State propane associations welcome ‘new blood’

January 11, 2023 By    

As the new year begins, several state propane gas associations are welcoming new leaders.

While Iowa’s Michelle Wicker has the advantage of spending the last 20 years within the propane industry, executive directors in five other states are eagerly learning the proverbial ropes while setting up their offices and meeting their members.

To help you get acquainted with these new people you’ll see at industry events, LP Gas asked each about their background, plans and goals, and a little of what makes them tick.


Little brings Laural Bunn greater joy than helping others, problem-solving and achieving goals – all things that she will have an ample opportunity to do as the new executive director of the Alabama Propane Gas Association.

Headshot: Laural Bunn


With previous program management experience in advertising, sales, nonprofits, fundraising, government and public administration, Bunn says she is excited for the challenge of managing the state association.

“After meeting with the previous executive director [Lisa Fountain Hill] and board members to discuss their vision for the future and their expectations for this role,” Bunn says, “I was confident that I could lead the association and continue their positive path toward the future.”

Bunn, who began her job Jan. 9, says she will continue to learn from Hill over the next six months.

“Mrs. Hill is an invaluable resource with a wealth of knowledge that includes extensive industry and job-specific experiences from the past 26 years,” she says.

Aided by a strategic plan outlined by the board, Bunn says, she will work toward fulfilling that vision while learning more about the association and propane industry.

“Beyond that, my goal is to be an effective leader for the association – providing value to its members by helping to identify potential challenges and opportunities while helping them move toward an even brighter future,” she says.

In Alabama, more than 90 percent of the propane dealers are members of the association, in addition to suppliers who support the industry. Bunn says the association has been strong under Hill’s direction, and she plans to work hard to continue the solid leadership Hill has provided members.

She urged members to contact her to voice support or express concerns.

“My door is always open, and my phone is always available,” she stresses. “I will go out of my way to meet their needs and to lead their association into the future.”


As the state of California pushes even harder toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2024, the legislative landscape for propane appears tenuous. With the governor’s November announcement that the state would take unprecedented steps to drastically slash pollution and accelerate the transition to clean energy, the propane industry fears it will be slighted in favor of electricity and other energy sources.

Headshot: Colin Sueyres


But Colin Sueyres, the new president and CEO of the Western Propane Gas Association (WPGA), is fired up and ready to fight on behalf of members, and he emphasized that it is not “doom and gloom” for the industry there.

“I am looking forward to picking fights on [members’] behalf because that’s part of why I get up in the morning,” Sueyres says. “I’m going to spend every waking moment of my day trying to make sure that California has a prosperous and great future for the propane industry.”

Propane can contribute to the state’s goals for clean energy and needs a level playing field to demonstrate how it can serve residential, commercial and industrial customers as a clean-burning fuel.

“That, I think, is going to be the single-biggest challenge because if you put your thumb on the scales as a regulator or legislative body, the consumer doesn’t get a choice. You’ve made it for them preemptively. And I think that is what we’re going to try and protect against.”

With nearly 20 years of management and public affairs experience, the Sacramento resident has worked as director of governmental affairs for a large health care trade association and as a staff member for several elected officials, among them former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Michelle Wicker, new CEO of the Iowa Propane Gas Association, visits Capitol Hill. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Wicker)

Michelle Wicker, new CEO of the Iowa Propane Gas Association, visits Capitol Hill. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Wicker)

Sueyres believes the propane industry needs to do a better job telling the story of the good it does in communities, as an industry, to support local economies and in the quest for carbon neutrality.

“We have to find a way to lift our message up outside of our industry and outside of our regulators, and have a broader conversation about the benefits that propane provides across all industrial sectors, across all commercial sectors, across all transportation sectors, all residential sectors, and marrying that to what we’re doing to move the industry, particularly here in California, to the next generation,” he says.

Because California regulators are pushing the front line to promote green energy, the industry there has an opportunity to build upon its role as a thought leader on a national level to position propane as complementary to green goals.

“If there are great lessons that can be learned that can be replicated at our national level through the federal government or internationally, we’re making sure that WPGA is the voice in the room, setting what the best-possible standard for the industry could be in a way that allows the industry to move that route.”

The key, he says, is making sure that legislators don’t impose artificial barriers that prohibit the propane industry from competing with other fuels.

“I think we’re already seeing that, when we’re able to compete in an open market, we’re as competitive as any other energy source,” he says.


Michelle Wicker may be new in her role as CEO of the Iowa Propane Gas Association, but propane industry members in that state have known and trusted her for years.

Headshot: Michelle Wicker


Wicker, who has been training for months with retired director Deb Grooms, worked five years in customer service for Ferrellgas before joining the state association more than 15 years ago. Wicker served as Grooms’ executive assistant, handling membership, correspondence, billing, phone calls and rebates, and scheduling training and other meetings.

“I was the first point of contact for the members,” Wicker says. “I talked to most of them on the phone but did not travel much to meet them face to face, so I am looking forward to that.”

Grooms, who retired Dec. 31, remains available for advice, but Wicker says she expects to rely on Tom Dunn, the association’s knowledgeable safety director the past 14-plus years, whom she described as a great asset to the members. She recently hired her own assistant, Amanda Trent, and looks forward to introducing her to members. In addition, Wicker says, Tim Coonan and Sydney Gangestad with the law firm Dentons Davis Brown do a great job representing the association as lobbyists.

When she’s not working, this Harley-riding grandmother enjoys spending time with her 30-year-old son and his new baby boy, and her 21-year-old daughter. But Wicker expects to keep in close contact with her predecessor in her off hours as well.

“Deb has been a great boss, and I will miss her a great deal,” Wicker says. “She wasn’t just a boss; she has been my friend as well, so I am sure we will keep in close contact.”


As much as Becky Schwartz enjoys association work, she loves her time spent with people even more. That’s what drew her to the role as executive vice president of the Propane Marketers Association of Kansas, succeeding Greg Noll, who served in that capacity for the past 18 years of his 46-year career in the propane industry.

Headshot: Becky Schwartz


Schwartz has spent most of her professional career working for associations in several related industries.

“I started out as a communications and event planner for the trucking association,” she says.

Eventually, she started helping trucking company members with regulations and safety programs as the association’s director of safety. That led to a job with a large national trucking company, overseeing 200 drivers and 100 trucks.

“I spent a lot of time away from my family and learned real quick that I missed member relations,” says Schwartz, who has two daughters, ages 17 and 15, and has been married to her husband for five years.

Family time is important to her: She enjoys traveling with her husband to craft breweries all over the country, and they are season ticket holders for the two professional soccer teams in Kansas City: the men’s Sporting Kansas City and the women’s Kansas City Current.

Returning to association work, she took a job as the associate executive director for the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association for a couple of years before being promoted to its executive director.

She says it was the people who drew her to the propane industry.

“Some of the members in the petroleum marketer industry are also in the propane industry,” she says. “They are the most down-to-earth people, and they want to teach you about the industry.”

Schwartz, who started Jan. 1, will lean on those people – along with Noll, president Hannah Ramirez of Trinity Ag LLC and former president David Stewart of Heartland Propane – as she learns more about the particulars of this industry.

As in any other industry, Schwartz says, she expects mergers and acquisitions to pose the greatest challenge for members going forward: “That isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Schwartz says she fully believes in the power of the state association to thrive and make a difference for members.

“We are here to help,” Schwartz says. “We are your most inexpensive employee – utilize us. We may not know the answer right away, but we will figure it out. Everyone on staff has strengths in different areas, and our job is to help in any way we can.”

West Virginia

Anyone who has to follow the colorful Tom Osina as executive director of the West Virginia Propane Gas Association (WVPGA) must be pretty dynamic in her own right. And Amber Perry, who started Jan. 1 to succeed Osina, might be just that person.

Headshot: Amber Perry


Like her predecessor, who worked as a school teacher, management trainer and radio DJ before discovering the propane industry, Perry gathered experience in multiple, seemingly unrelated fields before joining the WVPGA.

“I’ve worked as a nurse, been a stay-at-home mother, home-schooled my children, went back to college and obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s in social work, and somehow find myself working in the world of government and public relations,” she says.

But, as with Osina, those varied roads converge to craft a personality skilled at working with people while passionately advocating for their rights.

Perry served the nonprofit West Virginia Citizens Defense League as vice president and worked directly in membership engagement and grassroots organizing. After 11 years of successfully working with clients to get high-profile legislation passed, Perry joined TSG Consulting LLC as a public policy specialist.

Her government relations and consulting services have included policy research and development, bill-drafting assistance, policy analysis, advancing legislation and strategic planning of short-term, midterm and long-term legislative goals.

She applied those skills on behalf of the propane industry as a contract lobbyist since January 2022, before Osina announced his Dec. 31 retirement. He remains available for consult while she masters the management tasks, and the WVPGA board of directors has pledged its assistance during her transition.

A recent leadership summit in Washington, D.C., for state executives gave her the opportunity to meet executive directors from neighboring states, she says: “Everyone has been very kind and helpful, and I’m glad to be a part of such an organization.”

One of the first things she wants to tackle on behalf of the WVPGA is to modernize its website and make better use of technology in the association’s work. She looks forward to welcoming new members – wholesalers, marketers or retailers – and getting to know everyone. She wants to evaluate the options available through the state rebate program.

In a mountainous state like West Virginia, the association must be assertive in protecting the availability of fossil fuels like propane and fight any government regulations that could negatively impact the industry.

“There is definitely a desire within our association to hold the line on fossil fuels while the country navigates the ‘electrify everything’ trend,” Perry says. “We also work here to make sure WVPGA and propane are stakeholders with a seat at the table in keeping the energy playing field as level as possible. West Virginia is a very rural state, and propane is often the best option. We want to ensure folks are able to count on propane being in the picture.”


While some state executives who have learned the management side of association work on the job, Cheryl Lytle may be exceptionally qualified to serve as an association leader. For the past year, she has studied to be a certified association executive, in addition to more than 20 years of work experience in state associations as an events director and administrative director.

Headshot: Cheryl Lytle


With that education and experience under her belt, she started looking for a way to use her talents in a bigger way and discovered an exciting opportunity in propane.

“There is a lot going in propane,” Lytle says, citing a special interest in the growth of renewable propane. “The goal to get down to zero carbons is fascinating and really is the wave of the future. We’re kind of on that cusp, that it’s not really [well] known, but it’s there for us. So I’m excited to be here.”

Lytle, who started June 15 as executive director, says she is relying on “anyone and everyone” in the industry to help her get acclimated, but says she’s particularly impressed by the resources available through the Propane Education & Research Council and the National Propane Gas Association.

Aside from making sure members can access what they need from her office, Lytle says, she is looking forward to getting out of her office, meeting members in the field and learning the industry from them. She hopes to promote the technical training in colleges for propane HVAC, building trades and auto mechanics so that consumers interested in a propane-fueled car or appliance know they have support.

Lytle also is focused on propane supply connected with the controversial Line 5, which originates in Superior, Wisconsin, before crossing into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And consolidation within the industry continues to impact membership, so she hopes to boost engagement and build relationships to drive association vitality.

“My goal is, really, to get people interactive, reading our newsletter, coming out to some of our events,” Lytle says. “I feel that, being new, I’m going to put a lot of energy and passion into the association and hope that will hook our members into being engaged themselves.”

More transitions

In addition to new leaders in Alabama, California, Iowa, Kansas, West Virginia and Wisconsin, Brad Blair was named executive director of the Illinois Propane Gas Association; Jacqueline Piazza succeeded Katina Pearl-Blando as managing director of the New Jersey Propane Gas Association following Pearl-Blando’s death; and Steve Ahrens, longtime head of the Missouri Propane Gas Association, also became leader of the Arkansas Propane Gas Association.

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