Skip to content

Fayette County CEO students show off businesses at annual trade show

By Rich Bauer

The current group of CEO students finished up their year on Sunday by offering their individual products and services at the annual Trade Show.
Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities is “a yearlong, experiential, learning-based course designed to utilize partnerships in the community to provide local young people with an overview of business processes and development.”

Photos by Rich Bauer
Leo Krueger, who sold his Mezcla Mix at the CEO Trade Show on Sunday, was award third place in the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Center for Innovation and Inquiry’s 2022 Power Pitch competition and placed second in the CEO National Pitch Competition.

Along with the CEO partner, The Midland Institute for Entrepreneurship, the local CEO Board firmly believes that 21st century skills like problem-solving, teamwork, self-motivation, responsibility, critical thinking, communication and curiosity should be at the heart of each student’s development throughout this program.
The vision statement for the group is: Fayette County CEO will provide a pathway for entrepreneurial students to develop integrity, teamwork, excellence, responsibility and sense of community for tomorrow’s leaders.

According to the mission statement explains that the program “is dedicated to: establishing connections, building relationships, fostering teamwork, teaching life lesions, building confidence, developing creativity, teaching accountability, providing experiences, teaching communication skills; and valuing community awareness.
The class meets each morning with facilitator Debbie Hobbie, a retired Vandalia teacher, prior to beginning their regular school day.

Through the program, the students learn about becoming entrepreneurs by hosting local business owners, taking tours at area businesses and industries, working with local business people who serve as their mentors, developing a class business and creating individual businesses.

This year’s class business was a murder mystery, which was hosted by the Vandalia Moose Lodge, and this year’s class decided to hold a pop-up shop, selling gourmet popcorn during Olde Tyme Christmas.

All of this year’s CEO students are seniors at Vandalia Community High School.

This year’s students, and their individual businesses, are:

  • Elizabeth Barenfanger, Elizabeth’s Emporium, clothing and dog bandanas.
  • Jadie Davidson-Keck, Cre8, artwork.
  • Madison Johnson, Maddie’s Magical Moments, magical moments and telegrams.
  • Leo Krueger, Mezcla Mix, morning, noon and night snack mixes.
  • Kurstiana Sachan, No Confusion, art kits.
  • Ellie Whitten, Ellie Kate’s, bakery treats.
  • Isabella Eller, Root Bound Plant Co., plants, accessories and growing tools.
Fayette County CEO group

Submitted Photo
This year’s Fayette County CEO students are pictured above. From left to right are Jadie Davidson-Keck, Elizabeth Barenfanger, Madison Ferguson, Leo Krueger, Isabella Eller, Kurstiana Sachan and Ellie Whitten.

The current members of the Fayette County CEO Board are Sandy Michel, chair; Pat Click, vice chair; Mary Schulze, secretary; Sally Emerick, treasurer; Mike Shackelford; Nick Casey; Laura Benhoff; Doug Knebel; Bo Melton; Mike Radliff; and Brent Oberlink.

Hobbie has high praise for this year’s CEO students.

“They are, all seven of them, achievers,” Hobbie said.

“They’re the most mature group of kids I’ve ever had, and it’s going to be fun to see where they go from here,” she said.

Leo Krueger, for example, “has got irons in the fire about pursuing a cottage license” related to the possible mass production of his snack mixes, she said.
The students’ individual businesses have been highlighted on the class Facebook page, something that Hobbie thought “Midland (States Bank) was putting on (the Facebook page).

“And I find out that it has been Elizabeth (Barenfanger),” Hobbie said.

That, she said, is an example of how “when they just see something that needs to be done, they get it done.

“And, they just get along so well. It’s amazing,” Hobbie said.

This was the first year with CEO that Hobbie decided to not have the students meet or work on their businesses one day a week.

“Before, I wasn’t always sure that it wouldn’t be just more sleep time (that day),” she said.

“But, these people, we might not be meeting that one day, but at 6:30 or 7 (a.m.), they’re texting each other – they are up and working,” Hobbie said.
In addition to the regular class work, class business and individual businesses, the students have been going out to high schools in the county to explain the program to potential CEO students in the future.


Photos by Rich Bauer
Ellie Whitten packages some of her Ellie Kate’s bakery goods for a customer at Sunday’s CEO Trade Show.

And, this year, Hobbie said, they started also meeting with eighth-grade students, “just planting the seed.”

Next year’s class will be the first one to have students from all five high schools in the county, and with 17 students, it will be the largest CEO class yet.



Photo by Rich Bauer
Elizabeth Barenfanger, who sold her Elizabeth’s Emporium products at Sunday’s CEO Trade Show, has been selected as a finalist for the Golden Apple Scholars Class of 2022.