Jon brings a can do spirit and humor to the organization. “I’ve run the Chile Pepper for many years, and now it’s my turn to help. Actually, Steve McBee (former Chile Pepper Board Member) tricked me into it.” Jon is one of the best runners in the area and enjoys trail running, ultimate frisbee, and townie cycling. He is an Engineering Manager at Kennametal. Jon claims to be a transplanted yankee, and has lived in Fayetteville since 1995. Jon’s most adamant requests of serving on the board are that Chile Pepper does its best to recycle and that he can run the 10K Open. He has also earned the moniker “Parking Czar” for his command of this challenging task on race day, and has assumed Presidential duties in 2015.
A 6th generation native of Fayetteville, Jay has enjoyed running in over a dozen Chile Pepper Runs…many in costume to celebrate the event. Jay is a competitive cyclist who was the 45+ Arkansas State Road Race Champion in 2009 and has crossed the US on a bike in 32 days or less, 3 times. He loves the freedom and spirit of running, and that carried him through 9 marathons and dozens of shorter events.
“This festival is important for Northwest Arkansas and the Lewis Family has supported it from the start. My late uncle Tom Lewis, (probably the world’s most unlikely runner who was bow legged and slow), always ran with a smile. He was steadfast in his support for Joe Fennel and the Chile Pepper for 20 years, and encouraged everyone around him to get out and run. I want to carry on that tradition…maybe not the slow and bow legged part…but to support the Chile Pepper and continue the great things it provides for our community.”
Jay has been involved with local and international companies in sales, and has held leadership roles in civic, school and professional associations. He is the proud uncle of Sara Caroline Mills, the Captain of the 2013 Girls State Champion Fayetteville Cross Country Team.
Ken has been active as a volunteer at the Chile Pepper since 2006. After running during his younger years, Ken and his wife Cathy re-engaged with the running community when their triplet sons (Brock, Quinn & Connor) began running Cross Country in the 8th grade. Ken was involved in creating a Cross Country Booster Club for his sons’ Junior High, then served as Vice President and President at their High School Cross Country Booster Club while also helping create a Track and Field Booster Club for the High School. “I love running sports and the effect they can have on our young people because everyone can participate to the best of their ability.” The Chile Pepper has always been a favorite event, both to participate in and volunteer at. “The cause of giving back to our local youth and their running endeavors is one we support strongly and the Chile Pepper is at the center of those efforts in NWA.”
A 1987 graduate of the University of Arkansas, Ken grew up in Northwest Arkansas and loves the outdoors. He and his wife host an annual float trip on the Buffalo River, now having occurred for over 30 years. He has been a Board Member of the United Way in Benton County, Washington County and now the combined United Way of Northwest Arkansas for over 10 years.
Ken has enjoyed nearly a 3 decade career with Wal-Mart in 2 stints, and he and his wife have recently purchased and operate the Yum Yo’s Frozen Yogurt chain. One of his favorite quotes is “When faced with any situation, you always have two choices in how you react, one positive and one negative.”
Natalie brings an energetic spirit not only as an organizer but as an active participant! During the week she works for Shell as an account executive, and keeps herself challenged on the weekends as an adventure racer which includes running, biking, boating and climbing to name a few pursuits. Her love for the Chile Pepper comes form running it several times and volunteering for different tasks over the years. She is undeniably the Merchandise Goddess and has brought a new sense of style and daring to the Chile Pepper Fashion.
Steve McBee tricked her into marrying him several years ago, and fortunately it worked out great!
“I got involved with the Chile Pepper Race to give back to the sport that has given me so much in life, and to help the next local kid to have the opportunity to reach his or her dreams in the sport.”
Reuben’s accomplishments are legendary. He was on a John McDonnell coached team for the University of Arkansas and graduated as a Razorback. During his career he was an 8 Time All-American, 2 Time NCAA Champion and a 1992 USA Olympian. He is the Head Personal Trainer at Fayetteville Athletic Club, who coaches several athletes in the local area. He helps coordinate over 300 Volunteers to support the event.
“I’m a big running fan, and love the outdoors. One of my favorite hobbies is fishing.”
Michael joined the group in 2014 after strong encouragement from his daughter Lorelei who initially helped with the race awards in 2012. Michael is a staunch supporter of the community, and he is a half marathoner and triathlete himself along with his wife Inger who also helps with the race. They all love Fayetteville along with with Mari, who attends the UA. Michael is Chief Operating Officer for voestalpine Automotive Components Cartersville, Inc. He is the Official Chile Pepper Nuclear Engineer who served on active duty in the Navy on submarines early in his career path. He has to his credit saving 2 lives; one during a potential electrocution in a submarine of a fellow service member and in 2019 a colleague suffered a “widow maker” heart attack and Michael administered CPR until paramedics arrived and took the man to the hospital and he recovered. .
Amy is a quiet, yet powerful and capable addition to the board. She is in charge of Registration, or keeping 5400 runners organized, which takes patience and skillful organization under fire. She has assisted behind the scenes for a couple years, and has eagerly stepped to the front. She lends her talents to help grow running in Northwest Arkansas, which is a passion second only to family; Ray, Kendra and Spencer. She’s a self described recycler, volunteer and iron chef in her kitchen creating masterpieces for the family. Amy is a Registered Arkansas Volunteer Coach working with Middle School runners in Rogers, and also a Dental Assistant…so smile when you see her corralling all those registration packets!
Bo is not only a board member, but his family donates to the Chile Pepper and he gets his company, Henkel, in on the act! He joined the group in 2016 first as a race day volunteer and has become more active in logistics, sponsorship and strategic direction. He loves the atmosphere and mission of the event, and brings a calm presence to the group.
Tom has been a resident of Rogers, Arkansas since 1994. He retired from Walmart in August of 2017 as a VIce President in the apparel buying office. Tom and his wife Vicki raised their two daughters, Megan and Allie, in NWA and have enjoyed running with them.
Vicki and Tom also love to travel the world and have done so extensively since Tom’s retirement.
Although he has always liked running he did not become a “runner” until 2013. His favorite race has of course been the Chili Pepper. “If you love running you will love this event. It is fun to participate, fun to watch, and supports young cross country runners throughout NWA.”
Advisor to the Board
Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Aaron grew up watching Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar and Mary Decker Slaney on the streets of TrackTown USA (Eugene OR) with his first track meet at Hayward Field. Aaron spent time overseas and in Silicon Valley after graduating from the Oregon State University. Never did he think that he would find himself again in an area with such a strong running culture and dominating collegiate program.
Jon Bitler suckered Aaron into volunteering at the Chile Pepper since 2010 and has helped out with everything from set up, trash pick up and course officiating on race day thru the 2017 race. When not behind the desk of his day job you’ll find Aaron on mountain bike trails. He is an avid skier, former scuba diving instructor trainer, an aspiring ukulele player and home brewer. Sadly, Aaron relocated back to the Northwest with his wife, Heather, and daughter, Brinley in late 2017 but still offers his enthusiastic support.
Advisor to the Board
“I love being involved with the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival because it includes junior high through masters athletes, promotes involvement in a sport that can last a lifetime, and gives significantly to the youth of Northwest Arkansas. From my involvement with track and field around the US, I also know that it is one of the premier cross country events in the country.”
Mike directs Christ on Campus, a non-denominational Christian ministry to students at the University of Arkansas. He also serves as president of the Arkansas Association of USA Track & Field and the U of A Track Officials’ Association and chairs the Officials’ Continuing Education Group for USA Track & Field.
He enjoys spending time with his wife and family; officiating track and field around the US; and playing racquetball. He served on the Board for many years and was President for 2.
Advisor to the Board
David has been involved with the Chile Pepper for several years. Running is a big part of his life, and he was on one of John McDonnell’s championship UA teams. He also swims now, and encourages his children and kids of all ages to get out there and run for the joy of the sport. He owns Center Coast Construction which specializes in building hotels, and enjoys the challenge of pulling together diverse resources to put together the Chile Pepper Festival. An interesting fact is that his oldest son Ayden was born in the wee hours of the morning on a Chile Pepper race-day (which David worked on after a short nap), and competed for the Razorbacks. Youngest son Dominick, a college swimmer, assists with course set up and drives the lead vehicle for all the races. David served as President for over a dozen years, and the event is still close to his heart and he loves to see the kids running!
Wanda Lanier Conway
Advisor to the Board
Wanda has been a CPA in Fayetteville for 20+ years. She enjoys her career, but finds most days are spent indoors. Therefore, she spends her “Free” time enjoying the great outdoors. She loves to bike, hike, canoe, and walk. Wanda got involved with the Chile Pepper organization because of her belief that cross country running is an excellent sport that is a lifelong pursuit. It is also a sport that is adaptable to the other constraints that are always present throughout your life. Supporting the high school cross country teams is a way for her to encourage young people to keep active, stay healthy, and get out and enjoy the outdoors. She served as Treasurer and was in charge of Registration for several years.
Her favorite Quote: “Do your best!”
Advisor to the Board
“Coach” is the retired head coach for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks track team. He began as the cross country track coach for the University in 1972 and became head track coach in 1978. Under his leadership, the University of Arkansas won 42 NCAA championships, including 11 cross country, 19 indoor track and 12 outdoor track. McDonnell retired after the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships. He enjoys spending time on his 2,500-acre cattle ranch, and has been involved with several non-profit organizations, including the American Heart Association and the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute. He works closely with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to promote prostate cancer awareness.
McDonnell earned his bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) in 1969, while competing to become a six-time all-American in track and cross country at USL, become the 1966-67 AAU 3,000-meter champion, and won the mile at the 1966 British Selection Games.
McDonnell is married to the former Ellen Elias of Bayonne, New Jersey and has two children, Heather and Sean.
Advisor to the Board
Mike’s favorite race is the Chile Pepper. He says because it supports the most runners and high school programs. He and his wife Ali competed in college on the University of Arkansas teams at Chile Pepper, and he has run the Open run in costume for many years. Rush Running has supported with contributions of at least $5000 per year since 2009 along with bringing every runner they can drag out to the course. He’s a linchpin of the running community, and it’s not just his support of the Chile Pepper, which is tremendous; he is a multiplier of the running community and helps dozens of events annually. He and his wife Alison own and operate their 3 Rush Running Stores in the area; Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers.
He’s very energetic, a great motivator and believes in giving back to the sport. He’s also lucky he married Alison years ago because she lets him get away with way too much stuff and takes care of their sons Miles and Trail.