up committing crimes.”

EACH is just one of the number of new programs, initiatives, and events launched by Gulluni and his office since he prevailed in the race for Hampden County DA in 2015, a lengthy list that easily explains why the judges made him a finalist for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award. Others include:

• A Cold Case Unit that has experienced a number of successes, including an arrest and later a guilty plea to first-degree murder in the 1992 slaying of Lisa Ziegert and, more recently, what amounted to a deathbed near-confession on the part of defrocked Catholic priest Richard Lavigne in the death of Chicopee altar boy Daniel Croteau (Lavigne died before he was set to be charged with the crime);

• The Hampden County Addiction Task Force, a collaboration of community resources, local and state law enforcement, healthcare institutions, service providers, and community coalitions working toward the common goal of a county-wide approach to addressing drug overdoses, addictions, and preventions;

• Development of the Western Massachusetts Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration of local, state, and federal law-enforcement partners working on a new approach to pursuing and prosecuting human-trafficking cases based on an understanding that some of those who are traditionally prosecuted for prostitution are victims of force, threat, and coercion;

• The Campus Safety Symposium, which focuses on a multi-disciplinary team approach to the investigation of sexual-assault and domestic-violence complaints and a review and update of applicable laws and the legal issues frequently occurring during these investigations;

• A training event called “Protect, Report and Preserve: Fighting for Elders and Persons with Disabilities” for service providers and care workers to learn best practices for the recognition and reporting of abuse;

• Creation of the District Attorney’s Youth Advisory Board, which consists of local high-school students who meet on a regular basis with the DA’s office to address issues facing today’s teens and research-effective prevention strategies;

• A training event called “How Can You Not Remember? Understanding a Victim’s Response to Violence” for members of the law-enforcement community to highlight a trauma-informed approach to interviewing victims of sexual assault;

• The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children conference, designed for healthcare, mental-health, law-enforcement, and school professionals to provide tools and skills for recognizing and accessing the necessary resources in the aid of children suspected to be victims of exploitation;

• A #StoptheSwerve public-service-announcement contest for Hampden County high-school students to highlight the dangers of impaired driving; and

• A summer job fair and 3-on-3 basketball tournament that combines fun with a chance to learn about employment opportunities.

Slicing through all those new initiatives, Gulluni said that they are the embodiment of the mindset he took while first campaigning for the office.

“During that campaign, we communicated to the public that we could build a safer community by engaging with young people, by preventing crime, and by dealing with the core issues that cause crime, namely addiction, mental illness, and others, while also continuing to do the core work of the district attorney and law enforcement,” he explained, “which is to deter serious crime and to take people who are violent and repeat offenders off the streets.

“And when I look back on the first six and half years, I really feel that we’ve lived out that very philosophy,” he went on, adding that recent headlines have provided testimony to the progress his office has made.

Lavigne’s deathbed interview with Massachusetts State Trooper Michael McNally, which was front-page news across the state and beyond, tops that list in most respects, but there have been many other developments, including multiple arrests of members of the Knox Street Posse, a local street gang in Springfield, the first strike made by the Strategic Action and Focused Enforcement Team, which operates out of the DA’s office. The sweep resulted in the seizure of 20 firearms, 100,000 bags of heroin, and approximately 2.8 kilograms of cocaine.

And then, there’s EACH, which was first conceived more than four years ago. It first convened in March 2020 and was slowed in its development by the pandemic, but early results are very positive, said Gulluni, noting that the court has caught the attention of both the press and other regions looking to emulate it because of its potential to intervene and help steer young, high-risk youths to a different path.

“We’re intervening and wrapping these young people with support and services,” he explained. “We have seven young people in the court, and they’ve really begun their turnaround. And we’re dealing with high-risk young people — these are people with records who have committed serious offenses for which they would almost certainly be going to jail.”

As noted, EACH is just one of the initiatives that have not just made Gulluni a finalist for this award, but are changing lives in this region.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

President and Owner, Chikmedia

Meghan Rothschild says the role of event emcee comes naturally to her — and that’s just one of the many reasons why the requests for her to take on those duties keep pouring in from groups ranging from the Ad Club of Western Massachusetts to the American Cancer Society’s regional chapter.

She’s adept behind the mic and standing in front of people because … well, she’s had a lot of experience doing so — as a college instructor, specifically in marketing and public relations, and as a public speaker delving into subjects ranging from social-media marketing to sun safety (she is a melanoma survivor who started survivingskin.org to help share her message).

Sometimes she gets asked to emcee, but quite often she volunteers, one of many ways she gives back to specific nonprofits and the community at large.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “And I try to use a little humor, a little self-deprecation, and try to get people to laugh; I try to reflect what the organization wants me to reflect.”

Rothschild, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2011, has been a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, formerly known as the Continued Excellence Award, on several occasions. And it’s easy to see why different panels of judges have come away so impressed.

Indeed, over the ensuing decade, she has continued to add scores of new lines to her résumé (figuratively but also quite literally).

She started Chikmedia in 2014 and has grown the agency to a staff of five and a client list that includes Dunkin’ Donuts, Papa John’s Pizza, Square One, and many others. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Rothschild has also become a mentor to several young women in the region and a coach and resource for many women-owned businesses looking for effective ways to tell their story.

Efforts in this realm also include the recent creation of scholarships for women of color pursuing degrees in marketing and public relations. Last year, the first for this initiative, the company awarded one $500 scholarship; this year, it awarded four because several area companies heard about the program and wanted to be part of it.

“This was something we felt passionate about last year, when everything was going on in the country and there was so much turmoil over racial injustice,” she told BusinessWest. “It was something we needed to do to give back and try to combat these issues; since we’re very much focused on women’s empowerment, we thought this was a great way to support a young woman who is pursuing a degree in this field.”

In addition to her success in business and efforts to mentor and coach other women in business, Rothschild is well known for the many ways in which she gives back to the local community, and especially its nonprofits.

Indeed, she has become a resource on many levels, from those aforementioned emceeing duties to the way in which she engages the classes she teaches at Springfield College and Southern New Hampshire University in building social-media strategies for selected nonprofits (five to 20 of them, depending on the size of the class).

Meanwhile, Chikmedia chooses three to five nonprofit events each year to sponsor on a pro bono basis, with help ranging from free publicity to fundraising to event coordination. Beyond that is ongoing support to several nonprofits. Rothschild said she started her company with such efforts to give back in mind, and it has become a huge part of the culture of the business, one that others are now striving to emulate.

“We donate five hours of time every month to Girls Inc. of the Valley, we work with Square One, we have been very involved for years with all of the Food Bank of Western Mass. events, and I’ve been volunteering for and emceeing events for the American Cancer Society for many years,” she said, offering just a partial list of such efforts.

But Rothschild and her company go further in their backing of nonprofits by compelling their for-profit clients to make support for, and alignment with, a nonprofit part of their overall marketing plan.

“Every marketing strategy I devise for my for-profit clients aligns them with a nonprofit that makes sense for their mission; that’s something I’ve always been passionate about,” she explained. “Yes, you can buy traditional advertising, and that’s great; you can place digital advertising, you can do all these things. But if you can find a nonprofit or a charity you can support, it’s going to really help reinforce your mission, but it’s also what you should be doing.”

Rothschild’s effort to mentor others, work within the community, and be a role model to countless others was summed up perfectly by Heather Clark, event manager for Baystate Children’s Hospital, who nominated her for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“People tell me all the time how much Meghan inspires them through her passion for not only helping businesses to succeed through great marketing and PR, but also her straightforward approach,” she wrote. “She cares deeply about her clients and about the nonprofits for which she volunteers her time. Most importantly, Meghan is as authentic as a person gets, and is the best friend anyone could ask for. She has personally lifted me up more times than I can count and encouraged me to follow my dreams.

“She doesn’t settle for mediocre, but instead demands the best from herself and everyone around her,” Clark went on. “I truly wouldn’t be in the career I am today without her encouragement and leadership. I have learned so much about business, marketing, and events, and I push myself each day to present myself in a way that would make me proud.”

Those sentiments, echoed by many others, explain not only why Rothschild is a finalist for this award, but why she has become a true business leader in this region — in every sense of that word.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

State Senator, First Hampden and Hampshire District

Eric Lesser

Eric Lesser

Eric Lesser says he doesn’t know if a proposed high-speed rail project linking the eastern and western parts of the state has enough support on Beacon Hill to become reality.

What he does know is that the concept has never been this close to becoming reality, and he isn’t shy about touting his role in getting what has become known as ‘east-west rail’ as far down the tracks as it has ever traveled.

“We’re at a closer and more exciting moment than we’ve ever been,” he said of the initiative. “With Joe Biden in office, with the feasibility study done … after eight years of advocacy and work, we have the best chance we’ve ever had of making this reality.”

The rail proposal is just one of the initiatives Lesser has led since first being elected to the First Hampden and Hampshire District Senate seat in 2014 (and earning a 40 Under Forty nod the following year). Most, but not all, of them have fallen into the broad realm of economic development and, more specifically, into the area of leveling the playing field between east and west within the Commonwealth and bringing opportunities to the people — and communities — of the four western counties.

“The animating principle of both my campaign in 2014 and, really, every day I’ve been in office since then has been unlocking and creating economic opportunity for Western Mass. that’s comparable and equal to people in Eastern Mass.,” said Lesser, a first-time finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award. “I will have succeeded if a child born in Springfield or Chicopee or anywhere in Western Mass. has the same shot at making a good living and supporting a family as a kid born in the Boston area.”

By now, most know the story of how Lesser, then 29, moved to the State House from the White House, specifically a position in the Obama administration as a special assistant to Senior Advisor David Axelrod. Lesser, who has a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard and a juris doctor from Harvard Law School, started his career as an aide on Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Today, he holds several leadership positions in the Legislature. He is Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Financial Services, Senate vice chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, and Senate chair of the Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus, the Gateway Cities Caucus, and the Libraries Caucus.

Recent initiatives have included a number of efforts to bolster the state’s manufacturing sector and raise awareness of the 10,000 vacant manufacturing jobs in the four western counties, including work to create apprenticeship tax credits and fund mid-career training programs for workers. Lesser has also been at the forefront of efforts to create the Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights, which recently became law in the Commonwealth.

As for those efforts to level the playing field between east and west, they come in a number of forms, said Lesser, who started by referencing the Clinical Trials unit at Baystate Health, which will open in the fall, part of the Life Sciences Bill passed several years ago. It will create jobs, but also enable people in this part of the state to take part in clinical trials without having to travel to Boston.

He also cited his efforts to lead an initiative to encourage more people to relocate to Western Mass. through a remote-worker incentive, which would pay workers up to $10,000 to move to this region, a concept that, given the lessons provided by the pandemic about where people can work and how, proved to be ahead of its time.

And then, there’s east-west rail.

“Frankly, I got laughed out of a lot of rooms when I talked about connecting Springfield and Boston by train service,” he told BusinessWest. “People said it would never happen; they said it was something we shouldn’t focus on. But now, our chances are as good as they’ve ever been, and the next year will provide the answer. We need to get the federal money secured, and we’re closer than we’ve been to seeing that happen.

“A major unfinished piece is the governor supporting it from there,” he went on. “That’s a major piece that requires our focus and our attention. An eyelash isn’t batted about investments in Boston, but when an investment will help the whole state … suddenly there’s a lot of questions about how expensive it will be.”

Lesser’s latest assignment is as co-chair of the new Future of Work Commission, which will include 17 members from across the state who will address a topic that was already dominated by question marks before the pandemic.

“These are some of the biggest questions in society right now,” he said. “How are people going to work in an era of remote working? How are benefits going to work? How is commuting going to work? What does transportation look like when people are no longer in 9-to-5, in-an-office-building jobs? How is automation going to be impacting society? These are some of the biggest questions we have, and this commission will look to answer them.”

Summing up his first seven years in the Legislature, Lesser said this time has been a learning experience, and what he’s learned is that change and progress come through patience and diligence.

“Success in politics is about methodical, persistent progress,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back; sometimes it’s two steps forward, three steps back. But staying focused on the ultimate goals and working collaboratively with people is the key. One of the things I’ve seen seven years in is that some of the seeds we’ve planted back in 2015, 2016, and 2017 are now blooming.”

By keeping that focus and working collaboratively, Lesser has certainly seen many of his initiatives bear fruit, which helps explain why he is a finalist for the coveted Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Vice President and Senior Private Client Relationship Manager, TD Private Client Group

Gregg Desmarais

Gregg Desmarais

It was more than 10 years ago now, but Gregg Desmarais still remembers the day one of his managers at TD Bank invited him to spend part of a Saturday joining others as they did some work revitalizing one of Springfield’s neighborhoods.

“I joined him and a few other volunteers cleaning up an old lady’s house and tidying up her yard, cutting down some trees, stuff like that,” he recalled. “I liked doing that kind of work anyway, and knowing that it helped someone in need made it even more enjoyable.”

And so began what has become a long and ongoing tenure of service to Revitalize Community Development Corp. (CDC), a nonprofit that serves the Greater Springfield area and performs critical repairs and modifications to the homes of low-income families with children, the elderly, military veterans, and individuals with special needs. That service punctuates a résumé that has made Desmarais a finalist for the 2021 Alumni Achievement Award.

A member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 (three of this year’s finalists are from that class), Desmarais captures the essence of this award, which was created that same year to recognize those who have built upon their track records in both business and service to the community.

He has steadily risen in the ranks at TD Bank, moving from an assistant store manager in Agawam to vice president and manager of the store in his hometown of Westfield, then to manager of the flagship office in downtown Springfield, the post he was in when he took his walk down the 40 Under Forty red carpet at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House.

Today, he serves as vice president and senior private client relationship manager for TD Private Client Group, a business of TD Wealth.

In that role, he serves as a liaison to whom those in the area branches refer high-net-worth customers. “I’m their point person for anything to do with their finances, be it deposits, lending, financial planning, investment-management services, trust and estate work, and more,” he said, adding that he works with others to see that all these various needs are met.

His work covers essentially all of Western Mass., and he works with TD employees in, and customers of, more than 20 branches stretching from Longmeadow to Great Barrington. It’s rewarding work, he said, noting that many of the aspects of work with high-net-worth individuals is complex and involves solving problems.

“I’ve been in customer service my whole career, so this is essentially the culmination of everything I’ve done,” he told BusinessWest. “Not many people can say, ‘I love what I do,’ but I can.”

Like all those in financial services, Desmarais said the pandemic has created a number of challenges when it comes to customer service, which have forced adjustments when it comes to how work is carried out and where. Indeed, he’s been to his office at the bank’s local headquarters at 1441 Main St. only a few times over the past 16 months.

“We’re just reinventing ourselves and figuring out new ways of doing business, like videoconferencing, and it’s been working out just fine,” he said.

While working to serve high-net-worth individuals, Desmarais continues a long track record of service to the community, especially with Revitalize CDC. When named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2015, he told BusinessWest, “I take advantage of any opportunity to get out of my suit and tie, get my hands dirty, and give back to the community; I want to make Springfield as healthy, safe, and beautiful as it can be.”

He meant that quite literally. While he has given back in a number of ways, including as chairperson for three years during the Community Foundation’s annual Valley Gives fundraiser, as a former member of the United Way of Pioneer Valley’s grant approval board, and service on the fundraising committee for the American Cancer Society, he is best known for his work for Revitalize CDC, where he has also risen in the ranks, if you will.

Indeed, he moved from volunteer that Saturday a decade ago all the way to chairman of the board (a role he recently relinquished), although he remains quite active with this nonprofit group, in fundraising and also as a house captain for its rebuilding events.

During his tenure with Revitalize CDC, and especially as chairman of the board, Desmarais worked to improve fundraising efforts and create more community events for the nonprofit, enabling it to grow and serve more families each year. Under his leadership, Revitalize CDC officially became a community-development corporation in 2015.

During COVID, Desmarais helped orchestrate a needed shift in services, with volunteers mostly unable to go into individuals’ homes. Indeed, the nonprofit found new ways to give back.

“We had a few projects to rehab here and there, but mostly we were bringing sanitary products, household cleaners, masks, and food to people,” he explained. “We found more ways to help people in those difficult times.”

Colleen Loveless, president and CEO of Revitalize CDC, who nominated Desmarais for the Alumni Achievement Award, summed up not only his work with her group, but his ability to inspire others to give back.

“Gregg exemplifies the characteristics of a strong, community-based leader — vision, mentorship, hands-on service, and a positive understanding of the strength of the local community,” she wrote in her nomination. “He quickly saw the underserved population of Springfield residents who could directly benefit from the services of Revitalize CDC, and he understood that it would take a more robust fundraising structure.”

In these and other ways, Desmarais truly exemplifies the characteristics of an Alumni Achievement Award finalist — an individual who continues to build on an already strong record, both in business and within the community.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Vice President of Business Development, Greenfield Savings Bank

Tara Brewster

Tara Brewster

Tara Brewster likes to refer to herself as a “recovering entrepreneur.”

She uses that phrase to describe everything from how she can’t fully unplug while on vacation (which she was when talking with BusinessWest) to life in general after she and partner Candace Connors sold the clothing store they created, Jackson & Connor, in 2013.

She has spent the years since … well, recovering from a thoroughly enjoyable time running her own business and essentially deciding what comes next for someone with entrepreneurial energy still to be tapped and a deep commitment to serving the community.

Actually, many things have ‘come next,’ from some work in consulting to her current assignment as vice president of Business Development for Greenfield Savings Bank (GSB); from a wide range of work within the community, especially in Hampshire County, to something new and completely different — her own radio show.

Indeed, Brewster recently succeeded Ira Bryck as the host of the weekly Western Mass. Business Show on WHMP. She started only a few months ago and admits to still being in the process of learning the ropes and becoming comfortable behind the mic.

“I’m still kind of shaking off the jitters and the ‘how am I going to craft my voice,’” she told BusinessWest. “And I’m still figuring out what I can ask and how deep I can go, all those things. I’m still learning, and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Meanwhile, she was already quite comfortable with getting involved in the community, but has only become more so in recent years, donating her time and talents to agencies and causes ranging from the Hampshire Regional YMCA to the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA) to the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce. But more on that, and how the sum of her work has made her a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, later.

First, we flash back to when Brewster sold Jackson & Connor — a difficult time, as she described it, because she really didn’t know what to do with herself and fill the void created by selling the business that had been her passion — or one of them, anyway.

“I was like, ‘this was my whole identity; what am I going to do now?’” she said, adding that she worked as a consultant for the Vann Group (which helped her sell the business), and later did some work for the Springfield Business Improvement District and CityStage. Through those assignments, she reconnected with her former loan officer from Greenfield Savings Bank, who took her to lunch, at which Brewster did a lot of ‘complaining’ (her word) about being a consultant and how different it was from the retail world she was in.

She remembers saying, “‘after a decade of being entrepreneurial and making my own economy, I think I’m ready to go back to being an employee — but no two days can be the same; it has to be entrepreneurial, I’ve got to have freedom, and I have to be out and about in the community and making an impact.’”

All of which is serendipity, because that loan officer was essentially there to encourage her to apply for a position in business development at GSB, a job that offered essentially everything she just said she needed.

Overall, her job at the bank, which began in late 2016, has allowed her to take her work within the community to an even higher plane, one that recently earned her the Kay Sheehan Spirit of the Community Award, presented by the Community United Way of Hampshire County.

That involvement, which includes work with the YMCA, DNA, MassHire, Double Edge Theatre, Pathlight, Safe Passage, the chamber, and many other groups, was put into its proper perspective by Bryck, who not only gave Brewster the keys to the radio show he handled for more than a decade, but nominated her for the Alumni Achievement Award.

“Tara exemplifies for many what commitment and giving back looks like,” he wrote. “Western Mass. is fortunate to have Tara continuing to improve our backyard. She is a person for whom each day is a blessing, and she shows her appreciation, and uses her position, in ways that help fellow humans.

“I know a lot of people who see Tara as an inspiring leader,” he went on. “They are lit by her fire, and they become better people by seeing her compassion and action. She embodies sincerity and is brilliant at luring others into the river that she flows with.”

Brewster, a member of the 40 Under Forty class of 2009, summed it up this way: “To work for a community bank in Western Massachusetts is just a gift, especially for someone who is a true philanthropist at heart, someone who really sees the jeweled web of a region and understands that everything happens because of connections, everything happens because you make asks, everything happens because you see others before you see yourself.”

As for the radio show, she sees it as an extension of her work in business — and in the community — and she has committed herself to using the show to give a platform to those who need to tell their story.

“I try to focus on people in the community who need to be highlighted and aren’t necessarily highlighted,” she explained. “I have a real bent in my heart toward nonprofits, so I try to bring them on so they can talk about themselves. Also, people of color. COVID really took off my rose-colored glasses and put on some pretty intense eyeglasses from which I now view a lot of the work that I do, how we are in the community, how we treat each other, and who has the mic.”

Her work sharing the airwaves is just the latest installment of ‘what comes next’ for this recovering entrepreneur, a list that now also includes being a finalist for the 40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award.


—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award Special Coverage

Class Acts

As they came together via Zoom to decide who would take home the coveted Alumni Achievement Award for 2020, the three judges who scored the nominations kept talking about how hard their final assignment was. Indeed, they admitted that all five finalists — Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group, Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics at Baystate Health; Mike Fenton, attorney with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin and a Springfield city councilor; Paul Kozub, founder of V-One Vodka; and James Leahy, assistant director of Business Development and Promotion Sales for the Massachusetts State Lottery and a Holyoke city councilor — were more than worthy of the honor, formerly known as the Continued Excellence Award. As they debated the merits of each finalist, the judges had a difficult time settling on one winner of this award, sponsored again this year by Health New England. So they instead decided to honor two.
Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar Auto Group, with her children, Niko and Talia.

• Cosenzi, who adds this honor to two others from BusinessWest (40 Under Forty in 2012 and Women of Impact in 2019), was chosen both for what she’s done in business — expanding the auto group started by her father with several new dealerships — and for what’s she’s done in the community. Chief among her accomplishments in that latter category has been the creation of the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, staged each year to raise funds to battle brain cancer, which claimed her father when he was just 52 years old.
Peter DePergola

Peter DePergola, director of Clinical Ethics at Baystate Health.

• DePergola, who has emerged as not only a regional, but national and even international leader in the emerging field of bioethics, also now has three plaques from BusinessWest on his desk. Indeed, in addition to 40 Under Forty (class of 2015), he was also named a Healthcare Hero in the Emerging Leader category in 2018. The first, and still the only, bioethicist in this region, he recently wrote a white paper titled “Ethical Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Novel Coronovirus Disease,” published in the Online Journal of Health Ethics, and also served on the state’s Crisis Standards of Care Advisory Committee. BusinessWest congratulates these two deserving winners, who continue to raise the bar for professional and personal achievement in Western Mass.
Alumni Achievement Award Cover Story

Finalists for Award Are Leaders in Business — and in the Community

Launched in 2015, and known then as the Continued Excellence Award, BusinessWest’s Alumni Achievement Award recognizes a previous 40 Under Forty honoree who has continued to build on his or résumé as a rising star in this region and leader both in business and within the community. The five finalists for 2020 — Carla Cosenzi, Peter DePergola, Mike Fenton, Paul Kozub, and James Leahy — epitomize what this award, sponsored by Health New England, is all about, and why it is among the most coveted of BusinessWest’s many awards.


Carla Cosenzi

She’s driven to succeed — in business and in the community

>>Read More

Peter Depergola

This pioneer remains on the leading edge in the field of bioethics

>>Read More

Mike Fenton

He has a passion for the law, and for serving his constituents

>>Read More

Paul Kozub

This entrepreneur — and his label — have come a long way in 15 years

>>Read More

James Leahy

This city leader has always been an ambassador — and a connector

>>Read More





Alumni Achievement Award

President, TommyCar Auto Group

She’s Driven to Succeed — in Business and in the Community

Carla Cosenzi

Carla Cosenzi has become a solid role model for her children, Niko and Talia, when it comes to getting involved in the community.

Carla Cosenzi moved into her new office at Northampton Volkswagen some time ago.

But she’s never quite found the time to fully decorate.

Indeed, there are a number of drawings created by her children that haven’t found their way on to the walls yet, and, likewise, there are several plaques, photos, BusinessWest awards (in the plural), and assorted pieces of memorabilia still waiting to be hung.

Among them is a popular framed poster featuring an image of legendary Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi above the words ‘What it takes to be Number One,’ and a quote that has become one of her favorites:

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit.”

The poster once belonged to her father, Tom, and she more or less inherited it from him — along with a number of other things. She said her father lived by the words in that quote — especially the part about doing things right all the time — and, not surprisingly, she does as well.

“I try to instill in my children — and especially my daughter, because she’s older — the importance of community and giving back to the community. And she will often attend events with me; it’s important for her to be there with me to see that it’s not just about giving money — it’s about getting involved.”

She’s inherited his entrepreneurial spirit — she and her brother, Tom Jr., have greatly expanded the business, adding several dealerships in recent years — as well as his commitment to serve the community, especially with the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament, staged each year to raise funds to battle brain cancer, which claimed her father when he was just 52 years old. Since it was launched in 2009, the tournament has raised more than $1 million to support brain-tumor research at the Dana Farber Center for Neuro-Oncology.

But also through the Carla Cares Program, which could be called the philanthropic arm of TommyCar Auto Group. The program assists charitable and nonprofit organizations across Western Mass., Southern Vermont, Southern New Hampshire, and Northern Connecticut. Just a partial list of organizations it has supported through donations and other forms of support includes Baystate Children’s Hospital, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Unify Against Bullying, NoHo Pride, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Dress for Success Western Massachusetts, and many others.

This desire to serve the community — and to do things right all the time — is an operating mindset, if you will, that has earned Cosenzi not only her 40 Under Forty plaque (class of 2012), but another BusinessWest honor as well — the Difference Makers award in 2019. And it was on display the day BusinessWest visited Cosenzi. The golf tournament was just a few days away, and, as always, she was involved with every detail, right down to the gift baskets for the silent auction and raffle.

“I like to get involved in every aspect of this — it’s who I am,” she said. “It’s been that way from the beginning.”

But the fact there was a tournament at all is testimony to Cosenzi’s competitive spirit and desire to continue the fight against brain cancer.

Indeed, in the year of COVID-19, a number of fundraising events such as this one have been canceled or gone virtual — not that you can play a virtual golf tournament. But Cosenzi, after a number of discussions with tournament committee members — and talks with Twin Hills Country Club, where it took place — decided to press ahead and make something happen.

And they did. It wasn’t as large as in recent years — one course instead of two and, therefore, perhaps half the number of golfers — but it was a memorable start to the drive to get to the second million dollars in donations.

And while Cosenzi was busy helping with last-minute details of the tournament, so too were her children, especially her daughter, Talia, who has become a fixture at the event in recent years. Indeed, she has her own tent, Talia’s Tent, from which she sells lemonade for the cause. Because of the pandemic, she won’t be able to do that this year, so she’s making bracelets and sugar scrubs to sell online the day of the tournament.

“I’m proud to say that they know what they’re raising money for, and they’re very excited to help,” she said. “They feel like they’re part of making the difference, which is really exciting for me to see in my children.

“I try to instill in my children — and especially my daughter, because she’s older — the importance of community and giving back to the community,” she went on. “And she will often attend events with me; it’s important for her to be there with me to see that it’s not just about giving money — it’s about getting involved.”

Thus, the words on that Vince Lombardi poster have been passed down to a third generation of the Cosenzi family. They all live by the notion that you don’t do things right only once in a while.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Director of Clinical Ethics, Baystate Health

This Pioneer Remains on the Leading Edge in the Field of Bioethics

Peter DePergola

Peter DePergola, wearing his mask outside Baystate Medical Center, a new requirement, has become a national leader in the emerging field of bioethics.

Peter DePergola described it as a “haunting experience.”

He then amended that statement slightly — but poignantly.

“It was incredibly haunting,” he told BusinessWest while retelling his experiences writing a white paper eventually to be titled “Ethical Guidelines for the Treatment of Patients with Suspected or Confirmed Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19),” published in the Online Journal of Health Ethics.

As that title suggests, this is a guide to help medical professionals and healthcare facilities decide who would be treated for the virus and how; specifically, it addresses how limited resources are to be expended and in what circumstances. It was a guide that kept him up nights while he was writing it, and one he truly hoped no one would ever have to use.

But when he wrote it — at the height of the surge that hit the eastern part of the state in April — it seemed likely, if not almost certain, that his own employer, Baystate Health, would be putting it to use.

“I really thought — I truly believed — that we would be using this policy within weeks,” he said, adding that he was working with administrators at Baystate who were preparing to become overwhelmed and would need guidance on, among other things, how to proceed when the number of patients who needed a ventilator exceeded the number of machines available.

It never came to that, and DePergola hopes it never does, but his white paper is there for use if the circumstances arise.

As for why it was so haunting, he said he was writing guidelines, or thresholds, for receiving care that he knew his own loved ones would not meet.

“As I wrote it, I realized that people that I cared about, even my own mother, may not qualify, or meet the criteria, that I have developed in collaboration with my colleagues, to receive a life-sustaining resource,” he said. “It was incredibly difficult to separate my own personal feelings and moral responsibilities to my family from the greater good of the public.”

DePergola’s white paper goes a long way toward explaining why he has become a leading voice in the emerging field of bioethics, not only in this region, but across the state and the nation. And also why he has, for the first time, become a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, five years after receiving his 40 Under Forty plaque, and two years after receiving another of BusinessWest’s honors — its coveted Healthcare Heroes award in the category of Emerging Leader.

But there are many other examples, including his steady, if not meteoric, rise within the ranks of experts in the bioethics field.

When he joined the other members of the 40 Under Forty class of 2015 at the Log Cabin, he was a staff ethicist at Baystate and the only person to hold that title in Western Mass. Now a professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Elms College, he’s still the only ethicist in the 413, but his influence now extends well beyond this region.

This was evidenced by his appointment to the Commonwealth’s Crisis Standards of Care (CSC) Advisory Committee in the spring.

The 17-member panel, which in April produced a document titled “Crisis Standards of Care Planning for the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was comprised mostly of noted experts from institutions in the eastern part of the state, including Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Boston’s Children’s Hospital. And DePergola was, by his estimate, 20 years younger than any other member.

He remembers a number of heated discussions among the members of the panel, including one that involved whether healthcare providers should receive primary access to scarce resources.

“For a while, I was the minority on that subject, saying that I did think that healthcare providers should get priority because they are the means by which we can care for many more people,” he told BusinessWest. “So even on just utilitarian grounds, which is not the best way to make moral decisions, it just made sense that, if we didn’t take care of the individuals who are, in essence, the tools by which we could heal the general public, then there would be no one else. If we didn’t prioritize them, what incentive would they have to come to work?”

A revised version of the committee’s “Crisis Standards of Care Planning” eventually did stipulate that healthcare workers would get priority, and it included a number of other measures contained in DePergola’s white paper.

The fact that the two documents are now very similar speaks to just how quickly and profoundly DePergola his risen to the status of national, and even global, leader in the field of bioethics.

And also why he is one of the five finalists for the Alumni Achievement Award.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Attorney, Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin; Springfield City Councilor

He Has a Passion for the Law, and for Serving His Constituents

Mike Fenton

Mike Fenton has now spent more than a decade representing Springfield’s Ward 2.

When he was running for the Ward 2 Springfield City Council seat in 2009 while attending law school at Western New England University, Mike Fenton, who was competing in a deep, well-credentialed field, didn’t think he’d win.

“And when I did win … I didn’t think I’d stay,” he told BusinessWest, figuring that, in time, maybe a few years, he would be immersed in his law career and essentially done with his service to the city.

Suffice it to say Fenton was wrong with both of his projections. Indeed, 11 years later, he is still representing Ward 2 while still building that law practice — he’s a partner with the Springfield-based law firm Shatz, Schwartz, and Fentin, specializing in commercial real estate, business planning, commercial finance, and estate planning.

“A few years into it, I just fell in love with it,” he said of his multi-faceted work with the City Council. “I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”

These sentiments explain why Fenton is now a multiple-year finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, previously known as the Continued Excellence Award. He hopes that 2020 will be the year he’ll break through, but he admits to having other things on his mind right now.

“I fell in love with all of it — with helping constituents, the city budget, and some of the more complicated aspects of city government; it’s very rewarding work.”

That list includes the now nationwide focus on police-community relations — “we’re taking steps to increase accountability and transparency within the department” — and especially COVID-19. The pandemic is impacting both his law practice — there’s been a general slowing of the commercial real-estate market, but an understandable surge in estate-planning work — and the city of Springfield, which is impacted in many ways, especially within its business community.

As Fenton talked about the changing landscape, one can hear the concern in his voice and the passion he has for serving the city he grew up in.

“The biggest casualty to this pandemic, after you take in the public-health and human cost, which is obviously first and foremost, is commercial real estate and the economy,” he noted. “The commercial real-estate market was doing much better than it had in the decades leading up to 2020, and then the pandemic hit, and like every other place, not only this country but around the globe, it’s a completely different environment now.

“There’s no doubting that Springfield was hitting its stride, and the pandemic has thrown us a curveball,” he went on. “Everything from stalled progress at MGM to questions now about development in the area around the casino, to Worthington Street and what’s going to happen there, to losing Big Mamou’s … there’s a lot of losses that will have to be made up when we get to the other end of this pandemic.”

Fenton said he’s looking forward to serving the city as it works to recover from those losses. To explain this passion, he flashed back to 2009 and his decision to seek public office. Actually, he started the discussion with a different decision — the one to attend law school at Western New England, which offered him a full scholarship, instead of Boston College, where he thought he was headed.

That decision, which he now counts among the most important (and best) of his life, brought him back home. And as he was making that decision, his cousin sent him a news article detailing how Springfield was going through a change in its charter, moving from nine at-large city councilors to a 13-member board, with eight of them representing wards. And this started talk of a possible run for one of those seats.

“I was a political science major, but I never thought about a career in politics — I didn’t want a career in politics,” he explained, adding that a City Council seat wasn’t a career, but it was “a great opportunity to meet people and serve the city I love.”

So he ran, launching his career just a few weeks after graduating from Providence College. And again, to his surprise, he prevailed against a number of opponents with better name recognition and better credentials.

He now represents Ward 2, which includes Hungry Hill, East Springfield, and Atwater Park, balancing a long list of city responsibilities with an equally hectic schedule within his law practice. “I’ve been successful at balancing the two because I’m extremely passionate about both of them,” he told BusinessWest. “Politics, and elected office, is not my career, and it will never be my career — but I really enjoy serving my city in this capacity.”

With that, he explained not just why he’s a finalist for the Alumni Achievement Award, but why he’s now been a finalist several times.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Founder, V-One Vodka

This Entrepreneur — and His Label — Have Come a Long Way in 15 Years

Paul Kozub, left

Paul Kozub, left, seen here with business partner and former Patriots star Ty Law, is growing V-One into a national brand.

When BusinessWest caught up with Paul Kozub recently, he had just wrapped up some promotional video work with Ty Law, former New England Patriots standout cornerback and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2019.

Law is now a partner with Kozub in his venture, V-One Vodka, and the videos being shot were at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. That’s because V-One has been named the official vodka of the Hall for this year — when most all activities, including the induction ceremony, have been postponed because of the pandemic — and next.

The juxtaposition of all this — official vodka of the Hall of Fame, Ty Law as spokesperson — help show just how far Kozub and his label have come since he became part of the very first 40 Under Forty class in 2007. Back then, he was struggling to get his brand off the ground and into bars, restaurants, and package stores in the 413. It wasn’t exactly a one-man show, but it was very close, with Kozub making most of the deliveries himself.

Today, he’s in four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire — and he’s poised to enter four more, including Ohio. He had plans to be in roughly 30 by this fall, and signed on with a distributor to make that happen, but COVID-19 has put many of the plans … well, on ice.

“In Florida, Texas, and some of these other states, there are so many problems that it’s not a good time to launch a new brand,” he noted. “Are the bars and restaurants open? Are the bars closed? That’s typically half our business.”

But Kozub, who was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur in 2016 and thus has a few pieces of hardware from the magazine on display somewhere, has certainly come a long way in the 15 years since he started this journey in his basement, using a few thousand dollars left to him by his uncle to create his own vodka.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more. You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it.”

Indeed, he now has his own distillery in Poland; work continues to expand his footprint geographically; he’s spent $500,000 to create a new bottle — an important part of the puzzle in this industry; and he continues to defy the odds when it comes to making a vodka label stand out and be successful in an immensely crowded field.

“About 97% of new vodkas fail within the first three years,” said Kozub, who used that statistic to segue his way back to the pro football Hall of Fame and a discussion he had recently with its president, Dave Baker.

“We talked about the 33 million people who have played football, the 27,000 who have played in the NFL, and the 300 who are in the Hall of Fame. What did it take for those people? What qualities did they have to have to be one of those 300?” he asked rhetorically, drawing a parallel to those who get to the top of their field in any business, and especially his.

“You have to have that perseverance; there are so many hurdles when you’re running a business — and in today’s present moment, there are even more,” he said while answering his own question. “You have to love what you do and have the passion for it. If there’s a roadblock or wall, you have to figure out a way around it or through it. When it comes to vodka … yes, you have to have a great product, but you have to be willing to work very hard.”

Kozub’s been doing that since he first launched V-One in 2006, trading in life as a loan officer at a local bank for the life he’s always dreamed of — one as an entrepreneur.

It’s not an easy life, certainly, but it’s the one he certainly prefers.

“When you run a small business, it has to be your life,” he said in conclusion. “I don’t know many small-business owners who are playing a lot of golf or have a lot of time on their hands. For me, it’s all about my family and about my business.

“To be successful, you have to love it,” he went on. “Like I told Dave Baker … my worst day at V-One was better than my best day of being a banker. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The challenges that come up — the financial challenges, the HR challenges, the legal challenges … all those things don’t end. And we’re still a very small brand; if we do get bigger and become a national brand, the challenge then becomes how do you stay successful — how do you stay on top?”

As Kozub said, the challenges — the roadblocks and the walls — keep coming. And he rather enjoys finding ways to get through them or around them.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Assistant Director of Business Development and Promotion Sales, Massachusetts State Lottery; Holyoke City Councilor

This City Leader Has Always Been an Ambassador — and a Connector

James Leahy

James Leahy, seen outside City Hall, has become involved a wide array of Holyoke institutions.

James Leahy joked that being an at-large city councilor is not a reference to his size.

The six-foot, four-inch Leahy has had a lot of experience retelling that one-liner — more than 20 years worth, actually. Indeed, he was first elected to that body in 1999, when he was only 26, after a run very much inspired by his father (more on that later).

He admits to not expecting to spend two decades in that post, but he has, and in the meantime, he has become involved in, well … all things Holyoke, or almost all things. Indeed, he has devoted considerable time, energy, and expertise to the Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and also been involved with everything from the Holyoke YMCA to the Volleyball Hall of Fame; from the Holyoke Children’s Museum to the Westfield State University board of trustees (he’s an alum), as well as Holyoke’s famous merry-go-round.

And recently, he started and still maintains the Hello Holyoke Community Forum.

He does all this while keeping a day job as assistant director of Business Development and Promotion Sales for the Massachusetts State Lottery, a position that requires him to rotate between offices in Springfield and Worcester.

When asked how he finds time for all this, Leahy, who is often described as an ambassador for the city and a ‘connector’ for people looking for help with a problem or issue, gave an answer that speaks volumes about why, a decade after earning his 40 Under Forty plaque, he is a finalist for the coveted Alumni Achievement Award.

“I find the time,” he said. “But more importantly, I find the right amount of time. One of my strong suits is organizational skills, and I try to teach my children that. I think some of them have it, and some of them don’t. I tell them that they have to put the right amount of quality time into whatever they’re doing. If I can’t give 100%, then I’m not doing it.”

Suffice it to say he’s given 100% to Holyoke, and to ascertain how and why that is, we return the subject of Leahy’s father, Thomas, who emigrated to this country from Ireland, arrived with a strong work ethic, and passed on to his children some strong advice about service to the community.

“When my father arrived here, he worked in Boston, and he heard stories about [former Mayor] James Michael Curley and other politicians,” Leahy explained. “He was always talking about politics, and he loved politics. I was named James Michael Leahy, and I’m pretty sure that has something to do with James Michael Curley.

“My dad always talked about giving back and how America gave him what he has,” Leahy went on. “He was always stressing two things — one, that you had to give back, and two, if you’re going to live somewhere and raise your family there, you should be a cog in the wheel; you should be part of the community.”

That mindset was reinforced by his mother, Mary Ellen, a prolific volunteer, he continued, adding that it was only a few years after graduating from Westfield State that he first decided to seek one of Holyoke’s at-large council seats. He remembers the time well; he was not only running for office that November, but getting married that same month. And his birthday and his his fiancée’s birthday were the same day, Nov. 19.

“I was thinking, ‘this could be the best month of my life,’” he recalled. “And then I thought, ‘if I lose the election, that will put a damper on things.’”

But he didn’t lose, and he’s gone on to win every two years since. But, as noted, his work within the city goes far beyond City Council chambers and City Hall — and to institutions like the merry-go-round, the children’s museum, the YMCA, and especially the parade, which he became involved at the behest, if one can call it that, of his father-in-law, attorney Peter Brady.

“He was very active on the parade committee,” Leahy recalled. “I was still in college when I started dating his daughter; I can remember him handing me an application and saying, ‘fill this out — if you’re going to be part of this family, you’re going to be part of the parade committee.’”

And he has been, serving in a number of capacities, from board president to his current assignment, co-marketing director. He is one of many working hard to help the parade bounce back from a year when it had to be canceled — for the first time anyone can remember — because of the pandemic.

No, ‘at-large’ has nothing to do with Leahy’s size. But you could say it has everything to do with his involvement in — and impact on — this historic city, which continues to be very large indeed.

—George O’Brien

Alumni Achievement Award

Nominate your choice for an outstanding BusinessWest 40 Under Forty Alum!

Click for Past Honorees

When BusinessWest launched its 40 Under Forty program in 2007, it did so to identify rising stars across our region – individuals who were excelling in business and through
involvement within the community –and celebrate their accomplishments. In 2015, BusinessWest announced a new award, one that builds on the foundation upon which 40 Under Forty was created. It’s called the Continued Excellence Award. as the name suggests, will be presented to the 40 Under Forty honoree who, in the eyes of an independent panel of judges,
has most impressively continued and built upon their track record
of accomplishment.

For your convenience, a list of 40 Under Forty Alumni can be found HERE.

About the nomination form:
• Candidates must be from 40 Under Forty classes prior to the year of the award, in this case, classes 2007-2018.
• Only nominations submitted to BusinessWest on this form will be considered.

Deadline is May 3, 2019 at 5 p.m. No exceptions.

Presenting Sponsor:

Continued Excellence Award Past Winners:

Samalid Hogan
Regional Director, Massachusetts Small Business Development Center
Class of 2013

Scott Foster
Attorney, Bulkley Richardson
Class of 2011

Nicole Griffin
Owner, ManeHire
Class of 2014

 Dr. Jonathan Bayuk
President of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. &
Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center
Class of 2008

Delcie Bean
President, Paragus Strategic IT
Class of 2008

40 Under Forty Alumni Achievement Award Nomination Form

Please fill out the nomination form completely.

  • Nominee's Information:

  • Nominated by (your information):


40 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Award

Dr. Jonathan Bayuk

Dr. Jonathan Bayuk

SPRINGFIELD — Impressing a panel of judges as a committed, widely recognized advocate for families dealing with food allergies, as well as with his broader work in the field of allergy and immunology, Dr. Jonathan Bayuk won the second annual Continued Excellence Award at this month’s 40 Under Forty gala presented by BusinessWest..

BusinessWest launched the Continued Excellence Award last year to recognize past 40 Under Forty honorees who have built on the initial business success and civic commitment that earned them that honor.

When Bayuk, president of Allergy and Immunology Associates of Western Mass. and chief of Allergy and Immunology at Baystate Medical Center, was named to the 40 Under Forty class of 2008, he had created the Western Mass. Food Allergy Network and served on the boards of the New England Allergy Society and the Mass. Allergy and Asthma Society (he is currently president-elect of both), as well as maintaining his successful practice.

But he has since dedicated a tremendous amount of time and philanthropic support to other causes as well, including Homeward Vets, an organization that helps homeless veterans transition to self-sufficiency, and Team Henry, a group that promotes childhood wellness through exercise and nutrition. He also continues to coach several sports, serve on the board of Northampton Little League, teach medical students and residents, and organize events to help the region’s homeless.

“There were a number of excellent nominations for this year’s Continued Excellence Award,” said George O’Brien, editor of BusinessWest and HCN. “The judges could have picked any of these finalists, but they were obviously impressed with Dr. Bayuk’s work professionally, and within the community, since he was named a 40 Under Forty winner. His selection for this award speaks to the importance of healthcare to this region’s economy and Dr. Bayuk’s ability to grow his business and make a difference in this region.”
A panel of three independent judges — James Barrett, managing partner of Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; Delcie Bean, president of Paragus Strategic IT and last year’s Continued Excellence Award winner; and Janine Fondon, president and CEO of UnityFirst.com — considered dozens of submitted nominations and scored each one, narrowing the field to eight finalists. They then chose Bayuk as this year’s winner. The other seven finalists included:

• Michael Fenton (40 Under Forty class of 2012), Springfield City Council president and an associate at Shatz, Schwartz & Fentin, P.C.;

• Jeff Fialky (class of 2008), partner at Bacon Wilson and former chair of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce;

• Dena Hall (class of 2007), Western Mass. regional president of United Bank and president of the United Bank Foundation for Massachusetts and Connecticut;

• Amanda Huston Garcia (class of 2010), director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Elms College;

• Amy Jamrog (class of 2007), wealth management advisor with Northwestern Mutual and owner of the Jamrog Group;

• Alex Morse (class of 2014), third-term mayor of Holyoke; and

• Meghan Rothschild (class of 2011), co-founder of chikmedia and marketing and PR manager with the Melanoma Foundation of New England.

40 Under 40 Alumni Achievement Award

Delcie Bean IV

Delcie Bean IV

HOLYOKE — Serial entrepreneur Delcie Bean IV took home BusinessWest’s inaugural Continued Excellence Award at last night’s ninth annual 40 Under Forty gala.

It was yet another honor for the owner of Paragus Strategic IT, who was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2014. For the Continued Excellence Award, which will be awarded annually to a former 40 Under Forty honoree who has continued to expand his or her business accomplishments and community impact, Bean was among about 40 individuals nominated by their peers and judged by an independent panel (nomination form is HERE).

“Nothing I have done has not been without the help of at least 100 other people,” Bean said to more than 650 attendees of the 40 Under Forty event at the Log Cabin in Holyoke. He cited, as one example, the 24 high-school students who graduated this week from Tech Foundry, a nonprofit he started to provide IT workforce training and job skills to young people.

A member of the 40 Under Forty Class of 2008 when he was just 21, Bean has since seen Paragus grow 450% and earn status as one of Inc. magazine’s fastest-growing companies on several occasions, and recently earn the Top Employer of Choice Award from the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast. He’s also started a second business venture, Waterdog Technologies, a technology-distribution company.

Meanwhile, within the community, he has been active with Valley Venture Mentors, River Valley Investors, and DevelopSpringfield; is a board member for Up Academy Springfield; and serves as a board member for the Mass. Department of Elementary & Secondary Education’s Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards Panel.

In his short acceptance speech last night, Bean put the focus not on himself, but on the promise of the Pioneer Valley.

“I’m just one of many people who helped me get to where I am,” he said. “I’m so incredibly grateful to be here, to be part of the Valley. And you know what? I think there’s so much more we can do. I really, really think this Valley has a huge story ahead of it. I’m excited to be a part of that, and I hope you guys will join me. And, with that challenge, let’s see what’s next.”

The other four finalists for the Continued Excellence Award were Kamari Collins (40 Under Forty class of 2009), dean of Academic Advising and Student Success at Springfield Technical Community College; Jeff Fialky (class of 2008), partner at Bacon Wilson, P.C.; Cinda Jones (class of 2007), president of Cowls Lumber Co.; and Kristin Leutz (class of 2010), vice president of Philanthropic Services for the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

The judges for the inaugural award were Carol Campbell, president of Chicopee Industrial Contractors; Eric Gouvin, dean of the Western New England School of Law; and Kirk Smith, former director of the YMCA of Greater Springfield.