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Two alumni to receive Alumni Distinguished Achievement Awards

At the end of each semester, alumni from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire are selected to receive awards from the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association. A total of eight awards will be presented on May 23 at a luncheon and ceremony in conjunction with spring commencement. Two of the recipients are Shaun P. Merriman and Gary Berg who will receive the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award, which recognizes distinguished service to the community, state or nation in a manner that brings credit upon the recipient and the university. See the full list of award recipients. 

Merriman and Berg share their history and advice to graduating Blugolds.

Shaun P. Merriman '85, business finance

Shaun Merriman"I'm truly and humbly honored to be the 2015 recipient of the Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award. For almost 30 years, I have enjoyed a successful career in commercial banking, which has spanned the United States through a variety of leadership roles. It has been a journey of a lifetime!

I have so many wonderful memories of my career to date. One accomplishment of which I am most proud is that of successfully opening a new start-up community bank in Southwest Florida. In 2006, I took a leap of faith and left a Regional Bank president's position to organize the bank during the beginning stage of the great recession. Despite the challenges of that time, I managed a $19.5 million private placement capital raise, assembled a notable Board of local business professionals and hired a highly talented banking team. Within just a few years, our team created one of the most successful de novo bank start-ups in Florida's history — Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida in Sarasota. Since reaching profitability after just 31 months, our bank has posted nearly $8 million in profits for our shareholders, and total assets have reached over $238 million. 

Our outstanding financial results and commitment to excellence have been acknowledged locally and nationally. The success of our bank has been recognized with three separate Chamber business awards as well as various community service awards for our philanthropic work. In 2011, we were awarded the coveted Bauer Financial five-star rating for financial institutions on a national level, and we continue to maintain that same rating today.

I take great pride in being actively involved in the community, and I am a five-time recipient of the President's Volunteer Service Award, a national award recognizing such. Throughout my career, I have worked as a board member on various committees for at least 11 distinct non-profit organizations, serving as chairman for six of those boards.

I have been happily married to my wife, Wendy, for nearly 27 years! I strive each and every day to maintain a balanced life, and together, we have two wonderful adult children. Our daughter, Heather, is married, and we are now excitedly expecting our first grandchild. Our son, Matthew, is beginning his career in Colorado.

When I reflect on my life and career, I am grateful to UWEC. The education, skills and principles I received from the school, advisers and mentors have been an integral part of my development and success!"  

Shaun's advice to new Blugold alumni:  

"Stay connected to your mentors, never stop learning and always seek advice from those whom you respect the most. I learned this from three people who were instrumental in the early part of my career: Dr. Paul Vanderheiden, my finance adviser;Hugh Jones, a fellow 1978 UW-Eau Claire business graduate;and Dr. Gretchen Hutterli, my marketing professor.

Don't be complacent. Continue to challenge yourself. Dr. Vanderheiden, an amazing professor, worked closely with me on my senior project where I had to interview a professional banker and analyze a financial institution. He challenged me to ask the tough questions and drill deeper in my analysis by continually sending me "back to the drawing board." His expertise, guidance and encouragement were influential in my decision to pursue a career in banking. Now, I do not hesitate to ask questions nor fear taking on tough projects. Most importantly, I never stop learning.

Maintain contact with people you meet, and work to excel in various areas. Mr. Hugh Jones became a great mentor to me. After interviewing him for my senior project, we developed a friendship and remained in contact. When the time was right, he hired me to work at M&I Bank in Wausau, and he helped me progress into an excellent credit officer and effective business development officer. Being strong in both areas is a rare combination that now differentiates me from other bank presidents.

Teamwork is important for success. Dr. Hutterli instilled the importance of creativity, brand identity and making a lasting impression, but what has resonated with me most is her passion for team collaboration. Banking is a homogeneous product and service, so differentiating our bank among 45 tough competitors in our market is a constant challenge which has been much more effectively met with a team approach, sharing ideas, strategies and best practices.

It is essential to maintain a balanced life, live within your means, support your community and work smart. These guiding tenets have truly helped me to be happy with a great sense of fulfillment while successfully managing stress, since life can be very stressful in so many ways.

One of my favorite inspirational sayings was from the legendary Packer's coach, Vince Lombardi, who was a terrific role model. He said, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor." If you are passionate about your career or any outside interest, you will always achieve personal success, which cannot always be measured in physical ways or means. These were the principles I learned by attending and graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire."

Gary Berg '79, English 

Gary Berg"My proudest accomplishment, without a doubt, is I feel I was a great dad to my son, Nate. Even though work and life got awfully busy at times, I feel I was there for him and was able to spend the needed time and attention to help him grow into the wonderful adult he is now. 

After graduating from UWEC I went straight to graduate school in Missouri, and after receiving my Master's degree in higher education administration I worked as a college administrator for over a decade. I then left that field to start my own company — G.L. Berg Entertainment —which has grown to be the largest entertainment provider in the Midwest, annually contracting entertainment and speakers for over 3,000 shows throughout the United States and the world. We represent approximately 100 professional comedians, musicians and variety performers (jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, hypnotists, aerialists, etc.).

As a resident assistant in Bridgman Hall, I saw first-hand the value in having people gather for really fun, positive, shared experiences and used that to create a company where we help those things happen for a wide variety of people at corporate events, on college campuses, fairs and festivals, theaters, and more.

In business, I am most proud of the company I have built based on honesty, integrity, hard work and a lot of creativity. I found a need in the marketplace and built a company around it, and there is still no one in the country that runs their organization like we do. Our customer loyalty and satisfaction is second to no one in our field in the world.  

Without our company, there are many amazingly talented musicians, comedians, jugglers, acrobats, ventriloquists, magicians, speakers and other performers who would not be able to share their talents with people all over the world. We have been the key to assisting these wonderful people make a living as full-time professional entertainers.

On the non-work side, I have loved the countless hours I have spent coaching children of virtually all ages and helping them reach their potential. I am thrilled that so many kids I coached still call me "Coach" as adults, and tell me how much they enjoyed playing for me and how much they learned from those experiences. I was a very involved, positive coach who always pushed but always made sure things were kept in perspective and that the whole game is about having a positive experience where players are challenged to be their best and also learn how to be good team members and friends.

I could go on as I have taught many classes over the years, sat on many boards, helped many organizations plan for their future success, helped many young people find their path in life, etc. These are all things I am extremely proud of and feel very blessed to have been able to do so far in my life. 

And I have been married to the same wonderful woman for the past 32-plus years."

Gary's advice to new Blugold alumni:

"The most important 'words of wisdom' I can share include the following:

Find something you truly love and are passionate about and then do the necessary work to be really good at it. Today, I am a successful business owner, and I was an English liberal arts major. Many important skills are transferable to many different careers.  

Be authentic. Pretending you care about things you don't or pretending you know more than you do takes you down the wrong path. Be honest and interested in all you do. 

Respect your career and all the people you come in contact with. You will most likely think you know more than you do, and in many cases there just is no tradeoff for experience. Sometimes you just have to go through the process and do the work to fully understand it and be truly valuable in what you do. 

Make sure you have fun in your life. All of us have today and are not guaranteed anything more, so you have to be responsible, but also remember that you have to enjoy the adventure that is life. Following your passion, working hard and taking some risks are all part of being successful in one's personal and professional life."