The Conway Area Leadership Institute’s class of 2020 was a class of firsts.
It was the first group to meet the incoming Conway Public Schools superintendent, the first to see the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce’s strategic plan survey and the first to see its results. It was also the first class to participate and graduate from CALI in the middle of a pandemic.
“It seemed impossible to have CALI amidst COVID with the same quality, but that was not the case,” said John Simmons, senior vice president and commercial loan officer for First Arkansas Bank & Trust, who serves as CALI’s curriculum partner. “The pressing circumstances brought out the best in our curriculum and we had the opportunity to involve more organizations than ever before.”
Jamie Gates, executive vice president of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, commended the class for its perseverance, adaptability, engagement and enthusiasm, as well as for offering its time and talent to the program.
“What you did this year as a class is worth remembering and worth recognition,” Gates said.
Keynote speaker Pete Tanguay, founder and president of Rock Pond Pros and chair of the Conway Chamber’s board of directors, recognized the class of 2020 for using a year with such turmoil and difficulty for growth and development.
“We expect great things from this group and will be watching with excitement to see what it accomplishes,” Tanguay said. “Where we are today is due in large part to people like Dan Nabholz, who was instrumental in starting CALI and those who followed him, and where we go in the future will be in part due to those of you graduating today.”
Jason Culpepper, regional community president of the North Central Arkansas market for Simmons Bank, received the Dan Nabholz Emerging Leader Award. The Nabholz Award is presented to a CALI graduate of the previous five years who has exhibited special leadership qualities and dedication to the community.
At Simmons Bank, Culpepper and his team have increased overall assets in the Conway and North Central Arkansas markets by more than 100%, as well as increased gross revenue by 100%. Culpepper serves on several nonprofits and community organizations and is a past chairman of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Conway Development Corporation, said the significant impact Culpepper has had in such a short amount of time spoke to the type of person he is.
“It speaks volumes about who he is,” Lacy said. “He dug into the community and served where he was.”
Graduates of the class of 2020 were: John Archer, Ethan Bly, Dusty Brand, Carla Brockman, Troy Brooks, Brandon Carpenter, Mike Damron, Jimmy Dolan, Morgan Drayton, Maegan Dyson, Grace Evans, Gilberto Garcia, Crystal Geraldson, Karil Greeson, Mary Beth Groce, Justin Hardaway, LaKetra Hicks, Amanda Hoelzeman, Evan Jones, Taylor Koch, Anthony Labanca, Angie Longing, Tara Mallett, Randy Ohlde, Jeff Parker, Bryce Richardson, Lucas Strack, Megan Sullins, Jenny Vallas, Adam Treece, Emily Walter, Clara Weatherley and Hunter Winston.
In addition to program sponsor, First Arkansas Bank & Trust, and underwriting sponsor, Rock Pond Pros, CALI sessions were sponsored by Central Baptist College, Conway Corp, Conway Regional Health System, Crafton Tull, HireQuest, H+N Architects, Melvin’s Painting, Nabco and PATH.