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Mobile Bay's 2012 Class of Forty Under 40

Meet the Bay area's brightest movers and shakers. These young professionals are the new faces of leadership.

James Andrews, 39 

Vice President, Andy’s Music

Alma Mater University of South Alabama • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Shannon Wells Andrews • Children Millie, 7; Chip, 5; and Wells, 2

Best advice you have ever received • “Don’t spend what you don’t have,” courtesy of my dad.
What you would like to see most in Mobile? A city sales tax rate of 6.5 percent.
One thing you would change about the Bay area • I wish people had a better understanding of the power of music. People owe it to themselves to feel the joy of making music. Children shouldn’t have to choose between band and P.E. Making music should be a part of every student’s curriculum.
Instruments you can play • I have taken piano and guitar lessons and play for my own enjoyment and for my kids.
Most treasured possession • A letter and poster my parents sent me while going through a rough patch during college.
How introducing children to music benefits them • Parents have discovered that music helps improve their child's self confidence, concentration, and focus. Scientific research has also shown that music instruction provides children with important experiences that can help develop physical coordination, timing, memory, visual, aural and language skills. Two research projects have found that music training - specifically piano lessons can dramatically enhance children’s spatial-temporal reasoning skills, the skills crucial for greater success in subjects like math and science. (Shaw, Grazianow, and Peterson, Neurological Research, March 1999)

Alex Arendall, 34

Senior Vice President, ServisFirst Bank

Alma Mater University of Alabama • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Merrill Arendall • Children Nancy, 6, and
Robert IV, 4

If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Professional golfer, but see below.
Talent you most desire • A golf swing
Most treasured possession • Time
Biggest pet peeves • Tardiness and dishes in the sink. The dishwasher is right there.
Best advice you have ever received • Attitude is everything. Life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent how you react to it.
What was your senior superlative in high school? They must have run out of superlatives because along with Miss Society, I was Mr. Stud.
What one thing would you change about the Bay area? I wish that our downtown waterfront was more accessible and conducive for retail development.
Your view on Mobile Bay’s current economy • I characterize our economy as a “sleeper.” Once we wake up and realize the opportunities we have and are able to take advantage of those, we have the potential to set the tone for generations to come.

Cartledge W. Blackwell III, 30

Architectural Historian, Mobile Historic Development Commission

Alma Maters College of Charleston, University of Virginia • Hometown Selma

Celebrity doppelganger • Adrien Brody. We have the same nose.
Most treasured possession • My grandfather’s watch
Biggest fear • Monkeys scare the living daylights out of me. A childhood visit to the zoo is to blame.
What quality do you most like in a woman? Good sense of humor
Guilty pleasure • Without a doubt, fried chicken.
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years?  Amazing! The port and the river will be thriving. Downtown will feature more residential and retail places. A passenger rail line will reconnect us to New Orleans.
How does Mobilians’ interest in history compare to other places? Mobilians are like the Chinese — we speak another language, eat fish, and worship our ancestors. Whether a native or a transplant, all Mobilians have some positive engagement with the past!

Britton Bonner,  38 

Partner In Charge, South Alabama Office
Adams and Reese, LLP

Alma Maters Troy University, University of Alabama, Tulane University Law School • Hometown Summerdale • Spouse Ashley Brackin Bonner • Children LeeAnn Elizabeth,  5, and Katherine Graham, 4

First job • Working on a “potato shed” in the summer
Guilty pleasure • A bowl of ice cream while watching the late Saturday night game on ESPN
Biggest pet peeve • People driving slow in the fast lane
What you wanted to be as a child • Batman
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Architect
What would you like to see most in Mobile? Continue to develop a vibrant, family friendly, walkable downtown. Make downtown a destination. 
Are we still feeling the effects of the recession locally? Although no one has gone untouched by the recession and economic downturn, I truly believe we as a region are poised for a more rapid recovery than other parts of the country. We have a diversity in economy, from shipbuilding and aerospace to agriculture and tourism, that is hard to find.

William Bonner, 31

Attorney, Cunningham Bounds, LLC

Alma Maters Spring Hill College, University of Alabama School of Law • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Katie Barnett Bonner • Children Braxton, Lilly, Mary Elizabeth, Ellis

Hobbies • I have four kids. Their hobbies are my hobbies. 
First job • Watermelon truck unloader
Greatest achievement • Convincing my wife to marry me
Biggest fear • Failure
Worst purchase you ever made • The guitar I can’t play
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? San Diego, Cal.
Advice you give to your high school self • Slow down. Real life will be here soon enough.
What you wanted to be as a child • Professional baseball player and an astronaut during the off-season
Best advice you have ever received • You can’t outsmart everyone, but you can outwork them.
One thing would you change about the Bay area • I would move Mobile Regional Airport to Brookley Field. 
Hours a week you generally work • I stop counting after Wednesday.

Kesshia L. Davis, 39

Director of Community Relations, Mobile Gas - A Sempra Company

Alma Maters University of South Carolina, University of West Florida • Hometown Plainfield, N.J., and Johnsonville, S.C.

Greatest achievement • Graduating from college (I was the first person in my family).
First date • Craig Washington. Senior prom, then dinner afterwards.
Celebrity doppelganger • My mother, Doris Jean Davis. Back home, she’s a celebrity. She was the first African American to graduate from high school in her hometown after the schools were desegregated. She broke barriers. When I visit, no one knows my name. They just say, “You must be Jean’s daughter! You look just like her.”
Best advice you have ever received • Create your own path. Everyone else has been where you want to travel and you see where it got them.
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? I believe it will be a thriving area that will be the melting pot of the South for people to come live, work and play. We’re on the cusp of that now. As we continue to promote our area, attract new industries/businesses and develop our workforce training programs, the possibilities will be endless for us.
How has technology changed disaster response? Smart phones are at the forefront of how people receive their information daily. I’ve had to consider where people would get information if their electricity went out or they had to evacuate to somewhere else.

Daniel Dennis, 32 

President, Roberts Brothers, Inc.

Alma Mater Auburn University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Maribeth Dennis • Children Asa, 3

First job • Hey Boy at Negus Marine (as in “Hey, boy, get my hammer.”)
Advice you would give your high school self • Cut your hair and close your mouth for a second.
Guilty pleasure • Cadbury mini eggs during Easter.
What is your biggest fear? Heights
Greatest achievement • My “bestest buddy,” Asa.
Biggest pet peeve • Having a meeting with a person who is staring at their computer screen or iPhone.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? College football coach
High school senior superlative • Biggest Auburn Fan
What are you reading? “Atlas Shrugged”
How are home sales in Mobile and Baldwin County? Better than last year and much better than the year before that.

Jeff DeQuattro, 36

Coastal Projects Manager, The Nature Conservancy

Alma Mater University of California at Santa Cruz • Hometown Florence

Hobbies • Riding, fixing and building bicycles
First job • I had a paper route when I was 5 years old in southern Arizona along the Mexico border.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Urban conservationist and planner
What talent you would most like to have • I wish I had a photographic memory so I wouldn’t need my Outlook Calendar to keep track of my life for me.
Ideal age to retire • I would be so bored. I’ll retire when I’m dead.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? I would love to see Mobile become the most bicycle and pedestrian friendly city along the Gulf Coast.
Greatest achievement • Besides the moments in my professional career that I’m most proud of, including building miles of oyster reef, in the summer of 2000, I led a group of 17 geology students into the crater of Mount Saint Helens in Washington State. It’s quite humbling to be in the middle of an active volcano.
Advice you would give to your high school self • Pay closer attention in math and earth science and less attention to your social life!

Adrian DiVittorio, 39

Physician, Diagnostic & Medical Clinic

Alma Mater Birmingham Southern College • Hometown Merida, Venezuela • Spouse Elisa DiVittorio • Children Nina, 6, and Isabel, 4

Hobbies • Triathlons and woodworking
First job • Sprinkler systems
Best advice you have ever received • Slow down.
Celebrity doppelganger • Wilmer Valderrama
Did you have to look up the word doppelganger? Yes.
What talent you would most like to have • Singing, in pitch.
Weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked • “Do you like movies about gladiators?”
Biggest fear • Flying
Greatest achievement • Two great daughters. No brainer!
Best basic ways to improve overall health • Eat healthier, eat less, exercise more, do not smoke, and be proactive about your own health.
What drives you to compete in triathlons? The discipline required to simply complete them and try to beat my previous times. 

Roz Dorsett, 26

Assistant Director, Camp Rap-A-Hope

Alma Mater University of Southern Mississippi • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Chris Dorsett

First job • I was a lifeguard and swim coach at Spring Hill Swim Club.
Celebrity doppelganger • I’ve heard that it’s Jessie Spano from “Saved By the Bell.”
Greatest achievement • My niece once told me that I was her best friend!
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? I was asked to sing a song.
What talent would you most like to have? I would like to be an Olympic swimmer.
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? I’ve already tried other places and nothing compares to home.
Most rewarding aspect of your job • At any Camp Rap-a-Hope event that we have, seeing the look on the campers’ faces when they see their other camper friends and their favorite counselors is priceless. You can almost see the healing happening. The therapeutic benefits of just having fun with peers that have been through the same thing are immeasurable.

Tiffany Lee Felix, 32 

Clinical Research Program Manager, Combat Wound Initiative Program, Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine

Alma Mater University of Alabama at Birmingham • Hometown Birmingham • Spouse J. Rust Felix

Worst purchase you’ve ever made • My college car, an old Volvo that would not go into reverse shortly after being purchased. That could be challenging at times.
Celebrity doppelganger • My friends tell me it’s Claire Forlani.
Advice you would give to your high school self • Take time to really learn and reflect on what is being taught instead of just memorizing information.
Person who has helped you the most along the way • My mother. She is my personal cheerleader and has taught me the importance of perseverance. 
One thing you would change about the Bay area • An increase in the availability of food that is both local and organic, not just one or the other.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? A travel writer or Rockette, but I would need to grow a few inches for the latter.
What is the ideal age at which you’d like to retire? I don’t imagine retiring; there will always be an assignment. 

Marissa Fleming, 27 

Public Relations and Marketing Director, Private Gallery

Alma Mater University of Alabama • Hometown Fairhope • Fiancé Joseph Thetford

Guilty pleasures • I’m addicted to my iPhone, Diet Coke, fashion magazines, Bravo and reading up on blogs.
Advice you would give your high school self • Don’t sweat the small stuff. And, if I was talking to my middle school self, I would strongly discourage the bangs.
What was your senior superlative in high school? Most Spirited.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Host of a morning show. “Live with Marissa and Kelly!” I can see it now. 
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? "How old do you think I am?” I don’t think there was a right answer.
Most treasured possesion • My engagement ring belonged to Joseph’s grandmother, who was friends with my grandmother. I love to imagine it being there when the two of them were spending time together.
Describe the Bay area’s fashion sense. • Whether it is dressing for yoga, a football game (which is a lot like a red carpet in the South) or a black-tie event, Southern women have perfected the art of looking polished.

Mitzi P. Houk, 36

Compliance Specialist, Alabama Power Company

Alma Maters Auburn University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse C. Jason Houk • Children Allyson Claire, 2, and a second baby due in March

First job • I worked for my father as a customer service specialist at our family business, West Bay Hardware and Marine. Everyone should have to work for their father; it was, as he would refer to it, “character building.” 
Guilty pleasure • Grey’s Anatomy and Krispy Kreme
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Kindergarten teacher.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? A “Cheesecake Factory” and a HomeGoods store
What is your biggest fear • Clowns
Advice you give to your high school self • Don’t sweat the small stuff! Enjoy every minute of today because the future is going to be here before you can blink.
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? "So, can you cook?"
How does being a hurricane destination spot present challenges for Alabama Power? We always have to be prepared and ready to respond.  Electricity is considered a mainstay of life so we work really hard to restore it safely and as quickly as possible. 


W. Parker Huddle, 37

Vice President, Senior Financial Advisor,
Merrill Lynch

Alma Mater Auburn University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Allison Huddle • Children Kate, 5; William, 2; and Alice, 2

Guilty pleasure • Cammie’s Old Dutch milkshakes
Advice you would give to your high school self • Study more languages
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? The resurgence of industrial manufacturing is going to drive wages and positive development.
Biggest fear • Heights
Talent you would most like to have • Psychic powers
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Bahamas
What quality do you most like in a woman? Sense of humor
Who / where was your first date? I can only remember the first date with wife, the SCS Ball
What would you like to see most in Mobile? Apple Store
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Since I enjoy building and fixing things, probably construction.
What are you reading? “Pinkalicious” by Victoria and Elizabeth Kann
What investment strategy do you find most effective? One that is customized around achieving specified financial goals. In general, the strategy would utilize a combination of stocks, bonds and alternative investments allocated according to the investors’ risk tolerance.

Lydia Knizley Johnson, 30

Director Christian Education, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Alma Mater Auburn University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Wyatt Johnson • Children My first is due this month.

Advice you’d give to your high school self • Tread carefully. You will be working with these people one day.
Guilty pleasure • Foosackly’s and Carpe Diem chocolate chip muffins
Best advice you have ever received • “We are all given the same 24 hours in a day. What you choose to do with them matters.” – Brenda Davis, ninth-grade English teacher
Worst purchase you’ve ever made • One of those GPS watches for running. I never could figure it out, and, turns out – there’s an app for that.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? A philanthropic component added to Mardi Gras … maybe each society could adopt a cause or non-profit, or all come together to raise awareness and resources for a local need.
Biggest pet peeve? When people are rude to restaurant wait staff and hostesses
Did you have to look up the word doppelganger? No way – I watch “How I Met Your Mother”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Ballerina, Astronaut, or Katie Couric
What would you change about the Bay area? I would like to see a resurgence of agricultural business. We have lots of arable land, a resource that is becoming rarer in the U.S. As farms decline, it would be great to be able to create new jobs that contribute to the food and energy supplies with questionable futures.
What led you to start Raise the Roof? In the summers of 2009 and 2011, I helped chaperone high school students on a mission trip to Memphis with a home repair ministry called “Service Over Self.” Students came home saying, “Memphis was so much like Mobile. Why can’t we serve people in our own community?”

Darcy Kelley, 32 

Nutrition Programs Manager, Bay Area Food Bank

Alma Mater University of South Alabama • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Jason Kelley

First job • Greeter and photographer at the Santa Claus booth at Bel Air Mall
Best advice you have ever received • Don’t take other people’s bad attitudes personally. You never know what kind of day, week or month they’ve had to make them that way.
Greatest achievement • Learning to bake a cheesecake
Most treasured possession • My pets
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Every time I think about other places I think I’d like to live, I remember important elements Mobile offers that do not exist elsewhere.
What are you reading? “Bossypants” by Tina Fey
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A horse trainer/riding instructor
How are you combating childhood hunger in Mobile and Baldwin counties? We can’t feed every hungry child on our own, so my focus is building effective partnerships. In order to be successful, we have to work collaboratively to solve the problem of child hunger on the gulf coast.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Probably an investigative journalist or private investigator because I’m incredibly curious, although I think my mom would call me nosy.
What is the biggest area of need for the Food Bank? We always need food, funds and volunteers. We get donations from several large grocery chains, but processing, storing and distributing it costs money and time. Our many wonderful volunteers and donors make this possible.

Jeni L. Knizley, 31

Veterinarian / Owner, South Alabama Spay and Neuter Center

Alma Mater Mississippi State University • Hometown Chickasaw • Spouse Stephen Marbut • Children Kate, 5, and Zeke, 2

Greatest achievement • Being a mom.
Celebrity doppelganger • People always tell me I’m like a more beautiful version of Faith Hill or Kate Hudson … or even Katherine Heigl. I just laugh and tell them “I know.” 
What would you change about the Bay area? Pollen. It is nice to have so many beautiful blooming plants, but I’m allergic to Mobile. 
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Nothing. I love my job. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do! I do think once I retire from practicing, I would like to teach.
Hobbies • Running, water skiing, SCUBA diving, animal rescue
First job • Cleaning kennels at Irby-Overton Veterinary
Guilty pleasure • “Dexter” and any type of dessert
Advice you’d give to your high school self • Keep being awesome.
Biggest pet peeve • Using the word “broke” incorrectly for “broken”
What are you reading • The Bible
How many animals do you have? Seven – four dogs, three cats – all rescues!
How awesome are three-legged dogs? Not as awesome as three-legged cats (of which I have two)!

Maggie Bagwell Lacey, 33

Manager, Windmill Market

Alma Mater Vanderbilt University • Hometown Point Clear • Spouse Ric Lacey

What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? I hope there is more revitalization of downtown Mobile, some great waterfront development and better public transportation between Mobile and Baldwin counties.
Greatest achievement • I don’t think I’m there yet.
Hobbies • Horseback riding (eventing and fox hunting), sewing, cooking, any activity on the water
First job • Lifegaurd at the Grand hotel
Worst purchase you’ve ever made • Business contents insurance that in the end didn’t cover flood or fire or theft or anything that I might worry about.
Person who has helped you the most along the way • My Mom and Dad – they have given me so many opportunities, but most importantly they taught me to expect a lot of myself.
Most treasured possession • While I hate to say an animal is a possession, my old retired thoroughbred horse. I had him when I was a child, and rode him on the equestrian team in college, but then had to sell him when I moved to New York. He had an exciting life in Chicago after that, but I got him back four years ago when he no longer had a home. I also cherish a jade ring that my mother gave me that once belonged to my great grandmother. It is very unusual carved jade and makes a rattling sound that always reminds me of being a kid when my mom wore it.
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Anywhere on the water – I stick to coastlines. I'd love to move to Central America, just for a little while!
What are you reading? “The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook” my sister gave me for my birthday. It has great anecdotes on Southern culture as seen through food.
How are things going for farmers in the area? Farmers are having a tough time. Buying land and equipment is a big obstacle for a new farmer. Those who are born into farming families have seen their market shares being taken over by big box stores. Farmers have a hard time getting their crops to consumers. It is a dying art.

Beth Mattei, 33 

Director of Development, USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital

Alma mater Auburn University • Hometown Dothan • Spouse Peyton Mattei • Children Kate, 4, and Alex, 2

First date • Sixth grade Christmas dance with dinner before at Applebee’s
Advice you would give to your high school self • Listen to your parents a little more; they actually do know a few things. And don’t stress out about algebra too much; they’ll let you use a calculator in the real world.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? A Pei Wei. Best Asian food ever.
What would you change about the Bay area? I wish there was less crime.
What is your biggest fear • Cockroaches
What talent you would most like to have? I wish I had more culinary talent
What is your most treasured possession? Our home. We’ve made so many wonderful memories there, and I know there are many more to come.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working for USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital? Working with great leadership and a team of people that are so talented and dedicated to the cause. Knowing that we are all providing hope and healing for the children and the women we serve is very rewarding.

Jonathan McConnell, 30 

President, Meridian Global Consulting LLC

Alma Maters Auburn University, University of Alabama • Hometown Mobile

First job • Landscape maintenance and yard aesthetics engineer (a fat 8-year-old with a push mower, rake and hedge trimmers)
First date • Behind the big oak tree, recess, Jennifer, third grade. It ended in abysmal failure, and we both still seek counseling as a result.
What would you change about the Bay area? I would not have a 60-degree turn leading into the tunnel.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? I would be a park ranger at Dry Tortugas National Park … it is near Key West (70 miles west). No one ever visits.
What are you reading? “The Bible in 90 Days.” Before that, “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand.
Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled? Most likely Malta. It is steep in history, and somehow skips the boring European History era that we were forced to learn in high school. It is a beautiful island with exceptionally friendly people, and strategically located where it is a convenient place for me to travel for work.
Greatest achievement • Serving overseas in the Marines. It is not as much of an achievement as it was an honor. Being a witness of the finest of our generation’s acts of extraordinary heroism is truly the greatest honor I have ever had.   
What does Meridian Global Consulting do? We provide armed security teams for commercial entities in the Middle East, Africa and other high-risk regions. Mostly, we counter the Somali pirate threat that merchant ships face. I have the pleasure of working with my Marines with whom I served in Iraq.

Ashleigh Ledbetter McKenzie, 33

Principal, AdvisorsMD

Alma Mater University of Alabama • Hometown Fairhope • Spouse R. Bricken McKenzie IV • Children Dixon, 6, and Ann Auxford, 5

Best advice you have ever received • “Go to church or the devil’s gonna get you.” – Interstate 65
Biggest fear • Being attacked by alligators
Person who has helped you the most along the way • My dad, with his subtle words of encouragement and silent examples of how a role model should be
Advice you’d give to your high school self • Chill out a little more and enjoy the ride
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Something outside helping others and a career that I didn’t lose sleep over
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? "If you were a hotdog, would you eat yourself?" Answer: "No, I don’t like hotdogs."
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? I expect that the Bay area will continue to grow with folks from outside of the South discovering our little coastal secret.
What does AdvisorsMD do? Bricken and I started AdvisorsMD to not only “enhance the business of medicine,” but to ultimately raise the quality of patient care. By educating healthcare providers on the best medical services and specialists offered in the area, then those providers have a responsibility to inform their patients of their care options.

William M. Moore Jr., 33 

Vice President, Financial Advisor, Sterne Agee

Alma Mater Birmingham-Southern College • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Anna Moore • Children Sarah

Hobbies • Bird hunting, fishing and dog training
Celebrity doppelganger • I have had people say Matthew McConaughey. I don’t see it.
Worst purchase you’ve ever made • In middle school, I thought it would be neat to have a motorcycle since you could get a license for a motorcycle earlier than a car. I thought I could buy a broken one and rebuild it. Many dollars and hours later I was unable to.
What is the ideal age at which you’d like to retire? I guess that depends on what you define as retirement. I have a hard time sitting around and need to constantly being doing things whether that be working around the house, researching things or reading the news.
Talent you would most like to have • I would love to be more mechanically inclined. Some people just seem to have a knack at working on small engines. (I do not.)
Greatest achievement • Marrying my wife and raising our daughter
What are you reading? “A Kingdom’s Cost, A Historical Novel of Scotland” by J.R. Tomlin
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? For the longest time I thought I wanted to be a doctor, and that stayed with me through the beginning of college. My first semester of chemistry quickly changed those plans though.
What, in your opinion, will need to happen to pull the economy out of this rut? While consumer confidence has risen, there has still not been a large amount of spending. This has a lot to do with high unemployment rate. If we can consistently create jobs, we should see a true improvement that is not being propped up by
the government.

Jessica Norwood, 36

Executive Director, Emerging ChangeMakers Network

Alma Mater Northern Illinois University • Hometown Prichard

Celebrity doppelganger • Jill Scott. I am not sure why, but I take it as a compliment.
Did you have to look up the word doppelganger? Nope. It’s one of my favorite words.
Biggest fear • Not making a contribution that matters.
Advice you give to your high school self • The journey is WAY more important than the destination. 
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? I’m lucky; I love what I do and wouldn’t change for the world.
Person who has helped you the most along the way • My dad, Jesse Norwood – he is my best friend.
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Washington D.C.
What quality do you most like in a man? Patience
Biggest pet peeve • People who are squandering their innate potential
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Remember Michael J. Fox’s character on “Family Ties?” Alex P. Keaton. That was me! I always had an invention or business going.
What are some non-traditional campaigning methods that you use? Once, we hosted a block party. Before a person could get a free hotdog, we asked them to call someone and tell them to come to the party and also tell them why they were voting in the upcoming election. We had a huge turnout!
Advice you would give your high school self • The journey is more important than the destination. 

Sarah Otts, 27

Artist, Painter, Sarah Haas Art Studio

Alma Mater • University of Mississippi • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Robert Otts • Children Lelia, 15 months

First job • I did paintings on commission when I was in high school for extra money. It is still the only job I have ever had. I have never been employed by anyone but myself.
Person who has helped you most along the way • My parents have been supportive of my work since day one. It must have been hard to trust that it could work out for me.
Best advice you have ever received My dad has always told me that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else. That advice reminds me to stay true to myself.
Worst purchase you’ve ever made • Expensive skin products. Repeat offender ...
Advice you’d give to your high school self Be yourself, confidently.
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? I hope we will see more development in neighborhoods, like the Village of Spring Hill project, with more to offer for the community like shopping, restaurants, sidewalks and parks.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? I love the history and character of the midtown and downtown areas. I hope these areas, in particular, are on the upswing to a cleaner and safer community for families.
What is the ideal age at which you’d like to retire? I don’t ever see myself retiring. People retire to spend more time doing what they love, and I am fortunate to be doing that for a living.
What is your biggest fear Regret is my biggest fear. I hope I never feel like I missed my chance.
What talent you would most like to have? I wish I was number smart. I am all right brain.
What is your greatest achievement? I am pretty excited about my exhibit at Agora Gallery in New York City this year.
How do you creatively challenge yourself as an artist? In order to develop as an artist, you have to constantly push yourself creatively. Never settle in. You don’t stand out until you are producing something truly original. There will always be unrealized possibilities, so be observant. Don’t ignore your surroundings.

Christopher Paragone, 36

Owner / Director, Sunny Side Theater & Azalea City Center for the Arts

Alma Maters • Athens University, University of Mobile • Hometown South Hempstead, N.Y. • Spouse Christy Paragone • Children Joey, 8; Matthew, 6; Dominick, 4; and Anthony, 1

Advice you would give to your high school self • Always listen to Christy.
What would you change about the Bay area? • More arts in the schools (both public and private)
Talent you would most like to have • Play the piano
What is your most treasured possession • A blanket my wife gave me with a picture of our dog who had just passed away
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Huntsville, to be with family
What quality do you most like in a woman? Honesty
Biggest pet peeve • Liars
What are you reading? Scripts
How can introducing children to the arts have a positive effect on them? Allowing kids to express themselves gives them an outlet for their creativity that they don’t get in other areas of their life. The arts build confidence and let children be themselves. The arts are not just for kids who want to grow up to be actors or musicians; they are truly for everyone.

Dean N. Parker Jr., 38

Chairman & CEO, Callis Communications, Inc.

Alma Mater Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. • Hometown Downingtown, Pa. • Spouse Joanne Parker • Children Jody, 12; Trey, 10; Lauren, 6; and Zachary, 4

Worst purchase you’ve ever made • Buying a masonry subcontracting business
Best advice you have ever received • You will meet the same people on the way up the business ladder as on your way down, so treat everyone with respect and honor.
What would you change about the Bay area? That it would have more influence and be a hub for world leaders
What quality do you most like in a woman? A humble heart that carries herself with class and dignity.
Who / where was your first date? Gwen Stamiford – we went to a school banquet.
Biggest pet peeve • Someone not doing what they said they would do.
What are you reading? “Greater” by Steven Furtick. It’s a must-read book written by a buddy of mine about dreaming bigger, starting smaller and igniting God’s vision for your life.
What talent you would most like to have • To be able to sing. Though that hasn’t stopped me; I still sing now!
High school senior superlative • Most likely to succeed

Kristin Taylor Parsons, 35

Partner, Burr & Forman, LLP

Alma Mater Loyola University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Michael Parsons • Children Maddy, 13; Logan, 11; Conner, 8; and Jon Paul, 7

Guilty pleasures • Reality TV and Krystal hamburgers
Celebrity doppelganger • Trisha Yearwood
What quality do you most like in a man? Confidence
What are you reading? “The Hunger Games” 
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? A small business owner: I’ve always wanted to open a stationery store.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A mother. And a ballerina, of course.
Worst purchase you ever made • The Total Gym. I’m sure it’s an excellent piece of exercise equipment, but having never used it, I couldn’t tell you for sure.
Advice you would give to your high school self • One day you’ll be a parent, and karma isn’t always kind. 
What would you like to see most in Mobile? A solution for Bayway and Causeway congestion
What advice would you give a young lawyer? There is no substitution for hard work. Work really (really) hard.

Day Peake, 35 

Attorney, Phelps Dunbar LLP

Alma Maters The University of the South (Sewanee), University of Alabama School of Law • Hometown Mobile

Advice you’d give your high school self • “It only gets better.”
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? History professor
Biggest fear • Holiday carolers
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? “If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?” 
What talent you would most like to have? The ability to sing well.
What advice would you give a young lawyer? Don’t let the speed and convenience of email keep you from calling or visiting people.
What do you expect the Bay area will be like in 20 years? Mobile and the Bay area are experiencing exciting signs of growth. With the influx of new businesses, I see development of local university programs and the revitalization of Downtown and neighborhood centers, such as the Village of Spring Hill. In 20 years, we will be able to look back and really see how far we’ve come.

Melissa Philbrick Rankin, 39 

U.S. Probation Officer, U.S. Courts, Southern District of Alabama

Alma Mater Auburn University, University of Salamanca - Salamanca, Spain • Hometown Mobile • Spouse A. Clay Rankin, IV • Children AnnaRose Kathleen, 4, and Jackson Frazer, 2

Best advice you have ever received • “Keep people that are different than yourself around you and learn something from them.”
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Photography
What is your biggest pet peeve? People talking about others instead of to the person directly. Talking about people solves nothing while talking to them may prove productive.
What do you expect that the Bay area will be like in 20 years? Downtown will look even better with a new federal courthouse and better access to the riverfront.
Tell us about one of your most successful probationary cases. • She came to probation homeless, living in her car with her five children, and working part-time at Waffle House. She eventually found a low-income house to rent and secured a better part-time job. We helped her build a Habitat for Humanity house for her family. She was promoted to full-time work. Although she still struggles, she always finds a way to continue to feel blessed and give back.

Jennifer Partsch Ray, 34

Domestic Sales Manager, Xante Corporation

Alma Mater • University of South Alabama • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Brent Ray

Worst purchase you’ve ever made • Since shopping is my most accomplished talent, I’m not sure that I have one.
Greatest achievement • I was honored to serve as an ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation in the 2012 Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C.
Hobbies • Shopping, reading, traveling and going to concerts and the beach
Guilty pleasure • Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies
What are you reading? “The Proposal” by Mary Balogh. I am a total sucker for fictional regency romance.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? I would like to see all areas of Mobile employ the same mission as The Village of Spring Hill: to “improve the pedestrian, aesthetic and commercial amenities.”
What one thing would you change about the Bay area? I would love to see more businesses renovate buildings and relocate to downtown.
Most treasured possessions • Gracie, my maltese, and Cally, my calico cat
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Chicago in the spring and summer and Grand Turk Island during the winter
How has technology development affected your industry? The print industry has gone through several major shifts due to advances in digital machinery. I am fortunate to work for a company that lives on the leading edge of this technology and proves to be a leader in innovation.

Leigh Rendfrey, 32

Account Executive, Red Square Agency

Alma Mater • Belhaven College • Hometown Jackson, Miss. • Spouse Fred Rendfrey • Children My first is due in March.

Biggest fear • I am a water bug, but scared to death of sharks
Talent you would most like to have • I wish I could sing – I am terrible, but I make a joyful noise.
What is your greatest achievement? My marriage
What is your most treasured possession? My old family pictures that have been passed down to me
What is your biggest pet peeve? People who drive slow in the fast lane
What are you reading? “Elizabeth: A Biography of Britain’s Queen”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? An oral and maxillofacial surgeon – until I found out how long I would be in school
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? After working in Disney World, I was inspired by the stories of the Make-A-Wish children. I would love to make those dreams come true by working for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
What are some similarities and differences between Jackson, Miss., and Mobile? They are very similar in city and metro population, so they both feel like big small towns. The main difference is that Mobile has a laid-back, coastal lifestyle – which I love.

Meghan Young Shehi, 32

Project Manager, The Architects Group, Inc. (TAG)

Alma Maters • Auburn University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte • Hometown Peoria, Ill. • Spouse Dr. George Michael Shehi Jr. • Children Margot McKinley

First job • In high school, I helped build decks with a local contractor.
Best advice you have ever received • My mom gave me worry dolls when I was little so at night I would assign a doll a worry and place her in the box so the worries would not follow me to the next day. My dad would tell me that smiling releases endorphins that make you feel better, so why not smile all the time.
What would you like to see most in Mobile? Besides an IKEA, a greater desire for better architectural design and sustainability
What would you change about the Bay area? I am concerned that the traffic choke point at George Wallace Tunnel remains dangerous to Mobilians and travelers. I am interested in learning more about the “Diverging Diamond Interchange” concept as a proposed change.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? I would take Samantha Brown’s job on The Travel Channel and get paid to travel and share my adventures.
Guilty pleasure • Reading trashy gossip magazines while getting a pedicure
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always knew I wanted to be an architect. I would doodle little cantilevered houses in my coloring books.
How does the Bay Area’s climate affect your designs? Our 135-mph winds and tremendous amounts of moisture always have to be considered in almost every aspect of the design.

Kate Glamser Simm, 39

Speech Therapist, The Learning Tree, Inc.

Alma Mater University of Mississippi • Hometown Hattiesburg, Miss. • Spouse Kirk • Children James, 9; William, 7; Erin, 4

First job • I started babysitting in the sixth grade. It was a GREAT way to make money.
Biggest fear • Elevators. I used to have recurring nightmares about being stuck in one. A few years ago I did get stuck in one on a girls’ trip to the beach. Luckily, the friend in the elevator with me was a counselor. I got some free therapy in there.
Best advice you have ever received • Two things Dad told me which I revisit often, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” and, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” They are both very true!
What would you like to see most in Mobile? A quality soccer complex for our kids to host tournaments and to bring in revenue to the city. (In addition to the obvious fitness benefits, there really is a lot of money to be had by hosting youth sporting events.)
What one thing would you change about the Bay area? I would love to see mandatory unstructured free-play recess daily in all of the elementary schools.
What is one of the more inspirational stories you have from working at The Learning Tree? Recently a parent of one of our students at Woody’s Song School (our day school for children on the Autism Spectrum) brought in lunch she purchased for the Woody’s Song staff. As I was walking her out thanking her for her generosity, she said to me, “Above and beyond all the great educational things you all do for (my child), all the specialists, all the programming, I know that when (my child) walks into that classroom, he knows that he belongs. He feels wanted, and all the staff love him. I just KNOW that (my child) knows that.” It is inspiring when educators remember that respect and love are a BIG part of their jobs, because when that happens, possibilities are endless.
Greatest achievement • In high school, my friend and I started a girls’ soccer team, but it had no financial support from the school. Our team paid for referees, drove our own cars to away games, and purchased our own uniforms. It was the first program of its kind in the area, and it is still there today.

C’aracher (C.J.) Small Jr., 34

President / CEO, Small’s Mortuary, Inc.

Alma Maters Gupton-Jones College in Atlanta, Faulkner University in Montgomery • Hometown Mobile

First job • I worked at Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza.
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? The weirdest job interview question I was asked was if I would eat constantly while on the clock.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a funeral director, even as a child.
What talent you would most like to have? I would love to be a baker.
What is your most treasured possession? My most treasured possession is life!
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? I would definitely live in Waikiki, Hawaii
Where was your first date? My first date was at Quincy's Steakhouse.
Biggest pet peeve • Being in a dirty place.
What are you reading? “Every Day A Friday” by Joel Olsteen
Being a funeral director and an embalmer is a very different occupation. How do people usually react when you tell them what you do? Generally, when I tell someone what my occupation is, they will jump back and let out a big “OMG!”
How do you best deal with grieving family members? I try to deal with most grieving families by making them smile and reflect on good memories of their loved one.

Mark Spivey, 33

Vice President, Business Banking - Regions Bank

Alma Mater University of South Alabama • Hometown Montgomery • Spouse Kristina Spivey

Celebrity doppelganger • Drew Brees. I wish my bank account resembled his. 
Did you have to look up the word doppelganger? Absolutely.
Person who has inspired you • My father grew up in a poor farming town in rural Alabama and went on to obtain his undergraduate degree, two Masters degrees, a doctorate degree, and retired as a colonel in the Air Force. His life showed me that, despite obstacles, through faith and perseverance, you can be successful.   
Best advice you have ever received • “People do not care what you know, until they know that you care.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? The starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves.
What challenges does the banking industry face? Though banks may be getting big and coming up with new technology, we cannot lose that personal touch. 
If you didn’t live here, where else would you live? I spent a summer in New Zealand and would not mind relocating there.

Tywanda Tate, 38

Community Development Director, City of Prichard

Alma Maters Faulkner University, Capella University • Hometown Mobile • Children Tobias and DeJaih

Guilty pleasure • The Boiling Pot
Best advice you have ever received • Live life to its fullest because tomorrow is not promised.
Person who has helped you the most along the way • My mom, Irma Hall
Advice you would give to your high school self • Develop a plan for your life, and make wise and judicious decisions that are not contrary to your plans. Stay focused.
What quality do you most like in a man? Good listener
What is your biggest pet peeve? A dirty house
What would you like to see most in Mobile? More places to go for entertainment
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? Do you carry a weapon?
What is your greatest achievement? Acceptance into the doctorate program
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Hawaii
What are some of the more rewarding aspects of your job? Networking and helping people

Lee Walters, 35

Vice President, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood

Alma Mater Auburn University • Hometown Foley • Spouse Margie Walters • Children Sophia, 6; Harper, 4; and
Camille, 1

Hobbies • Kayaking, fishing, spending time with all my girls
Biggest fear • Even with a degree in Wildlife Biology, I have to say rats
Most treasured possession • Our family pictures, time flies by too fast and we need opportunities to reminisce.
If you didn’t live here, where else would you like to live? Western North Carolina.
Biggest pet peeve • I consider myself skillful in the art of maximizing the amount of dishes I can fit into a single cleaning and I cannot help but rearrange the dirty dishes when I see a better pattern.
Celebrity doppelganger • Unfortunately no, but I did see Conway Twitty’s doppelganger pumping gas in Spanish Fort earlier this summer.
Did you have to look up the word doppelganger? No, it’s a fun game my wife and I play on date night when we are people watching.
Advice you’d give to your high school self • Google is not just an Internet search engine. Invest all you can!
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? A chef. I love to experiment in the kitchen.
What is most impressive about our wetlands? They provide tremendous habitat for countless species and are a primary reason Alabama is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country.

Lindsey Stuardi Weems, 34

Senior Accountant, Hargrove Engineers + Constructors

Alma Mater Spring Hill College • Hometown Mobile • Spouse David Weems • Children Patrick, Joseph and Stuart

Hobbies • Running, Water Skiing, Changing Diapers
First job • Office assistant at American Home Patient
Guilty pleasure • Spending time in the sun
Best advice you have ever received • “Work like everything depends on you. Pray like everything depends on God.”
Most treasured possession • My grandmother’s rosary  
What you would you like to see most in Mobile • I would love to see a developed river walk downtown with restaurants and live music, creating an even greater Gulf Coast atmosphere that Mobilians know and love.
What you expect the Bay area to be like in 20 years • I expect that we’ll have an I-10 bridge replacing the tunnel, less vacant buildings in Downtown, and more activities and opportunities for young adults and kids.
One thing you would change about the Bay area • Cleaner bay
Do you miss being a basketball coach? Did that experience help you in your current job with Hargrove? Absolutely. The relationships you develop as a coach are priceless, and I miss the daily interactions I had with the players and coaches. My experience running a basketball program definitely helped me be a better player for Hargrove. As a player on an extremely talented team, I am conscious about “walking the walk” I preached for so long, contributing to the team’s success how ever I can.

Tom Wood, 36

Partner, Burr & Forman LLP

Alma Mater The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Valerie Vick • Children Emma Caroline, 4; Thomas, 2

Hobbies • Flying, golf, tennis, and traveling
Bggest pet peeve • Slow cars in the left lane
First job • Working in a kitchen at a restaurant in Orange Beach
Advice you would give to your high school self • Gain weight! You look like a toothpick!
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Medicine
Talent you would most like to have? I wish I could do a backflip.
What are you reading? Mostly books from Chick-Fil-A, like “If you Give a Cat a Cupcake.” My kids love them.
What is the weirdest job interview question you’ve ever been asked? “How did I do?” A recruiter asked me to critique her interview when it was over.

Jeff Yeager, 29

Chief Software Architect, ThyssenKrupp Steel

Alma Mater Hawaii Pacific University • Hometown Mobile • Spouse Jennifer Yeager • Children Makayla, 8, and Hannah, 3

Biggest fear • Not experiencing enough of this world
Greatest achievement • I’ve done a lot of good things, but I’d like to think my great achievement is still coming. 
Worst purchase you’ve ever made • A “How to Windsurf” video. Not something you can really learn from a video.
Person who has helped you the most along the way • Not so much a person as a group of people. I’d say the Marine Corps helped me the most in becoming who I am today.
Advice you give to your high school self • Mistakes and failures happen; the only thing that’s important is how you react to them.
What you expect the Bay area will be like in 20 years • Hopefully a center for marine and aviation manufacturing.
What you would like to see most in Mobile • A revitalized and well maintained downtown area.
If you had to choose another career, what would it be? Marine Biologist, something about the water really intrigues me.
Weirdest job interview question you’ve been asked • “Do you speak English fluently?” This was after I already answered three questions in great detail, in English.
How have you helped the military with your technological knowledge? I redesigned the support equipment management software, saving about $1 million for the first base that implemented the change. I received two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and the Naval Aviation Enterprise Excellence Award in the process.
What technological advancements do you see in your field over the next five years? You’ll see almost every facet of business becoming increasingly dependent on software that is custom-developed to meet individual business needs.

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