The Independent Record's annual 20 Under 40 awards are meant to honor those under age 40 who, through their industry and hard work, are moving the Helena community forward. These awards are not just bestowed by the Independent Record. They are bestowed by the citizens of Helena and the Helena Valley, who nominated each of the honorees.
The Independent Record is again partnering with the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce to host a special luncheon celebrating the winners this year. The luncheon is open to the public and will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15 at the Delta Hotels by Marriott-Helena Colonial. The cost is $25 per person and tickets are available for purchase online here:
Josh Talley, owner, Capital Solutions and Dave’s Fencing
Josh Talley has created and sustained more Helena jobs than he can remember.
But it’s safe to say the four Helena businesses he either opened or purchased have employed dozens of people in the area, and that's not counting his locations in other cities.
“My family has been entrepreneurs going back to my grandpa,” Talley said. “ … I just always knew I wanted to work for myself.”
Talley grew up in Great Falls and moved to Helena in 2006 to help his parents build and open The Pita Pit, which opened in 2007.
He operated The Pita Pit restaurants in Helena and Great Falls until 2014, when he opened The Grounds Guys with locations in Helena and Bozeman.
Talley continued operating The Grounds Guys until 2018, when he obtained his broker’s license and opened Capital Solutions in Helena.
He said he was always looking for financing as the owner of The Grounds Guys, and the new commercial finance business helps meet that need for other businesses in a similar situation.
“I always knew there was a need out there for finding financing,” he said.
Talley purchased Dave’s Fencing in March of this year and continues to operate that Helena business along with Capital Solutions.
“I just love being outdoors and talking with people and interacting with people,” he said. “That’s why I got back into this line of work with Dave’s.”
Talley believes small businesses are important to the community and he is constantly seeking new opportunities, he said.
“I’m always looking, always thinking and dreaming,” he said. “My head just revolves around small business.”
As the father of four children, Talley has also kept busy coaching baseball and volunteering at Helena's nonprofit Preschool, Inc.
"Whether it’s helping at a fundraiser, helping in the classroom, or building playground equipment, he’s always there to lend a hand,” his wife Jasmin wrote in his nomination for the 20 Under 40 Award.
The family also houses a Helena Bighorns hockey player each year and donates to the Helena Area Youth Hockey Association.
“My husband has always been a go-getter, and is the nicest and most generous man you will meet,” Jasmin wrote.
Brandon Kiesling, partner, Associated Dental of Helena
Dental hygiene is important to Brandon Kiesling, but making his patients feel comfortable is even more important.
Kiesling is a partner at Associated Dental of Helena. He grew up in Helena, graduated from Helena High School, attended Montana State University and finished dental school in Louisville, Kentucky, knowing he would come back to town and care for patients.
“I try to treat everyone the way I would want to be treated,” he said. “I explain things to patients, talk with them and go slowly through the process.”
Kiesling is involved in his field so he can provide his patients with new procedures and developments. He serves as an active board member of the Montana Dental Association and the American Dental Association.
“I make sure Montana is represented on the ADA,” he said.
In September, Kiesling will be inducted into the International College of Dentists, which has been honoring the world’s leading dentists since 1920. He said he is pretty proud of that because members have to be nominated. They are recognized for adhering to the universal motto: “Recognizing Service and the Opportunity to Serve.”
Locally, Kiesling is a member of the Helena Young Professionals.
In his off-time, Kiesling is an avid outdoorsman and photographer. He takes photos of nature, landscape and wildlife. He is proud to say one of his photographs was featured on the cover of “Montana Outdoors,” the monthly magazine of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
He and his wife Mari are parents to Cavin, 4, and Merrin, 2. Kiesling said they are an outdoor-based family and love to go hiking, fishing, camping and biking. Mari is a pediatric dentist.
Kielsing’s greatest accomplishment, he said, is serving his community in the way that he wants to.
“I treat patients in a way that I want to treat them rather than be forced to treat them in a way I don’t want to,” he said. “I treat them like they are my mother or my sister.”
Dr. Niki Henriksen, co-owner, Helena Vision Center
Dr. Niki Henriksen, co-owner of Helena Vision Center, enjoys the challenge and diversity of optometry and running a business.
Henriksen lived in Butte until she turned 11 and moved to South Dakota, where she spent her high school and then undergraduate years at Black Hills State University. She knew a medical career or possibly teaching was for her, but was uncertain which field.
“I looked at chiropractic and dental," Henriksen said. "I knew I didn’t want to live the lifestyle of an emergency room doctor, and I knew I wanted to own my own business and make my own schedule so optometry really fit that.”
One of the major highlights of her training occurred while shadowing a colleague. Irregularities discovered during a routine examine on a patient led to the eventual diagnosis of a brain tumor.
“You can really tell a lot about a person’s overall health by looking at the eye,” she said.
Even after moving away, Henriksen kept coming back to Montana and specifically Helena. So after optometry school in Chicago, she moved to the capital city in 2010. In 2012, she bought into Helena Vision Center and now co-owns the practice.
“What I enjoy most is the relationships with patients, taking care of their health and then the health of the whole family,” she said. “I like the challenge of a rural setting and having the practice means being able to manage more of the ocular diseases than if I was working at an optical shop.”
During her time as an optometrist, Henriksen has seen increasing understanding and awareness of what diabetes can do to vision as the leading cause of blindness. Her specialty in ocular disease treatment puts her in a patient’s circle of care, where she is part of a team along with other specialists, such as nutritionists. She has also seen an interesting shift in the last 10 years when it comes to learning about the effects of screen time on kids and what that means for ocular health.
While it can be challenging on the business side, Henriksen credits a background in ranching and the responsibilities that entail a driving force behind wanting to own a business.
“I knew I wanted to work for myself and have that control over the quality and the way I want to run a practice,” she said. “I enjoy the business aspect of running a practice, and it’s a challenge too, but it diversifies the challenge of it, which I enjoy.”
Outside of work, when she isn’t climbing mountains, backpacking or coaching basketball with her wife and two kids, Henriksen has been passionate about the Special Olympics, serving as state clinical coordinator for the Special Olympics Opening Eyes Program which has supplied glasses and eye exams to those with special needs.
Ross Marty, assistant director, Helena Regional Airport
Born and raised in Helena, Ross Marty said aviation has always been a major part of his life.
Flying is a family affair, the 28-year-old assistant director of the Helena Regional Airport said, with relatives in the Air Force and piloting commercially. When he was 18, Marty began working the grounds crew at Helena’s airport and set his sights on the aviation industry in college at Montana State University. He received a degree in business with an emphasis in business administration in 2013.
Marty built relationships through internships and worked with managers that include current airport Director Jeff Wadekamper and former Director Ron Mercer. After working for SkyWest Airlines, he seized the opportunity to come home in 2014 as business and compliance manager. In 2018, he was promoted to assistant director.
“Aviation was always a passion and in the family so it was just a nice fit,” he said of his career path. “I just love the Helena community – it was a great place to grow up, great place to live, and obviously this job had quite a bit to do with it as well. I get to work in an industry that interests me and work at a place that’s kind of been a second home throughout my work experience.”
Much of Marty’s job focuses on compliance with the heavily regulated aviation industry, which he says is the biggest challenge. He credits strong partnerships with federal agencies like the FAA and TSA for their assistance in meeting those requirements.
“Being an airport operator, we’re almost like a mall in that we operate the facility that everyone else operates out of,” he said. “We maintain the facilities to be the safest and most efficient operation for any airport user, whether that’s general aviation, the military or our airline operators.”
And Marty’s passion for flying extends outside of work as a private pilot, flying a Cessna 172 to take in the Montana landscape. He also enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking and going to the lake with his dog, playing golf and shooting in trap league.
With a major remodel and expansion of the Helena Regional Airport underway, Marty says he is excited to be a part of the process.
“There’s obviously a lot going on with development in Helena … any benefit we can provide to the Helena community and for me specifically, a community that provided so much to me growing up and in my professional career, being a part of that is really interesting and really accomplishing to me,” he said.
Allison Moon, psychiatric nurse practitioner, Shodair Children's Hospital
Allison Moon works in a complex and delicate environment that she makes safe and caring.
A nurse practitioner at Shodair Children's Hospital, Moon creates a stable environment for patients, families and staff all while being a member of the Navy Reserves, training for triathlons and being an avid Crossfitter.
Born and raised in Helena, Moon achieved her bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing from Montana State University before getting her Doctor of Nursing Practice at the University of North Dakota.
At Shodair, Moon and her coworkers provide education, mental health treatment, music, recreational and speech therapy, spiritual care and education to both patients and families.
"We work to help, heal and inspire hope," Moon said.
By advocating for her patients, Moon provides valuable resources to people who have not had the opportunity to speak for themselves.
"I have enjoyed seeing children heal from the support that is provided by the psychiatric teams that I am honored to be a part of," Moon said.
Shodair is where Moon finds professional contentment and the desire to always become better. She credits the team of nurses and staff members as exceptional and flexible.
"There is a phenomenal group of people who put their hearts and souls into helping children (at Shodair)," Moon said.
When Moon is not working to heal, she finds herself coaching at Seven Devils Crossfit and helping people in that community achieve their highest potential.
"I coach to generate hope, confidence, strength, joy, teach healthy habits, bring a smile to your face after a long day and develop a lifelong love of fitness," Moon said.
Crossfit is a key part of Moon's personal life and helps her push out of her comfort zone on a regular basis.
"I have witnessed Crossfit change lives and I want to be a part in that," Moon said.
Kali Wicks, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Helena City Commission
Kali Wicks believes she has the best of both worlds being able to work in the private and public sectors.
As senior manager in government relations for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, as well as Helena’s newest city commissioner, Wicks enjoys living and working in the capital city in fields she is passionate about.
“I love what I do, I love policy development, I love meeting with people and hearing different ideas and working on solutions,” she said of her work at Blue Cross. “On the city commission, I learn something new every day and really enjoy interacting with people in the community.”
Wicks grew up on a dryland wheat farm near Chester. She earned a degree in political science and public relations as well as a master’s in communications from Gonzaga, and more recently a master’s in public administration from the University of Montana.
She has lived in Helena for 12 years, first working for the state in workforce and community development, housing and higher education before moving to Blue Cross five years ago.
“My main job is to represent rural Montanans and make sure they have access to affordable health care,” Wicks said. “Every day I go to work I think about not only the people and our patients and our members, but also all the folks that may be impacted by decisions in the health care market with regard to economic development in our state.”
Health care policy can be particularly challenging in Montana where residents often travel long distances to seek medical care and rural hospitals may not have specialists.
“The challenging piece of course is that we’re very rural, and that means there’s never enough money to go around, hospital and health care prices are rising, as well as pharmaceutical costs, so it’s our job to recognize that those services are important but find ways to make sure they’re affordable so that people that need those services can get them,” Wicks said.
While she loves her work at Blue Cross, Wicks missed working in the public sector. When a vacant seat came up on the city commission she applied and was appointed – a decision she is glad she made –and now she is running for a full term.
“I think that we’re in a really interesting place with the city where we have kind of a different commission than we’ve ever had before, we have a new city manager, we have a lot of folks that are coming on board with the city now, we have a great opportunity I think to really look at the opportunities that are before us,” Wicks said.
As a commissioner, Wicks is interested in facilitating more communication between citizens and government to improve transparency. Affordable housing, developing a solid growth policy as Helena’s population rises and access to open space top her interests on the commission.
Wicks is also passionate about several organizations, serving as vice chair of the Career Training Institute and vice president of the Women’s Foundation of Montana.
Wicks and her husband are expecting their first child this fall, and she says Helena is the perfect place to work, play and raise a family.
“I just feel the size of Helena is so wonderful, I can still meet new people but I can go to the grocery store and still see people I know,” she said. “It’s a place where people still open doors for each other.”
Katie Jerstad, deputy county attorney, Lewis and Clark County
Katie Jerstad came to Montana after college to vacation in the national parks and has been here ever since.
"I worked in tourism and recreation jobs outside Yellowstone," Jerstad said of her first jobs in Montana.
Jerstad would later make her way to law school at the University of Montana in Missoula, but had the path to her current position as a deputy county attorney for Lewis and Clark County cut out a few years earlier.
Jerstad grew up in Massachusetts. During her undergraduate career at Swarthmore College, she interned at the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office in Boston.
"I got to be a fly on the wall," Jerstad said.
There she saw her first forensic interviews and watched sexual assault cases go to trial, and she found the process fascinating.
"When I got to Montana I was already interested in criminal law," Jerstad said.
She clerked for a while at a law firm whose focus was on the civil side before she came to Lewis and Clark County's civil division and has been working for the county ever since.
But civil cases were not getting it done for Jerstad.
"The criminal bug kept biting," she said.
She moved to the criminal side of the Lewis and Clark County Attorney's Office after a few years in civil and began taking on sexual assault felonies, property crime cases, elder exploitation charges and a host of civil cases involving juveniles in the Youth Court system.
"Things stay pretty interesting," Jerstad said.
And while she's working on a stack of cases, Jerstad also finds time to volunteer at her two boys' schools and with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Jerstad actually began volunteering in schools before she had her sons.
"There's an obligation to serve in communities," Jerstad said about being a lawyer.
"A lot of people fulfill that by sitting on a board, I opted to volunteer in a school because it offset the seriousness," she said.
Jeff Sealey, legal counsel, Montana Department of Labor and Industry
Jeff Sealey has lived and worked as an attorney in Helena for the past 13 years.
Born in Lewistown and raised in Billings, Sealey went to law school at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and came back to Montana with his wife, who joined her uncle's dental practice in Helena.
He doesn't have plans to leave any time soon, with his kids in school and a new job as legal counsel for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
"We're stuck," Sealey said with a laugh.
He and his family enjoy the recreation opportunities Helena offers, including mountain biking, fishing, hiking, trails, etc.
"We're really spoiled with the trail system," Sealey said.
Though he's moving to DLI to work in the civil division as both an adviser and litigator, civil cases haven't been what Sealey worked on during the past decade at the Lewis and Clark County Attorney's Office.
When Sealey was in law school, he clerked in Minneapolis and became intrigued by the criminal law system. When a job opened up at the county attorney's office under Leo Gallagher, he took it.
He's been prosecuting felony DUIs and domestic violence cases, and has been the main prosecutor for felony strangulation cases in the county since they became felonies in 2017.
"I love working here," Sealey said, even though he dealt with brutal crimes on a daily basis.
So a move can be a good thing. But not a move from Helena.
"There's an appreciation for the sense of community," Sealey said.
"I like that if I go to a grocery store I can see five people there that I know," he said. "It feels like a small town."
"By Montana standards," Sealey added with a smile.
Callie Aschim, general manager, Home2 Suites by Hilton
When Callie Aschim moved to Helena in November 2017, she was the first employee of Home2 Suites by Hilton.
“It was very important to me that the hotel get involved with the community and that I get involved in the community as an extension of that,” Aschim said.
She said she had really great models at her last hotel, as well as her parents, who are very civic minded.
So she reached out to the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce and began attending events and volunteering. Now, she serves on the chamber board and is part of the Helena Convention and Visitors Bureau Council.
Aschim moved to Helena from Missoula to manage the hotel. While she got involved in Helena for herself, she said the Hilton encourages employees to be involved in their community. So, she tries to make participation opportunities available to staff.
“We volunteer at the visitor’s center every month and anything we can do to help the community, whether it’s monetarily or with hours," she said.
Aschim said the Hilton is very supportive of employees getting involved and gives the hotels a “lot of leeway in what we can do.”
“We try to pick things our employees are interested in,” she said. “We want our employees to have a little bit of fun and still be able to give back.”
As part of Helena Leaders Network, the hotel participated last year in the Helena Food Share drive and volunteered at the West Mont farm day. It works with the Eagles Lodge and donates leftover shampoo, conditioner and shower gel for shower kits, which are donated to the homeless shelter.
As a company, Hilton participates in Clean the World, a soap recycling program that distributes leftover soap to places in need. Aschim said she is hoping to partner with an organization in town to put together a clean kit party and invite the community to get involved.
Aschim got involved with the chamber’s Helena Wins program and, most recently, she hired two teens for the summer jobs program. Through this, she serves as a mentor for two high school kids who work with her over the summer to learn about the hotel industry.
“I got two fantastic kids that I get to work with every day and get them excited about hotels and the industry,” Aschim said. “It’s been phenomenal. They saved our lives because we really needed the help this summer and it’s been neat to see. This (age) is when I started in hotels. It’s been great to share my experience with them and see them flourish here.
“It’s great. We’re so thankful that Helena has been welcoming to us and it’s a great opportunity to give back and to be involved.”
Aschim grew up in Sunburst, where her family still lives and farms. She lives in Helena with her boyfriend, Shad Zinda, and is an avid college basketball fan who loves to camp and boat.
Tyler Bryant, CPA, JCCS
At just 33 years old, Tyler Bryant is changing Helena’s accounting landscape. Bryant transferred from JCCS’s Great Falls office to Helena, and brought with him a relentless drive to serve others.
“I just want to make my clients' lives easier. I want to take the stress of what they are trying to figure out off their plate and let me handle it for them," he said. "You know, I get excited about planning for retirement or applying to purchase a business -- stuff like that. That’s exciting to me, where it may be scary for them to undertake that, so anything I can do to make them sleep easier at night is a joy for me.”
Bryant’s enthusiasm and dedication to his role helped him lead his team to become one of the most profitable accounting firms in the state.
“We had a lot of key members that were just pushing hard and trying to make things better, trying to make themselves better at their craft," he said. "And then, of course, with the addition of the company that we acquired, that brought in additional revenue and additional team members.”
Bryant emphasized how JCCS’s success is due in part to his staff who give 100 percent every day. In addition to increasing revenue and growing their client base, Bryant wants his employees to lead full and balanced lives.
“We want to keep making it a great place to work for our team members and so people want to stay and that they enjoy coming to work ... and just keep working towards that to make everybody’s lives better," he said.
Bryant hopes to inspire others through his work at JCCS.
“I’m not one to look for or want recognition or anything like that," he said. "I just try to lead by example specifically with my team in my office, doing the half includes getting out in the community and meeting with prospective clients or existing clients through referral sources or whatnot and just getting JCCS out there, getting my name out there and then people start equating who we are with what we do.”
Sara Casey Taleff, director, Cottonwood Agile Learning Center
Sara Casey Taleff is the director, founder and a teacher at Cottonwood Agile Learning Center in Helena.
After moving away from her hometown of Helena, Sara and her husband Christopher Taleff started a school in New York City that served students from age 3 to 8. However, after having their own children, the couple decided it was time to move back to their home state of Montana.
Sara decided Helena was the place they wanted to raise their children.
"Our intention coming back was to help build the community we want to live in," she said.
After moving back to Helena, Sara decided it was time to return to her role as an educator. She had previously spent two years teaching public school and a number of years working for the Office of Public Instruction. She has worked in the education field since 2003.
Sara said they founded Cottonwood to give students another option for school.
"All kids should have their individual learning path and should play a role in determining what that is," Sara said.
In order to accommodate as many families as possible, Sara implemented an income-based fee structure. For the past two years, the school has been able to accommodate 30 students from ages 3 to 17.
However, this fall Cottonwood is opening a second location, which will allow it to double the size of the student body. Sara said the Fuller Avenue location will still be used as a classroom in some capacity, but will shift focus to a community oriented space.
Community plays a major role in both the school and the lives of Sara and Christopher. Sara said that alongside building a community among the students, the school is working to further expand its outreach in the Helena area.
Cottonwood has already played host to a number of events, including Montana's first Veganfest.
In addition to Christopher's position as a member of the Business Improvement District, the family is heavily involved in Helena's arts community including Grandstreet Theater, the Myrna Loy and the Archie Bray Foundation.
As she moves forward into more of a director role, Sara said her goal is to grow the school's outreach and get more heavily involved in Helena's downtown community.
Dan Barry, owner, Great Divide Cyclery
Dan Barry says he was in the right place at the right time when Great Divide Cyclery went up for sale.
The 37-year-old Laurel native started working in a Billings bike shop in 1996 and has worked in one ever since. That includes his time in Boston attending Leslie University, where he worked in a bike shop, but kept his home state in the back of his mind.
“I always wanted to come back to Montana, especially after living in a big city,” he said. “I had some friends that lived here and they basically gave me some intel that there was a shop for sale.”
Barry drove to Helena and approached long-time owner Eric Grove. The shop was 30 years old in 2014, and on April 1, the papers were signed and Barry had his shop – a decision he is glad he made.
“What I heard previously was just how welcoming the community is, and that was a real thing. I bought the shop when it was 30 years old and some of the people who came in 30 years ago are still coming in,” Barry said. “I think that the best part is getting people on bikes and having the local support of the community.”
Barry has enjoyed a tight-knit group of employees that has helped the business thrive. While he at times finds keeping up with demand for repairs and inventory challenging, Barry is happy with the size of Great Divide and the service it is able to offer.
“Having a sustainable job in a small community and a small business is very rewarding,” he said. “We have an awesome trail system. It’s great for hiking and biking and dog walking. It’s a community that likes to be outdoors and active and fit and I think that is kind of what I wanted in a job.”
Barry has seen bike technology continue to evolve during his years in the industry. From hydraulic brakes to new materials, bikes are becoming lighter and stronger.
“Bikes are kind of like that one thing that you can buy that’s not disposable,” he said. “I mean you can buy a cellphone, a computer and it can be worn out in a couple of seasons. If you buy a bike it’s still a lifelong product if you take care of it.”
Deanna Johnson, co-owner, Edge Marketing + Design
Deanna Johnson is a successful business owner with a golden voice in the Helena Symphony.
Johnson began Edge Marketing + Design with two partners in 2010, and they worked their way to success client-by-client.
Marketing strategy and web development are Johnson’s strengths.
In addition to running a business, Johnson sings first soprano in the Helena Symphony chorale. The company donates a lot of extra marketing time to help the symphony stretch its budget, and Johnson has given her own time to help manage the chorale and wrote software that helps manage attendance.
“I try to help with the events I can and that kind of stuff,” she said. “It’s my side thing.”
Johnson and one of the co-owners volunteer creative design and marketing work for Florence Crittenton’s Paint the Town Pink fundraiser and Support our Girls events.
Edge also helps Montana Business Assistance Connection with its accelerated startup program. The program provide resources, accountability and mentorship to new startups in the Helena area.
However, her life hasn’t been easy. Pregnant at 15, she gave up her child for open adoption before open adoption was common.
Open adoption meant she was able to remain a part of his life as he grew up.
“My mom found out about open adoption," she said. "I ended up putting my son up for adoption through Catholic Social Services in an open adoption. Now he is graduated from college and working. It’s kind of crazy.”
Because of the experience, Johnson has been a long-time volunteer with Catholic Social Services helping counsel young women through the adoption process.
Johnson is most proud of the business and getting where she is now.
“Edge is a big deal to me,” she said. “I am able to support myself and family, and working for myself is no small fete. Being pregnant at 15 and doing what I did to get where I am, where I have a relatively normal life, kids, and I went to college at Carroll. Not a lot of people can say ‘I was pregnant at 15 but I have a bachelor’s degree and I have my own business.’ I guess I just kind of kept moving on and now I’m here, that’s great and I love it.”
While her professional life and volunteering keeps her very busy, Johnson manages to make time for her two children, Blake Satre, 4, and Derek Satre, 9. She said with them and her “newish” husband, Duane Johnson, they have a great time with karaoke in the living room. They also manage to carve out family time at their cabin in Lewistown, take road trips and fish.
Josh Romandia, CEO, Montana Internet Corp.
Josh Romandia, Montana Internet Corp.'s new CEO, has been making an impact in Helena's tech sector the past few years.
When MIC's former CEO Chuck Siefert first met Romandia back in 2015, he knew that one day Romandia would be running the company. Romandia is a native of the San Francisco bay area and came to Montana when his mother died. He only intended to stay for a few months, but fell in love with Helena and the wider Montana area.
"I was looking into local tech companies I thought I could help," Romandia said. "I wanted to bring some of that Silicon Valley experience to a Montana business."
When he met Siefert, the two hit it off and Romandia saw it as a good opportunity for him. Fast forward a few years, and in January 2019 Romandia was made the new CEO of the company.
One of Romandia's biggest undertakings for the company has been the expansion of fiber optic internet connection. Romandia said he saw a market opportunity when listening to MIC's customer base. The company offered wireless connections, but the need and growth of internet capabilities is exponential. Meanwhile, demand for faster speeds is through the roof, Romandia said.
"Fiber optic is largely a more affordable option for us," he said. "So we started helenawantsfiber.com to gauge the market demand."
There was a lot of demand. Romandia weighed the pros and cons of bringing in the talent, equipment and capital investment for fiber. Fiber may not last forever, but it will last longer than cable internet connections, Romandia said.
He made the push for the fiber investment and the company has successfully connected about 130 homes so far in its pilot project. These include locations in the Helena Valley, Townsend and Boulder. Siefert described it as taking the small tech company and making it into a minor construction company.
When he arrived, Romandia found the company had a Ma and Pa shop culture. That slow speed was starting to impact growth opportunities. Over time, he started to implement some of the good parts of the Silicon Valley culture.
Romandia has also made efforts to be involved in the community. He served on the now defunct Helena Industries board and helped facilitate the eventual shutdown. He also has mentored felony drug court clients. Currently, he is looking at more opportunities to get involved in Helena.
Thomas Richardson, pharmacy clinical manager, St. Peter's Health
Antibiotics can become ineffective when they are overused, and Thomas Richardson is working to help prevent that from happening in Helena and throughout the state.
As the pharmacy clinical manager for St. Peter’s Health, Richardson launched the multi-disciplinary Antimicrobial Stewardship Program in 2015 to fight the antibiotic resistance epidemic. The team, which includes nurses, pharmacists, providers and other health-care professionals, helps physicians responsibly prescribe antibiotics and educates the community on how to responsibly take them.
The goal is to tailor antibiotic therapy to the individual patient, Richardson said.
“Nationwide, there’s been a lot of movement to improve the use of antibiotics in communities, and a lot of that’s driven by the fact that they’ve been overused. And we’re getting more bacterial resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics where we start to lose the effectiveness of that,” Richardson said. “So there’s been a lot of push and movement for communities and health-care organizations to really hone in and monitor how antibiotics are being used in communities, and improving on how that’s being done.”
The team has been tracking the volume of antibiotics prescribed as well as the bacterial resistance in the community, Richardson said, and “we’ve seen significant improvement in all of that.”
“His work at St. Peter’s in this area has resulted in reduced antibiotic use and improvements in patient care,” Starla Blank, pharmacy director at St. Peter’s Health, wrote in Richardson’s nomination for the 20 Under 40 award.
Richardson has also established and secured accreditation for a successful post-graduate first year pharmacy residency at St. Peter’s Health, Blank wrote. Now in its fourth year, the program draws applicants from around the country and is a sought-after location for students seeking ways to enhance their learning and get hands-on experience.
In addition, Richardson was recognized as the Montana Pharmacy Association’s 2018 Young Pharmacist of the Year and serves on the organization’s Health-Systems Academy Board.
“He works in the background, but his expertise and dedication to responsible antibiotic use truly impacts the lives of people in our community,” Blank wrote.
Carrie Krepps, executive director, Florence Crittenton
Even after a century of serving young families, Florence Crittenton's positive influence in the Helena community continues to inspire its Executive Director Carrie Krepps.
“I was just sitting in our staffing meetings yesterday … (discussing) just some of the successes and the celebrations and I thought, gosh, that’s a life-changing thing that just happened for that family and, you know, what if, what if we wouldn’t have been there," she said. "And I don’t say that because we saved the day, but what if there wouldn’t have been an opportunity for those families? It’s pretty great to see.”
Born and raised in Helena, Krepps, 39, is passionate about giving back to the same community that shaped her into the woman she is today.
Over the course of eight years, Krepps and her team grew fundraising from $500,000 to nearly $1 million -- money that will support Florence Crittenton’s evolving programs.
Krepps explains her recipe for success.
“I think one of the biggest things that was a factor in that was the team that we built in our development department," she said. "I think the commitment from the individuals that have been on that team and the relationships that they have built in this community and across the state has been probably the biggest component.”
In addition to fundraising’s tremendous growth, Krepps has had the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless.
“I think advocating for families at the legislative level and at the state and community level and helping people understand what families are going through is one of the most important things that I can as an individual in my role and as an organization, that we can bring forward to the community," she said. "It is so important that we address what is happening with these families if we want this next generation of kiddos to have a chance at having thriving, productive lives. I just don’t think we can advocate enough for those families.”
Lisa Leland, programs coordinator, Reach Higher Montana
Lisa Leland is an organized, supportive person. She has worked 14 years at Reach Higher Montana as the programs coordinator and renders support to all the programs that help high school students access higher education.
“I’m not the face out there,” Leland said. “I’m the behind-the-scenes girl that makes sure everybody is organized, prepared and has what they need to succeed.”
Those talents and how she puts them to use planning the POW/MIA Montana Ride to Remember are why she was nominated for the 20 under 40 Award.
For Leland, the motorcycle ride is a family affair.
Leland’s parents, Dick and Linda Juvik, have been responsible for the POW/MIA Montana Ride to Remember for six years. She helped support her parents during the first event and for the past five years, Leland has been planning the event. She became secretary of the event four years ago and recently was elected vice president.
The August motorcycle ride from Helena to West Yellowstone pays tribute to Montana’s prisoners of war and those missing in action.
The group not only is involved with the ride, as members stand flag lines for veterans' funerals in Helena and across Montana. They maintain flags for each of the 53 POW/MIA personnel from Montana, and during the ride they place them along both sides of the Helena end of Highway 287, which was dedicated as the Montana POW/MIA Memorial Highway.
Leland also, with other members of the group, visits with veterans in assisted living homes. Recently, they presented 25 veterans with hats, thanked them for their service and spent the day visiting.
“My daughter came too,” she said. “It’s important to include the next generation. We don’t want to forget.”
Leland’s children, daughter Jessie, 9, and son Miles, 7, have been involved every year in the ride handing out water to riders, and helping to sell T-shirts and patches.
“They and my husband have been right along with me,” she said.
Leland and her husband Scott are “Helena kids,” she said. They have been married 10 years and in their free time take family camping trips.
“My most important accomplishment,” she said, “is my family.”
While Leland is not a veteran, she is the proud daughter of a Vietnam veteran.
Adam Clinch, teacher and coach, Capital High School
Adam Clinch, a born and raised Helenan, is always looking for ways to give back to the community that raised him.
Clinch is a math teacher and coach at Capital High School. For him, teaching was the most obvious way to give back and make a better future.
"I probably became a teacher because I like working with people," Clinch said. "Our time here is short and rare. If I can spend that time helping someone better their lives then I want to."
Clinch is a graduate of the University of Montana. He holds master's degrees in education and mathematics. He spent two years teaching at UM before moving back to Helena. When CHS had an opening for a math teacher, the former Bruin jumped at the opportunity. For the past five years, he had taught honors algebra, algebra I and college statistics at CHS. He said the smorgasbord of different classes he teaches helps keep the job interesting.
Never content doing just one job, Clinch also is the soccer coach at CHS. This summer, he is teaching disc golf to middle school students at Carroll College. He has also spent the past five years as a member of the Knowles Teaching Fellows Program, which Clinch described as a way to interconnect ideas about teaching across the Untied States.
The program has helped Clinch get insight into behind-the-scenes aspects of teaching.
"I love math and wanted to teach it because I think it gets a bad rap," Clinch said. "Humans at their hearts are storytellers. I think if you can make math a story you can find success."
Clinch is fascinated with the theories and concepts behind mathematics. He sees beyond the "number-crunching, algorithm-obsessed, soul-crushing field of high school curriculum" to the history behind mathematics and the people who discovered many of its concepts.
"The moon revolving around the sun obeys the same mathematical equation as an apple falling; an inverse square law," Clinch said. "Mathematics predicted the existence of black holes decades before we observed them within the past year."
Clinch's impact on his students is hard to measure, but he spends time teaching soft skills beyond the scope of math. For him, it's all an effort to make Helena a better place.
Steven Johnson, shareholder and CPA, Anderson ZurMuehlen
Steven Johnson enjoys helping his clients succeed by adding value to their businesses.
As a shareholder and certified public accountant in the Tax Business Unit of Anderson ZurMuehlen, Johnson provides a variety of financial services and consultation to individuals, small businesses and some larger corporations served by the Helena firm.
The Helena native's tenure with Anderson ZurMuehlen began in 2007, when he worked alongside his father in the valuation and litigation department. Johnson started with a master's degree in economics but quickly learned accounting to become a CPA. He became a shareholder about a year ago.
“Steven is a hard worker and is very focused on thriving in his career,” Suzanne Severin, Anderson ZurMuehlen’s office vice-president, wrote in Johnson’s nomination for the 20 Under 40 Award. “He follows through on his commitments and goals both professionally and personally. Steven is a natural leader and does not shy away from asking the hard questions and taking on the difficult tasks.”
Johnson said the most rewarding part of his work has been “seeing clients succeed and seeing businesses succeed, and having a small part in trying to help guide them through changing tax legislation and the always-evolving economy.”
And there have been many changes over the years.
Johnson said many accounting processes have gone paperless and become automated during his 12 years at the firm, and he expects to see artificial intelligence and blockchain technology play a larger role in his work in the future.
“In this profession you either evolve or die,” he said. “I think CPAs are quickly evolving.”
Johnson also serves as a board member for the Montana Business Assistance Connection and Montana Society of CPAs.
Johnson is involved in the disabled ministries program at First Lutheran Church. When the church needed someone to help bus individuals with disabilities to Sunday services, he took the written and driving tests required to obtain his CDL license.
“I had more anxiety over that than the CPA exam,” he said with a laugh.
Johnson’s wife teaches kindergarten and their son is entering third grade in East Helena.
Amy Strainer, CFO, Stahly Engineering and Associates
Amy Strainer, the chief financial officer at Stahly Engineering and Associates in Helena, is an exceptionally organized person.
"I schedule everything down to 15 minute increments," Strainer said.
That level of organization helps her with a wide variety of jobs and volunteer positions in her East Helena community.
Originally hired as the human resources manager for Stahly, Strainer later became CFO and treasurer of the board of directors. She handles finances and oversaw an expansion from 20 to 50 employees.
She's also volunteered in classrooms since 2009, has helped organize the Out of the Darkness suicide-prevention walk, coaches soccer, leads a Girl Scouts troop and helped promote the bond to build the new East Helena High School.
She's also raising a teenager and a 7-year-old.
"They get dragged along to events and meetings," Strainer said with a smile.
A Helena native, Strainer attended Montana State University in Bozeman and got her MBA from the University of Montana in Missoula. Her business focus and affinity for numbers angled her into her day job, but with her list of volunteering accomplishments, her organizational ability reaches far outside her professional career.
"I credit all my amazing volunteers," Strainer said.
"When you volunteer in East Helena your name gets out," Strainer said.
She's also an active member of the East Helena Parent Teacher Organization and chair of the East Helena Culture Committee. But she takes all the new jobs in stride.
"I like to approach things with humor and laughter," Strainer said.
And of course, by planning and organizing as best she can.