Forty Under 40 Class of 2016

Class of 2016

Aimee Ahpeatone

Owner, Mosaic Mental Health; partner, Sweet Sixteenth LLC; co-owner Well Beauty Nail Studio

Age: 38

Aimee Ahpeatone is a real estate developer, nail studio owner, consultant and counselor. She owns multiple companies and is a partner in Sweet Sixteenth LLC, which is responsible for much of the development in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District. Her company, Mosaic Mental Health, is owned entirely by women, as is her Plaza District nail salon, Well Beauty Nail Studio.

She is committed to making the world a better place and is pursuing that goal from several directions.

“I’ve spent 10 years of my life committed to working with victims of trauma,” Ahpeatone said. “I have worked mostly with children and teens of physical and sexual assault. I have spent time other countries, helping improve the status of mental health and equality among the sexes. My company advocates for those who have a limited voice by providing mental health services to a variety of disenfranchised folks, including survivors of trauma, children and folks in the LGBTQ community.”

Ahpeatone takes pride in her work in Plaza District because, as she puts it, “I feel like I’m making places for people to intersect and connect with each other. I work hard at keeping opportunities for all kinds of folks to feel comfortable on 16th Street. We are a little community, and my friends at many of the businesses in the Plaza are really committed to trying to keep the gentrification from ruining some of the local relationships we have with the neighbors. I feel pretty good about that.”

Mosaic Mental Health provides counseling for children, adults, couples, families and groups, and services can be provided in the patient’s home, school, office or at Mosaic’s Oklahoma City offices. Ahpeatone and her co-owners and fellow counselors Miranda Bergman and LaDonna White can treat issues like substance abuse, depression, trauma and anxiety.

“I got my ‘hustle’ and work ethic from my mom,” she said. “She is the queen of the hustle, and I learned early on resourcefulness from her.”

Anataya Rucker

Clinical nurse supervisor, Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA)’s Money Follows the Person (MFP)-Living Choice

Age: 31

You could say Anataya Rucker is a firecracker, and you’d almost be right. Rucker offers hope in the face of despair through her work with elderly, physically and mentally disabled people currently living in institutionalized settings, yet hoping to regain some independence. As she meets each patient, someone very special is always in the back of her mind. On the side, she works in her family’s fireworks business, which seems incongruous, but is not necessarily.

“My grandfather is an 86-year-old disabled veteran, and despite health challenges, he still remains in his home with aid from family and home health agencies. The thought of losing more of his independence than he already has is very difficult for him to understand,” Rucker said.

Rucker works as clinical nurse supervisor for Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA)’s Money Follows the Person (MFP)-Living Choice program.

“I love my job. I thoroughly review assessments and medical documentation to identify individuals who can be served on the Living Choice program based on the services we can provide,” she said. “I have the opportunity to work with amazing people at OHCA who seek to provide optimal health care for Oklahomans currently on Medicaid. This program helps transition people from institutionalized settings back into the community.”

In her role as a Snap Crackle Pop Fireworks salesperson, Rucker’s compassion also shines as she shares a story about a woman trying to buy a few fireworks for her four children.

“I swiped the first card for the amount she said and it went through,” she said. “I then swiped the second card and it declined.”

The woman’s face fell as she told her kids to put the items back, but Rucker, sensing the mother’s dismay, immediately gave her the rest of the items with a wish for a happy holiday.

Rucker also is pursuing a dual degree in a family nurse practitioner (FNP) doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program.

“My goals will consist of providing preventive measures for families and maintaining optimal health for those dealing with acute and chronic health issues,” she said, “with the objective of offering services to all mankind, regardless of economic, gender, socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds.”

Ashley E. Garcia Quintana

Chief of operations, Bridges Strategies

Age: 26

Ashley Quintana has a mantra, which she first heard in elementary school in Harlingen, Texas — “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow” — which she relates to in a profound way.

“The past is my teacher; I learn from it. My Latina heritage, my God, my amazing counselors and professors, my parents and my brother and sisters have shaped me,” she said. “The present is a blank canvas, where I paint every day. Today, my life is focused on serving my husband, my son, my extended family, the students that I mentor, the office of 10 that I manage and my church. The future is what I look forward to. In my mind, a successful life is found when you balance the three: past, present and future.”

She’s a fierce businesswoman, and the two-year-old company she co-founded with a partner and a $10,000 investment, Bridges Strategies, is a multicultural success story. The marketing company counts Salazar Roofing & Construction; Michael Brooks-Jimenez P.C.; Frontier City; and White Water Bay among its local clients.

Quintana constantly gives back and serves others for very personal reasons.

“I was born to an immigrant family in Harlingen, Texas. Spanish is my first language; I started learning English in kindergarten in Oklahoma City,” Quintana said. “I am the first in my family to graduate college with an undergraduate and graduate degree. The Latino immigrant community is important to me because of my family background, and I put this passion into action through church and civic service.”

She donates to Oklahoma City Police Athletic League, led the development and execution of a bilingual voter registration campaign and every year, she travels to Mexico with donations for children living in poverty.

“Without a doubt, people are the best investment you can make when it comes to changing the world,” she explained. “People are the only ones that can create lasting changes. It’s about leaving a legacy that the next generation can pick up and take it further than the one before it.”

Aurora Lora

Superintendent, Oklahoma City Public Schools

Age: 39

“When I was a first-year teacher in Houston, I decided that my dream was to become an urban school district superintendent by the age of 40,” she said. “For the last 16 years, I have been very open about the fact that this was my dream and that my career has been devoted to achieving that goal. People thought I was crazy for thinking I could do this by the age of 40, but I never gave up.”

On July 1, it happened.

“I accomplished my greatest life goal when I was named the superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools,” she said. “I am 39 years old.”

It’s without a double a huge achievement, but it’s not the only impressive item on her vitae. She was the subject of a book written by Teach for America, Ms. Lora’s Story. She also founded a school, Tubman Middle School/Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, in 2005 in Portland.

She has traveled the globe and blogged her adventures, which include hang-gliding in Rio de Janeiro, trekking through the jungles of Borneo, swimming with sharks, climbing volcanoes and riding alone in chicken buses across Nicaragua.

Lora holds a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University, another master’s degree in education with principal certification from the University of St. Thomas in Houston and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from University of Texas at Austin.

“So far, my experience as superintendent has been better than I even imagined. I love this city. I love my job. I love the my employees and students and feel so supported by so many community partners who are stepping up to help our school district during difficult budget times,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do in the Oklahoma City Public Schools to make sure every child graduates prepared for success in college and future careers, but I feel like we are on the right track and I believe that in five years, we will be the urban district that every city in this nation is watching.”

Blake Lawrence

Attorney, Hall Estill Attorneys at Law

Age: 30

In a typical day the office, Blake Lawrence’s activities include constant communication with partners and clients, cooperative work on large-scale transactions involving multiple interested parties and representing clients spanning small and medium businesses, indigent people and large financial institutions.

When he’s not at the office, he is devoted to nonprofit work.

<“I have made serving on nonprofit boards a priority and have had the great pleasure to work with some terrific organizations doing fantastic good for the Oklahoma City community. From arts nonprofits to an educational camp for elementary school students, helping others from all walks of life and covering a myriad of different interests has been extremely rewarding,” Lawrence said. “Additionally, with two small children, I try and be the best father I can be and keep up with all of their activities! With some luck, they will grow up wanting to make a difference in their own communities in their own ways.”

His service includes holding board positions with Canterbury Voices (formerly Canterbury Choral Society); Oklahoma Hall of Fame Second Century Board; Freedom School OKC, which operates an intensive reading camp for underprivileged Oklahoma City youth each summer; and YMCA Youth and Government Advisory Board. He also is a member of Leadership Oklahoma City’s Linking Oklahoma City’s Young Adult Leaders (LOYAL) Class VIII.

He attributes a great deal of his success and his approach to life to one man.

“My grandfather grew up in a small rural town in western Arkansas and was the first of his family to go to college. He was a member of the armed services during the Korean War and started a family business with his father and brother,” he said. “He was able to provide for his family in a way that allowed my father to go to college and then provide for me. He was loyal, strong, virtuous and trustworthy. … Among other things that I learned from him, the most important is a saying that his father passed to him, he passed to my father and my father passed to me: ‘You’re as good as any man out there, but no better.”

Bobbie Earles

Executive director, Insight Creative Group

Age: 33

Within her first eight months at Oklahoma City marketing firm Insight Creative Group (ICG), Bobbie Earles quickly worked her way up through a handful of positions including bookkeeper, office assistant, communications director and director of business development before becoming executive director.

“As executive director, I manage all aspects of the operations of ICG on behalf of the ownership team. I am active on all ICG client accounts, responsible for all financial operations and the ‘team captain’ to all employees,” she said. “As executive director, I get to grow our team on a personal level — not only working with someone on being better at what they do from 8 to 5, but on being more purposeful within all sectors of their lives, being more positive and always working with the attitude of serving others and having a big impact, both through our work and who we are as people.”

Earles gratefully counts many mentors among those who have helped her as a career woman and as a person along the way, not least of which are two of ICG co-owners, Rusty Duncan and Doug Farthing.

“ICG’s owners Rusty and Doug have been instrumental in letting me make decisions for the company as well as pushing me to do things outside of my comfort zone,” she said. “They also lead by example when it comes to leading a team with confidence, being trustworthy and letting ideas come from anywhere and not just dictating how things work.”

Part of her confidence comes from the talented creative team at ICG.

“The team at ICG is really complementary of one another,” she explained. “In areas that I am weak, I have a team of directors and senior staff that I completely trust to lead with expertise and do excellent work. I have trusted confidants that tell me when I’m on the right track (or when I’m not!), and we work together on creative solutions for our clients as well as internally at ICG. These people are also some of my closest friends outside of work.”

Brittni Shull

Account director, Koch Communications

Age: 29

In her tenure with Koch Communications, Shull has seen the company double in size, moving from a converted house in Midtown to the entire fifth floor of a Bricktown office building, and that excites her.

“I’ve helped the company grow while mentoring new employees who are experiencing the first steps in their careers,” she said.

Mentoring is important to Shull, thanks in part to the mentors who supported her as she began her transformation from student to professional. She said one in particular, from her days as an intern at OG&E, stands out.

“My supervisor Karen Kurtz quickly became a mentor to my just-blooming PR career,” Shull said. “Karen did more than teach me the intricacies of daily work with an always-positive attitude; she encouraged me to get involved with the city and meet new people aside from my college friends. She introduced me to her colleagues, she invited me to attend fundraising events and she never let our age difference be a factor in developing what has become a real friendship.”

Shull feels similarly about her boss, company founder Kym Koch-Thompson.

“I’ve never met someone who is so respectful, kind, intelligent and encouraging,” Shull said. “Kym has built Koch Communications around her team, asking the staff to create our values and form our culture. She is always eager to hear our ideas and work together to reach solutions, trusting us to find the most effective ways to succeed.”

As Shull’s career progresses, she also takes time to sharpen her skills.

“I’m reading a book called The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies by Chris Malone and Susan Fiske. It’s all about ensuring marketing is human and building relationships will always be valuable. There are plenty of real-world examples and situations analyzed throughout the book, which I love. It’s a loaner from one of my coworkers.”

Volunteer work is important to Shull, who is dedicated to serving Arts Council Oklahoma City. She was a founding member of its Artisans young leadership group, which she became chairperson of in 2015.

“I’ve always been so enthralled with stories 30-plus-year Festival of the Arts volunteers share with me about how far this city has come,” she added.

Bryan Bagby

Director, Paycom service department

Age: 30

Bryan Bagby manages more than 350 employees who make up the Paycom Service Department and attributes a lot of his success as a professional and as a family man to his parents.

“My role models have always been my parents, personally and professionally,” he said. “On the professional side, I’ve always looked up to my father and the impact he’s had on the lives of my siblings and me. He was hired out of college and has worked for the same company for nearly 30 years now, working his way up through hard work and loyalty. He has supported a family of seven and was able to bless me with a college education without the burden of student loans, a goal that I’ve since set for myself to provide my children. I also highly value his loyalty to the company that gave him an opportunity to become what he is and achieve what he’s been able to achieve. That example has impacted me in a way that’s allowed me to see the blessings my company has provided me.”

That’s not to say that the pressure doesn’t get to him sometimes.

“In early 2010, prior to my one-year anniversary with Paycom, our CEO wanted a better understanding of what the day-to-day lives of our payroll specialists looked like,” he said.

Bagby found himself being shadowed and enjoying lots of one-on-one time with the big boss.

“I could have easily folded under the pressure of our CEO spending six straight hours with me,” Bagby said, “but instead, I took it as a learning experience and an opportunity to get to know our founder.” Bagby tends to see opportunities where others might see obstacles. “God provides us opportunities, and our faith in Him allows us to have the courage to succeed in otherwise challenging times,” he said.

Bagby and his wife focus a great deal on making the world a better place, whether through his involvement with his kids’ little league sports or through sponsoring a child to attend camp through Cavett Kids Foundation. The pair also recently founded Bagby Family Foundation, which will create scholarships for Tuttle students looking to attend college.

Chad Hodges

Owner, DNA Designs, Inc.; team manager and founder, DNA Racing and Team Arapahoe Resources; founder and race director, Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic; event director, Wheeler Criterium

Age: 38

Chad Hodges is a man who creates and embraces professional and personal growth, though the line between the two can seem blurred. He created and owns DNA Designs, Inc., a commercial painting business he founded four years ago.

“I employ over 40 dedicated and talented painters and drywall finishers,” Hodges said. “Each day, we have the opportunity to work for amazing general contractors, business owners and residents. As a small business owner, I feel like each day is a significant achievement and look forward to what the future holds.”

His side gigs are where his creative contribution to society takes place. He’s deeply involved in the Oklahoma cycling community. He manages DNA Racing, an Oklahoma City-based cycling team that he helped form in 2009.

“What began as a six-person team focused on racing the local calendar has turned into a 40-person team whose focus is not only on racing, but also on investing in the community through cycling, bicycle advocacy and events,” he said.

Hodges’ elite professional cycling team competes locally, regionally and nationally in Pro Road Tour events. DNA Racing formed another team that he also manages, Oklahoma-based Team Arapahoe Resources, which he has called “the first domestic elite cycling team in Oklahoma history.”

He also is Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic’s founder and race director.
The race celebrated its fifth year in 2016, with 1,200 participants cycling in the criterium-style events and another 200 in the event’s first Gran Fondo (long-distance, recreational, self-paced road cycling) event. Additionally, Hodges is race director for the Wheeler Criterium weeknight riding festival, with weekly rides in spring and summer. Food trucks, spectators, cyclists and now the Wheeler Ferris Wheel combine to give these events a unique Oklahoma City flavor.

If Hodges at 38 could talk with Hodges at 20, he’d offer some sage advice.

“Relationships carry more value than what you have in the bank,” he said. “And lastly, make sure there is a hay bale at every light pole — you’ll thank me for this later.”

Christian C. Cox

Marketing manager, Oklahoma City University; marketing director, Uptown 23rd; owner Modern Influence

Age: 25

Christian Cox’s list of awards is impressive both for its number and its variety. There’s the Chesapeake Presidential Scholar designation at Oklahoma City University, and there’s also the Bob Mills Rebranding Competition winner. His business interests are equally far-ranging. He’s employed by Oklahoma City University, where he works as a marketing manager. He’s also Uptown 23rd’s marketing director. Through his own company, Modern Influence, he provides marketing and social media management for industries including clothing, phone repair and food.

His Oklahoma City University gig involves creating and managing Google, Facebook and LinkedIn campaigns, along with copywriting, script writing, video shoots and advertising campaigns.

“Throughout my time at Oklahoma City University, I’ve made many mentors,” Cox said. “Dean Steven C. Agee was among the first; he saw true potential in me when I hadn’t fully realized it yet. Also from my time at OCU, classmate and friend John Riesenberg is adept at growing his career while being the most grounded person I know. Along with a calmness and clarity in his communication style, he has taught me the value of respecting all people at all levels in life.”

As marketing manager for Uptown 23rd, Cox said he has the opportunity “to work with some of the best and brightest minds in Oklahoma,” and that it’s his privilege to act as Uptown’s voice, help coordinate events and maintain their positive and community-based brand.

“My work with Uptown has been essential to revitalizing the district and promoting its growth,” he added. “We’ve introduced initiatives to foster the well-being of the community, such as new bike racks to promote riding to the district — I ride my bike everywhere! — or the summertime farmers markets to grant people access to fully organic and healthier food options. We are passionate about making Uptown 23rd a place to not only enjoy time with friends and family, but also to feel inspired and motivated to live better lifestyles in our rapidly growing city.”

Corey Horsch

Vice president of investor relations and treasurer, Sonic Corp.

Age: 38

Corey Horsch is a long-term planner with a penchant for investing, which was discovered by a mentor during his internship. He has also enjoyed a career that people twice his age would be right to envy. In the mid-2000s, he was vice president of Credit Suisse; before that, he lived in New York City and worked in the gaming, lodging, beverage and tobacco industries. Stints at Luther King Capital Management in Fort Worth and Surveyor Capital in Dallas followed.

“The most influential role model I’ve had is Steve Purvis, partner and portfolio manager and Luther King Capital Management (LKCM),” Horsch said. “I came to LKCM as a very naïve but eager intern during college. Mr. Purvis identified my undiscovered passion for finance and investing. He cultivated it by involving me in his day-to-day process. I learned the most in our informal conversations where he would always ask what I thought the most important part of a recent meeting, project, or conversation was. He taught me to put data into context and treat every interaction as an opportunity to extract something of value.”

These days, he works at the headquarters of America’s favorite drive-in, Sonic Corp., and he tries to make the world a better place in a very direct way.

“The first way I try to contribute to improving the community and the world is to be the best father, husband, son, friend and coworker I can be,” he said. “The biggest opportunity I have is to positively impact the people I am lucky enough to interact with every day.”

He’s also a dedicated mentor.

“I think getting involved in the lives of young people can have a profound impact on the community,” Horsch said. “Providing kids with role models outside of parents and teachers (as important as those are!) offers another opportunity for them to make a connection or get introduced to a new viewpoint, new skill or new style of leadership.”

Elizabeth Isaac

Registered patent attorney, Dunlap Codding


Elizabeth Isaac has taken a decidedly untraditional path to success. She’s a patent, trademark and copyright attorney at Dunlap Codding, and after graduating law school and while working full-time as an attorney, Isaac returned to undergraduate school to further her education in biological sciences in order to sit for the United States Patent and Trademark Office bar exam.

“While working and serving as board chair of IgniteOKC, I studied for and passed the patent bar,” Isaac said. “I am the only attorney in my office thus far to have completed this nontraditional route. Fortunately, I work for a law firm committed to its attorneys’ growth and serving the community.”

For Isaac, her career and her community are very much intertwined.

“While grinding away at my second year of law school, I found and fell in love with Dunlap Codding (DC) and its commitment to community. I have practiced intellectual property law here ever since,” she said. “DC shows strong dedication to the arts in Oklahoma City, and the people here are made of the same fiber that’s sewn in me. It’s a unique fiber of creatives and dreamers and doers.”

The philosophies of Isaac and Dunlap Codding work well together. The firm offers its space to nonprofit organizations for free and sponsors events throughout the year. Isaac has been involved in a number of these events and volunteered countless hours in the early days of the firm’s tenure on Film Row, including volunteer work with Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc.

“In 2013, I spearheaded the firm’s participation in PARK(ing) Day by managing a team of volunteers who designed and implemented a hands-on, mini science fair on Sheridan Avenue, interacting and engaging kids across the socioeconomic spectrum, many being exposed to their first ‘hands-on’ science education,” she said.

Her enthusiasm is contagious.

“Spreading good news about OKC makes our community a better place,” Isaac said. “Spreading goods news period makes the world a better place.”

Gabriel Bird

Dentist, Gabriel Bird DDS


Perhaps it’s fitting that Gabriel Bird, a man whose philosophy is to work from small to big, taking care of the little things, putting relationships, patient care and personal integrity first, would have on his reading list a book of similar bent called Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness.

As he explains, it’s clear that his dedication to being the best he can be in as many small ways as possible has led him to great success.

“I strive to be the best version of me I can be and empower those around me to do the same,” Bird said. “On an individual level, I can make my home a pleasant place that offers well being for me and my family. On a personal level, I can be a loving father, faithful husband, loyal friend and generally decent person. Show up on time, use reusable shopping bags, stay in the right lane when I’m not in a hurry, coach my daughter’s soccer team, lend an ear, say please and thank you, pay attention, and some of these things might start to make a difference.

“Professionally, I structured my dental practice to put patient care first,” he said. “I stay small by design; I won’t overbook my schedule in order to devote all of my attention and energy to the person in my chair. I listen to them and treat to the individual as opposed to the profit margin. I don’t answer to a corporate office; I answer to my patients.”

His mentor, Randy White at the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, guided him in taking a rigorous approach to patient care and a diligence he applies to his practice every day. He ultimately took the reins of White’s practice.

“He helped instill the difference between providing dentistry versus selling dentistry. Always provide; it’s never sales,” Bird said. “As I transitioned from dental school to private practice, he was instrumental in affording me the ability to take over and continue in a patient-centric manner of dental practice, which has proven to be endlessly rewarding.”

Graham Colton

Singer, songwriter and entrepreneur


Graham Colton has recently reinvented himself again. After a major label career, lots of television appearances and being pigeonholed as a singer-songwriter, he has gone through a metamorphosis. It started when he left Oklahoma City and continued upon his return.

“I love my city,” Colton said. “I hope to lend a creative voice and support all the amazingly talented people furthering Oklahoma City’s renaissance.”

Now, Colton is stretching his wings and taking chances. He’s in real estate. He’s developing technological innovations for musicians and venues. And he’s following in his grandfather’s footsteps, stepping boldly into the philanthropic scene in Oklahoma.

He’s proud of his real estate development project, The Jones Assembly, an adaptive reuse of two historic brick warehouses in the 900 block of West Sheridan Avenue. The two structures, originally part of the Fred Jones Manufacturing Company complex, are being transformed into an entertainment venue and restaurant. The renovation includes a two-story dining space and concert area, a mezzanine bar and an open-air lounge. He is also the creator of the website and concept Fanswell, which links performers and venues.

What Colton is most proud of, though, is his work with nonprofits. He has recently been named to the board of directors of Allied Arts.

“I’m thrilled to be asked. It’s an amazing organization, and I’m so honored to help,” Colton said.

His grandparents, the late Jackie Cooper and his grandmother Barbara, founded Red Tie Night, which benefits the Oklahoma AIDS Care Fund.

“My grandparents were fearless,” Colton said. “My grandfather was such an amazing man, and my grandmother deserves a lot of credit because she was the one who said we just have to do something 25 years ago.”

“I had the privilege of co-chairing Red Tie Night with my mother last year, and trying to carry on my family’s legacy was intimidating and exciting. I’m very proud of the work that the Oklahoma AIDS Care fund does,” he said. “This is still a horrible disease, and we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal yet. Younger people need to be brave and talk about HIV and AIDS. It’s still got a lot of taboo about it.”

Jack Fowler

Artist, writer, editorial cartoonist and radio show host


Oklahoma City resident Jack Fowler grew up in Wewoka and Seminole and worked on a cattle ranch after he graduated from Oklahoma State University. Today, he is a prolific producer of projects in an array of media and endeavors to “leave a trail of art in [his] wake.” In November, he will receive the Paseo Arts Association’s Emerging Artist Award.

He said his greatest mentor is, without a doubt, his father.

“When I think about a mentor, I don’t think about anybody but my dad, and it has nothing to do with art,” Fowler said. “I don’t think anything has helped me more in my young career as an artist than the advice and life lessons my father taught me and continues to teach me. It’s advice about how to live, and how to treat people and how to carry yourself.”

This Jack of many trades is also a dedicated volunteer, although he’s charmingly modest about it.

“I do stuff like volunteer and coach baseball and donate work to charities, but I think everybody does stuff like that,” he said.

His latest project is coming to a wall near you. Bricktown Octopus is a 200-foot-long, 25-foot-high mural that will cover the back side of Chevy Bricktown Events Center. Fowler also is a freelance writer and Oklahoma Gazette editorial cartoonist. Readers voted him Best Visual Artist in the Gazette’s 2016 Best of OKC reader poll.

He’s passionate about art.

“If I’m going to be remembered for anything special or lasting, I think it’s going to be the art I leave behind,” he said. “In fact, if I have one request for my funeral, it’s that everybody who ever had any artwork of mine brings it back to the service and hangs it all over the building. One last, huge art show. Until then, I feel driven to make art every day and try as hard as I can to fling it far and wide. I guess I don’t know if I’m making the world a better place, but I’m damn sure making it more colorful.”

Jared Garner

Owner/Agent, Garner Insurance


In 2012, Jared Garner decided to make a big change.

“Prior to owning Garner Insurance, I worked as an assistant store manager at Lowe’s, with no insurance experience … after about five years, I decided I was ready for a big change,” Garner said. “So I decided to sell insurance, and within about a week, I was a licensed agent.”

Garner started his insurance career as a producer at another agency. Two years later, he decided to go out on his own.

“Within a five-year time frame, I went from no insurance experience to owning and operating a successful, thriving agency with two employees and another producer,” he said.

Without two key mentors in his life, he wouldn’t have been able to do it.

“The first would be my old company commander, Capt. Bible. When I was in Iraq as a young private, he taught me to be strong-minded and to work through the tough situations. He taught me to think through the scenario before just diving in,” he said. “The second is my father-in-law, Jim Adair. He taught me that business doesn’t always have to be hard and that it can also be fun. He showed me the importance of networking and how it can affect your business. I have worked hard to make my business successful, but without his confidence, I do not believe I could have made it to this point.”

What would Garner tell his 20-year-old self if he could time travel?

“Funny enough, my 20th birthday is one I remember well. I was on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, on that day. If I could go back and tell myself anything, it would be to be proud and to get ready,” Garner said. “I would tell myself about the importance of a college education and tell myself about the disappointment I feel from time to time from not having a degree. I would tell myself that I will have the most amazing wife and kids and to be really excited about the joy and fun they will bring me. I would tell myself to use the money I made overseas in a smarter way.”

Jason R. Henderson

Makoplasty Product Specialist Manager for OK, AR, MO, KS; Senior Clinical Launch Specialist, Stryker-MAKO Surgical Corporation


Jason Henderson began working for Mako Surgical in 2011.

“I was responsible for the Oklahoma-Arkansas area at the time,” he said.

Mako Surgical was a national leader in robotic joint replacement procedures at the time. Two years later, it was purchased by Stryker Corporation, and Henderson’s career flourished.

“I now manage and helped grow a multimillion-dollar area that continues to drive new business each year,” he said. “Through our integration, I have piloted a robotic joint replacement virtual site right here in Oklahoma City for surgeons all around the world to observe. I have successfully launched two products for the company. … Our largest ever will be released to the general public in 2017.”

When it comes to civic engagement, Henderson is active in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma. He serves on its board and co-chaired its 2016 Taste of OKC fundraiser.

He attributes his can-do attitude and high-energy pursuit of his goals to multiple role models. “Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful family and mother who pushed me to always achieve my best,” Henderson said. “She made sure that I surrounded myself with family and friends who also wanted those things for me. This constant surrounding of beliefs pushed me to have passion and the ability to inspire others.”

He served on Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Walk for Wishes committee in 2013, is a member of Leadership Oklahoma City’s Linking Oklahoma City’s Young Adult Leaders (LOYAL) Class XI and helps with the Waurika Public Schools Foundation.

“I love Oklahoma and want others to love it as much as I do. Therefore, I volunteer my time sitting on boards, chairing events, volunteering and spreading the word about various causes that I feel strongly about,” he said. “I believe that if we all do our part, then society will change for the better and we will have great passion for making the community a better place.”

Jenna Byrnes

Senior vice president, Oklahoma City Dodgers


If you’ve been to a baseball game at Oklahoma City’s Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, you’ve seen Jenna Byrnes in action. As senior vice president of the Oklahoma City Dodgers, her role includes overseeing ticket sales, special events and internal leadership and training initiatives. She loves her work.

“I am fortunate enough to work for an organization that makes it our mission to positively impact the quality of life in the community,” Byrnes said. “The OKC Dodgers put an emphasis on quality family entertainment, and we are passionate about helping our fans create lasting memories at the ballpark. My favorite part of a Dodgers game is actually when it is over. Our staff will post up at each gate to thank our fans as they leave for the night. Most of our fans will take that time to share their experiences from the game and tell us they had a great time or it was someone’s first baseball game.”

Byrnes’ most significant business achievement has been helping transform the underperforming team she met in 2011 into one of only three Minor League Baseball teams that have increased attendance the past five seasons. That’s three out of of 160 MiLB affiliated teams.

“We have made many significant improvements to improve the team’s standing as an important element in the quality of life for people living in the OKC metro area,” Byrnes said.

About two years ago, Byrnes embraced one of her many one-liner mottos — be bold in all that you do — and played an instrumental role in identifying the need for and creating the Oklahoma City Dodgers Baseball Foundation.

“The role a sports team can play in raising awareness of causes is a good one,” she said. “Additionally, we often have the ability to raise funds for these organizations by utilizing the strength of our brand and the marketing horsepower provided by our successful organization. I’ve enjoyed being involved in the creation of this foundation as a way to further enhance the baseball team’s lasting imprint on this community.”

Jenny Rodgers Stewart

Nonprofit professional


Jenny Rodgers Stewart was diagnosed with cancer when she was 13 years old. She went from a typical young teen concerned with sleepovers, sports and friends to fighting for her life. She felt like nobody understood what she was going through.

“Everything changed the moment Cavett Kids Foundation came into my life,” Stewart said. “I attended Camp Cavett and finally found other kids who understood what I was going through, and I wasn’t alone anymore.”

Her experience put her on her path. Stewart is dedicated to helping others through her work with nonprofit organizations.

“I have been blessed to be surrounded by so many amazing role models in my life,” she said. “They aren’t your typical role models. They are ordinary kids battling extraordinary medical challenges, forced to grow up way too fast and wise beyond their years. Even though they haven’t finished high school, or sometimes even middle school, they have taught me more about life than anyone else in this world.”

Through her work with youths, Stewart has learned to cherish the little things, like how a bathtub full of peach loofahs can feel like “heaven.” She learned how to laugh and that life is too short to not have impromptu dance parties.

“They have taught me that it’s okay to have a bad day as long as you remember that it’s not a bad life; it’s just a bad day,” she said. “They have taught me that even when facing the worst-case scenarios, you have to still believe.”

An eight-year stint as executive director for Cavett Kids Foundation gave Stewart the opportunity to test her wings. Under her direction, the organization increased its fundraising by an incredible 415 percent and its membership by $1,300 percent. And the number of children served increased from 200 per year to more than 12,000.

Under her leadership, the organization created two annual fundraising events that have generated more than $1 million.

As Stewart looks to the future, she finds herself inspired daily by a favorite quote from Helen Keller: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Jeremy P. Gardner

Principal/Owner, Gardner Architects


Jeremy Gardner has been involved with some of Oklahoma City’s most recognizable projects and is on track to create many more. He helped form Gardner Architects in 2015 and before that was a director at Butzer Gardner Architects, where he worked on projects like SkyDance Pedestrian Bridge, Norman’s 104 Loft, The Oklahoman’s downtown digs and Mayfair Apartments in Midtown.

Gardner has served as an invited architecture critic at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. His interest lies in bringing found objects and old buildings back to life.

“Our practice contributes but a small fraction of our community’s built environment. We hope that what we have the opportunity to contribute in such a way that it adds value for our clients and adds value to the context in which we are working,” Gardner said. “We try to achieve this through a timeless approach to design, which is sensible as well as thought-provoking and relevant. We get to serve as the lens through which these objectives get projected to the community, be it a single family residence, a reimagined historic structure, a condo project downtown or a food pantry.”

When it comes to role models, Gardner’s has been a bit of a secret until now.

“Most likely unbeknownst to him, but Stan Lingo,” he said of the Lingo Construction Services owner. “I’ve always admired, from afar and through sometimes daily interaction, how he runs his business. The first time I worked with Stan was in 2002 or 2003. He had a much smaller operation then, but what struck me from the onset was his ability to relate to each agenda at the table. He has the ability to speak the architect’s language while speaking the client’s often budget-conscious language and spit out a project that synthesizes both. The other thing I especially admire about Stan is how you see his faith play out in how he conducts himself and his business. … There is a humility there that is rare, despite his successes.”

Jessica Farling

Director of public engagement, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art


Jessica Farling’s career with Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art began when she was a student at the University of Oklahoma.

“In 2010, when I began working at FJJMA as a part-time employee, I set out to get my fellow OU peers excited about the art museum,” she said. “I continued that work for several years when I was hired on full-time. Then, in September 2014, I was promoted to director of public engagement, which has allowed me to think more broadly about all audiences of our museum. As part of that, I was tasked with the museum’s membership program. For the past 18 months, I have been working to foster excitement for the museum within our current core of members while looking for ways to get new people engaged with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.”

Farling is eager to innovate but rejects the notion that traditions should be scrapped. A student program she launched in 2010, Art Museum Ambassadors, is still going strong. On the flip side, she opted to draw on the heritage of the museum when tasked with the museum’s annual membership party, now called the Silver Soiree.

“In 2015, I was charged with this event. In looking back to the 1970s, when the museum first held a fundraiser, I was delighted to find a scrapbook with news clippings from the 1975 Silver Ball.”

“Although my family moved from Oklahoma when I was only a 1-year-old, I spent my summers in Oklahoma City as a child,” she said. “Coming back to Oklahoma in 2009 was the best thing I could have done for my family and my career … I have learned so much from this community, and I am looking for ways to give back.”

When Farling and her husband moved to Oklahoma City, their plan was to get in, let her earn her master’s degree and then get out. Two years have since turned to seven, and Farling counts her decision to move (back) to Oklahoma City among her better ones.

John Krenger

Vice president of energy financial services, Bank of Oklahoma


This young banker has his share of impressive achievements under his belt, many of which have come in the last two years, a trying time for the energy industry. While some other lenders have had to stop lending to the energy industry altogether because the losses in their energy lending portfolios were so great, Krenger has written no losses within his portfolio and does not expect to.

“I have been fortunate enough, which speaks to the strength of Bank of Oklahoma, to grow my oil and gas loan commitments by $80 million over the past 18 months, which has allowed companies to operate as usual in challenging times,” Krenger said. “This achievement means a great deal to me because it is how I hoped my energy portfolio would perform when the inevitable ‘low pricing’ environment returned to the industry. We made good decisions through the boom times … and have been good and trusted partners to our customers during these leaner times.”

His commitment to the community runs as deep as his commitment to his clients. His love of football guides his civic engagement, and he serves as the volunteer head football coach for Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School’s seventh- and eighth-grade junior high teams, which he has done for six years.

“I think we’ve done a good job as a staff of instilling a love of football so that these young people can reap all the benefits the game offers high school boys such as teamwork and the necessary life skill to be able to work a long-term goal,” he said.

He believes that to be a good coach, a person must show enthusiasm and energy and he must also earn the trust of fellow coaches and players.

“Trust allows everyone to perform their respective roles to the best of their abilities,” he said.

Krenger and his wife and also have been supporters of the United Way of Central Oklahoma and Allied Arts.

“We do our best to support those foundations, as they have a huge impact for our community here in Oklahoma City,” he said.

John W. Davenport

Oklahoma City market director, Dignity Memorial, part of Service Corporation International

Age: 33

John Davenport oversees and undertakes. He directs the Oklahoma City market for Service Corporation International’s (SCI) Dignity Memorial company. SCI is the nation’s largest funeral and cemetery designer. The Oklahoma City market, Davenport’s turf, comprises 13 funeral homes and seven cemeteries in the Oklahoma City metro area. He manages some 200 employees and generates about $20 million per year in revenue in the metro area while serving about 3,000 bereaved families a year in Oklahoma City alone. At 33, he’s an anomaly. The average age for market directors at SCI is 57.

“We are here for families on some of the worst days of their lives. We are here to make things as easy as possible after the loss of a loved one,” Davenport said. “I lead the team in Oklahoma serving our community. Each quarter, our team volunteers multiple hours at the Oklahoma Regional Food Bank and our associates are involved in countless community events — from Rotary to Chamber activities or school boards to athletic leagues, our associates are there. I have a firm belief that we can do more each day and push all of our associates to be part of multiple groups.”

In April, Davenport completed a two-year volunteer commitment. He was selected by the Norman Chamber of Commerce to co-chair a group of area high school sophomores in a program called Tomorrow’s Leaders. For 10 Saturdays, the group performed service projects around Norman, such as volunteering at Norman Music Festival or at a senior living center.

Davenport’s parents are definitely his role models.

“I have always tried to emulate their work ethic and desire to do their jobs so well,” he said. “They have always helped me by being a sounding board or encouraging me to strive for the next step. They never settle for mediocrity. It’s tough living in the world today, but my parents are always there to help my wife and me; whether it is to meet someone at our house to let them in or just to go to dinner, they are always there for me and being the perfect parents.”

Joshua Harlow

Senior vice president, Jones Public Relations


Since Joshua Harlow arrived at Jones Public Relations in 2009, the company has grown exponentially, going from four employees to a staff more than 15 in offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Much of that growth is due to one of Harlow’s initiatives, the company’s burgeoning public affairs program.

“[It’s] a practice I started from scratch six years ago with no relationships in Oklahoma and have built to be the preeminent public affairs firm in our state,” Harlow said.

He helped lead the successful downtown “bubble project” in 2009.

“Hurt by the numerous Project 180 and MAPS endeavors, the residual effect was that foot traffic in downtown was at a dismal level,” he said.

Harlow knew that once the construction was done, there was a bright future ahead, so he and his boss went to see Downtown OKC’s director and pitched the idea to stick bubble quotes on businesses’ windows and on sidewalks to spur conversation and social media activity.

He also is a member of the MAPS 3 advisory committee on Trails and Sidewalks, the communications committee for St. Paul’s Cathedral and volunteers for the National Down Syndrome Society on its national communications committee.

Another one of Harlow’s passions is the belief that every person is capable of changing things for the better.

“I was the media lead in helping the National Down Syndrome Society pass the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act through Congress, which has allowed thousands of families to provide for their children with disabilities with tax-free savings accounts who were not able to save previously due to a number of restrictions,” he said.

Harlow’s upbringing shaped his altruistic worldview and his impressive work ethic.

“Growing up, my parents owned restaurants, and I worked the family business a lot as a teenager and even before. I washed dishes alongside a man who had Down Syndrome, who my parents gave a job to because no one else would,” Harlow said. “I learned how to cook on a flat-top grill alongside a young lady who was on work-release from the women’s correctional facility in my hometown because my parents thought it was the right thing to give her a job. My parents taught me that if you treat people with respect and work hard, you can go far in this world.”

Justin Lawrence

Owner, Oklahoma Shirt Company


Justin Lawrence’s philosophy is as practical as it is poignant.

“I think making the world a better place starts at home, and as a husband and a dad, my number one priority is my family,” he said. “When I’m not loving my kids, I’m spending my time with my second family, the family we’ve built at Oklahoma Shirt Company, united in our love of this great state and building lasting relationships with our fellow Oklahomans and standing alongside other local businesses. We take so much pride in our community, which has given us so much, and we love giving back as much as we can to the people of Oklahoma.”

His successful company began humbly enough as a way for Lawrence to support his family while he was in medical school.

“In four short years, we have grown from a small operation slinging shirts out of my garage into an organization that has a tight-knit team of 12 employees, occupies a city block in downtown Oklahoma City and generates over $2.5 million dollars per year in sales,” he said.

His company’s Shirt of the Month club now counts more than 9,000 members across the country, and the creative significance of that feat is not lost on Lawrence.

“We hear story after story of our subscribers running into each other and chatting as if they were friends for years, and it is something as simple as an Oklahoma-themed T-shirt that unites us,” he said. “My favorite thing of all is that it is all local Okies that make it all happen.”

Who does this successful young shirt maker count as his most significant mentor?

“This may be the typical mama’s boy answer, but that doesn’t make it any less true: my mom,” he said. “She is my mentor, my role model, my hero. Lisa Boone, my mom, has made more sacrifices and spent more time investing in me than I probably even know. She is honest and hardworking, the first person to call me out when I’m being an idiot and by far my biggest fan. I am where I am because of who she is.”

Kamisha D. Busby

Project coordinator, Central Oklahoma Healthy Start Initiative


Kamisha Busby’s dedication to serving those who need it most developed early in her career.

“I started my professional career as a nurse, caring for others within my community in a hospital setting as well as home visitations,” Busby said. “It was there that I saw there was a greater need for the people I served, more than just providing physical support. Returning to school to complete my bachelor’s degree aided in my development to advocate for change in the healthcare system.”

In 2014, Busby was honored with the Indian Health Service GPRA (Government Performance and Results Act) Provider Champion award for her women’s health service to the American Indian community.

“I was able to influence the importance of women’s health within the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic by expanding services for prenatal patients, increasing access and comprehensive women’s health screenings for all female patients and organizing the first women’s health fair to bring more awareness and external services to support women,” Busby said.

Fast forward to 2016. She now provides a direct link to the urban community, which is predominantly African-American.

“The community I serve has significantly greater health disparities than other races, specifically in infant mortality,” she said. “It is through this platform that I can best influence change and encourage other professionals around me as well as the community to advocate for change. I have been selected as a subcommittee chair of the Infant Mortality Alliance, a community-driven, grassroots effort addressing the disparities that impact infant mortality. I hope to be a catalyst for a larger transformation in the reduction in health care disparities while improving the access for all to quality healthcare regardless of social and financial status.”

Without her husband, mentor and best friend Joshua Busby supporting her every step of the way, Busby is certain she wouldn’t be where she is today.

“Before him, my parents pushed my brother and me to reach our potential in life and be the best we could be,” she said. “But it wasn’t until God placed me with my life partner that my potential would be elevated.”

Katie Tiegreen

Director of catering, Embassy Suites OKC Downtown Medical Center and founder, Work Hard. Love Harder


Katie Tiegreen’s journey to success is a snapshot of what’s best about America. She was an underdog, a single mother of two young boys with very little help. She worked 80 hours a week to support her small family, taking on two full-time jobs to do it. One was working the breakfast shift at a Hampton Inn/Holiday Inn, and the other was as a store lead at a children’s clothing retailer.

“In the fall of 2012, I gave birth to my second child and was forced to make a hard decision. I decided to leave Arkansas and head to Kansas City to accept a supervisor position at a hotel,” Tiegreen said. “The day before I was to leave, the director of sales from the Hampton Inn/Holiday Inn called me.”

The call was to tell her that her general manager and the company’s regional vice president wanted to give her a chance as a catering sales manager. That was her first salaried position.

Tiegreen’s career took off. She hit or exceeded her goals. By 2014, she had moved to Tulsa to take a director of sales position. After garnering shift-share from competitors and exceeding revenue goals, she made the move that brought her to Oklahoma City in 2015, where she is proud to have purchased a home and has enrolled her oldest son in private school. Then she dreamed bigger.

She also runs Work Hard. Love Harder to help single mothers and give them hope.

“When I was pregnant with my second son, I was continuously told that I could never succeed as a single parent of two,” she said. “How is it that being a single mother automatically means that you have nothing to offer? I refuse to believe that. I want other single mothers to know that there is hope for their dreams, for their children’s dreams and that there are people that believe in them and will support them day in and day out: Work Hard. Love Harder.”

Kayla Bonewell

Pastor, Cathedral of Hope UCC Oklahoma City and Church of the Open Arms United Church of Christ


The weekend after the tragic June 12 nightclub shooting in Orlando, Rev. Kayla Bonewell put on her clergy collar and visited LGBTQ establishments in Oklahoma City.

“I wanted our LGBT community to know that they have religious clergy who support them and that we should not allow fear to keep people away from the communities which embrace and accept them for who they are,” she said.

Bonewell is a pastor at two churches in one location, each with unique missions, that serve the Oklahoma City community.

Church of the Open Arms’ mission statement is “To follow in the reconciling ministry of Jesus as an inclusive, justice-seeking community.”

It feeds more than 300 families each month with its on-site client-choice Friday food pantry. It also offers an on-site shelter and a clothing closet for youth experiencing homelessness via the Sisu Youth nonprofit, and the church supports #BlackLivesMatter, #WaterIsLife and the green/eco-justice movements.

“Both churches help to create alternative family to invite, include and empower those who have been cast out in our culture,” Bonewell said. “[My goal is] to empower communities, through experiences of the Divine, to lead lives of deep meaning while cultivating health, peace and beauty in our world.”

Cathedral of Hope’s mission statement is “To empower all people to experience the presence of God, to grow toward wholeness, and to act in love.”

The church donates school supplies and winter clothing to Wilson Elementary School, sends volunteers to Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and supports The Winds House, which provides housing to people in our community who are living with HIV and AIDS.

“At my former church in Rochester, Minnesota, I helped start a transgender support group, which grew to have more than 35 members,” she said. “After training the facilitators, this group went on to contribute to training Mayo Clinic doctors trained in transgender issues. I am humbled to be able to provide ongoing spiritual support and education while reclaiming the radical teachings of Jesus for the progressive Christian community.”

Kevin Watson

Director of outpatient psychiatry clinic, OU Physicians; assistant professor and associate residency program director, University of Oklahoma department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; landlord; teddy bear deliverer


Helping people live authentic lives is Kevin Watson’s way of making the world a better place.

“As a psychiatrist, I get the honor of helping patients work towards this goal. I am proud that I have been able to achieve this goal to a large degree in my own life,” Watson said. “As a gay man, I struggled with being who others or society thought I should be, but on the other side of that, now more able to stand independently in my own truth and identity, the struggle was definitely worth it. It’s not always easy to learn who you are, let alone live life as that person.”

Watson’s psychiatry career is booming. He’s always been a driven achiever, winning honors and awards during his medical school and undergraduate years, including earning a chief resident appreciation honor and Distinguished Psychiatry Graduate Award. His lecture and presentation titles include Gender Cognition in Transgender Children.

His most significant (and possibly most delightful) creative contribution to the community is giving teddy bears to nursing home residents at Christmastime.

“For the past several years, my partner and I bought over 1,000 teddy bears and drove around town, spreading holiday cheer,” he said. “The look on residents’ faces is priceless. Their eyes light up and they seem to think, ‘Somebody cares about me.”

He said he learned the most valuable lessons about life from his dog Jake.

“He has never met a stranger and is always excited to greet old or new friends,” Watson said. “He is very flexible and rolls with the punches. He has a positive attitude and is happy wherever he is and whatever he’s doing. He is an astute observer, often listening and watching more than barking. I’d be wise if I could adopt some of these traits from Jake.”

Lyndi Zavy

Director, human resources and assistant director, Learning & Organizational Development at the University of Oklahoma


Lyndi Zavy’s career in human resources is all about serving others, as are her volunteer activities. Zavy volunteers for Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s Leadership Council and as part of the board of Central Oklahoma Humane Society. She also has been a human resources committee member for The Homeless Alliance.

“I was raised with an understanding that I was born on third base; advantages like a supportive family and opportunities for education made it easy for me to make it to home plate,” Zavy said. “That understanding fuels my desire to give back and help others succeed. … I started working with Central Oklahoma Humane Society two years ago because I wanted to adopt every dog I saw on the street but decided that my efforts in a boardroom would be more impactful than breaking city ordinances with a house full of animals. My husband and I hope to raise our son with that same desire to give back to organizations that align with his values, and we know that the best way to do is by modeling that behavior for him.”

Her biggest professional achievement so far happened about a year ago.

She created and launched OU Leadership Council, an eight-month program that brings campus leaders together monthly. The group explores the many facets of effective leadership one at a time, creating a strong cadre of professionals dedicated to bettering the community.

“I’m grateful for the trust I was given to create this program and that I get to replicate it across all three campuses this year,” Zavy said.

With so much on her plate, Zavy finds creative ways to recharge her batteries.

“I’m a voracious reader and always have been, and audiobooks make my multitasking, book-loving heart so happy,” she said. “I just finished listening to Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes, and I think it should be required reading for all women. I’m also re-reading The Leadership Challenge as part of the leadership development program I facilitate. I take away something new every time I read it.”

Melissa Vincent

CEO, 9Tribe and cofounder, Locked In Sports


With several startups under her belt, Melissa Vincent is focused on making the technology environment better for women entrepreneurs. She has worked hard to build her companies, the first of which, 9Tribe, should break $2 million in revenue in 2016. It’s a boutique software development firm designed to solve some of the problems she encountered in her time working for other startups.

She also cofounded Locked In Sports, which helps young athletes have equal access to customized training specific to the sport they play in so the distribution of elite training becomes more egalitarian.

“The one person that I credit my success in the startup world to and consider my mentor is my dad. He was a software engineer and a great problem solver. I can remember growing up, he would tell me that whatever challenge I faced, it was nothing more than a series of problems to be solved,” Vincent said. “In having my own startups and helping other people build out their startups, you will inevitably run into challenges. If you panic when you run into a challenge, you likely won’t survive the startup life.”

Vincent believes that if we can help other women share their experiences and mentor them, we can create a community of strong, successful female entrepreneurs. She is committed to changing the landscape for women in technology.

“Software development and technology based startups are not incredibly friendly environments for female entrepreneurs,” she said. “Nationally, only 28 percent of startups are women-owned. However, a study in 2015 showed that female CEOs outperform male peers three to one in the S&P 500. What’s even more powerful is that women are outperforming their peers while starting from a deficit. The National Women’s Business Council published a report that showed that men start their businesses with six times as much capital as women do.”

Miguel A. Baez

Corporal, Oklahoma City Fire Department


Cpl. Baez’s favorite quote neatly sums up the way he approaches his life: “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”

This version of Baez’s philosophy is borrowed from Albert Einstein, but it could have just as easily come from his father.

“He was raised in a small, rural community in Mexico with limited economic resources and educational opportunities,” Baez said. “With a determination and drive to create a better life, he took a chance and moved away into a bigger city, where he worked tirelessly to support his family while earning his engineering degree. After receiving his degree, he went on to become one of the highest ranking engineers at DuPont and recently retired, leaving a strong infrastructure he created in place for future generations. He continues to be an inspiration to people every day.”

As a firefighter, Baez is realizing a dream of his own.

“Being raised in Tampico, Mexico, it was always a dream of mine to have a career in which I could make a difference in someone’s life. After I became a citizen, I knew that I wanted to pursue something that had never been done by a Hispanic immigrant before in Oklahoma City and become a firefighter,” he said. “My career is a blessing, and I’m thankful for my ability to save lives every day.”

Each day, Baez reports to a job where he responds to individuals of all walks of life, ages, races and religions who are facing some of their hardest moments.

“They don’t call my station when things are good; only when things are terribly wrong,” Baez said. “Knowing this is the case, I make it my duty to stay positive, encouraging and helpful. When I’m off duty, I spend my time volunteering with organizations and schools, promoting safety and sharing my story.”

What would he say to his 20-year-old self if he could time travel?

“Stay focused, work hard and never give up,” he said. “All things are possible.”

Nathaniel Goodwin

Academic advisor, Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City; owner, Nate G’s Training LLC


At Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, Nathaniel Goodwin spends his days working with faculty and staff members to develop advisement strategies targeted to student needs as he generates increased awareness of campus resources and programs designed to enhance student experiences.

His most significant business achievement, though, is opening up a modeling business this year. Nate G’s Training and his Nate G’s Modeling Boot Camps focus on training new models to become professionals.

“For decades, I have seen many models come into the industry and get burned out because there are so any scams that are involved with the term ‘modeling’ in Oklahoma,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin’s parents and sister are his key role models because they taught him the value of hard work.

“My dad instilled in me the ability to adjust to changes and never take anyone or anything for granted. When I was young, I wanted to be successful just like my dad because he always had a plan of action together. I learned early on in my life how to use critical thinking skills because my dad told me I needed to resolve my own problems and be able to accept the consequences of my actions,” he said. “My mom is a gregarious person and is the woman who I got my personality from. She always has a smile on her face and is an avid reader. I also love my mom’s home-cooked meals, and my huge appetite is attributed to her. My sister is very ambitious and is very candid about her feelings. … Without the encouragement of my family members, I would not be the man I am today.”

In Goodwin’s downtime, he volunteers as a Wishmaker for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, reads to elementary school students via World Experiences Foundation and donates his time as a model in numerous children’s charity fashion shows.

“All the proceeds from the children’s charity fashion shows are used to support children, and it’s a benevolent way to make a difference in the state of Oklahoma for the next generation of students,” Goodwin said.

Regina J. Banks

President, Arjaybi’s Concepts; board chairman, IgniteOKC


Regina Banks is the proud founder of a small business dedicated to helping other small businesses through graphic and web design, print and promotional products. Her team of six creatives plans to change the world one small-business brand at a time. Through two programs, Reach4Work and On the Job Training, Arjaybi’s Concepts provides internships and work for women who might otherwise remain unemployed.

She serves as board chairman of IgniteOKC, is a member of Leadership Oklahoma’s LOYAL Class XI and serves on the Oklahoma City Community College Digital Media Design advisory board. She volunteers for Junior Achievement teaching entrepreneurship classes, for Heritage Hall school’s parent association and People’s Church.

“It’s pretty cool to be near the pulse of what’s happening in Oklahoma City right now through IgniteOKC. IgniteOKC serves as a platform for thought leaders and innovators to share their passions and spark change in others,” Banks said. “There have been so many businesses and organizations that have launched off of the IgniteOKC platform. These same companies and ideas from eight years ago are shaping our city today. If you want to know the future of Oklahoma City, come to the next IgniteOKC talk! If you want to be a part of the change, you, too, should come to the next IgniteOKC.”

Banks is also adamant that girls should not be left out of STEM activities. To that end, she holds STEM workshops and loves watching girls’ eyes light up as they explore computer coding.

“I picked up coding skills as an adult. I find it fascinating and many times feel like a magician with a keyboard as a wand,” she said. “I want girls to know that coding is cool. I could be a bit partial because I have three girls myself. But who knows? Women could be the next generation of tech leaders and changing the world.”

In conjunction with Arjaybi’s Concepts hosted a Day of Code on Nov. 5 for middle and high school girls.

Fun fact: Her father gave her her middle name, Joy, before he even knew her gender because she “danced around a lot in [her] mother’s womb.”

Reji M. Pappy

Medical doctor and interventional cardiologist, St. Anthony Hospital


Twice a month, Reji Pappy drives four hours to serve patients in rural Oklahoma who otherwise would not have access to a cardiologist. He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions and serves as a part of the leadership team at St. Anthony Hospital, which will soon launch a relatively new cardiac procedure that allows patients with severe symptomatic aortic valve disease to have the aortic valve replaced through a nonsurgical approach.

“I coordinated a great deal of cooperation and collaboration from several departments of the hospital, and I am excited to provide this new, minimally invasive option to patients,” Pappy said.

Pappy’s story began when his parents came to the United States from India in the 1970s.

“Due to the financial and social challenges that my dad faced as a new immigrant, he was not able to pursue his goal of becoming a physician,” Pappy said. “I attribute my becoming a physician to the qualities instilled in me by my parents: outstanding work ethic, perseverance, honesty and spirituality.”

He has always valued the importance of making civic contributions, doing medical research while completing his internal medicine residency, cardiology fellowship and advanced interventional cardiology fellowships.

“I have the opportunity of organizing and actively participating in multiple free health fair clinics. This allows me to provide encouragement and counseling to those at risk for coronary heart disease,” Pappy said. “Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking are few of the risk factors for heart disease that are addressed. Maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle not only reduces mortality in individuals but also reduces the negative economic impact to society.”

During his academic years at the University of Oklahoma, he coauthored numerous research articles that were published in various medical journals.

He also was the recipient of the young scientist research award during his training at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center for his contributions to medicine, and he currently serves as a council member for the Oklahoma Chapter of the American College of Cardiology.

Sara Kaplan

Retail marketing coordinator, City of Norman; co-owner, Native Roots Market

Age: 36

Sara Kaplan is a geologist by education, works for the City of Norman as a retail marketing coordinator during business hours and co-owns foodie haven Native Roots Market with her husband. She also is an instructor in geology for Independent and Distance Learning and the proud mother of a kindergartner, Stella, whom she says is her most significant creative contribution.

When it comes to her most significant business opportunity, she’s emphatically optimistic. “To be very frank, it is too early in my career to identify my most significant business achievement, at least I hope,” Kaplan said. “But if I had to name one thing, it would be my willingness to take a risk. The obvious first example was straying from the traditional employment path and starting a business at a fairly young age. The second risk was when I recognized that it was time to leave the business and move on to something else.”

She has served on the Children’s House Montessori School Parent Teacher Organization since 2014 and was co-president for the 2015-16 school year. She is president of Urban Neighbors downtown neighborhood association and has been a member since 2012. She also serves on Norman Arts Council’s Norman Public Arts Board.

She said her move into the public sector with the City of Norman was the right one.

“My job is not something where I am out saving lives, but I try to help people whenever I can,” she said. “I think in today’s environment, we are exposed to so much negativity, a kind word and giving attitude can go a long way. I try each day, both in my personal and professional life, to look at issues from all perspectives and understand other people’s viewpoints. I am definitely not changing the world, but hopefully I can make someone’s day brighter every once in awhile.”

Sarah Adams-Cornell

Native American activist; board member, Live Indigenous OK; co-creator, Matriarch, Inc.

Age: 38

Sarah Adams-Cornell is a member of the Choctaw Nation and values the traditions of her people. She and her daughters have learned the Choctaw language, songs, dances, beadwork, basket and dress making and history to help preserve and celebrate their heritage. She was a recipient of the Greater Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States of America’s 2015 Oklahoma Human Rights Award.

She’s also professionally dedicated to advocating for Native American education, rights and culture. “As Native people, we think long-term. When making decisions, we think about how it will impact our relatives in seven generations,” Adams-Cornell said. “This way of living and being has very much impacted every aspect of who I am. This enormous responsibility certainly impacts my worldview and my activism. Seeing pain and need in my community also drives the work I do.”

Adams-Cornell recently served as activist-in-residence at the University of Oklahoma. She hosts the Matriarch program on the Success Native Style Radio Network, serves on the boards of Live Indigenous OK and Not Your Mascot.

“Some say we have an obligation to help others,” she said. “I would say we have the privilege to serve and empower others and in doing so, we are empowered and a strong community is the natural outcome.”

She serves on Oklahoma City Public Schools’ Native American Student Services Parent Committee and helped organize a movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in Oklahoma City. She also was a part of the group that successfully worked to eliminate Land Run reenactments and offensive mascots from Oklahoma City Public Schools.

Much of her work is done with other Native American women.

“Necessity is indeed the mother of invention,” she said. “Many Native women have come together in my community to educate and advocate for our people and especially our children. I am proud to work alongside these Native women. Most recently, I have co-created an inter-tribal women’s group, Matriarch, which focuses on empowering Native women and children through education, services and community support. We will heal ourselves and tackle the issues impacting us to improve the lives of our children and for generations to come.”

Shannon M. Lavicky

Private equities accountant, Hall Capital

Age: 28

Shannon Lavicky is a tax accountant at Hall Capital, a private investment company dealing in private equity, real estate, automotive and oil and gas. On a daily basis, she prepares the financials and tax returns for a majority of the firm’s entities and particular family members.

Accounting, like many fields, has its stereotypes, and Lavicky has been determined to break them since the moment she graduated.

“After working in public accounting for three and a half years, I became the youngest accountant by a large gap to start working privately for the Hall family at their family-owned investment company,” she said.

Lavicky has always aimed to be a kind person, and rather than finding specific role models in her personal life, she found that she was inspired when she saw people trying to bring light into other people’s lives. She does admit that the Hall family has been important in shaping her own career.

“In regards to my career, I would have to say that my biggest role models have been the Hall family,” she said. “Seeing their drive to constantly bring new and exciting investments and opportunities to Oklahoma City and other parts of our nation makes me realize that we have not only the obligation, but the honor of helping our community’s economy and culture with the talents and assets given to us.”

She said the most significant contribution she has made to her community, though, is something entirely different. She founded a nonprofit, Senior Step Companions.

“We are partnered with Epworth Villa, a retirement community located in North Oklahoma City,” she said. “Our volunteers are paired with seniors who have lost their loved ones or have out-of-state family. A volunteer can weekly or biweekly go into the facilities and walk with the elderly. This keeps them moving and staying active — not to mention, along the way, some pretty amazing relationships are built.”

Ted Perry

Private banking associate, The Private Bank at Bank of Oklahoma


Private banking is a tough industry, but Ted Perry has dealt with far tougher. A West Point graduate who holds an master’s degree in business administration from Oklahoma State University, Perry is also a captain in the United States Army and served two tours in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“There, I was the lead artillery officer in a 158-person team providing mechanized infantry support,” he said.

He counts among his accomplishments planning, assessing and leading more than 500 combat patrols in a volatile area in east Baghdad, where he embraced leadership opportunities and performed the duties of executive officer and company commander in combat on numerous occasions.

“These leadership positions led to us streamlining our logistics at our combat outpost, the reopening of communications with the neighborhood council after two years of silence with previous units,” he said, “as well as developing, assessing, supervising and working with foreign contractors to provide more than $4 million in electrical, water, sewage and school repair for 20,000 Iraqi citizens living in my company’s sector.”

At the bank, his work is much less dangerous, but it’s no less important to the people he serves.

“In my personal and professional life, I always strive to be a servant leader in helping the lives of others,” Perry said. “Whether it is in aiding an individual or family with their financial dreams and needs, coaching kids in athletics, tutoring students or growing nonprofit organizations, I give my time and myself genuinely with no strings attached.”

His volunteer career is equally impressive. In 2014, Perry helped create the Sunbeam Family Services Young Professionals Board, which drafted guidelines, policies and bylaws, and the group now shapes the future of Oklahoma City’s oldest nonprofit.

He was a guest speaker at Heritage Hall’s faculty retreat and is helping the school with its honor code and character development program.

Tiffany Astl

Director of operations, Young Brothers, Inc.


Tiffany Astl’s passions are art and design. She is proud that through her hard work and unparalleled customer service, she has earned the trust of many of Oklahoma City’s most respected designers and contractors. Young Brothers is a specialty tile showroom offering custom fabrication and installation of natural stone.

“Young Brothers is currently undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation,” Astl said. “I have been tasked with the audacious duty of designing the new showroom floorplan. The business owners trust and value my opinions and are allowing me to help implement a new layout for showcasing our products.”

Astl works hard, and if she could step back in time to chat with her 20-year-old self, she would share a favorite motivational quote: “Be around the lightbringers, the magicmakers, the world shifters, the game shakers. They challenge you, break you open, uplift and expand you. They don’t let you play small with your life. These heartbeats are your people. These people are your tribe.”

Professionally, Astl has been involved with National Kitchen & Bath Association, American Society of Interior Designers, Marble Institute of America and Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association. Her volunteer work includes service to her church, Habitat for Humanity, City Rescue Mission’s Mission of Hope Banquet, the 2016 Design Appétit event to benefit Homeless Alliance, WestFest and Uptown 23rd Farmers Market. She said she gives back to her community as often as possible.

“In reflecting on my life and how I can make this world we live in a better place, I believe it starts with the small things,” Astl said, “a simple act of kindness or selflessness, taking into account those around you and what they need. Each person you come in contact with presents an opportunity for you to make a difference for them or for their day. Start with your family at home, your friends, neighbors, coworkers, clients, customers or even the cashier at the grocery store.”

Related posts