ONE Magazine November 2019

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40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040










40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040



40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 Rockford has always been blessed with talented, dedicated people who strive to make our region the very best place to live, work, and play. History proves it, for it was one hundred years ago, on December 4, 1919, when business leaders came together with fellow community members to form the Rockford Social Service Federation, the predecessor to United Way of Rock River Valley and one of only 25 in the nation at that time. If it hadn’t been for those progressive thinking individuals we would not have an organization that makes a difference every day in countless lives in our community. The 40 Leaders Under 40 we are recognizing today are much like the leaders from yesterday. They are engaged individuals who are not only excelling in their professional lives, but they are taking on leadership roles that are making a significant impact to the overall wellbeing of our community. This impact speaks volumes to the quality and character of those featured in the pages of this magazine. Their stories are inspiring and we commend their achievements. United Way of Rock River Valley congratulates the 40 honorees and recognizes their drive, determination and energy as leaders in their organizations in particular, and the community in general. These young people are passionate about our community’s legacy of giving back and looking forward. They are our bright future today, tomorrow, and 100 years from now.



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one voice for the rockford area business community

staff Jeff Bailey, Membership Development Executive Carmen Brenz, Program & Event Coordinator Einar K. Forsman, President & CEO


Star light, star bright Imagine locating and naming 40 stars in the night sky. For the average stargazer like me, that task might prove difficult. Now, imagine locating and naming 40 Leaders Under Forty in the Rockford area. Hard to do? That part was easy! The challenge our selection committee had was to limit the number to forty. Stars are like nuclear reactors. They take a fuel and convert it to something else. Much like these forty men and women: they have taken their life and work experiences and converted them to something that benefits our entire community.

Heidi Garner, Chief Operating Officer Olivia Guzman, Administrative Assistant/Customer Service Rep. Doug Hessong, Director of Publications & Technology Lynette Jacques, Vice President, Member Investment Mike Mastroianni, Director, Small Business Development Center Kristin Muehlfelder, Member Relations Caitlin Pusateri, Vice President, Leadership Development Doug Rand, Accounting Manager/ Controller Joan Sundvall, Membership Contact Coordinator

Visit us online

In this edition of One, you’ll be introduced to our newest forty stars. They have combined talent and smarts, hard work and the wisdom to absorb advice. They represent business and entrepreneurship, economics and savvy, fostering the health of our citizens and being the caretaker conscience of government. Select your favorite beverage, turn off the cell phone, page through this issue and get to know a little bit about our community’s celestial bodies. As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young sang in their Woodstock song, “We are stardust, we are golden …” — our forty leaders are certainly made of that prized element! The Chamber proudly presents the 2019 class of 40 Leaders Under Forty.

Einar Forsman, President/CEO Rockford Chamber of Commerce

The Rockford Chamber of Commerce ­publishes One once a year. For information about advertising contact Customer Service at 815-987-8100. Rockford Chamber of Commerce, 308 W. State St., Ste. 190 Rockford, Illinois 61101 Periodicals postage paid at Rockford, Ill. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to: One, 308 W. State St., Ste. 190 Rockford, IL 61101


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040

2019 40 Leaders Under Forty New stars in our community galaxy

Look up.

On any given night, (if lucky and no cloud cover), you’ll see a stellar display

to dim anything Hollywood could offer. They are up there every night (and every day) — the stars that lit the way for ancient mariners to navigate unknown seas and that today provide an unending source of fascination and discovery in our modern, Hubbell-tastic times. And, not just blazing suns — but fascinating oddities like neutron stars, comets, giant planets, variousshaped galaxies, nebulas that are star birthplaces, and much more. We have our own stellar nursery of sorts. The Rockford community has a wealth of talent that shines in their own unique ways. The Rockford Chamber is pleased to present 2019 40 Leaders Under Forty — a constellation of bright minds and brighter aspirations.

Thank you

to our 40/Forty selection committee who dedicated time and effort to make the difficult choices.


Lindsay Arrellano RACVB

Michael King workplace

Kelly Dinsmore SwedishAmerican , A Division of UW Health

Anqunette Parham Collins Aerospace

Tiana McCall Winnebago County

Jorge Herrera Rockford Bank & Trust

Lawrence Taber Holiday Inn Express



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Executive Director, THE NATIONAL ALLIANCE ON MENTAL ILLNESS OF NORTHERN ILLINOIS (NAMI) Danielle Angileri is a voice for those who often feel isolated. Her vision for “making sure people don’t feel alone and raising a community of children that don’t need to recover” fits well with her role as NAMI’s first executive director. “The NAMI board knew that to grow, they needed someone in charge of daily activities.” As the organization’s sole employee, Angileri receives daily phone calls from individuals seeking direction, family and friends looking for assistance and professionals seeking resources. The organization is largely volunteer-driven. Those recovered from illness and those who love them take a big role in leading support groups, teaching courses, giving presentations and organizing events. As those who feel misunderstood often won’t speak for themselves, Angileri works to make sure they are not forgotten when decisions and policies are made. She has a seat at the table at Stepping Stones, Winnebago County Health Department’s Trauma Informed Community & Opioid Response Team and Opioid Task Force, Jeremiah Development’s LOVE Rockford, Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force, Family Peace Center work groups, NICNE Youth Mental Health System of Care Planning, and the Rockford Regional Health Council. Away from work, she is active in co-recreational team sports, and organized the first volleyball fundraiser for NAMI this year. “Truth is, one in five people live with a diagnosis in the United States every year. But a ‘diagnosis’ doesn’t even begin to define them. Mental illnesses aren’t labels, they are not a choice, and they certainly are not a death sentence.


Staff Attorney, PRAIRIE STATE LEGAL SERVICES, INC. Kira Devin takes pride in advocating for vulnerable people navigating the confusing justice system. As an attorney at Prairie State for six years, she has helped individuals defend against wrongful evictions, clear their old criminal records to obtain employment, get their children back after they were illegally taken away, and obtain orders of protection and divorce for victims of human trafficking, domestic violence and harassment. This year Devin took over the firm’s Medical Legal Partnership with Crusader Community Health and expanded it to include patients of SwedishAmerican, A Division of UWHealth, who face barriers to health, safety and employment. Through these partnerships, she strives to collaborate with medical providers and staff to improve health in the community by taking care of legal needs that affect a client’s quality of life. Devin started the Lawyers in the Library project as a safe space at the Rockford and Freeport Public Libraries for vulnerable individuals to get legal assistance. Her volunteer list is dizzying. In the Junior League of Rockford, she empowers new members to help women and children in poverty and encourages girls to pursue STEM careers. She is on the Rock River Homeless Coalition and Keeping Families and Communities Together (KFACT) boards, marketing director for IGNITE Young Professionals, in the IRead program, co-chair of the Crusader Foundation annual fundraiser, volunteers at the Jeremiah Development community garden, and advocates for better cycling conditions through I Bike Rockford. “I hope to improve the lives of vulnerable people in the Rockford community.” By Barbara Connors

By Barbara Connors

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Deputy Director, CHICAGO ROCKFORD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT Growing up, Zack Oakley’s dad took him around the Chicago Rockford International Airport any chance they got. In college, he received his pilot’s license, but was drawn towards the airport side. Working the front lines as air handler at UPS and maintenance technician at Williamson County Airport, Marion, Ill., he was hired as operations manager at RFD in July 2006. Now as deputy director, Oakley’s known as the “go-to” person, and “Just ask Zack” is frequently heard there. With a safe and secure airport as #1 priority, Oakley integrated CityWorks into airport operations in 2015. “It’s allowed the crew to keep a very close eye on the 17 million square feet of pavement that needs to be maintained,” said RFD Executive Director Mike Dunn. The airport received a perfect score from the Federal Aviation Administration this spring. Oakley has worked with congressional leaders and local banks to secure tens of millions of dollars to help fund the airport’s expansion, including the $20 million terminal expansion and $10 million cargo facility, according to Paul R. Cicero, Greater Rockford Airport Authority. Oakley’s volunteering includes a seat on the Ken Rock Community Center board and OshKosh Birdstrike Committee. In 2018, he led a fundraising effort to send the family of fallen Rockford Police Department officer Jaimie Cox to the National Law Enforcement Fallen Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. “Airplanes and flying still amaze me, but I am even more amazed by how aviation and an airport can fuel the economic environment for a region.”

By Barbara Connors


Urban Planner, GARY W. ANDERSON ARCHITECTS Ashley Sarver has come full circle from her days of growing up in Durand. “It was classic small town,” she says. “I rode my bike all day around town with my friends. We came home at night when the streetlights came on.” Today, Sarver, an urban planner at Gary W. Anderson Architects who works renovating old buildings, leads I Bike Rockford. The local organization started as a Facebook group in order to bring bicycling enthusiasts together. Two years ago, group members began meeting to ensure better cycling conditions in the area. “We decided to grow the bicycling community,” says Sarver, the group’s president. “People who ride with us say this is their outlet. It’s not just about exercise but a chance to get to know other folks who share the same passion.” The group sprouted energy out of the initiative to bring a bike path along Spring Creek Road, but has become more than just a group focused around one project. They advocate for additional bike infrastructure, education, and safety within the region. Sarver occasionally bikes to work. “The pace is fast enough you can use biking as form of transportation yet slow enough to observe what’s going on around you,” says Sarver, who is married to Jason, an attorney, and volunteers for other nonprofit organizations. “You can see beautiful old homes that are taken care of and on the bike path I see people that I know. Biking brings me back to that small town feel.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


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Operational Systems Manager, ROCKFORD PARK DISTRICT Last year when the Rockford Park District underwent its process for setting its five-year plan, instead of hiring an outside consultant, it found just the right person in-house to conduct its citizens’ survey in Amy McIntyre. The former saxophone player for the Moonlight Jazz Orchestra with a degree in music education had spent 17 years with the park district. Beginning at Harkins Pool, she managed Carlson Ice Arena, the Forest City Queen and Trolley Car 36. She oversaw the renovation of Sapora Playworld, where attendance and revenue doubled in the first month of reopening. Last year, McIntyre developed the recreational needs survey to give everyone a chance to weigh in on park district decisions on what to keep, sell, give up and expand. From thousands of responses, she created easy-to-understand graphics for the community forums. The results were so successful that the Rockford Public Library asked to replicate the process for its strategic plan. McIntyre also takes pride in her part in the return of the Rock River Anything that Floats Race, where she volunteers on the board. The thousands of people who participate through racing or watching “makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it!” She has served on the Harkins Community Memorial Foundation to raise funds for low income families for burial costs with the death of a child. “I believe in staying grounded, flexible and accessible, and never believe I am too important for any task.”


Owner, RYCOM CREATIVE After a series of “unfortunate events,” including a lengthy legal battle when a fire destroyed his family’s home and possessions, Ryan Rydell left his successful sales management job to form RyCOM Creative near downtown Rockton in 2011. The other job took too many hours from his family. He’s been deeply involved ever since. Rydell’s company rebranded the Rockton Chamber and helped with the Rockton Christmas Walk, Rockton River Market and Hanz Brew Fest. He joined the board soon after. His vision led to formation of the Stateline Chamber of Commerce in January 2016. “Merging the Rockton and Roscoe Chambers was one of the toughest things I’ve done. I did my research as to what stopped the two previous attempts, and learned it was an issue of personalities and failed expectations. We had to make sure everyone knew their voices were heard.” Mentoring Hononegah Community High School students in IncubatorEDU yielded a successful outcome: “RyCOM has been able to support at least three business ideas to continue operations outside of the classroom.” Rydell spearheaded communications for the new Hononegah fieldhouse, funded by 2017 referendum to replace the old after the dome collapsed during an ice storm in 2015. He’s also worked on the high school’s strategic plan. He’s president of the Stateline Baseball program, despite the fact that his son “aged out” a few years ago. “During spring and summer months, it’s a second full-time job. The pay? The look of excitement when players walk on the field for the first time.” By Barbara Connors

By Barbara Connors

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Founder, SOAR ASSEMBLY CHURCH AND SOAR RADIO Growing up, Justin Francis dreamed of one day working in the entertainment field. He just didn’t know what path to take. Well, he figured it out in a big way. The Auburn High School graduate is the founder of a new church, an internet-based radio station, and he created the second largest gospel awards show in the country that’s taped in Rockford. And he works full time as general manager of a self-storage facility. How does he pack so much in at one time? “I take it day-by-day and I don’t get ahead of myself.” An ordained pastor, Francis served seven years as an associate pastor at a local church, before leaving to start his own church last spring. Soar Assembly is housed in downtown Rockford’s Nordlof Center. “God had a plan for me in a different capacity,” he said. The church already has 150 members. Soar Radio is a 24/7 station that features local and national inspirational and gospel talk and music. Francis isn’t just the founder; he hosts a show three days a week. Soar Radio has twice won internet station of the year. The Gospel Radio Awards are held at Heartland Church. The show is taped in the spring and aired in June on The Word Network. The annual redcarpet event, run by Francis and his wife Rebecca, honors the biggest names in gospel musical. “God has put me in so many areas,” he says. “And I love doing it all.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


Director, Compensation and Benefits, MERCYHEALTH Brooke Spencer arrived at her job after college through an Administrative Fellowship Program at Mercyhealth in 2016. Her project: Assisting human resources with research on pay equity across state lines during the critical merger between Rockford Health System and Mercy Health System. Her work earned her a full-time position, and in October 2018, she became director, compensation and benefits, system-wide. “Our pay practices root out gender pay gaps, something I’m proud of as a woman.” With the Illinois Pregnancy Accommodation law of 2015, Spencer has worked to ensure employees know the health system policy for a modified work schedule, modified work duties, job assistance and time off for appointments. As chair for the Mercyhealth Culture of Excellence Wellness Committee, she began wellness challenges, lunch-and-learn seminars, 5K-run and onemile-walk events, and more. She was on the planning committee to revive the YMCA of Rock River Valley Corporate Cup, and employee partner participation earned Mercyhealth the Large Company Corporate Cup Champion title. When RAMP chose to house its 10-month Project SEARCH school-to-work transition program for students with disabilities entirely at Mercyhealth’s Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic-Rockton, Spencer became the program’s business liaison. She set up student interviews and worked with hospital staff to identify internship opportunities. Two years later, 26 graduated. Spencer enjoys volunteering at community events like the Winnebago County Forest Preserve’s annual Hooked on Fun fishing event. “She is learning to become someone who can influence people with the strength of her ideas and adaptive nature,” said Sean Muserallo.

By Barbara Connors


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Many would be surprised to learn that Gabrielle Torina graduated from Jefferson High School with a low GPA, then failed her Rock Valley College classes. That’s not the end of the story. She returned as an adult college student; graduating summa cum laude from Judson and Northwestern University. Torina uses her non-traditional journey to inspire others. “I’m unequivocally drawn to individuals that people overlook. I used to be one of those people.” While she never envisioned a career in politics, an opportunity presented itself to work for Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, where she’s proud to engage with the community and help constituents solve problems. Before public service, at Collins Aerospace in Rockford, she co-chaired Women in Aerospace, which fosters inclusion, employee engagement and cultivates leadership; increasing the organization’s membership 85 percent. As part of Wabongo Leadership Council, she coaches students in their Youth Employment Series on career-readiness skills to help them land summer job interviews with the Rockford Park District. Torina met Laundry Love, a ministry that meets families in-need and provides funds to wash laundry, while on the job. She was incredibly touched by her interaction with them, now she’s the organization’s registrar. She also volunteers for the City of Rockford Department of Human Services Scholarship, Family Peace Center Community Engagement Committee, Transform Rockford and the Northwest Community Center board. “My existence is steered in knowing that I was placed on this earth to fulfill God’s legitimate purpose for me. Nothing I do and no interaction I have is insignificant.” By Barbara Connors


Vice President and General Counsel, OF ROSECRANCE HEALTH NETWORK Kelly Epperson is meshing her legal skills with her heart as vice president and general counsel of Rosecrance Health Network, the Rockford-based agency for treatment of substance use and mental health disorders. After a seven-year stint with the Hinshaw & Culbertson law firm where she worked primarily in healthcare cases, it was an easy transition to join Rosecrance in 2015 as its first in-house general counsel. She guides the agency through the heavily-regulated field of behavioral healthcare, helps with mergers and acquisitions, and ensures that treatment is as accessible as possible to everyone. One thing that helped with the latter is the federal parity law that mandated that insurance would cover behavioral healthcare the same way it does physical ailments. But some companies try to get around that, Epperson said, with unfair guidelines on qualifying for behavioral treatment. “Substance use disorder is to be treated just like a disease like diabetes,” said Epperson. “One of my roles at Rosecrance is to make sure that law is being enforced. I regularly meet with state officials and others to educate them on the law.” Some for-profit providers are taking advantage of the opioid epidemic by stealing patients from qualified treatment centers in order to make money. One even tried using the “Rosecrance” name until Epperson threatened legal action. Epperson is a mentor with Rockford Promise and an active member of the Rotary Club and healthcare attorney groups. She and her husband, Ben, have three children ages 7, 4 and 1. The 36-year-old Wisconsin native has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin and a law degree from Northern Illinois University. By Geri Nikolai

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Marketing Coordinator, STENSTROM CONSTRUCTION GROUP It’s fitting that Rebecca Nunes is one of this year’s honorees because she’s passionate about young people getting involved — and staying involved — in the Rockford community. Nunes, 28, works as the marketing coordinator at Stenstrom Companies, a familyowned business whose services include construction management, general contracting, excavation, petroleum and much more. Born and raised in Rockford, Nunes graduated from Rockford Lutheran High School and earned her bachelor’s degree from Bradley University. Family brought her back to the area and she quickly developed her own network in the Forest City. “My favorite soapbox is helping people understand why it’s so important to get young people invested in this community,” she said. “They may come here for jobs, but if they’re not invested in the community, they won’t stay. I’m glad the Chamber does this program to recognize our young professionals; to show us that our investments are noticed, appreciated and they want us to stay.” Nunes has remained active in Next Rockford, a young professionals group, since 2014 and has held board and committee leadership roles with the YMCA of Rock River Valley and the River District Association, where she helped organize the Fall for Rockford festival. She values working for a company that prioritizes community investment, which Stenstrom does. As an avid downtown enthusiast and resident, she’s excited about the good things happening in the central city. “I see how many people are trying to make Rockford better,” she said. “Retention of young people is what gives that progress longevity, and I’m excited to see how far we’ve come, even just in the six years since I’ve been back here.”

By Andrew Wright


Founder, THE FATHERHOOD ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT Danial Petrie could have given up. He could have pretended it never happened. But he didn’t. Born and raised in Rockford, Petrie grew up in a home plagued by abuse and poverty. Petrie and his sister were taken away from their parents when he was 3. His father was incarcerated until Petrie was in his 20s, and he lived in foster care until he was 15. “I didn’t realize how tough my life was,” he said. “I just wanted to be with my family no matter how bad it was. It’s all I knew.” He was eventually adopted by his foster family, and became the first in his family to graduate from college, earning degrees at Rock Valley College and Rockford University. Today, he is married to wife, Sarah, has two sons and is sales director at Townsquare Media. Petrie’s also the founder of The Fatherhood Encouragement Project, a nonprofit that offers support to fatherless children and helps fathers become stronger leaders in their homes and community. He’s hosted community events including Christmas with Superheroes. He’s served 7,000 people, connected 600 inner city kids to summer programs and helped feed and clothe 500 homeless people. “Everyone has a story to tell,” said Petrie, author of the book, ‘The Power of You Are.’ “God uses us to share our story to help others going through similar struggles. I wish I would have had a male figure in my life to mentor me. I want to be that person for others.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


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President, MIDWEST PACKAGING & CONTAINER, INC. Despite countless options after college to move to a new place, Robert (Rob) Young, then nationally and internationally ranked tennis player and captain for his Division I team, returned to his hometown of Rockford. In college he realized the untapped potential of his family’s Machesney Park manufacturing business, Midwest Packaging & Container, Inc., while interning there. “Coming back home was 100 percent the right decision for me.” In his seven years as president and CEO, Young has doubled his company’s size, improved its diversity and created 50 new jobs. “My mission has been to empower employees and consistently put them in positions to succeed.” “He walks around here and knows every person (120 people) by name,” writes employee Christina LaBree. After learning about the community’s statistics on domestic violence, Young took the lead on Next Rockford Strategy Team’s 5K fundraiser for the Family Peace Center, and lead an effort to raise more as a part of the local 100 Men Who Give a Damn. Kicking off in May, members meet quarterly and contribute $100 each per event, currently towards the Family Peace Center. The goal is to raise $40,000 per year. Young ran for Rock Valley College Board of Trustees in spring 2019. Although he didn’t win, he received the endorsements of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce and Rockford Register Star. He is a trustee of Natural Land Institute. Young sees value in the famous quote, “How a society treats its most vulnerable members is the measure of its humanity.”


Assistant Vice President, Controller, BLACKHAWK BANK Amber Sanders has spent 19 years in banking, but she almost became a teacher instead. Born and raised in Rockford, Sanders earned her undergraduate and master’s degree from Rockford University. She enrolled in a couple of education classes before she had second thoughts. “I was working part-time at a bank and my boss thought I could become successful in the banking industry,” she says. “So I followed my gut and took a chance.” Sanders started her career at AMCORE Bank before moving on to Rockford Bank & Trust. Now she’s assistant vice president and controller for Blackhawk Bank. A certified public accountant, Sanders recently completed the Rockford Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Rockford program, the Integrated Leadership Development program and the Graduate School of Banking Financial Managers School. And she’s a passionate community volunteer. She helps with I READ, a partnership between United Way and The Literacy Council which matches reading volunteers with students from kindergarten through third grade. In 2012, she joined Junior League of Rockford, where she has served in many leadership roles including treasurer, nominating and placement chair, project fundraiser research chair. She recently joined Next Rockford and has been involved with Rock House Kids, Golden Apple Foundation, and Habitat for Humanity. Sanders and her husband, Duncan, an investment program manager, enjoy cooking, visiting different restaurants, watching movies and, of course, talking numbers. “We’ve been known to crank out some advanced algebra problems on a Saturday afternoon,” she said, laughing. “I’m a numbers person.”

By Paul Anthony Arco

By Barbara Connors

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Program Manager, Electric Powertrain & System, COLLINS AEROSPACE Andrew Smith has always been an overachiever. A native of Chicago’s south suburbs, Smith graduated from the University of Illinois space engineering program. Now he’s wrapping up a master’s in engineering from Purdue University and working on an MBA from the Kelly School of Business in Indianapolis. All while working fulltime. “I enjoy learning about the industry from different perspectives,” he says. “It’s interesting to compare and contrast different aspects of what we do.” Smith leads a team in support of building and flying the United Technologies Advanced Projects (UTAP) hybrid-electric propulsion flying test bed to push the boundaries of aerospace technology. His responsibilities include the battery system, electric motor, motor controller, high voltage distribution and wiring, and systems integration. UTAP is a subsidiary of United Technologies. One of the first UTAP projects is tabbed Project 804, chosen because it represents the distance in miles between the two corporate sites in Montreal, Canada, and Rockford. “I enjoy taking on new challenges in the aerospace industry,” he says. “We’re working on engines that are more fuel efficient, make less noise and make the planet a better place to live. It’s a mission I believe in.” Smith organizes his company’s community engagement efforts, looking for partnerships, volunteer and branding opportunities. He and his wife, Allison, enjoy attending concerts and spending time with their puppy, a Shiba Inu named Weasley. “I love it here,” he says. “Rockford has its own flavor and unique feel and vibe to it.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


Planned Giving Specialist, CRUSADER COMMUNITY HEALTH Meredith Stoll didn’t know it, but she had her dream job just a few minutes into an interview with the Crusader Community Health Foundation. “I knew that she was not only right for the position but would be a huge asset to the entire Crusader organization,” said her interviewer, who recently hired Stoll as planned giving specialist for the Crusader Foundation. Stoll, who has psychology and higher education administration degrees, experience in anti-truancy and parent involvement programs at United Way and the Rockford School District, and fundraising roles at Rockford University and Wesley Willows, found the perfect fit at Crusader. “I wanted to be involved with something that supports the whole community, and to work with people whose passion matches my own,” she said. Stoll, 37, came aboard just as Crusader revealed plans for a new west side clinic. Since Crusader had been able to save and invest for that project, and already had the money needed, Stoll’s mission was to replenish the savings. “I explain that every dollar we raise goes into patient services,” she said. “Crusader has been a good steward of its dollars and we rely on community support to continue that.” Stoll loves meeting with potential donors. “I get to listen to their stories, to discover what is meaningful to them. Then I see if there’s an opportunity in our organization to fit their passion.” Among other organizations, Stoll is active in the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Northern Illinois Planned Giving Council, Next Rockford, and Women of Today’s Manufacturing.

By Geri Nikolai


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Chief Operating Officer, YMCA OF ROCK RIVER VALLEY Trisha Tousant is a “lifer” in the YMCA. After 20 years of Y experience, every day remains full of new challenges, rewards and learning. Tousant, 36, chose an entry level job with the YMCA of Rock River Valley when she moved here in 2011. Her skills and attitude were soon noticed and she moved up the ladder, becoming chief operations officer in July 2019, overseeing the Y’s three main branches, its day care, 24 after-school programs, Camp Winnebago, and all that goes on at them. She is out to fulfill the Y mission, which she summarizes as “helping people to be healthy in spirit, mind and body.” It involves “a lot more than treadmills,” she added. Collaboration is vital to the Y’s success, and Tousant welcomes those opportunities. A year ago, for example, the Y set up a JOYNT program with OrthoIllinois and Judson University to help patients who need joint replacement surgery but aren’t healthy enough for the procedure. The program is successful and growing. Collaborative programs are no less exciting to Tousant than the day-to-day inhouse operation. “My first Y job was at a swimming pool in Richmond, Va., and I instantly fell in love with the Y,” she said. “I saw the impact swim lessons had on kids, on their physical and emotional health and their safety. That’s the kind of work I want to do.” Tousant and her husband, Curtis, have a four-year-old daughter and another child due soon. After a childhood with lots of moves, Tousant’s Rockford stay is the longest she has lived in one city. That makes it home, she said.


Regional Pharmacy Director of Operations, Controller, OSF HEALTHCARE Starting as a hospital pharmacist in Lexington, Ky., Dr. Kyle Shick returned to Rockford in 2010 to work in OSF Saint Anthony’s neuro-burn unit, then as infectious disease pharmacist, before being promoted in 2013 to director of pharmacy; responsible for a $24 million budget and nearly 50 employees. He was promoted in 2015 to regional pharmacy director of operations; overseeing four hospitals and 75 employees. Shick’s part in the 76-bed North Tower opening was no small task. It was a 2.5-year care coordination effort involving 12 performance improvement projects; resulting in the safe transfer on opening day of all patients. Shick implemented the antimicrobial stewardship program to ensure the right dose of antibiotics for the right reasons, and started a one-year pharmacy residency/leadership program. “It has really uplifted the practice at Saint Anthony’s.” He’s adjunct faculty member at University of Illinois College of Pharmacy, the same school he graduated from in 2007. “Being able to provide the mentorship or guidance to someone in the same place I was, is very humbling, because they value your opinion.” He serves on the young alumni group; organizing fundraisers and events for scholarships and professional growth. His involvement with the Daniel Rodriguez Memorial Scholarship came after losing one of his best friends in pharmacy school shortly after graduation. The two were part of a humanitarian trip to Peru. “We were able to raise 25K to have a forever scholarship in his name. There was not one huge contributor. It was literally hundreds of donations.”

By Barbara Connors

By Geri Nikolai

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Director of Corporate Management, FOREST CITY GEAR It didn’t take years of college for Kika Young to choose a career. She knew at age 13, when she went on the payroll of Forest City Gear in Roscoe. The owners, her parents Fred and Wendy Young, didn’t put her on the fast track to the top. Her first chores were painting a fence, filing, cleaning out oil buckets and making copies. But it got her around the shop. She learned about the how-to of gear-making, the people who did the work and the importance of doing it right. With two sisters — both of whom entered the art field — Young was the one “geared for the gear business,” in her words. “Working in the shop and helping with the business made the most sense for my skill set.” With business degrees from Rockford University, Young now is director of corporate management at Forest City. She watches over human relations, marketing, and compliance with ever-changing regulations. Forest City, known for making gears for the rovers sent to Mars, makes gears for everything from can openers to prosthetic limbs, planes, tractors, military lasers and dental drills. In a year, said Young Risa, the shop of 118 employees turns out a half-million gears. She and husband Anthony Risa have two young children and another one expected in January. The kids spend time with her in the shop, just as she did as a child. “It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. Gears are her passion, along with serving as a role model and encourager for other young women who could succeed in manufacturing.

By Geri Nikolai


HR Manager, SUPPLYCORE INC. At 31, Andre Balka is the manager of human resources at SupplyCore Inc. and a member of its Executive Leadership Team. He attributes all this to his dedication to customer service, his enjoyment of interacting with people and, believe it or not, skateboarding. Let’s take those one at a time. After earning a history degree from the University of Illinois, Balka took a job in customer service at the Rockford Park District. A year into that, he moved to human resources and took over seasonal and part-time recruitment, training and oversight. In five years, he developed a wellrounded HR background and also learned how important a strong culture could be to a business. Then he signed on with SupplyCore as an HR specialist. A year later, he was named interim manager and, a few months later, the “interim” was dropped. “HR is the perfect place for learning,” Balka said. “You get exposed to everything that happens in the business, and are challenged to find solutions to new issues every day. You work with all different types of people of varying professions and experiences.” Balka oversees HR for 140 people locally as well as SupplyCore associates in 19 other states, including Japan and Korea. About that skateboarding, Balka has been skating since he was a young teen. He still does. “You can spend hours trying to learn a new trick, and still fail,” he said. “It’s a creative outlet for me, and a constant reminder about the reward of perseverance.”

By Geri Nikolai


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040


There isn’t a lot of free time in Theresa Kegley’s packed schedule. After working in community relations for Disney World, Kegley moved to Rockford 13 years ago. Today, she and husband, Justin, own Movement Fitness, a local gym. She also runs a central Illinois farm remotely, not to mention her church and volunteer obligations. All while raising three young boys. “I wear many different hats,” she says. “I live and die by appointments. Our children have no idea we work 70 – 80 hour weeks. But we do protect our family time.” Justin was a personal trainer when he opened his own fitness center. Kegley serves as general manager, doing everything from hiring staff to training clients. “People come through our doors for more than just a workout,” she says. “We’re proud of the positive impact we have on our clients, whether it’s a young athlete who’s earned a Division I athletic scholarship or a grandparent rehabbing following surgery.” But Kegley also comes from an agricultural family. In fact, Kegley operates a farm which is 20 miles from her father’s farm near Peoria. “I can do all my work from here in Rockford thanks to technology,” she says. “I decide what our yield looks like, when to harvest and how much grain to sell.” While it sounds hectic, Kegley makes it all work. “I come from a generous family and it’s important to give back,” she says. “There is a plan or a reason for everything I do. I’m truly blessed.”


Attorney, WILLIAMSMCCARTHY LLP Whether he’s working pro bono or on the clock at WilliamsMcCarthy LLP, 32-year-old Daniel Huntley has the same goal — to solve problems in the complex world of business law. A transactional attorney, Huntley prefers to work outside of a courtroom. He is more often researching, negotiating or advising regional clients on business decisions, ranging from how to set up a new shop or the best way to pass along a business to the next generation. “It’s about how we retain jobs, our regional culture, our Midwestern sense of community,” he said. Raised on a farm in Chana, those values brought Huntley back here after undergraduate school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and abroad, and law school at Indiana University. His personal and business philosophy spring from his family — a father who stresses the importance of sound business principles, and a mother who believes that everyone’s role includes community service. Huntley is a “prolific pro bono attorney,” according to a WilliamsMcCarthy colleague. He has helped Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity for four years, closing nearly 30 home loans, and is president of Severson Dells Nature Center. The Rochelle Area Community Foundation and Prairie State Legal Services are among other organizations he has helped on his own time. His career thus far has earned Huntley such accolades as an Illinois “Habitat Hero” and an Emerging Lawyer honor from Leading Lawyers. Huntley and his wife, attorney Allison Huntley, have a two-year-old son. They enjoy eating out at unique local restaurants and exploring the outdoors.

By Geri Nikolai

By Paul Anthony Arco

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Staff Attorney, PRAIRIE STATE LEGAL SERVICES When Emily started as a new attorney at Prairie State Legal Services five years ago, she took on low income clients, 60 or older. She found that, “some of the biggest issues facing seniors in our region are financial exploitation and social isolation.” She defends against wrongful evictions, involuntary nursing home discharges, financial scams, and helps retain home-based services and Medicaid. Medicaid Long Term Care (nursing home care) is a particularly difficult issue. “Often people will try to get assistance to pay for their care for months or years before they find our office. We often are able to help families obtain benefits that relieve thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.” Distinguishing herself as an expert in elder law, Hardy provides guidance to other attorneys across the organization as co-chair of the Public Benefits Taskforce. “We make sure to combine our knowledge so no one has to reinvent the wheel when helping a client.” Hardy joined IGNITE her first year in Rockford through IGNITE Cup and now is vice president. She mentors summer interns, brings STEM concepts to low-income middle school girls as a vice chair with Junior League of Rockford, and sits on the Rockford Public Library Foundation and KFACT boards. She’s volunteered for the Equality Illinois Gala since February 2015. “Ending the cycle of poverty is deeply important to me. Working with groups like KFACT or the Junior League of Rockford allows me to give back, hopefully moving towards a more just society.”

By Barbara Connors


OB/GYN M.D., CRUSADER COMMUNITY HEALTH Zakera Nanabawa was convinced she’d become an engineer. But after spending a year working in a research lab, she made an important realization. “I’m a people person and I felt isolated in the lab,” she says. “So, I pursued a medical degree instead.” For the past six years, Dr. Nanabawa who was born in the UK, has served as an obstetrician and gynecologist at Crusader Community Health, coming from Malawi, Africa. She arrived on a recommendation from a friend in the University of Illinois Chicago residency program. “I love Crusader, the mission and the people,” she says. “There are women in great need and we are the safety net for the community.” Dr. Nanabawa has performed mission work in Peru, Guatemala and Africa. “It’s an eye opener,” she said. “We don’t realize how lucky we are until you see limited resources in developing countries. It can be heartbreaking. We deliver babies there but don’t have supplemental things like oxygen or medication - basic things that we take for granted.” Closer to home, Dr. Nanabawa is engaged with the Rockford community. She trains medical students, volunteers for Junior League of Rockford and sits on a number of boards including the Winnebago County Medical Society, Rock River Valley Blood Center and IGNITE. She also spends time with her partner, Robert, getting familiar with Rockford. “I make time for things that are important to me, whether it’s professionally or personally,” she says.

By Paul Anthony Arco


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040


Supervisor, WINNEBAGO COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT Living with purpose has always been a priority for Antwon George, as has getting the most, and best out of any situation. After returning home from college, he was eager to get involved in the community. Upon being hired by the Winnebago County Health Department, he joined a few strategic prevention framework coalitions and met some choice people who further guided him in leadership. George has worked seven years for the Health Department, where he currently supervises nine counties for the HealthWorks program. HealthWorks provides medical case management services for children within the Department of Children and Family Services system, and assists foster parents in assuring children get the medical appointments they need. On average, it serves about 400 children per year. George earned degrees from Illinois State University and Judson University. He also built up a solid DJ career at ISU and returns annually to play for homecoming events. He promotes his passion for art in many ways. He created a curriculum called Art Life Academy, which he implemented as an afterschool program at Rockford middle schools. He continues to be a sought-after DJ for charitable and philanthropic events, dabbles in photography and graphic design, and participated this year as a small group coach for the Wabongo Leadership Council’s annual college tour. “I’m always seeking out new ways to be progressive in the community,” he said. “We all have ideas in our head that others might never hear about. I’m passionate about helping people bring those to life.”


President, REGION 1 PLANNING COUNCIL Sydney Turner spent her formative years observing her father, Burnis Turner, who worked as Winnebago County’s director of geographical information systems before retiring recently. “I saw the opportunity to get involved and I always wanted to work in the government sector.” Turner is the metro program manager for Region I Planning Council, a specialpurpose, regional government agency providing collaborative planning across Northern Illinois. “I oversee the development of the federally required transportation documents, and I am currently project lead on the 2050 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the region,” she says. “I love being involved with community engagement to make sure their voices are heard and incorporated into the document. We’re an organization out there planning for their future.” After earning a political science degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Turner returned home for a couple of years before spending 12 months in North Carolina to try something new before coming back again. “I loved living out East, but I started missing my family and friends.” Turner has contributed hours of volunteer work at places such as the Rescue Mission, Food Bank and Starlight Theatre. She’s a member of Next Rockford and Junior League of Rockford, and enjoys cooking, yoga and taking long walks around Anderson Japanese Gardens and the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens. And she’s happy to do it all in her hometown. “Rockford is becoming a place for young professionals,” she says. “Moving back home gave me focus and prospective and helped me figure out the person I want to be.”

By Paul Anthony Arco

By Melissa Westphal

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Physician Gastroenterologist/Advanced Endoscopist, ROCKFORD GASTROENTEROLOGY ASSOCIATES When Dr. Sumeet Tewani decided to specialize in medicine, all signs pointed towards gastroenterology. “The diversity of disease processes within the field was attractive to me,” says the Rockford Gastroenterology physician. “It was important for me to practice within a specialty that includes patients with chronic conditions who are followed longitudinally, while also providing the opportunity to perform intricate procedures that can cure diseases and save lives. Gastroenterology gave me the best of both worlds.” Five years ago, Dr. Tewani and his wife and oldest daughter came to Rockford from Boston. “I had completed training and we were ready for a move,” he says. “Rockford reminded me of suburban New Jersey where I was raised.” Since moving to Rockford, his family has welcomed another daughter, and they have become invested in the community. The Harvard Medical School-trained physician brought academic-level expertise and experience to patients with complicated digestive conditions. He has extensive experience in removing pre-cancerous lesions and treating complications associated with pancreatic and biliary disease. Dr. Tewani has developed leadership roles at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. He serves on two committees at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, where he has helped to update the curriculum. “By teaching medical students we continue to provide the best medical care to our local community and beyond,” he says. “It is truly an honor to be able to provide exceptional care and academic expertise in our community.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


Financial Advisor, SAVANT CAPITAL MANAGEMENT Ryan Monette is a problem-solver who likes to help people, traits he uses daily as a financial advisor for Savant Capital Management. With real-life and academic expertise in investment management and financial planning – he interned at Savant the summer of 2006 and continued working there part-time through the completion of a finance degree at Northern Illinois University – Monette, 35, specializes in helping individuals, families, and organizations align their investment accounts with their vision of their future. “I enjoy the relationships you create,” he said. “You have an important opportunity to help with the rest of their life, whatever it brings – the birth of a child, dream vacations, retirement, the loss of a spouse,” he said. “You become their go-to guy for important decision-making.” Monette also works with young professionals who don’t have a great deal of money to invest. He steers them to sound practices and keeps them away from pitfalls, so they become wise stewards of their resources before middle or advanced age. Monette, his wife Bridget and their children have a passion for volunteering in the community. Monette serves as board president for the Stateline Chamber of Commerce. He also serves as financial secretary for the Knights of Columbus at St. Peter Church in South Beloit, and enjoys volunteering at Hononegah Community High School, helping with strategic planning and serving as a mentor in the business incubator program for students. His wife, Bridget, serves on the board for the Ledges Pool Association. Their efforts are shared with their children so that they learn the importance of giving back.

By Paul Anthony Arco


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040


Manager of Strategic Support, SUPPLYCORE INC. Lauren Zerey dreamed of going into the restaurant business. In fact, she was working as a manager of a national chain while attending Rockford University. “I wanted to open my own restaurant and then a month before graduation I started to panic,” she says. ‘I realized it wasn’t for me.” She huddled with her advisor, Jeff Fahrenwald, who suggested Zerey pursue a Master’s degree instead. A native of Roselle, a Chicago suburb, Lauren earned both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Rockford University. Following graduation, Lauren worked two years as a contract administrator at United Technologies. Today, she is manager of strategic support for SupplyCore, a Rockfordbased company that is a supply chain and technology integrator and small business federal defense contractor. “I help oversee our strategic plan from creation to execution,” she says. “The tool we use to manage it allows for realtime communication and is different than anything I’ve ever done before.” Zerey has been involved with Transform Rockford and graduated from the chamber’s Leadership Rockford program. By getting involved she’s developed a greater appreciation for Rockford. “I gained a sense of community,” she says. “There’s an energy here; it’s cool to be involved.” Lauren married her husband Will three years ago. The couple enjoys fixing up their house, taking their dogs to Rock Cut and heading downtown for dinner. “We’ve talked about one day living somewhere warm,” she says, “but Rockford will always be home to me.”


Matt Dalstrom is a medical anthropologist by training. And yes, he often has to explain what that is and how it aims to improve health care access and utilization. In the simplest terms, he studies the impact culture has on access to care and the ways people use health care. He’s a professor at Saint Anthony College of Nursing, where he teaches nursing graduate students about public health, epidemiology and social justice. Dalstrom helps students develop community-based research projects that identify health issues in the region, then partners with organizations to address those issues. On one project, a team worked with Carpenter’s Place after the Medicaid expansion. The group researched the challenges that individuals who are homeless had using Medicaid coverage and then developed a short resource guide to help them utilize their benefits. “These efforts help give the students perspective about patients outside the clinic setting,” he said. “It helps develop critical thinking – what are the unique needs to bring to a clinical encounter and how to think about addressing those needs.” He also has partnered with the Rockford Public Schools to focus on childhood obesity among students, and with the rural communities of Freeport, Lena, Mt. Carroll, Freeport Health Network, and local health departments to assess access to parks and recreational areas to improve cardiovascular health. Dalstrom hails from Georgia and came to Rockford by way of a job at Rockford University, where he taught anthropology. He serves on the Carpenter’s Place board and sits on several committees for the Rockford Regional Health Council.

By Melissa Westphal

By Paul Anthony Arco

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President, SEROLA BIOMECHANICS, INC Saturday is Tom Person’s day to relax. He may only have an 8 a.m. business meeting and a two-hour class in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Then he and his girlfriend can have fun. Mondays through Fridays belong to Serola Biomechanics Inc., a Loves Park firm that manufactures medical equipment for people with back pain. Person, 32, started as a part-time shipping clerk in 2005 and is now president, overseeing an operation of 15 employees who make and ship products to more than 40 countries. Person’s weekdays aren’t 8 to 5 sessions, either. He recently completed business trips to South Korea, Thailand and Japan (he’s studied the Japanese language for five years). Several nights each week he is either a student or teacher in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Muay Thai Kickboxing. That’s laid-back for Person, considering his prior schedule. When he started at Serola, he also took fire science classes and joined the Harlem-Roscoe Fire Department. When Serola was offered a future in management, he gave up firefighting but accelerated his education – a bachelor’s degree in business and management studies in two years at Rockford University, a master’s from Cardinal Stritch University, and a certificate in global business essentials from Thunderbird U. All that, of course, while working full time. Person’s next off-work quest is to be an adjunct professor of business. He wants to inspire students the way the late Gary Lubbert inspired him at Rockford University. Oh, and on Sundays he works for his own company, Teal Consulting Group. He finds time to volunteer for non-profits, including the Make A Wish Foundation. His future, he said, will be in international business. “I’m fascinated by different cultures and how they affect companies,” he said.

By Geri Nikolai


Alderman, CITY OF ROCKFORD A healthy neighborhood comes from active community support. Just ask Bill Rose, 9th Ward Alderman on Rockford’s west side. Rose, who works at East High School as an Academy coach, sees it in the kids who are coming up through his program. “We want to prepare students for college, career and life,” Rose explained of his role at East. The role of the Academy program is important to a vibrant community. Building a community from school age up is important for Rose. In his efforts to combat crime in the 9th ward, Rose explained, “Crime is a form of communication. Everyone deserves a safe neighborhood.” Rose has taken to walking the streets and knocking on doors, working with residents to discuss needs and opportunities to keep neighborhoods safe. One of the largest challenges for Rose is replacing a grocery store in his district. Rose explained, “Without that anchor store, the area is adjusting to the food desert it left behind.” Partnering with other aldermen to attract a national chain is an important next step. “If we’re going to do this right, (a national chain) can go into two or three locations like ours to compete with Schnucks and other stores.” The future, though, lies with the kids Rose serves. “Kids in our community are going to be taking up the torch in the next five to ten years. They’re some of the most resourceful people, coming up with ideas and problem solving.” A Boylan grad, Rose lives in Rockford with Storm, his Boston terrier.

By Andrew Wright


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040


Civil Engineer Colin Simpson helped oversee construction of a $36 million luxury apartment in a Chicago suburb, the $32 million hangar at Chicago Rockford Airport, and a $25 million reconstruction of a wastewater facility in Monroe, Wis. But when asked why he returned to Rockford, he mentions the “great” projects he was involved in with the city Department of Public Works. One of them is Potter Street, a street in southeast Rockford once known as Lake Potter. “It was a dirt road, covered with feet of water when it rained hard,” he said. “We completely rebuilt it and gave those folks the infrastructure they deserved. It made a difference.” Making a difference is what Simpson aims to do with his own firm, Imperien, which he started a year ago with wife Carrie Zethmayr. Imperien specializes in helping businesses build or relocate their operations with Simpson taking on the heavy-duty planning, design, site selection and construction phase so the business can continue to concentrate on product. “We work with clients on what they want to do in a new facility and the best way to do that. That’s the important part. We figure that out first and then put a shell around it.” While Simpson expects his clientele will be national and international as well as local, he has no plans to leave Rockford or the Imperien office in the underrehab Pioneer Life building on Main Street downtown. Simpson and his wife have another big project – turning an Ogle County barn into their home. When they take a break, they like to shoot sporting clays and golf.


General Manager, TRANSATLANTIC CONNECTION INC. When she started her career in counseling for the Maryville Academy, Jaclyn Kolodziej learned about crisis management. “I was working with adolescent girls who were learning to navigate hormones, mental illness, and cope with trauma. They often exhibited disruptive behaviors, and it was challenging to keep my wits about me in crisis situations. The opportunity was to help young women develop critical thinking and positive coping skills to build a future.” Kolodziej earned her Bachelor of Arts from Beloit College. She continued studies at UW Milwaukee, became a certified Recreational Therapist and Dementia Specialist, and applied her knowledge for over a decade with adolescents, seniors, and adults with disabilities. “I helped provide people with positive frameworks to reduce struggles and increase quality of life.” Kolodziej’s love for and desire to help others translated well from social services to business management. She was recruited to Rockford as Project Manager and Chief of Staff at Thinker. Subsequently, TAC Rockford called on her as General Manager to facilitate organizational change, develop processes, and assist in growing the company. “Strong businesses require people working together. Creating structure for individuals lends itself to developing structure, communication, and accountability in the workplace. My work at TAC has been focused on getting the right people in the right seats and moving in the same direction. I’m looking forward to the future.” Kolodziej is an active member of Women of Today’s Manufacturing and lead organizer of Startup Weekend Rockford. Kolodziej is a dog mom of Chola, Guapo, and Gigi and lives in Beloit, WI.

By Andrew Wright

By Geri Nikolai

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Project Manager and Estimator, SCHMELING CONSTRUCTION CO. Peter Schmeling has walked around construction sites since he could walk. Keeping pace with his father, talking to the bricklayers and carpenters, operators and electricians, Schmeling was able to witness a building begin as a drawing and end as a new business. “What fascinates me the most is the complete process,” Schmeling explained. Schmeling, a Project Manager, is the fifth generation to work at the 116 year-old family business, Schmeling Construction. His experiences around construction sites grew when, at Bradley University in Peoria, he became involved with Habitat for Humanity. “I remember my first day on site at Habitat house in Peoria, where they handed me a hammer and nails and I worked side by side with the future homeowner.” Schmeling continued, “The opportunity to give back doing something I love – it’s a perfect fit.” In Rockford, Schmeling has contributed his skills to 13 homes and has helped the organization tap into the resources he learned by working in the commercial industry. “I started a competitive bid process for all trades we can’t complete with volunteers. Between excavating, roofing, plumbing, electrical, HVAC – I was able to find community partners and save money for our homeowners, savings that add up to an additional four, maybe five new homes.” This vision serves him well on the Next Rockford strategy team. “All of us want to be a part of giving back to Rockford. We want to see Rockford succeed and plan to be ‘lifers.’” Schmeling lives in Rockford with his fiancé, Danielle Young, and their chocolate lab, Nash.

By Andrew Wright


Engagement Director, COMMUNITY FOUNDATION OF NORTHERN ILLINOIS Jennifer Smith and her husband perfected a Sunday afternoon routine of exploring historic Rockford neighborhoods and buildings. They eventually made Rockford their permanent address, turning their interest into more than just a pastime. Smith grew up in Iowa and landed here after attending Judson College, where she also met her now-husband. He’s born and raised here, and they initially relocated to Stillman Valley after graduation. Her interest in the city grew as she worked at and pursued her MBA at Rockford University. The couple moved to Rockford in 2012, buying a home in the Edgewater neighborhood where they used to explore. “We were ready to fully commit to where we live, which is important for both of us,” she said. “I was going to school, building a professional network. Rockford had open arms – it was perfect for us.” In June 2018, she became engagement director at the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois. Her role mixes communications, marketing, and development, and includes working with grantees, donors, and funding organizations in four counties. Her activities outside of work are inspired by collaboration. She’s a board member for the Edgewater Neighborhood Association, and she volunteers with I Bike Rockford, which aims to make the city safer for bikes and riders. Smith also worked for Tom McNamara’s mayoral campaign, and the now-mayor asked her to serve on the Rockford Zoning Board of Appeals. “These things happened as my passion for the city grew,” she said. “I feel very fortunate to be here at this time.”

By Melissa Westphal


40 LEADERS UNDER FORTY 2019 • #4040


Assistant Vice President, BLACKHAWK BANK “In order to get ahead, you have to outwork the other person.” The world of banking is highly competitive, and Greg Lundquist isn’t afraid to put himself in a position to succeed. After starting at much larger banks, Lundquist made his way to Blackhawk Bank where he worked to become an Assistant Vice President of Business Banking. “Finding the right fit and culture was what put me in a position to have opportunities.” At Blackhawk, he was able to make the most of those opportunities. “Within any situation, I’m always trying to find the positive,” Lundquist explained. Customers demand quality service. “It’s an instant gratification world, if you’re not ready and able, they’ll move on to someone else.” As president of the Ignite young professionals organization, he leans into his mantra, “If you’re having fun, it doesn’t seem like work.” “Ignite is a fun way to attract and retain young local talent.” The organization offers members the skills needed to navigate networking events, volunteer for activities and compete with one another for the annual Ignite Cup. “If people are having fun and making friends, they’re less likely to look away.” Community involvement is important to Lundquist, who belongs to social organizations like the Cosmopolitan Club, Verdi Club, Beloit Club and United Way. His biggest commitment is to the annual golf fundraiser for Walter Lawson Children’s Home. “Just walking through (Lawson) grounds inspires you. The money we’ve raised there has really improved the quality of life for those kids.” Lundquist lives with his wife Jessica and their twins, Gavyn and Graysen.


Project Manager, Domestic Violence Coordinated Courts 17TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE COORDINATED COURTS “When a speaker came to talk at my college about domestic violence and the cycle of violence, it changed my life.” Nicole Ticknor has gone on to change lives ever since graduating from NIU in 2007. Ticknor started working with WAVE, a domestic violence shelter which has since become Remedies. There, she learned the importance of ongoing education, pursuing additional sociology, domestic violence, and mental health education. After working as a case manager at the shelter, Ticknor transitioned to become a legal advocate for the women and children she served. “Helping with restraining orders, going to court with victims – it gave me a passion for working with the court system.” Ticknor started working in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court – initially assisting victims, then as a probation officer, and currently as a Project Manager. “I never forgot how abuse victims looked or how it affected their children,” Ticknor said. “Offenders also need to be treated with decency and respect. They aren’t always bad people; they have their own stories, too.” Beyond the court, she also serves on the Children’s Safe Harbor board and as a member of the VOICES network for domestic abuse survivors. Ticknor’s involvement with the Court has led to improvements handling cases within the region, as well as influencing courts nationally with a proven approach. “We are a mentor court. The work we do here is shared around the country, which impacts survivors everywhere.” Ticknor and her husband, Ross, have two kids, Maverick and Abel.

By Andrew Wright

By Andrew Wright

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Co-Head of School, KEITH COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL The more involved Ashleigh Van Thiel became in Rockford, the more she recognized that this region is comprised of people who stand up for each other. “The one thing I always say about Rockford and this community is whenever there’s a need, everybody jumps on board – no questions asked,” she said. Van Thiel brings a passion for and an extensive background in education to her work at Keith Country Day School. She serves in a head of school co-lead position with Charo Chaney, whom she worked with at Rockford Public Schools. In observing her daughter’s experience at Keith, Van Thiel said she was “always impressed with the quality of education the students receive.” She had read a lot about co-leadership models and said the opportunity was something she and Chaney had dreamed about. “I wanted to be a bigger piece of the puzzle,” she said. “I was excited about the opportunity to lead the faculty, students and families in the directions I knew they could succeed in.” Van Thiel graduated college with an elementary education degree but returned for her special education certification. She fell in love with the specialty and moved from Louisiana to Chicago in 2006, where she worked for Lighthouse Academies. She moved to Rockford in 2012 and soon joined RPS to lead professional development efforts. A volunteer spot on a Rockford Boys & Girls Club event committee led to a role as the club’s academic coordinator. Van Thiel also volunteered with Club Blue and Charisma.

By Melissa Westphal


Executive Director, PROJECT FIRST RATE You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger cheerleader for Rockford than Jake Castanza, executive director of Project First Rate. “I love this place,” he says. “People talk about a great comeback here. We’ve been this way the whole time, and I’m more than happy to live here, work here and raise my family here.” Castanza left Rockford for college but quickly returned after college. He turned down a job offer in North Carolina and took a job delivering sandwiches until he landed at the YMCA of Rock River Valley as assistant to the president. “I had this voice in my head telling me to come back home.” He was at the Y for three years until he accepted the top spot at Project First Rate, a partnership between union contractors and union tradespeople to promote quality craftsmanship. Castanza’s father was a union leader. “I believe in fair wages, time off, having a voice at work,” he says. “Our unions offer great value to our community providing high quality and low cost.” Perhaps Castanza’s greatest lesson learned came two years ago when he ran for state representative. He had never run for office, but that didn’t stop him from covering 2,100 miles, and knocking on 36,000 doors. Castanza’s bid fell short but the experience changed him. “People don’t choose their circumstances,” he says. “It was powerful talking to them. At times it got contentious; I was threatened and scared at times, but I felt obligated. I’ll run again someday.”

By Paul Anthony Arco


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Thank you to our sponsors! Illinois Bank & Trust, OSF

proud to introduce the 2019 40 Leaders Under Forty award

HealthCare, and Electrical Workers Union/Local 364 IBEW

recipients at a special reception, sponsored by United Way of

(hospitality); Register Star Media, Townsquare Media

Rock River Valley. More than 400 guests enjoyed appetizers and

Rockford, SVL Productions, 13 WREX, 17WTVO and Fox39,

drinks in the ballroom of The Tebala Shrine Center. Chamber

and 23WIFR (media); and Brian Thomas Photography

Board President Michele Petrie, Vice President, Leadership


Development, Caitlin Pusateri, and Paul Logli of United Way of Rock River Valley recognized each of the forty honorees.

Above, front row: Nicole Ticknor, Greg Lundquist, Lauren Zerey, Dr. Kyle Shick, Jennifer Smith, Sydney Turner, Amber Sanders, Daniel Huntley Second row: Justin Francis, Amy McIntyre, Antwon George, Brooke Spencer, Ashley Sarver, Gabrielle Torina, Dr. Zakera Nanbawa, Rebecca Nunes, Jaclyn Kolodziej, Kira Devin Third row: Kika Young, Andrew Smith, Trisha Tousant, Dr. Sumeet Tewani, Ashleigh Van Thiel, Meredith MacCay Stoll, Theresa Kegley, Dr. Matthew Dalstrom, Danielle Angileri, Kelly Epperson, Emily Hardy Fourth row: Peter Schmeling, Zach Oakley, Ryan Rydell, Danial Petrie, Bill Rose, Jake Castanza, Ryan Moette, Robert Young, Thomas Person, Andre Balka Missing: Colin Simpson


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THE WRITERS Paul Anthony Arco is the community relations coordinator at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center, and a contributor to the Chamber newspaper, The VOICE. His work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Rockford Register Star, and Northwest Quarterly Magazine, among many other publications. Barbara Connors Barbara Connors is a 25-year journalist for the Rockford Chamber, Rockford Register Star, Farm Progress Companies, Wisconsin Institute of CPAs and FMA. She edits/writes The VOICE. Full-time, she’s a cardiac research nurse and also worked mental health/drug rehabilitation and cardiac triage. Still, writing remains in her blood.

Geri Nikolai spent 40 years in newspaper journalism in Wausau, Wis., and Rockford, holding a number of editorial positions and covering nearly every “beat” at one time or another. She is now a freelance writer. Melissa Westphal joined the team at Chartwell Agency as a communications strategist in 2017. She worked 12 years as a reporter at the Rockford Register Star and also previously worked as a writer/communications specialist at Rosecrance.She serves as a board member for NAMI Northern Illinois and AAF Northern Illinois. Melissa lives in Rockford with her husband, Andrew Wright. Andrew Wright is a freelance writer published in the Rockford Register Star, 815 Magazine, Northwest Quarterly magazine, and other regional publications. Andrew has worked in sales for most of his professional career, and knows the importance of accurate communication. When he’s not announcing for the Rockford Rage Roller Derby or playing Magic: The Gathering, he’s probably binging on premium TV series or listening to music with his wife, Melissa Westphal.

Don’t wait for the stars to be aligned.

Reach up and rearrange them in the way you want. Create your own constellations. —PHARELL



The Rockford Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors would like to extend their congratulations to the 2019 “40 Leaders Under Forty!” YOUR ROCKFORD CHAMBER OF COMMERCE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Andrew Benson Benson Stone Company, Inc.

Kimberly Blascoe Wipfli LLP

Jan Bowman TLC Construction

LaVonne Brown Savant Capital Management

Paula Carynski OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center

Samuel J. Castree Staff Management, Inc.

Jean Crosby Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Crosby Starck Real Estate

Doug Curry Stenstrom Companies

Don Daniels SwedishAmerican, A Division of UW Health

Rebecca Epperson Chartwell Agency

Ira Grimmett Collins Aerospace

Tim Honquest Honquest Family Funeral Home with Crematory

Jeff Hultman Illinois Bank & Trust

Michael F. Iasparro Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP

Kris L. Kieper Machajewski YWCA Northwestern Illinois

Mike Paterson Mid-West Family Broadcasting

Mark Peterson CBL Associates Properties. Inc.

Michele Petrie Wintrust Commercial Banking & Mortgage

Dan Ross Fehr Graham

Denise Sasse RSM US LLP

Sue Schrieber Mercyhealth

John Schuster Rosecrance Health Network

Teri Sharp American Precision Supply, Inc.

Dr. Alex Stagnaro-Green Univ. of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford

Karl Swanson Rockford Bank & Trust Co

Jon Thompson Butitta Brothers Automotive

Terry Voskuil Woodward

Richard Zumwalt Z Resource

Visit us online Einar K. Forsman Rockford Chamber of Commerce

John Groh Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Nathan Bryant Rockford Area Economic Development