Chamber of Commerce introduces new ’20-Under-40′ class


By Michelle Key

The 2019-20 session of the Opelika Chamber of Commerce’s “20-Under-40” program is underway.
New members enjoyed a kickoff retreat at the Opelika Sportsplex on Aug. 10. The first class was held Aug. 13 at the Museum of East Alabama with a historical overview of Opelika and the class members were introduced to the Opelika City Council on Aug. 20.
The group will participate in an additional 20 classes including lessons about Opelika utilities, higher education, industry in Opelika, 1-on-1 meetings with Mayor Gary Fuller plus visits to the city’s environmental services, public works departments and more.
This year’s class members are:
• Michael Barlow
Barlow was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. Family has always been a big part of who he is and what he enjoys doing. He is one of eight kids (six boys and two girls) and now has his own family. He is married to a Southern girl who stays at home with their almost 2-year-old daughter, and they have a son on the way with a due date of Oct. 14. He graduated from Brigham Young University (BYU) where he received a bachelors degree in public health and a minor in business, and then received a masters degree in hospital administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He works at East Alabama Medical Center which he truly enjoys and is passionate about the work he does. Healthcare has always been close to him since his father is a physician and all five of his brothers are in healthcare related fields. He enjoys spending time with family, reading books to and playing with his daughter. He also enjoys reading, playing both the piano and ukulele, cooking and especially traveling. His favorite place he has traveled is Jerusalem, where he studied a semester while attending BYU at the BYU Jerusalem campus.
• Donny Blankenship
Donny Blankenship is the morning show host and program director for Mix 96.7 FM in Opelika. He grew up in Alpharetta, Georgia and moved to Alabama in 2004. He graduated in 2009 with a bachelors degree in radio/television/film from Auburn University. His show welcomes local leaders and community members daily, and showcases the city’s growing social presence as well as worthy charitable efforts being made in East Central Alabama. He spends his free time with his wife, Allison.
They enjoy going to concerts, live Auburn sports and making trips to Lake Martin on weekends.
• Charles Brown
Brown works for Baxter International. No additional information was provided to complete his biography at this time.
• Mark Coxwell
Coxwell is the chef and owner of Butcher Paper BBQ in Opelika. He started the business by supporting downtown Opelika events and businesses more than four years ago, which quickly turned into a food trailer and then a brick-and-mortar restaurant in September 2018. The focus of the business has always been a support for the community and a dedication to traditional BBQ that is accessible to everyone. Coxwell is a graduate of Opelika High School. After living in Nashville and Athens Georgia, he was able to move his family back to his hometown in 2013. He is enthusiastic in supporting local small businesses and backing the arts in Opelika. He is especially excited to teach these values to his two boys, William and Joseph, as they grow up calling Opelika “home.”
• Will Crenshaw
Crenshaw works in the MIS Department at Opelika’s SUSCC campus where he is responsible for resolving a wide range of IT related issues for faculty, staff and students. He is a graduate of Auburn University and enjoys attending as many football, basketball and baseball games as he can. His other interests include golf, tennis and traveling with friends.
• Kelli Fischer
Fischer is an assistant principal at Opelika High School. She is beginning her fourth year as an administrator and ninth year as an educator. Originally from Dadeville, Fischer was raised an Auburn fan and decided to continue her family’s tradition of going to college in Auburn. She graduated from Auburn University with a bachelors of science degree in secondary social science education in 2011. Fischer went on to get her masters degree in instructional leadership and administration at Troy University in 2016. She and her husband Jonathan have two children, Davis and Charlotte. The Fischers are active members of Church of the Highlands where they are former Highlands Kids Coordinators and currently serve on the small group leader team. Kelli and Jonathan officially moved to Opelika in February 2019 and are looking forward to raising their family there.
• Emma Holman
A 2007 college of human sciences graduate, Holman began her fundraising career at Auburn University’s phone-a-thon as a student caller. Upon departing the Plains, she moved to Athens, Georgia to join the American Cancer Society where she sharpened her skills through planning and executing large- scale fundraisers. From 2014 to 2019, she served as the Director of Annual Giving at the Terry College of Business at University of Georgia until she found that twinkle in her eye to return to her alma mater. She joined the Harbert College’s Advancement team in spring of 2019 as a development officer.
Holman has been involved in whichever community she resides while holding leadership positions with the Piedmont Athens Regional Foundation’s Young Professionals 1919, Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Junior League of Athens, Family Connection – Communities in Schools and was a 2018 Leadership Georgia Nominee.
• Gregory
Johnson Jr.
Johnson is currently a sergeant with the Auburn Police Division where he has worked for the past 12 years. In 2014, he started the L.E.A.P.S. Mentoring Program (Leadership, Education, Achievement, Partnership and Service) which is a proactive program that has the ability to curb potential crime, poor academic performance and other negative aspects of bad decision making. Their biggest event is the Annual Mother/ Son Date Night. He is currently a member of the 100 Black Men of America Greater Auburn/ Opelika Chapter, as well as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. Johnson has been married for 11 years to his wife Shonda, and they have three sons: Gregory III, Christopher and Cameron. He played football at Auburn University from 2003-2007 where he earned his bachelors degree in criminal justice, and he holds a masters degree from Columbus State University.
• Matt Jackson
Matt Jackson is originally from Birmingham and attended Auburn University. He has spent his career in the construction management field, working in multiple states throughout the Southern U.S. and on various types of facilities. Jackson, his wife (Joanna) and son (Curtis) found their home in Opelika nearly three years ago. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, tinkering with vintage cars and spending time with friends and family.
• Kristin Jones
Jones is originally from Winter Haven, Florida. She moved to the Montgomery area when she was four. In 2004, she attended Auburn University at Montgomery and majored in nursing. She moved to Huntsville and met the love of her life and moved to Auburn in 2011. She worked in banking for 12 years and started working last year for the city of Opelika at Opelika Power Services.She is married and has a 3-year-old, blonde-hair, blue-eyed little boy that looks nothing like her but acts just like her! She loves the beach and wants to travel the world just like her granny did.
• Robert Jones
Jones was born and raised in Opelika, went to Lee-Scott Academy and attended Auburn University. He has spent his whole life in property management through his family business in Opelika.
He and his wife Melaine bought a house in Opelika two years ago. He enjoys playing with his dogs, music and golf.
• Mackenzie Kayler
Kayler received her bachelors degree in hospitality management from Troy University and is a native of Roswell, Georgia. Before moving to Opelika, she worked for the city of Troy and assisted with community events and special projects. She also worked for Troy University’s Student Involvement Office as a graduate assistant. She just completed her masters degree in public administration with a focus in nonprofit management from Troy University. Kayler coordinates all events and programs for the Opelika Chamber of Commerce. She is responsible for planning monthly networking events such as Business After Hours, Business Over Breakfast, and Connections, as well as annual events such as the Opelika Chamber’s Annual Meeting, Member Golf Tournament, State of the City and more.
In her free time, she enjoys watching sports, good food, traveling and spending time with friends and family.
• Mary Louise
Kennedy was born and raised in Opelika. She is a 2006 graduate of Opelika High and a 2010 graduate of Auburn University with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. She currently serves as Director of National Events for PRE Events and Tailgate Guys. She is married to Michael Kennedy and has a daughter, Hattie. She loves doing calligraphy in her free time and spending time with her family and their birddogs.
• James LaComb
LaComb was born and raised in New Jersey before relocating to Alabama in 2015. Moving to Opelika, he continued attending school while working at the Lewis Cooper Jr. Memorial Library. After finishing his undergraduate degree in public and professional writing from Auburn, James plans to pursue his masters degree in library and information science and continue working for the city of Opelika. He enjoys reading, occasionally hiking and relaxing with his two cats when he isn’t working or in class.
• Drake Martin
Martin is an Alfa Insurance agent who loves helping others protect what they have worked for, no matter their stage of life. Originally from Monroeville, Alabama, Martin attended Auburn University and graduated with a bachelor of science in agricultural business and economics in 2013. Martin worked in Atlanta for four years and was excited to move to Opelika in 2017 to begin his career as an insurance agent. He is on the Auburn-Opelika Habitat for Humanity board and is a member of the Opelika Kiwanis Club and Auburn Young Professionals. He is also a member of Lee County Young Farmers. He and his wife, Claire, have been married for four years and are expecting their first child in the fall. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, hunting and fishing.
• Beth Mowery
Mowery, who most everyone knows as Beth, was born and raised in Opelika. She attended Opelika High School and graduated in 2008 and went to Jacksonville State University for one year and was also a part of the 2008-2009 cheer squad. She then traveled back home to finish her associates degree at Southern Union State Community College. As she went to school, she also worked at a trampoline and tumbling gym, where she was national champion and attended a world cup event in Belarus. Now, she works for the city of Opelika as the Tumbling Director for Parks and Recreation. She is a nationally certified coach through USA Gymnastics and has coached numerous state, regional and national athletes. Her favorite past times are going to Lake Martin with family and friends, hanging out in downtown Opelika, or spending time with her dog, Lolly.
• Cassie Pruett
Originally from LaGrange, Pruett went to Columbus State University and received her bachelors degree in criminal justice. She moved to Opelika in 2012 with her partner and two pugs. Currently she enjoys employment with Point Broadband. Her hobbies include traveling, cooking, going to the gym and binge watching anything and everything.
• Laura Parson
Parson is an assistant professor in the higher education administration program at Auburn University and higher education administration MEd/PhD program coordinator. Her Ph.D. is in teaching and learning higher education from the University of North Dakota. She has a MEd, adult education from Westminster College with a certificate in teaching English as a second language (TESOL). Her research questions seek to understand how pedagogy, classroom climate, institutional environment and curriculum inform student experiences and how the institution coordinates those factors through translocal practices. In her free time, she is an ultrarunner, training to run across the USA in 2021 to raise money for the organization Girls on the Run.
• Sarah Savage
Savage is originally from Crestview, Florida, but has called the Auburn-Opelika area home for the last 10 years. She graduated from Auburn in 2012 with a bachelors degree in psychology and a minor in human development and family studies. She and her husband, Jonathan, have a daughter, Chaney, who will be 2 in September. She works part time as a communications editor for Auburn University, but spends most of her time attempting to keep her toddler from climbing—and subsequently falling off—furniture and providing an endless supply of “nacks.”
• Cody Traffanstedt
Traffanstedt is an Opelika native and a graduate of both Opelika High School and Auburn University. He started his career in healthcare as a unit clerk at Arbor Springs Health and Rehab while attending Auburn University, where he became passionate about meeting and exceeding the needs of the aging population within our communities. Upon graduating, Traffanstedt worked in Birmingham before becoming the administrator of Arbor Woods Health and Rehab of Reform, Alabama. After serving almost two years in Reform as the administrator, he was given the opportunity to return to his home in Opelika as the assistant administrator of Arbor Springs Health and Rehab, where he works today. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time and traveling with his fiancé Caitlyn.
• Evan Winter
Winter was born in Phoenix, Arizona, but considers himself from Georgia, since his family moved there when he was 9. After high school, he attended Southern Polytechnic and State University (SPSU) and received a degree in construction management. While at SPSU, he connected with Bailey Harris Construction and started a path that led to working for Bailey Harris Construction for 10 years, performing work throughout the state of Alabama. After falling in love with international travel in 2015, he made a career change and began to live and work overseas with an international contractor that led to adventures in Djibouti, Africa and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.
Almost two years ago, Winter felt the South calling him home, and in 2018, he partnered with a friend to open Gamble Winter Construction.
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