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Speaker gives a hippie's view




The Hays Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated community leaders, passed the baton of leadership and gained inspiration and insights from speaker Skip Yowell during Thursday night's annual banquet.

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The Hays Area Chamber of Commerce celebrated community leaders, passed the baton of leadership and gained inspiration and insights from speaker Skip Yowell during Thursday night's annual banquet.

Yowell, co-founder of JanSport, published his first book, "The Hippie Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder & Other Mountains," in 2007. He and his wife, Winnie, reside in St. Peter -- southwest of Hill City in Graham County.

"We could have lived anywhere in the world, and we decided to come back to western Kansas," Yowell told the chamber members gathered at Fort Hays State University's Memorial Union Ballroom.

Yowell shared stories about creating JanSport with his cousin, Murray Pletz, and Murray's wife, Jan. The company sprang from a passion for enjoying outdoor activities.

Launching the business in 1967 with a line of backpacks made in his uncle's transmission shop in northern Seattle, Yowell found almost instant success. Yowell travels the world sharing his story on the history of JanSport and his expeditions and mountain climbing adventures.

Although he's traveled the world, Yowell was quick to point out the attributes that endear Hays to him.

"There are so many great elements to this community that everybody in the room should be proud of," he said. "You look at many areas of the country and start looking at all the things that Hays has to offer.

"There's no traffic. The people are friendly. The air's clean. ... I'm just so proud to be part of this community."

As part of the banquet's evening events, leadership for the chamber changed as Past President Eric Norris, director of Hays Public Library, passed the baton to Travis Kohlrus, general manager of Eagle Communications Broadband Division.

Hays Chamber award winners

Jean Ross

Winner of the Golden Belt Bank Hall of Fame Award, longtime Hays resident Jean Ross was recognized for her years of volunteerism and service to the Hays community.

Ross began her education career teaching fifth and sixth grades in Schoenchen in 1975. She went on to become Washington Elementary School principal and later was promoted to Hays USD 489 assistant superintendent for finance in 1979. She served in that role until 1998.

Ross served as president of TMP-Marian High School for 10 years. She led the school through years of financial instability and did so without receiving a paycheck.

"She is a people person and high-energy," said USD 489 Superintendent Will Roth, who worked with Ross in administration. "Jean really cares immensely about people.

"She was always on the go, and there was no down-time with Jean."

Brian Weimer

A committed member of Hays Area Young Professionals, Brian Weimer of IPI Financial was named Eagle Communications Rising Star. Weimer also serves on the Hays USD 489 Facility Needs Committee, Sunrise Rotary Club, coaches youth sports and works actively with Fort Hays State University alumni activities.

Weimer, a graduate of Hays High School, received a bachelor's degree in business management in 2002 from FHSU.

"Brian is just a very caring and involved person, both in his community and working with his clients," said Andrew Rupp, executive vice president of IPI Financial. "He's very concerned and passionate about what he does.

"I think that's what's made him stand out. He's certainly someone who can get in and be effective in a leadership role."

Deanna Doerfler

Selected for the Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland Business Woman of the Year Award, Deanna Doerfler was recognized for her efforts in building a highly successful Harley-Davidson/Buell dealership. Doerfler is co-owner/general manager of Doerflers Harley Davidson-Buell.

She was described by members of her staff as a "leader, boss, teacher, confidante, therapist, chief, role model, supervisor, mentor, delegating diva, vice president and dealer principle. ... More than these, she is a friend."

"One of the things that makes her a great leader and boss is that she treats all of her employees like family," said Ashlee Parke, Doerflers' H.D. marketing coordinator. "We are all very close to each other and work as a team even though all four different departments lead very separate roles."

"Getting 18-plus people to work together as a team has its challenges, but she is so involved with each of us on a personal level. I would put the team leadership she has created amongst employees against anything. Having a great network of employees is one of her No. 1 successes as a business leader."

Nikki Pfannenstiel

Voted Citizen of the Year for her service to the Hays community, Nikki Pfannenstiel has served on the executive committee of the Ellis County United Way and facilitated for Leadership Hays.

Joining the staff of Sunflower Electric in 1997, Pfannenstiel now serves as manager of member services.

In 2012, Pfannenstiel was awarded the "Brand Champion" award for her efforts in promoting the Touchstone Energy brand in Kansas.

She is active with rural development efforts and is treasurer of the Western Kansas Rural Economic Development Alliance.

"I have known Nikki for many years and always appreciated her leadership skills, enthusiasm and thirst to understand the issues," said Clare Gustin, Sunflower Electric vice president of member services and external affairs.

"I am so pleased to see her receive this honor that shows others also recognize how these qualities serve our community."

Hays Academy of Hair Design

Hays Academy of Hair Design, James Motor Co.'s Small Business award winner, was recognized for its entrepreneurial efforts to create a unique and successful business. Sisters Summer Melvin and Danielle Markley purchased the school in 2003, and in 2012 expanded the business, opening an academy in Salina.

Receiving Best Overall School at Kansas Statewide Competition four years in a row, the academy is one of only 15 schools in the world to offer the Sasoon Academy School Connection program.

"Hays Academy is not only a company that is leading in its industry, but is a company that strives to provide cutting edge training to each of its students," said Randi Gerstner, student salon coordinator. "The owners are extremely passionate about making every experience positive whether it is with a student that attends the school, employees or clients that walk through our doors.

"Above all, they continue to show positive leadership in their efforts to make the communities they touch a better place to live, work and play."