30 Faces of WESST – October
WESST has been blessed by the contributions of time, talent and treasure of so many individuals over the past 30 years. For this issue of 30 Faces of WESST, we look back and remember and honor those who made significant impacts before their passing.
A long-time business leader and noted philanthropist, Don Chalmers touched the lives of many, including the thousands of entrepreneurs served by WESST each year. Chalmers joined the WESST Board in 2010 and served until his passing in 2014. “Don was such an incredible mentor to me as he was for numerous business and community leaders in New Mexico,” says Noonan. “He was a tireless advocate for so many non-profit and community causes; when he passed our community lost one of the most selfless people I know.”
His support of WESST’s mission was unwavering and he demonstrated that commitment by serving on WESST’s Development Committee. His leadership helped WESST raise significant annual funding, including his own sponsorship of the WESST Enterprise Center Parking lot.
When former U.S. Senator Pete Domenici was first introduced to WESST in 1993, WESST had already been an early participant in the SBA’s Women’s Business Center Demonstration Program. In an effort to educate him about the important role women-owned businesses could play in the U.S. economy, WESST invited the 6 term senator to meet with a group of female business owners in Taos. Thereafter, Sen. Domenici frequently recalled the meeting and how impressed he was that women were starting businesses like plumbing and electrical services.
Over the ensuing 15 years, the Senator became a staunch supporter of federal funding for women entrepreneurs. Under two different administrations, the WBC program was zeroed out until Pete Domenici came to the rescue. In 1999, he sponsored the Women’s Business Center Sustainability Act of 1999 which subsequently led to legislation making the program permanent.
“Long before it became politically advantageous to do so, Sen. Domenici was the bandwagon,” says Agnes Noonan. “His support for women business owners was unwavering and WESST will forever be grateful for his leadership at the national level.”
DR. SUL KASSICIEH
When he joined the WESST Board in 2006, Dr. Sul Kassicieh became an immediate champion for the WESST Enterprise Center (WEC) which would create Albuquerque’s first mixed use certified incubator. His love of entrepreneurship manifested itself in numerous ways starting with his long and illustrious career at the University of New Mexico. As the Anderson School of Management’s Endowed Chair of Economic Development, Dr. Kassicieh worked tirelessly to support local efforts to boost entrepreneurship. He was the founder of UNM’s Business Plan Competition which has today evolved into a statewide competition among key universities.
A gentle giant, Dr. Kassicieh became the first Chair of the WEC’s Advisory Committee in 2009 and he loved to meet individually with WEC company owners. His death in 2017 came as a shock to those who knew and loved him. WESST will forever be grateful for his leadership and advocacy of small business initiatives.
The entire WESST family mourned the death of Doug Lee who passed away unexpectedly in 2012 in Santa Fe. As the first Managing Director of the WESST Enterprise Center (WEC), Doug was the driving force behind the impressive growth of our flagship incubator, praised by CNN.com magazine in 2011 as one of the seven hottest start-up incubators in the United States. With a long career in entrepreneurship and business incubation, Doug’s positive outlook and can-do attitude was infectious — for the entrepreneurs he counseled and for the WESST staff and board who had the privilege of working with him. Doug was particularly proud of his role in overseeing the completion of the Comcast Digital Media Studio. When it opened in 2014, WESST dedicated the Studio in Doug’s honor. His vision for the WEC and the energy in which he tackled every challenge was amazing. Seven years after his passing, WEC company growth remains strong; Doug’s spirit lives on.
Ab and Cara Potter have had a tremendous impact on WESST. Ab joined the WESST board in 2007 and he and Cara (currently on the WESST Board) were lead private donors in WESST’s capital campaign to raise funds to open the WESST Enterprise Center, a small business incubator in Albuquerque. At the time, Ab and Cara made a mult-year commitment in the form of a challenge to the rest of the WESST Board of Directors to collectively match the contribution. Through the Potter’s example and leadership, the goal of a one-to-one match was achieved and exceeded. The $230,000+ contributed by the board was instrumental in helping WESST to leverage additional private sector support and get off to a fast start of achieving its goal of job creation from member companies housed in the incubator.
“Ab was a demanding kind of guy,” says WESST President Agnes Noonan. He did not suffer fools lightly, which was one of the most endearing things I came to love and respect about him. He never hesitated to ask the tough questions which resulted in numerous improvements to organizational policies and processes. He was passionate about entrepreneurs and showed an interest in everything related to our clients”.
Ab credited his parents, Albert and Kay Potter, with having a huge influence on his life. Though they grew up during the Depression and did not have much financial wealth, his parents were regular volunteers at social service agencies: his mother frequently prepared food baskets for the poor; his father was a volunteer fire chief. In short, Ab learned a great deal about philanthropy from the examples set by his parents.
Ab passed after a courageous battle with cancer in 2011. WESST will always be grateful for his philanthropic leadership.
DR JACKI RIGGS
Dr. Jacki Riggs served on the WESST Board of Directors from 2003-2009, chairing the Board in 2007. Early on, Jacki was a big proponent of the WESST Enterprise Center and utilized her experience and contacts in state government to help WESST raise $4.5 million in state capital outlay for the construction of the WEC.
“I have so many fond memories of our many trips to Santa Fe,” says Agnes Noonan. “Jacki was such an advocate for the WEC and she never hesitated to leverage her knowledge and relationships to help WESST raise the capital to build its award-winning small business incubator.”
An educator, a wife, mother and community philanthropist, Jacki served on the WESST Board at a critical time. Before her passing in 2011, she attended the Grand Opening of the WEC, noting that she was so proud to have been involved in a project that would create economic impact for decades to come.
To go back to the WESST Celebrates 30 Years of Impact Page click HERE.