PPAI's Highest Honors
Former First Lady Barbara Bush once said, “Believe in something larger than yourself … get involved in the big ideas of your time.” As a prolific volunteer, Bush devoted herself to many causes during her lifetime including literacy, the homeless, AIDS and the elderly. People who truly care about a cause—including the future of an organization or an industry—give of their time and talents without expecting anything in return. Giving comes naturally and their reward is their own satisfaction for making a difference.
This month, at The PPAI Expo in Las Vegas, PPAI presents its highest honors to five individuals who have generously given countless hours to their Association, industry and the global community through their volunteer leadership. This year’s Hall of Fame inductees are Carl Gerlach, MAS, and Roni Wright, MAS; Distinguished Service Award winners are Rick Brenner, MAS+ and Kippie Helzel, MAS; and the recipient of the H. Ted Olson Humanitarian Award is Rod Brown, CAS. Read about Brown’s incredible humanitarian efforts and how you can help in PPB’s December issue. Turn the page to read why Gerlach, Wright, Brenner and Helzel are also taking home the Association’s highest honors.
Carl Gerlach’s life hasn’t followed a straight line of progression; instead it’s been one with unexpected twists and turns that have led to incredible opportunities and successes he couldn’t have imagined. It all started with making the right choices.
Not too many people earn a full college scholarship playing basketball while studying engineering and then switch majors to business and marketing, go pro, play for the NBA and European league, work in the oil industry, build and run the marketing department for a major promotional products supplier, serve as board chair for the industry’s trade Association and then win election as mayor of a city ranked one of the best places to live in the U.S. Gerlach has done all of this. He will also be inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame in January 2020, joining an elite group of 86 individuals who have been honored since the program’s inception in 1977.
For a boy growing up in Leawood, Kansas, life was basketball and other sports, but he also dreamed of being an engineer, like his uncle. Gerlach pursued his engineering degree while playing center and forward for the Kansas State University Wildcats. The only problem was his team was too good. They had gone to two NCAA Elite 8 tournaments and were one shot away from a Final Four when Gerlach realized he had to make a decision. Riding home with the team after a game, the other players slept as Gerlach studied for a test in thermal dynamics. “I realized it wasn’t going to work,” he says. “It was too tough to be an engineering major and a college basketball player.” He switched his major to business with an emphasis in marketing and management, a decision that would eventually bring him into the promotional products industry as vice president of marketing for Gill Studios, Inc.
But first Gerlach had to fulfill a childhood dream—to play pro basketball. After graduating from Kansas State in 1976, he was recruited by the Atlanta Hawks and played through the pre-season. When the team let him go, he moved to Lugano, Switzerland, where he played pro ball for a year for the European league. “It was a great education for a kid from Kansas to learn other cultures and that people are the same wherever you go in this world,” he says. “They may have a different culture and language, but you can relate to them.” He was one of two Americans on the team that traveled to play all over Switzerland and Europe. His time there also taught him the importance of teamwork. “All of my accomplishments in life have been because I was a part of a good team. I learned that you are a lot stronger when you have a good group of people with you,” he says. “One person can’t do everything a team can do.” Learning the importance of diversity and teamwork at an early age helped set him up for success in the decades and careers that followed.
Gerlach returned to the U.S. and played through the pre-season with the San Antonio Spurs before a back injury forced him to leave the sport. Back in Kansas, he considered his options and remembered learning about promotional products in college during a presentation by guest speaker John Crofoot from distributor Western Associates, Inc. Gerlach’s family was friends with the Gilman family, owner of Gill Studios, so, after a meeting with then-company president Mark Gilman, Gerlach joined the company. The job was interesting and challenging but after four years he was ready for another turn in the road. With a brother in the oil business, he moved to Boston and then Chicago in the early 1980s to work for Koch Industries, an oil and gas company. But Gerlach soon missed the promo industry. “The oil business was not personal,” he remembers. “It was all about dollars and cents.”
Enter George Matteson, Jr., CAS, (then head of supplier Gemaco Playing Cards in Independence, Missouri, and a 2002 Hall of Fame inductee) who recruited him back to the industry a year later as head of his company’s sales and marketing department. But Gerlach came full circle four years later when Gilman invited him to return to Gill Studios to launch the supplier’s new marketing department. Gerlach was charged with building the company’s first website, producing its annual catalog and developing a formal process for evaluating and introducing new products—all new initiatives for the Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based company. He credits his many successes there to his team—one he built from three people to eight. “It was not a real big team but a really good team,” he says, recalling the building of his team as one of his proudest accomplishments. “We were pushing the limits of where the company wanted to go—collegiate licensing, the website, social media, distributor promotions. I think Mark trusted me, but I got some pushback from others. Yet, we had to continue to evolve. You don’t need leadership if you don’t want to change. It’s easy to manage the status quo, but because change was necessary, that’s where the leadership comes in.”
Some of the highlights of his time at Gill Studios were the lessons he learned from Gilman about true customer service (“You don’t worry about one order, you worry about lifelong relationships,” Gilman told him) and the lifelong friendship he built with Paul Lage, MAS, who nominated Gerlach for this Hall of Fame induction. He hired Lage and they worked together for about four years; Lage left and later returned to Gill as president. “He helped me learn how to deal with people,” Gerlach says. “We helped each other and built good teams.”
In 2018, Gerlach retired after 35 years at Gill to focus full time on a new passion: serving as mayor of Overland Park, Kansas.
His love of volunteering (from 1984 to 2017 he served on PPAI’s board of directors and on many committees, task forces and work groups, including as president of Young Executives of Specialty Advertising Association) led him to serve on the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce where he joined the City and State Affairs committee. Within a year he was asked to chair the committee and began attending City Council meetings. Then he was asked to run for the City Council, was elected in 1995 and served in that capacity for 10 years. When the incumbent mayor decided not to seek reelection, he persuaded Gerlach to give it a try. He was elected mayor of Overland Park (the second-largest city in the Kansas City metro area) in 2005, the same year he served as PPAI board chair, and was elected to his fourth term in 2017.
For Gerlach, it’s the means to achieve a long-held dream to improve his hometown (Leawood is a suburb of Overland Park). “It’s the town I grew up in; it was vibrant then and has continued to grow but some of it needs to be redeveloped and revitalized. People have asked me to go to higher levels—to run for governor or to go to Washington—but I can make more of an impact being mayor of a city. My goals were always to build the city into a nice enough place that my kids would want to live there. I’ve got them all back in the Kansas City area. Now my goal is to make it a nice enough place that my granddaughters will want to stay here, too.”
Gerlach’s term as mayor runs through November 2021 and before then he will decide if he wants to run for reelection. He says he and his wife, Jill, have some other goals to consider, including travel and spending more time with their family. The couple have a son, Chris; two daughters, Jennifer and Katie; and two granddaughters with whom they enjoy weekends at their family’s lake house at Lake of the Ozarks in the southern part of the state. “We play board games, cards, go out on the boat—just simple things. Family is the most important thing to me,” he says.
During his career, Gerlach has earned many accolades including the 2013 Ewing Kauffman Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and the 2012 NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award. In 2013, the Crescent Peace Society presented its Peace Award to Gerlach in recognition of his commitment and efforts to promote pluralism, understanding, tolerance and acceptance of religious and cultural diversity in Greater Kansas City. The Kansas City Business Journal also has listed him in its Power 100 of Kansas City’s Movers and Shakers and Ingram’s listed him among the 250 Most Powerful Business Leaders in the Kansas City Area. He also received the 2018 Arts Advocate award from ArtsKC and the Raindrop Award for Outstanding Public Service from the Dialogue Institute.
“I don’t know if it was a competitive spirit propelled through professional basketball or his grounded foundation from his family or even [his involvement in] the Boy Scouts, which has driven him to this rarefied space,” wrote Lage in Gerlach’s nomination. “But what I do know is this humble giant has always achieved the big things in life and has an endless amount of giving towards others.”
Asked what being inducted into the PPAI Hall of Fame means to him, Gerlach reflects for a moment. “It’s the highest honor I could receive,” he says with a smile. “We all receive various awards, but an award given by your colleagues, given for a job you’ve done all your life, is the ultimate award. It’s an honor. I view volunteering as getting more than I’m giving so I’m a little hesitant because I’ve already received plenty. I don’t think I’ve done anything different than other people—but I had a great team behind me to help accomplish things.”
Always one to share credit for his successes, Gerlach also gives kudos to the PPAI staff for making it easy to volunteer. “You have to drive an industry and an association. Without a staff like PPAI’s, I don’t think this industry would be half as far down the road as it is. Do we have a ways to go? Yes. We still need to be recognized as more of an advertising medium, but we’ve made huge leaps forward and as long as we have a great staff it’s easy for members to donate their time.”
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.
Roni Wright, MAS, is a flame. She’s also a planner and a lifelong learner—two characteristics that she’s always used to describe herself—but underneath is a mighty, internal fire that pushes Wright to never fear leaving her comfort zone. She lives by the drive to get in and get involved, and it’s something that’s come to define her experiences, both in the promotional products industry and in her personal life.
Wright, vice president of The Book Company, a Florida-based supplier, describes herself as “shy” and “timid,” which is ironic, because throughout her 35 years in the industry, she’s shown that she isn’t afraid to push the needle—and to do so with enthusiasm, a captivating smile and perhaps a twirl or two, when appropriate; a flair that stems from her earlier life as a dancer. In 2010, Wright proved she’d travel the distance—vertically—as part of the Promotional Products Education Foundation’s (PPEF) “I’ll Do Anything Challenge.” Wright, who was then chair of PPEF, pledged to face her fear of heights by parasailing off the Florida coast to raise $10,000 for the foundation. “I wanted to do something people wouldn’t easily forget, that would be meaningful, and that would raise the money,” she says. Despite being frozen in fright at the “peak” of the ride and swearing she’d never parasail again, the money was raised and Wright bravely followed through with her pledge.
In 2012, Wright hosted a lunch and learn at Promotions East in Atlantic City, New Jersey—the predecessor of PPAI’s Expo East—called Bringing Out Your Inner Gaga! To intrigue attendees, she playfully dressed as the popstar herself, from head to toe, and spoke on the importance of embracing your individuality. “My whole message was to be who you are and that it’s ok,” says Wright. “Maybe your inner Gaga is a little weird, or a little conservative, or maybe it’s a dancer or a musician. It doesn’t matter. Just be you.” Introspective, as lifelong learners are, Wright found a way to tie promo to pop by explaining Lady Gaga’s transformation from Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta into the powerhouse superstar and businesswoman she is today. “I didn’t want to shock the audience, but I wanted to get them to think about things a little differently,” she says.
Some 25 years ago, in 1995, Wright was pushing the envelope as one of the only professionals to emphasize the forthcoming power of the internet. While working at the Advertising Specialty Institute promoting the value of distributor website sales, she developed an eight-hour workshop about the internet and traveled to regional associations to lead interactive classes. Wright knew the internet would change the industry immensely, and wanted to share insights with her industry peers to help them prepare. Even after she moved on from that role, she has continued teaching on the subject as well as on many other topics. Doug Greenhut, president of The Book Company and one of Wright’s nominators, says, “Roni has always been a strong advocate for education and has spent decades traveling to different regional associations to motivate, inspire and coach on how to become more successful in life and in the promotional products industry.”
Wright’s desire to get involved, coupled with her tireless curiosity, has also led her to faraway places and blossomed into a love for practicing yoga. Years before Wright entered promo, she earned her bachelor’s in dance from Douglass College at Rutgers University, though she’d return to school 10 years later to receive her bachelor’s in business and marketing from the University of South Florida. Wright’s love for dance led her to partner with another dancer to open the Florida Ballet School, which she owned from 1996-2007, while continuing to work in the promotional products industry.
Eventually, Wright’s curiosity to learn sparked again, and she decided to obtain her 200-hour certification and became a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher. Later, she traveled to India, twice, where she was accepted to study at the renowned K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysuri, Karnataka.
Wright even found a way to merge her love for practicing yoga with her promo peers, particularly at the Women’s Leadership Conference (WLC), an event she has attended every year since its inception in 2004. Wright has served on the Professional Development Committee, the Women’s Leadership Taskforce and has been a subject matter expert, leading speaker sessions. But part of her enjoyment of attending WLC is welcoming industry pros to early-morning yoga classes. “A lot of the women who have taken my classes have gone on to do their own practice,” she says. “It’s been nice to mix my personal life and my business life in that way.” Wright now leads early-morning yoga sessions at other events, too, like The PPAI Expo, NALC and has brought her practice to distributors’ offices as well.
While Wright advanced in her dance and yoga practice, she progressed in her career as well. Her first position touching the industry was with Goodbye Sportswear, a supplier that has since been acquired by alphabroder. Here, she worked in the screen print division and learned the art of cold-calling. When that division of the company closed, Wright joined a printing company that eventually led her to Impact Advertising. From 1985-1995, and again from 1999-2002, she sold advertising for supplier catalogs, and became familiar with the industry. In 2002 she opened her own distributorship, On Your Toes; the name being a playful spin on dance. But not long after that, Wright met Greenhut at a trade show, and, as a lover of books, she was drawn to the product. She joined The Book Company in 2004.
Over the past 35 years, Wright has become involved in many organizations and held a number of volunteer positions. It was a way for her to place herself among those she admired and network with them, she says, but also a way to overcome her timidity. “I’m shy, and for me to stand in front of a group of people and talk, I have to be very well prepared,” she says. “But I’ve become that person. I know there are many other people in the room who feel exactly like I do, and I’ve found ways to overcome that shyness.” Wright joined the Young Executives of Specialty Advertising Association and attended facilitator training school to become an industry speaker. “I got to sit at the table with people who were on their way to success,” she says. She’d later serve on a number of PPAI’s taskforces, committees and workgroups, lead webinars and speaker sessions at PPAI’s events, and contribute articles to PPB. For her tireless commitment and civic involvement, she was named the recipient of the PPAI Distinguished Service Award in 2007, the Woman of Achievement Award in 2013 and in 2016, she was named a PPAI Fellow Program Inductee.
But in her day-to-day life, Wright loves being at The Book Company, which has access to every published book, more than three million, including cookbooks, quotation and inspiration books, road atlases and books about travel and business. The company also specializes in journals, which were added about eight years ago, Wright says. “We do a lot of custom work now, which I’m very proud of.” She’s also involved in the partnership with American Forests, to which the company donates a portion of its proceeds, annually, to help with reforestation and tree-planting. “I’m proud of the fact that what we do has meaning, purpose and value,” she says.
This year, Wright has her sights set on continuing to build the company’s relationships and support its team. But in her personal life, she’s planning something a little different—Wright will be embarking on a 13-day hike in Europe. For her, it’ll be a walk in the park; she completed a 15-day, 165-mile hike at the Tahoe Rim Trail years ago.
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.
“Over the past decade there is likely no single person in our industry who has personally given more time freely and generously to our Association and industry than Rick Brenner.”
So began the nomination of Rick Brenner, MAS+, for the PPAI Distinguished Service Award. It was submitted by longtime volunteer colleague and friend Gene Geiger, MAS+, and seconded by six other dedicated industry leaders who have volunteered alongside Brenner in one way or another during his five years of PPAI board service and on various projects—most notably his profound leadership of PPAI’s Product Responsibility Summit and related initiatives.
“When it comes to the issue of industry product safety and compliance, no one is more committed, passionate, well-connected and knowledgeable. NO ONE,” continued Geiger. “And no one has done more to move our entire industry along on that crucial subject (and add key value) than Rick. With his leadership, we have gone from clueless to being the model the Consumer Product Safety Commission uses to tell others how it can be done.”
Brenner’s volunteerism with PPAI began with a single phone call in 2008 to then-President and CEO Steve Slagle concerning PPAI’s guidance to members on the newly enacted Consumer Product Safety Information Act. Brenner volunteered to share his expertise on product responsibility and began teaching workshops at The PPAI Expo, Expo East and regional industry events. His work was instrumental in helping to form PPAI’s Product Responsibility Action Group, which led to the launch of the first PPAI Product Safety Summit (now Product Responsibility Summit) in Denver, Colorado, in 2011. He designed, presented or facilitated many sessions during those Summits and in subsequent webinars on best practices, quality processes, factory audits and related topics. He also led the charge to create the PPAI Product Safety Aware program, which requires a designated person in every member company to complete four hours of product safety education along with other qualifications, thus ensuring a basic understanding of the industry’s compliance obligations.
His passion for educating and informing his industry colleagues expanded from the podium to the printed page with Brenner writing 10 feature stories for PPB magazine on topics such as product labeling and how the CPSC views the promotional products industry.
Brenner has also provided vital leadership for PPAI’s legislative outreach on Capitol Hill by helping to launch the first PPAI Legislative Education and Action Day in 2010. Ten years later, in May 2019, the annual event had swelled to encompass nearly 80 volunteers and more than 300 meetings with legislators and their staffs.
With even more to give, Brenner stepped up to lead the PPAI Government Relations Advisory Council and was tapped for PPAI board service in 2012. In that capacity, he served as board liaison to the Marketing Information & Research Action Group, Certification Committee, Leadership Advisory Council and the Promotional Products Education Foundation. In 2015, he was named PPAI chair of the board and served a fifth year as immediate past chair in 2016.
What led him to devote so much time to the promotional products industry? His explanation is simple. “Each of us has a range of talents, experiences, expertise and intellectual gifts that others can benefit from, for the betterment of the whole industry,” he says. “I have been fortunate to have enjoyed success in my career and enjoy sharing whatever I can that others may benefit from.”
Unlike many of PPAI’s other volunteer leaders who have come from within the promotional products industry, Brenner honed his expertise in other fields. While still in college at Michigan State University, he founded a building maintenance business. Using a technology platform he developed, Brenner expanded the business to five states with 1,600 employees. He later sold the business and moved to New York where he was hired as “entrepreneur-in-residence” at Prospect Street, a New York-based venture capital firm. Little did he know that position would open a whole new world of opportunity.
In the mid-1990s the World Wide Web was making daily headlines and companies were jumping at the opportunity to take full advantage of the new technology. Prospect Street had an investment in the promotional products industry—an e-distributor—so Brenner was sent to the PPAI Dallas Show (as The PPAI Expo was called at that time) to learn about the industry. One of Brenner’s colleagues at Prospect Street was related to Bob Lederer, founder of supplier Prime. Lederer needed advice on a transaction, Brenner was recommended and over the next several years he did a significant amount of consulting with Prime, including its 2003 acquisition of Logotec, which later became Prime’s bag division. In early 2004, Lederer and his wife Gail asked Brenner to become president and CEO of Prime, the first outsider to lead the family-owned company. He remained at Prime for 12 years until January 2016.
Today Brenner runs a consultancy firm, RFBrenner LLC, in Mamaroneck, New York, where he works throughout the industry with distributors and suppliers. His practice is equally divided between clients who rely on his advice for business, growth and exit strategies and clients for whom he develops compliance programs and advises on product safety, recall readiness, safe supply chain, and regulatory and social compliance.
As most volunteers will admit, it’s sometimes difficult to manage their day job with volunteer workloads. Brenner, too, faced his challenges—especially since he was volunteering for several organizations, including International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization (ICPHSO), an international forum for product safety stakeholders where Brenner served as president.
When asked about these challenges, Brenner replies, “In most of my volunteering at PPAI and at ICPHSO, I took on leadership positions, which require the identical commitment and priority as your primary ‘day job.’ You can’t say, ‘I don’t have time for this today’ if the volunteer organization is relying on you as president, seminar chair or another senior leadership position. So, one of the major challenges, obviously, is managing time and priorities when your volunteer responsibilities and your primary job responsibilities both demand your attention and participation at the same time.”
Despite the challenges, the victories are what Brenner remembers most—and there were many. “As a board member and PRAG member, I had a lot to do with PPAI developing and the board agreeing to the Product Safety Aware program. This is an extraordinary victory for the industry and one in which PPAI stands alone,” he says. “No other trade association has ever set minimum product safety and compliance education requirements in order to be allowed to exhibit, advertise or become a sponsor. It was a gutsy move by a very classy organization—more gutsy from a financial perspective than most members realize. And it has been a huge success.”
Overall, Brenner says he’s especially proud of how product safety and compliance education has grown from an idea discussed at an early PRAG meeting to become PPAI’s most well-attended standalone educational program, year after year. “I’m proud that 10 years later, we’re still as enthusiastic and passionate about the next Product Responsibility Summit as we were about the first one—and that I’ve had the privilege to co-chair all of them,” he says. “I’m proud that I’ve been able to represent the industry to the CPSC and that, partly through my efforts as well as those of Anne Stone (PPAI director of advocacy and member engagement) and Paul Bellantone (PPAI president and CEO)—PPAI is very well regarded by all of the CPSC commissioners and held out as the gold standard as a result of our uncompromising support of product safety.”
Looking back over the past 12 years, his only regret is that he didn’t start volunteering earlier so he could have made a greater impact.
Brenner’s advice for others thinking about jumping into the volunteer pool is this: make sure you are volunteering for the right reason. “In my history of volunteering—not necessarily at PPAI but elsewhere—I have known individuals who volunteer or run for a board position because they feel it will help them professionally or look good on their resume,” he says. “I understand and appreciate the importance of recognition, but unless there is an underlying passion and resolve to spend whatever time is required, to prioritize your volunteer responsibilities as you would any other significant responsibility, the quality of the volunteer work may not be of the same value as those whose primary motivation is a desire to serve and give back.”
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB.
If there is a common theme among the effusive and copious praise, anecdotes and recollections from the many peers who nominated and supported Kippie Helzel, MAS, for PPAI’s 2020 Distinguished Service Award, it’s one of tireless volunteerism and support to a wide range of causes and goals, both large and small. And the stories they share go back decades, which is no surprise, really, as Helzel, senior vice president at Erie, Pennsylvania supplier CPS/Keystone Line, is naturally drawn to volunteerism.
“I have always gravitated towards volunteering. I think it is a combination of obligation and personal interest,” says Helzel. “Obligation in the sense that outside of our institutions, nothing good happens without people giving time and effort. That includes good defined by efforts to help improve standards and support people in the industry, and the good that comes from contributing to a cause, whether creating community or helping with specific initiatives that need vision and hands-on support. And personal interest, for me, is defined by a sense that I can help make a difference and I am better for it as a result.”
Within the promotional products industry, Helzel’s volunteerism has made its mark on numerous regional associations and the Promotional Products Education Foundation (PPEF), as well as several PPAI committees and action groups.
Helzel’s imprint on PPEF is an indelible one. She served on the foundation’s board for more than eight years, as a member of the board of trustees from 2010-2012, as chair-elect in 2012-2013, as chair of the board from 2013-2015 and immediate past chair from 2015-2017. During her tenure on the board, scholarship awards grew from $100,000 for 94 students in 2010 to $175,000 for 117 students in 2017.
“I have known Kippie Helzel for almost my entire industry career. Not only has she been there for me as a personal and professional mentor, Kippie exhibits the highest standards of industry professionalism,” says Roni Wright, MAS, one of Helzel’s nominators, and a 2020 PPAI Hall of Fame inductee. “An important achievement for Kippie was seeing her idea to determine a way to sustain PPEF long into the future. Together with her board, they established and set in motion a financial formula to allocate the funds for the scholarship program in a way that preserves the integrity and foundation of PPEF; something she is proud to have accomplished. Singlehandedly, Kippie raised thousands of dollars with new donor contributions during her service. Her passion for the foundation is boundless and contagious.”
As PPEF chair, she led the discussion on increasing support for students who demonstrate financial need, effectively shifting PPEF’s award structure so that 66 percent of the scholarship dollars go to students with financial need. Helzel was also responsible for getting PPEF’s “Art Of The Industry” fundraiser exhibit at The PPAI Expo off the ground. She considers the exhibit, showcasing a collection of art drawn from the promotional products industry’s long history, to be the most personally meaningful accomplishment in her volunteer career.
“Robin Quinn, from Norwood, spearheaded the exhibit, drawing from the Norwood calendar artwork archives,” says Helzel. “I secured the sponsors to help underwrite the exhibit, and also wrote the four-page historical guide to the collection, which included highlights of some of its more remarkable pieces of art. It was an honor to work with Robin and her husband John, who restored and framed many of the pieces. So many of the original paintings, drawings and photos in the exhibit were masterpieces of everyday American life, not just historical records of the development of calendar art over this century. It was disappointing that more people didn’t see the exhibit, but those who did were blown away. I was so fulfilled and proud of what we achieved, and the fact that we brought something completely different to Expo was very satisfying. Most importantly, in the end, it was a good fundraiser for PPEF, thanks to the sponsors.”
Along with her work with PPEF, Helzel served on the board and as chair of the Promotional Products Mentoring Network (PPMN) from 2007-2010; as a board member and president of the Three Rivers Advertising Specialty Association (TRASA) and the Upper Midwest Association of Promotional Professionals (UMAPP) from 2003-2006 and 1990-1996, respectively; and as a delegate in the formation of the Regional Association Council (RAC). Her service also includes volunteering on the PPAI Events Action Group, Leadership Committee and Chairman’s Committee of 100. She has been recognized as a PPAI Fellow and Visionary Woman of 2019 by iPROMOTEu.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Kippie for over 20 years and her tireless and enthusiastic advocacy on behalf of the industry never ceases to amaze me,” says nominator Michele Bell at ASI. “The woman is like a machine: espousing the power of promo products as an effective marketing medium, mentoring younger industry pros—especially women—while welcoming them to the business, and connecting people to assist with their mutual personal growth and career advancement … all while neither asking for nor expecting anything in return.”
Her path of volunteerism through the promotional products industry has paid off for Helzel, opening new doors and opportunities. She says, “The friendships I have made through my volunteering have had a tremendous impact on my career. Some friends became true mentors, helping me develop in so many ways both professionally and personally. Volunteering successfully takes time, no doubt. There were times that it did impact my workload, but I have always believed that if I personally benefit in my professional development, my company will also benefit. The two go hand in hand.”
Helzel has passed those gifts on, with several on the long roster of industry professionals who added their names to her nomination highlighting her work to mentor her peers and colleagues.
“Kippie takes an active role in mentoring the next generation,” says supporter Ben Turry at Tangerine Promotions. “Besides personally mentoring several people within Keystone, she is always there for anyone in our industry needing help. I was one of those mentees and I would not be where I am today without Kippie’s continuous support and strong leadership.”
Mary Ellen Sokalski, MAS, of the Scarlet Marketeer and a former PPAI Distinguished Service Award recipient, says, “Kippie mentors everyone. I could not count the number of people she has helped with her knowledge and common-sense guidance in our industry. Every. Single. Day. And always with an echo of encouraging serving … continually fostering involvement and volunteerism.”
Patricia Dugan, MAS, with BudgetCard and another of Helzel’s supporters, adds, “Traveling with Kippie, I’ve seen her mentor two of her less-seasoned fellow suppliers, helping them develop top-level presentations in front of groups. She took her knowledge from previous experiences and passed it along. Kippie jumps in with two feet when asked for help, whether it be business-related or on a personal level.”
“Kippie’s unique brand of networking—and her special, singular talent—is letting the people who surround her know that, no matter what, she’s always got their back,” adds Bell. “For these and myriad other reasons, I’m happy to add my name to what I’m sure is a long list of people nominating Kippie for this award, which speaks so perfectly to her ceaseless devotion to the promo marketplace.”
Wright adds, “Kippie is a connector. She is so willing to help salespeople and organizations connect with each other to achieve mutual results and success. It’s so impressive when we’re in a group setting to see everyone want to interact with her. She is a gift, a gem and is so deserving of this recognition.”
James Khattak is news editor of PPB.