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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 64: Denise Kohler-Kolesar

Denise Kohler-Kolesar
Denise Kohler-Kolesar

Denise Kohler-Kolesar joins us for this edition of Powerful Women: Let's Talk

She's passionate about business and gives back significantly to her community. She also mentors women and men. Meet Denise Kohler-Kolesar, owner of Hello 50, former Baton Twirler with a twist. Denise is today’s Powerful Woman.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.


>> Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live.

Shelley Irwin: She's passionate about business, award-winning, gives back significantly to our community plus, she mentors women and men. Meet Denise Kohler-Kolesar owner of Hello 50, former baton twirler with a twist. Hi to you, Denise.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Good morning, Shelly. How are you?

Shelley Irwin: Doing fine. I’m going to get right into that twist when did you last twirl a baton?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Actually, I picked it up this summer and I didn't start it on fire, but I found my fire baton which had been missing for a few years. So, I had plans to drill a fire baton this summer but, I needed to practice a little bit of my regular baton before it went on fire.

Shelley Irwin: Let's spend a moment on that fire. This isn't any normal baton.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: No, this is not, this is a fire baton and you actually dip it in gas and you light it and then you troll it. So yeah, I have to make sure your hair is back, right because we don't need to start our head on fire, but anyway, I hadn't trolled a baton for a little bit. So, I decided not to do it this summer, but my kids are encouraging me to light it next summer. So, we’ll see.

Shelley Irwin: I’m not sure to go with this conversation.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yeah.

Shelley Iwrin: Hey, how do you describe Denise Kohler-Kolesar?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: If I were to describe myself, I wake up happy. So, I'm a pretty happy person, I'm passionate, hardworking, I can be very thoughtful, I could be a little rough on the edges sometimes. I’m a pretty direct person. I don't like to play mind games. So, sometimes my directness is taken a little harshly, but that's how I got through having a business, quite frankly.

Shelley Irwin: Haha, speaking about that. How did you get to be an award winner, an entrepreneur, and a businesswoman? I guess we jump right into the secret to your success.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Well, hard work. It takes hard work, it takes commitment, it takes setting goals. I think you're like me, Shelly. Every morning, I sit down, I have a piece of paper a scratch piece of paper just like you and I set my goals. What I'm going to do and accomplish that day and then I check them off because there's something about checking them off and crossing them off but, setting goals, you have to set goals. If you do not set goals, you will not get near as much done. I guarantee it because on the days I'm a little lazy and I don't set goals I sit back at night and I’m like I really didn't accomplish much today. So setting goals. You have to set goals and you have to work hard but, I think hard work is fun. So.

Shelley Irwin: Let me have you fill in a little of the blank. Was there a journey to seek this career? Did you study hard and then bring me back to that family of entrepreneurs.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Well, I grew up in a family that had quite a number of businesses. We had a drive-in movie theater, we had a grocery store, we had an insurance agency, we had a car wash. So, we had a lot of businesses in town. One of the reasons my dad and his brothers did that is so they could employ their children so that they would learn a good work ethic. I know sometimes people think kids who come from businesses, you know, don't have to work hard, but we had to work hard and you know, our parents didn't because we had opportunities to work. There wasn't an allowance. You know, you just did what you need to do to help the family but, you always had an opportunity to make money. I think I bought my own clothes starting in the 4th grade because there were opportunities to make money and you know, after the 4th grade, I don't think my parents gave me any money for clothes after that. You know you bought your own class ring, it was just expected. We were in a community that if you didn't own a business, you were farmer and they also worked very, very hard and you know, those kids, got paid to work on their family farms but, you know, we're all in the same boat. Parents expected contribution.

Shelley Irwin: Did you study business? Though academically.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: I did. I actually though, went to Ferris for court and conference reporting. I’m a court reporter by trade. That wasn't very fun for me, though. So, I realized that was not the route I wanted to go and always knew in my heart that working with my dad side by side in his businesses that I was going to own a business someday. I just didn't know what.

Shelley Irwin: You mentioned passion. So, let's get into this conversation of how one, as you have finds their passion. You self-admitted passion for business. So, how did you give yourself permission to move back to where you knew you were good?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Well, it seemed a little bit risky because, you know, when you start a business and own a business there are risks. The success doesn't typically happen between 3 to 5 years and that was very true in my business. It took 3 years for it to start making a steady income. I loved the business I did, though, because it helped other businesses be successful.

Shelley Irwin: And described that business.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: It was Kohler Expos. We ran several large woman's events, and bridal shows, and kids and family Expo events So, you know, built from the ground-up, created it, built it up and sold it to a longtime employee who I just have my fingers crossed they can continue but, hard work dedication. When you own a business it has to be there.. It's not a 40-hour week job when people talk to me or I mentor, you know, it's like it's not going to be 40 hours and you shouldn’t want to be frankly, because if you love it, it's always on your mind. You’re always creating, you're thinking, oh, I can do this or I can help this or, you know, I can help a nonprofit. If we do something jointly or you know, the list can go on, and on, and on. Anyway, yeah, it was a good fit for me. I’m a take-charge person so, I also don't mind. I say that, you know, and I'm involved in something right now where they're like, you know, you’re not going to be the leader, you're going to be part of a team.

Shelley Irwin: How does that feel?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Actually, it feels very good. I can be the leader, but I'm also very happy to be part of a team. I love when people give me instructions and I can just do it, I don't want to always be in charge and people think I always want to be in charge when that's not true, really at all. Especially at this stage in my life so, you know, I like being part of a team to give me the mission and what our goal is and let's work hard to make it happen.

Shelley Irwin: So what are challenges for today's women business owners and obviously we have to add covid into that conversation which you are probably dealing with and you didn't have to deal with.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: You’re right. I didn't have to do with it and that would have been hard for me because I'm a pretty social person. I like meeting people, I like being engaged you know, I enjoyed networking back in the day and that's probably been the biggest challenge for businesses is, you know, how do you build your circle. You know, we built our circle, you and I even by engaging seeing people at events. You know, developing a friendship, a business friendship,

Shelley Irwin: But, I’ve never seen your baton with fire.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yeah. You know, I'm going to have to take video of that when I do it because there's some people who troll the baton also in this area, you know, you got Jackie from Blankenship, you have Leeanne Towns and then GR Now she trolled a baton so you have a few baton trollers in this area. So I’m going to talk to them, I said we should have a reunion and bring our batons

Shelley Irwin: I see you are the leader. Let me ask you, you mentor. What about mentoring men?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Well, you know, I became somewhat of a quiet mentor known person. People send me people their way and a lot of it is about setting goals. I've featured. I think if you follow me on my facebook, you know, the first thing I ask is do you make your bed? You know, your first goal of the day is to make your bed. And I've read that book I don't know how many times, probably 8, 9, 10 times because it's such a great book of how you get to your first goal of the day. If you make your bed, you've already set a goal. So, when I mentor men and women, I mean, it's basically the same things that you need, you know, are you writing down goals? Are you setting your goals to be about a 3-to-5-year plan? What’s your financial plan for the business? Because if you have a business or in life. If you do not have a financial plan and follow a budget of some sort, it will always be chaotic, it will be messy if you write it down and I have this little sheet that I send them that I made on my own and I gave it to my kids for Christmas one year. You know, a budget analysis of your expenses and you can change it and adapt it, I've already done all the formulas, so know your numbers so that you can succeed because one of your goals should always be is to buy a house, start immediately in your retirement plan. I always laugh because I think of the first week I was married.

Shelley Irwin: You can remember the first week you were married?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: I can because I still have that sheet of paper, I made a plan of our life and I set our financial goals and it's like when do you want to retire and then, I backed it up from there and then we chased it and I have to say, you know, you asked me for one of my quotes at the end. What is one of your quotes and one of them that I always go back to is contentment is the optimal success, when you are content and if you can tell who is content they share a little bit of a smile they look a little peaceful and it doesn't mean they're still not driving or hustling, it just means that they’re content and that really is the ultimate success.

Shelley Irwin: Why do you serve the community as you do?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: For me, it's fun to give back. As you know, I have a big purse project going on right now. I just kind of started that back in 2013 on my own and it got more popular and then some non-profits started calling me and that's been fun for me because it is so rewarding. I have this little story and I think I shared with you before where I was delivering the purses to Meltrotter and the women on the street were so excited they were running into the building saying the purses are here, the purses are here and one young man came up to me on the street and he said do you have anything for me and I said I only have purses. Well, low and behold and I do not know how that backpack got in there, I had one backpack in the back of my vehicle, I was able to chase him down the street which I did and I said young man, young man, I have a backpack for you. That backpack was stuffed it was full, it was a nice size backpack, I mean, there was probably a blanket in there, water, you know, a note pad, hand warmers, hats scarves. It was packed. So that's very rewarding to me, I have a passion for the homeless because it's close to me.

Shelley Irwin: Why is it close to you?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: My sister died as a homeless person. So, it's a pretty emotional.

Shelley Irwin: Do you want to share that story?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: You know what, Shelley, I don't think I can. I still can’t talk about it. It's been since 1993 and it's still too hard.

Shelley Irwin: Time for some fun facts. Right here we go. You've already twirled. How about this security work you’ve done?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Well, okay, this is kind of funny. So, when I first started with show span back in the mid 1980's. One of my first assignments was OK, you need to be security for Walter Payton.

Shelley Irwin: Walter Payton?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yes. Sweetness, right?

Shelley Irwin: Yes. Okay. Now, at that time he could of picked me up and twirled me, I weighed about a 100 pounds and when I first met him and they were introducing him to me, he got in the football stance so I got in the football stance, and it was just kind of fun, he was just such a cool cool guy but, then then a couple years later, a quite a few years later and I remember this state because I was actually 6 months pregnant so it was 1991 I was security for Leroy Butler with the Green Bay Packers.

Shelley Irwin: What does security mean?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Walking around with the radio and if I, you know, saw something. It was just kind of funny.

Shelley Irwin: Take that 100 pound girl down.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: and then here I am pregnant at 6 months walking around Leroy Butler. Do you know how big he is? He was a lineman. You know, Walter Payton was, you know, and he was between like between 5’9 or 5’10, but Leroy, he was probably about 6’5, I'm 5’0 by the way. I mean, he had to be. I have one picture where he's signing because we were at a boat show in Milwaukee and I have one picture, here I am pregnant. He was signing and I got my radio, you know, just in case something happened. I'm not sure what I was going to do, but I was going to use the radio. So, it was fun. Fun stuff.

Shelley Irwin: So you went to the the frankenmuth musical chair competition?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yes so I actually won a year. That was 2009 and it was me and this woman who was like 6 feet tall and that my friend is when I tore my ACL.

Shelley Irwin: What is the musical chair competition?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: It's where we’re just playing musical chairs. I mean, it's in their fun factory and you know, to my nieces and nephews I'm kind of that fun aunt and you know, it's always encouraged to play and I tore my ACL and came out in a wheelchair, but I did win the competition.

Shelley Irwin: I'm not sure if there's an answer or a secret to that we’ll let that go, but at least you are that fun aunt. Take me back to your aerobic days.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Oh, my goodness. I taught aerobics for over 10 years.

Shelley Irwin: Had to be the 80's.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yeah, it was 80s, you know back where we wore leg warmers. You know, Elaine Powers. If anybody remembers Power Size. I'm aging if you know, Power Size with Elaine Powers where we would learn one routine every quarter and do the same routine every day and then then it turned to Living Well Lady and yeah, I still have one or two T- shirts.

Shelley Irwin: Good for you.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: But, that it was fun. It was fun.

Shelley Irwin: I want to talk about playing euchre and why I should be asking you that.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Because I'm actually a euchre-holic I think. Yeah, I just played Saturday night. My brother and I we won. We beat my sister and my husband.

Shelley Irwin: Haha.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: I play regularly.

Shelley Irwin: Lastly what’s up with this Monte Hall reunion?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Oh, my goodness. So, this is something my sister and I started for our nieces and nephews and we've done it at reunions and we actually were asked to come do it at a church for their their youth group but, that didn't end up happening because my parents got sick and we couldn't do it but, my sisters, my sidekick. What was her name? I mean, I'm Annie Hall, I have an outfit. We pull out the outfit she was the blonde, she wears a blonde wig. We just we just really have fun with it. I mean, I think we're going to be doing it again, my sisters going to be celebrating 50 years of marriage and I think we're going to do like a let's make a deal again. We did it over New Year's Eve a couple years ago we had so much fun. Everybody dressed up we say a cheers in the living room we do crazy stuff. It's just fun.

Shelley Irwin: Denise what’s a recommendation you have for younger women finding their professional place in life who want to be a Denise?

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: I don't think that there's still a glass ceiling because I think we broke it. If you are still working for someone that you feel there is a glass ceiling and you’re being held back. Leave. Leave immediately. We broke the glass ceiling. It's done. I often say on my facebook, be a lioness you know, it's okay to be a woman. In fact, it is beautiful. It's okay to be a lady but, when you are in business or working for somebody, do your best, be best, don't be thinking all the time because I'm a woman because if they make you feel that way, you just need to leave. I'm sorry. You need to get out of there because they should not this day in age be making you feel that way. Now understand when I say that, I also think motherhood is a beautiful thing and you can do both but, you can expect that rewards are different when you become a mother.

Shelley Irwin: And haven't you just become a mother-in-law.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: I have oh my gosh and I love her so much. Okay, we're so much alike. I can't believe my son married somebody like me but, anyway, it's fun, but it's okay to be a mom and to take a step back in your career because you know, made it your new career motherhood can be a career

Shelley Irwin: Hello 50 is your new career.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Yes, Hello 50 is my new career but, don't downplay who you are and don't make other women, you know. And this is just part of it that, you know, many women who have been successful and well recognized community and you look at them as your role model. I also want you to look at them if you have children, they may not be the best role model for you because they may not have children. So you have to look at who is your role model and what have they done in their life? Did they have children, didn't they have children because there's a big difference because when you have a family priorities change and they need to change and it's OK and if you embrace it, it will be wonderful.

Shelley Irwin: Our best to your family Denise Kohler-Kolesar. Hello 50 your next chapter in life. Thanks to you Denise for this conversation.

Denise Kohler-Kolesar: Thank you, Shelly.

Shelley Irwin: I’m Shelley Irwin and thank you for joining this edition of Powerful Women, Let’s talk.


>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The Shelley Irwin Show, a news magazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast at 9 a.m., features a wide variety of local and national news makers, plus special features.
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