40s & Fearless

In March 2022 by Raleigh MagazineLeave a Comment

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They say “youth is wasted on the young”…  and we see that play out fervently across stage and screen (from social to the big screen). We are wired to expect our global “youth” to make the big moves. Think Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—and, love him or hate him, the Oscar-stealing screen tribute Social Network. Think Jerry Maguire’s corporate rescript (“You’re my ambassador of Quan, man”), Erin Brockovich’s takedown of big-biz bigwigs and so on. Think sports star LeBron James. Eco-activist Greta Thunberg’s “Gretta Effect.” And on and on it goes.

And while these peeps no doubt deserve the fanfare and the push to keep bettering the air out there from Wall Street to cyberspace to the eco-ether, that emphasis on youthful success has always been loaded with a not-so-subtle notion that you age out. After a certain age (25? 30? 40?), your dreams are supposedly dashed; your ambition, aimless and absurd. 

But as 40s & Fearless finalist Erica Heilmann, who rescripted her life to the open all-inclusive oasis Gathering Gallery, recounts: “We are not defined by our age.” Pastor-turned-startup founder and 40s & Fearless finalist Jason Butler agrees: “I hope we normalize big changes in life at any age because it’s never too late to embark upon a new journey. And the fun part about making changes in midlife is that all of your other experiences will enhance your new journey in surprising and empowering ways.” 

Amen to that. So it turns out youth is not entirely wasted on the young. Here to prove it are Raleigh Magazine’s 40s & Fearless. While overcoming adversity on any level is no doubt fearless, for our purposes, these fearless 40-somethings risked it all and made brave and bold choices. And while we salute all who overcome sickness or station, this elite cast is based on fearless ambition. Their monumental life changes prove it’s never too late to embark on a new journey, embrace a new endeavor, start a new chapter or make a difference… and just do the damn thing. 

Presented by Crabtree

Meri Clark

Multiunit Franchisee | Restore Hyper Wellness

The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Quit all the negative self-talk! Love yourself and respect your power. How you hope your own fearlessness helps break the stigmas of ageism and success? I joke that I am Meri 4.0! Each version is a better me. Where you volunteer? BLOOMHERE Fave Raleigh drink? Jolie-otine from Jolie Fave local retail shop? The Local Squirrel

“Everything is working out for me and the universe has my back.” Now that’s a mantra a fearless 40-something lives by. When ever-confident and driven Clark left her successful career in media sales in Chicago to come to NC, she knew things were going to work out for her. And after years of research and internet rabbit holes, she discovered Restore Hyper Wellness and went all in. She’s now the owner of three franchises (either open or under construction)—with more in development—and has fallen head over heels for Raleigh, namely for the City of Oaks’ welcoming community and plethora of opportunities. Cheers to that!


Jackie Ferguson

Corporate Director | Head of Content & Programming | The Diversity Movement

Your mantra? A candle is never dimmed by lighting another candle. Fave Raleigh drink? The Rico Suave at Cortez is an easy favorite. Fav local retail shop? Black Friday Market on West Hargett Street showcases and sells the work of talented local Black artists, designers and entrepreneurs. Fav podcast? The Donald Thompson Podcast, which highlights leaders nationwide, but often hosts inspiring leaders based right here in the Triangle If you could, who would you want to meet, dead or alive? I’ve always wanted to meet Anthony Bourdain. He made the world seem a little smaller by sharing the commonality and humanity in every culture he visited.

Ferguson is no stranger to the stress that comes with a leadership role—“sleepless nights, hours of practice and unyielding nervousness.” But leaning into the leader and community-builder she is, she stepped down from a supporting role to found The Diversity Movement, a full-service diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy. And it was the mission of her work—“which is bigger than me and the fear that I commit to overcoming,” she says—that gave her the daily courage to push through. And it turns out, being a leader suits her. In addition to leading and supporting a team of professionals to be fearless innovators, Ferguson also speaks to international groups of more than 600 people and hosts the Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox podcast, rated in the top 10% of downloaded podcasts globally. Clearly, she’s making that space outside her comfort zone look pretty… comfortable.


John Scarangella

Executive Chef/Owner | Northside Bistro & Cocktails

Your mantra? Don’t be afraid to be great. Worst advice you’ve ever received? It was from many different people in the last couple of years telling me it was too late for me to open my own business. What you love most about Raleigh? It’s diverse; it’s growing at a fast but healthy rate; and the people are all very supportive of the area. Fave Raleigh drink? An ice-cold Hell Yes Ma’am Fave local retail shop? Stuff ‘N Such in Lafayette Village 

Though he hates the phrase “school of hard knocks,” it pretty much sums up Scarangella’s life journey. He left his home at the age of 16 and went on to work with myriad great chefs—many of whom became his role models—with the goal of opening up his own restaurant one day. At the age of 42, that dream became a reality when, despite life getting in the way and timing being less than ideal, he pulled together a plan and opened Northside Bistro. When Scarangella’s not in the kitchen cooking up upscale bistro food, the Queens, New York-born chef enjoys sipping orange and habanero margaritas at Gonza, playing tennis at Millbrook Exchange Park and cooking with his son.


From left: Erin Riddick & Lauryn Colatuno-Stroud

Erin Riddick & Lauryn Colatuno-Stroud

Co-Founders/Co-Owners | Grazin’ Gals

ERIN: Your mantra? You own the pen that writes your story. Where you volunteer? Apex High School Food Pantry: We pack book bags and collect and organize donations for students with food insecurities. Best advice you’ve ever received? Never give up on your dreams.  The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Trust your instincts more. Fave Raleigh dish? Roasted chicken from Poole’s Diner Fav local retail shop? Swagger Fave podcast? True Crime Obsessed

LAURYN: Your mantra? Start where you are with what you have—just start. Who inspired you to become the fearless person you are? My mom. I watched her start over in her 40s—she was Superwoman. What you love most about Raleigh? It’s such a young city with so much growth. We have an incredible restaurant scene and lots of festivals and community events—there is always something going on. Fave Raleigh dish? Crispy pig head from Stanbury Bingeworthy TV show? New Girl

Who wouldn’t want to run a charcuteries business with their best friend? The pause of course is in the risky endeavor. But, pushing any fears aside, both Riddick and Colatuno-Stroud left their jobs in 2020 to do just that, and they’ve been “embracing the chaos” ever since. The entrepreneurs and gal pals are both wives and mothers (and dog moms!), and, when they’re not making beautiful meat-and-cheese masterpieces, they enjoy working out around town—Riddick with tennis, and Colatuno-Stroud at FlowCORPS, Midtown Yoga and other local boutique fitness studios.  


Mike Iannelli

Co-Founder & CRO | Ablr.

Your mantra? Accessibility and inclusion for all—no exception The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Be present. Be selfless. How you hope your own fearlessness helps break the stigmas of ageism and success? It is never too late, nor are you ever too old, to make life-changing pivots. What you love most about Raleigh? The quality of life—I love it. If you could, who would you want to meet, dead or alive? Babe Ruth—a cold beer and a cigar at old Yankee Stadium

It was a trip to LCI, the largest employer of Americans who are blind, two years ago that changed Iannelli’s life. After seeing firsthand the barriers visually impaired people face daily while trying to access the web, this self-dubbed “grateful, humbled and honored” dad of three decided to do something about it. Inspired by his own supporting cast—dad and friend Bob Iannelli, mentor and friend Don Thompson, and partner and friend John Samuel—Mike’s mantra became “no exceptions”—yielding his passion to ensure people with disabilities aren’t left out. Enter Ablr. a disability inclusion and accessibility company that removes digital barriers for those who are blind, offers disability inclusion training and consulting, and helps professionals with disabilities find jobs. “I invested most of my life building wealth for large organizations and was left feeling completely unfulfilled for years,” says Iannelli. “I want to be remembered—remembered for good.” As an ally of the disability community who’s making strides for those who are blind, looks like he’s sure to leave a lasting legacy.


Jason Butler

Co-Founder | SupperTime

Family status? The Brady Bunch The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Make big investments in Amazon, Apple—and the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016.  Worst advice you’ve ever received? Try the beet salad. Fave podcast? Freakonomics Bingeworthy TV show? Peaky Blinders

After spending the whole of his 20-year career as a pastor, this skydiving, Harley-riding, gardening strategic thinker and compassionate leader resigned from the ministry, enrolled in NC State’s Jenkins MBA Program and launched a new startup business. Believing there is a solution to every problem, the compassionate, driven, innovative—and hilarious—co-founder leaned into the life lesson “not to make life decisions based on sunk costs” and took the deep-dive into Raleigh’s entrepreneurial community with his SupperTime startup: a platform connecting would-be diners with Airbnb-style in-home local cooks in North and South Carolina and Tennessee for unparalleled food experiences. So, feeding our stomachs and souls.


Raven Rassette Byrne 

Director of Student Life and Pro Bono Opportunities
Campbell University School of Law 

The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Embrace the season of life you’re in. Value people and connection over achievements and perfection. Learn to love and value the journey over the destination. Best advice you’ve ever received? The things that you do every single day, the things that don’t look dramatic—that don’t even look like they matter—do matter. They not only make a difference—they make all the difference. How you hope your own fearlessness helps break the stigmas of ageism and success? Life is too short not to pursue your passion. There is no age limit on success, and wisdom and beauty can be found with age and life experiences. Where you volunteer/passion projects? Served on board of directors for GiGi’s Playhouse and Hands of Compassion International Fave local retail shop? Swoon Boutique

Self-described ambitious and hardworking Byrne originally closed her law practice and walked away from her career as a litigation attorney to “be a more present wife and mother” before deciding a few years later to—instead of returning to litigation—give back and enter the world of higher education administration at her alma mater, Campbell Law School. Extending her philanthropy, Byrne also volunteered for Guardian Ad Litem and did short-term mission work that focused on child services in Ecuador and the Dominican Republic while also acting as a pro bono attorney for Wake County’s Project Together to provide fee-free legal services to those in need of counsel. Giving up the cushy life to give back to nonprofits? Now that’s a fearless—and selfless—act.


Shelley Willingham 

CEO + Chief Business Strategist | Douglas Alexandra
VP of Business Strategy | The Diversity Movement

Your mantra?Borrowed from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, and failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? Brace yourself. It’s about to get a little crazy. You’re going to make some poor choices and tons of mistakes. Some days you’re going to want to give up. But you’re going to be OK. In fact, you’re going to be better than you ever imagined. Who inspired you to become the fearless person you are? My parents are my inspiration. They always instilled in me to never give up; to always work hard; and if I want something, to go get it. Their unwavering support over the years has been instrumental in my journey to push past fear and do it anyway! Best advice you’ve ever received? Always play offense—in business and in life. Fave Raleigh drink? Basil Smash from Foundation

Willingham was 40 years old when things took a turn for the worse and she lost everything—facing foreclosure, bankruptcy repossession, and going through a divorce. After working a “safe” job for a couple of years, she threw caution to the wind and risked it all to start a new business—and a new life—to share her story with others. The self-described resilient, determined, committed mother of two now knows that “every bad choice and every mistake you make will give you the muscle and grit you need to become the very best version of yourself,” she says. And the most important thing she’s learned? It’s never too late to make a change.


Erica Heilmann

Owner | Gathering Gallery

The thing you’d tell your 20-year-old self now? The best thing you can do for yourself and the world is be yourself and love yourself. Who inspired you to become the fearless person you are? When I found out Julia Child started learning to cook when she was 40, a light came on. I no longer felt limited by age. Pets? Two cats we rescued from Cause for Paws: Hattie, a gray and white tuxedo cat; and Stuffin’, a brown and black tabby. Bingeworthy TV show? Ted Lasso Fave Raleigh drink? Obituary from Aunty Betty’s

“I realized I wanted a retail space of my own and made it happen,” says Heilmann—so essentially Jennifer Lawrence in Joy sans the dreary rundown house sitch. In Heilmann’s version, her former vintage resale biz Man in the Moon Vintage and local pop-up markets and trunk show booths helped her find her passion—that and some damn good advice. After applying to be part of female entrepreneur coworking space The Locality, founder/owner Emily Grey looked her in the eyes and said, “‘You are resilient,’ and ‘you can do this.’ … For a woman so successful to see potential in me was life-changing,” says Heilmann. Ergo, the “silly, creative, loving” single mom of two stepped away from her successful teaching career and Cary home to set up shop (literally) in DTR with Gathering Gallery, dedicated to selling local eco-friendly, handmade, fair-trade, women-opened or Black-owned curated wares. The peaceful all-inclusive space also extends the magnanimous maven’s mission to make an impact, employing adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. “I call Gathering Gallery ‘the store the community built and the community the store built,’” she says. With an MO via Maya Angelou to “be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud,” Heilmann is “deeply committed as a person and a store owner to support the community around me.” It’s a colorful life, indeed.

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