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The Independent’s 2022 Class of Rising Stars!

Missy Andeel,
Human Relations Consultant,
American Century Investments

Missy Andeel’s career has taken her to a variety of cities. Fortunately for Our Town, she has now lived here for more than a decade. There’s an old adage, “Bloom where you’re planted,” and Missy is someone who believes in putting down roots. Missy spent 12 years as a senior employee relations representative prior to joining American Century Investments. In her current position, she advises leaders and employees on unusual situations that have an impact on the workforce. 

Missy grew up in Wichita, Kansas. From an early age, she was aware of the importance of community engagement, because her parents were committed to making a difference in the world around them. For example, her mother co-founded a learning center to aid students who had dyslexia. 

Throughout Missy’s life, she has shown an ability to join an organization and remain involved with it. In college, she pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma. She currently serves as president of the Kansas City, Missouri Kappa Kappa Gamma Alumnae Association. At this time, the national organization is shifting its focus in philanthropy from Reading is Fundamental to mental health. Missy is overseeing the bridge year in which the local membership and board members are considering how best to implement this change. 

If the Junior League had passports, Missy’s would be filled with colorful stamps! She joined the League in Tallahassee, Florida, then headed north to Chicago. Fort Worth, Texas, was her next stop. While there, she devoted hours to rocking babies in a hospital’s ICU nursery. Shortly after arriving in Kansas City, Missy served on the Transfer Committee of the Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri. She signed up for the League’s yearlong program in civic leadership. At an event featuring overviews of several community organizations, Missy was intrigued by Sheffield Place, which provides services to homeless women and their children. She joined the board in 2015. 

In addition to assisting Sheffield Place with personnel issues, she has also assisted the organization by arranging mock interviews for its clients with professionals in the field. During the past three years, she has served as chairman of the Off the Wall art gala. Key to Missy’s leadership talents is “her ability to recruit new volunteers for the event and develop the skills of existing volunteers,” according to Kelly Welch, Sheffield Place. As Kelly stated, “Her ability to delegate responsibilities and motivate volunteers contributes to the events’ success in recruiting new sponsors (seven in 2021) and retaining 81 percent of the previous year’s sponsors [in] 2021 – impressive accomplishments in light of the circumstances occasioned by the pandemic!”

Read More About Missy Here                

Olivia Bloomfield,
Student Volunteer

Olivia Bloomfield, who is in fourth grade at Corinth Elementary School, has always had a clear vision about inclusivity. Amy Milroy, B.E. Smith Family Center, recalled, “As a preschooler, Olivia was known by her teachers and therapists as an incredible self-advocate and an advocate for others with disabilities. She would instruct others with incredible specificity about what she needed from them as caregivers to ensure she was comfortable, safe, and in an optimal position to do all the things she wanted to do.”

Olivia has been a Variety KC advocate since the age of four, when she spoke at a Variety KC radiothon about inclusion. Olivia has always pushed back against established limits. To her, bubbles and crayons weren’t an acceptable alternative to being on the playground for recess. As a result, her school’s playground was remodeled – and the Shawnee Mission School District will modify all playgrounds in the future, creating inclusive play for all children. 

Olivia’s activism has been a crucial aspect in fomenting discussions of accessibility. Her work can be seen in the creation of two Kansas City, Missouri, ordinances. All new construction must have universal changing stations in the family restrooms. Playgrounds must be all inclusive. Deborah Wiebrecht, Variety the Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City, said, “Comfortable in front of the media, experienced at speaking to City Hall, and fearless when facing a situation she feels is not inclusive, Olivia will be a force for decades to come, and she will do it with a sweet smile and steely belief in what is right for every child.”

“Why does the world have to have stairs?” is a question that Olivia has posed, notably at the 15 and The Mahomies Foundation inaugural gala. Adults are listening to her views and working to implement her ideas. Among people of all ages, Olivia’s words are respected. “She is a leader, and her leadership powerfully impacts those around her. Her activism around inclusion has already profoundly affected her classmates, and they have begun looking for ways to make their classroom and school more inclusive. This includes aspects of the physical infrastructure of the building, but perhaps more importantly, it shows up in the daily interactions among students,” Dr. Michelle Hubbard, Shawnee Mission School District, said, adding, “Olivia is active in the broader community, working with organizations such as the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, The Regnier Family Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City, Arrowhead Stadium, and other large venues. She has contributed to the design of items that allow more individuals to be included at those venues, such as fidget toys, noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, and sunglasses.”

Olivia is also the inspiration for the International Design Campaign for urban inclusive playground equipment. Her activism continues to increase opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people.

Mark Nuss,
Market President – Kansas City,
Simmons Bank 

Humble and hyperproductive: these are two complementary traits that Mark Nuss appears to possess. Originally from Iowa, he graduated from The University of Kansas and received a graduate degree from the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Mark’s employment history includes more than a decade at UMB, plus a stint at Summit Equity, prior to his current position at Simmons Bank. He is a husband and a father, and he manages to find time for a range of charitable activities. 

Mark’s response to the early days of the global pandemic give insight into his character. While many people were hunkering down and focusing on their own immediate needs, Mark was barbecuing – for charity. As Ryan Gray recalled, “Mark was in quarantine at home just like everyone else… but he didn’t let that stop him from further building relationships with people, and having an impact on his community. He announced one of his classic ‘Fill Your Freezer’ events… wherein Mark barbecues copious amounts of food and delivers them around the city. Think entire pork butts, briskets, or racks of ribs – arguably some of the best in the city. Then the man delivered these delicacies to the doors of recipients. Friends chipped in to fund the endeavor, but Mark was the workhorse.”

If you’re envisioning that some beer might go well with all that barbecue, Mark is already ahead of you. He was one of the co-founders of KC Beer Fest. In its early years, from 2008 through 2013, the event benefited the Kansas City CARE Clinic and AIDS Service Foundation of Greater Kansas City; it now provides funding for other charitable organizations. Mark was the youngest board chairman in the history of the KC CARE Clinic (now the KC CARE Health Center). He served for six years on the board, including two years as chairman, and now serves on the organization’s advisory council. 

During his time as a Centurion, Mark served on the team that collected 3,990 boxes of cereal and then succeeded in breaking the Guinness World Record for “Most Cereal Boxes Toppled in a Domino Fashion.” It should come as no surprise to learn that the cereal, all of it in unopened boxes, was then donated to Harvesters.

Mark’s volunteer work is a combination of fun and serious activities for good causes. In the time that he has spent on the auxiliary board of Children’s Mercy Cancer Center, he has been involved with the launch of the Big KC Open Golf Tournament and also accepted the role of treasurer. 

What’s truly amazing? These are just a few of the organizations that have benefited from Mark’s interest and enthusiasm. 

Keith Stanfield,
Executive Director and Violinist,
The Friends of The Opus 76 Quartet 

Keith Stanfield’s many talents include music, sports, and philanthropy. He began playing the violin when he was just three years old. Soccer wasn’t just a hobby – Keith represented Western Samoa in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers and has been a coach in The United States and in the United Kingdom – but the violin mattered more. He had his first recital at six, and appeared on television at 10. Keith has performed internationally, but makes his home in Kansas City, where he also teaches.    

Keith founded the Opus 76 Quartet in 2017 and has served as the executive director of The Friends of the Opus 76 Quartet Foundation. He hosts the Opus 76 Quartet’s “Keeping Score” podcast and coaches The Opus 76 Sunrise Quartet, thus mentoring talented musicians who are still in high school. Oh, and did we mention that he is also a writer?

If all this sounds like a well-rounded life, it is – or, at least, it was until COVID-19 came along. That forced Keith to tap into talents he probably didn’t even realize he had. As Lori Plank Allen explained, “During the pandemic in 2020, when nearly all other arts organizations shut their doors, Keith showed remarkable leadership by leveraging an existing digital platform he had built years prior to raise money for community members in immediate need. He diverted resources normally used for performances or performing expenses toward buying groceries for those who couldn’t leave their house[s], and allowed other musicians whose employment had been terminated due to the pandemic to earn money by performing on the Opus 76 Quartet’s pre-existing digital platform. This was significant as many of the working musicians and artists in Kansas City are contractors without job security. He found a way to safely carry out a six-week event that was three years in the making, which was of direct financial benefit to a number of local charities which serve the disadvantaged directly. This ended up raising tens of thousands of dollars for struggling non profits, whilst managing to comply fully with all current public health guidance as it evolved.”

The music of the Opus 76 Quartet has been heard at local venues ranging from Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to Bishop Spencer Place and online. If music truly is a balm to the soul, Keith is a healer par excellence.             

Alisha Thomson,
Wealth Strategist,
Country Club Trust Company

Volunteering has been a big part of Alisha Thomson’s life. While attending Oklahoma City University School of Law, she was active in the Student Bar Association, ultimately serving as its president. 

Animal welfare has been a focus of much of her efforts. Alisha began volunteering with Bella SPCA after a tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, separated many pets from their families. At that time, she began fostering dogs and cats, assisting more than 100 pets who were in need of homes. Alisha also volunteered at microchip and vaccination clinics and adoption events. A Dog Walk in the Park and 12 Dog Houses of Christmas were fundraisers that benefited from her assistance. Alisha briefly served as a board member prior to moving to Kansas City to accept the position of senior director of development for Great Plains SPCA. For several years, she also volunteered as a driver for Paws On Wheels, which transports homeless animals from overcrowded shelters to ones that are better able to care for them.

One constant refrain that runs through Alisha’s volunteer work is an ability to think creatively to make an impact for the organizations she serves. The work she has done at Wornall/Majors House Museums is one example. Alisha was a political science and history major in college and has always been passionate about historic preservation, so serving as a board member was a natural fit for her. The real challenge was trying to figure out how to make the property sustainable. Alisha focused on new ways to bring people into the house and attract community investment. In her first year on the board, she spearheaded the creation of a new signature event called the Boots and Pearls Barn Dance. She served as the event chairman for two years and her other roles have included board secretary, chairman of the Garden Tour, and board chairman. Alisha is currently board development chairman. Her knowledge, experience, and willingness to help have led her to be a planned giving board member for two organizations, Truman Medical Center and the Kansas City Symphony.  

At Country Club Bank, Alisha and three colleagues formed Team Impact, which provides volunteer and other philanthropic opportunities for associates. She recently led a food drive, coordinating the placement of Harvesters bins in all 21 area Country Club Bank locations and ensuring that the donations were delivered to the organization.     

Gene Willis,
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager,

Many organizations are dear to Gene Willis, and he is supportive of them in a variety of ways. As a volunteer, he is willing to do everything from mentoring young people to donating blood to fostering dogs to picking up trash. Gene is a knowledgeable and dedicated committee member, and he excels at fundraising.

“For years, Gene has worked his network and hosted an annual Friendsgiving Happy Hour, not only to get people together and connected, but to raise funds for a favorite non profit,” Amy Guerich, Stepp & Rothwell, said. She notes that Gene, who was a Kauffman Foundation Project Choice scholarship recipient, likes to quote a statement he first heard from the late Ewing Kauffman: “Give back and do well.” That certainly sums up his approach to life.

Gene served Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City from 2004 until 2020, as a Big Brother, Big Couple, and a fundraiser. He was a co-chairman of the BBBSKC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board, representing the organization at their 2019 National Conference. India Williams, KIPP KC, had this to say, “The group gained national attention and grew to an actual board that intentionally helped BBBS recruit more diverse volunteers. Gene’s commitment led him to be a regular event speaker and host of countless diversity panels, networking events, and youth programming.”

For his work with BBBSKC, 100 Black Men honored Gene as “Community Father of the Year” in 2013. In 2014, BBBSKC named him “Big Brother of the Year.” Liz Freeman, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, stated, “Gene’s commitment to the youth and future of Kansas City was evident from the start, and he made that commitment clear through his actions, his advocacy, and his willingness to serve as a mentor not only through BBBSKC, but also for young professionals.”

Gene is a trained volunteer with Great Plains SPCA, working in the pet adoption facility, fostering more than 35 dogs, and has also assisted with fundraising. He was the Great Plains SPCA Volunteer of the Month in January 2017.

Starlight Theatre recognized Gene as one of the inaugural members of the Starlight All-Stars for the Starry Nights Gala in 2021. He set a high goal for fundraising earmarked for internship programs. Those who know Gene well weren’t surprised when he exceeded his goal. He currently is a Starlight Community Engagement Committee member.

Gene currently serves as vice president of the board of the Quixotic Foundation. He has increased exposure and funding to make the performing arts accessible to all, and helped to educate, engage, and inspire historically underserved children through interactive workshops and ticketing to Quixotic events. Gene is also a board member of the Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, and has served on the boards of Variety the Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City, Oceans of Mercy/Village South Africa, the Kansas City Film Festival, and the Kansas City Film Commission.

Read More About Gene Here

Featured in the February 19th issue of The Independent.
Photo Credit: Tom Styrkowicz


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