Leadership Reno-Sparks program marks its 25th anniversary

Through his participation in Leadership Reno-Sparks, Reed Simmons found a number of people who care deeply about the community.

Valerie Glenn found that even some of the busiest people in town are willing to spend time explaining how things work.

And Tonya Powell found her husband.

Leadership Reno-Sparks, a program of the Reno Sparks Chamber of Commerce, this year marks its 25th anniversary of educating the region's future leaders about the workings of the Reno-Sparks region.

Each year, about 35 participants are selected from a field of applicants to begin the intensive nine-month program. They spend all-day sessions learning about subjects ranging from education this year's class, for example, spent a day at Hug High School to the criminal justice system.

The program, one of the first of its type in the United States, was the brainchild of former chamber executive Ron Watson. Working with successive chamber board chairmen Phil Rose and Tony Fiannaca, Watson brought the leadership class to reality with a class that met during 1985.

Jane Gilbert, who recently retired from the chamber, provided staff support during most of the quarter-century history of Leadership Reno-Sparks.

Rose, Fiannaca, Watson and Gilbert will be among honorees during a Leadership Reno-Sparks gala this week. About 200 alumni of the program are expected to join current class members for the anniversary event, says Idora Silver, who chairs the Leadership Reno-Sparks board this year.

The dinner-table conversations likely will turn on the experience of leadership graduates.

Chad Osorno, the northern Nevada president of Wells Fargo, says his experience was so positive that the financial services company sends a staff member through the program nearly every year.

"I like the focused approach in critical areas like education, arts and culture, health, human services, and political systems throughout our community," Osorno says.

Glenn, who today works as president and chief executive officer of The Glenn Group, was a member of the first leadership class.

"One of the things that really had an impact on me was the fact that the caliber of presenters was so impressive pretty much the top dogs in every organization or entity," Glenn recalls. "That was inspiring in and of itself that these very important, and likely busy, people took the time out of their days to come and talk to all of us."

Simmons, who works today as senior associate in the investment division of Grubb & Ellis|NCG, treasures a memory of a ride-along with a Reno police officer during his days in the leadership program in 1990.

He also learned about the heart of the community.

"I learned there are a number of people who care deeply about Reno or Sparks, and they are involved for the right reasons," Simmons says. "I also learned that, at its core, Reno is a small town."

Other participants say the friendships they developed among Leadership Reno-Sparks classmates have proven long-lasting.

Mike Bosma, managing shareholder of The Bosma Group, says he remains close to members of his 1999 leadership class even as they have moved steadily upward in their careers.

Like many participants, Powell returned to the board of Leadership Reno-Sparks a couple of years after she completed the program in 1996.

While she was in the program, she developed friendships with numerous folks who now hold leadership positions in the community.

"This week alone, I have seen three people from my class," she says.

But during her service on the Leadership Reno-Sparks board, Powell developed an even more important relationship: She met her husband, Thomas, who was a member of the program's class of 1998.

"I credit Leadership Reno-Sparks with helping meet my life partner," she says.


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