Four emerging leaders and a trusted advocate for young professionals were honored during the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce 4 Under 40 awards luncheon on Wednesday, April 10, at Harvest House of Boone.

Over 40 nominations were submitted by local community members and 16 finalists were recognized during the event. Nominees were sought in the categories of business owner, education, nonprofit business professional and rising star.

“When you examine the exploits of everyone who was recognized during this ceremony, you see they are all committed to helping Boone and the High Country flourish in their own unique way,” said David Jackson, president and CEO of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce. “These honorees will help further solidify the group of emerging leaders that will guide our region through the next several decades. To bring them into a room and recognize them in front of the business leaders that helped get us where we are today, only makes for a more collaborative relationship for all parties moving forward. We are excited for our four category winners, and Collins, and we are eager to see what this entire group does for our community in the years ahead.”

The sold-out event was presented by Appalachian Commercial Real Estate.

Business Owner

Joseph Miller, owner of COBO and Black Cat, received the 2019 4 Under 40 Business Owner award.

“This is really special, because of the people I’m running against,” Miller said. “I have the best family in the world and my businesses are nothing without the staffs.”

Miller is a Boone local who graduated from Appalachian State in 2007 with a finance degree and with over 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry. After graduating he moved to Colorado and worked in the sushi business for five years and then moved back to the High Country to open COBO in May 2013.

In 2015, COBO was recognized as a Top 10 Restaurant in Western North Carolina by WNC Magazine. In June 2018, he purchased Black Cat with his parents Wayne and Jenny Miller.

When asked what he valued most about his business ventures, he said, “The most important aspect of a company is the staff. My employees are everything to me and my businesses and I love them more than they could ever know.”

The other finalists were Zak Ammar of Vixster LLC, Ryan Costin of Beech Mountain Resort and Shae Jones of Ground Effects Landscaping and Maintenance.


The 2019 4 Under 40 Educator award went to Tierra Stark, assistant principal at Watauga High School and career and technical education director for Watauga County Schools.

“I have to say while this says ‘Tierra Stark,’ it should say ‘Watauga County Schools’ on it,” Stark said while accepting the award.

Stark is a product of a Watauga County Schools education, having attended Parkway Elementary School and Watauga High School. She attended Appalachian State University and then began her career with Watauga County Schools as a family and consumer sciences teacher at Watauga High School.

Stark later became a facilitator of career and technical education for Watauga County Schools, where she coordinated high school interns at community facilities, managed instructional content and the testing program, and helped teachers provide an equitable education.

She recently earned a Master of School Administration and moved into her current role as an assistant principal at Watauga High School and CTE Director. In this position, she works with community members, including Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, to implement and provide industry-aligned training to students while working with high school seniors to make their last year of high school count for their future.

The other finalists were Brian Bettis, principal at Bethel School, Matt Dull of Appalachian State Student Development and Geralyn Mitchell of App State Career Development.

Nonprofit Business Professional

The Watauga Riverkeeper, Andy Hill of MountainTrue, was awarded the 2019 4 Under 40 Nonprofit Business Professional honor.

“I’m grateful to be part of an amazing community who helps these nonprofits, as we go hand in hand,” Hill said in his acceptance speech.

Hill serves as the High Country regional director and Watauga Riverkeeper for MountainTrue. As a longtime fly fisherman, educator and guide, his intimate understanding of the area’s watershed fuels his ability to provide an experienced layer of protection to many areas.

Hill attended Appalachian State University, where he received his Bachelor of Science in outdoor experiential education and his master’s in college outdoor program administration. A graduate of the National Outdoor Leadership School, he thrives on using the outdoors as a source of learning and connecting people with our shared wild places.

Hill is active in the community as the founder of Fish Goat Guide Service based in Valle Crucis as well as the fly-fishing program at Lees-McRae College, with a mission to help connect students to clean, cold water. He serves an adjunct instructor at Appalachian State University, teaching courses in natural resource management, paddlesports and leadership and group dynamics.

The other finalists included Caroline Gandy of Blue Ridge Conservancy, Charlene Grasinger of the Western Youth Network and Holli Sink of Southmountain Children & Family Services.

Rising Star

The 2019 4 Under 40 Rising Star award went to Danielle Wade of Jackson Sumner & Associates.

“It’s amazing to look at what the next generation is doing,” Wade said in her acceptance speech. “Thanks to my dad for giving me the stars to shoot for.”

Wade graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in Spanish. After graduation, she gravitated to the family business, Jackson Sumner & Associates, Excess & Surplus Lines Brokers located in her hometown of Boone. While working as a P&C underwriter for nearly a decade, JSA experienced exponential growth during the 2000s.

Her responsibilities grew, eventually pulling her away from underwriting and elevating her to a leadership role in the company. She completed the NAPSLO Executive Leadership School at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in 2014 and after serving for five years as JSA’s chief operating officer, she was recently named president and CEO in January 2019. She is a past Under Forty Organization president and a past president of the NC Surplus Lines Association.

Currently, she is the chair of the NC Stamping Office and the chair of the Brantley Risk and Insurance Program at Appalachian State University. She is also presently serving on the WSIA Education Foundation Board as well as two national insurance carriers’ advisory boards. She was also recently recognized by Insurance Business of America as one of the Top Young Guns for 2016.

Other finalists included Caleb McGuire of Pub Cycle of Boone, Rowen Todd of Mountain Vista Window Washing and Julie Wiggins of the High Country Council of Governments.

Respect Your Elder

Despite being a part of the 4 Under 40 committee, Jeannine Underdown Collins of Underdown & Associates Inc., was still surprised when she was awarded the Respect Your Elder award.

“Every day is different, but I have all of you behind me,” Collins said.

Collins was presented the award by James Milner, CEO and president of Appalachian Commercial Real Estate, along with 2018 winner Jim Street.

“You smile because they’re in the room,” Milner said of Collins. “This person is encouraging young people on and off campus. Personally and professionally, I can always get an honest and straightforward answer from them.”

Collins is a native of Elkin and has lived in Boone since 1975. A graduate of Elkin High School, she was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and the Appalachian Ambassadors as an undergraduate and remains an active mentor for those organizations today.

She incorporated Underdown and Associates Inc., a real estate appraisal company, in January 1985 and still operates the business 34 years later.

She served on both the Yosef Club and Turchin Center advisory boards and has been a longtime member of the Appalachian Alumni Council, serving as president in 2003. Collins was a member of the Appalachian State Board of Trustees from 2005-13, serving as chair in 2009.

Her civic engagement was highlighted by serving on Boone Town Council from 2015-17, where she was a key advocate for the creation of the Boone Greenway Skatepark. Collins has served as a member of the Watauga Economic Development Commission, the Boone Tourism Development Authority, the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, High Country Board of Realtors and the board of the Southern Appalachian Historical Society during her career.

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