Member Spotlight

Bill Smiley 
New Albany Country Club
Director of Catering 

How long have you been with your Company? What other companies have you worked with in the past?

I started at the New Albany Country Club (NACC) in October of this year.

Prior to this position, I worked at The Ohio State University for ten years as a Catering Sales Manager for University Catering and later the Advancement Events Manager for the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

I also worked for Metro Cuisine for five years and Creative Cuisine for seven years over a ten-year period.

What does your job entail?

I manage a team of two event planners and three banquet managers.  Right now, I am still learning the world of private club management but enjoying the change.  Currently, I am working on menus and strategy to expand the off-property catering division.  I am on the NACC executive team which is responsible for overseeing overall Club growth and strategic planning.

What do you like best about your position? 

We have talented culinary and event teams.  I enjoy the mix of on-property and off-property catering.

Why did you join ILEA?

I joined ILEA after meeting Bill Ferguson a million years ago.  He and I became friends and after attending a few meetings, I quickly learned the value of building industry relations, broadening my industry education/knowledge and participating in a variety of professional development opportunities.

So far, what have you found most helpful being a member of ILEA?

The relationships I’ve made over the course of 19 years (I was a member of ISES before the branding change) and the incredible opportunities ILEA has given me. 

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I love to spend time with my friends, watch movies, cook, bake and participate in cultural arts experiences. 

Any hidden talent?

In the mid-90’s, I won a scholarship to spend eight months studying Italian Cuisine at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners in Torino, Italy (sponsored by the Culinary Institute of America.)  The last four months were spent being a cooking stage/apprentice at the Palace Hotel in Milan.  Everyday my job was to clean 50 fresh artichokes, make 20 pounds of pasta, braise 25 pounds of beef brasato, and at night, serve as the risotto cook – stirring one order at a time.  I would put my Risotto Milanese up against the best restaurants in the city.  The secret is adding veal bone marrow to the dish right before service.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

There were a few.  Like many kids, I wanted to be a doctor but pretty much hated chemistry, physics and math, so that dream was squashed.  Then a singer and actor, but I wasn’t blessed with those talents.  Later a teacher, which is how I would like to end my professional career. 

I remember a photo my mom took of me making mud pies with garnishes of sticks and stones and believe that is when my love of the culinary arts began.  I was fortunate to grow up in a house where my mom cooked every day.  She exposed me to a variety of cuisines – Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, American, French and Lebanese.  Because of her, my passion for the hospitality industry became a reality.

You’ve won many awards during your time in ILEA – does one stick out more than the others?

I am very grateful that the ILEA awards selection committees have honored me with five Ohio WOW! Awards and three International Esprit Awards over the past seven years.  Every award means as much as the first one I earned in New Orleans, LA.  I am still seeking that elusive Gala Award sponsored by Special Events Magazine.  Two nominations, but no wins.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Coming from a successful manager, “Go into a new job with open ears and a closed mouth.  It is best to reserve your opinion until after you’ve taken time to learn about the organization and talk to the people working there.  Starting with what they are doing wrong is a sure way to make a bad first impression.  Earning the respect and building a solid rapport with your new team is the key to a successful future.  It will be a win-win for everyone.”

Austi Jasinski, CTA
COSI - Center of Science & Industry 
Event Sales Manager 

How long have you been with your Company?

1 year and 4 months

What does your job entail?

I tour, sell, detail and day of coordinate events at COSI for external clientele.

What do you like best about your position? 

I like any opportunity where I can use my creativity such as crafting a themed cocktail or helping clients coordinate their decorations with linens.

Why did you join ILEA? Did someone in particular have an impact on you deciding to join?

My previous boss wanted me and my fellow co-workers to join a local events organization and after researching other groups ILEA felt like the best fit.

So far, what have you found most helpful being a member of ILEA?

The connections. Knowing people in ILEA has seriously saved an event or 2 of mine. Going to unique venues and experiencing different food and beverage is also a plus through ILEA events!

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

You can find me in the yoga studio, binge watching reality TV series or taking care of my Cacti babies.

What’s your hidden talent?

I’m a trained Ballerina, who can still pirouette and leap like the pros!

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

I’ve always wanted to be a doctor ever since I was little. Although struggling through General Chemistry at Ohio State made a big impact on that dream.

What are you most excited to get out of your time in ILEA?

I’m mainly excited about growing my network and learning from fellow members the best practices for catering, selling, etc.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“You can only do what you can do”. Many people throughout my life have told me this advice. This advice has been really helpful for me to not over stress imperfections and let go of what is out my control.

Tracy Moran, CSEP, CTA
CAPA - Columbus Association for the Performing Arts
Strategic Projects Director 

How long have you been with your Company?

Just over a year, I was brought on to help CAPA celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2019 with a series of events

What do you do?

Develop and execute monthly 50th Anniversary events to highlight CAPA and it’s community impact, from free community events to a special Hamilton night for CAPA friends, about 25 events over the year. After 2019, I’ll be working on a variety of events and projects for the organization


What do you like best about your position?  

Being surrounded by a creative environment and people – I work in the Ohio Theatre building! My favorite theatre in town!


Why did you join ILEA?

I joined in 2000, 19 years ago, back when I was in events, but not yet surrounded by ‘my people’. My first meeting was at the Ohio (Historical Society) History Connection and I joined on the spot, this was a group of my people, they got it, they shared about their event knowledge and asked about mine and I knew this was the group for me.


What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA?

Wow – so many things. But the most helpful is the connections. I now have connections and friends all over the world because of ILEA. Any ILEA member can pick up the phone or send an email to any ILEA member, worldwide, and say ‘Hey, I’m with ILEA Columbus and need some direction for something in your city…’ You’ll always get an answer – we truly are a community.


Why did you get your CSEP?

The CSEP (Certified Special Events Professional) certification raises the bar of Event Professional. Whether you’re a planner, AV team, caterer, photographer, entertainment or rental company – the CSEP is about raising all event professionals to the highest level, highlighting their experience and comprehensive knowledge of all event elements, not just the one they’re responsible for.


In a world of ‘pop-up planners’ (oh I planned a friend’s wedding so I’m a professional planner) I wanted to validate to myself, my employers, my colleagues that I am well rounded in events industry knowledge and have the breadth of experience to work confidently with peers and vendors on all levels. It can set you apart.


When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

Anything water based – love the pool, the beach, you name it. And of course, wining and dining with friends


What’s your hidden talent?

Hmmm, I was a synchronized swimmer at Ohio State and can still do some tricks 😊

Also – I make killer deviled eggs (family recipe)

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

Well, I started at Ohio State as a pre-physical therapist major – HA see how that worked out? Should have thought more about the math and science piece…


What's one thing about you that surprises people?

That I teach water aerobics.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Every position/company you work for serves a purpose. Whether it is a skill you learn, a person you meet, or an experience you have - there is a purpose. You will go through 5-7 ‘jobs’ before you find your right place and the right thing. Be patient and learn. (thank you Annie Vian at Qfm96)

Erica Cornell 
The Greater Columbus Sports Commission 
Event Coordinator 

How long have you been with your Company?

Full-time, two years this June!  I was an intern for a year prior.

What do you do?

The Greater Columbus Sports Commission helps showcase Columbus by bringing sporting events to the city!  My role is service our annual and support our events department with other larger events travelling to Columbus.

What do you like best about your position?  

Working with a multitude of sports, events, championships and being able to engage the community with those events.

Why did you join Ilea?

My supervisors are on the board 😊. That, and I wanted to learn more about the event industry within Columbus!

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA?

The networking and learning opportunities.  I love going to a new organization each month and learning about their contribution to the event industry.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

I usually spend my time catching up with family and friends, reading a book, try out a new homemade recipe (preferably something Italian), crafting and spend as much time as I can outside!  Whether that be walking, running, biking, skiing or playing tennis.

What’s your hidden talent?

It’s not necessarily a talent, but I love creating homemade greeting cards for others.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

Being an actress and starring in the Star Wars movies.

What's one thing about you that surprises people?

I was a cheerleader in high school.  And I loved it 😉

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

          Only you can make you happy.

Emily Nunn
Metro Cuisine Catering & Special Events
Event Manager
2019-2020 ILEA Columbus President

Why’d you join ILEA and how has it helped you professionally & personally? 

I was just starting out in the events industry and a colleague invited me to an ILEA mixer. It was an absolute blast and opened my eyes to all the impressive outlets outside my little world. I couldn’t wait to get started! I asked if I could sign up as a member to my boss the next day. In the years since I have grown  professional confidence, worked with industry leaders, and created meaningful friendships. It's been a life changing investment all around.

What should members be excited about this year that hasn’t been as present in the past?

Starting with our Member “Launch” party (love a good punny theme :) next week, we have really dedicated our year to celebrating our members and all the amazing ways they contribute to our chapter and organization. I want every single member to know how valued they are and stay true to this mission all year long. They give us so much and I want this year to be an exercise in giving back. I can’t wait to share all of our exciting plans!

What is one of your favorite moments as a member of ILEA?

My first ILEA Live conference in New Orleans. It's one of my favorite cities and getting to experience it through the amazing events and professionals at the conference was an all-time high. It really showcased the scope of our organization and inspired me to step up my game. I mean - we had our own Second Line parade! It was AMAZING.


What do you think is the most important aspect of ILEA to a new or prospective member?

Our organization’s dedication to education. There are plenty of networking opportunities that a professional can explore, but the standards ILEA imposes really sets us apart.  There are so many amazing resources set up by ILEA Headquarters and taking advantage of those will really help you grow as a professional and get the most from your membership.  


What are YOU most excited about this year in ILEA?

Getting to work with this amazing board. These individuals come from a wide variety of fields and various years in the industry and this will bring such a diverse yet unified voice to lead our chapter.  I am so blown away by their dedication and professionalism. They inspire me to work as hard as possible to make this the best year ever for ILEA Columbus.


Ken Sprague
Hamburg Fireworks Display Inc.

How long have you been with your Company? I have been with Hamburg Fireworks Display Inc. for over 40 years.

What do you do?” I lead my Company by staying informed and participating in the industry, by implementing, directing and sharing that information and experiences with my Company and employees, which in turn results in making my Company grow.

What do you like best about your position? I love seeing my Company grow from my passion for the fireworks industry and the excitement it brings to people.

Why did you join Ilea? I joined Ilea because I believe it would provide an outlet for me to share what my Company and what we do best, “FIREWORKS”.

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA? Networking with other professionals is one of the most helpful benefits of being a member of ILEA.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time? When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my family, friends and riding my motorcycles.

What’s your hidden talent? A hidden talent that I have is; that I am a knowledgeable carpenter and motivator.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid? When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a professional football player.

What's one thing about you that surprises people? The things that surprises people about me, is that I have a hard time saying “NO” and I demand perfection.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? The best piece of advice I have ever been given is; “If you can raise the level of effort and performance in those around you, you are officially a Leader”.


Jim Riley
Ohio History Connection
Business Ventures Manager

How long have you been with your Company? 23 years

What do you do? I oversee 4 different units at the Ohio History Center and Ohio Village including External Events, Retail Operations, Distribution Center, and Vending Services. 

What do you like best about your position?  It's never dull or boring. Working in a non-profit museum environment that is open to the public has many challenges especially with events. Even after as many years as I have worked here there are new and exciting challenges that need to be tackled. 

Why did you join Ilea? Originally I joined to connect to the event vendors in the city. I started off as the Event Coordinator here and coming from the hotel operations side of hospitality I wasn’t connected with many of the event professionals in the city. One of my vendors, Pat Holstein of POSH events, recommended ILEA as a good way to connect.

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA? I truly feel that the long standing relationships I have developed as well as professional development I have experienced in this organization are priceless.  I soon realized that ILEA was a way for me to grow as a leader and get exposed to an industry and profession that I had come to love.  Through my 13 years on the Columbus board, the International committees, and now serving on the International Board of Governors, I have connected with so many event professionals from across the world. I have learned techniques for doing a better event to being a better person and the value of being a true event professional.   

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time? My “spare time” now is usually spent with my hubby working on our new house and playing with our two golden retrievers. 

What’s your hidden talent? I am an artist at heart which is probably why I love designing and working on events.  If you have been to my office you may have seen some of my work on the walls from paintings to photography.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid? I probably didn’t dream of it but hospitality management was in my blood pretty early on. I started supervising the bussers at the restaurant I worked at when I was 17 and took over the banquet department at 18 through college. I was hoping to get out of it with a psychology degree but it kept pulling me back.  

What's one thing about you that surprises people? Did I say already I was on the Columbus board for 13 consecutive years yet?  That usually is the one that gets most people in ILEA. Personally, I was an only child for 13 ½ years and then my parents had my brother so I quickly became the built in babysitter.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? I was told by someone who had been in the industry for many years that in events you will always have to prove you know what you are doing.  Our industry is often misunderstood that anyone can do it.  Don’t let that be an obstacle.  Let that be the challenge to make them see the magic we pull off because of what and who we know.  We are event professionals.  Even in the most stressful times of an event…make it happen with a smile.


Diana Marshall

Director of Catering - Marriott Columbus University Area
Concord Hospitality Enterprises

How long have you been with your Company?

I have been working at Concord Hospitality Enterprises for 2.5 years. I was fortunate to spend my first year with the company opening the Marriott Columbus University Area. Since the hotel’s opening date in August 2017 I have had the privilege of being a part of the hotel’s growth and success.

What do you do?

As the Director of Catering I am responsible for overseeing the hotel’s catering team. We handle all of the coordination of the hotel’s events and are responsible for the catering sales. I work to maintain guest satisfaction and exceed guest’s expectations. In addition to overseeing the planning of events and catering sales, I monitor the catering budget, develop promotional offers and work beside our Food and Beverage Director to create different menus and upselling opportunities.

What do you like best about your position?

I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to see my department and the hotel as a whole grow from the ground up. I feel blessed to have such a strong team to work with who all have the same goal: to be the best. I enjoy being able to act as a leader and play a role in the development of my team. Every day presents a new opportunity to learn and I love that!

Why did you join Ilea?

I joined ILEA because I wanted to expand my network and become more connected with other event professionals in our city.

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA?

The connections! As an event planner we receive a lot of requests for different vendor referrals and it has been very helpful to have a network that I can rely on. I also enjoy the educational opportunities.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

If I’m not working I am on my yoga mat either teaching or taking class. I am a member of the Junior League of Columbus and enjoy participating in volunteer events and professional development opportunities with the organization. My husband and I enjoy hiking, spending time with our families and taking trips whenever we can.

What’s your hidden talent?

I love to dance! I trained in ballet and other forms of dance my whole childhood. I was fortunate to tour in Europe and danced with the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University.

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

To dance and perform on Broadway!

What's one thing about you that surprises people?

I’ve been skydiving.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I have been given a lot of good advice throughout my life. While it is hard to nail down the very best, some of the most memorable that I think of often are “Never say no to yourself” and “Show up. Show up for yourself and show up for others.”



Melinda Alonso, CMP, CSEP
Event Manager
The Ohio State University Alumni Association

How long have you been with your company?

I’ve been with The Ohio State University Alumni Association for 19 years.   I am very thankful to work with amazing colleagues that inspire and challenge me and I am thankful for the amazing clients that we serve at the Longaberger Alumni House. 

What was your proudest professional moment in the last year?

In July 2018 I earned my Certified Special Event Professional designation.    This was a proud moment for me because it was a personal goal I set for myself and it took two years of preparation for me to succeed.  I would encourage any of our industry colleagues to work towards earning a professional designation.    

When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?

When I’m not working I’m enjoying time with my family which means I’m yelling at our seven year old son to get off his X-box and do his homework.  


What’s one thing about you that surprises people?

One thing that may surprise people is that I enlisted and served in the United States Navy for nine years following high school.   I am very thankful I had that opportunity and I’m grateful to my fellow veterans for their service as well.


What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Here is the best work advice I’ve been given: Lock the door.   This was a response to a safety concern and it was a cost effective immediate   solution. This now serves as a reminder that sometimes the simple solution is the best one. 

The best life advice I’ve been given:  Never eat an entire box of prunes all at once.


Peter Bell
Bell Tree Productions

How long have you been with your Company?

 “I started Bell Tree Productions in March of 2014, so we will be celebrating our five year anniversary later this year.”

What do you do?”

“As any small business owner can tell you, especially one working in live events, my job changes depending on the task at hand. Besides handling day-to-day operations, I spend much of my time collaborating with clients and other event professionals providing them with superior and cost effective audio-visual solutions. Throughout the course of an event, my team and I spend our time setting up, operating and striking the audio, lighting and video systems we are provide for the occasion. Along with live audio-visual production, Bell Tree also offers full photography and video services. When I am not working on advancing, designing or running live events, I can often times be found working at our editing bay in the office.”

 What do you like best about your position?  

“The best part about my position, outside of working with my fantastic staff, is that it gives me the flexibility to work in many different venues and event spaces. Each venue is unique, and presents a new set of challenges to navigate through. The ability to maneuver through different obstacles, while still producing an exceptional end product is the most rewarding experience of any project I am working on.”  

Why did you join Ilea?

“I joined ILEA for a number of different reasons, but my main purpose was to help provide better service to my clients. Often times clients approach me with audio-visual needs, but are also looking for other event professionals to help execute their event. Being able to direct a buyer to a person whom I trust will provide him or her with excellent service outside of my area of expertise is important to me. ILEA provides me an opportunity to talk with caterers, florists and venue managers who I may not have yet met, who are a perfect match for a clients needs.”

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA?

“I really enjoy that ILEA provides an avenue for other like minded professionals to congregate through their events, share knowledge among ourselves and discuss upcoming projects we are working on.”

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?

“I am a big Blue Jackets fan and love going to games down at Nationwide Arena. I’m still waiting for that playoff series win and hoping that this year is the year!”

What’s your hidden talent?

“Building carpentry projects. Growing up as a kid my Dad, when he wasn’t seeing patients in the Emergency room or teaching, loved to do projects. When I say ‘carpentry projects’ I’m not talking about building a bookcase or lopsided spice racks; these were full-scale construction projects. My brothers and I spent many a summer day working with Dad on building sheds, a chicken coop and renovating an old ice house. I learned so many invaluable skills from spending that time with my Dad. I don’t think many kids, with parents outside of the construction industry, can say that they built and shingled an entire roof with just their Dad and seven year old Brother. I was nine at the time.”

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?

“Rocket Scientist, that lasted until I learned that I was awful at physics, apparently physics are important when it comes to rocket engineering. Who knew?”

What's one thing about you that surprises people?

“That I haven’t been to New York City. I have toured all over the world; in my early twenties was a tour/production manager for a couple different bands. I traveled all over Europe and have been to just about every major city in the United States, yet somehow I have never made it to New York City... Yet”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“If you are sitting in a room of people and consider yourself to be the smartest person in it, then you need to find a new room.”



Bill Ferguson, CSEP, CERP, CTA
Senior Regional Account Executive
Event Source


How long have you been with your Company?
12 years / 6 months – serving the Event Rental Industry for over 35 years. 

What do you do?”
As the Senior Regional Account Executive, I provide our clients with event rental options, at a high level of customer service and products, in the Greater Columbus area and Indianapolis markets.  I also support our sales teams in Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, as an advisor and coach, to help expand our brand throughout the Mid-West.     

What do you like best about your position?
Every day is a party!  No 2 days are the same, no matter what I plan for tomorrow, it changes before I wake up the next day.  Putting smiles on client’s faces day after day makes every day worth getting up and going to work!  Last minute events coming in and the opportunity to execute these successfully.   

Why did you join Ilea?
I joined in January of 2000, as an associate with Made From Scratch.  I knew of the organization, and wanted to be part of the “cool kids”.  I wanted to obtain my CSEP (Certified Special Event Professional), and part of this process at the time was to be a member.  In 2003 I achieved my CSEP Designation, and proudly continue to have the designation, 15 years later. 

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA? 
My ability over the past 20 years to network with so many people from my local chapters, but other chapters around the US and world.  I have had the privileged to sit on several International Committees, serve as Regional Vice President for two terms, and

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?
Spending time at home with my husband Fredrik, going out to dinner, and leisure travel when our schedules permits.  Spending time with friends and family as well. 

What’s your hidden talent?
Played percussion in high school marching band and the Canton Blue Coats Drum and Bugle corps for several years.  Also marched with Pride of Cincinnati winter guard program for 2 years.  No, please do not ask me to pick up a flag, sabre, or riffle at the next meeting – a little bit rusty these days. 

What’s the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?
Music Educator / Symphony Director.

What's one thing about you that surprises people?
I have no hidden surprises, people see me for who I am, a friendly person, who cares about others around me, and want everyone to get along. 

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 
Listen more, talk less, and pay attention to what clients are saying at all times.  



Emily Messinger
Owner - Exhale Events

How long have you been with your company?  
One year

What do you do?
I own a wedding and event planning company, specializing in mostly weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs

What do you like best about your position?
It is amazing owning your own business and having the freedom to work from home.  I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible event professionals that offer me advice and support daily.  I attribute much of my success to the relationships I have developed in the Columbus Events Industry community. 

Why did you join ILEA?
I have been a proud member of ILEA for 10 years now in three different cities.  ILEA has given me the opportunity to grow professionally, get out of my comfort zone, and make some amazing connections.

What do you find most helpful being a member of ILEA?
I love having the opportunity to be able to reach out to other ILEA Members in different cities.  It has been hugely beneficial to be able to connect with other wedding planners outside of Columbus and see how others do things in different markets.  There is an instant feeling of trust and willingness to help when you say you're a fellow ILEA member.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I just had a baby a few weeks ago so lately it's been spending time with my little guy... and drinking wine and coffee!

What's your hidden talent?
Oh jeez, I honestly don't think I have one!

What's the first career you dreamed of having as a kid?
A teacher when I was young and then a Therapist in college (which is kind of ironic because I pretty much play therapist to many of my couples now!)

What's one thing about you that surprises people?
I think clients and vendors are always pleasantly surprised to see my calm-under-pressure when I work weddings.  I always keep a positive attitude.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Take a deep breath and exhale