Vera Stewart is a nationally recognized TV personality, cookbook author and entrepreneur whose career in the food and hospitality industries span nearly four decades. She is an accomplished speaker and covers a wide variety of topics, all of which are motivational. Vera’s philosophy is based on a winning attitude and passion for perfection. She currently has the cooking and lifestyle show The VeryVera Show, the VeryVera Cookbook Series, and VeryVera Cooking Camp, and VERA, a catering, concierge, and hospitality service for patrons of the Master tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
Lesley Witter, MPA, CAE, is NFDA’s Senior Vice President, Advocacy. In her role as NFDA’s federal lobbyist she oversees all government relations efforts, political action committee activities, legislative and regulatory programs, the work performed by law firms and outside lobbyists on behalf of the association and its members. Lesley is a Certified Association Executive and has a bachelor’s degree in government and international relations and a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University. She has been with NFDA since 2007.
Dr. Ruth Bedell
Dr. Ruth Bedell earned her Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology from Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Her doctoral research explored the relationship between emotional and intelligence and workplace bullying. She is the founder and lead consultant of Bedell Consulting, LLC. “Providing enterprises with exceptional people solutions.” She currently works for the Association of Independent Funeral Directors of Florida as the Associate Director for Outreach.
Dr. Sara Murphy
Dr. Sara Murphy, Ph.D., CT is a Certified Thanatologist (Association for Death Education and Counseling), suicidologist, and educator with over fifteen years of scholarly, pedagogical, and professional experience in the field. She is a faculty member at the University of Rhode Island and affiliate faculty in the Thanatology Graduate Program at Marian University. Publicly, Dr. Murphy conducts diverse and dynamic professional development and educational workshops and seminars on specialized topics of death, dying, and bereavement nationwide for businesses, schools, and professional organizations. Dr. Murphy is also a suicide and bereavement consultant, an expert witness on disenfranchised grief and on suicide, and a contributing writer for the National Funeral Directors Association.
Autumn Cooper is a Michigan native who currently resides in Rhode Island. She serves as sales representative with The Dodge Company, covering Connecticut and Western Massachusetts alongside her role as part time chemist for the company, a position she has held since 2020. Autumn holds both a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mortuary Science, as well as a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Sciences. She also serves as an Instructional Assistant for the Mortuary Science Program at Wayne State University. She is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in the State of Michigan and Rhode Island. When she’s not on the road visiting funeral homes or spending time in the lab, she enjoys collecting house plants, playing volleyball, practicing yoga, and cooking.
Amy Cunningham is a licensed funeral director and celebrant in Brooklyn who specializes in green burials in cemeteries certified by the Green Burial Council, simple burials within the NYC Metropolitan area, delayed transfers and home funerals, and cremation services in Green-Wood Cemetery’s crematory chapels. Filled with kind advice on how to make funerals more affordable and sustainable, Amy was profiled by the New York Times in 2014, Tricycle Magazine in 2017, and named one of nine top funeral innovators by FuneralOne, a leading voice for change in the funeral industry. In February 2018, Women’s Health Magazine gave Amy the unique moniker “Death Ritual Disrupter,” in a piece about how daily death contemplation and awareness can enrich our lives and keep us healthier. She has been a reliable resource to news reporters throughout the novel coronavirus crisis. Amy was a magazine journalist and blogger for thirty years before her Dad’s funeral in 2009 which peaked her interest in legacy work and earth-friendly dispositions! .
Nelson Thulin’s experience spans the course of over 35 years and includes independent ownership as well as corporate leadership roles. His management experience ranges from a single location serving approximately 100 families a year to multi-location markets serving over 3500 families annually as Director of Business Consulting Services at Johnson Consulting. Nelson has overseen the development of JCG’s Leadership and Management Academy, led nationally recognized JCG Customer Experience Workshops, and has facilitated internationally Strategical Planning Programs and conducts JCG’s highly rated Business Assessment Program.
Jasmine Brett Stringer
Jasmine Brett Stringer is a keynote speaker, award-winning author of Seize Your Life: How to Carpe Diem Every Day, on-air TV personality, and host of the podcast and lifestyle blog Carpe Diem with Jasmine. Jasmine is on a mission to help people live empowered and authentic lives. Through her Seize Your Life keynotes, workshops, and customized coaching sessions, Jasmine guides clients and audiences through a simple process to identify their goals and achieve their personal definition of success. She graduated from American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington D.C. She was named a Minnesotan to Know in 2021 by Twin Cities Business, Twin Cities Fearless Woman in 2017, and a Woman of Promise by the Girl Scouts in 2012. Additionally, she was awarded Distinguished Alumna of American University. Ebony Magazine featured her as one of its “30 Future Leaders Under the Age of 30 in America.” Jasmine is based in Minneapolis but can often be found two hours south of the city working with her husband at the family farm.
Kelly Kohut’s talent for business growth blends perfectly with her passion for helping funeral homes connect with more families through preneed. With a degree in marketing and an MBA, Kelly honed her sales and marketing skills in the healthcare industry before deciding to pursue a career with a purpose-driven company. She serves as Regional Vice President in Partnership Development at Precoa, where her incredible leadership and skill at cross-functional problem solving make her a key member of every team she is a part of..
Jenny McClanahan launched her creative marketing career with 20+ years at Cox Media, where she cultivated an unyielding passion for crafting compelling narratives and strategic campaigns. After transitioning into the agency landscape, she applied that passion to her work with funeral homes and became a driving force for fresh, creative perspectives in the profession. Jenny now serves as Creative Director of @need Marketing, fostering a vibrant culture of continuous learning and growth for herself, her team, and @need’s partners across the nation.