The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan - 2018

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MARCH 7, 2018

JW Marriott Grand Rapids


TH E F UTU R E Congratulations! Your influence in our community will be felt for generations to come, as your work inspires others to teach, lead, and chase their dreams. It’s all connected.

FISHBECK, THOMPSON, CARR & HUBER engineers | scientists | architects | constructors

CONGRATULATIONS to our Executive MBA alumni named to GRBJ’s list of the

50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN! Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business helps working professionals reach their goals. Whether you want to analyze big data to drive decisions, lead global teams, or shape the future of your business, our Executive MBA prepares you to take on tomorrow’s challenges.









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One of “The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan”

JENNIFER JURGENS President of SalesPad

Innovation, efficiency and vision — Jen’s leading the charge in business-changing technology.

Jen believes that everything can always be more efficient. With experience in technology start-ups, supply chain management, and marketing, Jen leads the experts in operational ERP. After all, more than 15,000 people trust SalesPad to manage their distribution operations and deliver meaningful customer data to make better business decisions. 4 GRAND RAPIDS BUSINESS JOURNAL 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN

PUBLISHER John H. Zwarensteyn: EDITOR Carole Valade: MANAGING EDITOR Tim Gortsema: COPY EDITOR Tom Mitsos: DIGITAL EDITOR Chris Ehrlich: STAFF REPORTERS Justin Dawes: Danielle Nelson: Rachel Watson: Ehren Wynder: CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Jeffrey Gitomer, Paul A. Hense, Brian Long, Bill Roth, Ardon Schambers NEW MEDIA, DESIGN & PRODUCTION MANAGER Scott Sommerfeld: ART COORDINATOR Kelly J. Nugent: DESIGNERS/PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Melissa Brooks: Kristen Van Oostenbrugge: Robin Vargo: CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Michael Buck, Jim Gebben, Johnny Quirin General Sales Manager RANDY D. PRICHARD: ADVERTISING SALES MANAGER Jenn Maksimowski: ADVERTISING SALES CONSULTANTS Jennifer Collins: Craig R. Rich: ADVER. SALES ASSISTANT/ COORDINATOR Karla Jeltema: CIRCULATION & MARKETING MANAGER Scott T. Miller: MARKETING & EVENTS COORDINATOR Andrea Straw: CIRCULATION & MARKETING ASSISTANT Katrina Peshka: FINANCE & ADMINISTRATION MANAGER Pamela Brocato, CPA: ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT Tina Gillman: RECEPTIONIST/CLERICAL ASSISTANT Michael Kohlenberger General Inquiries: TO ORDER REPRINTS Karla Jeltema:, (616) 459-3216



Record nominations show promise for women leaders


N LATE JANUARY, Grand Rapids Business Journal reported the results of a survey by Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a global outplacement firm in Chicago, which used news articles, SEC filings and press releases to compile a report on the success of women moving up the ranks of business into the C Suite and those achieving CEO status. The companies are from various industries, of varying sizes, including publicly traded, privately held and nonprofit entities nationwide. In the U.S., of all Fortune 500 companies, only 26 are currently led by women. In Michigan, 20 CEO replacements were recorded in 2017; three of the successors were women. In West Michigan, six CEO replacements were recorded, and none of their successors were female. Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger Gray and Christmas, told Business Journal reporter Rachel Watson, “We’re consistently finding out there are more companies that have this old, ‘locker room/boys’ club’ mentality of not having safe environments for women,” Challenger said. “I think we’d see less of that if there were more women at the top.” The inequity has more than just a moralekilling effect. “The lack of gender diversity at many companies, especially in leadership roles, is a huge detriment,” Challenger said. “Studies have shown that more women in leadership positions correlate to higher profits and better stock performance.” Those facts are the underlying reason the Business Journal has continued since 1997 to look specifically at the leadership provided by women in the West Michigan community. The 50 women profiled here have helped to expand the ranks of women in leadership positions in business, on community and corporate boards, in political appointments and elections. Readers may take for granted this group of West Michigan women are involved in the community well outside their professional areas of expertise but would, without doubt, underestimate the extent of such involvement, far too numerous to include in each profile. The Business Journal notes women with such leadership skills also advance the communities in which they live. This year, the Business Journal received a record 252 nominations of women leading businesses and communities in West Michigan. The panel of judges from outside this region reviewing the nominees considers accomplishments in business and community. The panel also notes each nominee’s

involvement in assisting other women. The judges also took special note of those who are change agents, inspiring wholly new pathways to success. • Michelle Richards is a founding board member of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council (formerly known as the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development) and serves as executive director. She also is a board member of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. She has been honored with the Michigan Small Business Administration Women’s Business Advocate of the Year Award and was a participant in the Women’s Economic Summit at the White House. The city of Ypsilanti and the Women’s Council of Washtenaw County selected Richards as its 2010 ATHENA Award recipient. • Anne Doyle, columnist and author of “Powering Up! How America’s Women Achievers Become Leaders,” is president of International Women’s Forum Michigan and a former Auburn Hills city councilwoman. • Ashlee Willis owns Michigan Premier Events and founded Lansing Mosaic, a media company that spotlights small businesses and minority entrepreneurs. She recently was awarded 2017 Entrepreneur on the Move Award by the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce — an affiliate of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce. She also is a board member of Greater Lansing Newsboys Association and a board member of the Lansing Black Chamber of Commerce. • Bob Thomas is senior director of operations of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and executive director of Michigan Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which includes Leadership Michigan. The Business Journal is grateful for the judges’ extensive time commitment and expertise in reviewing each nominee. The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan will be honored during a luncheon March 7 at the JW Marriott in downtown Grand Rapids. The keynote speaker is Lis Wiehl, prominent national trial lawyer, legal commentator and New York Times bestselling author, who for 15 years, was a legal analyst on Fox News Channel. She worked previously as a legal analyst and reporter for NBC and NPR’s “All Things Considered” and served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Business Journal is pleased to shine a spotlight on these 50 women — and we look forward to introducing those who will follow. Carole Valade

Editor, Grand Rapids Business Journal


Betsy DeVos

“Being named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan is an honor. Our community is filled with talented and driven women, all of whom deserve recognition for their accomplishments.”

Betsy DeVos

50 Most Influential Women


Owner/clinical director Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services

VALENCIA AGNEW sees the work she does as inherently persuasive. As the founder of a Grand Rapids psychology practice accredited in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services, Agnew specializes in counseling clients with borderline personality disorder and those at risk of self-injury or suicide. She said the work is about persuading clients to “commit to living life when often they feel like giving up.” “I dream out loud for them and speak words of life that encourage them to see beyond their current circumstances,” she said. “It is an amazing feeling to have a client who comes in chronically suicidal take suicide off the table as an option and look for a better day.” Agnew started her practice — which now

has two employees and six contractors — in April 2012. She has since focused on overcoming obstacles for the sake of her clients and her practice. She said when Medicaid would not cover the comprehensive services involved in her DBT program, she asked her staff to donate one-and-a-half hours of therapy time every five weeks for six months so patients without sufficient insurance coverage could get highquality help at no cost. Agnew also speaks in schools and at events on reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues and mentors her staff to be active in the community. Since 2015, Agnew has served on the Michigan Board of Psychology and, for three years, has been a board member for St. Stephen Catholic School.

JENNA ARCIDIACONO Chef/owner Amore Trattoria Italiana

JENNA ARCIDIACONO’S top priority in her work is to create a nurturing atmosphere that helps people thrive — from food to service. Arcidiacono is founder, owner and chef at Amore Trattoria Italiana, a homestyle Italian restaurant in Comstock Park that has been a consistently top-rated venue by critics, foodies and patrons since she opened its doors in July 2010. And it ought to be, as Arcidiacono spent three years in Italy with her husband Maurizio learning her mother-in-law Vittoria’s recipes and traveling the countryside — all while teaching English as a Second Language. She brought back the best of what she learned to start her restaurant. Now, as a leader overseeing a business with 30 employees, her goal is to “pay it forward.” “Every day, I wake up and my goal is to nur-

ture people with positivity and my food,” she said. Arcidiacono is a mom of two, donates to “many local charities,” is a board member of the American Diabetes Association and is working toward establishing a scholarship fund for women who want to be chefs and owners like herself. Brennan Summers, founder and owner of catering and food truck company A Moveable Feast, nominated Arcidiacono for this award. “She is exceedingly generous, donating her time, talents and resources to many local charities and organizations, and she does it all while maintaining a larger-than-life personality that you can’t help but love and be drawn to,” Summers said. “She is a true asset to the Grand Rapids area.”



HAVING SPENT DECADES connecting minority populations with the tools for success, Christina Guajardo Arnold is carrying on the work in a new way. Since her retirement from Grand Rapids Community College in August 2016 — where she was founding director of the Bob and Alicia Woodrick Diversity Learning Center — Arnold established a business, CG Arnold Consulting, LLC. With clients including GRCC, the city of Grand Rapids, First Steps and John Ball Zoo, Arnold focuses on equity and inclusion, community engagement and project management. That list of services comes directly from Arnold’s 37-year career at GRCC, as well as her experience being raised in “one of the first” Mexican-American families to settle in Grand Rapids, she said. “I grew up when West Michigan did not reflect the diversity that is now represented,” she said. “It was also a challenge being raised by a single parent with seven children. I didn’t have the network or resources to begin my career with, nor did I have many role models and mentors early in my life.” Arnold went on to earn degrees in business administration and community development and since has focused on investing in young people and other women. She currently serves as a board member of the Student Advancement Foundation, Varnum Law Inclusion Council and Latina Network of West Michigan and is a past board member of Heart of West Michigan United Way, ACE Network for Women Leaders in Higher Education and the Human Relations Council at the city of Grand Rapids.

ROSALYNN BLISS Mayor City of Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS MAYOR Rosalynn Bliss has packed a lot into her 42 years. When she took office in January 2016, she was the first female mayor to be elected in Grand Rapids, as well as the youngest in 130 years. Prior to her election, she served as Second Ward City Commissioner for 10 years. As mayor, she oversees four appointed officials, including the city manager, who in turn oversees the city’s 1,550 employees. “I strive to be a leader and a model for other women who are considering public service,” she said. “As I finish up my second year in office, I am proud of the work we have done around increasing economic development, environmental sustainability, affordable housing and racial equity.” The latter two have taken shape during her term in the form of the Housing Advisory Committee’s Housing NOW! package of 11 affordable housing recommendations and the Grand Rapids Racial Equity Initiative. Bliss serves on the board of the Kent County Land Bank Authority, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., Downtown Development Authority, Grand Valley Metro Council and more. She is past president of the Michigan Municipal League and a past board member of the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board and the Uptown Corridor Improvement District. Bliss also maintains a job as an adjunct professor of graduate-level social work at Grand Valley State University, which she said helps her keep current with the profession and “mentor young men and women.”


MEREDITH BRONK President/CEO OST (Open Systems Technologies)

MEREDITH BRONK’S TENACITY and leadership skills have earned her a position of longevity at OST. Bronk was hired as a project manager at what was then a startup, at the age of 27 in 1998. Since buying out the company with a band of six colleagues, Bronk has climbed the ranks. Becoming president four years ago and donning another hat as CEO in 2015, Bronk now oversees 220 employees and a budget of $150 million. Alison Clark of Clark Communications said she sees that as a standout accomplishment. “Under her leadership … the firm has grown to include offices in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Minneapolis, London, Hong Kong and Singapore,” Clark said. Bronk said she strives to be “real” in her example to other women. “As a female leader in the technology field, I’ve embraced the platform that I’ve been provided and have attempted to be an example of what women in the region can accomplish,” she said. “Influencing women today means that we have to be humble and authentic — admitting that we can’t do it all.” Bronk serves on the board of directors for United Bank of Michigan and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and is an adviser to SecurAlarm Systems. In 2016, she was an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist and made Crain’s 50 People to Know in IT list, as well as picking up two GRBJ Newsmaker of the Year finalist nods in 2015 and 2016.


Executive director Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan

CHRISTY BUCK has helped transform the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan into a “multiprogram, dynamic organization” during the past decade. As the executive director of the foundation, Buck leads a team of seven who provide mental health education to students at more than 150 schools throughout West Michigan and beyond, reaching thousands of students per year through the “be nice.” and “Live Laugh Love” education programs Buck and her team founded. “Through my presentations, participants learn more about mental health and depression, about themselves and about stigma and its disastrous effects on people living with mental illness and those who love them,” she said. Buck serves on the boards of Grandville Public Schools and the Kent Education Foundation. She also is on task forces, including the Healthy Kent Suicide Prevention Coalition, Kent County Community Health Improvement Plan, Mental Health Work Group, Project AWARE and the regional Suicide Prevention Network, among others. For the past 30 years, she has volunteered and served as the youth adviser to the local chapter of Greek Orthodox Youth of America. Michelle Tanis, who formerly worked at the foundation, nominated Buck for this award. “She truly goes out of her way to ensure the MHF is doing what (its) mission states: creating communities that have good mental health by inspiring people to recognize, understand, accept and take action,” Tanis said.



Owner Tammy K. Clark Companies, LLC

SPENDING MORE THAN two decades in the construction industry in and outside Michigan convinced Tammy Clark she could create systems that would ensure safer outcomes. Her experience as former co-owner of Knight Masonry Construction Co. — as well as time spent working in human resources, safety management, administration, instruction and site inspection — gave rise to her current venture, Tammy K. Clark Companies, LLC (TKCC). TKCC is the parent organization of several companies within the safety, health and construction fields — notably a consulting arm that focuses on improving safety outcomes on job sites. Clark has consulted with West Michigan companies in fields such as construction, manufacturing, education and health care to deliver “excellent, safe and compliant projects.” “The most significant accomplishment in my career has been in raising the bar in safety performance in the construction industry in West Michigan,” she said. Clark is a federally certified Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) trainer, a licensed training provider via the American Red Cross and holds many other certifications. She is a founding member of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Western Michigan Chapter’s Construction Workforce Development Committee, serves on the National Safety & Health Awareness Committee for the National Association of Women in Construction and is a Safety Committee member for the Construction Association of Michigan.

BRIDGET CLARK WHITNEY Executive director Kids’ Food Basket

UNDER BRIDGET CLARK Whitney’s 15 years of leadership, Kids’ Food Basket has grown from a startup to a region-wide endeavor, serving daily evening meals to food-insecure children. Clark Whitney joined the nonprofit, founded in 2001 by Mary K. Hoodhood, as an intern during her senior year at Aquinas College in 2002. Since then, KFB has gone from serving sack suppers to 125 children at two Grand Rapids schools to serving 7,500 meals each weekday of 2017 across 42 locations in Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Holland. Clark Whitney has expanded the organization from one to 35 employees — in addition to 15,000 volunteers annually — and increased its annual budget from $20,000 to $5.9 million, which is funded solely through charitable giving. Last fall, the nonprofit purchased 14.5 acres of farmland at 1919 Leonard St. NE, where it will build its new headquarters, grow fruit and vegetables for sack suppers, and develop new volunteer and educational opportunities. Fundraising for the $6.45-million project is underway. “I work diligently every day and have made it my personal journey to learn, grow and make a strong and sustainable impact while addressing our community’s most pressing problems,” Clark Whitney said. Ashley Abbott Bodien, a communications specialist at KFB, nominated Clark Whitney for this award. “Kids’ Food Basket is a force for good and is enacting dynamic change for our entire community,” she said. “The influence of Bridget Clark Whitney has made this all possible.”


Impact. Congratulations to our alumni named to the Grand Rapids Business Journal’s “50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan” list. Like West Michigan itself, their positive impact is far reaching. That’s the Laker Effect. Shannon Cohen, ‘00 & ‘11 Jennifer Deamud, ‘95, ‘10 & ‘15 Nkechy Ekere-Ezeh, ‘92 & ‘93 Jennifer Jurgens, ‘03 Sara Knoester, ‘11 Susan Langeland, ‘98 Catherine Lazarock, ‘96 Angela Nelson, ‘03 Tamara Rosier, ‘90 & ‘97 Stacy Stout, ‘04 & ‘12 Kris Spaulding, ‘06 Milinda Ysasi, ‘03

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CONGRATULATIONS TO MICHELLE VAN DYKE ONE OF THE 50 MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN WEST MICHIGAN At Heart of West Michigan United Way, we unite community resources to reduce poverty in Kent County. Learn how you can use your own influence to help our community at


SHANNON COHEN Founder/principal Shannon Cohen Inc.

AS AN ENTREPRENEUR and consultant, Shannon Cohen lends expertise as a strategist, teacher, mentor and researcher. The founder and principal of Shannon Cohen Inc., which does business as Community Ventures, Cohen focuses on initiatives and incubator efforts “designed to foster community renewal and stem public health ills.” Clients or entities seeking her services have included the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the city of Grand Rapids, the Michigan Public Health Institute, Wyoming Public Schools, Kids’ Food Basket, Network180, Heartside Ministry, Friends of Grand Rapids Parks and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Cohen co-led a research study published last year called “Invisible Walls, Ceilings and Floors” about the barriers for women of color in leadership; it sparked a movement called Sisters Who Lead. She is an adjunct professor at Grand Valley State University and an entrepreneur and motivational speaker empowering leaders through her Tough Skin, Soft Heart project. “Encouragement has always been my superpower and caring for leaders is the nucleus of that,” Cohen said. “I believe that leadership is influence, and I embody in spirit, professional career and civic involvement a passion and penchant for (advancing) the well-being of all who call West Michigan home.” Cohen serves on the boards of Grand Rapids HQ and the Baxter Community Center. She was a committee member of the GR African American Health Institute’s Rhythm Run/Walk.

JAMIE COOPER Founder Canna Media Works

AFTER A TV NEWS career in her home state of Texas, Jamie Cooper moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, to be a marketer in the ski industry — right when the recreational use of marijuana was legalized in the state. In 2014, Cooper moved to West Michigan with her family, bringing her passion for cannabis with her. A year later, she founded Canna Media Works. This led to her other ventures, including Cannabiz Connection, a website that helps entrepreneurs start cannabis businesses, and Canna Closet, a home party platform that provides “a safe and comfortable environment to teach customers how to use cannabis responsibly and effectively.” Additionally, Cooper is involved in marketing and advocacy efforts with six other organizations that support cannabis. “It takes guts to do what I do,” Cooper said. “The cannabis industry is heavily regulated, has a negative stigma surrounding it and is growing at a very rapid pace.” Cooper said she is fueled by studies that show cannabis helps those suffering from cancer and other illnesses, as she watched a parent die of cancer. She also is part of a group of mothers of autistic children who are working toward getting autism listed as one of the qualifying conditions for which Michigan will allow nonpsychoactive forms of medical marijuana treatment. Cooper is a former board chair of the West Michigan chapter of Women Grow, which helps empower women entrepreneurs in the cannabis industry.



COO/associate state director Michigan Small Business Development Center at GVSU

JENNIFER DEAMUD has made advocacy for best practices and overcoming challenges her life’s work. As COO and associate state director for the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC) at Grand Valley State University, Deamud helps oversee an operation that provides long-term support to entrepreneurs and small businesses across the state. “In order for communities to thrive, small businesses need to be successful,” she said, noting 98.2 percent of Michigan businesses are small, and 50.2 percent of Michigan workers are employed by small businesses. During her 10 years at MI-SBDC, Deamud increased funding to the organization, developed accreditation best practices that are sought after nationwide, improved services and tools, and has been a driver of job creation and new business formation in West Michigan. As a first generation student, Deamud said she knows the challenges of paying for an education. She recently started the Be the Change endowed scholarship at GVSU for first-time students with parents who served jail or prison time. She also has served as a mentor through the New Beginnings program at the Women’s Resource Center, which works with women preparing to exit prison so they can succeed as returning citizens. Deamud is a board member of the ASBDC and the ASBDC National Accreditation Board, executive chair of Michigan Celebrates Small Business and board member of the Women’s Resource Center. She also served as vice president of the Byron Days Festival, past chair of the ATHENA Council and past board member of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women.


Executive director Hope Network Foundation

THE PHRASE “fierce advocate” comes up a lot when people talk about Meg Derrer. As the executive director of the Hope Network Foundation, Derrer works to raise funds and awareness to help people overcome the mental, physical and social barriers that stand in the way of health and success. In her second year at the foundation, she and her team raised 47 percent more money than the previous year. “I could not be more grateful to be doing this work on behalf of the 26,000 people we serve statewide at Hope Network,” she said. Derrer uses her background in health care, nonprofits and higher education to forge connections and mentor others, whether through Leadership Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce or in her role as a member of the Michigan Women’s Commission, to which she was twice appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder. Melissa Trombley was one of those who nominated Derrer for this award. She describes her as a mentor and a partner. “Meg lifts people up, connects them to resources and challenges them to be better,” Trombley said. Ellen Carpenter, who is a board member with Heart of West Michigan United Way alongside Derrer, said her friend helps “shed light on topics that people don’t want to talk about.” Derrer founded the Kent County Human Trafficking Task Force at HOWM United Way and is a fund board member of the Mary Free Bed Guild. She is past president of Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan and past board member of the Recuperation Center.



Secretary U.S. Department of Education

UPON HER CONFIRMATION as the 11th U.S. secretary of education on Feb. 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos became one of the region’s highest-profile women. DeVos now oversees 4,100 employees and an annual budget of $68 billion. Prior to her nomination for the post by President Donald Trump, DeVos served as chair of The Windquest Group, an investment management firm in downtown Grand Rapids. DeVos worked as a mentor for at-risk girls in the Grand Rapids Public Schools system for 15 years and said she still regularly meets with one of the students. “My plate is currently full of objectives that I hope will result in positive impact for students and families on a much larger scale, but when you have a personal role in the formation of a young person, it is formative for oneself and is rewarding beyond measure,” DeVos said. During her lifelong residence in West Michigan, DeVos has become known for her support of Republican causes and advocacy for school choice. She has served on the boards of the American Federation for Children, Alliance for School Choice, ArtPrize, Great Lakes Education Project, The Potter’s House School, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Mars Hill Bible Church and Kids Hope USA, among others. She was named one of the Most Influential Women in 2016 by Crain’s Detroit Business, is a three-time recipient of the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan award (2003, 2006 and 2018) and has received many awards for leadership and philanthropy.

NKECHY EKERE-EZEH CEO Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative

WHEN NKECHY EKERE-EZEH received her doctorate of education, she thought she had reached the pinnacle of her career. As an immigrant from Nigeria, she felt she was never a part of the collaborative process. Though she felt comfortable in her position, she admitted she was bothered by the fact her input regarding the community’s early childhood education system largely went unheard. “More times than not, people politely listened, thanked me for my input and then went on with their predetermined plans,” she said. She said she couldn’t have predicted that, during a dinner meeting in 2010, Nadia Brigham, W.K. Kellogg Foundation program director, asked her to lead a collaborative process to address problems with preparing children in vulnerable communities for kindergarten. At the time, Ekere-Ezeh was a member of Children Ready to Succeed Investment Council, which was under Brigham’s leadership. Brigham told her WKKF was searching for an “emerging indigenous leader” to spearhead this new initiative, which would later be dubbed Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC). “At first I just couldn’t even imagine what Nadia saw in me to make her think this was a good idea,” Ekere-Ezeh said. “Then it was as if I could hear my father’s voice … telling me, ‘You can do this.’” The daughter of a tribal chief, Ekere-Ezeh said she was inspired by her father’s ability to utilize collaborative leadership when he met with the leaders of neighboring villages. Now serving as CEO of ELNC, Ekere-Ezeh leads an initiative that has helped 408 vulnerable children prepare for kindergarten.


Michigan’s first LEED Certified hotel DOWNTOWN HOLLAND

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CHRISTINA FREESE DECKER Executive vice president/chief operations officer Spectrum Health

IN HER TENURE as a leader at Spectrum Health, Christina Freese Decker has been a force for evolution in the health care industry. The executive vice president and chief operating officer of the organization leads a workforce of 25,000 employees and has pioneered improvements in the way Spectrum delivers care to patients. “Working in an industry that is under constant pressure to improve, innovate and do more with less, I’ve had the opportunity to lead teams and initiatives that change the business of health care and, in doing so, positively impact how people experience care and services,” she said. One of the examples she gave was leveraging digital tools as solutions for consumers. Recently, Freese Decker led an initiative to integrate multiple electronic platforms into one. The transformation involved more than 14,000 employees, extensive change in management efforts, redesigning workflows and standardizing processes, but the result was more efficient, cost-effective and evidence-based care for customers. She also launched an initiative to make care more accessible to consumers. The MedNow virtual visit service enables consumers to connect with physicians and make appointments wherever they are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Under her leadership, Spectrum Health was named one of the nation’s top 15 health systems in 2017 by Truven Health Analytics. “Government relations and advocacy are also among my key responsibilities,” Freese Decker added. “Visits to lawmakers in Washington, as well as hosting government officials at Spectrum Health are priorities, as I represent the health system’s interests.”

SANDI FROST STEENSMA President/CEO Kennari Consulting

SANDI FROST STEENSMA started Parrish Consulting in 2007 with, in her words, just herself and a flip phone. Today, the full-service fundraising consulting firm, now named Kennari Consulting, has 14 staff members and serves more than 75 nonprofits every year. “The world of philanthropy, just like so many fields, is not static,” Steensma said. “I must constantly be aware of the trends and needs in both the funding community, as well as the community at large.” One of the more compelling and challenging opportunities in Steensma’s mind has been the concept of public/private partnerships, as they are often too large for the private sector to take on alone. The examples she listed were the recently renovated Gerald R. Ford International Airport and Cherry Health’s Heart of the City Health Center. “I do not know if these projects would have ever been completed as successfully and well as they were if we had relied on either public or private dollars to fund the entire project,” she said. “But because Kennari Consulting was able to bring the two parties together … the community benefited from large-scale work that will have a long-term impact.” In addition to her experience in the private sector, Steensma also brought to these projects experience in government leadership and accountability, having previously served as chair of the Kent County Board of Commissioners for seven years. “I am able to bring those two components together and navigate through highly complex projects for the good of the entire community,” she said.


TANYA GIBBS Senior associate Rosette LLP

AS A DESCENDANT of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Tanya Gibbs focuses her legal practice on the nongaming economic development of tribal communities. Working as a senior associate with Rosette LLP in Mattawan, a law firm representing tribal governments, Gibbs serves tribal governments nationwide, with a primary focus on tribes in the Midwest. Her work involves helping tribes draft laws that allow for the creation, operation and dissolution of tribal-owned business. Gibbs also is the president of Odawa Economic Development Management Inc. (OEDMI), an organization wholly owned by the Odawa Indians. OEDMI was tasked with the redevelopment of a 22-acre former casino property in Petoskey and recently held a ribbon cutting to commemorate the start of construction on the Victories Square project, which includes proposals for several retail developments, including a Marriott Courtyard Inn, Starbucks Coffee and Boston’s restaurant. The project is backed by a $21-million loan from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Gibbs said her biggest accomplishment to date was the closing of a $300-million merger and acquisition transaction for one of her clients but added even the smallest transactions are significant achievements because all the revenue generated goes back to the tribal communities she serves. “When my clients are successful and profitable, tribal governments can provide essential government services for their citizens, (including) housing, social services, scholarships, medical treatment, etc.,” she said.

MEG GOEBEL President Paul Goebel Group

MEG GOEBEL started working for her father’s insurance agency, Paul Goebel Group, in 1976 before purchasing it in 1994. Now an eight-time winner of Grand Rapids Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women, Goebel has been recognized for her continued success as president of Paul Goebel Group, as well as her participation with numerous nonprofits in West Michigan. Paul Goebel Group also was recognized six times as a Top Women Owned Business by GRBJ. Goebel currently serves as board chairperson for Broadway Grand Rapids. In her 14 years on the board, she successfully negotiated with the Wharton Center in East Lansing to ensure quality Broadway shows come to Grand Rapids. She also is a board member of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Metro Health Foundation and Grand Rapids Art Museum Foundation, and serves on the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce Governance Committee. In 2015, Goebel sold Paul Goebel Group to Acrisure LLC to maintain perpetuity for her firm. “Acrisure believes in autonomy, so I am still running my agency as president with my employees,” she said. “This gives my employees potentially better future opportunities with a large and growing company.” Goebel previously served as board chairperson of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, where she served on the committee to select a new CEO after Jeanne Englehard. Her past service also includes the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Economic Club of Grand Rapids.


CYNTHIA HAVARD COO/CFO Cole’s Quality Foods Inc.

UNDER THE GUIDANCE of Cynthia Havard, Cole’s Quality Foods has grown from a $26-million company to an $80-million company. Though she became the food manufacturer’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer in 1995, Havard’s service to the company goes back even further when she began as a business consultant for Ernst and Young LLP. “Entrepreneurship is the backbone of West Michigan, and I have been involved in it in so many ways,” she said. “During my almost 40 years of advising the company, I have been significantly involved with the shareholders, the board and the management in all growth strategies.” She also is a current member, and previous chair, on the board for Porter Hills Retirement Community, member of the YMCA Governing Board Finance Committee and a member of the GVSU Vice Provost for Health Advisory Board. Previously, she was board chair for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, event chair for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Executive Leadership Board and a member of the Huntington Bank Women’s Advisory Board. “It is very important for me to give back to the wonderful community in which we live,” she said. Havard holds a Bachelor of Science and an Associate of Applied Science in accountancy from Ferris State University and is a certified public accountant with the state of Michigan. Previously, she was recognized four times among GRBJ’s 50 Most Influential Women.

ELISSA HILLARY President/executive director Local First

TEN YEARS AGO, Local First had a staff of one and a membership base of 100 local businesses. Now, with Elissa Hillary as president/executive director, the organization employs 10 people and its membership has grown to nearly 1,000 businesses. As president of a nonprofit dedicated to advocacy for local businesses, Hillary has championed for an economy centered on human relationships, not just financial transactions. She summed up this ideology in an interview with Faith Magazine in 2015. She said: “Multiple studies show that communities with higher proportions of local ownership are actually physically healthier. … It’s because people, I think, feel empowered and are empowered in a different way. Wealth is spread out into many hands in the community, and there are multiple decision makers.” She also has successfully led Local First board and staff through diversity and inclusion training, and led the organization through a multiyear process of becoming more inclusive. “I first led Local First as an organization to reduce its environmental footprint in both everyday practice and through its large-scale community events,” she said. “This is one example, but many follow suit, including hiring from within the community and making heartfelt strategic efforts to address gaping social justice community issues by empowering Local First and its constituents to use whatever leverage they have to create change right where they are.” Hillary’s vision has led Local First to now be made up of 25 percent women-owned businesses.




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MARY HOODHOOD Founder Kids’ Food Basket

MARY HOODHOOD was involved in a car accident in 1980 that left her a quadriplegic. Despite her own tragedy, she was inspired to create Kids’ Food Basket in 2001, after hearing from a local principal about kids digging through trash to find food. Over the past 15 years, the organization has grown from feeding 125 to over 7,000 undernourished children in three West Michigan cities. “First of all, I am thrilled that we have been able to keep our momentum and have never had to take a school off our list,” Hoodhood said. “Secondly, I am so glad that we were able to feed the children a fruit and vegetable, along with other healthy food and protein every day.” Kids’ Food Basket currently has 125 volunteers at its Grand Rapids location. “Thirty-three percent of the volunteer hours logged are from people under 18 years old,” Hoodhood added. “Most importantly, 78 percent of the children we feed have had a chance to volunteer.” In addition to serving on the Board for Kids’ Food Basket, Hoodhood was a former board member for Indian Trails Camp, providing camp experiences for people with disabilities; a former board member for the Michigan Community Quality Care Council, where she helped ensure people with disabilities have equal access to resources; and a former board member for the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission, the committee that added gender equality to the city access ordinance. She also is a 2010 recipient of GRBJ’s 50 Most Influential Women award.

LYNNE JARMAN-JOHNSON Chief marketing officer Consumers Credit Union

WITH A BACKGROUND in television and radio on top of her career in consulting, Lynne Jarman-Johnson is well-known and well-connected in West Michigan. The chief marketing officer of Consumers Credit Union has a passion and talent for positive collaboration. Last year, she helped organize a record-breaking cakewalk to raise money for Kids’ Food Basket. The collaboration between Consumers and Nothing Bundt Cakes raised $5,000 to help provide meals for local, underprivileged kids. The event brought 327 people for the cakewalk in Calder Plaza, breaking the previous record (280) set August 2016 in Grainger County, Tennessee. “I am most proud of this achievement because it showcases a most recent success of collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking for success for many partners,” Jarman-Johnson said. Previously, Jarman-Johnson was public affairs director for WOODTV and later launched her own business, Jarman-Johnson Communications. “Marketing can often be overlooked in importance at the executive level to an organization, and yet, I have found when silos are broken down … collaboration with marketing, operations, IT, executive level, member level, community, partners, etc., becomes not only successful but fun,” she said. Jarman-Johnson also has served for eight years as chair of the Grand Rapids Urban League, three years as a board member of the Kent County Parks Foundations and four years as a task force member of the Small Business Association of Michigan Entrepreneurship Task Force.


AMY JONES Vice president Andy J. Egan Co.

NATIONALLY, WOMEN make up less than 10 percent of the construction industry, and Amy Jones is sure the percentage of women leaders is even less. She said in her 12 years in leadership at Andy J. Egan Co., it’s been a rare occurrence for her to see another woman in the meeting room. “Over time, I’m slowly starting to see the all-male stereotypes break down across our company and our industry,” she said. “I hope I’m contributing to that. At Egan, as we’ve filled positions with more women over the years, many have mentioned to me that they appreciate seeing a woman in a leadership role.” Jones led the company’s human resources department through several recognitions. In 2015, the Associated General Contractors of Michigan recognized the company’s safety program with the Gold Standard in Safety. “As Egan’s HR executive, one of my most important roles is ensuring that every one of our employees goes home safely at the end of the workday,” she said. Jones also became Egan’s first female vice president in 2015. Though Egan is a family-owned business and Jones and her siblings are fourthgeneration owners, there was a serious discussion about bringing in nonfamily members to lead the company. “These discussions lit a fire in me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t it be me?’ I’ve made tough decisions for this company.” And she didn’t stop there. This year, she also became part of the company’s software development team.


SALESPAD PRESIDENT Jennifer Jurgens has a passion for innovation. With a career spanning several markets, including transportation, marketing, enterprise resource management and nonprofits, she always has managed to streamline a company’s efficiency through tech. “Doubling the size/revenue of MarketNet Services, turning the Komen West Michigan office around then merging it with two other affiliates … and, most recently, being selected to lead a young, innovative, smart and growing team of technology and ERP experts — these all seem like significant achievements,” she said. Jurgens accomplished much of this during a yearlong battle with breast cancer, which inspired her to give her leadership to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and merge all the branches under one network. She was given the Susan G. Komen National Leadership Award in 2015. During her tenure with SalesPad, Jurgens has directed funding and support to the Michigan Women’s Foundation University of Life program, MI Career Quest, West Michigan Tech Talent and GROW to help young people in West Michigan learn and have access to careers in tech. “I am most passionate about at-risk teen girls and the opportunities that STEM/tech fields have for them and look forward to expanding SalesPad’s involvement next year,” she said. Currently, she’s a board member for Standup for the Cure, where she organizes a major paddle boarding fundraiser in Muskegon to benefit Susan G. Komen Michigan. She also was a member and speaker host for TEDx Grand Rapids, making the event known on a global scale and representing West Michigan at the TED Global summit in Qatar in 2011.


BIRGIT KLOHS President/CEO The Right Place Inc.

THE PRESIDENT AND CEO of The Right Place has been a force of nature in the economic landscape of West Michigan during her 30 years with the organization. Born and raised in post-World War II Germany, Birgit Klohs came to the U.S. as a young professional, initially working in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before coming to West Michigan. As an economic strategist, Klohs has collaborated with local, state and national organizations on critical issues related to economic development. Under her leadership, The Right Place has created or retained more than 44,000 jobs and spurred more than $4.7 billion in new investment. Klohs serves on the board of directors for the Gerald R. Ford Airport Authority, the International Crossing Authority, Macatawa Bank, ADAC Automotive and the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Klohs has received numerous awards for her accomplishments, including Western Michigan University’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Award and Economic Club Grand Rapids’ 2017 Business Person of the Year Award. In 2016, she received the Peter C. Cook Excellence in Business Award from Davenport University, the Jeffrey A. Finkle Award for Organizational Excellence from IEDC and was named to Crain’s 100 Most Influential Women in Michigan. “We have worked with Birgit for several years,” said Alison Clark, coowner of Clark Communications. “Without her accomplishments, the economic landscape of Grand Rapids and West Michigan would look vastly different.”

SARA KNOESTER President Mixed Staffing and Recruiting

SARA KNOESTER once thought her team at Mixed Staffing and Recruiting couldn’t be stopped. They went from just one client and one employee in 2012 to nine clients and 165 employees in 2014. “In the spring of 2014, I hit a brick wall, more than once,” she said. Knoester contracted double-lung pneumonia twice and was hospitalized five times for an unknown viral infection. “I was hospitalized for two weeks and thought I was going to die; however, God helped me overcome my illness,” she said. “I took about a month off, and in December 2014, I was ready to take on the world again.” But not too long afterward, Knoester was sent back to the hospital again after her then-fiancé’s Great Dane attacked her, leaving her with 47 stitches. “When others may have given up, I pushed forward with more determination to succeed than ever before,” she said. “I always know that it could be worse and feel with positivity and prayer, anything’s possible.” In 2016, Mixed Staffing had 444 employees and revenue of $1.7 million, and Knoester is certain they aren’t done growing. “The idea for Mixed Staffing came to me in 2011 when my former business partner and I were job searching and witnessed the veiled discrimination toward women and minorities in the workplace,” Knoester said. In 2017, Mixed Staffing won the EPIC Awards’ Woman-Owned Business of the Year and was a Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Women Owned Business honoree.



to The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan With sincere appreciation for your leadership and for all of your contributions to the community, thank you!




Strengthening the educational experience of ALL Grand Rapids Public Schools students for 25 years!





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Betsy DeVos ’79 Michelle VanDyke ’85 Congratulations on being one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.

Congratulations, Michele Suchovsky! For being named one of West Michigan’s 50 Most Influential Women!


MIRANDA KRAJNIAK Executive director Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

MIRANDA KRAJNIAK believes “contemporary” is the record society leaves behind about thoughts, fears, hopes, demands and ideas of ourselves. As executive director of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Krajniak works to bring those feelings “forward for our community to discover and explore.” “UICA’s focus within my tenure on gun violence, race and the fluidity of gender are all topics that will define our time and our lives,” she said. “If we fail to record and create art, we become a dead and static society.” Krajniak had a hand in public art projects all over the city, including the “lovely representations of black and African-American women” in outdoor pieces near the UICA. According to UICA Development Officer Kristen Taylor, under Krajniak’s leadership, programming over the next two years will be focused on artistic and audience equity, meant to engage all cultures and communities, particularly those whose voices have not been heard. Krajniak has been a board member of the Michigan Humanities Council for four years, serving on the grants and governance committees, and focuses on moving equity conversations forward. She has been a member of the Arts Advisory Council for the city of Grand Rapids for three years, in which she helped create guidelines for public art murals in the city. She is a former Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs New Leaders Committee member, in which she helped expand reach to underserved areas of Michigan.


Corporate director of hospital-based services Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

SUSAN LANGELAND has led the increase of access to behavioral health care in West Michigan through her work as corporate director of hospital-based services at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services. Under her leadership, the $81-million organization added two inpatient units. The first brought 22 beds to adults with co-occurring behavioral and substance abuse issues, allowing staff to treat both issues at the same time. The second unit brought 26 beds to children and adolescents who would otherwise be forced to seek treatment in emergency departments. While emergency staff does its best, Langeland said the staff is not trained specifically for behavioral patients. During her 19-year career at Pine Rest, Langeland also has led the creation of the day-treatment Mother Baby Partial Program, which provides behavioral health care to women who are pregnant and up to two years postpartum. “I love the work I do at Pine Rest,” Langeland said. “Our organization impacts thousands of lives every year. Many of these lives are the most vulnerable people in our community.” Langeland also is in charge of installing the electronic health record system Epic with a budget of $18 million. Pine Rest will be the first freestanding behavioral health organization to implement the system. Langeland is the board president of Hand2Hand Ministries, a Hudsonville-based nonprofit that mobilizes schools and churches to provide nutritious food on the weekends to more than 4,500 low-income children in more than 140 schools.


CATHERINE LAZAROCK President Symplicity Communications

CATHERINE LAZAROCK said her biggest achievement is being the president of Symplicity Communications, her telecommunication contracting business. When she started Symplicity in 2007, Lazarock waited tables as she made initial connections. Eventually, she started making sales and growing the business, which now employs 12 staff members and two agents. “Even when I was struggling to get my business off the ground, I truly believed that if you do the right thing, the commissions will come,” Lazarock said. In May, Symplicity was selected as one of nine agencies out of 2,400 in the country to go through an “intensive and elite” cloud sales training program, Intelisys Super9 Certification. Symplicity began managing voice services for Meijer Inc. in November 2016 and was recently awarded a three-year contract to continue the expense management services. As a leader, Lazarock said she strives to maintain three qualities in professional and personal life: kindness, generosity and intelligence. “If a person is a giver, they will get,” she said, “and it can be that simple.” Lazarock has been on the boards of Inforum, the West Michigan Technology Association and the Grand Valley State University Alumni Association. She and her business have been honored with a Star2Star Channel Partner and Authorized Reseller award, a West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For award, and two Grand Rapids Business Journal Top Woman Owned Business awards.


City commissioner/partner City of Grand Rapids/Genesis Consulting Group

IN 2013, SENITA LENEAR was the first African-American woman elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission. She also is the first woman to serve in the Third Ward. “I do not take this lightly,” she said. Since then, she has had so many mentorship requests that she launched a mentoring group “to pour into a number of women at one time,” an experience she said has been “mutually beneficial.” In her city commissioner role, she works with multiple task forces, including the Safe Alliances for Everyone Taskforce and Great Housing Strategies. In addition to her duties as an elected official, Lenear serves in many roles to help better the community. She is a board member of the Southtown Corridor Improvement District, and chair of the Community Action Agency and the Area Community Services and Employment Training Council. Lenear launched a task force to study human trafficking and has been working with community members and organizations to bring awareness to the growing problem in the area. Besides her work for the community, Lenear co-owns Genesis Consulting Group, a management consulting firm, and held leadership positions during her 14 years at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Some of her many awards include LINC UP’s Visionary Award, Kappa Alpha Psi’s Community Service Award, GRCC’s Giants Award, Cornerstone University’s 2014 Alumna of the Year, YWCA’s Tribute Award, Zeta Phi Beta’s Woman of the Year and NAACP Presidential and Legacy awards.


LISA POSTHUMUS LYONS Clerk/register of deeds Kent County

LISA POSTHUMUS LYONS currently is the only female elected to a countywide office in her position as Kent County clerk/register of deeds. She was the second women elected to represent Kent County in the Michigan House of Representatives, during which she acted as the assistant majority floor leader and was the only member to chair two House policy committees simultaneously: education and elections. During her tenure, she authored 32 public acts that were signed into law by the governor. “Among those were several bills that have truly changed lives of Michigan’s most vulnerable citizens in positive ways,” Lyons said. Some include allowing schools and entities to stock epinephrine to combat food allergies and prohibiting custody or visitation rights from being awarded to rapists in cases where a child is conceived in rape. “My servant leadership at the local, state and now county level has been driven by a desire to give back to and improve upon the success of the community where I was raised,” Lyons said. “Additionally, I am hopeful that through this recognition, I can continue to encourage and support women leaders who may be considering seeking public office.” Lyons is a member of the Michigan Children’s Trust Fund’s Pam Posthumus Signature Auction Event, in which she has assisted in raising nearly $500,000 annually for anti-child abuse programs. She is an ex-officio board member, formerly vice chair, of the Kent County Republican Executive Committee and clerk of the Kent County Board of County Commissioners, by virtue of office.


Community volunteer and advocate Grand Rapids

INDIA MANNS has been called an “absolute asset” to West Michigan. Since moving to Grand Rapids from Oakland, California, in 2013, Manns has worked to give voice to minority groups and create equity in the community. “All too often,” she was the only person of color at community events. “Sensing the urgency, I decided I would help by creating a higher level of visibility to the need for improved racial/gender equity, diversity and inclusion,” Manns said, “as well as the need for improved economic opportunities for people of color in the community at large.” As a board member of the YWCA West Central Michigan, Manns helped develop the Helen Claytor Recognition Society, raising $55,000 of the $87,000 raised to offset the cost of the Girls Leadership Program. She installed three other African-American board members. During her time as a board member for the Women’s Resource Center, Manns helped hire the first African-American female CEO, Sandra Gaddy, and spearheaded the addition of diversity and inclusion as a selection criterion for the Pillar Awards. As a board member of Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore, Manns helped hire the first African-American CEO, Barbara Hill. To make the board more reflective of the community, she helped install three African-American females, one Latino male and one white male. Manns also is working toward better diversity and inclusion in her board roles for the Cherry Health Foundation and Broadway Grand Rapids. She was honored with the YWCA Tribute Women of Achievement award in 2017.



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Vision. Grace. Leadership. These are the tools Angela Nelson uses to influence our organization and the community in her role as Vice President of Multicultural Business Development. Congratulations to Angela for being named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan!



Owner/principal McLoughlin Communications & Public Relations

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, Mary McLoughlin quit her job as an account executive at a local advertising agency and started her own business, McLoughlin Communications & Public Relations. Within six weeks, she signed a contract with the largest health care provider in West Michigan. Since then, she has worked with “literally every hospital/health system in West Michigan,” as well as others in Detroit, Ohio and Indiana. “Being an independent, sole consultant also meant that I could continue my passion for volunteering and serving in meaningful ways,” she said. McLoughlin is the board chair of the Children’s Assessment Center, which provides free services to children who have been sexually abused. During her tenure, she has launched a capital campaign that raised $3 million and will allow the organization to move into a new building and double its services. She is an executive committee member of Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and has had a hand in the venue’s major growth. One of nine members of the newly formed Michigan Women’s Foundation Emeritus Board, she was chosen because of contributions made to the foundation’s mission to achieve equality and empowerment. McLoughlin was the board president of YWCA West Central Michigan and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and an executive committee member of the Michigan Women’s Foundation. She was named among the Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential Women in 2014 and 2016 and received various awards from the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.


Vice president and chief operating officer Grand Rapids Urban League

BRENDA MOORE strives to represent the traits of influential women — “someone who fearlessly engages both professionally and personally in making the difference in someone else’s life.” Moore has spent more than 30 years at the Grand Rapids Urban League, traditionally an African-American organization that assists all people in achieving self-sufficiency and equality. Among many achievements during her tenure, Moore has worked toward building an inclusive Grand Rapids that provides people of color the opportunity to make community plans and decisions, as well as working to enable and empower people to improve their life circumstances through education, assistance and development. She is most proud of her work toward the development and success of minority youth in Grand Rapids. “(Helping) a young life now pays off later in a major way,” Moore said. “If I have the opportunity to influence at least one life — my life is enriched for it.” Moore is a board member of Mel Trotter Ministries, the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, and Plymouth United Church of Christ. She has served on the board of the American Heart Association, in which she worked to better engage the African-American community regarding heart and stroke education. Moore has been honored with a 2016 GRBJ 50 Most Influential Women award, Tobacco-Free Michigan Mosquito Award, Gallery of Superb Printing Awards and a Leadership Excellence Award from the Grand Rapids Urban League.



Chief executive officer Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women

BONNIE NAWARA’S nominator called her advocacy for businesswomen “relentless.” As CEO of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women, Nawara gets to do what she believes in. “I believe in empowering women and have been blessed to be given that opportunity as CEO of GROW,” she said. “I am also a big advocate of the advancement of women of color, putting focus on being intentional when it comes to making connections for growth within our community.” The “fierce leader and advocate” has assisted in helping entrepreneurs and created the Established Women Business Owners Division of GROW during her tenure. Twice, Nawara had the opportunity to take roles that were traditionally male positions. She was the first female parts manager in the U.S. for Freightliner Trucks. She also was the first female member of the Golden K Kiwanis Club, a male-only organization with more than 100 members with an average age of 80. Nawara is a board member of the Grand Rapids Economic Club and chair of the Association of Women’s Business Centers. She spent 10 years on the boards of Silent Observer, in which she helped start the in-school crime reporting program, and the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs, where she helped build resources for the growth of women-owned businesses. Among her many awards are a Business Journal 50 Most Influential Women award in 2012, 2014 and 2016, a Grand Rapids Chamber Rising Star Diversity Visionary Award and she was a top fundraiser for the American Cancer Society’s Planned Giving division for four years.


Vice president of multicultural business development Experience Grand Rapids

ANGELA NELSON is the only person of color and the youngest employee with a leadership role at Experience Grand Rapids. In her new role as vice president of multicultural business development, she was hired to lead diversity and inclusion efforts and workforce development. Nelson credited her mother as a reason for her success — she taught her to treat everyone with respect, always be polite and to always trust in herself. “Because of her, I know that anything I set out to do, I can and will with excellence,” Nelson said. While working at Amway Corp. in the social responsibility department, Nelson supported the clinical research of a micronutrient product called Little Bits, meant as a treatment for malnourished children. Through a partnership between Amway and Alliance for Children Everywhere, the product helped children in Mexico and Zambia. Nelson said the opportunity to influence someone is a responsibility she does not take lightly. An intern recently shadowed her at work, and it evolved into a mentor-mentee relationship. Nelson is serving her second term as president of the Grand Rapids alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority after being the youngest member to serve as president at 26 years old from 2006-08. She also is a board member of Camp Tall Turf and has served on the board of the Baxter Community Center. Nelson received a Community Champion Award from Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and a Diversity and Inclusion Award from Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.


JENNIFER OWENS President Lakeshore Advantage

JENNIFER OWENS was described by her nominator as “the first one to work and the last one to leave” and “constantly pushing for innovation and collaboration.” During her tenure as president of Lakeshore Advantage, she has grown the economic development organization from supporting three communities to supporting all of Ottawa County. This involved increasing the investment base by 40 percent, launching the organization’s first development campaign, expanding the board of directors, successfully leading the passage of legislation that allowed Holland to become a satellite SmartZone of Grand Rapids and negotiating a wastewater connection partnership between Coopersville and Muskegon. “The joy of my job is being behind the scenes cheering when business leaders in our community win and helping them to grow or overcome challenges,” she said Owens is a board member of Ready for School, in which she has launched a prekindergarten education program. As a board member of the West Coast Chamber of Commerce, she supports more than 1,500 business in the lakeshore region and successfully constructed the new downtown Holland headquarters. Owens also has held board positions with the West Michigan Regional Planning Commission, Consultant Connect, in which she launched a consulting training business, and the Michigan Economic Developers Association. Owens was named the Top Economic Developer in the Nation by Consultant Connect in 2013.

MARGE PALMERLEE Executive director Dégagé Ministries

MARGE PALMERLEE has grown Dégagé Ministries from a “simple coffee house” to an organization that serves nearly 500 individuals daily who are experiencing poverty. A result of collaboration across numerous organizations, residents and the Grand Rapids Police Department, she led the opening of the Open Door Women’s Center in 2003, providing a “safe haven during the overnight hours to adult women in crisis.” “In the 14 years that the Open Door Women’s Center has been open, over 3,600 individual women have received help and hope in a safe environment, where oftentimes, they experience unconditional love for the first time,” Palmerlee said. “They are given an opportunity to heal and move forward without limited time constraints.” Throughout her 20 years as head of Dégagé, Palmerlee said her “greatest joy” is when she meets former clients whose lives were changed by the organization’s services, and “with a hug,” they thank her for her role in that. Palmerlee is a 20-year board member of the Coalition to End Homelessness, in which she works on collaboration among service providers, specifically around data collection. She also is a board member of the Heartside Neighborhood Collaborative Project and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Homeless Action Council. She has been honored with the Liberty Bell Award at the local and state levels, the YWCA Tribute Award and the EPIC Non-Profit of the Year Award.


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TAMARA ROSIER Founder ADHD Center of West Michigan

TAMARA ROSIER describes herself as a nerd, intrigued by the ability to never stop learning. She prides herself on teaching herself but, more importantly, teaching others. Her career has stretched from a classroom teacher to a mental health coach. Rosier is the founder of the ADHD Center of West Michigan, which provides an outlet for children as young as 8, as well as adults. The primary goal of the organization is to help people and families deal with the behavior component of ADHD by coaching. “We are not going to fix anyone or heal anyone’s ADHD,” Rosier said. “We teach them to understand their ADHD and help them to deal with it and live with it. Many ADHD folks have problems with their emotional regulations. Many of my clients struggle with shame and anxiety and people don’t understand how complicated ADHD is.” Rosier, who is one of two employees at the center, said ADHD coaching is designed to help students learn their strengths and work with their parents to learn how to best work with their children. Rosier’s impact goes beyond the center. She has been on the ADHD Coaches Organization board for four years, where she currently serves as president. The board strives to develop intentional relationships and liaisons with other organizations so they can become a part of a larger landscape of ADHD treatment. The ADHD Coaches Organization not only has grown to provide mental health advice to people struggling with ADHD but also has expanded its reach by providing nutritional services for people trying to cope with ADHD.

EDDIE RUCKER Broadcast journalist

EDDIE RUCKER is a 20-year journalism veteran, with experience in television and radio serving in roles as news director, talk show host, reporter, anchor and producer. She spearheaded her own radio show, becoming the first AfricanAmerican woman to have her own talk show, “WGVU Morning Show with Eddie Rucker.” She highlighted a variety of topics relating to politics, education, labor issues and health issues. In her effort to keep the community informed and educated, she invited lawyers, community organizers and police officials to discuss topical issues. She also spent 14 years of her journalism career at WZZM 13. She was the associate producer of the daily live lifestyle and entertainment show “Take Five & Company.” She also was part of the decision-making process regarding the types of stories shared, how the stories were told and who told the stories. Some of her topics included the need for bone marrow donations for African-Americans, the importance of celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., exploring the latest fashion trends and the hottest musical artists. In addition to a lengthy journalism career, Rucker said she is proud of her crime-prevention efforts. She organized and facilitated community meetings and marches on the southeast side of Grand Rapids with former GR Police Chief Bill Hegarty to educate residents. During her journalism career, Rucker was awarded many accolades, including broadcast excellence by the Associated Press and the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Empowerment Award. She was the 2014 Giants Award William Glenn Trailblazer recipient.


MONIQUE SALINAS, PH.D. Founder and executive director Mind Meets Music

MONIQUE SALINAS, PH.D., is the founder of Mind Meets Music, a nonprofit organization aimed to change the lives of urban at-risk students through music. Founded in 2013, the organization has enhanced the literacy and academic skills of more than 10,000 preschool through second-grade students, 88 percent of whom are below the poverty line. “I believe my passion for the disenfranchised and marginalized children who will be the leaders of tomorrow, and the time, talent, tears and treasure I have invested in these precious kids make not me but (the kids) what really count,” Salinas said. In 2014, she partnered with the Department of Education and received a $2-million grant to expand the program. Salinas noted the organization saw a 24 percent increase in reading test proficiency in test results from California evaluator WestEd. Mind Meets Music has seen growth in the children served, as well as the staff. When Salinas began the organization, it had four employees serving about 600 kids and a $190,000 budget. Four years later, her staff increased to 19 employees serving 5,000 kids and a $1.02 million budget. She has been the beneficiary of many awards due to her dedication to helping children. In 2017, she was a top-three finalist for the Brilliance Award’s Woman of the Year. She was nominated as one of the Business Journal’s Most Influential Women in 2016, as well as a winner of the Modern Woodmen Hometown Hero Award and the Molina Healthcare Community Champion Award.


MONICA SPARKS founded The Urban Sparks in 2002. It provides networking opportunities, such as training sessions and conferences, for women entrepreneurs. She said she wanted to start her business so she could inspire other people of color to start their own businesses. It is that same realm of inspiration that she also started Radio For Divas. Sparks said her biggest achievement was leaving her previous radio station, iHeart/Clear Channel, to start her own radio show. The show provides a hub that more than 20 women have used to educate, empower and entertain women in business. It also provides a voice to inspire other entrepreneurs in communities across West Michigan. “As a daughter of a minister and a school teacher, I believe community service was instilled in me a long time ago as the only way to live your life,” she said. Sparks has been on the board of the National Heritage Academy/ Vista Charter Academy for seven years, currently serving as vice president. During her tenure, she assisted with an eight-year reauthorization of the school charter. Sparks also has served as commissioner of the city of Kentwood’s Zoning Board of Appeals for four years. She has been a certified small business mentor and counselor of SCORE for the past five years. In 2012, she was recognized by Huntington Bank as a Rising Woman Leadership Mentee and Graduate, and she was a graduate of Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy. In 2009, Sparks was named Corp! Magazine’s Diversity Business Leader of the Year.


KRIS SPAULDING Co-owner Brewery Vivant

KRIS SPAULDING is co-owner and sustainability director of Brewery Vivant. She and her husband Jason Spaulding opened the brewery in 2010. Since opening eight years ago, Kris Spaulding has ensured her brewery, which employs 65 people and boasts revenue of more than $4.5 million, has adapted to the constant changes taking place in the industry. Spaulding said she is most proud of her brewery becoming a Certified B Corporation, which has allowed her business to continually be among the best in the industry. “Not only does this prove that we practice what we preach, but it keeps us accountable to continuous improvement and has become a major source of pride for our employees,” she said. There are a lot of dimensions involved with acquiring the certification. She said the certification measures the impact the business has on stakeholders, such as investors, employees, suppliers, customers, community and the environment. “It is a testament to running the business the way we intended to when we opened, making sure we are thinking more than being a profitable business,” Spaulding said, “but also being one that gives back to the employees and to the community and has a low environmental footprint.” Spaulding represents Grand Rapids through a variety of organizations. She is the board chair of Local First, which promotes sustainable communities and supports local businesses. She was inducted into the Leadership Grand Rapids Class of 2017 and also was named to the National Equity Project Real Cohort in 2017.


Assistant to the city manager City of Grand Rapids

STACY STOUT always has placed herself in a position where she can create a positive impact. Throughout her career, Stout said she often finds herself to be the first to take on a challenge. She created and managed the first Latino youth gang intervention program in Kent County. “Those young men taught me so much and led me to focus on policy change,” Stout said. “They did everything we asked, but the system was set up to hold them back. I love them, and I want to change the policy for them.” She co-founded the Latina Network of West Michigan in 2014, which is “a space of cultural belonging, professional development and sisterhood.” The organization grew from 35 women to now 300 members. Stout was the first program manager at W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and while she was there, she advocated for racial equity. She carries on that same work as the assistant to the city manager for the city of Grand Rapids. She serves as a trustee on the KConnect board. The board has created an Accountability Partners Council to ensure children have an opportunity to pursue economic success. Of her many accolades, Stout was one of the Women Connect’s honorees in 2017. In 2016, The West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce named her the Young Hispanic Professional of the Year, and she received the Community Improvement Award from the Grand Rapids Youth Professionals. She was a Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree in 2010, 2012 and 2016.



TO THE 50 STRONG & MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN IN WEST MICHIGAN! With sincere respect & admiration

Monica’s Gourmet Cookies



Executive director Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation

MICHELE SUCHOVSKY is the executive director of the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation. The main focus of the foundation is to assist Grand Rapids Public Schools and invest in the community. When Suchovsky started her position in 2012, GRSAF was on the verge of collapsing after suffering from financial setbacks, due to the Great Recession in 2008. When she joined, she started implementing a variety of changes, including expanding the organization’s support system. In 2011, GRSAF only had 2½ full-time equivalent staff who could not, by themselves, help bridge the gap regarding funding for the school district. Under her leadership, the foundation now employs five FTEs and has more than 100 volunteers focused on community and fund development, addressing the needs of Grand Rapids Public Schools. “If I am ‘influential,’ it is more a reflection of the teams around me,” she said. “My influence is in seeing the potential for my organization to do and be better and creating the pathway to reach that potential.” Suchovsky helped to create a sustainable and robust fund that has increased the financial funding from $250,000 during the 2011-12 fiscal year to $565,000 in 2016-17. In 2016, GRSAF and GRPS launched a $15-million Build Together Capital Campaign that supported the opening of the Grand Rapids Public Museum School. The school is now open to sixth- through eighthgraders and will welcome high school students in the fall. She has been a trustee for Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for two years and serves as a treasurer at the Michigan Education Foundation.

MICHELLE VAN DYKE President/CEO Heart of West Michigan United Way

MICHELLE VAN DYKE is the president and CEO of Heart of West Michigan United Way. Despite being in a leadership position with the organization for only two years, Van Dyke has made some significant changes. “Under my leadership, Heart of West Michigan United Way has clarified its vision and mission, and defined its funding priorities: family stability, youth education and financial security,” she said. “We are funding interventions to bring immediate help to people in need, and we are also investing in long-term, sustainable solutions to our community’s most challenging issues.” Van Dyke said the mission is to provide resources by collaborating with companies across Kent County to affect positive change and curb the poverty levels in West Michigan as the organization is in the midst of celebrating its 100th anniversary. Van Dyke said she has always had a passion for giving back to the community, at one time serving on 12 boards. Now, alongside her duties for the organization to remain a fixture in the community for years to come, Van Dyke serves on both the Compliance Committee and the Governance Committee at Spectrum Health. She also is a board member at Fifth Third Bank, Western Michigan. She was named as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Banking in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016. Crain’s Chicago Business recognized her in its 40 under 40 event in 2002. She also received the Woman of Achievement and Courage Award in 2013 from the Michigan Women’s Foundation.



Marketing director Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber

JENNY WAUGH was described by her nominator as “an unstoppable force for the greater good.” She has served as the marketing director for Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc. for the past 2½ years. The Grand Rapids-based engineering firm focuses on building roads and bridges, and designing waste treatment plants and sewer systems, among other things. Although she works with the public touting the company’s infrastructure achievements, Waugh is taking what she has learned over the years to leave her own impactful mark. Five years ago, she worked with Habitat for Humanity of Kent County to secure a grant to create and build a local Women Build program, which promotes women in construction. Waugh became chair of the committee for the program, doubling the size of the committee and adding a fundraising component. The program educates women on how to construct facilities; women in the program learned how to build a house on their own. “My work and this committee share the message of empowerment and bring women of all skill levels together to build better neighborhoods,” Waugh said. It is that proactive approach that has allowed her to leave her footprint everywhere she goes. In addition to the Women Build program, Waugh is a member of several boards, including the Board Development Committee Chair for Wolverine World Wide YMCA Branch. She also serves as the public relations chair at the American Institute of Architects, Grand Rapids.


Principal/director of planning Williams & Works

LYNEE WELLS is principal and director of planning at William & Works but began her career at the firm as a staff planner 13 years ago. Since she began leading the company as director of planning, Wells has overseen the transition of the company. “We’ve successfully diversified our client base,” Wells said. “We used to do a lot of work primarily with townships, working as their planners. Now, our clients include townships, but we work in cities and villages. We’ve been working with nonprofit organizations and neighborhood organizations.” In 2015, Wells and her team worked with The Rapid on a one-day transformation of the U.S. 131 underpass near Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus. They temporarily built a crosswalk, assembled a food truck pod, covered the white fluorescent lights with acetate to stimulate decorative lighting and have had various games and activities associated with the project. This project ultimately led to the design of the Laker Line BRT station to become a plaza space and a new midblock crosswalk with refuge island to ensure pedestrian safety. In 2016, Wells and her company worked with the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association on its area-specific plan, which included a new crosswalk and ADA-accessible ramps, and bulb-outs to ease traffic flow. Wells has received many accolades for her work in the community, including a Merit Award in 2017 from the American Society of Landscape Architects, Michigan Chapter. She was a Business Journal 40 Under 40 honoree in 2014.


DR. MIRKA WILDERER Vice president/general manager Evoqua Water Technologies

ALTHOUGH SHE HAS spent years journeying across the globe, Dr. Mirka Wilderer never stopped advancing the goal of Holland-based Evoqua Water Technologies. As the vice president of the global aftermarket and e-commerce business, the German native is tasked with leading the company by gathering ideas, setting up strategies and making priorities in regard to the production of its equipment for industrial and municipal customers to clean up water. “We transform water to enrich lives; that is our theme,” Wilderer said. Wilderer said the company is responsible for creating more than 900 product lines, including filters, disinfectants, ultraviolet systems and sludge dryers, among others. “As a vice president, at heart, you are a leader,” Wilderer said. “My role is to lead this organization, especially after the carve-out (from) Siemens and leading it as a standalone organization.” Her latest initiative involves leveraging Evoqua’s sponsorship of the Holland/Zeeland Young Professionals to initiate and establish a West Coast Women’s mentoring program. She said the idea was born in January 2017 after presenting at Failure Lab in Holland, where she shared her difficulties as a woman in a male-dominated field. In addition to her duties at Evoqua, Wilderer is on the finance committee at Lakeshore Advantage, which is focused on business growth, talent development and innovation and creativity in Ottawa County. She also is a member of the West Michigan chapter of Young Presidents’ Organization, which allows chief executives to share their knowledge and inspire other business leaders.

MILINDA YSASI Executive director The SOURCE

MILINDA YSASI keeps people employed. She is executive director of The SOURCE, which was founded in 2003. It is a non-for-profit employee support organization designed to help employees keep their jobs, receive training to enhance their employment and help employees move into better positions within or across companies. The workforce development agency currently works with 19 employers to provide support services for their entry-level workforce, utilizing the best resources of government, area nonprofits and private employers. Ysasi, who took on the executive director’s role in 2015, said the goal is for employees to stay working and progress to higher-paying jobs. She said her role is to usher in new companies to join the organization, and within the last three years, six companies have become part of the agency. She also is co-founder of the Latina Network of West Michigan, a social network in which people with Latino heritage support and promote a diverse workforce. “Milinda is very insightful and works as a leader to bring social justice to our community in all she does,” said Jane Gietzen, who collaborates with Ysasi for The SOURCE. Ysasi devotes time as co-chair of KConnect’s High School to Career program, which promotes a clear path for economic prosperity for children. She also is a board member of the city of Grand Rapids’ Civil Service Board. The organization has been successful in creating a compensation committee for all public servants under the city’s umbrella.


We congratulate our Chief Marketing Officer

Lynne Jarman-Johnson 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan.

Well done. Well deserved. Congratulations, Tina Freese Decker Tina Freese Decker Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Spectrum Health

on being named one of The 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Spectrum Health is proud to have leaders like you who are dedicated to the health and well-being of our communities.

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