Successful professionals and young philanthropists, they are the 2016 class of Twin Cities Finest: 25 locals passionate about supporting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Minnesota.
Photographs by Travis Anderson
Tim Olsen, Jay Howard, Jenna Jehowski
Tim Olsen, Jay Howard, and Jenna Jehowski
Tim Olsen - Vice president, Carlson Commercial
Olsen is motivated by his mom, Roxy, a direct support professional who works with people with Down syndrome and has welcomed one of her patients, Erik, into her home as his caretaker. “Erik has become part of our family, and he is similar to those with cystic fibrosis in that they both have a genetic disorder,” Olsen says. “He inspires me every time I see him. He’s so positive and always has a smile on his face despite his daily obstacles.” As a Twin Cities Finest, Olsen hopes his efforts for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will lead to more smiles among people fighting genetic disorders.
Jay Howard - National sales manager, Innovative Computer Software
As a technology sales expert, Howard thrives on analytics: “I love determining how companies quantify different metrics and how my company can help them improve.” And while his passion for tech extends to our global reach at the push of a button, he’s also keenly aware of the value of physical presence. “Giving back to those in need is a part of being a well-rounded person,” Howard says. “I try to instill the importance of being the best person you can be to my family every day.”
Jenna Jehowski - Senior business program manager, Microsoft
Whenever Jehowski takes a personality test, empathy lands at the top. “Learning what made people who they are and why they have chosen the life they lead fuels my passion for life,” she says. Meeting CF patients has strengthened her conviction that giving back is not an option, but a necessity–and one that can happen in many forms. “Sometimes it’s as simple as listening and trying to understand what others go through,” she says. “We all have struggles, and all are real and relevant, but appear in different forms. Listen and be kind.”
Robbie Harrell, Angie Olsonawski, Mike Marcotte
Robbie Harrell, Angie Olsonawski, and Mike Marcotte
Robbie Harrell - CEO, Minnesota Ice Sculptures; CEO, Wholesale Androids
Co-founder of two thriving companies formed in his garage and a friend’s basement, Harrell’s entrepreneurial spirit is unquenchable. The University of St. Thomas alum regularly donates ice sculptures to nonprofit events around the Twin Cities, and considers being a Twin Cities Finest the next step in his personal mission to pay it forward. “This city has given me the opportunity to create my companies and my life as I live it today. I would love to give back everything I can to the community.”
Angie Olsonawski - Vice president, CHS
Olsonawski’s connection to CF is personal: Her nephew was diagnosed four years ago. “Initially I felt helpless but soon after hearing the news, I reached out to the Foundation to see how I could help,” she says. She participated in a Great Strides walk in Duluth that summer, and has been a volunteer and fundraiser ever since. Also a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, Olsonawski says giving back “makes you realize how fortunate you are. It puts life into perspective.”
Mike Marcotte - Local Guy About Town, KSTP’s Twin Cities Live
Marcotte’s altruistic nature stems from his upbringing in Blaine. “It was instilled in me at a young age that giving back makes our whole community stronger, so that’s what I do today.” The Gustavus alum worked for a nonprofit after college, is a Minnesota Boychoir board member, and has volunteered with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota. As a Twin Cities Finest and on-air personality for Twin Cities Live, he is honored to have a platform to spread the word about CF, and hopes to share the stories of local families whose lives have been affected.
Peter Wagner, Eric Skarnes, Josh Chalupsky
Peter Wagner, Eric Skarnes, and Josh Chalupsky
Peter Wagner - Associate director of finance, UnitedHealth Group
At UnitedHealth Group, Wagner is happy to be using his affinity for numbers to help people live healthier lives. The Wisconsin native shares his finance expertise with local nonprofits, serving on the boards of the Blaisdell YMCA, Xperitas, which promotes global citizenship through cultural immersion experiences, and formerly of The LEAD Project, which connects nonprofits with young professionals through volunteering. He says it’s an honor and a responsibility: “Every one of us has a talent or ability that is in demand by some nonprofit.”
Eric Skarnes - President, Insurance Warehouse
Skarnes began working in the insurance industry at 18, and opened his own agency in Minneapolis right out of college. He is proud to be a part of the Twin Cities’ supportive local business community, and grateful to be volunteering for CF. “I have always enjoyed being a part of the community but it definitely became more of an emotional connection after I had my daughter two years ago,” Skarnes says. “Anything involving families or kids just instantly tugs at my heart in a way it didn’t before.”
Josh Chalupsky - Personal trainer and metabolic tech, Life Time Athletic–St. Louis Park
Chalupsky’s personal journey to fitness began in college. “I was living a very unhealthy lifestyle, and a friend of mine introduced me to working out. Fitness quickly became a passion I wanted to turn into a career,” he says. Now as a coach and competitive CrossFit athlete, he works closely with clients as they pursue their own fitness goals. “Having empathy for my clients helps me to understand a small portion of what someone with CF goes through on a daily basis.”
Ellora Batacharya, Erik Nordin, Kay Colegrove, Jeremy Jacobs
Ellora Batacharya, Erik Nordin, Kay Colegrove, and Jeremy Jacobs
Ellora Batacharya - Global finance manager–business transformation and information technology, 3M Company
Batacharya loves connecting people to success: “It’s the concept of helping others believe in and achieve their dreams–that’s what drives me.” The 3M business leader employs her finance and accounting background to assist the company in smart strategic and operational decisions. She also helps young students forge paths to success, volunteering for youth arts mentorship Free Arts, and Best Prep’s eMentor Program, a digital pen pal program pairing business professionals and high school students.
Erik Nordin - Realtor, Engel & Völkers Minneapolis Downtown
In his professional and personal life, Nordin is guided by compassion: “There is a saying that resonates with me: ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.’” The realtor with a background in customer service has made it his mission to offer clients a worry-free experience by alleviating the stress that can accompany buying or selling a home. After learning of the Foundation from a friend whose cousin lives with CF, Nordin is honored to be spreading awareness of CF to the public.
Kay Colegrove - Senior network contract manager for infertility, Optum
Whether she’s working, volunteering, or walking the Chain of Lakes with friends during her favorite season (summer!), Colegrove’s enthusiasm for life is contagious. “I was so excited for my first job, my work badge had a picture of me taken on my first day of work and I’m smiling ear to ear. It’s embarrassing now!” She brings her upbeat energy to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation after volunteering at a gala last year. “I think if you put good out into the world it will come back around.”
Jeremy Jacobs - Development executive, Mortenson Development, Inc.
Jacobs, a Virginia native, began his career as an Army attorney. In 2008, he deployed to Iraq. As fate would have it, that’s where he met his eventual wife, a St. Paul girl. Since relocating to the Twin Cities, Jacobs has redirected his service orientation to community issues. “The Twin Cities is incredibly diverse, yet we wrestle with issues of inclusivity,” he says. “I’m inspired to make this community a place where all people can discover happiness and prosperity.”
Rob Hinrichs, Britt Thelemann, Kevin Ortner, Katherine Konrad
Rob Hinrichs, Britt Thelemann, Kevin Ortner, and Katherine Konrad
Rob Hinrichs - Assistant VP and business development officer, Wells Fargo
Whether he’s providing insurance, supporting Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, or working as a volunteer firefighter and EMT for Roseville Fire Department, Hinrichs spends much of his time helping people breathe easier. “The best feeling in the world is when someone asks what I do with my free time. People expect to hear about your travels, hobbies, or favorite restaurants, but when they hear about someone spending their free time with service, the contagiousness of those actions is palpable.”
Britt Thelemann - Business systems administrator, Gamer Packaging; independent event MC and auction host
As Miss Minnesota USA in 2011, Thelemann was no stranger to fundraisers. But when a local family invited her to attend and speak at the Breath of Life Gala, it made a lasting impression and inspired her to action as a Twin Cities Finest. “At the time I was disappointed there wasn't more I could do as my time was split between many amazing local nonprofits, so I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to raise awareness to help families living with CF,” she says.
Kevin Ortner - CEO, Renters Warehouse
While other college kids were rushing Greek life, Ortner was discovering the power of real estate. After his freshman year at Arizona State University, he lived rent-free by purchasing a rental property and renting rooms to friends. After five years as a commercial pilot, the Excelsior native started the Phoenix branch of Renters Warehouse in 2009. “I am a believer in the saying, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’” he says. “My family and I have been blessed beyond belief and sharing those gifts with others is what community is all about.”
Katherine Konrad - Marketing project manager, Target Corporation
Konrad loves putting her psychology degree to work as a project manager for Target’s marketing initiatives. When she’s not working, Konrad rolls with a charitable crowd–she is the third person among her friends to be a Twin Cities Finest. She is grateful for the perspective gained from meeting families affected by CF, and for the opportunity to help change their stories: “If I can even play a small part in helping them achieve a level of health that I take for granted every day, that would be so rewarding.”
Hunter Stanek, Jeff Geier, Richard Herod III, Katie Gilligan, Dr. Ross Crain
Hunter Stanek, Jeff Geier, Richard Herod III, Katie Gilligan, and Dr. Ross Crain
Hunter Stanek - Co-founder, Born Passion
Stanek’s first job as a juvenile probation officer ignited his passion of helping others realize their true potential. After short stints in auto and corporate sales, he founded Born Passion, which unites Twin Cities companies and community members around a local nonprofit. “I love watching people go through a transformation when they realize that they can do so much more in this world by serving others around them,” Stanek says. “My goal is to help guide people in that direction where they actually feel that transformation.”
Jeff Geier - Co-founder, Born Passion
Geier co-founded Born Passion to answer one big question: “What if a movement brought together dozens of corporations, nonprofits, and thousands of individuals in the Twin Cities, and we rallied behind one cause at a time to change the world?” He loves empowering others to make a difference: “I find most of the time the one giving back to others is more transformed than the individual needing help. If every person in the world chose to help just one person, we could eliminate some of the world’s biggest problems.”
Richard Herod III - General manager, White Bear Mitsubishi
Herod will always remember Christmas 1983. His parents were newly divorced, his father was laid off, and no presents were in sight–until a care package with a Santa Bear arrived. “I will always remember the joy it brought to our family when others thought of us!” he says. “Ever since then, I've looked for ways to give back.” Herod is also an avid volunteer for Special Olympics and Second Harvest Heartland.
Katie Gilligan - Account supervisor, Mirum Agency
Gilligan’s advertising career is the result of a desire to feel connected to those around her: “I had heard that the advertising industry was a young, fun environment with a tight-knit community that would grow to feel like family.” Community is also a cornerstone of her giving philosophy: “Life is simply a lottery. You get what God gives you, and those who are given curve balls need help from the people around them.”
Dr. Ross Crain - Owner and doctor, Inver Grove Chiropractic
A chiropractic patient since childhood, Crain decided on a career in the field in high school, and met his wife, also a chiropractor, in chiropractic school. They purchased Inver Grove Chiropractic in 2014, and regularly work with CF patients and families. “It makes me feel good to give back financially and health-wise to these families,” Crain says. “They go through so much and all the children I meet who have the disease are so positive and happy! I will do whatever I can to help them have the best life possible.”
Colin Mihm, Claire Ferrara, Mike Wobschall
Colin Mihm, Claire Ferrara, and Mike Wobschall
Colin Mihm - Co-owner, KnockerSquad; software sales, Oracle
A Burnsville native who grew up in Lakeville and graduated from University of St. Thomas, Mihm’s love for the Twin Cities runs as deep as his entrepreneurial roots, instilled in him at a young age by his “serial entrepreneur” father. His desire to be a giving community member was sparked at an early age, too, while personally delivering school supplies to poor students in Vietnam as an elementary school student. “That was a moment in my life I will never forget. I feel that it is our duty to give back when we can.”
Claire Ferrara - Sales representative, Standard Heating & Air Conditioning
In her career, Ferrara is following in the footsteps of her father and grandfather, who founded family business Standard Heating & Air Conditioning in 1930. And in her dedication to CF as a Twin Cities Finest, she is inspired by her mother, a pediatrician who helps kids with CF maintain their own care as adults. “She has educated me about the devastating nature of this disease, the far-too-short life expectancy, and the great opportunities for advancement.”
Mike Wobschall - Senior content manager, Minnesota Vikings
Wobschall has worked his way up from Minnesota Vikings writing intern to the team’s go-to content creator, publishing across its print, digital, broadcast, and social media platforms. He also hosts his own podcast and is a regular on KFAN. Now as a husband and father of three young kids, his desire to give back is stronger than ever. “I feel a more profound duty to ensure the community in which my children will grow is one that has compassion, charity, and grace as guiding principles.”
Cystic Fibrosis By the Numbers
33,000 - The number of people living with cystic fibrosis in the United States. Cystic fibrosis is a progressive genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.
1989 - The year the CF gene was discovered–the single most important discovery in CF research.
125 - The number of accredited care centers that are staffed by dedicated health care professionals who provide specialized disease management.
18 - More than half of individuals with CF in the U.S. are now 18 or older. This milestone is a testament to the commitment and leadership of care teams across the country.
1 - The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation funds more CF research than any other organization. Nearly every CF drug available was made possible by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
To support the Twin Cities Finest in raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, you can visit finest.cff.org/activity/tcfinest