40 Under 40

Steven Biller 40 Under 40 0 Comments

On a hot, but no less festive August evening, our editors and sizable photography crew converged on Viceroy Palm Springs to meet the Coachella Valley’s new generation of movers and shapers — the Palm Springs Life 40 Under 40.

Does the desert have that many crackerjacks?

We wondered the same — before receiving nearly 90 nominations for more than 70 individuals. Our selection committee cherry-picked 40 leaders and influencers, doers, and visionaries who excel in their areas of specialty — art and culture, architecture and interior design, fashion and style, tourism and business, politics and public service, philanthropy, and the environment.

 Thirty-four of the 40 checked in at Viceroy’s Presidio lounge, enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres, mingled and networked, and told us time and again that they had no idea the desert harbors so many smart, innovative, and creative people under 40 years old.

Well, it does. And the photo shoot revealed and celebrated the sophistication and vitality of a generation once broad-stroked as “slackers.” Born to be wireless, this crop of coffee-addicted overachievers tells a story of a bright future in the Southern California desert.

Wes Ahlgren
Director of Special Projects, Rilington Communities
Age: 39
“The face of the valley is changing,” says Ahlgren, who has lived here for only a year. That much is clear. Today, many valley leaders are transplants, he observes, but with the grow-ing focus on local [higher] education, “Future leaders will be homegrown.” For his part, Ahlgren is on his way to senior management. “His creativity in broadening his firm’s scope and revenues inspires his co-workers,” his employer beams.

Robert Bernheimer
Attorney, Indian Wells City Councilman
Age: 39
The average age (62) in Indian Wells only encourages the city councilman and former mayor. “If we want to shape our future, our generation has to step up and lead,” says the founding part-ner of the law firm Ferguson & Bernheimer. “I get a charge out of thinking ahead, being part of the planning process, and watching the people in the community experience the effects.” Bernheimer is president of Desert Cancer Foundation and a board member of Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention & Visitors Authority.

Trey Brennen
Director, S.R. Brennen Gallery
Age: 29
The ambitious art dealer balances his passion for early American Impressionism and contemporary Realist paint-ings and sculpture with a good measure of giving, especially to children’s hospices and charities. “If you don’t have young people contributing to the community, it’s going to fall short,” he says. “We are bringing new ideas to the table.”

Gabe Codding
Operations Manager, Kraft Nabisco Championship
Age: 30
In his position since he was 24 years old, Codding has this nationally televised LPGA tournament down to a science. In his role, Codding oversees an operations and logistics team of more than 40 full- and part-time employees and helps Mission Hills Country Club remain competitive on the contemporary golf scene.

Dr. Rene Dell’Acqua
Owner, Dell’Acqua Dental Studio
Age: 37
This talented and spirited pioneer of spa dentistry in the Coachella Valley also has a catalog company, Global Dental Concepts Inc., which supplies atmosphere-appropriate eyewear and uniforms. Mrs. California 2001 also created Operation Tooth Fairy, which provides free dentistry to underprivileged children in her Palm Desert office.

Peter DeMartino
Public Policy Coordinator, Desert AIDS Project
Age: 34
The former performance artist with a doctorate degree in Slavic languages and literature from University of Chicago has been a dynamic addition to Desert AIDS Project. “All about empowerment” of his patients and clients, he manages DAP’s policy and advocacy action network, focusing on local, state, and federal HIV policy issues. “You can’t just sit around and bitch,” he says. “You have to learn the language of the people in power. … I am surrounded by this collective wisdom. When I get that nod or pat on the back from my older brothers, I think, ‘Yeah, I did a good job today.’”

Charles Feddersen
General Manager, Mission Hills Country Club
Age: 39
The youngest general manager of any country club in the Coachella Valley has seen much success during his three years at Mission Hills Country Club. He grew membership and refined the board and committee structures. “That was a big turning point in the club,” he says, noting that the committees have 100 new members. “Now everybody feels like a true owner.” He gained the owners’ trust early by learning the property’s history and tradition, articulating a long-term vision that remains true to its core values.

Adam Gash
Regional Operations Manager, Bing Crosby’s Restaurant
and Piano Lounge
Age: 36
“There are a lot of opportunities here,” says Gash, who moved to the desert seven years ago to open and become general manager of Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Palm Desert. “Opportunity is the main reason [people under 40] want to stay here now. When I moved here, the area was perceived as being for a retirement home or second home.” Now he sees new university campuses and more nightlife that could help retain the area’s best and brightest personalities.

Robin Harding
Loan Officer, Palm Desert National Bank
Age: 30
The sky is the limit for young people in the Coachella Valley, says Harding, a Maui native who focuses on commercial lending and the needs of small business. “I see the possibilities as endless,” she says. Harding shares her financial knowledge with children in the Life Skills Program through Junior League of the Palm Springs Desert Communities.

Dr. Andrew Hayduke
Chief of Plastic Surgery, Eisenhower Medical Center
Age: 37
A member of the elite American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, this Michigan native, here since 2003, does plenty of nips and tucks, but his mastectomy reconstruction sets him apart. He also donates his time to Gilda’s Club and Operation Smile, which dispatches him to other countries to repair childhood facial deformities, particularly cleft lips. “It’s somewhat of an easy fix,” he says, “but there’s no one in these areas to do it.”

Jonathan Heath
General Manager, Viceroy Palm Springs
Age: 35
Since becoming general manager of the gem of Kor Hotel Group’s distinctive boutique portfolio last January, Heath has made it a place to see and be seen. The affable Aussie has infused Viceroy Palm Springs with cutting-edge amenities and hosts events that attract a delicious mix of celebrities, in-the-know tourists, and the cream of Coachella Valley’s Generation X. He was previously development manager at London’s SoHo House and a professional chef.

Christian Hohmann
Director, The Hart Gallery
Age: 32
Hohmann has a charming way of educating people about art from his native Germany and other parts of Europe. His passion is the foundation of fascinating gallery lectures — often with sales proceeds benefiting charities, such as Desert Cancer Foundation and McCallum Theatre’s Muses. “I’ve been here four years, and even I can see all the changes people my age are making,” he says. “It’s getting younger and faster. I don’t want to leave.”

James R. Houston II
President, Houston Family Foundation
Age: 37
As president of one of the largest family foundations in California, he runs daily operations with a measure of expertise in financial planning, business practices, philanthropy, corporate governance, and good ol’ gentlemanly behavior. “I see the ability to network as the best way to come together, raise money, and make a difference,” he says. “A big challenge for a long time has been the number of charity organizations in the valley and people saying, ‘Who should we support?’ I say, [support] whatever is dear to your heart. You start from there.”

Janine Iezzi
Administrator, Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
Age: 31
As player relations and special events administrator for the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, which supports more than 40 local charities, Iezzi has imparted her knowledge of these organizations to fellow members of Junior League Palm Springs Desert Communities. She is beginning her second year as a Junior League board member.

Stephanie Johnson
Senior Associate, Lynne Bushore CPAs
Age: 37
A graduate of California State University, San Bernardino’s Palm Desert Campus, Johnson keeps a sharp eye on her clients while imparting budgeting and credit skills to the youths she mentors in the Life Skills Program of the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley. She is active in Junior League Palm Springs Desert Communities.

Ethan Kaminsky
Owner, Kaminsky Productions
Age: 36
The longtime Coachella Valley resident and graduate of the prestigious Art Center College of Design made a name for himself as a commercial photographer and recently expanded his firm to offer a wide range of media services. He has been a contributing photographer to Palm Springs Life for 12 years and is one of the desert’s talented natives.

Maria Kiner
Partner, The Resource Group
Age: 39
Kiner looks holistically at personal finance: “As an asset manager and personal CFO of sorts, I look at people’s lives — their investments, their hopes and dreams — and I try to guide them financially,” says Kiner, who moved here in 2001. “I wondered if I would ever meet anyone my age,” she says. “I joined some organizations and I met moms through our kids. Another nice thing about this town is that everyone is from somewhere else; we have that common need to meet other people and make a connection.”

Kristy Kneiding
Marketing Manager, City of Palm Desert
Age: 34
Dynamic and enterprising, Kneiding takes responsibility for the city’s sophisticated image through media; special events; and endless promotional initiatives, including national campaigns for the city’s public art, energy management, and visitor center campaigns. “Visibility is important,” she says. “It carries on the tradition of building community. It’s important for the young people to pick up where the older generation has left off, being responsible with our growth and development, and that includes education and philanthropy.”

Theresa Maggio
Marketing Director, Bighorn Golf Club
Age: 37
Class and confidence prevail in every creative initiative this marketing pro undertakes — both for her employer, Bighorn Golf Club, and the nonprofit organizations for which she volunteers (including Sacred Heart School and Xavier College Preparatory). “I think I brought the youth and vitality [Bighorn was looking for],” says Maggio, who produces more than 70 member events a season and supports more than $300 million in home sales. Looking at the group of 40 under 40 as an indicator of the Coachella Valley skewing younger, she says, “I think there are more dynamic people on the horizon.”

Kimberly Nichols
Communications Director, Palm Springs Art Museum
Age: 33
Energetic and visible in the community, the Coachella Valley native is leveraging a busy publicity career’s worth of networking to the museum’s advantage. She held the same post at Desert AIDS Project prior to forming her own PR firm. She also writes poetry, paints, and donates time to Equality California and Palm Springs Opera Guild. “The secret to success is getting involved in the community,” she says. “The valley is still small enough that there are a lot of relationships that can be made.”

Adam Ochoa
Managing Partner, Peterson Slater & Osborne
Age: 39
The chair of Leadership Coachella Valley is a board member of the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce and St. Theresa School and is active in numerous professional associations. “It’s so rewarding to give back and get involved,” he says. “From a business standpoint, it’s the only way you are going to succeed.” Ochoa, a valley resident for 11 years, concedes, “It’s sometimes hard to put trust in a young face; but if you are sincere and work hard and get involved, people see you do have skills and experience.”

Kyle Schertzing
Design Manager, Holt Architects
Age: 23
The 2005 University of Michigan graduate came to the desert on an internship and has since positioned himself nicely into the local architecture community. “I’m interested in sustainable, responsible design that respects what is established and has a vision that’s just beyond reach,” he says, “and then bleeding to make that happen.”
His winsome personality and technical understanding of foundation, structure, interiors, landscaping, lighting, art, and all things engineering ground him for an exciting career.

David Roth
Education Consultant/U.S. Congressional Candidate
Age: 36
In a place where gas prices are among the nation’s highest and high school graduation rates among the lowest, this La Quinta Democrat is challenging U.S. Rep. Mary Bono for the 45th District seat. Roth, a first-time political candidate, was appointed to the California Student Aid Commission in 2000 and co-founded Pathways to College Network, a collaborative to help “under-represented” high school graduates gain access to higher education. He is also an accomplished drummer and magician.

Kristie Porter
Assistant Vice President, Pacific Western Bank
Age: 36
“There’s a lot of young talent moving into the desert,” says Porter, who specializes in business development at Pacific Western Bank in La Quinta. “The lifestyle is the biggest marketing tool [for recruiting], but education is the key to making thing happen.” A graduate in advertising from Northern Arizona University, Porter is active in Junior League Palm Springs Desert Communities and St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church.

Alicia Ruttenberg
Vice President, Treasury Service Division, Rabobank N.A.
Age: 31
The Indio native has earned numerous professional accolades and volunteers at local elementary schools to teach the importance of saving money and learning good spending habits. “I stayed [in the valley] because I wanted to see what it would turn into — and it’s amazing,” Ruttenberg says. “It’s a great mix of people from all over the world.” Active in a variety of community and civic groups, including Women Leaders Forum, Ruttenberg is a devoted single mother of three high-achieving children.

Kerry Ryan
Assistant Tournament Director, Samsung World Championship
Age: 26
Since earning a communications degree from Villanova University in Philadelphia, Ryan has immersed herself in sports, first as a production assistant with NBC Sports. Her passion for golf led her to Palm Desert, where she works for the Samsung World Championship at Bighorn Golf Club. She also travels to work on other tournaments. “A lot of young and successful people are driven and have the desire within,” she says. “I have developed really great friendships with a lot of young professionals who are full of life.”
Jasenka Sabanovic
Life Coach
Age: 30
This Bosnia native fled to Germany amid the horror of her nation’s civil war, was denied asylum, and came to the United States in 1999. She earned an economics degree at University of California, Berkeley, but — considering all she had experienced — found her calling as a life coach. A member of Women Leaders Forum, she has coached professionals who work for major companies and owners of small businesses, as well as individuals seeking personal and spiritual growth.

Deborah Schwartz
Coordinator, Palm Desert Art in Public Places
Age: 35
With public art so important to the City of Palm Desert, Schwartz has become integral to its Art in Public Places Program and an unsung hero for the visual arts in Palm Desert. “The younger population is growing and making a significant difference,” she says. “I think we bring a fresh eye to the desert. We bring a different type of vitality to the community.”

Phillip K. Smith III
Artist, Architect
Age: 32
Smith the architect (with 10 years of schooling and working in New York and Boston) is a longtime desert resident interested in conscientious development, humanitarian projects, and an incorporation of the creative cultural spirit. Smith the artist recently showed his sculptural cylinders in New York. His local design projects include Family Life Center for the Palm Desert Community Presbyterian Church, commercial buildings, custom homes, and master planning for Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. He chairs (and is the youngest member of) Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architectural Design Council.

Tom Snyder
Public Affairs Coordinator, Time Warner
Age: 39
The Leadership Coachella Valley graduate spearheaded Time Warner Desert Cities’ 25 Best Moms Essay Contest and Awards Luncheon and created its Strike Back at Cerebral Palsy campaign. He participates with numerous charities.

Andrew Starke
Owner/President, Palm Springs Power Baseball Club
Age: 26
He brought the boys of summer into the heat of the desert as
the Palm Springs Power. The Mercer University and Leadership Coachella Valley graduate worked in marketing for the Orlando Magic and was director of sales for the Long Beach Strikers baseball club before founding the local team. The Power is the only summer collegiate squad to have a television contract that aired games six nights per week.

Dr. David Tahernia
Spine Surgeon
Age: 39
The co-director of The Comprehensive Spine Center at Desert Orthopedic Center moved here with his young family three years ago. The spine surgeon says he went to medical school for the right reason: “I am really into furthering the kind of work I do, so I participate in a lot of research projects. I try to do what I can to get the best care for my patients.”
He also takes voluntary trauma calls at Desert Regional Medical Center and devotes time to a new cervical disc replacement study, a potential alternative to fusion surgery.

Nathan Teutle
Age: 28
This ambitious photographer has worked with CNN and the Atlanta Journal; and his work has appeared in Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Variety. He came to the Coachella Valley for family reasons and is creating an ad agency while freelancing for local publications such as Palm Desert Magazine.

Kajsa Thuresson-Frary
Director, McCallum Theatre Institute
Age: 39
The Sweden-born director of McCallum Theatre Institute — the cultural institution’s educational arm — has introduced 34,500 Coachella Valley and High Desert schoolchildren to the performing arts. Her three children certainly inspire her passion for arts education. The graduate of University of Gothenburg, Sweden, is also a singer/songwriter recording her second CD of original work.

Lisa Vossler
Events Manager, Palm Springs Art Museum Associates Council
Age: 36
The museum has a relatively new staff member with a familiar last name. Her grandfather, Ernie, is legendary for developing numerous golf course communities, and her mother, Judy, is renowned for her work in golf, hospitality, and philanthropy. Lisa, who learned how to throw a party while living for six years in New Orleans’ French Quarter, returned to the desert to work on The Skins Game and Samsung World Championship golf tournaments. Now, the UC Irvine graduate is focused on Palm Springs Art Museum. “I have a long-term interest in our community,” she says. “I hope to make 50 Under 50 and 60 Under 60.” To be recognized, she says “takes certainly hard work, but also a willingness to get involved, to ask the right questions, and to listen, because we have such great mentors here.”

Karen Wagner
Manager, Palm Springs Mall
Age: 37
The board member of Leadership Coachella Valley and one-time Rancho Mirage Chamber of Commerce Business Woman of the Year was a co-chair of the Concert for Katrina and, at press time, looking for her next full-time, professional challenge. “I feel fortunate to have held positions in the valley that allow me to give back to the community,” she says. “[Young people] have to step up and take care of our organizations. Don’t just talk about it — be active.”

Desire Washington
Director of Spiritual Care, Betty Ford Center
Age: 31
Bright, articulate, and passionate, the University of Virginia graduate (with degrees in English and psychology) parlayed her master’s degree in Christian counseling from Oral Roberts University into a dynamic role as director of spiritual care at the world-renowned Betty Ford Center. “I feel like I help make a change in people’s lives,” she says. “People who are searching for something, even if they are only here a short amount of time, I can see their lives change before they leave.” Washington also lectures on spirituality and recovery, continues course work through the California Association of Addiction and Abuse Counselors, and provides private consultations at Victory Christian Center as a licensed minister.

Troy Zimmerman
Principal Designer, Jeffrey Jones/Troy Zimmerman Interior Design Inc.
Age: 32
The Indio native has appeared on HGTV, gives student tours of desert interiors, and speaks to groups on color theory. He excels in luxury home and furniture design. “My philosophy is that every client’s home is different, so I design for that specific client,” he says. “I end up designing most every piece for the house in lieu of
shopping. We’re working on our own furniture line. We have ended up with literally hundreds of designs that never reach the masses.”

Kimberly Yang
Executive Director, Desert Family Medical Center
Age: 38
Yang created the model Life Skills Program taught through the Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley, was president of Junior League Palm Springs Desert Communities, and serves on the board of Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. She’s working through political channels to make the Life Skills Program a high school graduation requirement. “You have to make strategic decisions, and it was a strategic decision to move here [from New York],” she says. “I was taken by how inviting and kind people have been to me in the five years I have been here. The Coachella Valley is such an example of the American dream.” 

Candid pictures: Sherri Breyer-Mardones and Elena Ray
Interviews: Steven Biller, Janice Kleinschmidt, Joan McKenna Van Rijswijk, and Lisa Marie Rovito
Makeup: Kristian Eccles and Travis Hiner of Chip Tuvman Makeup at J. Russell Salon, Palm Desert

The "40 Under 40" Photo Gallery


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