Show All Events
Volunteers
About Special Events Management
Contact Special Events Management
Special Events Management
2221 W. 43rd Street
Chicago, IL 60609

Phone: (773) 868-3010
Fax: (773) 868-0425

Email: mail@chicagoevents.com
 
Partner Pages:About Us
About Us
Special Events Management (www.chicagoevents.com) is by far the largest full-service producer of events in the Midwest. This includes many of Chicagoland's most popular and best-known runs/walks and art/street festivals. In fact, each year more than 500,000 individuals participate in SEM-produced runs/walks while another 1.5 million visit our art and street fests.

Among our marquee events are the Wells Street Art Festival, Belmont-Sheffield Music Fest, Northalsted Market Days, Puerto Rican Festival, L.A.T.E Ride Chicago, Taste of Lincoln Avenue, AIDS Run/Walk Chicago, Festival de La Villita, Roscoe Village Burger Fest and the Chicago Cub's Charities' Race to Wrigley (voted the top 5k in 2013 by Competitor Magazine), to name just a few. In addition, we are owners of the iconic annual Chicago Flower & Garden Show.

Each year SEM-produced events raise millions of dollars for scores of non-profits, charitable organizations and an eclectic mix of community, civic/neighborhood groups and chambers of commerce. Our corporate philosophy is best described as:
  • We're a company that's passionate about serving our clients, and about customer service.
  • We're a company with efficiencies that controls costs. We beat other event companies by in keeping overhead in check. These efficiencies offer value and increase fundraising returns for our clients.
  • We have a competitive advantage over other event management companies. With more than 25 years of providing professional, full-service production and management services for events both big and small, we're Number One for good reason!
SEM was founded in 1988 to fulfill the professional management and event production needs for both non-profit and corporate clients. SEM's wide-range of one-stop services include event planning; on-site logistics; budgets, accounting and financial planning; event consultations; marketing, graphic design and public relations; sponsorship sales; vendor/artist relations; staging and sound systems; talent/music bookings; security; cleaning services; security; and governmental relations that includes working with elected officials as well as police and sanitation departments, among others.

With 30 full- and part-time employees and a seasonal staff of 150, SEM produces approximately 35 runs/walks/marathons and 35 art/street fests in Chicago, its suburbs and beyond each year. Our staff is comprised of event managers, vendor/artist relations specialists, an accounting team, sponsorship sales personnel, a music booking director, and stage/sound, marketing and graphic design specialists.

SEM also provides assorted services (e.g., staging, barricades, street closures, run/walk course equipment cones, etc.) to more than 50 other events annually including parades and concerts. In addition, SEM Exhibits & Trade Show Services is a specialty division that provides a one-stop, full-range line of customized exhibit booth design and construction services.


Our Personnel


Hank Zemola  Founder & Chief Executive Officer
Hank@chicagoevents.com
If there were ever a pioneer in the field of event management, it would surely be Hank. A lifelong Chicagoan, he founded Special Events Management (SEM) in 1988. Since that time the company has grown to become the largest full-service producer of runs/walks, art/street fests and other special events in the Midwest.

Leading by experience has been his model. A former event director himself, and former executive director of the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA), Hank has directed more than 800 running events including the Shamrock Shuffle and YME Race Against Breast Cancer where he was honored as race director of the year.

Within the festival and other special events community, Hank has been the director of some of the largest festivals in the City of Chicago including Northalsted Market Days and the Wells Street Art Festival in addition to other top special events that include:
  • National Championship of Cycling
  • National Championship of Inline Skating
  • National Championship of Inline Hockey
  • World Championship of Inline Hockey
Hank started in the event business at an early age after working at United Parcel Service in a management role where he claims the foundation of hard work and high quantity taught him the basis of a good business operation.

After UPS he owned nightclubs and managed music venues which included TUTS, Stages (now the Metro) and the Vic Theatre. A musician in his youth, he became a skilled talent buyer of national entertainment. He later served three years as executive director of the then-infant Chicago Area Runners Association before founding SEM.

Today Hank's company produces more than 70 annual runs/walks and art/street fests, concerts and provides assorted services to scores more. He also oversees the company's eight event managers.

An active member of several Chicago area civic and professional organizations, one of Hank's primary visions since founding the company has been to produce events that raise money to benefit non-profits, community/neighborhood groups, chambers of commerce and scores of others.

Greg Schmidt  Controller
GSchmidt@chicagoevents.com
Greg is SEM's numbers' guy. His keen oversight of expenses, bills, payroll and invoicing to keep the company's financial house in smooth order. Holding an accounting degree from Indiana University, Greg has more than 25 years experience at companies in both Illinois and his home state of Indiana.

Each year, Greg and his staff send out well over 1,300 invoices to be paid. Most go out to event sponsors and vendors as well as some clients. Conversely, his accounting department receives more 4,200 bills yearly for event-related expenses. These run the gamut from payments for truck rentals and music acts to porta-potties and security services. Another 1,000 bills are company-related (e.g., heat, water, electric, computers, office supplies). Excluding payroll, the number of checks SEM writes each year tops 2,300.

Gehrig Peterson - Music Director
GPeterson@chicagoevents.com
One of SEM's most veteran staffers, Gehrig has been affiliated with the company since 1990. He has an extensive background with Chicago radio stations in sales and promotions, and a phenomenal talent-buying resume that spans more than three decades. His relationships with local, national and international music acts and managers verges on legendary.

Each year Gehrig books nearly 250 unique music performers for scores of SEM-produced events. This includes bands, solo artists and deejays. While many are from the Chicago and the Midwest, large percentages are big name headliners he secures for SEM's street fests from the U.S. as well as internationally.

Gehrig's unique background allows him careful insight to contract negotiations and talent requirements associated with execution cost. All this benefits client budgets and the success of festivals.

In addition to his music background, Gehrig serves as a key account manager for some of SEM's most important corporate sponsors. With 30 years in radio, Gehrig has also has long-lasting relationships with the advertising and marketing communities.

Karyn Serota - Media & Marketing Director
Karyn@chicagoevents.com
Karyn manages all aspects of SEMs diverse marketing efforts. Key among them is leveraging $2 million worth of company media advertising, trade-outs and buys each year. She negotiates with some of the biggest media players in the market including Tribune Media Group, Sun-Times Media and radio behemoths Clear Channel, Hubbard Radio and CBS Radio.

Karyn also oversees SEM's Web-based marketing efforts including maintaining/updating the company's website with its 500,000 unique monthly visitors, and compiling and disseminating SEM's weekly E-blast newsletters to nearly 100,000 subscribers. In a bit of trivia, the consumer "click through" rate on SEM's website is an amazing 6 percent vs. the national norm of only .2 percent.

In addition, Karyn oversees the company's social media marketing (including Facebook and Twitter) and manages creative planning and logistics with SEM's graphic design department. A graduate of Illinois State University, she joined SEM in 2002 as an event manager.

Veronica Carrillo - Director of Event Bright! and Event Manager
Veronica@chicagoevents.com
Veronica holds two key positions at SEM. One is as director of Event Bright! A department that staffs for all warehouse, street team and cleaning services. The other is as an event manager where she oversees several street fests, including two that are held in Chicago's Hispanic communities. Veronica holds an MBA in International Business with a Certificate in Entrepreneurship from Keller Graduate School of Management. In her free time, Veronica does volunteer work with children, is an interpreter for international businesses, and teaches Spanish classes.

Steve Bingham - Director of Operations
stevebingham@HighAltitudeEvents.com
Steve heads up High Altitude Special Events Management (aka HASEM) which SEM has established to pursue event production opportunities in the Western U.S. HASEM has an office in suburban Denver. Before relocating to Colorado, the always-versatile Steve served as SEM Chicago's director of operations where he oversaw the incorporation of new technologies at the company.

In addition to operations, event manager and staffing coordinator are two key positions Steve has held since joining the company in 2005. A St. Louis native, he holds degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Before joining SEM, he was a business analyst with human resources/consulting giant Hewitt Associates. Off-hours Steve enjoys music and outdoor activities.

Sean McGahan - Art Director
Sean@chicagoevents.com
Every SEM event is a brand. As SEM's art director, Sean's graphic design skills are the indispensable visual ingredients that creatively identify hundreds of street fairs and runs/walks produced by the company. With SEM for more than 13 years, it's no exaggeration that he's designed hundreds of logos as well as collateral pieces that include posters, postcards. brochures, advertisements and much more.

Today many of his creations are trademarked with copyrights used by both SEM and many of its clients. Sean also has vast expertise and knowledge of the latest design technologies and state-of-the-art hardware and software. Not only does Sean design, but he understands how graphics work in context of the final product be it print, websites or advertisements.

Sean graduated from Eastern Illinois University. Before SEM he worked at a major print house. He enjoys music and movies and keeps busy during off hours on home improvement projects.

Norine Smyth - Sponsorship Sales
NSmyth@chicagoevents.com
Over a truly illustrious selling career, Norine has done it all: From years in broadcast sales to more than 20 years in her favorite: corporate sponsorships. A native of Chicago's North Shore suburbs and resident of the city's Wicker Park neighborhood, Norine's eclectic passions include U.S. Presidential history, astronomy, holistic foods, cooking, the ballet and tending her elaborate garden.

Laura Wilke - Sponsorship Sales
LWilke@chicagoevents.com
Enterprising and tenacious. These are just a few skills Laura has mastered over the last several years to secure more than a half-million dollars in sponsorships annually to help underwrite events. From street/art fests to runs/walks, she re-signs past sponsors, accommodates new sponsors and targets prospects. She's also on-site at several events to ensure sponsors feel welcome.

Laura worked several years in membership services at the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) of which her mother was one of the co-founders. It goes without saying that she understands the running community. For any event, Laura is committed to improving the experiences of both sponsoring underwriters as well as event participants and visitors.

Laura holds a marketing degree from Chicago's Northeastern University. Off hours, her son and daughter keep her busy but she still finds time to enjoy concerts of her favorite classic rock acts.

Alan Cervenka - Project/Exhibit Manager
ACervenka@chicagoevents.com
If there ever were a seasoned event veteran, it's Alan. Hes been an integral member of the SEM family for well over two decades. From managing runs/walks and street fairs to working closely with Fortune 500 clients of SEM Exhibits, there's very little he hasn't successfully taken the lead on over the years. For a chameleon like Alan, customer service is Rule #1 no matter who the client. Since joining SEM, he's managed more than 250 events. These range from AIDS Run/Walk Chicago when SEM first started producing the event, to Windy City Ribfest in Uptown which is among the dozen events he still manages each summer.

As trade show manager with SEM Exhibits, he's involved with 10-plus conventions and trade shows annually. He works with exhibit design specialists, consults closely with clients, plans logistics and oversees the construction, set-up and tear-down of often-lavish exhibit/trade show booths in such convention hotspots as Las Vegas, Orlando and, of course, Chicago. Off-hours, Alan hobbies include reading, trains and travel.

Andrew Abrisz - Event Production Manager
AAbrisz@chicagoevents.com
Andy's highly regarded managerial skills have served him well on two fronts: as a top-notch event manager as well in his role in the SEM family to oversee Big Picture logistics for nearly every large SEM event.

He looks at the overall planning for each SEM event, and then works with event managers to make event production more efficient. This ranges from creating event site maps and crew training to overseeing paperwork and enhancing the day-to-day flow of communications. In short, Andy lets SEM managers stay focused on the nuts-and-bolts of event execution and branding.

In addition, he has stage managed several of SEM's largest concerts, been an integral part of SEM marathons including those held Rockford and Salt Lake City, and been an event manager for many of the company's largest festivals.

An Iowa native, Andrew attended college in Iowa City and has held positions at other Chicago-based event production companies. Off hours he spends time pursuing his passion for music which includes mentoring students as well as performing live with a band.

Joanna Bielecki - Event Manager
JBielecki@chicagoevents.com
Joanna is one of SEM's top and passionate event managers, calmly navigating the needs of both clients such as the Old Town Merchants & Residents (among others) and many of the company's best-known annual events including the Wells Street Art Festival, Evanston's Fountain Square Art Festival and more than a dozen other street fairs and runs/walks.

She has also served as race director for more than 30 SEM runs/walks and been the company's coordinator at the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure and the Start Early Run. As an event manager of some of Chicago's largest art and street fests, Joanna takes the SEM team lead on many of the city's most successful fundraising events.

A Chicago native, Joanna joined SEM from Chicago-based Prevent Child Abuse America. A graduate of Peoria's Bradley University, Joanna's off-hour pursuits include time with family/friends, eclectic art activities, indie music and, as a new homeowner, the joys of decorating.

Jennifer Griffin - Event Manager
JGriffin@chicagoevents.com
As an event manager, Jennifer has taken the lead on many of the company's biggest events including Puerto Rican Festival (Fiestas Puertorriquenas), L.A.T.E. Ride Chicago, Southwest Half Marathon and Lakeview Taco Fest. There isn't a challenge she can't handle with vigor and infectious enthusiasm.

Jennifer has versatile skills. She can manage a large run/walk as effortlessly as a huge street festival. Her extensive management and planning background in the hotel and hospitality industries has been a great asset for both SEM and company clients.

A graduate of New Jersey's Seton Hall University, her family moved around the East Coast for her dad's work before she settled in the Windy City. Off hours Jen enjoys reading, time at the gym, and volunteering at Chicago's PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) animal shelter.

Crystal Mann - Event Manager
CMann@chicagoevents.com
A love for all aspects of event planning has put Crystal at the top of her game at SEM where she deftly manages more than a dozen company events. These range from the wildly popular Chicago Craft Beer Festival and Taste of Greektown to O'Hare Airport's 5K/10K on the Runway.

Crystal majored in recreation sport & tourism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before joining the SEM team she held planning internships at both Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and Citizen Action/Illinois. Off- hours, Crystal enjoys food, cooking and ballet.

Crini McCarthy - Event Manager
CMcCarthy@chicagoevents.com
It's all about the details for Crini. And it's a trait that assuredly benefits the more than a dozen events she manages each year. From several runs/walks to fests as diverse as Cinco de Mayo Fest, Festival de La Villita (both held in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood) and the iconic Old School Reunion Picnic on the Southside lakefront to Belmont-Sheffield Music Fest, for Crini it's about ensuring her events are a resounding success. Her organizational skills are key for events that each draw tens of thousands of visitors.

For SEMs running events, Crini's an expert in both course management and marshaling. She understands the precise need for timing (mile splits), aid stations and hydration as well as participant experience and safety. In addition, Crini is a junior race director for events such as the Pancreatic Cancer Run.

A native of Chicago's southwest suburbs, Crini (a childhood nickname derived from Christin) majored in hospitality management at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Off hours she enjoys cooking, working out and attending concerts.

Josh Ruston - Event Manager
JRuston@chicagoevents.com
Josh's expertise on the SEM event management team is sports. Having been a race director for over 100 events, he currently oversees more than a dozen annual events including runs/walks, marathons and cycling races. Among them are the annual Chicago's Perfect 10 at Navy Pier, Warm Your Heart 5K at McCormick Place, Bastille Day Run/Walk, the Race to Wrigley at Wrigley Field, and March's St. Paddy's Run/Walk.

Josh has been SEM's race director for the Palm Beach and Rockford marathons, plays an integral role at the Salt Lake City Marathon, and has worked on the management team for the Miami Marathon. He also serves as co-manager, and assists other SEM event managers, at many other company-produced sporting events to ensure their success.

An Illinois native, Josh holds bachelor and master's degrees in a variety of specialties: sports science, exercise, sports management and sports administration from the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse. Aside from his family, off-hours other passions include coaching youth sports and (no surprise!) he has ran in both the Chicago and Boston Marathons.

Daniel Oleksiuk - Production Manager
DOleksiuk@chicagoevents.com
Although his official title is production manager, Dan is better known around SEM as warehouse manager, trade show manager and carpenter extraordinaire. A true chameleon, he pretty much does it all! The Northbrook, Ill., native (where he still resides) earned his bachelor's degree from Chicago's Columbia College in music, business and concert production. But for those who know him, his true passion is for building things. From showcase booths for the SEM-produced Chicago Flower & Garden Show, to intricate exhibits at national trade shows for Fortune 500 clients of SEM's trade show & exhibits division, his detailed craftsmanship is awe-inspiring. During off hours Dan, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, enjoys sports and music.

Joe Persfull - Exhibit Relations Manager
JPersfull@chicagoevents.com
Joe is SEM's go-to guy when it comes to soliciting and communicating with well over 1,000 vendors who exhibit at the company's events each year. SEM's exhibitor and vendor base is broad. By far the largest category is nearly 600 different artists. This is followed by general merchants (selling everything from t-shirts to candles) which numbers between 250-300. Then there's around 100 different food/restaurant vendors, an estimated 60-70 bars, and another 70 "other type vendors" which includes non-profits and community groups.

Joe's position requires an attention to detail. A Chicago native, he graduated from the College of DuPage and spent three decades at United and Midway airlines including flight attendant and passenger service positions. His passions are aviation, travel, real estate and fixing up homes. He also owned a cozy café in southwest Michigan's Harbor Country where he still spends much of his free time.

Rosalia Robinson - Exhibitor Relations Coordinator
RRobinson@chicagoevents.com
Rosy works hand-in-hand with Joe Persfull, the company's exhibitor relations manager, in coordinating SEM's relationships with vendors. This entails working with more than 1,500 artists, merchants, food/restaurant vendors, bars and community groups who take part in more than 35 art and street festivals the company produces each year.

Rosy is hands-on with details. She also reviews all required vendor paperwork. This ranges from insurance to municipal permits required for an event. She also has oversight in preparing food vendors for pre-event health inspections for products that they serve at festivals.

A resident of the near southwest suburbs, Rosy started at the company in 2010 in administrative positions that led into her current role.

Fred Newton - Communications Manager
FNewton@chicagoevents.com
To say that Fred is a writing/editing and communications chameleon is an understatement. With more than three decades of experience, there's little he cant tackle. Fred's a focused writer, voracious reader, hard-nosed editor and quick study on virtually any subject. From writing more than 200 SEM event releases each year to disseminating information and working with scores of media outlets (print, electronic and Web-based), he's adroit on numerous fronts

A native of metro Detroit and Michigan State University journalism grad who started his career at newspapers, Fred's diverse experience includes a long-running stint as communications and editorial supervisor at Chicago-headquartered SmithBucklin Corp., the nation's largest association management firm.

Vern Cocroft - Staffing Coordinator
VCocroft@chicagoevents.com
In pulling off the double-duty of staffing and sponsorship sales, the personable Vern has the versatility to excel at both roles. As staffing coordinator he works with SEM's event managers too secure outside help to assist at the company's street fests and runs/walks. This ranges from seasonal event crews to volunteers and temp agency hires involved in everything from festival set-up and tear-down to registration check-in at runs/walks. For sponsorship sales, he aggressively (and quite successfully) pursues supporting partners for numerous SEM events.

A graduate of Illinois State University majoring broadcast communications, the Chicagoland native had plenty of staffing experience before joining SEM. For 12 years Vern held casting director positions where he booked actors for hundreds of movies and television shows.

Dianne Patterson - Administrative Assistant/Volunteer Coordinator
Dianne@chicagoevents.com
When you call SEM, chances are the friendly voice you'll hear on the phone will be that of Dianne. She's also the person who will most likely greet you at the reception desk. But Dianne is much more than a friendly voice or face. She also wears other hats including that of general office manager. It's a role that includes coordinating messenger services, sorting through piles of staff mail, tracking delivered packages and other responsibilities to make sure the office runs smoothly. Dianne has been with the company for nearly a decade (including the predecessor company of what is now SEM Exhibits) -- and she's also the proud owner of six cats!

Gary Wilson - Operations
Gary@chicagoevents.com
As a 25 year veteran with SEM, Gary assists in account management for both runner registration. On the festival side, product management. With the SEM team Gary works closely with company's controller in payment processing, billing, customer service, and ensuring historical data is gathered for both charitable donations and on-site product sales.

At the events, Gary works in numerous capacities of the runs and walks. Leading up preplanning in the management of on-site needs advancing registration and packet pickup.. You'll also find him personally involved with on-site run/walk registration. And at more than a dozen street fairs, Gary's there to fully manage the product service area that supplies vendors with on-site needs for their booths.

Shannon Ehlert  Accounting Assistant
SEhlert@chicagoevents.com
Shannon assists Greg Schmidt, SEM's controller, in a variety of accounting areas that includes billing, payroll, data entry and accounts receivable. A native of northwest suburban Des Plaines, Shannon interned as an SEM assistant event manager after graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago in psychology.

Known for her astute organizational skills, one reason Shannon enjoys working at SEM is that the company's events help raise invaluable money for a host of deserving non-profits each year. Off hour, Shannon enjoys checking out flea markets, but when she gets the opportunity she has a passion for volunteer work with children at local hospitals and child service organizations.

Andy Kapitan  Warehouse Manager
AKapitan@chicagoevents.com
Andy (or "Kap" as he's known around the office) might best be described as SEM's "organizing" man. He's also a carpenter extraordinaire. For starters, he oversees the never-ending shipping and receiving that takes place in the company's 70,000 square-foot headquarters and warehouse facility on West 43rd Street. But he's also SEM's go-to guy for anything that needs to be built. This can range from the perfunctory wall for a street fest to constructing a more elaborate trade show booth for a Fortune 500 client of SEM's exhibits division.

Born in New Orleans, Cap's family moved around the country growing up. He earned a degree from Chicago's Columbia College majoring in stage design which he's been able to put to good use at SEM. A resident of the northwest suburbs, off-hours Cap's a voracious reader, is proud of his comic book and movie/TV show collections, and occasionally performs in Civil War reenactments.


 
©2014 Special Events Management • 2221 W. 43rd Street • Chicago, IL 60609 • Phone: (773) 868-3010 • Fax: (773) 868-0425 • mail@chicagoevents.com