Melinda Arnold – Fusion Link Communications
Springfield, MO native is a senior communications professional with more than 27 years of nonprofit public relations, integrated marketing, and customer service experience. She taught for more than seven years as a per-course instructor at Missouri State University. Her expertise includes public and media relations, social media, and crisis communication. She is the owner and chief strategist of Springfield based Fusion Link Communications, specializing in comprehensive integrated and strategic communication planning, including traditional and digital public relations campaigns, organization crisis communications plans, media relations training, and writing and storytelling.
Jen Cannon - Iowa State Fair
Jen Cannon is the Competitive Events Director for the Iowa State Fair where she is responsible for over 65,000 entries in everything from livestock to fine art and also oversees Agriculture Education programming. Jen had been with the Iowa State Fair for 14 years and prior to her current position was the Sponsorship Director with the Blue Ribbon Foundation. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Central College majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis is marketing and a minor in communications. Jen graduated from the International Association of Fairs and Expos (IAFE) Institute of Fair Management in 2010. She is active in the North American Livestock and Rodeo Managers Association and the IAFE Agriculture Committee. Jen and her husband, Tom, have two sons, Lane and Trey. They all work together to operate a purebred Charolais herd in central Iowa and participate in cattle shows throughout the country.
Thane Chastain – Kansas Leadership Center
As Director of Creative Technology for the Kansas Leadership Center, Thane works to see that curriculum is developed and delivered effectively within the KLC facility as well as online.
Thane graduated from Bethel College, KS and later earned a master’s in Communications from Wichita State University. Prior to his work at KLC Thane was a Producer/Director with KWCH-TV, Director of Institutional Marketing for Bethel College, Director of Technology for the Elliott School of Communication at WSU and a Sales and Service representative with Jostens Printing and Publishing. Thane also owns Owings Lockert Technologies, LLC a local technology consulting company.
Outside of KLC, Thane is Festival Producer for the Tallgrass Film Festival. He has volunteered over 40 years of service with the American Legion’s Boys State program in Kansas and has served 20 years on the Boys Nation staff each summer in Washington D.C.
Leslie Cunningham – Impact & Profits
Leslie is an award-winning leadership and teamwork development expert and business consultant with over 20 years of experience in leading workshops, educational seminars, and working with small business owners and leaders.
She is an internationally published author whose work has appeared in chicken Soup for the Soul series, a national columnist, radio personality hosting her own weekly call-in talk “Extraordinary leadership & Teamwork” show, and has appeared live on CBS (formerly CNN) News Talk Radio. Her mission is to empower every business leader to inspire extraordinary teamwork and breakthrough results.
Debbie Evans, Evans Marketing Partners
Hospitality industry veteran Debbie Evans has more than 20 years of sales, marketing and public relations experience. Her career has taken her from the floor of Germany’s largest travel trade fair to the top of Spain’s tallest roller coaster.
Evans has extensive experience in product launch, photo and video direction, collateral development, corporate communications, crisis management, and media relations. Through the year 2006, Debbie served as Six Flags, Inc.’s corporate director of communications providing strategic counsel and oversight of the company’s 39 parks worldwide.
After her tenure at Six Flags, Evans gained valuable marketing agency experience working with leading consumer brands including Target, The Home Depot and Levolor Kirsch Window Fashions. As a consultant, her clients have included the International Association of Fairs & Expositions, PGA National Resort & Spa, Miraval Resort & Spa, Skyterra Wellness, Herschend Family Entertainment, Premier Parks and Six Flags among others.
Evans is a graduate of the Georgia State University school of Hospitality Administration and is active as a volunteer with IAAPA and numerous state and local organizations. A native of Atlanta, Debbie currently lives with her family on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Ken Karns, CFE - OC Fair & Event Center, CA
Ken was introduced to the industry at the Western Fair Association. He has held a number of different positions from Projects and Facilities Manager, Events and Facilities Manager, Property Services Manager, Director of Operations. In 2013 Ken accepted a new position, Director of Facility Development.
Ken’s post-secondary, Business/Facility Management and Technical education was completed in London Ontario at Fanshawe College. Ken accepted a position as Vice President, Operations at the OC Fair and Event Center in January of 2016. He overseas Mastersite Planning, Cap X, Fair, Security & Traffic, Event Operations, Facility Operations, Entertainment and Technology & Production.
He has served on several Boards and committees with IAFE, CAFÉ, TSSA, ASHRAE, IAPA and WSPS.
Mary Lou Kelly
Mary Lou Kelly is a Public Affairs and Communications Consultant specializing in state and local legislative issues and grassroots advocacy. Mary Lou has over 25 years’ experience in government affairs and communications, most notably as a former Government Relations specialist at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. During her many years at Ringling Bros., Mary Lou worked closely with other circuses, animal professionals, and fair and circus trade associations to track state and municipal legislative issues and to fight local bans on the use of animals in entertainment. After meeting and working with some of the best animal professionals and performers in the world, Mary Lou learned the importance of creating coalitions and sharing information across similar industries.
Mary Lou tracks relevant legislative news and activity and writes a weekly client newsletter with issue updates. She also mobilizes industry leaders and supporters to take action when negative legislation is introduced and assists by creating handout materials, writing issue statements and talking points, planning special events to promote legislative outreach goals, and speaking at industry conferences.
Mary Lou earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Boston College and a Master of Science in Organizational and Professional Communications from Regis College.
Amber Klein, Erie County Fair, NY
Amber Klein is the Agriculture Education Coordinator at the Erie County Fair. Amber has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Physical Education and Adaptive Physical Education. She grew up on a family owned horse farm and raised pigs and lambs to show and sell through 4-H. With a continuing passion of both Agriculture and Education, Amber began her career at the Erie County Fairgrounds in June of 2014. She currently educates around 7,000 students per year through the Erie County Agricultural Society’s award winning Farm 2 Table and Little Sprouts programs. Amber is an IAFE Institute of Fair Management graduate. She continues to grow the Agricultural Awareness throughout Western New York and strives to educate youth.
Kathy Kramer, CFE – CEO, Central Washington Fair Association
Laura Kwilos, CFE – Erie County Fair, NY
Laura Kwilos is the Agriculture Manager of the Erie County Fair in Hamburg, NY, and has been working at the Erie County Fair for 13 years. Prior to the fair industry Laura attended Morrisville State College and is a 2016 Institute of Fair Management Graduate along with a 2017 recipient of the Certified Fair Executive designation. Her IAFE involvement includes serving on the Agriculture and CFE committees. Laura, her husband Joshua and daughter Olivia live on a small crossbred beef cattle farm in Forestville, NY and enjoy showing cattle at local and state shows.
Bernee E. Long - Society for Human Resource Management
Bernee joined SHRM in 2019 as a member of the Human Resources team where she leads the Learning & Development team charged with leadership and professional development for SHRM staff as a priority for SHRM’s organizational learning efforts. A speaker, workshop facilitator, and Gallup-certified talent development coach, Bernee is committed to empowering people by maximizing their potential.
An advocate of social entrepreneurship, Bernee believes that everyone is uniquely called to fulfill a purpose in life, with hers being the work she does in mentoring, coaching, and inspiring others. With the passion Bernee plans to “die empty” having imparted with others all that she has learned during her lifetime.
Before joining SHRM, Bernee served as Director, Distinguished Scholars Programs, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. She also served as Assistant Dean for Student Services, Samford University Cumberland School of Law; Director of Admissions, Drake University Law School; Director of Admissions, Talladega College; Director, Center for Entrepreneurship Albany State University ; and as an Administrative Law Judge and mediator, Iowa Public employee Relations Board.
A native of Kansas City, MO, Bernee received her Juris Doctorate from Washington University School of Law (St. Louis, MO), and is a graduate of Truman State University where she received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Organizational Communications. Currently Bernee serves as a member of the Truman State University Alumni Board of Directors
Denny Magruder – Sports and Entertainment Authority, WV
Denny Magruder is the Executive Director of the “Sports and Entertainment Authority” in Wheeling, West Virginia. Denny received a degree in Accounting / Business Administration from West Liberty State University. After graduation he served in many finance capacities with the City of Wheeling including utility rate analyst, budget director and Urban Renewal Treasurer. He then joined the Certified Public Accounting firm of Jack. J. Ferlise Co. specializing in field audits and governmental accounting. He was appointed Business Manager / Comptroller of the Marshall County School District.
In April 1986, Denny assumed his current position. Denny has been an Associate member of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions (IAFE) since 1986 and has presented the Financial Management courses at the IAFE’s “Institute of Fair Management” since 2009.
During his long tenure, the Arena and Theatre have hosted thousands of events including US Presidential visits, professional sporting events, major tournaments, national touring acts, Broadway and Symphony events, and numerous banquets and conferences.
Penny McBride - Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, TX
For 14 years prior to starting with the Chamber Penny owned Indigo Resource Group, an outsource firm that specialized in providing marketing, consulting and management services to tourism-related businesses and organizations. Her company managed the Texas Festival & Events Association and the Texas Association of Fairs and Events for nine years. From 1988-1997, Penny served as the Director of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau
Since 2008, she has worked on a contract basis as the Director of Business Development for the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA). In this capacity she developed IFEA’s Economic Impact Assessment and SponsorForum products, along with a variety of other services. She earned her CFEE designation in 2009, becoming one of only 200 event professionals to hold this global designation.
Jessie McLaughlin, CFE - Spokane County Interstate Fair, WA
Jessica McLaughlin hails from the Spokane County Fair and Expo in Spokane Washington. Jessica serves as the Fair Coordinator.
Jessica graduated from Spokane Community College with an Associate of Arts Degree and an A.A.S in Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Management. She is a graduate of the IAFE Institute of Fair Management and received her Certified Fair Executive Designation in 2009.
In addition to her many Fair responsibilities, Jessica is involved in her community through Camp Fire-USA ; Boy Scouts of America ‘ Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ; and the Washington State Horsemen. Other interests include: Geocashing, camping, hiking and scrapbooking.
Dr. Stephen Neel – Technical Solutions, Inc.
Dr. Neel has been active in the international food business since 1985. Upon completion of his Ph.D. program in Meat Science & Muscle Biology from the University of Georgia in 1992, Dr. Neel was retained by the United States Meat Export Federation (USMEF) to study and develop meat-marketing strategies for USMEF programs in the Russian Federation. Dr. Neel was subsequently employed by the USMEF as the Director of Technical Services and was responsible for development, implementation and evaluation of technical marketing activities funded by USMEF in over 50 international markets, with a particular emphasis on emerging markets.
Dr. Neel’s primary focus during his doctoral education and throughout his professional career has been on the development, implementation and evaluation of marketing programs and market driven research. He has created, implemented and evaluated large-scale market research programs, including a U.S. based research study profiling the preferences and usage patterns of red meat in the U.S.; an international beef quality audit; a multi-national pork competitiveness study and an international pork quality audit. His technical education paired with a strong technical marketing background provides a unique combination of attributes to evaluate and understand international market development needs and trends. Technical Solutions International has ongoing relationships with several U.S. based research institutions, including Colorado State University and Oregon State University, for the purpose of resource sharing and technology transfer. Furthermore, TSI has formed working alliances with several other independent companies with special emphasis on governmental reporting and traditional market research services, allowing for a more comprehensive package of services available to clients.
Dr. Neel has been responsible for coordinating and conducting over 30 trade teams to emerging markets around the world, as well as “reverse teams” of U.S. companies to foreign markets for trade activities, tours and food shows, resulting in an impressive network of contacts and a close familiarity with overseas business practices and cultures.
Rey O’Day - National Independent Concessionaires Association
Rey O’Day has extensive management experience in the fairs and festivals, food and beverage concessions, and entertainment industries. She currently teaches the Principles of Event Management as a UC Riverside Extension Instructor and serves as the Executive Director of NICA, a sister organization focused on developing vendor and event staff Communication Committees and advantaging its vendor members with the power of group discount buying.
Over a period of 18 years she held a number of key management positions at Fairplex, home of the LA County Fair, including Assistant Operations Manager, Retail Sales Manager, Entertainment Manager, Director of Food and Beverage and General Manager of Cornucopia Foods, LLC
Ms. O ’Day gives keynote addresses and leads workshops for numerous organizations. She also conducts orientations and guest service training for organizations like The Hollywood Bowl and California Fairs Service Authority. She holds a California Community College Teaching Credential in Dance and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management.
Mike O’Neal – O’Neal Consulting
Mike O’Neal is a legal and governmental affairs consultant d/b/a O’Neal Consulting, LLC, having started this business after his retirement as CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce in 2016.
Mike O’Neal was selected as the President & CEO of the Kansas Chamber after serving 28 years in the Kansas House of Representatives and serving two terms as the Speaker of the House. Mike chaired the House Judiciary Committee a total of 16 years, chaired the House Education Committee and twice chaired the House Redistricting Committee. He was at the forefront of all economic development and legal reform legislation since the mid-‘80s, and was a key player in legislative responses to school finance litigation for the past decade.
Mike earned his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law. He has served on the Board of Governors of the KU Law Society and practiced law in Hutchinson, Kansas from 1976-2012.
Mike is a graduate of Leadership Kansas, having been named Leadership Kansas Alumnus of the Year in 2009. He also has served on the Executive Committee of the National Speakers Conference, the Executive Committee of the Council of State Governments, the Executive Committee of the Council of State Chambers, the Kansas Judicial Council, Uniform Law Commission, Kansas Commission on Judicial Performance, Kansas Sentencing Commission, Team Kansas Board and KTEC Board. He currently serves on the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG-Ks) Board, Kansas Business Hall of Fame Board and is a advisory board member to the Kansas Justice Institute. Honors include being named to Outstanding Young Men of America, Kansas/Missouri “Super Lawyers”, KBA “Making a Difference” award, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Law and Who’s Who Among Emerging American Leaders.
Rick Pickering, CFE - California State Fair
Rick Pickering is the current general manager of the California State Fair located in Sacramento, California; he has served on the IAFE Board of Directors, representing Zone 8, and is a Certified Fair Executive.
Jennifer Puente, CFE – Wisconsin State Fair
Jen Puente has been part of the Fair her entire life. From her days in 4-H showing chickens and arts & crafts, to performing at the County Fair. Jen was her county Fairest of the Fair in Wisconsin, and was also through that experience how she earned the opportunity to intern with the Wisconsin State Fair. Throughout her 17 year career at Wisconsin State Fair, she worked her way up through the ranks to production coordinator, to sponsorship manager and Director of Marketing. She currently serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, overseeing the advertising campaign, social media, sponsorship's, media buying, brand development and creative services for the annual Fair and Fair Park.
Brienne Schuette - Moxie and Drive Marketing
Brienna Schuette is the founder of Moxie & Drive Marketing. Previously, she spent the majority of her career creating and executing strategic, multi-platform marketing plans for the Minnesota State Fair’s annual campaigns and special initiatives. As the youngest spokesperson in Minnesota State Fair history, Brienna conducted nearly 100 local radio, television and print interviews annually; was interviewed by all four Minneapolis/St. Paul national television network affiliates, plus the New York Times, Tonight Show, USA Today, Food Network and Travel Channel; and wrote hundreds of headlines and promotional pieces seen by millions.
Jim Sinclair, CFE - Minnesota State Fair
A native of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin,
Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire in December, 1973, Sinclair continued to work at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair until February of 1975, when he was hired by the Minnesota State Fair (St. Paul) as an administrative assistant responsible for development of the fair's early American theme area, Heritage Square. He was promoted to special events superintendent in charge of off-season special events and facility utilization on the exposition's more than 300-acre campus, which includes 12 multi-use activity buildings and a year-round Coliseum event complex. In 1978, he was named rental services supervisor charged with management of the fair's concession and exhibit rental operations, special attractions and carnival oversight. After serving in numerous positions at the fair Jim was named, in March, 2006, Deputy General Manager. During his forty plus (40+) year tenure at the Minnesota State Fair, Sinclair has had numerous management responsibilities and undertaken multiple program and operational initiatives on behalf of the exposition. Sinclair is a Certified Fair Executive and 2012 graduate of the IAFE Institute of Fair Management.
Gary Slater, CFE – Iowa State Fair
Slater hails from the small Missouri town of Eolia, where he was raised on a 600 acre crop and livestock farm. After graduating from the University of Missouri, Slater began his career as a livestock field man. He then joined the Missouri State Fair as a livestock supervisor. He spent five years in this position. He then joined the Iowa State Fair. He was charged with planning the special events, free entertainment, and booking the facilities for off-season use.
After five years, he went on to join the National Pork Producers Council as Manager of the World Pork Expo. Slater managed World Pork for six years, holding the event in both Des Moines at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and in Indianapolis at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Knowing that his first love was fairs, Slater received the opportunity to return to Missouri in 1997. He began managing the Missouri State Fair. He spent four years in a rebuilding mode, helping to restore the Missouri State Fair to physical and financial success. April of 2001, Slater accepted the position of Manager and CEO of the Iowa State Fair. He states that ever since leaving the Iowa State Fair in 1991, his passion had been to return as Manager. In 2012, Slater served as Chairman of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and a graduate of the Institute of Fair Management
Matt Smith - Hutchinson Community College, KS
Matt’s passion is business and the foundation of business is relationships. I currently am a business instructor at Hutchinson Community College. (Go Blue Dragons!!) This position grants me the opportunity to teach in multiple faucets of business, including human resources. Prior to this transition in my life 4 years ago, I worked as an office manager for a semi-trailer dealer and shop, and a farmers’ cooperative grain elevator. One of the many hats I wore, in both of these roles, was responsibility for human resource functions. In 2008, I received a Bachelors of Business Administration: Accounting from Friends University, in Wichita, Ks. I immediately went into the graduate program at Friends, and, in 2010, I received my Masters of Business Administration. Away from the classroom and computer screens you can find me with my two sons and my wife. We have a lot of fun together, from board games to white water rafting! I enjoy reading, especially historical fiction and biographies. I also enjoy playing golf even though I am terrible at it.
Mark Sparks -Triangle Talent
Mark currently serves as the Vice President/ Manager Triangle Talent Midwest Office. Mark is a recognized expert in programming grounds attractions. A Veteran performer, he has booked and produced grounds entertainment at more than 50 Fairs and venues across the country. Mark is an IAFE Institute of Fair Management graduate.
Jim Tucker - IAFE Legal Counsel
Jim Tucker is the past President and CEO of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions and currently serves as IAFE Legal counsel.
Tucker received a Bachelors in Agricultural Economics in 1970 and a law degree in 1973 from the University of Missouri. Following graduation, he practiced law in Columbia, Missouri and held a teaching position with the University of Missouri Department of Agricultural Economics. In 1974, Jim returned to the home farm and established a law firm in Springfield, Missouri, where he practiced, primarily as a trial lawyer until 2000. He has published numerous articles on law topics including agricultural law, which is of special interest to him.
Throughout his years of practicing law, Tucker remained actively involved in production agriculture. He, his wife, and two children, operate a diversified cow- calf and wheat farm on a Century farm Willard, Missouri.
In January 2001, Tucker assumed the role of President and C.E.O. of the IAFE, a former client. In that capacity he has forged relationships with many government and non-government organizations and interest groups directly and indirectly involved with agriculture, entertainment, concessions and event and venue management. He is a founding member of the alliance among the International Festival and Events Association, the International Association of Venue Managers, the IAFE, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, and the Outdoor Amusement Business Association.
Jordan Walker – Greteman Group
Jordan Walker serves as Greteman Group digital director. She inspires her team of developers and digital strategists, leading by example. She promotes innovation, smarter thinking and ever-greater audience engagement. This whip-smart millennial simplifies complex digital challenges for less-digital audiences. Her masterful grasp of analytics and data help justify marketing spends and ensure the perfect solution. The results she’s helped achieve have increased clients’ return on investment – and market share. Jordan was named to Greteman Group’s Traction leadership team – designed to strategically shape the agency’s future.
Brett Whitaker - Fort Hays State University, KS
Dr. Brett Whitaker is an Assistant Professor and Chair of the Department of Leadership Studies at Fort Hays State University (FHSU). His research and teaching interests include global leadership, ethical leadership, leadership education, and organizational behavior and effectiveness. He holds a PhD in Global Leadership from Indiana Tech, and lives in Hays, KS with his lovely wife, Whitney. Perhaps most importantly, he was involved in 4-H for many years, during which he attended many county and state fairs, and was always grateful for the opportunities provided through those experiences.
Ryan Wilkerson - Haas and Wilkerson Insurance
Ryan was born and raised in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. After graduating from the University of Kansas with Bachelor’s degrees in political science and communications, he joined the family business in 1999 as a sales executive in the commercial insurance division.
In 2004, he succeeded his father, Bill Wilkerson, as president and CEO, becoming the third generation Wilkerson to direct the agency founded by his grandfather, Ralph Wilkerson. Under Ryan’s leadership, Haas & Wilkerson Insurance continues to grow and focus on delivering excellent customer service.
Ryan is an active participant of the Young Presidents’ Organization International and the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers. He serves on the boards of the American Royal and Bank of Blue Valley. He’s been recognized as a NextGen Leader in the as well as 40 Under Forty and KC Rainmakers in magazine