• 2018 Michigan M+E Hall Of Fame

    POSTED May 23, 2018

     Hands down, these seven superstars shine the brightest. 

As members of the Michigan Meetings + Events Editorial Advisory Board declared, it was an enlightening task sifting through the numerous candidates and selecting this year’s Hall of Fame winners. In the end, each of the honorees, including their endeavors and keen industry insights, virtually floated to the top of the pile. Voila … here, we present the very best!

Lifetime Achievement

Jack Schripsema

President and CEO; Greater Lansing Convention & Visitors Bureau

1. A LEARNING MOMENT: “After college, I was working at the Plaza Hotel in New York City as the assistant manager while the hotel was undergoing renovations. During the peak of the renovations, it was quite common to have guests complain to me about noise or other renovation related issues. I learned very quickly that if I displayed empathy and carefully listened to their complaints that the guest would normally offer a satisfactory solution. And, when I followed through on a commitment, they became some of our most loyal customers.”

2. ON HIS ROLE: “Building communities, supporting people, fostering a culture of teamwork and collaboration with community leaders, tourism partners and staff to deliver a welcoming experience for visitors.” 

3. CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: “I’ve been in the hospitality business for nearly 50 years. After graduating from MSU, I worked for Westin Hotels in Beverly Hills, NYC and Detroit in operations and sales management positions. I’ve represented hotels and CVB’s throughout Michigan, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Flint and Lansing. I was part of the opening team for the Detroit Plaza Hotel Renaissance Center (1977) and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel (1980) in Grand Rapids.” 

4. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Celebrating success. We don’t do enough of it in our industry.” 

5. FOND MEMORY: “Giving a speech to the Grand Rapids Economic Club during the grand opening week of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in 1980. As the young sales manager, I was the fill in for the GM and director of sales who were attending a conference in Mexico.”

Best Meeting Professional

Aaron Wolowiec, MSA, CAE, CMP, CTA

Owner and CEO; Event Garde; Kalamazoo

1. ON HIS ROLE: “I’m a learning strategist and meetings coach for trade associations and membership societies. Committed to the latest research and trends on learning, intentional networking environments and meaningful transfer exercises, I launched Event Garde, a professional development consultancy, in 2011.”

2. FOND MEMORY: “I’ve worked with a number of reality stars, including Bill Rancic from ‘The Apprentice’ and Daymond John from ‘Shark Tank.’ It’s fun and interesting when client work allows you to collaborate with highprofile entertainers from stage and screen. The most telling and memorable moments, however, are generally those last 10 minutes before the doors open.”

3. LESSON LEARNED: “There’s nothing more uncomfortable than opening the doors to a general session and watching participants flow in only to discover that attendance has far outpaced historical projections. You quickly learn what it means to be a leader— apologizing to members and guests, helping hotel staff drop and set tables, and asking kitchen staff to prepare another 40 meals on the fly.” 

4. ON CHALLENGES: “I launched Event Garde because I was passionate about the work. I strived to gain exposure to a broader array of associations and to become more nimble in prototyping unique professional development experiences. I couldn’t have anticipated the time and resources needed to simply manage the business. For me, the operational tasks have presented the greatest learning curve.”

5. BEST SKILLS: “The one skill that regularly tops my list is uncanny attention to detail. It’s difficult to deliver a superior product to our clients and their stakeholders without it.”

Up-and-Coming Meeting Professional
Larissa Karimwabo

Event Coordinator; Experience Grand Rapids

1. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Learning and keeping up with the industry acronyms.”

2. ON HER CAREER CHOICE: “I didn’t plan to be in the meetings and events industry, but happy I am and I’m looking forward to it. My first college degree was in recreation and leisure services. After two years working in the leisure industry, I always found myself organizing the many youth outings and fundraisers. I enjoy the challenges and opportunities the meetings and events industry bring.”

3. ON PLANNING: “Be prepared, arrive early, have my checklist, and always make sure my plan B is ready to roll out at a moment’s notice. Have a vision and never be afraid to execute your vision. Never stop learning from your peers, clients and partners. The wonderful people we work with daily are my best sources for resources and I am grateful. I strive on always asking for feedback from all the events I execute, in preparation for the next year to come.” 

4. MEMORABLE MOMENT: “The opportunity to rebrand and execute the Experience Grand Rapids annual golf tournament. Starting fresh gave me the opportunity to implement new ideas, have a little of Larissa’s flare on the event and the chance to see our guest be wowed from beginning to end.”

5. ON HER GOALS: “To complete my CMP by January of 2019; to complete my CSEP certification by January 2021. And my ultimate dream and goal is to go volunteer, work at or experience the 2024 Summer Olympics hosted in Paris, France.” 

Best Special Events Planner

Lyn Gleasure, CMP, CPCE

Event Manager; Bedrock Detroit

1. ON HER ROLE: “I’m honored to represent the Bedrock collection of event venues throughout Detroit. I get to incorporate the vision and aesthetics of corporate and social clients against the backdrop of one of the most exciting cities in America. It’s fun to help couples plan ‘homecoming’ weddings in Detroit and see that corporate planners are excited to add our city back into their meeting rotation.”

2. BEST SKILLS: “Being able to combine creativity and business expertise is essential. You can be really creative and plan an amazing event, but if you don’t price your services correctly, address the legal and safety issues, and master the art of selling, it’s hard to sustain the business long term. You also have to stay on top of event trends and innovations.” 

3. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “In Detroit, it’s a shortage of venues. We work very hard to promote our city as ‘the place to be,’ yet there are times we have to turn away business for lack of availability. We have so many wonderful spaces with rich historical significance being renovated, but bringing them back to life, up-to-code and with the amenities that great events require, takes time.”

4. LESSON LEARNED: “I taught gymnastics at the YMCA. I learned the value of patience and how to just go with the flow at times.”

5. ON THE FUTURE: “With the addition of new venues, such as the Shinola Hotel, the Hudson’s site project, the Monroe Block, etc., I hope to be right in the middle of many of the innovative events that we haven’t even imagined yet.”

Up-and-Coming Special Events Planner

Miriam Owsley

Event and Volunteer Coordinator; Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities; Traverse City

1. ON HER ROLE: “Working for a busy nonprofit, I do a little bit of everything, including marketing, fundraising and event planning. My two main projects are the Michigan Clean Energy Conference and Expo in June, and Harvest at the Commons, a 620-person, farm-to-table fundraiser, in October.” 

2. BEST SKILLS: “Flexibility and adaptability. I’m most fulfilled by variety in my work. When I have the ability to say ‘yes’ to a new challenge, I am surprised by what I can accomplish.”

3. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Turning off my work brain. When I am deep into a project, I often will turn it over in my head to try to see it from every angle and plan for every possibility.”

4. LESSON LEARNED: “I learned a really hard lesson early in my career. I was putting a lot of myself into a project for a former employer, and getting pushback and even worse, apathy, from the people I needed buy-in from. After months of taking on the emotional toll, I realized that it wasn’t even mine to take on. I left that job and the toxic environment behind, and decided that anything I do needs to either fill me up, or help me grow.”

5. MEMORABLE MOMENT: “The Harvest at the Commons 2017 was a total success. The guests loved the band. The clean-up volunteers had completed their jobs. It took months of planning, three days to set up and decorate, and less than an hour to tear down. I had this moment of awe when I realized everything that I had accomplished.” 

Best Supplier

Kate Walski

Owner; 307 Events; Traverse City

1. ON HER CAREER CHOICE: “I fell in love with doing event décor back in middle school when we decorated for school dances. I was actually reminded by a friend recently of a conversation that we had in high school discussing my business plan for a future event business. Today, I love the variety that my job offers.” 

2. WHAT’S NEW: “In events, every day is a learning experience. What we do is not really taught in schools and it’s all based on industry experience. I feel like we learn something new from each event we do.”

3. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “We had finally completed the plan for an event when the fire marshal was brought into the equation. At four weeks out from the largest event we had ever done, we were going to be prohibited from using our biggest décor feature. We had to quickly come up with a plan B.” 

4. ON PLANNING: “When I prepare for a big event, I create a lot of lists. Physical and mental lists. If it is an especially large event, I go over and over it in my head all day and then I dream about it at night, too.“ 

5. ON THE FUTURE: “We keep striving to expand our business and services. Five years ago, we started out as a completely different company. We keep doing our best to evolve and meet the needs of our clients. We hired a full-time floral designer and we’re focusing our efforts into developing that side of our business and really becoming even more of a one-stop shop.”

Up-and-Coming Supplier

Erin Sonntag

Owner; Bella E Dolce Cakes; Walled Lake

1. ON HER WORK: “I’ve been making wedding cakes for 16 years. In high school I played sports and did other activities, but missed out on theater. I felt like I missed out on having something, my art and talents, on display, so I love having my cakes be a part of the reception, part of the show—spotlights and all! There’s something about creating edible art that is time sensitive, knowing it will be eaten. It’s so much fun knowing it is the focal point for a few moments at the event.”

2. ON SUCCESS: “Working with Kim Sperl, my mentor and now business partner, has been life changing. I learned much of the cake business from her. She’s been making cakes for more than 20 years. I interned with her company, Bella e Dolce in northern Michigan, in 2003 and expanded the cake business to metro Detroit in 2014.” 

3. BEST SKILLS: “I don’t say no to new, original, or unique design requests. I’m always looking to do something different. I love to incorporate my background of construction work into my cakes as well. Big structures, using power tools, that’s when cakes are fun!”

4. BIGGEST CHALLENGE: “Balancing time between office and kitchen. My hands can be covered in buttercream and typing on my laptop or making my phone buttery isn’t recommended.” 

5. MEMORABLE MOMENT: “Setting up a wedding cake at the Henry Ford Museum made on a 4-foot base that looked like a turbine engine from a Boeing 777. The six-tier cake was spinning in the middle, and a topper of [the couple] riding an airplane. They were so happy. That’s why I do what I do.” 

Take note of these seven pros who are making their mark in the meetings and events industry. 

Jolene Ihle, Founder
Lifetime Achievement 

“I was 10 years old when I received my Muscular Dystrophy Carnival Kit in the mail. The box was filled with cool ideas and colorful materials to  support fundraising efforts. I was completely enthralled with the event planning process. … This experience was my jumpstart into events and I was hooked.”


Here's who has been crowned the winners and runners-up of the Minnesota Meetings + Events Best of 2020 readers' choice awards. Congratulations!  

Best Brewery/Cidery/Distillery/Winery with Event Space 
Surly Brewing Company 


Take note of these seven pros who are making their mark in the meetings and events industry. Colorado Meetings + Events is proud to introduce our 2020 Hall of Fame inductees, who are among the state's most creative, dedicated and passionate individuals. Our editorial advisory board, composed of 15 industry representatives from around the staste, nominated and selected this year's inductees for their commitment and unique contributions. Now in its 13th year, the Hall of Fame has 90 distinguished members.