Networking – January 2022


  • Tony Howard, assistant superintendent for human resources at the Richland School District, has accepted a position as senior associate vice president of Washington State University’s Human Resources Department and will leave the district at the end of April. He worked for the district for 15 years. District leaders have begun the process of filling his position and are working closely with him to implement a transition plan for the remainder of the school year.
  • Dr. Kyle Duncan has joined Good Shepherd Advanced Orthopedics in Hermiston, Oregon, as a board-certified podiatrist. He specializes in minimally invasive foot and ankle surgeries. He grew up in the Tri-Cities.
  • Miramar Health Center in Kennewick has hired Brenda Ortiz as a community dietitian. She helps patients focus on preventative care through early nutrition intervention. She is particularly interested in helping diabetic patients, new or expecting mothers, children and infants. Ortiz earned a bachelor of science in food and science nutrition from Central Washington University in Ellensburg.
  • The Wishing Star Foundation has hired Hugh Severs as the new executive director. He has had a diverse career in the military and corporate and nonprofit sectors. He completed a 21-year Air Force career serving as an engineer, pilot and logistician. After his military service, Severs and his family stayed in Spokane, and he joined SprayCool Inc. as human resources director. After three years, he joined the American Cancer Society, where he spent 12 years in multiple roles supporting fundraising, community and donor engagement and patient support capacities in the western U.S.
  • Nicki Blake, Richland School District’s executive director of teaching, learning & curriculum, will be the first principal for Elementary #11. Blake has been with the district since the 2000-01 school year. She taught at Tapteal and White Bluffs elementary schools, has a background in early education and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She moved to the district’s Teaching, Learning & Curriculum department in the 2012-13 school year and began leading the department two years later. She will continue in her current role through the remainder of the 2021-22 school year while beginning planning for Elementary #11 to become its own school community in the fall.
  • The Washington State STEM Education Foundation has recently added two new team members to expand initiatives to develop the region’s workforce of the future. Heather Tibbett brings extensive experience leading school business partnership programs to the expansion and continued development of the STEM Like ME! series of programs. She will lead both local and statewide workgroups to inspire young people to prepare for high-demand, high-wage STEM careers. Laurel Palmblad will employ her experience as a strategic planning consultant to lead strategic partnerships and community engagement initiatives. She also will be working to expand career-connecting learning opportunities and build pathways to renewable energy and environmental restoration careers.
  • Prosser Memorial Health has opened its new Prosser Digestive Health Center and hired Dr. Mitchell L. Cohen to lead it. Cohen has over 30 years’ experience in providing gastroenterology care. He received his MD degree at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles and completed his residency in internal medicine at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (Stanford University-Affiliated County Hospital), in San Jose, California. He then completed gastroenterology fellowships at both the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at Stanford University in Stanford, California. He is board-certified in gastroenterology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. He is a fellow of the American Gastroenterological Association and the American College of Gastroenterology. He also serves as a clinical instructor for the University of Washington School of Medicine.
  • State Farm has hired agent Tyler Swarner. The Swarner State Farm Agency, 8656 W. Gage Blvd., Suite A104, in Kennewick, is staffed by Tammy Barnett and Isaiah Arechiga, in addition to Swarner. Swarner is an Army veteran and served one combat tour in Iraq and with the 173rd Airborne Brigade out of Italy. He studied elementary education and middle school math. He also has more than 15 years of combined experience in the restaurant industry and chemical industry.


  • Lourdes Health’s Shalane Rhorig, a registered nurse in the Lourdes Health Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, has received The DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses at Lourdes. She was nominated by a patient who noted how caring she was in their care. The award is an international program started in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, whose family experienced firsthand the difference his nurses made in his care through clinical excellence and compassionate care.
  • Roger S. McDowell from the Eastern Washington general office of New York Life Insurance Company has been included on the 2021 Forbes Top Financial Security Professionals list. He is one of the 250 individuals named to this inaugural group of distinguished professionals based on several criteria considered by an independent research firm. He’s been a New York life agent for 26 years. He holds the following designations from the American College: ChFC, chartered financial consultant; CLU, chartered life underwriter; and RICP, retirement income certified professional. McDowell has been a longtime board member and two-time past president from 2001-02 and 2010-11, of the Tri-Cities NAIFA group. He also is a past president 2017-18, and a member of Columbia Center Rotary Club in Kennewick. He and his family live in Kennewick.
  • Astria Sunnyside Hospital was recently recognized by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) in the U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 “Best Hospitals” issue for its commitment to hospital care for heart patients.


  • Richland’s Jefferson Elementary School Principal Derek O’Konek resigned in December to pursue an opportunity outside of education. The Richland School District hired Amy Salinas to succeed him. She recently served as assistant principal at Carmichael Middle School in Richland. She started her teaching career in elementary schools in the West Valley and East Valley school districts in Yakima County before joining Sacajawea Elementary in the 2016-17 school year. She started there as a classroom teacher before becoming an instructional specialist. She earned her administrative credential and joined Carmichael as an assistant principal in the 2019-20 school year. She holds a bachelor’s in elementary education from Central Washington University, a master’s of education in elementary reading and early literacy from Walden University and a master’s of science in educational leadership from Western Governors University.


  • Baker Boyer Bank, headquartered in Walla Walla and with office in the Tri-Cities, promoted Brian Bruggeman to the new role of chief innovation office. He joined Baker Boyer in 2009 and has held many positions with increasing levels of responsibility, including roles as investment advisor and director of financial planning. He will become a member of the bank’s executive committee. The bank also promoted Jessie Ilaoa and Rosendo Guizar to senior vice president. Both have been with Baker Boyer for over 20 years and have worked in multiple roles within the company. Ilaoa began in 2001 as a teller. She moved up to vault teller before transitioning into her role as lead operations assistant, then lead operations officer. In 2004, she was selected to be the bank’s first compliance risk manager. She was further promoted in 2016 to vice president, regulatory risk manager and has been in her current role as director of audit and risk since 2020. Guizar began his career with Baker Boyer in 1996. During his 26 years, he has worked in all facets of lending ranging from operational to direct lending responsibilities in both the consumer and commercial areas. He has held positions such as a commercial loan assistant, consumer loan officer, business advisor, credit administrator, and culminating in his most recent role as senior vice president chief credit officer. Guizar is responsible for the bank’s entire commercial and consumer lending portfolio.
  • Petersen Hastings promoted Brandan Eckhardt to marketing manager. He will oversee and lead the firm’s marketing and branding strategy, including oversight and planning of advertising, events, marketing communications, design, insights, web development and social media. He will continue to work closely with the CEO Scott Sarber and Director of Advisor Services Matthew Neff. Eckhardt joined Petersen Hastings in 2018 as marketing coordinator, where he was responsible for implementing the firm’s marketing strategy to achieve top-of-mind brand awareness and client acquisition goals. He was also a key player in the recent brand development of GrowWealth Digital Strategies, a new digital investing service line offered by the firm. Eckhardt’s early career began at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and Gesa Credit Union, holding a marketing role at both organizations. He graduated in 2014 from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, with a bachelor’s in strategic communication.
  • Stevie Pina has been promoted to branch manager for Numerica Credit Union’s Southridge location in Kennewick. Before taking on his current role, he was assistant branch manager at Numerica’s Richland location.
  • Elite Construction + Development has promoted Grace Lieberman to director of business development. She joined Elite in 2020 as director of marketing and client experience and has led Elite’s efforts in marketing, client experience and community outreach. Previously, she spent more than 17 years as a sales and marketing executive with organizations like Discovery Networks, Viacom and NBCUniversal. The Grandview native is a graduate of Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2022, she will split her time between the corporate office in Tri-Cities and her new home in Southern California.


  • Rebuilding Mid-Columbia and Campbell and Co. teamed up to ensure Charlie McCarry, a disabled Kennewick woman, had electricity in her home over the holidays after about a quarter of her lights and outlets suddenly stopped working. Campbell and Co. donated materials and the cost of labor to address the electrical issues affecting the home.
  • STCU surprised more than 30 organizations with financial gifts totaling more than $300,000, with a particular emphasis on education, workforce development and homelessness. In Tri-Cities, the organizations receiving grants ranging from $1,000 to $30,000 included Arc of Tri-Cities; United Way of Benton-Franklin Counties; Kennewick School District students; Columbia Industries; American Red Cross of Central and Southeastern Washington; West Richland Community Care Foundation; Mid-Columbia Libraries; and Richland Public Library. In addition, STCU employees who served at least 12 volunteer hours at any single organization this year were invited to apply for a Volunteers Count grant on behalf of that organization. As a result, STCU delivered 16 $1,000 grants, along with checks of $25, $50 and $100 to an additional 76 organizations where employees volunteered.
  • Hanford Mission Integration Solutions (HMIS) committed more than $96,000 to support student scholarships and educational programs in 2021. Through the HMIS scholarship program, $29,000 was awarded to dependents of HMIS employees and co-op interns. A partnership with Washington State University Tri-Cities resulted in $2,500 scholarships for 10 WSU Tri-Cities students pursuing degrees in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines for the 2022-23 academic year. HMIS also partnered with Columbia Basin College to support its Pathways to Hanford (P2H) program, which assists students exploring career choices at Hanford, while also gaining insights into company values, internship programs, and desired skills. HMIS donated more than $22,000 to help CBC provide critical assistance to students in the P2H program to keep them on the path to educational success. HMIS also supported The STEM Foundation through a $20,000 donation to bolster expansion of its STEM Like ME! educational programs in Tri-City area middle schools and high schools.
  • The Children’s Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia (CRFMC) through sponsorship from Hanford Mission Integration Solutions, will distribute thousands of books to the community in January. On Dec. 31, the foundation challenged the community to make a 2022 resolution to read 20 minutes every day with a child through the social media campaign, Resolution Read. To support the community in meeting this resolution, CRFMC will donate 12 books to the first 200 local families who registered. More than 300 families registered, and 300 book bags will be donated to local community groups to distribute to the low-income families they serve including families in North Franklin and Paterson, with 6,000 books donated to local families via Resolution Read. HMIS employees will help deliver the books.
  • Numerica Credit Union is donating $40,000 between four regional nonprofits, as chosen by the community. Numerica invited community members to nominate their favorite local nonprofit to receive a $10,000 grant through the Gift Where You Live holiday giving campaign. In a surprise twist, Numerica also gave $5,000 grants to the second-place winner in each region, increasing the credit union’s donation total to $60,000. With more than 5,000 total nominations, the two most-nominated nonprofits in the Tri-Cities, North Idaho, Spokane, and Wenatchee Valley received votes in a social media poll to choose a winner. The Pit Bull Pen was named the winner in the Tri-Cities, followed by Grace Kitchen.
  • The Tri-Cities Cancer Center Foundation hosted a day of giving on Dec. 23 for patients and caregivers. The foundation gave items sourced from locally-owned businesses. The gifts ranged from fun items, comfort items, gift cards and some of the foundation’s favorite holiday snacks. This day highlighted local businesses and brought cheer to patients going through a tough time. Some of the local businesses’ donating gifts include: 3d Fitness, Adventure’s Underground, Chukar Cherries, Country Mercantile, Graze, Haven Flower Farm, Sheffield Cider, Snarky Cancer, Templeman’s, Tumbleweeds and WSU Tri-Cities.
  • The Arts Center Task Force raised $53,000 at its Mid-Columbia Performing Arts Center Update and Fundraising Breakfast event on Dec. 1. This funding will be used to support the operations of the organization as it works toward its goal of building the Mid-Columbia Performing Arts Center. The event was sponsored by Bechtel and held at CG Public House in Kennewick.
  • At least 20 individuals and families facing homelessness will soon be transitioning out of shelters and into a permanent, stable home this season thanks to a $125,000 investment from Numerica Credit Union, in partnership with eight regional nonprofits through Numerica’s Home for the Holidays campaign. The year-end gift is allocated to homeless services organizations in Numerica’s four markets. In the Tri-Cities, the donation went to Benton-Franklin Community Action Committee and Domestic Violence Services in Tri-Cities.
  • Hanford Mission Integration Solutions (HMIS) donated more than $25,000 of goods and cash donations to nonprofit organizations. HMIS made donations to Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties and Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels, including donating boxes of winter clothing, personal care items and household goods. Each organization also received a $2,500 donation. Unhoused teens at My Friend’s Place shelter each received movie tickets and concession vouchers and hundreds of students at Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties received movie tickets. Additional year-end donations were made to Second Harvest, Columbia Basin Veterans Center, United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties and Habitat for Humanity.
  • Maverick Cares supplied 4,000 families with holiday meal packages, with each care package feeding a family of four. The packages were distributed via a voucher system conducted with the support of Maverick Cares partners. Participating Maverick Gaming locations included Crazy Moose Casino in Pasco and Coyote Bob’s Casino in Kennewick.


  • Beverly Abersfeller, who has served on the board of directors for Pasco-based Educational Service District 123 for 23 years, has retired. She served District 7, which includes Kiona-Benton City, Paterson and Finley School Districts, as well as portions of Kennewick and Pasco districts. As a well-respected volunteer and business owner in the Tri-Cities, Abersfeller has played an instrumental role in the ESD’s involvement and connection to numerous endeavors over her tenure, especially in the area of early learning. She began serving on the ESD board in 1998 and, although she is retiring from the ESD board, Abersfeller will continue to serve as an executive board member of the Dream Builder’s Educational Foundation.
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