Oct 4, 2022 | Features
Entrepreneurs to restaurant managers, business leaders to educators … the 2022 20 Under 40 honorees are making a difference across all areas of life and business in the LOU.
The 20 Under 40 program is a joint partnership between Oxford Magazine, the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Young Professionals group. Working together, we cull hundreds of nominations and recommendations each year to select the brightest emerging leaders across all walks of life. The men and women in this year’s group share a passion for excellence in all they pursue and a commitment to improving the quality of life in the LOU community. Their enthusiasm and energy is contagious, and we’re thrilled to be able to honor them.
Most important, we’re excited to see what our future holds thanks to these folks.
And the winners are…
NJ Correnti, Nicholas Air
NJ Correnti’s passion and love for NICHOLAS AIR flies as high as the planes it charters.
The NICHOLAS AIR CEO and founder said he was exposed to other industries growing up, but knew that aviation was what he was meant to pursue and he knew he would succeed.
“I was passionate about it early on, and even though I knew it was a difficult road to travel, I was committed to seeing the vision through,” said Correnti. “… [And] as I started flying more and more, the other facets of the business were equally intriguing.”
Correnti saw an opportunity to create a company to fix the problems he saw in the aviation market.
“From the very beginning, our company was designed to provide the industry’s top quality fleet, but it had to be backed by a high-integrity team that was passionate about world-class customer service,” said Correnti. “That combination was and still is very unique in private aviation and has been key to our success over the last 25 years.”
NICHOLAS AIR was started in Columbus, Mississippi but in 2019, the company made the move to Oxford, making a new home in the small town.
“We wanted to stay in Mississippi and really felt that Oxford provided our team with a great opportunity to flourish while retaining that small-town and close-knit feel,” said Correnti.
According to Correnti, NICHOLAS AIR attracts employees who become as endeared to Oxford as he has.
“The town offers a lot in the way of education and social ventures and it is a great place for new families to come to town, work here, and feel rewarded by living in this community,” Correnti said.
Mark Cleary, Cannon| Cleary | McGraw
Mark Cleary in Oxford, Miss. on Thursday, August 18, 2022. (©Bruce Newman)
Growing up with his family in Houston, Texas, Mark Cleary has been surrounded by the real estate business for as long as he can remember. He began his own journey in real estate while he was still attending the University of Mississippi for a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, gaining his license between his junior and senior years.
Cleary has been in Oxford for nearly 20 years, enjoying the music, sports, and people. He has established deep roots in the community after meeting his wife Lauren during his time at Ole Miss. With a five-year-old son, Topher, and a two-year-old daughter, Carolina, Cleary credits Oxford’s family oriented community as one of the main reasons he chose to stay in town after graduation. He also gives credit to the weather.
“Houston is just Summer all year long,” Cleary said. “You get four seasons here in Oxford.”
Cannon Cleary McGraw, one of Oxford’s most innovative real estate firms, has given Cleary the opportunity to work with a dedicated group of staff whom he credits for his tremendous success.
“Everybody pulls the rope in the same direction,” Cleary said. “Work hard, treat people right, and everything else falls into place.”
Some of the more prestigious honors he has received are for being the top listing agent, buying agent, and overall agent in Oxford in 2019.
“Our original goal was to be the number one firm in town, and we have accomplished that for our third consecutive year,” Cleary said.
Cleary emphasizes that the team of good people he has surrounded himself with is the main reason he is in a position to accomplish his goals and get work done behind the scenes.
Anna Lauren Heavener, University of Mississippi Success Coach
Anna Lauren Heavener in Oxford, Miss. on Monday, August 8, 2022. (©Bruce Newman)
Anna Lauren Heavener is committed to helping others find the balance they need.
Heavener grew up in Chalybeate, a small town located in the northern part of Tippah County. She attended a community college before transferring to the University of Mississippi.
Heavener has worked at Ole Miss for six years, the last two as the university’s Success Coach— a position that has provided her with many learning experiences.
“A lot of it is just trial and error,” said Heavener. “What works for this student is not going to work for this year and then not every student is the same. It’s really learning how to be flexible.”
To Heavener a success plan isn’t a one path everyone can take. Like people themselves, what success means in their lives is complex and truly unique to them.
“I think nobody ever really accomplishes being successful,” said Heavener. “That’s a view that depends on how you’re looking at it. It’s kind of a perspective and if I thought of myself as being successful, it would mean that I have others who know that they can depend on me in different ways like my sister versus my students versus my family— just being able to contribute to others in the way that they need.”
And what Heavener contributes? A listening ear.
“I think the biggest thing is being present,” Heavener said.
Heavener is taking her strengths in assisting others and communication and sharing it with the world outside of Ole Miss through community involvement and volunteerism. Heavener has started volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and teaching First Year Experience Class for freshmen and for transfer students.
“Outside of my job, I focus on community, the importance of family and community building,” she said. “I’m very much a community-minded person and, especially since the pandemic, and I’m trying to find and support local businesses and farmers in the community. Coming from such a small town where my community invested in me, I want to be successful in giving back.”
Dr. Hannah Heaton, Magnolia Small Animal Hospital
Hannah Heaton in Oxford, Miss. on Thursday, August 18, 2022. (©Bruce Newman)
Hannah Heaton is a small animal veterinarian who has practiced in Oxford for 13 years. She began practicing in Oxford after graduating from Mississippi State University, and operates at Magnolia Small Animal Hospital, where she is fulfilling her dream of being a veterinarian.
“I decided to become a vet at the age of 12,” said Heaton. “My original dream was to work with horses, but as I grew in the profession, my love for small animals like dogs and cats and their owners grew. I could see the connections between them that made each patient a family member”
While the building is undergoing construction, Magnolia Small Animal Hospital currently practices out of an old church seminary with vintage 1990s wallpaper. Heaton helped open the practice in April and it has since become one of the premier veterinary clinics in Oxford.
“We have wonderful clients from around town that have followed us,” said Heaton. “I’m thankful that we have a place to go and people to keep us going.”
Originally from New Albany, Heaton has strong ties to Oxford. Both her sister and husband attended Ole Miss. She has three children and is grateful for all that the city has to offer families. Her family feels that they have benefited greatly from M-Trade and all of the school and community activities.
“Despite being a Mississippi State University graduate, I love Oxford and the University of Mississippi and all they have to offer our area. There is a lot that goes on around town, and we love to be around all of the sporting events,” said Heaton. “Oxford as a whole just takes good care of our children.”
Expanding and growth are the top priorities for Heaton and Magnolia Small Animal Hospital. The clinic, which plans to have fully moved into the newly renovated building by the end of the Fall, has the full capabilities of any small animal clinic, including specialty surgeries, x-rays, and ultrasounds.
“There have been a lot of people along the way, like family and friends, who have supported us and kept us going,” said Heaton. “I would like to thank the Oxford community, if nothing else.”
Dr. Megan Edwards, Oxford Neurology Clinic
Dr. Megan Edwards-Hodge, 37, is a neurologist at the Oxford Neurology Clinic in Oxford. She said she enjoys seeing patients of all ages in her clinic. “It blesses me to go to work each day and hope that I can make someone else better,” she said. “I have a great staff that makes working at ONC even more gratifying.”
Edwards-Hodge earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics at Ole Miss and a bachelor of arts in biology. Her master of science degree is in biology medical sciences from Mississippi College.
From William Carey University College of Medicine, she received a doctor of osteopathic medicine degree, and her neurology residency took place at the University of Mississippi, where she served as chief resident from 2017-1018. She moved to Oxford after finishing residency soon afterward.
Edwards-Hodge is originally from Water Valley, Miss., but she’s “now proud to call Oxford my home,” she said.
“For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a physician,” she said. “I wanted to help those in need during some of their most pivotal and trying points in their lives. I desired to treat and heal others for them to have the ultimate quality of life.
“Therefore, I knew I wanted to go to medical school. During medical school, I enjoyed learning about the neuromuscular system. I found the composition and complex integration intriguing.
“I felt neurology was often putting together pieces of the puzzle to find the proper diagnosis and treatment. When it came time to do elective rotations, I selected neurology as one of my electives. I was thoroughly fulfilled during the rotation and decided at that point to direct my career in medicine to neurology.”
Married to Blake Hodge, the couple has two daughters, Laykin Brett Hodge, 5, and Loxley Briggs Hodge, three months.
“I am honored to have even been nominated for this award and am elated I was selected as one of the top 20 under 40,” she added. “In a town where there are many deserving young professionals, I am astounded the community found me deserving of this award.”
Edwards-Hodge is board certified with the American Osteopathic Board of Neurology and Psychiatry and the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She serves as University of Mississippi pre-med HPAO pre-medical student preceptor, as Baptist Memorial Hospital North Mississippi consultant, as clinical adjunct professor at William Carey University, as clinical adjunct professor at Liberty University and as neurology subspecialty education coordinator for the IM Residency Program at Baptist Memorial Hospital North Mississippi.
She was selected for the global directory of Who’s Who Top Doctors in 2021 and is a life member of Junior Auxiliary of Oxford. She also serves on the parents-teachers organization at both of her children’s schools
It might not seem possible that she has any, but Edwards-Hodge said in her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, volunteering in her community, cheering for the Rebels and attending Pinelake Church.
Bryan Fikes, Stonewater
Bryan Fikes always knew he wanted to give back.
The Tupelo native struggled with addiction as a teenager, but got his life back on track after attending a residential treatment program for 15 months.
That program made a monumental impact on the Fikes family, who began volunteering in their local community to help other young people in similar situations.
“God just did incredible work in my life and the life of my family through that experience and so, because of that, our family became very passionate about that kind of work,” Fikes said.
Fikes finished out his senior year of high school before enrolling at Monmouth University in New Jersey, where he studied finance and played tennis. After a year in the Northeast, Fikes decided to return to Mississippi and alter his career path, graduating with a degree in accounting from the University of Mississippi.
He spent time as a representative for New York Life Insurance before landing a position at Hardy Reed, a fiduciary firm based in Tupelo. However, as his professional career took off, Fikes discovered that he was still not content.
That’s when he met his business partner, who was looking for opportunities to invest in new projects.
“He and I connected and I began to learn more about his business… I obviously had the passion piece based on my experience,” Fikes said. “At that point we began to have conversations with my family about starting a business that would allow young people and their families to get help the same way we did.”
The result of that connection was Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center, a residential treatment program founded by the Fikes family for boys ages 12-18 who are struggling with addiction.
Stonewater began operating in the fall of 2016 — providing high-quality care for both local residents and patients from across the country.
“We’re very passionate about the work that we do,” Fikes said. “There’s a tremendous need right now, with adolescents needing mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment but not being able to access it — and part of that access piece is because there’s no treatment available.”
The facility has treated over 250 patients since its inception, and hopes that number will continue to grow as they expand their services.
Erin Smith, CASA
Danny K Photography | www.dannykphotography.com
Erin Smith found her passion and calling while volunteering with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) during her undergraduate studies at the University of Mississippi. She was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, and CASA is the organization’s national philanthropy.
Erin graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelors in Political Science in 2006 and received her Masters of Science in Nonprofit Administration from Louisiana State University in 2020. She has actively served the LOU Community with her service on the Board of Directors for the Oxford-Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. She is on the steering committee for Junior Leadership Lafayette, a leadership program for 10th graders, and is the chair for the Mississippi Coalition of CASA Programs
The need for a CASA program for North Mississippi became apparent to Smith after spending four years volunteering in Memphis.
Smith is the founding Executive Director for CASA of North Mississippi, a program that advocates for abused and neglected children in the courts and other settings. She officially gained nonprofit status for CASA of Lafayette County in 2018.
“We expanded into Lee County in January 2022 and began serving children In March,” said Smith. “We have plans to be in Pontotoc, Union, Yalobusha and Marshall counties by 2025 to serve more abused and neglected children across North Mississippi.”
Smith’s goals for CASA of North Mississippi are to serve more children across the region, and expand into a new facility to adequately serve North Mississippi CASA.
Dorothy Jean Hicks, Cicada
For Cicada Manager Dorothy Jean Hicks, walking into the store was love at first sight.
“Oh my gosh, I loved it,” said Hicks. “It had such great energy and it was always my favorite place.”
Hicks first encountered Cicada as a student at the University of Mississippi. Originally from Greenwood, Hicks moved from the Delta to attend Ole Miss and major in Hospitality Management.
“I used to shop at Cicada when I was in college,” Hicks said. “I fell in love with Anne-Marie [Gordon] the owner— she had such a spiciness and she was fun.”
Once Hicks graduated, Gordon hired her onto the Cicada team. Hicks would work at Cicada before moving to Miami to work at a hotel that she’s loved since she was a child.
“When I was in the seventh grade, my parents took me to Miami, and we stayed at the Shore Club Hotel and it just opened up my world,” she said. “It was just so cool and so different and I fell in love with Miami and the Shore Club Hotel.
After her visit to the Shore Club, Hicks developed a passion for the hospitality industry. For a little over six years, Hicks spent time in Miami living her dream and making dream vacations for others. Later later worked in London when the Shore Club temporarily closed for renovations but that temporary closure became permanent during the COVID-19.
Hicks returned to Oxford after the closure.
“I was very sad,” said Hicks, “but I was happy to be back in Oxford. It’s been fun because I’m bringing what I’ve learned from being there to Oxford.”
Hicks’ specialty is what she calls TNT: tiny, noticeable touches. To her, they provide an extra sparkle to everyone’s life.
“That’s what I try to do at Cicada to make everyone feel welcomed and loved when they come into the store,” she said. “That’s been a real treat.”
Hicks said it is her mission to make every guest at Cicada feel happy and welcomed.
“Hopefully I’ve put a smile on someone’s face,” Hicks said. “Hopefully I have that spark that makes people feel good or feel confident. When they come into the store, I want to make them feel welcomed as if it were my home.”
Collin Hill, Acceptance Counseling Services
Collin Hill, 25, works as a therapist at Acceptance Counseling Services. Born and raised in Oxford, he plans to continue his education, while remaining in the area.
He’s been with the company since June 1, after graduating in May from Louisiana State University. His next step is obtaining a licensed clinic social worker (LCSW) so that he will be able to work independently and perhaps one day open his own private practice.
Hill became a therapist as an “avenue to help others.” He’s a trained “Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing” (EMDR) therapist, a type of therapy used to help people with traumatic events arm themselves with ways to heal from trauma or similar distressing life experiences.
“I see all ages,” he said of his practice. “Therapy may be something new to someone, but I encourage those who are thinking about it to take that leap and seek out the help they are wanting.”
Hill is also a licensed yoga teacher, basing his expertise in trauma-based yoga. The activity weaves the practices of yoga and trauma treatment together to help solve trauma-related challenges. This type of therapy seeks to negate negative beliefs, handle difficult emotions and relieve painful sensations that may emerge. Several types of helpful activities can be using skills of external grounding, honoring a window of tolerance, using positive internal resources and building on non-judgmental awareness.
“It helps calm the nervous system,” he said of the activity.
Hill was recently named to as one of the 20 under 40 and he said he thinks the award “gives the sense of knowing you are on the right track. It’s very appreciated and quite an honor.”
Dr. Shawnboda Mead, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement
Dr. Shawnboda Mead has a passion for diversity.
Having graduated from Mississippi State University in 2004, the Prentiss native knows how difficult it can be to fit in in a space where the majority of people don’t look like you.
That’s why she made it her mission to improve access to higher education for people from historically disenfranchised communities.
After brief tenures at Texas A&M University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Mead joined the administrative staff at the University of Mississippi in 2014 as the inaugural director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement.
The newly-created department was founded with the intention of fostering an environment of inclusion at the university, as well as to aid in the recruitment of a diverse student body.
“As a Mississippi native I just couldn’t pass that up,” Mead said. “I had the opportunity to really build a team and determine some strategic priorities for creating a multicultural center on campus.”
During her time at the head of the center, Mead guided university policy on a variety of hot-button issues including the relocation of the confederate monument on campus and the changing of the state flag.
Her leadership during that tumultuous period in the school’s history led to her appointment as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement in 2018.
After earning her doctorate in higher education administration in May of 2019, Mead assumed the role of Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement in September of the same year.
It was in that role that she helped lead the university’s campus climate survey, which gauged students’ comfort level with university policies, other students’ behavior and overall satisfaction.
Mead used the results of that study to develop the school’s Pathways to Equity program, which serves as a roadmap for creating equitable access to resources for every student on campus.
“We’re really working to help make sure that the entire university has identified the diversity, equity, inclusion-related goals that are unique to their units,” Mead said. “We’re developing some more targeted hiring practices and making sure that we’re aligning all our efforts so that we’re maximizing the diversity of the individuals that are applying, but also being retained in our faculty and staff roles.”
Jamie Petty, Southern Star Yoga Center
Jamie Petty could barely contain her excitement about being named one of the 20 under 40 by the Oxford Eagle.
“It’s hard for me to hide my emotions,” she said with glee. “I’m very honored and I’m super, super excited about it.”
Originally from Houston, Miss., Petty grew up in many locations, ending up graduating from high school in Walnut Grove, Miss. From there, she began working on her bachelor’s in psychology at Ole Miss until she hit a snag – she ran out of money.
A chance meeting in 2019 with Ed and Becky Meek (“at a Chick-fil-A Couple Date Night, of all things,” she said) created a tight bond among the three, to the point the couple offered to help get Petty back in school to graduate.
“Every dream I have had, they have supported me,” Petty, 29, said of her cherished new friends. “Because of them, I am seeing my dreams come to life.”
The Meeks surely saw what a hard worker Petty was and how she did things on her own. Petty said her mother has addiction problems and her father died right when Petty started at Ole Miss, leaving with her with no support – emotionally or financially.
Instead of giving up, Petty worked to become certified in yoga and as an emergency medical technologist. When she returned to Ole Miss to finish her degree, she doubled down and graduated with a 4.0 average.
Now, to top it all off, she has been accepted into nursing school at Northwest in Oxford.
“I want to work on the mental health aspect by incorporating yoga and threading it through therapy to heal the whole person,” she said. “It’s kinda my thing.” She plans to use the LPN to bridge toward becoming a registered psychiatric nurse and then a nurse practitioner.
Petty gives a great deal of credit to Southern Star Yoga Center for being so open to helping her realize her dreams – and the dreams of children who couldn’t afford the comfort of yoga. She said the center had been “super passionate about making sure all who want to do yoga can do yoga” by allowing Petty to discount her teaching rates.
Petty’s children are her life. “My babies are everything,” she said of Adalyn, 7, Ace, 5, and Kaiven, 1. “I started yoga after my daughter was born because I wanted to make sure she didn’t have to suffer with me not feeling my best.”
Petty recently transitioned to part-time status at her job at Baptist Rheumatology, where she has worked for five years.
She said that her workplaces, the Meeks and her children combined to ensure her future is bright. “I have had so many blessings that have come to me,” she said.
Chloe Lloyd, Oxford Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine
Chloe Lloyd graduated from Jackson Academy in 2006. She received a bachelor’s degree in dietetic and nutrition from Ole Miss, and from there she earned a bachelor of science in nursing from the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
After working as a registered nurse for some years, she returned to school to earn a master’s in nursing education and a nurse practitioner degree from the University of Memphis.
Lloyd graduated with highest honors and was a member of Sigma Theta Tau scholastic nursing honorary. She has more than 10 years of experience working in the medical field at medical institutions such as Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson, Children’s Hospital in Dallas and Methodist University Hospital in Memphis.
She has worked at Oxford Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine since January 2020.
“I love it,” she said of her workplace. “I see all patients who need it, though technically I work for Dr. Daniel Boyd.”
Lloyd said she tends to patients with arthritis, broken bones and knee and hip replacements in pre-op and post-op.
She reported she enjoys all that the Oxford community offers in dining, entertainment and sporting events. She is a member of the Oxford Garden Club and the First Presbyterian Church, where she currently serves as a deacon.
Named as one of the 20 under 40, Lloyd said she was honored to have been nominated.
Dr. Lauren Phillips, Oxford Dental
For Oxford Dental’s Dr. Lauren Phillips, the patients she serves help her as much as she helps them.
Phillips is a graduate of University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee College of Dentistry where she served as the President of American Student Dental Association. After completing her degree, Phillips returned to Ole Miss to work at Oxford Dental in 2021.
For a little over a year, Phillips has worked to keep Oxonians’ smiles bright while Oxford has provided her with many great lessons and connections.
“I feel like it’s provided me with a lot of personal growth,” said Phillips. “I have gotten to meet a lot of really great people in Oxford and I just really love getting to know the community better that way.”
When Phillips is not working to keep Oxford’s smiles beautiful, she is playing tennis or helping with Junior Auxiliary.
“It’s been really fun,” Phillips said. “I’m just always looking for personal growth. You know once you set a goal and you achieve it, you should set it a little bit higher and keep on achieving that.”
For Phillips, she’s set her goal high.
“Eventually I want to be a partner at Oxford Dental. That’s my future for sure,” she said. And just, you know, to get more established in the community and learn what all Oxford has to offer.”
And when Phillips needs some extra encouragement in any of her endeavors, her husband Bridges provides all the support she needs.
“He’s really supportive of me,” she said. “He helped me while I was in dental school and has been a really great support system for me. And he almost always has a glass of wine waiting for me when I get home, so he’s a good one.”
Cameron Brown, Assistant Manager of Customer Operations at Old Navy
Cameron Brown in Oxford, Miss. on Wednesday, August 17, 2022. (©Bruce Newman)
Cameron Brown is always looking for new opportunities to be a leader in his community.
Since earning two Bachelor’s degrees in 2020 from the University of Mississippi, he has served as the Assistant Manager of Customer Operations at Old Navy, a position in which he can act as a mentor to fellow employees.
Brown, the oldest of five siblings, came to Oxford in 2015 from Winona. He has had the opportunity to sing twice at Carnegie Hall, once in high school, and once in college as a member of the Concert Singers.
During his sophomore year at Ole Miss, he began working at Old Navy as a seasonal brand associate. The company saw promise in Brown and kept him on after the temporary work period expired. He began to work his way up in the company, leading to his current assistant management position.
At Ole Miss, Brown took part in the Chancellor’s Leadership class, and he will soon graduate from Leadership Lafayette’s program that graduates prestigious community leaders.
“After college many people leave, but what made me stay is the sense of community,” Brown said. “No matter where you came from, or what background, color, or age, there is some commonality between everybody.”
The small town energy of Oxford inspires Brown to continue growing and learning in the community.
“Even though Oxford is bigger than Winona, it still feels small,” said Brown.
Brown will be starting a master’s degree program in the Spring at Ole Miss. His next goal is the same as his last, to find welcoming spaces where he can lead people and make a difference.
“When I first started at Old Navy I was shy and timid, but now I am the face of the store, and my coworkers encourage me to be better,” said Brown.
Ellen Thomas, Ellen Thomas Event Design
Ellen Thomas of Ellen Thomas Event Design made a business out of creating beautiful memories.
Ellen Thomas Event Designs is active in Oxford and across Mississippi, designing for corporate events and social events, but primarily weddings and rehearsal dinners.
Thomas found her event company after she graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2012 with a degree in Hospitality Management.
Raised in Grenada around her father and grandfather — both entrepreneurs— Thomas always knew that she wanted to open up her own business.
“My dad was an entrepreneur, my grandfather was an entrepreneur and they both own their own businesses,” Thomas said. “I just always knew that, you know, this is what I wanted to do.”
Though she grew up in Grenada, Thomas’ parents owned a condo in Oxford so she always thought of the small town as her second home. It was natural next step for Thomas to attend Ole Miss and eventually settle in Oxford and set up her business.
“I think Oxford is such a special place,” Thomas said. “People ask me all the time, ‘Do you love living in Oxford?’ and, you know, this is like a fairy tale and I don’t ever see myself leaving.”
As for her clients, Thomas is able to show off the best of Oxford and create their own fairytale moments through her events.
Most clients are alumni who attended Ole Miss and want to hold their wedding at their beloved alma mater, however a good number of her other clients experience Oxford for the first time through her business.
“It’s fun to see people that have never even seen the town before and they get to see this whole magic,” said Thomas. “It’s not just someone’s event, but the whole experience of Oxford as a whole. It’s really special.”
Thomas prides Ellen Thomas Event Group for its organization, but also for its ability to build relationships.
“They’re not just a file to us, or an invoice,” she said. “They are friends and we try to really build those relationships— not just with the bride and groom, but with the families as well. A lot of times we do the older sisters letting than the younger sister comes along. So that’s something that we really concentrate on and it really sets us apart.”
As Ellen Thomas Event Design works at creating one special day after another, Thomas has set her sites on growing her business even further.
“We have goals for a bigger staff and, not just one event in a weekend, but multiple events in a weekend,” she said. “We also want to have a storefront potentially, There’s obviously a lot of goals to come, so hopeful we will show Oxford what’s coming next.”
Nick Weaver, Blue Delta Jeans
A native of Cleveland and resident of Oxford for 13 years, Nick Weaver has made quite an impact on the place he is proud to call home.
Raised with a military dad who “made things,” creativity and work ethic rubbed off on the son. During his younger days, Weaver worked a series of jobs that fueled his need and desire to produce.
When he got to Ole Miss, he majored in history, with plans to become a baseball coach. “The world takes you where you go,” he said with a laugh about things working out differently. He’s quick to add that he would have stayed in college just “for the air conditioner and girls” – there was neither in 2005 when he was on the Gulf Coast to help with roofing for damaged homes after Hurricane Katrina.
As co-founder of Blue Delta Jeans and West Group Holdings, Weaver has worked tirelessly to create more than 200 jobs in the areas of manufacturing, emergency relief, software engineering and sales for fellow Mississippians.
Weaver, 39, and his partners are joint venture entrepreneurs and operators who help to create jobs and opportunities for their community and state. Weaver co-founded Blue Delta Jeans in 2012 and opened the flagship brick-and-mortar on the Oxford Square in 2014. Since then, he and his partners at West Group Holdings acquired Premier Countertops and started Nest & Wild, a direct-to-consumer mattress brand.
They have three factories in Tupelo as well as the storefront in Oxford. The team has executed other special project related to disaster relief with FEMA and the USDA servicing the United States and its territories.
Whether mentoring business classes at a university or speaking to groups of professionals, Weaver encourages aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners to succeed. “Oxford is so supportive,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people in this area.”
He and his wife, Augusta, have three children, Ezra, 7; Bessie Pearl, 5; and Johnny Rhodi, 2, and they live in Oxford, which he said is “the best community to raise a family.”
Meghan Anderson, City Grocery
City Grocery Group’s Operation Director Meghan Anderson lives unafraid of fast-paced environments and any challenges she may face.
“To be honest, I’ve always been a go-getter and have kept my plate full since a very early age,” said Anderson. Anderson’s early years were spent living in Mobile, Alabama, and Jackson before her family moved and settled in Lucedale.
After high school, Anderson applied to the University of Mississippi. Through her college experience, she fell in love with Oxford.
“I was majoring in Liberal Arts with minors in History, English, African American Studies, and Psychology — none of which have anything to do with Hospitality,” said Anderson. “So, when I started waiting tables at the newly opened Big Bad Breakfast in 2008, I never expected to find my future while being there.”
Anderson graduated from Ole Miss in 2009 and has continued to work for the City Grocery Restaurant Group in a variety of roles.
One day, Anderson overheard Chef John Currence and Chef Vishwesh Bhatt discussing their need for an oyster shucker in order to open the Snackbar. Anderson grew up near the water and had been taught how to shuck oysters, so she threw herself into the ring.
“This was one of the best decisions of my life while also being one of the hardest jobs I would ever do,” said Anderson. “I learned quickly that my skills needed to be polished and sped up to keep up with the needs of a full dining room. My hands calloused and my momentum increased in time. From there, I was given the opportunity to start working in the kitchen more seriously and spent a few years on the line and eventually stepped into the role of Assistant Pastry Chef under Dwayne Ingraham.”
As she explored her education, Anderson rose through the ranks at City Grocery Group.
First, to full-time management at both Big Bad Breakfast and Snackbar, then to Assistant General Manager at City Grocery and in 2017, Operations Director for City Grocery Restaurant Group.
Anderson said the hospitality industry has a history of being home to “misfits” and “troublemakers” who find it hard to fit in anywhere else. However, with their hospitality, they can find a home and a family.
“Oftentimes, restaurants are one of few places who will hire someone struggling with drug and alcohol abuse or who has been in trouble in their past,” she said. “I myself struggled with alcoholism and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities that I was given and the support I received. I’ve been sober for almost eight years [in October] and know that I wouldn’t be a Top 20 nominee without my sobriety or the support I’ve received from the Oxford Community.”
Josh McGlawn, McGlawn Services
Josh McGlawn is carrying on the legacy on the McGlawn name and making it into something bigger in the Lafayette-Oxford-Univeristy community.
McGlawn is well known as the director of McGlawn Services. The serial entrepreneur wears several other hats around Lafayette County and Oxford: CEO, writer, director, filmmaker, businessowner, podcast host, mentor and life coach.
“I always tell people, “Hey, my day job to construction,’” said McGlawn. “My night job is writer, filmmaker or whatever else I do.”
From his podcast Real Talk with Real Men, a show featuring men of all backgrounds discussing life issues, to mentoring the youth to creating affordable housing, McGlawn is finding his purpose in helping others.
“People search their whole lives for a purpose,” he said. “‘What am I here for?’ We’re not here for our sales and to amass all these things and money. We’re here to help other people. Once I figured that out, the journey has been quick.”
Before McGlawn made his own name in the community, he was known as grandson and son of Quinton and Taylor McGlawn, founders of McGlawn Services.
“McGlawn Services started with a dozer and a dump truck,” said McGlawn. “My dad and my grandfather 50 years ago this year and my dad kind of picked it up and started working with the different pieces of equipment.”
According to McGlawn, his father Taylor taught himself how to work every piece of equipment used in their services aside from the truck.
His father and grandfather’s work ethic and business sense were instilled in McGlawn.
“I grew up in the business from the time I was shorter than a shovel,” said McGlawn. “I was taught work ethic and I put the work in. In the past few years, I quit my day job and joined the business.”
McGlawn works with his father and mother Sheila keeping McGlawn Services contracting, exactivation and site work, demolition, renovation and new construction.
Outside of his main job, McGlawn has decided to add another hat to the rung: non-profit founder.
“I’m in the process of trying to formulate a novel nonprofit organization that oversees a lot of things to help level equality,” said McGlawn. “Not just the economic, but the social side of equality. I will be helping communities through facilitating partnerships between people.”
Through the non-profit, McGlawn hopes to connect people with the resources they will need to reach their goals whether it is to help an organization raise awareness about mental health or direct investors to developers trying to solve an affordable hosuing issue.
Tenola Plaxico, Articulate Photography
Tenola Plaxico has a large body of work, which is understandable considering his many talents. He’s a scholar, a violinist and a photographer, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
A hobby that began in college 12 years ago evolved into his main business, Articulate Photography, which he calls “the touchstone of my body of work.”
“I focus on the black family landscape,” he said of revealing the spirit of the culture and community. “Black families, models, business – the entire kaleidoscope of every facet of our ethos.”
A 2013 Ole Miss graduate, he went from studying engineering to journalism to literature. He found creative licensing in photography after realizing the grueling – and oft than not unappreciated – work of editing.
Plaxico works with Memphis Realtors, Ole Miss and other businesses, companies and projects with his photography.
“I’m grateful to be included,” he said of the 20 under 40 award. “The list of winners is so diverse. I just photographed the Top 40 under 40 for Ole Miss and I can appreciate how there are all kinds of recipients from all sorts of occupations listed. The varying stages of ages is also as important as the work we all do.”
He said the winners are also not pretentious, as every one of the winners is unique. He said the list “doesn’t just include what have been traditionally considered the most cerebral types of occupations.”
He lives in Oxford and said he’s glad to be here. “When you are isolated, not white and Southern, it can be difficult, but as a grownup, I came back and could appreciate what Oxford had to offer,” he said.
“It’s a tug-of-war of what has been and the future, and I think Oxford’s sense of community is outstanding. They care about moving forward.
“It’s exciting to see the work the community continues to do to move forward. It’s proactive and we’ll get there together because Oxford is committed to doing better, so it’s more inviting place to be.
“I chose to come back and make a life here and I’m so grateful at how supportive Oxford is.”
Erin Young, Olive Juice Gifts
Erin Young, 33, is from Senatobia. When she was in her senior of year at Ole Miss, she opened her business, Olive Juice Gifts, and she hasn’t looked back since.
“I’ve been in retail since I was 15 years old,” she said. “I’ve loved doing displays all my life. In my senior year, I was 21 years old and a space became open on Oxford Square. I jumped at the chance.”
Olive Juice Gifts offers gifts and catering to a college town, which was why Young found herself producing 500 baskets for sorority rush.
“I’ve always loved pottery, gifts and art, so I feature Mississippi made, locally made and Southern arts,” she said. “I’d say 75 percent of my inventory is Southern and local arts.”
A year ago, she expanded into a children’s store as well. “It was the next to happen,” she said. “There was a store that had closed [on the Square], and the store was a challenge I did not know I needed.”
Young said she doesn’t feel as though any of it is a labor. “I don’t feel like it’s work,” she said. “Oxford makes it really fun. I get to meet people every day, all day.”
Young has help in her endeavor – her husband, Council, is by her side to run the businesses.
“We were out of town when the awards were announced,” she said of the 20 under 40 competition. “We kept getting these congratulations messages and we had no idea what it was about. But it’s been amazing, awesome and exciting. It’s been humbling.”
Young said her family, which includes daughter Mary Mac, 2, lives in Oxford and “we love Oxford. The community is outstanding.”
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