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Jennifer Fletcher, 37, First General Manager of Annapolis Opera

  “I call myself an operavangilist. I go around preaching the good word (about opera),” says Jennifer Fletcher, recently hired to be the first ever general manager of the Annapolis Opera Company. A former professional singer, Fletcher has always been passionate about opera. At the age of 10 she told her mother, an opera fan, that she wanted voice lessons because she was disappointed with being cast as a member of the chorus when auditioning for the school play, Oklahoma! The following year, she was given a lead role in Peter Pan. A mezzo soprano, Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from San Diego State and a Master of Music from New England Conservatory in vocal performance with an emphasis in stage direction.Not totally satisfied with a focus on performance, Jennifer began looking for different ways to support the art form. She became interested in the administrative side of opera production while working for the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the marketing department and then being involved in a world premiere while working for the Fort Worth Opera as their company manager. “As company manager, I worked with all departments including production, development, marketing, finance, and education and outreach,” she says. “I had close working relationships with senior management and the board of trustees, which gave me insight into all the inner workings of how an opera company can run effectively,” says Fletcher. She is excited about her new job and the opportunity to utilize her previous experiences to introduce Annapolis to its professional opera company. Fletcher, who grew up in Southern California and who loves both football, jazz, and live concerts, is excited to be back on the East Coast and to live in Annapolis which is “such a culturally and historically rich city. The business of opera is very exciting for someone like me,” says Fletcher who is one of only 33 women general managers out of 135 Professional Company Members of Opera America, “Because I simply get to surround myselfwith creative people, music that transcends us all, and I get to impact the community by introducing them to an art form that is the ultimate performance art.”—Nadja Maril

John Gibbs, 27, Entrepreneur

John Gibbs is a born businessman. “My sister is the smart one, my brother is the athlete, and I’m the businessman,” he says affably. And he’s got the numbers to back it up. He started working when he was barely 12 years old; holding down jobs all through his teens at such places as the Bay Ridge Inn, Jo’s Deli,West Marine, Modell’s Sporting Goods, Lights on the Bay, Jimmy’s Ice Cream…just to name a few. John grew up in the Bay Ridge area of Annapolis and witnessed success early in life by watching his parents (now retired and living in Bethany Beach where his dad, John laughs, “Plays way too much golf.”). His mother’s career included teaching special ed. at The Summit School, coaching kids for SAT prep, and owning her own business, Computer Tutor, which helped senior citizens transition into the world of high tech. His father was a ship’s captain…of very big ships; he sailed the globe commanding oil tankers. His “smart” sister and “athletic” brother followed the Gibbs success story; she’s a neonatologist in Manhattan, and he’s a history teacher and lacrosse coach at the prestigious Episcopal Academy in Pennsylvania.John spent kindergarten through 12th grade at St. Mary’s in Annapolis, and when he headed off to Towson University in 2001 it was, of course, to study business administration. Even before graduating, he began working for a small marketing company as the sole customer service representative in the four-person organization. The firm quickly grew to a staff of 15, with John as the go-to guy in the organization…from in-house techie to lead event planner. It was the perfect spot to receive his unofficial MBA. While still with the marketing firm, John began helping his college buddy, Chris Julio, on weekends with Chris’ business, which produced video tours for real estate companies. The work was fun, creative, and challenging. John loved it. In May of 2010, he left the marketing firm and, with Chris, dove head first into Unique 360 Tours, LLC, which has now expanded beyond real estate to represent customers such as colleges and restaurants. They recently signed the University of Maryland as a client, opened an office in Eastport, and are hiring additional employees.In case you wondered, John does take the occasional timeout to enjoy boating and the Redskins. But, like many successful entrepreneurs, John’s work is really his hobby…that’s how he prefers to get his kicks.—Sarah Hagerty

Tobias Russell, 25, Rising Star Musician

He’s working incredibly hard to put Annapolis on the music map. In just three and a half short years since he graduated from St. John’s College Annapolis, Tobias Russell has evolved into one of the most entertaining musicians in town; and he has aspirations to expand way beyond the 21401 zip code. At 25 years old, the budding musician is, perhaps, in his creative prime, crafting songs that blend a variety of styles including rap, folk, pop, rock, electronic, and dub; he could be the next poster child of the roots-rock-reggae movement, long popularized by a talented family with the last name Marley. “I listen to a lot of music, and anytime I hear something new or innovative that really catches my ear, it makes me want to work harder,” says Russell. Russell’s live concerts are the proving ground at which he’s been winning over new fans with each performance. He’s prolific on the piano and guitar, has writing and rhyming skills that rival the region’s best, and polished vocals. Altogether, Russell brings energy to the stage and has been featured on several bills as the headlining performer. Long before this hype, Russell took piano lessons at an early age (about seven years old), picked up the guitar by age 12, and played percussion in the high school band at Archbishop Spalding. The second oldest of four brothers (each musically inclined), he cites his family and music teachers as lifelong inspirations and Paul Simon as a profound musical influence. “His grasp of music is something I’ve always admired, and worked towards,” says Russell. This past fall, Russell released his first record, Flesh.Bones.Teeth.Words, which has received airplay on local radio stations such as WRNR.This year he plans to record a wealth of original music and begin expanding his horizons on a tour. His credo, “Let the music set you free,” is a fitting way to describe Russell’s passion and potential. (—James Houck

Lacey Wheatley of Kalivoda, 25, Fashion Designer

Lacey Wheatley of Kalivoda finds inspiration from textures and fabrics. She can take an old piece of clothing and make it into something new. A cashmere coat, the panel from a pair of lace curtains, a geometric red-and-white knit skirt—are just a few of the items in her stash of materials destined for reconstruction. “I make what I like,” she explains, “And, fortunately, other people are liking what I make, and the people are local, which is great. I don’t see myself living in New York and I’m not looking to be on that runway. I just want to create. There is nothing more exciting than seeing a person walking down the street wearing something I designed and to see firsthand that I’ve added a little lift and fun to their wardrobe.” Lacey grew up in Severn and was inspired by her grandmother’s amazing attic with vintage fashions. By middle school she began learning how to sew and started inventing her own fashions. She graduated from Old Mill High School, and earned an Associate Degree from Baltimore Community College in Fashion Design.In August of 2009, Lacey became an artist resident at the Studio of the Arts (SOTA) in Annapolis as part of their incubator program, designed to help encourage young artists. She particularly likes the opportunity to work collaboratively with other artists and being part of an artistic community. Her husband Winship, a songwriter and musician, is also part of the SOTA program. “People communicate through what they wear,” she explains.Looking ahead towards the future, she hopes in 10 years to have more people sewing with her and to have a complete wholesale boutique line to sell. Currently, Lacey is a manager at Vivo where some items she has created are available. Her pieces are also sold at Olivers. “My higher-end, more over-the-top pieces eventually will be sold online,” she explains. An opportunity to do more traveling, and more shopping at thrift stores to find more raw material from which to create, are all on Lacey’s agenda but having the time to just create unique pieces of art that can be worn is her passion.—Nadja Maril

Casey Harden, 36, Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the YWCA

When Annapolis born-and-bred Casey Harden graduated from Broadneck High School she headed to Evergreen State College in Olympia,Washington, which offered an “alternative education, not unlike St. John’s,” she explains. She felt that type of school in that area of the country would better suit her “activist nature.” She was certain that she “was never, ever coming back to Annapolis,” she says with a laugh. Her service-oriented philosophy and need to make the world a better place found a nurturing environment in the Northwest as she spent 12 years teaching and becoming involved in such local organizations as the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence, Pierce County Coalition for the Homeless, Thurston County Family Planning Advisory Committee, and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Casey’s teaching experience and community involvement made her a natural for a job opening with the YWCA in Tacoma that a friend insisted she pursue. “I grudgingly went to the interview…and came out desperately hoping I’d get the job.” She did. Everything was great. Then came her brother’s dramatically timed San Francisco wedding… four days after 9/11. “My east coast family members had come in early for the wedding, before the airports shut down,” she remembers. “But I ended up having to drive down from Washington.”The intense emotions of those days, and her family being together for the first time in quite awhile (she’s one of five kids), proved too strong a force for Casey. She and her partner decided then and there to move to Annapolis. There was a little culture shock for him and his kids, but it soon passed. Everyone loves it here now.Once back home, Casey began working as Director of Operations for the YWCA in Arnold; then the Baltimore YWCA recruited her. In October she was named Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the YWCA, where she will be providing education, advocacy, and marketing support to more than 40 “Y” facilities from New Jersey to Tennessee. She will also be working from home, something that delights her since it will allow more time with her five-yearold son, Peter, and his sister Sadie, two-and-a-half.“Strong alone, fearless together” is a YWCA tenet Casey deeply believes. “I will work hard to have that notion manifest on a regional level to achieve the YWCA mission of peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”—Sarah Hagerty

Brendan Kelly, 39, Entrepreneur and Sports Franchise Owner

“Family comes first,” says Brendan Kelly, founder/owner of several dynamic companies based in the Annapolis area.The father of five (four boys, one girl) and husband to wife Holly of 15 years, extends his familial philosophy to those who work . . . and play . . . for him. “My employees are like family to me,” he emphasizes. “I truly take satisfaction in helping and watching each develop their potential.We want our employees to be with us for the long haul.” The entrepreneur has founded three companies since 2000, but most recently made headlines with his sole purchase of the Washington Bayhawks professional lacrosse team in January 2010. He immediately went to task, rebranding the team as the Chesapeake Bayhawks, which plays all its home games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Then, midway through a disappointing 2010 summer season and with the team at 3 wins/5 losses, Kelly took over head coaching duties and rallied the Bayhawks to Major League Lacrosse’s Championship game, in which they defeated the Long Island Lizards 13-9.“We were at the low point of a long season,” he says of his decision to step onto the sideline. “I told our guys that we needed to playfor the team, each other. Be selfless.We’re not playing for the name on the back of the jersey; it’s the name on the front.”It’s a credo Kelly learned at an early age from his parents, John and Betty Kelly, who moved to the Annapolis-area from Ireland and raised a family of 12 (Brendan is their 11th child). “My father would tell me, ‘You’re not better than everybody, but you’re just as good as anybody.’” In 2000, Kelly founded Smartlink, a national staffing firm specializing in telecommunications, energy, and government. He also developed a sophisticated “taxi” service for corporate clients, and a commercial real estate firm. The Salisbury University graduate—and member of the Seagulls lacrosse 1995 Division III national championship team—says continued growth in business and sport is his objective in 2011. “Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport on the planet right now. And we want to keep Annapolis at its center.”This August the Bayhawks and City of Annapolis will host Major League Lacrosse’s Championship Weekend, which is expected to draw upwards of 20,000 fans. “Ten years from now, our goal is 20,000 fans filling the stadium for every game,” says Kelly.—James Houck

Cammie Jurkowsky, 25, Female Mixed Martial Arts Competitor

Don’t let the cute blond hairdo and bright blue eyes fool you, because Annapolis resident Cameron “Cammie” Jurkowsky is a force to be reckoned with—literally. She is a national competitor for one of the toughest and most rapidly growing sports in the world, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Jurkowsky was a former standout student-athlete at Annapolis High Schooland showcased her skills further by playing Division I lacrosse at Penn State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2007. Upon graduation, Jurkowsky sought a career in the Secret Service working with their canine unit, but she grew bored waiting for government clearance and callbacks and decided to get certified as a personal trainer, “to help clients identify, reach and maintain their fitness goals.”When Jurkowsky ventured into the boxing ring to explore new exercises and techniques, she became fascinated by the extreme discipline and multifaceted sport of MMA, which combines boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. Her family and friends voiced their concern about participating in a male-dominated industry when she started training with world-renowned martial arts experts, but the challenge just fueled her determination to make a name for herself. Since competing in the World Kickboxing Association’s MMA Nationals as well as regional matches, Jurkowsky’s fan base and reputation have quickly grown. She was recruited by the Lingerie Football League to play for the Baltimore Charm team, but after tearing her knee’s medial meniscus during practice she was forced to resign. She is currently training for a competition in February and says, “I am excited to be back in full competition mode, where a typical day consists of running, conditioning, sparring and classes for up to five hours a day.”This year Jurkowsky is launching her own website ( that showcases her fitness modeling portfolio, upcoming fights, personal training tips and sponsorship opportunities. She aspires to become a well-known fitness personality and hopes to one day train and compete in Japan.- Elyse Exposito

Rick Casali, Jr., 26, Fine Artist

Painting could be described as a balance between patience and excitement; it certainly describes fine artist Rick Casali, Jr., who has crafted a remarkable body of work in a short period of time, brushstroke by brushstroke. The lifelong Annapolitan recently opened a new studio in Edgewater—a creative space to concentrate on his highly-sought after professional portraiture and figure paintings. Though Casali is apt to note, “You don’t paint to make money, you make money to paint,” his commissioned portraits command top dollar in Annapolis. Born and raised in Annapolis by parents Rick Casali, Sr. and Verna Jones, Casali attended St. Mary’s High School before studying fine art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. At the time, Casali was known among his peers for his guitar and vocals as a member of the locally popular rock band, Earthtone. “I was designing posters and flyers for my band and was very much influenced by 1960’s poster art,” he says.But it was during a four-year apprenticeship (’04–07) with artist Cedric Egeli and his wife Joanette that Casali’s blossoming painting pursuit became a full-time passion. “They have guided me both in my art and in life,” says Casali, who also credits John Ebersberger, Stephen Perkins, George T. Thurmond, John Clayton, and Michael Shane Neal as artistic mentors. When describing his painting—which, though figurative, has a very ethereal, delicate and luminous appearance, almost in the plein air style of Monet—Casali speaks of the relationships it creates. “Figurative art demands that you make a very personal connection with who you are painting. Sure I’m the artist, but it’s really all about them. Many of my portrait clients and models have become my friends. I would say that the greatest joy is when you really capture someone, not just their likeness but their spirit. When this happens it’s a special thing.”Today, in addition to his studio work (viewable at, Casali teaches painting, drawing, and sculpture at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and Anne Arundel Community College. “All artists have a duty to teach,” he says, “It’s how artistic knowledge survives and grows from generation to generation.”This year, Casali has plans to exhibit his work in several galleries and continue to develop his craft which, perhaps a generation from now, will hang side-by-side the masters he so admires. “Personally, I am always thirsty for intellectual and spiritual growth and I want my paintings to reflect that.”