Return to Index...

As published in Toledo Business Journal - October 1, 2012

20 Under 40

Community leaders honored at awards program

This year marks the 17th annual 20 Under 40 Leadership Awards Recognition Program. The 2012 program brings the number of distinguished 20 Under 40 award recipients to 340. The 20 Under 40 program focuses on individuals who are making exceptional contributions to the community and/or have distinguished themselves in their careers. It is intended that the program will assist in motivating young leaders in the area. The awards program also represents a networking opportunity for candidates and attendees. Chrys Peterson, news anchor for WTOL-TV11, is the master of ceremonies for the awards event.

The list of past and present 20 Under 40 award recipients is a virtual who’s who of current and future community leaders. To become an award recipient, many candidates have been nominated two to three times in as many years. Nominations for the 20 Under 40 awards come from all segments of the community.

An outside panel of judges is selected annually, generally consisting of CEOs, officials, and community leaders. This year’s judges include: Mike Hart, president / CEO, Hart; Lisa Hawker, executive vice president employee benefits group, Hylant Group; Sharon Speyer, regional president, Huntington Bank; and Thomas Winston, vice president and chief financial officer, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority.

The event is sponsored by Eastman & Smith, Ltd.; Fifth Third Bank; Plante & Moran; Columbia Gas of Ohio. Leadership Toledo is the community partner, WTOL-TV11 is the media sponsor, and Toledo Business Journal is the media partner. The cultural arts sponsors are Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Symphony, Toledo Opera, Oregon Community Theatre. Sponsors have worked over the past several months to organize the event.

Following are profiles of this year’s 20 Under 40 award recipients.

Brittany Barhite Michael Clements Romules Durant Chase Francis
Alison Frye Jon Gathman Isaac Lee Patrice McClellan
Dan McQuillen Lydia Mihalik Eugenio Mollo, Jr. Melissa Noe
Renee Palacios Sarah Pawlicki Katherine Rofkar Lorin Sonnenberg
Carrie Sponseller Blake Underwood Laurie Watson Jeffrey Williams

Brittany BarhiteBrittany Barhite,
chief operations officer,
Zepf Center

Nominated by Kendall Gigax

Brittany Barhite began her career at E! Entertainment as a production assistant for the 2004 Emmy Awards. After moving to Washington, DC to work as an event planner, Barhite eventually landed in Toledo to work as a promotions director for Cumulus Broadcasting. She was then promoted to marketing and promotions manager of all eight Cumulus stations. In 2009, Barhite joined First Solar, handling MIS internal communications and training.

Barhite recently made the choice to leave First Solar to follow her passion for assisting non-profit organizations and is currently the chief operations officer of Zepf Center. She also teaches communications at Owens Community College.

She has been a member of the Junior League of Toledo since 2006 and has served as the vice president of communications, vice president of financial development, and financial development chair of the league. She has served on the Easter Seals Advisory board since 2006 and assists in raising funds for children and elderly with disabilities in northwest Ohio. Barhite serves on the American Red Cross board and is also a member of the Bowling Green State University (BGSU) Telecommunications Alumni board.

She is a member of the United States Tennis Association and is a member of the Toledo Choral Society.

Return to list…

Michael ClementsMichael Clements,
executive vice president / financial services,
Financial Design Group

Nominated by Jim Cummins and Jim Strasser

Michael Clements moved to Toledo after graduating from Ohio University in 1999 and has been actively involved in the financial services industry since. He is executive vice president at Financial Design Group (FDG), a Toledo-based financial services firm. In 2007, he was invited to become the firm’s first equity partner. In 2009, Clements became a managing partner and helped lead FDG to growth in 2010 and 2011.

Clements is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Toledo, served two terms on the board of directors for Toledo School for the Arts, and is a past board member of Harbor Behavioral Healthcare. In 2012, he helped create the FDG Legacy Foundation, a private foundation to help the firm give back to its community.

Clements earned GAMA International’s Diamond International Management Award for his leadership at FDG. He has qualified for Million Dollar Round Table, based upon personal production.

In his free time, Clements enjoys golf, has run in the Glass City Half Marathon, and has exhibited his paintings at the Toledo Museum of Art through the Toledo Area Artists Exhibition. He lives in Sylvania with his wife, Allison, and their three children, Foster, Lilly, and Sophie.

Return to list…

Romules DurantRomules Durant,
assistant superintendent,
Toledo Public Schools

Nominated by Candice Harrison

Romules Durant attended the University of Toledo (UT), where he received three degrees. He is currently the assistant superintendent of Toledo Public Schools (TPS) and is one of the engineers / implementers of the 
Transformation Plan.

In his career, Durant increased State performance in 16 of 17 schools and helped lead the district to a rating of “Continuous Improvement” for three consecutive years. He worked with the Reading Academy to provide summer teaching programs, which achieved a 90% passage rate. Durant also worked with the YMCA and United Way.

Durant was recognized twice with the Jon Binder Heart-Courage Award and was inducted to the Birmingham Hall of Fame as a distinguished citizen, as well as into the Waite Athletic Hall of Fame and Waite Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame. The African-American Legacy Project selected Durant for the Emerging Leader Award and he was also a recipient of the NAACP Freedom Fund Award.

Durant has been involved with the Frederick Douglass Community Association, the Urban Leadership Development Program, the Mayor’s Coalition for Hope, and has been on the review panel for the Community Development Block Grant.

Return to list…

Chase FrancisChase Francis,
northwest Ohio regional liaison
to Governor John R. Kasich,
Office of Governor Kasich

Nominated by Chris Kozak

Chase Francis prides herself in relationships. She is currently the northwest Ohio regional liaison to Governor John Kasich and by managing the communications throughout the region flowing from Columbus, she believes the relationships built by her leadership skills has provided for her professional and personal future.

Francis was presented with the University of Findlay’s Founder’s Daughter Award and was named a University of Findlay Outstanding Scholar. She has been involved with the Business Exchange Group, Cancer Patient Services, Findlay / Hancock County Community Foundation, Hancock Young Republications, and the Alumni Advisory Young Professionals Network.

Francis is also the co-owner of a lawn care company, which helps her appreciate business leadership and hard work.

Return to list…

Alison FryeAlison Frye,
vice president client development,
Signature Bank

Nominated by Ken Robinson

Alison Frye graduated from BGSU in 2000 and joined Huntington National Bank in 2002 as a mortgage lender. She was initially led into the field of banking because of a part-time job as a teller. In 2010, she joined Signature Bank in Toledo and currently focuses on client development with a concentration in cash management.

Frye has created the “Leading in Eleven” series for the Perrysburg Rotary to share 
current leadership practices and she serves on the “Service School” committee at Signature Bank, that coordinates a once-a-month meeting for employees. She also helped create the “Signature Shares,” an employee-led giving program that supports a family at Harbor and a military unit in Afghanistan.

Frye was the vice president and general manager at Huntington Bank after three years of performance in the top 5% of the company. She was also a 2003 graduate of Leadership BG. She is the secretary / treasurer, as well as serving vice president in the past, of the Rotary Club of Perrysburg and serves on the development and human resource committee of Mobile Meals of Toledo.

Frye leads the CederCreek MOMentum, a ministry for moms that serves over 250 moms in northwest Ohio.

She has been married to her husband, Greg, since 2004 and has two children, Abigail and Mackenzie.

Return to list…

Jon GathmanJon Gathman,
executive vice president / senior lending officer,
The State Bank and Trust Company

Nominated by Nichole Wichman

Jon Gathman was born in Defiance, Ohio and graduated from Defiance College in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Finance. He received his Masters of Business Administration in 2002 from BGSU.

Gathman has been with The State Bank and Trust Company for 17 years and has transitioned through a variety of management teams and positions, which led him to be one of the youngest officers in the history of the company. He was the top commercial lending performer for five straight years.

Community involvement is a passion of Gathman’s. He has served as a board member and past president of the Defiance County Improvement Corporation. He was a board member, campaign chairman, and president of the United Way of Defiance County, as well as a board member and president of Junior Achievement of Defiance. He is highly involved with Defiance College, where he is a member of the board of trustees and the president of the alumni executive board.

Gathman is an avid sports fan, notably of Ohio State football and Detroit Tigers baseball. He and his wife Angie have two children, Brooke and Ryan.

Return to list…

Isaac LeeIsaac Lee,
president / CEO,
Defiance Area Chamber of Commerce

Nominated by Cindy Mack

Isaac Lee has lived in Defiance, Ohio his entire life and entered the workforce at 18 as a supervisor at UPS while going to school full-time at the University of Toledo (UT). He graduated with a double major in marketing and human resources in 2006 and proceeded to an MBA from Defiance College in 2009. He teaches for both Northwest State Community College and Defiance College as an adjunct faculty member.

Lee is currently the president / CEO at the Defiance Area Chamber of Commerce. He has brought back the Defiance Area Leadership Program, which played a vital role in developing future community leaders, as well as the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast Event.

Lee has been involved with the LiveSmart Leadership Committee, Downtown Development and Visitor’s Bureau board, Defiance County Economic Development board, Junior Achievement board, Northwest State 
Community College Foundation board, and the Defiance Rotary.

Lee and his wife, Kristen, have three children, Addison, Madelyn, and Jackson.

Return to list…

Patrice McClellanPatrice McClellan,
director of the
Master of Organizational Leadership Program,
Lourdes University

Nominated by Dr. Deborah Schwartz and Dr. Leroy Butler

Patrice McClellan always knew she wanted to be a teacher, though coming from a family of teachers and social workers, she was encouraged to seek a higher-paying career. After six years of banking, she decided to attend graduate school and discovered a program that combined 
business with her love of teaching. She is currently the director of the Master of Organizational Leadership Program at Lourdes University.

In April 2012, McClellan was appointed to chair of the Institutional Research Board at Lourdes University, a role that oversees research protocols from faculty and students for the campus community. She secured an off-site cohort for the Master of Organizational Leadership degree offered to eligible Owens Community College employees beginning in the fall of 2012. She was appointed to the Lourdes University Transition Task Force as well as the Lourdes University Diversity Committee.

McClellan received the Urban All-American Achievement Award in 2010 and was the Miami University 2007-2009 Barbara L. Jackson Scholar. She has been an invited reviewer for American Educational Research Association annual meetings and is a manuscript reviewer for the Journal of Research on Leadership Education.

She is a board member of the Frederick Douglass Community Association and a member of the United Way African American Initiative Council. McClellan is a member and the foundation chair of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

McClellan enjoys spending time with her daughter, who is the inspiration for her success.

Return to list…

Dan McQuillenDan McQuillen,
assistant manager,
The Danberry Co., Realtors

Nominated by Jeff Green

Dan McQuillen was born and raised in Toledo, attending high school at St. John’s Jesuit. He has a Bachelors degree in finance from UT. After college, he received his real estate license and passed his brokers exam in 2006 and in 2007 he opened a real estate company, Ridge Stone Realty. There, he created five jobs for area real estate professionals. In 2011, McQuillen decided to take a management position at The Danberry Co. Realtors, bringing with him all of his agents. Currently, he is responsible for an office of 70 agents.

In 2011, McQuillen’s office was the third most productive office in northwest Ohio with almost $90 million in sales volume.

McQuillen has been elected to the Toledo Board of Realtors (TBR) board of directors, which represents over 1,200 members. He was appointed to the Ohio Association of Realtors (OAR) as state director.

In the community, McQuillen serves on the UT Finance Department Advisory board, the Leadership Toledo board of directors, and has been involved with The Danberry Treasure Chest, which is an emergency assistance fund for families

In his spare time, McQuillen enjoys co-ed softball, flag football, basketball, staying fit, and chasing his kids (Thomas and John) around the house. He has been married to his high school sweetheart for eight years.

Return to list…

Lydia MihalikLydia Mihalik,
City of Findlay

Nominated by Kolleen Kirk

Lydia Mihalik arrived at the University of Findlay as a freshman in 1998, traveling from Syracuse, Indiana. She had the opportunity to complete the JoAnn Davidson Leadership Institute, based out of Columbus, Ohio, from fall 2009 through summer 2010. She has been a public servant to the citizens of Findlay and Hancock County for ten years and is currently the Mayor of the City of Findlay.

Mihalik is a Hancock County Government Leadership Graduate and is a member of the Hancock County Republication Party Central Committee. In 2011, she was the University of Findlay Economic Summit Presenter and in 2012 was recognized for honorary designation by the Hancock County First Responders. She has also been honored with the University of Findlay Old Main Award for alumni under 35.

In the community, Mihalik is involved with the United Way, Handbags that Help, Hancock County Agency on Aging, Zonta Club of Findlay, City of Findlay Leaf-Relief, and was a volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Findlay from 2009-2011.

Mihalik and her husband, Drew, have been married nine years and have two children, Joseph and Elizabeth.

Return to list…

Eugenio Mollo, Jr.Eugenio Mollo, Jr.,
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality

Nominated by Patricia J. Robb

Eugenio Mollo, Jr. received a bachelor degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a law degree from the University of Iowa. He came to Fremont, Ohio in 2004 for a summer law clerk position with LAWO’s Migrant Farmworker Program and then returned in 2006 to launch a post-graduate fellowship project developed to focus on immigrant needs in northwest Ohio.

Mollo was an Equal Justice Works Fellow from 2006-2008 and co-founder and co-chairperson of the Ohio Poverty Law Center Immigrant Advocacy Task force from 2007-present.

Mollo was recently awarded with the ABLE Champion of Justice Award as well as the ABLE Award and ABLE “Shining Star” Award in both 2008 and 2009. He is the chair or co-chair of the board of directors of EqualityToledo, a local LGBT education and advocacy organization. He was also a part of the planning committee for the Toledo Pride Foundation and Farmworker Appreciation Day.

Return to list…

Melissa NoeMelissa Noe,
treasury management officer,
Fifth Third Bank

Nominated by Marsha Manahan

Melissa Noe was born and raised in Toledo and attended St. Ursula Academy. She graduated from Baldwin Wallace College, majoring in music performance (opera) with a minor in business management. Her professional career began as a part-time bank teller and within three years she was promoted to branch manager.

In 2010, Noe was appointed the financial center manager of Fifth Third Bank’s northwest Ohio headquarters in downtown Toledo. Within one year of managing that office, it was ranked the number one out of 1,300 banking centers. She is currently the treasury management officer for Fifth Third, where she serves and assists small business clients in the management of their funds.

Noe is a Certified Small Business Banker by the American Banker Association and was honored with the Exceptional One Bank Quarterback Award in 2011.

Noe is a member of the Rotary Club of Toledo and was named co-chair of the club’s membership retention and member engagement committee for 2012-2013. She is involved with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, United Way, Junior Achievement, and the Toledo Children’s Hospital Fundraising Committee. Noe has also served as the 2012 chairman of The Salvation Army’s 125th anniversary event, assisting in raising over $25,000. She was 2012 co-chair of the Silent Auction for Itza Ball, raising over $15,000.

In her spare time, Noe enjoys spending time with her family and dog, Maizy.

Return to list…

Renee PalaciosRenee Palacios,
executive director,
Family House

Nominated by Tom Hopkins

Renee Palacios was born in Toledo and raised in Berkey, Ohio. The curiosity of leaving the suburbs and her passion for people led her to professional experiences, which evolved her enjoyment for justice and equality. She received a BA in Behavioral Sciences from UT, followed by an MLS degree focused on criminal justice and political science. In five years, she led the Exchange Club center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center, and currently runs the Family House homeless shelter.

Palacios created the Parent Aide Mentor program at the Exchange Club Center, which was an Ohio Non-Profit Excellence Award finalist. In one year, the program provided over 300 mothers, ages 12-18, with parenting services.

Currently, Palacios serves as vice president to the Toledo Area Alliance to End Homelessness (TAAEH), which leads over 25 homeless service providers toward local strategic directions based on federal directives. She has been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, EPIC Toledo, the Agency Executive Director Association, the Employer’s Association, the Women’s Entrepreneurial Network, and the Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force.

Palacios has been able to love, serve, and advocate for her son, Devin, who was diagnosed with Autism as an infant.

Return to list…

Sarah PawlickiSarah Pawlicki,
Eastman & Smith, Ltd.

Nominated by Fadi Nahhas

Sarah Pawlicki was born and raised in Toledo. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Miami University in diplomacy and foreign affairs with a minor in economics in just three and a half years, including a semester of studying abroad. After graduation, she was hired as the foreign exchange manager of MidAm Bank and was responsible for the bank’s foreign currency trading. After five years, Pawlicki decided to attend the UT College of Law evening program while working full-time. She graduated in the top 10% of her class.

She is currently a member at Eastman & Smith, Ltd., elected in 2011. Pawlicki is also the founding member and chair of the Women of Eastman & Smith, Ltd. (WES), the firm’s women’s initiative. She has been a member of the board of directors of Directions Credit Union since 2010 and currently serves as the board secretary and chair of the Credit and Interest Rate Risk Committee.

Pawlicki was selected as a 2012 Ohio Rising Star as recognized by Super Lawyers. She is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources by the Human Resources Certification Institute since 2009.

Pawlicki and her husband, Ron, delayed starting a family so she could attend law school. Currently, they have two children, Nicklas and Elizabeth.

Return to list…

Katherine RofkarKatherine Rofkar,

Nominated by Melissa Noe and Angela Crosby

After being asked to teach as a graduate assistant for four Dale Carnegie courses, Katherine Rofkar eventually became a school administrator for Mason Consolidated Schools at 24 with responsibilities including technology, athletics, summer school, and being the director of curriculum. With school support, she implemented and designed the curriculum for the first one-to-one laptop initiative in Monroe County, Michigan for 350 middle school students. Overall MEAP scores increased by 30% after the first year.

Rofkar is currently the CEO of Nemsys. She has been involved with The Salvation Army, Bridging the Gap, Social Rotary Club of Toledo, Itza Ball committee and silent auction, and EPIC Toledo.

Rofkar is a proud Toledoan. In her personal time, she supports local ventures such as the Arts Commission, local businesses, and non-profits. She loves to cook and quilt and has a mission to be a great parent and role model for her daughter.

Return to list…

Lorin SonnenbergLorin Sonnenberg,
Sonny Smiles Foundation

Nominated by Mike Clements

Lorin Sonnenberg grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio and attended BGSU, receiving a bachelor degree in communications. Her career began working for the Hyatt in Chicago, Illinois, and continued with the Crowne Plaza in Toledo. Several years later, she pursued a career in education. After earning a Master of Education degree, she began teaching at the Toledo School for the Arts. After eight years of teaching, Sonnenberg resigned to be a stay-at-home mother to support her husband’s career. Two days later, her husband was killed in an F-16 in Iraq. Several months later, she began the Sonny Smiles Foundation to support other families in similar situations.

The foundation provides care kits and seminars to families across the country. The care kit is an organizational tool designed to provide loved ones with everything they need to carry out a person’s last wishes and personal details. Sonnenberg has given multiple speeches across the state to military personnel, church groups, and other organizations.

Sonnenberg was chosen as the keynote speaker for the 2011 Memorial Day Ceremony with Governor Kasich in Columbus. She was recognized by Adjutant General Gregory Wayt for her contribution to the Ohio National Guard in support of family readiness and was chosen as a guest speaker for the Ohio National Guard Family Readiness Conference from 2008-2011.

In her spare time, Sonnenberg is a parent volunteer at Anthony Wayne Local Schools and tutors students in reading and writing weekly.

Return to list…

Carrie SponsellerCarrie Sponseller,
Eastman & Smith, Ltd.

Nominated by Dr. Wendy Ziems-Mueller

Carrie Sponseller was born in Bowling Green, Ohio, but spent most of her childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She returned to northwest Ohio in 1994 to attend BGSU where she graduated with honors with degrees in 
psychology and women’s studies. She then attended the UT College of Law, graduating with honors in 2001. She has spent her entire career with Eastman & Smith, Ltd., currently serving as a member for the firm.

Sponseller was recognized by the Ohio State Bar Foundation with the 2012 Community Service Award for Attorneys 40 and Under for her work with Adelante, Inc. and other local charitable associations. She was also named a Rising Star in the area of labor and employment law in Super Lawyers magazine in 2009 and 2012. In 2010, she was honored to become one of only a handful of lawyers in northwest Ohio to achieve certification by the Ohio State Bar Association as a Labor and Employment Law specialist.

Sponseller has served on the board of Adelante, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting Latino and community issues. She chaired Eastman & Smith’s United Way campaign for the last two years, increasing both participation and overall contributions.

In her spare time, Sponseller enjoys spending time with her family, including step-children Michael and Mitchell as well as Grant and Lily. She lives with her family in Holland, Ohio.

Return to list…

Blake UnderwoodBlake Underwood,
assistant director for the
Dallas Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership,

Nominated by Angela Crosby and Kolleen Kirk

Blake Underwood was born in Bowling Green, Ohio as the first baby born in Wood County that year. After receiving an undergraduate degree from BGSU in economics and multiple graduate degrees, he went on to run a long-time family business in Bowling Green, fueling his passion for entrepreneurship. He is currently the leader of the Entrepreneurship Program at BGSU, where he serves as the advisor for over 250 students.

Underwood is highly involved in the Toledo Young Professionals Club and has been involved in the creation of over 30 start-up ventures in the region since 2010. He is also active in the Toledo, Bowling Green, and Findlay economic development communities and is a strong supporter of the MS society.

Previously, Underwood has been involved in the Greater Downtown Business Partnership and the BGSU Carillion Society. He is currently involved in EPIC Toledo, North Central Campus for Emerging Technologies (NCC-ET), and the Toledo Club, where he serves on the social committee. He is a new father to Ellie Eileen, who, along with her mother Katie, keeps him on his toes.

Return to list…

Laurie WatsonLaurie Watson,
Anspach Law

Nominated by Amy Miller, Adam Hintz, and Terry Maxx

Laurie Watson attended Sylvania Schools through eighth grade and attended Central Catholic High School. She earned a BS in biology and psychology from BGSU in 1997, summa cum laude, and worked as a legal assistant for two years prior to enrolling in law school. She practiced at Eastman & Smith for nine years before starting her own firm in August 2011 with a small office in Maumee.

Shortly thereafter, Watson was recruited by Anspach Law to transition the firm’s estate planning practice and grow the firm’s practice in the Toledo and western New York markets.

In 2010, she was certified as a specialist in estate planning, trust, and probate by the Ohio State Bar Association.

Watson is a member of the board of directors of Swan Creek Retirement Village. She is also the current president-elect of the Toledo Estate Planning Council and was a past board member of the Toledo Area Planned Giving Council.

She resides in Springfield Township and has two sons, ages 10 and seven.

Return to list…

Jeffrey WilliamsJeffrey Williams,
director of sales and development,
Temperance Distilling Co.

Nominated by Chris Kozak

Jeffrey Williams earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at UT and shortly after began his career as a founder of Reinhart Asset Management, LLC. After five successful years and having moved on to other career paths, he sold his equity stake to his partner. While working for Savage Consulting, he worked with a client, Temperance Distilling, and moved on to work for the firm. In his second year, he was able to assist the company with reaching its first profitable year. Williams is currently the director of sales and development.

He has been involved with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, EPIC Toledo, the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP), and the Greater Downtown Business Partnership. He has volunteered and/or raised funds for the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, MS Bike to the Bay, Boys and Girls Club, The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, and Future of Toledo Initiative.

In his spare time, Williams trains and competes in triathlons. He also enjoys squash, hiking, kayaking, and cycling. He currently resides in Maumee with his wife, Alexandria.

Return to list…


Return to Index...