EmBe Board of Directors
Accomplishment of a Common Task
An annually elected Board of Directors governs EmBe providing leadership and vision to our organization. The board of directors consists of influential women and men of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds ranging from human resources and law to finance and communications.
2016 EmBe Board of Directors
Burke Blackman,Chair - Burke joined the board in 2013. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his MBA from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the president of Egger Steel Company in Sioux Falls. Burke is also a board member of the Central Fabricators Association, the Sioux Falls Development Foundation and the South Dakota Technology Business Center. He enjoys outdoor activities with his wife and two daughters, including skiing, sailing and mountain biking.
Dr. Amy Bialas, Vice Chair- Dr. Bialas joined the board in 2014. She currently serves as Executive Director of Medical Education for Sanford Health and Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota. Previous to that, she served as Assistant Dean of Graduate Medical Education at the Sanford School of Medicine. Dr. Bialas received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, her master’s degree from South Dakota State University, and her doctor of education degree from the University of South Dakota. Dr. Bialas also serves as a Board of Directors member for the Center for Family Medicine and the SD Health Occupations Students of America. Amy is married with two sons. She enjoys running, golfing, traveling and participating in her sons’ sporting events.
Alex Halbach, Treasurer - received his BA in Political Science with a minor in Business Economics from South Dakota State University in 2007 and his Masters in Business Administration and Juris Doctorate from the University of South Dakota in 2010. Alex was hired as an associate for Cutler Law Firm, LLP in 2010 and became a partner with the firm in 2015. Alex practices in the area of business and corporate law. Alex is also an owner of The Ideal Weigh, Inc., a weight loss business with locations in Sioux Falls, Yankton, Brookings and Luverne, Minnesota.
Anne Rieck McFarland, Secretary- Anne holds a BA degree in Community Services/Early Child Development and has had an extensive career in non-profit organizations. Anne serves on numerous civic boards and was the recipient of the 2011 Larry Oppold Memorial Award from United Way. Anne is serving her first term on the EmBe Board and is a mentor with the Women’s Leadership Program of EmBe and currently serves as the President and CEO of Lifescape. Anne and her husband Dennis have a daughter and son-in-law and one grandson. In her spare time, Anne enjoys spending time with her family, sailing, biking, birding and traveling.
Laurie Knutson, chief executive officer, EmBe.
Laurie has been with EmBe since 2007 and is a Minnesota native. She received her BA from USF and her MBA from USD. She has been involved with supporting the nonprofit work of the Sioux Falls community for over 20 years; as a volunteer and as staff and has a rich history in fundraising, health care and the financial planning industries. She is currently involved with the Downtown Sioux Falls Board, P.E. O., Kiwanis Club of Sioux Falls, Abiding Savior Free Lutheran Church and as a parent volunteer at Patrick Henry Middle School. She enjoys being involved in the activities of her daughter, traveling and spending time with her husband.
Board of Directors
Kendra Calhoun – Kendra is new to the Sioux Falls community but has a long history of board and community involvement. Kendra is a graduate from West Virginia University with a M.S. in Journalism, a B.A. in English, and B.S. in Business Administration. Kendra has been the Sr. Vice President of Marketing for Avera Health since 2013 and previously held executive positions with Amputee Coalition of America, Samueli Institute and Carmichael Lynch Spong to name a few. Kendra is also an experienced public speaker and has served on many boards. Kendra is married and enjoys mentoring, dogs, biking and reading.
Ellen Hamilton- Ellen earned a BS in Mass Communications and English form the University of South Dakota. A Sioux Falls native, Ellen returned to Sioux Falls 5 years ago after holding executive roles for several national corporations. Ellen is President of Hamilton Consulting, a marketing and advertising consulting firm and Vice President, Business Development with Restaurant Trends, the leading research firm providing sales data to the restaurant industry. Ellen is an active volunteer in addition to her role on the Embe board, she is a founding board member of 100+ Women Who Care Sioux Falls, active with Minnehaha County Master Gardeners, PEO, EmBe Women's Leadership Program mentor, and pet assisted therapy with her dog Jackson. Ellen received the 2012 Special Service Award for outstanding volunteer service to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire.
Ellen enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and gardening. Ellen is a third generation EmBe board member.
Deb Herb-Sepich - Deb is the first dean of the Vecurevich School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership at USF. Deb co-founded Dolphin Software in Portland, Oregon before transplanting to her new role at USF in 2015. Deb is passionate about blurring the lines between higher education and industry and is excited about the entrepreneurial spirit in Sioux Falls. Deb and her husband are loving life in Sioux Falls and are happy to be close to their new granddaughter and her parents.
Lisa Irvine - Lisa is the Vice President of Internet Marketing at PREMIER Bankcard in Sioux Falls. She has been with PREMIER in various capacities for 19 years. Lisa received her BA from the University of Sioux Falls. She has been involved with several community boards. Lisa and her husband Jeff have two sons and she enjoys time with her family, travel and camping.
Robert Leech - Bob earned a BA in economics from Ursinus College, MBA in Management and Finance from the College of William and Mary and is a graduate of both the National Trust School and Trust Management School at Northwestern University, and holds the CFA and CFP Charters. Bob held a number of banking positions during his career, including President of U.S. Bank in Sioux Falls. Currently, Bob is CEO of REL & Associates, a financial services consulting firm, and serves on a number of community Boards. Because of them, he and his wife Kathryn became aware of the Women’s Leadership Program of EmBe. In his spare time, Bob enjoys boating, fishing, tennis and traveling.
Valerie Loudenback -Valerie saw a need in Sioux Falls and quickly became a champion of women by establishing a local chapter for Dress for Success. Her time and passion have been rewarded by serving over 100 area women in the first year. Dress for Success recently merged into EmBe and Valerie joined the board of directors. Valerie also continues to work at Grand Prairie Foods, the business she and her husband own, teaches Kindermusik and volunteers for her church and other non-profits in the area.
Sonja Theisen - Sonja earned her Masters and B.A. in Accounting from the University of South Dakota. She is the Chief Accounting Officer for MetaBank in Sioux Falls. She is currently involved in P.E.O, Junior Achievement, Lutheran Social Services Mentoring Program, Meta Women's Network and has served on other community boards. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her husband and three sons, traveling, attending sporting events, and running.