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Our Team

Meet Our Staff

The staff at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming is committed to providing students with an unsurpassed learning experience. Each instructor is highly experienced in teaching adult learners. The curriculum is direct, focused, and easy to understand. Students will learn from one of the most established training centers in the country with a strong reputation for excellence.

Meet Our Founder - Melissa Verplank, CMG, CEO

Certified Master Groomer, Video Instructor, Curriculum Development, President & Founder of Paragon

Melissa Verplank has over 30 years of experience in the pet industry. Her mastery of grooming techniques has won her numerous awards at both national & international levels. She has owned and operated multiple businesses including:

  • A fleet of mobile grooming units that serviced the greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area
  • A grooming salon that grew into The Paragon School of Pet Grooming
  • A luxury pet care facility called Whiskers Resort & Pet Spa
  • White Dog Enterprises which publishes her award winning books, Notes From the Grooming Table and Theory of Five along with other educational products for the pet professional.
  • Learn2GroomDogs.com, an on-line educational streaming video library for pet professionals.

She was involved in the ground level of the voluntary certification testing programs, earning her Certified Master Groomer title in the mid 1980s. Melissa was a member of the traveling team for GroomTeam USA – representing the United States in the World Team Competition in France in the early 90s. Later, she was the GroomTeam USA Team Coordinator, served on the Board of Directors, and currently sits on the Advisory Board. She assisted in the start-up of the International Judges Association and is an approved grooming judge with the United Showmanagers Alliance. Ms. Verplank is a highly sought-after industry speaker, contest grooming judge, author, and a two-time Cardinal Crystal Achievement winner.

Melissa remains active and very involved in many areas of the pet industry. She and her husband, Marc, spend time on their expansive Black Falcon Farm, where they enjoy spending time in the saddle with their horses. Together, Melissa and Marc enjoy all types of outdoor adventures including trail riding, kayaking, hiking, and diving. Melissa also loves healthy gourmet cooking. They share their farm with other furry family members including Maremma Sheepdogs and cats.

Joe Zuccarello, MBA
VP of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development
Joe has been in the pet industry for almost 33 years. Joe started in the pet industry as a 13-year old bather/brusher in a small grooming shop in the St. Louis area. After a few years, Joe joined the team at one of the most prestigious multi-unit pet resorts, Kennelwood Pet Resorts. There, he helped develop several cutting-edge programs and services including Deluxe all-inclusive Suites boarding, SHED-X Treatments, Doggie Day Care, an in-house grooming training school, professional consulting division, and eventually the company’s franchise offering.

When he left Kennelwood as VP of Operations and Director of Franchising in 2008, he joined the sales and product development team at TropiClean Pet Products. There he enjoyed accomplishments such as explosive sales growth with retail partners such as Petco, PetSmart, and other large chains and Distributors. He also launched products in a new sales channel at Home Shopping Network (HSN) as a guest host appearing dozens of times on television teaching home shoppers about proper pet hygiene. Joe left TropiClean after nine years to join Melissa Verplank’s team of businesses and recognizes how important Melissa’s vision of education is to the professional pet services industry. His role as VP of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development is positioned perfectly to drive new services and products to deliver on Melissa’s dream of elevating the industry.

Joe holds a Master’s Degree in Business as well as the honor of being a sought-after speaker and business consultant. He also spent several years as a Senior Lecturer and Professor at a private University in St. Louis. Joe and his wife have two amazing adult sons. Joe and Deanna live in St. Louis and share their home with their Shih-Tzu “Vinnie” who has them wrapped around his paw for sure! 

Lorri Keller, CMG
Director of Operations
Lorri graduated from Paragon in 1993. In her career spanning 25 years, she has worked in high-end salons, as well as owned and operated her own salon. Lorri also worked in corporate grooming environments, running the district of Michigan and Indiana for PetSmart Grooming.

She earned her Certified Master Groomer status through International Professional Groomers, Inc. (IPG). Lorri is an award-winning stylist in Sporting and Terrier groups and has also done a bit of conformation showing.

Lorri is a firm believer and advocate of the benefits of education and has attended many professional workshops and seminars to continue to hone her skills. She has helped create curriculum and taught students at Paragon for almost a decade.
Lorri and her husband have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. They share their home with 2 Aussies and a Welsh Terrier. Her Aussies keep her young and you can often find her enjoying the outdoors and hiking.

Kristen Smith
Business Development
Kristin spent 30 years in customer service-driven industries, developing her customer-focused mindset and communication skills. At a crossroads in her life, she chose to attend and graduate from Paragon, combining her passion for dogs, with a strong desire to be involved in the creative dog grooming industry. She is also a Certified Canine Esthetician and Certified in Canine CPR and First Aid. Joining Paragon to help others realize their dreams was, literally, a dream come true. Kristin has 2 very loved Jack Russell Terriers, and 2 miniature poodles on the way.
Sarah Sexton
Student Support and Management
Sarah’s love for animals started when she was growing up in Northern Michigan on her family’s small hobby farm. When she graduated high school, Sarah moved out to Southern California for the duration of her young adulthood. Sarah initially took interest in working for a growing marketing company but her love and compassion for animals led her to begin working with dogs in 2008 at a high-volume salon outside of Los Angeles. Sarah started as the salon receptionist and found her way into the position of bather, then groomer.

Sarah graduated from Paragon in 2012. In 2014, she joined the Paragon customer service team. Sarah’s skill sets are diverse, which allows her to lend assistance to both the grooming and administrative aspects of Paragon. Most recently, Sarah has taken the leading role in our Admission Department. She now assists others in pursuing their career dreams.

Sarah has rescued her two dogs, Bowie and Zeke. She enjoys hiking, camping, visiting family up north, and working with challenging and geriatric dogs.

Kara Adams, BBA
Membership and Marketing Development
Kara began working at Paragon in early 2018 and has since completed her Bachelor’s degree in Business from Grand Valley State University. She grew up with a love for animals, always spending too much time at the petting zoo and even volunteering at the shelter. Kara now uses her business and marketing education in the pet grooming industry. She is an advocate for continued education, as there is always more to learn.

Kara has two Black Lab rescues, Leo and Lady. She enjoys the outdoors and bonfires with friends. If she’s not working around the house, you’ll find her at sports car events or lounging in the sun. 

Courtney Ramstack, CMG
Distance Learning Mentor

Courtney Ramstack began her career in 1998 as a bather and dog behaviorist with a large retail pet store. Courtney spent two years in the role and quickly learned her passion was in grooming and making sure all pets looked their best. Courtney was promoted to groomer and began managing a salon shortly thereafter. In late 2000, Courtney attended a corporate training program conducted by The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Paragon was instrumental in helping develop her skills, while also teaching advanced grooming techniques. Upon successful completion of the course, Courtney was accredited as a Salon Training Director.

Courtney began competing in professional pet grooming shows where she has numerous placements and wins in the Poodle, Bichon, and Terrier classes. The highlight of her competition career was winning Best in Show and Best in Class with her poodle.

From 2000-2010, Courtney conducted numerous training sessions at three separate locations. Courtney shared her passion for grooming and advanced grooming techniques with over 150 students throughout the Midwest. Some of her students have gone on to compete and win at high-level grooming competitions. Most of her students continue to work in the grooming industry and have opened their own salons. While teaching these courses, Courtney became an IPG Master Groomer and is currently working on dual Master Stylist status with the NDGAA.

Courtney has managed several successful salons. She has had a significant impact in growing sales, and more importantly, she has been instrumental in helping clients understand the importance of proper hygiene for their pets. Most recently, Courtney has taken her exceptional grooming talents to a local veterinary clinic in Carmel, IN where she manages award-winning stylists while still finding time to groom for her huge client network.

Courtney is married and has two beautiful children that keep her very busy with activities. She has two dogs, a Miniature Poodle (Dolly) that is a Grand Champion, a rescued husky/golden retriever (Hazel) and a cat (Joy).
Courtney is a compassionate leader with a strong sense of quality and attention to detail Her salons have a reputation of beautiful work combined with outstanding customer service. She takes great pride in making her shops a fun and exciting place to work in the Indianapolis area.

Check out Courtney’s instructional videos on Learn2GroomDogs.com

Liz Thompson
Distance Learning Mentor

Liz Thompson unknowingly began her career as a kennel attendant and bather while she was in highschool (2007-2008). In 2009 she attended Paragon in pursuit of becoming a pet stylist. Liz has since worked at high-end salons and became a grooming instructor and mentor at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming.

Liz is certified through the National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA) in Sporting, Short-Legged Terrier and Long-Legged Terrier. She plans on certifying in Non-Sporting to become a Certified Master Groomer (CMG). Liz has also competed with a modified Bichon trim on her dog Ava.

In Liz’s free time she likes to put her artistic mind at play to create DIY projects. When putting her artistic abilities aside, she enjoys spending time with family and her two sons, Harvey and Colton.

Shelley Hollis
Distance Learning Mentor

Shelley began dog sitting at the age of seven. She followed her passion for animals and graduated from The Paragon School of Pet Grooming in 2008. She has attended multiple grooming shows, seminars and classes. Shelley gained a world of grooming experience while working in grooming salons for 10 years. In 2019, her dreams came true when she became a grooming instructor at The Paragon School of Pet Grooming. She currently mentors students for Paragon’s Distance Learning Program.

Shelley has a Boston Terrier named Kingston. They like to go hiking together on the weekends and explore Michigan State Parks.

Alyssa Maddox
Distance Learning Mentor

Alyssa is currently a Paragon Distance Learning Program mentor. She graduated from The Paragon School of Pet Grooming in 2014 and began as a mentor for Paragon in 2019. Before Alyssa’s time at Paragon, she worked at a small grooming shop and a vet clinic to gain more experience before opening up her own salon, The Golden Girl Pet Care. She is also a certified canine esthitician and certified in Pet First Aid.

Alyssa loves spending her free time with her husband and son. Given the name of her salon, The Golden Girl Pet Care, she also enjoys spending quality time with her two Golden Retrievers and cat.

Kassie Bont
Customer Service Specialist

Kassie has had a love for animals for as long as she can remember. She knew she was going to work with animals since she was young. She used to help out with feeding, grooming and breeding of her family’s Cocker Spaniels. Her love for animals has since grown into a passion. She has attended multiple pet expos and seminars ranging in everything from nutrition to grooming, which has helped her develop her passion into a career path. Since graduating highschool she had dreams of working for Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Life took her in a different path for a while but in 2020, her dreams came true!

Kassie currently has 3 dogs, but would love to own more. Her current dogs are:  A miniature poodle mix named Daisy, a toy Australian Shepherd mix named Pheonix, and a Bluetick Coonhound named Dixie. Her dream dogs are either a German Shorthaired Pointer or a French Bulldog. When she’s not working she enjoys camping with her family, and taking the dogs on adventures.

Brenda Mendez
Distance Learning Mentor

Brenda Mendez represents a fresh voice in the grooming industry.  With more than a quarter century in the pet industry, Brenda brings many experiences in several salon settings.  She brings a laid back style and humorous approach to teaching,  ‘Never limit yourself to one source of learning’.  Brenda has been professionally grooming pets since 1993 and is a member of several industry organizations. She is a Certified Master Cat Groomer through the Professional Cat Groomers Association as well as a certifier for them., and a Certified Professional Groomer through the IPG.

Brenda lives with her husband, standard poodle Charlee, Italian Greyhound mix Renly, 5 cats and most recently her father and his chihuahua mix Bandit. She has three adult daughters, one granddaughter and another due in December. In her free time she enjoys traveling and spending time with my family.

Suesan Watson, CMG
Distance Learning Mentor

Suesan is a third generation pet stylist whose dynamic career stretches over 40 years. A “Certified Master Groomer”, she owns a successful mobile grooming business, serving the Chicago/Northwest Suburban area. Sue is part of Wahl’s “Extreme Team” and is approved by the “United Show Managers’ Alliance” as a “Sanctioned Judge”. She is also a proud Paragon Distance Learning Program Mentor and a Learn2GroomDogs.com Training Expert.

She began grooming competitively in 1995, and has received many class and group placings. Sue is a winner of the “Wahl 2003 Groomer of the Year” award, and only recipient of three consecutive “Cardinal Crystal Grooming Achievement Awards for American Groomer of the Year”. In addition, Suesan has been nominated multiple times for “Cardinal Grooming Contest Judge of the Year”, and Cardinal “Congeniality” awards.

Making “Groom Team USA” in 2000, Suesan was in the top five positions for five years in a row, before retiring from competing to become a judge in 2005. Her 2004 placings garnered her the honor of competing with the “Groom Team USA Travel Team” in France, in 2005; with the USA team placing second, only one point behind France. Sue also won “Best Clipping” recognition with her Mini-Poodle in the “individual open class”, at the same competition.

Her keen eye for dogs, understanding of the “standards” and knowledge of grooming techniques, coupled with her pleasant demeanor, has made Sue a sought after competition judge and speaker, both in the United States and abroad. And with a natural ability to communicate grooming techniques to others in an understanding and often-humorous way, she regularly draws crowds at her seminars and grooming demonstrations around the country. Sue also does private hands-on seminars with individuals and smaller shop groups.

Shelley Fledderjohann
Distance Learning Mentor

Shelley graduated from grooming school in 1998. She then continued her career in a vet clinic, grooming and assisting the vet from 1997-2005. In 2005, Shelley opened her own grooming salon where she honed her skills and grew her own business. In 2013 she moved her business into a larger location to expand her services into boarding, daycare and grooming.

Shelley believes in continued education and always makes sure to attend at least two continued education seminars a year. Her passion for growing in the grooming industry landed her at Paragon with the opportunity to share her grooming and business experiences with students.

She has been married for 26 years to her husband, Mark and they have two adopted children that they love very much. They also have 6 dogs! A Standard Poodle, a YorkiePoo, a Border Terrier Mix and three Shih Tzu’s. All of which are rescues, aside from her Standard Poodle.

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