The 7 Rivers Region is known for its majestic bluffs, rivers and streams that make it a wonderful place to live and work, but we would be much less without our outstanding citizens.
It’s our pleasure to introduce some of those men and women in the annual 7 Rivers Alliance Rising Stars Under 40 profiles. The 7 Rivers Alliance and River Valley Media Group took nominations from throughout the region and have selected these winners, who were recognized in a reception Oct. 19 at the La Crescent Event Center.
The work, efforts and examples set by these people are an inspiration for us all.
The 7 Rivers Alliance – a regional economic development group – sought nominations from throughout the region from young men and women who are making a difference. This year we have selected 25 recipients from three states.
“Selecting winners from all of the outstanding nominations is not an easy task – everyone nominated clearly makes a difference in their community,” Hardie said. “These are men and women in our region whose endeavors enrich our lives and raise the bar for all of us.”
Main Street Lansing, Lansing
Many of our recipients tonight are invested in their community because they know how crucial it is for long-term success. Andrew’s work in helping Lansing to become an Iowa Great Place for 2023 – one of only three communities to receive that designation – will open many future funding and planning opportunities for Lansing.
Andrew – who was recently named the executive director of Main Street Lansing – also is a teacher at the Eastern Allamakee Community School District and the owner of Walking Space, a business that hosts long-distance walking retreats. He also helped the 2022 Lansing RAGBRAI raise more than $100,000 for local nonprofits.
Andrew says he sees potential in rural America. “These communities have to be creative, resilient and gritty in their efforts to stay vibrant,” he said.
His advice: “If not you, then who? Nobody is going to know your idea or your passion more than you.”
Andrew Boddicker, Lansing
Dynamic Performance and Therapy, La Crosse
Michael takes the concept of long distance walking to the next level – long distance running. A physical therapist and owner of Climb Above Endurance Coaching, Michael recently finished the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance run, one of 48 marathon distance races or more that he has completed.
Michael helps organize and serve on local running clubs and also helps with volunteer projects like the Bluffland Traverse, a 53-mile route connecting the northern and southern ends of La Crosse County. He didn’t just map the route, he ran it.
Michael’s participation, he says, is to not only help others achieve but to help provide opportunities for others.
“I look up to many leaders in our community and in turn, hope to inspire future leaders to find a way to share their talents to help others,” Michael says. “Strong communities are built by positive role models who use their passions to benefit others around them.
Michael Borst, La Crosse
Choral Tracks, Onalaska
Our next recipient is a native who moved back home from San Francisco to raise his family and is leaving his mark on the community in many different ways.
Since returning home, Matthew – who has a degree in vocal music – has turned a former church into the Capella Performing Arts Center, purchased and restored a building across the street for a bed and breakfast and is renovating another historic building at 5th and Cass.
Along with being a real estate investor, Matthew is part of a performing quartet and created a virtual business called Choral Tracks that has clients from all over the world and generates more than $2 million in annual revenue.
Matthew is very active in the local arts scenes, serving on many boards, and says that arts shaped his life. He wants the arts accessible to all. “Music is an important outlet for many kids, and we need to try to be as financially inclusive as possible for families,” he said.
Some of his advice for success? “Fear is the number one roadblock to success,” he said. “Stop caring what others think of you and proceed with maximum confidence.”
Matthew Curtis, Onalaska
Mayo Clinic Health System, La Crosse
The accolades for our next recipient say it all. Michelle, says a colleague, “ is an outstanding role model, a phenomenal CRNA, a patient advocate, a student advocate, and an excellent teacher. She is the best and brightest we have to offer in our organization and exemplifies teamwork, integrity, compassion, and dedication to patient care for the next generation of anesthesia providers.”
Michelle – a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist with Mayo Clinic Health System – led the launch of two anesthesia clinical sites in Madison and Mankato in 2021. These clinical experiences will help train and benefit the next generation of anesthesia providers.
Michelle also enriches her community and those abroad, having served or volunteered with the Coulee Region Humane Society, Congregational preschool, Salvation Army, Rotary Lights, the La Crosse Area YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club of Greater La Crosse. She also has helped on medical mission trips to Guatemala.
Michelle says hard work and community involvement were instilled in her by family and others as she grew up. She hopes to provide the same role model for her children. “It is my hope for them to one day find a passion for serving those around them,” she said.
Michelle also credits those around her.
“I have been inspired and pushed, supported and challenged, empowered and tested, by people whom I am incredibly grateful for,” Michelle said.
Michelle Dahl, La Crosse
Marine Credit Union, La Crescent
Home ownership is a dream that most enjoy, but there are barriers that can prevent others from achieving that.
Quinn – the executive director of the Marine Credit Union Foundation (MCU Foundation) – leads a team that not only helps people achieve home ownership through the Finding HOME program but also helps with other financial challenges in the community.
Quinn is also an advocate for equity, participating in the first cohort of the Racial Economic Equity Incubator to help design solutions to address decades of disinvestment from Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.
Quinn also has helped coordinate over a dozen volunteer events in the last few years, including Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which built 106 beds for children who don’t have one.
She credits her team and for creating an environment where feedback is encouraged to implement change. “Because we deeply trust ourselves and each other, we have an incredibly energized, creative, innovative, motivated team that is a joy to be a part of” Quinn says.
Her advice to others? “When you love, trust, and give grace to yourself, almost nothing can rattle you.”
Quinn Devlin, La Crescent
Russell & Associates CPA & Advisors, Winona
A nomination for Leah summarizes her commitment to the Winona community. “Communities move forward when the individuals who live there take a vested interest in helping those outside their direct circles. Simply put, the well-being of the individual is intrinsically tied to the well-being of others, including the larger community.”
That’s Leah, an accounting specialist at Russell & Associates CPA & Advisors, where she provides payroll and accounts payable services to dozens of companies in the Winona area.
Leah is also deeply involved in community and volunteer organizations like Ready Set School, Winona Area Toys for Kids, Habitat for Humanity and Winona Steamboat Days Organization, to name a few.
This past June, Leah helped plan a fundraising event for Habitat for Humanity in Winona County which brought together more than 300 people and raised more than $84,000 for affordable housing in Winona County.
Leah says volunteerism and community service runs deep in her family, so when she has the opportunity to give back, she jumps at the chance.
Her advice to others? “Get involved,” she says. “Don’t wait for someone to ask you. Go find causes and organizations that interest you and fuel your passion for helping others.”
Leah Dold, Winona
Johns Flaherty & Collins S.C., La Crosse
Sometimes we are reluctant to follow in our parent’s professional footsteps for fear that we will never fill their shoes.
Don’t tell that to Katelyn – whose father is an attorney and a state representative and whose mother is a La Crosse County Circuit Judge. Not only is Katelyn an accomplished attorney specializing in financial planning and trusts, but she has already become a partner at the age of 30 at the firm of Johns, Flaherty & Collins.
Katelyn said she is proud of becoming a partner, but also is heavily involved in community and volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Coulee Region Humane Society, La Crosse Community Foundation Impact, Women’s Fund Development Committee Member and Rotary After Hours.
Katelyn advises others to not be afraid to step outside their comfort zone. She is following the model set by her parents by dedicating time and talents to the programs and organizations that are making a positive difference in the La Crosse area.
“I hope to make them proud through my continued commitment to service above self,” Katelyn says of her parents.
Katelyn Doyle, La Crosse
Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, Winona
The nomination for Michael says it all: “In a world that often finds solace in the limelight, there are unsung heroes who silently, persistently, and passionately toil away to make the world around them a better place. Michael Hanratty is one such individual deserving of the “2023 Rising Star under 40” recognition.”
The eloquence is backed up by Michael’s work as the Adult Advocacy Program Director for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, where he oversees caseworkers helping clients navigate the challenges of guardian and conservatorship services.
“We are fortunate to serve this population, who give us the opportunity to advocate, protect, and learn from their experiences,” Michael says.
His commitment also extends to the community, where he is serving his second term on the board of Winona Area Public Schools. He is also as an elected delegate to the Minnesota School Board Association’s Delegate Assembly,
If you asked Michael, he would say that’s simply being able to provide service. He says being an Eagle Scout, Army National Guard veteran and an elected official puts him in a position to serve others.
His advice to others? “My best advice is to never stop learning. When things do not go your way, learn what you can do better next time.”
Michael Hanratty, Winona
Northwestern Mutual, Ettrick
Hilary is an outstanding example of a woman who combines her professional life and her personal experiences into creating a better community.
Hilary is a certified financial planner for Northwestern Mutual whose focus is working with young families to create long-term financial strategies. She also helps empower women to play an active role in their household finances.
The mother of a special needs child, Hilary has become an advocate for inclusivity and bringing awareness regarding CMV (a virus she contracted while pregnant that resulted in impacts to baby), to moms and the general public.
“It’s always been important to me to help pave the way for other women, especially moms,” Hillary says. She is an active volunteer at church because she wants a strong parish for many years to come.
HIlary says it’s important to remember that we are all leaders – even if we don’t think we are. “Lead by example, both in work ethic and how you treat others,” she said.
Hilary Hoff, Ettrick
Su Casa Salon, La Crosse
Opening a business during a global pandemic would challenge any entrepreneur, but that’s exactly what Karina did when she started Su Casa Salon & Bridal Suite in 2020, the first gender affirming salon in La Crosse..
She has expanded her staff and services since then, connecting with her community by offering a safe space for LGBTQ+ clients and people of color. She is an advocate for equity and self-empowerment and leads by example. She also supports other local artists and business owners by displaying their artwork or promoting their businesses at her salon.
Karina said her inspiration was to create a safe place for her clients to come and express their selfcare and allowing stylists to find creative freedom.
“Uplifting people is a passion,” she says.
Her advice to others? “Keep learning how to better your career path, find mentors you trust, take the extra work and most important..experience is everything!”
Karina Joholski, La Crosse
Winona Parks and Rec.
Part of Alison’s title with the city of Winona is recreation coordinator, but she has created a community of responsibility, ownership, caring and empathy at the East Recreation Center.
Alison has created and teaches a program called E.P.I.C. Youth, which stands for empowered, principled, imaginative and confident – with the goal of empowering local Winona youth to become better individuals and community members. She said there was a lack of opportunities for youth to explore feelings, emotions and communication.
Alison is chair of the Winona Community Education Advisory Committee and works with the Race and Equity Advisory Committee with the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association. She also is the Aquatics coordinator for the Bob Welch Aquatic Center in Winona, overseeing a staff of 60 and running one of the best aquatic facilities in the area.
For Alison, it’s all about being able to watch youth mature, find their voice and advocate for themselves. “To know that I have played a role (both small and big) in some of that development is truly unexplainable,” she says.
Her advice? “You will make mistakes in your leadership journey, but admitting your mistakes and growing from your mistakes will make you a stronger leader.”
Alison Mayer, Goodview
Embark Maple, Viroqua
How does one describe Brandie’s impact on the Viroqua community? Her nominator says: “Brandie’s dedication to community building through music, coupled with her exceptional talents in design, photography, and her incredibly generous spirit, make her an outstanding candidate for this recognition.
Brandy, who works in marketing and creative at Embark Maple, helps to foster community connections and cultural celebration through music such as the Music in the Parks and Live in Viroqua music series. She also is launching the Ocooch Mountain Club, a local nonprofit dedicated to outdoor education and training.
“The thing that keeps me motivated is seeing the community show up week after week,” Brandie says. “ It’s a pretty amazing thing to be a part of an active community that you love, you don’t get that in a lot of other places. “
“Start with what you love,” she says. “Find your passion first, and branch off from there.”
Brandie Myhre, Viroqua
La Crosse County
Many of us were challenged by our parents, which helped shape our goals and aspirations. When Lanae was a teenager, she earned a CDL to prove to her dad she could do it and slipped it into a Father’s Day card.
She put the license to work when she helped with the family’s trucking business while studying accounting at UW-La Crosse.
Today Lanae is the finance director for La Crosse County and has helped the county achieve the highest recognition of its financial statements for excellence under the Governmental Finance Officers Association, of which she is a member. The county also has a bond rating of Aa1 from Moody’s Investor Service, with only five counties ranking higher in the state. She is responsible for supervising a $200 million annual budget.
But Lanae finds time to stay engaged with her church, school and attends many local events.
Leadership is a role she has come to embrace. “Over time,” she said, “ I realized myself how much I enjoyed leading others to drive results and make an impact.”
And yes, she plans to renew her CDL later this year.
Lanae Nickelotti, La Crosse
Coldwell Banker River Valley, Black River Falls
Helping to improve the community and to enrich the lives of those around him is how the nominator for Jordan described him.
A Realtor for Coldwell Banker River Valley, Jordan says he feels proud when he can help people who trust him with one of the biggest decisions of their lives in buying property.
But he has been inspired by seeing others around him give back to the community which has prompted him to be involved in the Black River Area Chamber of Commerce, the Black River Falls Educational Enrichment Fund and helping to raise funds for the Black River Falls All Abilities Park, an all-inclusive park nearing opening.
Jordan combined his passion for golf and helping kids with helping launch the Swings for Students Golf Tournament Fundraiser which raises money for the School District of Black River Falls’ Angel Fund to help offset the student lunch debt account.
“I feel it is important to do what I can … so that my kids and the generations younger than me can benefit the same way that I did,” Jordan says.
Jordan Nortman, Black River Falls
University of Wisconsin La Crosse
A common theme with our recipients tonight is connecting work with community service. That is certainly the case with Sam, the associate director of admissions at UW-La Crosse.
Sam is no stranger to hard work – he grew up on a farm in Monroe County – which is clearly demonstrated in his work and community involvement. Many of the students he recruits to UW-L end up staying in the community.
Sam coordinates the Vanguard organization at UW-L, students that volunteer their time to represent the UWL student body during campus tours and visit programs while assisting the Admissions Office in recruiting students.
Outside of UW-L, Sam is involved with Rotary Lights, the La Crosse Marathon, Juneteenth, and along with his wife, Megan, volunteer as members of the Grenadier Corp for Oktoberfest USA.
‘We have loved getting more connected to the community and seeing the passion that so many have for this area,” Sam says.
His inspiration is simple. ”I do want to leave things better than I found it,” Sam says. “ I hope to be doing that for UW-La Crosse and the students and staff I work with as well as the community of the La Crosse area.”
Sam Pierce, Holmen
GoMacro, La Crosse
The story of GoMacro – a company in Viola that started in 2004 when Amelia Kirchoff created a plant-based bar to help battle cancer that ended up becoming a nationwide product – would not be the same with Tony.
Tony, the senior vice president of operations at GoMacro, has helped guide the company for the past 12 years and bring economic vitality to the small village of Viola. He also serves as a mentor and coach to others and serves on the Wisconsin Organic Advisory Council, because, as Tony says “I believe that organic agriculture contributes significantly to the livelihoods of farmers, is good for our soil and water, and fuels economic growth in Wisconsin.”
Tony also is committed to sustainability and championed the installation of 844 solar panels at GoMacro’s manufacturing headquarters.
Tony says he enjoys building and creating, but said success is sometimes the results of many small choices. “Whether it’s pushing the snooze button one more time, or putting that important email off until tomorrow, or sending a thank you note – the small choices add up to how you are perceived by the people around you,” he said.
Tony Saarem, La Crosse
The Parenting Place, La Crosse
Providing enough quality childcare has been a steep challenge the past few years, impacting the lives of families from across the region.
With two young children of her own, Michelle – the childcare coordinator for the city of La Crosse – knows first hand that challenge, which helped her succeed in her role through the Parenting Place. Michelle helped design and distribute 27 recruitment and retention stipends valued at $167,000 for existing providers in the city of La Crosse.
One area center that had been short of staff for three years was able to hire three teachers with the help of the grant.
“Seeing the results the stipends provided and hearing the success stories and the gratitude from the provider community has affirmed the work I did and has motivated me to continue moving forward,” Michelle said.
Designing the grant pushed Michelle, who says that new tasks and challenges that seem impossible to accomplish will come together one step at a time.
“Soon enough all those small pieces will comprise together and suddenly you have reached the unobtainable,” she says.
Michelle Sampson, La Crosse
McIntosh Memorial Library, Viroqua
If you believe that libraries are simply places that check out books, then listen to the story of Laci.
Laci – the youth services director at McIntosh Memorial Library in Viroqua – has brought new energy since joining the staff in 2021 through kindness, creativity, and innovation.
Laci created an original yearlong series called “Creating Community Beyond Biases: Library Resources,” that featured a monthly program that highlights a heritage, history, or culture through speakers and activities. That led to a partnership with the Consulate of Mexico in Milwaukee and The Mexican Folk Art Collective to create immersive bilingual art-based programs and established the Driftless Region’s Dia de los Muertos Celebration, now in its third year.
All of this and much more – such as the creation of a library 4H club – was instrumental to the McIntosh Memorial Library being named the Wisconsin LIbrary Association Library of the Year in 2022.
For Laci – who grew up in Viroqua – it’s a way to bring diversity, equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging back to the community.
“Protect the vulnerable from acts of injustice, be charitable often, and behave as though your words and actions define your life and legacy, because they do,” Laci says.
Laci Sheldon, Viroqua
Here is one sentence that tells you about Monica. “I don’t know how Monica has the time to do everything, but she makes it look easy,” her nominator said.
Monica is the regional stewardship manager for Celanes and is responsible for implementing and maintaining safety programming for Celanese’s manufacturing sites. Under her guidance the manufacturing site in Winona has gone 12 years – 2 million hours – without an OSHA recordable incident or a release to the environment.
She serves with the Celanese Foundation and other community groups like Winona Area Toys for Kids, Box of Balloons, and Habitat for Humanity Serving Winona County. Monica says some of the desire stems from having a son with autism and wanting to see children with special needs have equal opportunities.
It also comes from growing up in a farm family and her mother instilling in Monica the importance of service. “There was a time in my life when I was the beneficiary of others’ benevolence and one of these people told me “To whom much is given, much is expected”. This has had a profound impact on life,” Monica says.
As her nominator says, “Monica recognizes that in order to make Winona a great place to live, we have to work towards making it a place where everyone can thrive.”
Monica Siegfried, Winona
Hannah Skibba Amundson
La Crosse Oktoberfest
To have a community event like La Crosse Oktoberfest thrive for more than 62 years, you need a succession of people committed to its success.
Hannah is one of the latest to accept that baton and keep the event strong. As the marketing and event manager for La Crosse Festivals Inc., her job includes planning the festival, supporting the board of directors and the royal family, including Past Fest Masters, Mrs. Oktoberfest, Parade Marshalls, Special Fester, Miss La Crosse Oktoberfest, and several Grenadier couples.
But she also finds time to volunteer for other community events like the Women’s Fund of La Crosse, La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce and the La Crosse Jaycees.
Hannah is a UW-L graduate who says she has felt a strong pull to get involved in the community since returning.
“I’ve also been really fortunate throughout my life, and I feel strongly about showing gratitude through action,” she says. “I’ve been inspired by my parents, mentors, and colleagues to continue to make time for volunteerism and community.”
Her advice is to network with others and you will find the opportunity to make a difference.
Hanna Skibba Amundson, Onalaska
Badger Breaks, La Crosse
Sometimes we pursue our dream regardless of the challenges and realize that it can come true.
That’s the case with Kyle, a La Crosse Logan and Western Technical College graduate who started a sports card business in his basement in 2017 and has seen it grow into a multi-million dollar operation with 10 employees at a physical location at Badger Sports Shop and an online store with Badger Breaks.
Kyle is proud of his accomplishment but appreciates the sacrifices his family has made. He also is giving back to the community through sponsorships at the Boys and Girls Club, Boy Scouts, The Good Fight and Big Brothers Big Sisters, along with supporting local schools.
That community support is unwavering, Kyle says, because he believes that empowering youth is fundamental to the growth and prosperity of the community.
His advice: “Don’t be afraid of doing something different or taking that leap in whatever you’re doing,” he says. “Always innovate and put the work in.”
Kyle Stalsberg, Onalaska
La Crosse Area YMCA
“Anna rarely says no to an opportunity to help others, and spends at least 20 hours a week helping others, outside of her regular work hours.”
Those words from Anna’s nominator describe her community commitment when she is not working as the mental health director at the La Crosse Area Family YMCA, a recent move for her after doing other community social work.
Outside of work, Anna says, “I’m passionate about our children’s future, outdoor recreation, and women’s empowerment so my volunteer time is spent supporting those areas.”
She is chair of the La Crosse School District Parent Group and serves on the District’s Facility Committee. She has been involved in the Outdoor Recreation Alliance for more than 5 years helping with events and is the assistant coach and manages the girl’s program (GRiT) for the La Crosse Area Mountain Bike Team.
Her community commitment comes from her family and being shown the value and benefits of that engagement. “I knew I wanted to be connected and help the city I loved so dearly grow and strive,” Anna said about moving back to La Crosse.
Anna Stindt, La Crosse
Jack Taylor Media, Black River Falls
Jack is the holder of the national collegiate single game scoring record in basketball when he scored 138 points in 2012 while playing for Grinnell College.
But today his passion is being a proud booster and supporter of his hometown of Black River Falls through his video production work. Jack says whether it’s his local video podcast, outdoor adventure shows or family vlogs, his goal is to give back to his hometown. His Facebook page has more than 11,000 followers.
Jack is involved with the Black River Area Chamber of Commerce and is trustee for the Black River Falls Area Foundation and was one of the hosts for Discover Wisconsin. He also teaches youth basketball.
Jack says he learned leadership when he was the captain of his high school and college teams and now uses those leadership qualities in his family, career and community.
HIs advice is to give more than you take, give without expectation, work hard and character matters and invest in your family.
“And above all else,” Jack says. “Be kind.”
Jack Taylor, Black River Falls
City of Viroqua, Shelby
All of our recipients possess leadership qualities but few have the opportunity to impact an entire community like Nate, the city administrator for the city of Viroqua.
Since Nate took over in Viroqua in 2019, he has helped the city obtain a $2.6 million grant to help develop a 50-acre business park; led a $3.2 million construction of a new City Hall to replace a 100-year-old structure; built a new police department will help lead an effort to build a new fire department with the help of $5.25 million in federal funds.
Also in the works is the redevelopment of property in the city that will be turned into residential housing, a daycare facility and commercial retail.
Nate says his grandmother and mother were both long-time executive directors of small community nonprofits and he recognizes the value and need for dedicated community leaders and public servants.
His advice: “Be deliberate and active in your own professional development. Self-advocate so that you gain opportunities to grow your knowledge base, skill set, and professional competencies. “
Nate Torres, Shelby
La Crescent Public Library, La Crosse
Jess Witkins took over as the Library Director of the La Crescent Public Library about 18 months ago and has, her nominator says: “led the library out of pandemic restrictions, returning the library to a position as a vibrant, relevant, and vital community resource.”
An avid writer and member of Mississippi Valley Writers Guild, Great River Writes (of which she is a founder), and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Jess also volunteers at Windy Ridge Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center and is an affiliate member and a founder of La Crosse Chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
Her passion for diversity, equity and inclusion issues helped her launch a new library service called Vox Book that features an electronic component that reads the story aloud as the child reads along with music or reading in two languages.
“I feel like we’re the heart space where anyone can step into and feel welcomed and belonging,” Jess says of the library.
Jess says she is mission-driven, but makes people and her team the focus of her leadership.
“So let’s stay listening, stay connected, be willing to try new things, and make it fun as much as possible along the way,” Jess says
Jess Witkins, La Crosse