Natural Stone Institute Presents Annual Awards

The Natural Stone Institute has named their 2021 Natural Stone Institute Person of the Year, Natural Stone Craftsman of the Year, CEU Educator of the Year, Pioneer Award recipient and Migliore Award recipient. The prestigious awards are presented annually to individuals who exhibit exceptional skill and dedication within the stone industry.  

2021 Person of the Year

Michael Picco of PICCO Group has been named the 2021 Person of the Year. Picco served as the 2021 Natural Stone Institute board president, guiding the association through the second year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Natural Stone Institute CEO Jim Hieb described Picco’s leadership style as concise, direct, strategic, and spot on. Picco’s association contributions in 2021 include much more than serving as the board president. Picco championed the industry’s sustainability initiative, helping give the Natural Stone Sustainability Standard relevance in the marketplace and positioning natural stone as a sustainable building material for the design community. He has the unique ability to simplify complex issues and his ability to rally people around a concept is impressive. Picco also guided the association through a merger with the National Building Granite Quarriers Association, served as an advocate for the Natural Stone Pavilion at StonExpo/Marmomac at TISE, and gave multiple presentations highlighting the global role and initiatives led by the Natural Stone Institute.

2021 Natural Stone Craftsman of the Year

John Cierech of Tennessee Marble Company has been named 2021 Natural Stone Craftsman of the Year. Cierech was 30 years old when he began his career in the stone industry. After serving in the military, he spent a short time in electronics before accepting his first full-time work with stone at Gawet Marble and Granite in Vermont. Gawet had just acquired some accounts from Vermont Marble Company after they closed their doors. He explained: “There was a huge demand for craftsmen to service these accounts. Fortunately for me, there were a number of skilled craftsmen in the area, who would circulate through the company, and I was able to pick up on their skills to develop my own.” Cierech would spend the next 32 years honing his stone skills, passion, and craft, eventually advancing to more detailed work, including V-sunk lettering and intricate carving, especially on memorials.  He attributes his interest in this work to an appreciation of the stone carving history of the area’s memorial art. His favorite work was done on the old headstones of New England, especially the artwork that was done on the gray stones: “I think it started with a religious outfit that wasn’t permitted to draw on paper any kind of artwork, but they could carve it on headstones. A lot of the carvers would develop their own and would just pass it down.” At Tennessee Marble Company, Cierech began working on projects together with other craftsmen from different departments, collaborating and applying individual skills from start to finish. This approach created a huge interest in the project itself because all departments got to see what needed to be done and how the craftsmen in each department went about their work, sharing this sense of concern for all efforts from the beginning to the end of the project. It created a cohesive workforce and positive impact. 

2021 CEU Educator of the Year

The 2021 CEU Educator of the Year Award was presented to Stone Panels International LLC, a lightweight stone company located in Marble Falls, Texas. Stone Panels continued the marketing strategy that earned them this title in 2020: consistent outreach and the willingness to offer webinars. Most of their presentations were delivered online, allowing them to continually reach their audience as COVID restrictions changed throughout the year. Valorie Ormand, Marketing Director, stated “CEUs are excellent conduits for product introduction. The last couple of years have been exciting from a CEU perspective. We have been able to exponentially increase our reach and overall product category awareness based on our virtual presentation option.”

Two individuals were honored with the CEU Speaker of the Year award. Kayla Keenan, Technical Sales Director-Midwest Region for Stone Panels LLC presented 42 classes and educated 401 attendees in 2021. Keenan said, “In these unprecedented times, you have to be creative and continue to reach as many people as possible. CEUs have given us the opportunity to gain connections and tell our story.”    

Leigh Ann McKinley, Design and Development Lead for Temmer, presented 30 classes and educated 190 individuals. McKinley said, “Because natural stone is formed by the earth without being altered by man, its characteristics are unique and diverse. Through CEUs, we are able to educate people to appreciate its geologic origin and use this information to make wise design decisions in the built environment.”

2021 Migliore Lifetime Achievement Award

Brett Rugo (pictured above) of Rugo Stone has received the 2021 Migliore Lifetime Achievement Award after nomination from a longtime business associate and friend, who recalled Rugo’s meticulousness and his desire to do things right the first time. His most meaningful employment in stone began the early 1980s with Kenneth Castellucci, who Rugo credits for being instrumental in terms of building his own network, his own awareness of all the different sources and players within the industry. “You know, he didn’t hand me a textbook, but he certainly opened doors and I will be eternally grateful for that.” Always seeking knowledge or an opportunity to share, Rugo Stone became a member of the Natural Stone Institute in 2000. Rugo’s individual industry association accomplishments began with his appointment to the Board of Directors of the Marble Institute of America in 2004. He ultimately became president in 2010. Here he pushed forward an agenda emphasizing the development of new cutting-edge topics and updating the existing chapters of the Dimension Stone Design Manual to keep the industry up to date with changes in construction techniques and building codes.  Rugo and his team at Rugo Stone have together earned an impressive 22 Pinnacle Awards and four Tucker Design Awards over the life of these awards programs. Dozens of other organizational accolades have recognized his knowledge, skill, creative problem solving, and dedication to the highest quality in standards. He credits those to his team—not just himself.  Rugo anticipates working to continually advance the technical documents and documentation that the Natural Stone Institute offers to the industry. He plans to continue educating specifiers and young architects on how to properly use natural stone. He believes it is the key to our industry’s survival.  

2022 Women in Stone Pioneer Award

Kim Dumais of Miller Druck Specialty Contracting is the 2022 Women in Stone Pioneer Award recipient. Dumais has spent her entire career in the stone business, 22 of those years have been with Miller Druck Specialty Contracting. During those years Dumais has become an authority on stones around the world and earned a status with architects and clients making her an asset to anything involving stone. While Miller Druck doesn’t typically believe in titles, Dumais is recognized as Vice President of Sales. Her colleague Ismael Garcia believes a more accurate title would be Director of Knowledge because of her thirst to teach, encourage and help others advance. “Kim is a role model for other women interested in a career path in natural stone,” says Jonathan Mitnick of CCS Stone of Moonachie, NJ. “She has decades of experience, feels equally comfortable working with luxury clients, interior designers, and architects as she would be at a jobsite in Manhattan, working with a difficult project manager.” When Women in Stone was first formed, Dumais didn’t waste any time getting involved and joining the steering committee. She has played an active role since its inception and works to give other women the tools that they needed to pursue a successful career in the stone industry. Women in Stone Administrator Sarah Gregg compliments Dumais for her contributions to the organization’s Mentorship Program. “The most impactful thing that I’ve seen Kim do is mentor the young women in our industry. We assign her with a mentee who maybe has only one or two years of experience in the industry, who shows great promise, but just needs that extra education about where the stone comes from and what its best uses are.”

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