TOPEKA (KSNT) – The 2024 Topeka Business Hall of Fame laureates were announced at a Tuesday morning brunch at the Topeka Country Club.

“The Business Hall of Fame has a long tradition, not only in Topeka but throughout Kansas for Junior Achievement. This year we have 5 laureates.” Bill Blasing, President and CEO Junior Achievement of Kansas.

“I am deeply honored and humbled with this distinction. My first volunteer work out of college was with the Junior Achievement Program, teaching high school kids personel finance. To me that was very fitting that that was my first job.” Gary Yager, 2024 JA Hall of Fame Laureate.

Junior Achievement of Kansas annually honors members of the Kansas business community committed to the local community and state as a whole, according to the non-profit. Leaders say they hope to inspire young people to follow in these talented businessmen and women’s footsteps.

The 2024 Hall of Fame Laureates are as follows, with biographies provided by Junior Achievement.

Jeff Russell
Jeff graduated from the University of Kansas in 1979. He joined his father at La Siesta in 1982 as the 19th employee in a very small plant. From 1982 until 1989, he built and ran a flour tortilla plant, a burrito plant and expanded both operations. When the family sold La Siesta to Reser’s in 1996, they had two plants, 350 employees and did $25 million in sales. Jeff ran the burrito plant until 2003 when he was promoted to Director of Manufacturing. In 2013, Jeff was promoted to General Manager in Topeka. In 2016, he was promoted to Vice President of Manufacturing. When he retired in 2021, he was responsible for 1.5 million pounds per day of processing and 1,250 employees in two states.

Nick and Terry Xidis
In 2005, Nick and Terry continued their family tradition of chocolate and candy making with the launch of Hazel Hill Chocolate. Their shop was named in honor of Terry’s grandmother, Hazel Hill, a reminder to stick to traditions of high quality and friendly service. Hazel Hill uses classic techniques and simple ingredients to create confectionary delights. They specialize in warm smiles, excellence in service and great tasting sweets. Hazel Hill Chocolate has received ten international awards for chocolate and confectionery, including a 2021 Gold Medal at the Chocolate Alliance Northwest Chocolate Festival, the largest global completion for artisan chocolate. Nick and Terry are the parents of six children and eleven grandchildren.

Gary Yager
Gary Yager graduated from Washburn University in 1976. He began his career at First National Bank in Topeka as an assistant Vice President and spent 10 years at First National before spending the next 10 years at Commerce Bank, where he was Vice President of Commercial Loans. From 1996 until 2005, Gary worked at Columbian Bank & Trust and then Western National Bank, where he served as Vice Chairman. In May 2005, Gary was a founder and organizer of the launch of Vision Bank right here in Topeka, where he served as President and
CEO until his retirement and sale of the bank, having overseen its growth to over $230 million in
assets. Gary has served in a variety of local leadership capacities in organizations spanning from
the Kansas Bankers Association to the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Topeka and
the Arts Council of Topeka, among others. He now enjoys his retirement in Topeka with his wife, Widge, and two sons, Tyson and Tab.

Mark Yardley
Mark is currently the president and chief executive officer of Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka. In June 2023, Mark announced his intention to retire in 2024 from the Federal Home Loan Bank. Mark is a lifelong Topekan. He grew up in the Oakland neighborhood, graduating from Highland Park High School and Washburn University. Mark is a Certified Public Accountant. After spending a little over seven years at the national public accounting firm of Fox & Company, he has been at the FHLBank for almost 39 years, starting as the director of Internal Audit, then becoming chief financial officer and then chief risk officer before being named president and CEO in 2016. He
and his wife Sheree live in Berryton, Kansas. They have two children and six grandchildren. In his spare time, his hobby is restoring classic cars.

Junior Achievement of Kansas inspires and prepares young people with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy, according to the nonprofit. Collaborating with the business and educational community, JA of Kansas provides relevant, hands-on experiences that give students knowledge and skills based on the three pillars of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. JA of Kansas serves nearly 28,000 children statewide.

The 2024 Topeka Business Hall of Fame dinner honoring these individuals will be Thursday, March 7, 2024, at the Townsite Avenue Ballroom in downtown Topeka.