April 2017 Scholarship Recipients

April 10, 2017
Robert Biggs

Robert Biggs spent four years in the Navy as a non-commissioned officer from 1991-1995. Two years later, Rob joined the Army where he served as a combat engineer in the 82nd Airborne until 1999. Coming from a military family, Rob was inspired by the service of his grandfather, father, and uncles. “When Desert Storm kicked off, I knew that’s where I had to be. But by the time my training was done, the situation was over.” Rob attained the rank of specialist before transitioning out in 1995. After leaving the service, Rob has worn many different hats. He met his wife and started a landscaping and property management company, and then later transitioned to real estate. He had a successful real estate career until the market crashed, at which point Rob went back to school. “Restarting your career builds character,” he says. Rob is involved again with the military community, working as a PTSD and addiction clinician with the VA readjustment counseling service program in Tampa, FL. “It was a way to carry on in service to others.” As Associate District Director of Administration, Rob currently handles all of the administrative duties, including management of a $38 million budget. He has since decided to move into the field of financial services. “I want to focus on others first; what I get will come later.” By completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation, Rob will be equipped with all the skills he will need in his new service role.

Ralph Bond

Ralph Bond is a 20-year veteran of the Air Force. In fact, according to Ralph, “It is 20 years, 14 days, and 12 hours, but who’s counting!” He retired at the rank of Master Sergeant and currently lives in Cordova, TN. While on active duty, Ralph was responsible for over 2,500 airmen. In that leadership capacity, he managed and planned their deployments and the use of over $200 million in aircraft assets and parts. “I had no idea that I’d be serving for 20 years,” Ralph says. “But I fell in love with the Air Force and would have never retired if I didn’t have to grow up!” After retiring from the Air Force, Ralph was a small business owner for three years and an office manager for eight years. He has been a financial services professional for more than 10 years, holding the Series 6, 7, 63, and 65 registrations and his life and health licenses. Ralph says he believes that planning is an ongoing, continuous process that is constantly changing and evolving. “To that end, I guide my clients through a step-by-step process to determine their goals. I make recommendations to achieve those goals. Then based on the recommendations, I provide them with a solid plan for implementation.” Having recently completed the Chartered Life Underwriter® (CLU®) program, Ralph will go on to complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program to fully round out his expertise. “I have always wanted to serve others,” says Ralph. “When I was young, I didn’t know how to define and refine my life goals, so I decided to serve my country. Now I serve others through my profession.”

Rebecca Gels

Rebecca Gels is an active duty Navy Commander from Washington, D.C. with 29 years of service. She has always had a passion for finance and for service to others. “I want to do something to help people,” she says. In 2015, Rebecca’s son was diagnosed with autism, which has further galvanized her desire to help others. “Being a parent of a special needs child has opened my eyes to how few specialized certified planners there are practicing,” Rebecca explains. “I've often thought of taking on a role to help junior service members understand how money works but now, more than ever, I want to make a difference to those families with special needs too.” Rebecca will expand on her business degree by completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation, which will give her a strong financial planning base, and the tools and techniques to help families right away. “Saving money and investing isn’t hard,” Rebecca says, “but you need to have the right goals.”

Danaë Hoekstra

Danaë Hoekstra is the spouse of an active duty Navy Commander with over 17 years of service. Danaë herself has over 19 years of experience in the financial services profession. Starting with First Command when it was still known as USPA&IRA, Danaë developed a passion for helping military families plan for the future. “I believe that people deserve the opportunity to succeed financially,” she says, “but sometimes they lack the tools to do so.” When asked about her five-year plan, she replied that her ultimate goal is to teach others how to be financial professionals, spreading financial literacy as far as it will go. A holder of the Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) designation, as well as her Series 6, Series 63, and life insurance licenses, Danaë will supplement her considerable financial knowledge by completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation. “My experience in financial planning has taught me that the field needs to continually adapt and overcome the obstacles between immediate wants and long-term goals,” she says. “I believe The American College of Financial Services has the tools to further develop and reinforce my goal of spreading financial literacy, which will help others adapt and overcome financial security obstacles in their lives as well.”

Juanita Lazenby

Juanita Lazenby spent five years in the Navy working in telecommunication, attaining the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class and realizing a lifelong dream. "I always wanted to join the Navy as a little girl." Now, over 20 years later, Juanita is still connected to the military community as a Financial Readiness Program Manager at Fort Lee. "When you're young and serving on active duty, you don't know what you don't know. There's a lot of trial and error. I want to prevent others from hitting the same bumps in the road that I did." A holder of the Accredited Financial Counselor® (AFC®) designation, Juanita wants to expand her knowledge and skills by completing the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation. As a long-term goal, Juanita would love to establish a non-profit counseling service and stay connected to the military community, explaining, “The military is what I know, and what I'm passionate about.”

James Luster

James Luster spent eight years in the Army National Guard and transitioned from active duty in 2008 at the rank of Sergeant. He calls the experience humbling. “I gained a tremendous amount in leadership skills, along with the knowledge that not everyone is the same. It gave me a new appreciation for my own experiences.” After his time in the National Guard, James joined the family business, Luster Products, a nationally distributed haircare product manufacturer started by his uncle 60 years ago. After eight years with the company, James is now General Production Manager, but his passion lies in financial services. He holds both life and health insurance licenses, and says he loves helping people come up with a better plan. “I’m not a say-no kind of person, I’m a find-a-way-to-make-it-happen person,” he says. James will complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) program, which will give him a competitive edge and a greater skillset. “I have a mentor who says, ‘One of the best things you can give to your client is knowledge,’ and I want to learn more in order to do so.”

Luis Padilla

Luis Padilla is an active duty Army Master Sergeant currently based in Fort Hammonton, NY. Military service runs in his family – two of Luis’s uncles served, one during the Korean War, one during the Vietnam War. Luis joined the Army at the age of 18. “I wanted to travel and see the world, and serve my country.” During his time in field artillery, Luis had deployments during Desert Storm, and he was sent to Iraq for eight months as a section chief. “It was a good deployment,” he says. “Everyone came back
safe.” Now, 30 years after enlisting, Luis is looking at the next phase in his career to build on the management and marketing experience he has gained as a recruiter and career counselor in order to help people with their financial decisions. “I’ll always be grateful to the Army. Through the Army I found in me what I really like – helping others, bettering the lives of others.” While completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration, he will also be working on the Financial Services Certified Professional® (FSCP®) designation, which will equip him with the knowledge and skills to enter, and stay in, the financial services profession.

Larry Powell

Larry Powell grew up in a military family. “My dad was in the Navy, so were my uncles and cousins. I wanted to serve, but I didn’t want to be on the water.” At 19 years of age, he enlisted in the Army. Soon after that, concerns were raised about Larry’s health. “My blood pressure was an issue almost immediately.” After meeting with the doctors on base, it became clear that the issue was serious enough to require a discharge. From there, Larry went on to work in computer-aided design and launched a successful real estate career. “I’ve always felt that if I can teach someone to count, I can teach them to sell real estate.” Larry was picked up by American Family Insurance, and then went on to open his own property and casualty business. He recently sold that company to start Guardian Insurance and Financial Services, which he runs with his wife. “My wife is responsible for marketing and handling existing clients; I handle prospecting and presentations.” Wanting to expand on his years of experience, Larry will complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation, which will provide him with a comprehensive financial planning skillset that will help him take their business to the next level. “I want to be in front of people,” Larry says. “I like to help.”

Michael Shindelar

Michael Shindelar is an Active Reservist in the Air National Guard and has been serving since 2006. Currently at the rank of Staff Sergeant, Michael enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school. “At the time,” Michael says, “I had no idea of the impact it would have on my life.” He spent six years in Des Moines, IA, and was then transferred to Madison, WI, where he currently resides. His experience in financial services has so far been a positive one. Michael spent some time with both Modern Woodmen and Edward Jones. He got his current position at Wells Fargo while out door knocking for Edward Jones. One of the doors he knocked on belonged to a manager of Wells Fargo, who recruited him for his current position. Michael works with other advisors at Wells Fargo by taking their client referrals as these advisors begin to build a more fee-based practice. He wants to take the next step in his career and get education to back up his skillset. He will complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation, which will make him more marketable and allow him to provide better service to potential clients. “As an aircraft electrician in the Air National Guard,” Michael says, “I’ve come to understand the importance of attention to detail, integrity, and accountability. Those skills are equally important when working with someone’s life savings.”

Robert “Deaton” Smith

Robert “Deaton” Smith is a West Point graduate living in Hickory, NC. He served for five years in the Navy and attained the rank of Captain before transitioning in 2011. Originally, Deaton’s goal was to be a major league baseball player. One of his teammates played baseball for the Naval Academy, a path that Deaton was also offered. “I knew if I attended West Point, my baseball career would come to an end.” Then, September 11th happened. “That afternoon, I called the coach at West Point and accepted the offer.” Deaton spent his military career in leadership positions and was responsible for commanding combat service support units ranging from 32 to 177 people. During his first deployment, Deaton was responsible for 69 other soldiers. “I’m very happy that I got everyone home safe and sound,” he recalls. In his last military assignment, he served as Company Commander and managed a 177-person organization that provided logistical support to a 1,300-person battalion. It was during that final command that Deaton was rated the #1 commander in his battalion. After joining the private sector, Deaton had some career successes, but found that he missed the meaningful work he did while serving. “In the Army, I felt like my job actually mattered and I was doing the right thing – I missed that.” Deaton has since followed his passion for finance and investing and had a successful entry into the industry when he joined AXA last year. He has partnered with a local property and casualty firm, sharing leads and referrals. “It feels good to have the trust of an established company.” To boost his skillset and help further his success as a more rounded advisor, Deaton will complete the Chartered Financial Consultant® (ChFC®) designation.