Business Journal names Newsmaker finalists


With 2019 about to slip into the rearview mirror, it’s time to reflect on the people and events that shaped West Michigan during the past 12 months.

The Grand Rapids Business Journal Newsmaker of the Year event is Jan. 29 at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Tickets for the event, which begins at 7:30 a.m., are available online.

This year, the Journal’s reporters and editors met to discuss almost 250 potential nominees for the honor, finally agreeing on three finalists in each of the following 16 categories: Arts & Entertainment, Beverages, Economic Development, Education, Finance, Food, Health Care, Law, Manufacturing, Nonprofits/Philanthropy, Real Estate/Construction, Retail, Sports, Startups, Sustainability and Technology.

A winner from the three finalists in each of the 16 categories will be revealed at the event, followed by the announcement of the overall 2019 Newsmaker of the Year Award.

The people who made news in 2019 make for an impressive list of leading figures in the business community.

Last year, Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, was honored for a bevy of acquisitions and new construction that grew the health system to more than 40 locations, 450 providers and 31,000 employees. Leading those efforts earned her the overall Newsmaker of the Year Award.

Most of this year’s nominees are familiar to West Michigan residents, especially those who read the Business Journal on a consistent basis, because they are the people who shaped local news in 2019.

A printed supplement profiling the finalists in each category will be included in the Jan. 27 issue of the Grand Rapids Business Journal.

For now, though, here is the first look at the finalists in each of the categories for Grand Rapids Business Journal 2019 Newsmaker of the Year.

Arts & Entertainment

Beth Beaman, The Playhouse at White Lake

Hannah Berry, Lions & Rabbits/Rad American Women

J.D. Loeks, Celebration Cinema


Jon O’Connor and Kyle Van Strien, Long Road Distillers

Jason and Kris Spaulding, Brewery Vivant/Broad Leaf

Brett VanderKamp, New Holland Spirits

Economic Development

Chuck Geenen and Doug DeKock, Geenen DeKock Properties

Brian Picardat, Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Richard Winn, AHC+Hospitality


Edward Montgomery, Western Michigan University

Bill Pink, Grand Rapids Community College

Richard Pappas, Davenport University


Krista Flynn, TCF Bank/Chemical Bank

Eric Foster, Rende Progress Capital

Kelly Potes, ChoiceOne Bank


Steve Cahillane, Kellogg Co.

Dr. Andrew Maternowski and Dr. Monica Randles, Nutcase Vegan Meats

Mike McDonald, Dr. John’s Healthy Sweets

Health Care

Robert Casalou, Trinity Health Michigan/Mercy Health

Mark Eastburg, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

Peter Hahn, Metro Health-University of Michigan Health


Richard Hillary, Miller Johnson

Ryan Leestma, ISI/Leestma Management

James McGrath, WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School


John Kennedy IV, Autocam Medical/AMP Lab

Murray Kessler, Perrigo

Kevin Lobo, Stryker


Jeremy DeRoo, LINC UP

Timothy Hileman, Special Olympics Michigan

Bridget Clark Whitney, Kids’ Food Basket

Real Estate/Construction

Tim Schowalter, Pioneer Construction

Mike VanGessel, Rockford Construction

John Wheeler, Wheeler Development Group (formerly ORES)


Brooke Lavender, The Donut Conspiracy

Cecily McCabe, Woodland Mall/PREIT

Scott Wierda, CWD Real Estate Investment/Breton Village


Steve Jbara, Grand Rapids Drive

Mike McCall, Muskegon Lumberjacks

Adam Stio, Battle Creek Rumble Bees


Amanda Chocko, Lakeshore Advantage/SURGE

Jorge Gonzalez, Start Garden/100 Ideas

Scott Hill, Varnum/MiSpringboard


Dwayne Behrens and Brian Spicer, Innovakote

Mike VanGessel, Rockford Construction/Circuit West

Rich Wolowski, Gordon Food Service/Square Roots


Jake Blough, Service Express/On Deck

Michael Cotter, Feyen Zylstra

Garry VonMyhr, Tech Defenders

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