Festival Staff

Liz Ahrens, Consultant

Liz has served as a leader, consultant, featured speaker, and volunteer for non-profit organizations for over 40 years. Her experience as an executive director includes American Impressionist Society and Crooked Tree Arts Center. Liz has served statewide organizations, including Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, ArtServe Michigan, and Michigan State University College of Arts and Letters Alumni Board. Her regional volunteer board positions include Rotary International, Petoskey Rotary Charities, Harbor Springs Foundation, Petoskey Chamber of Commerce, Harbor Springs Chamber of Commerce, Mackinac Arts Council, and Little Traverse Bay Humane Society.

Alex Dailey, Assistant Director

Alex is a part-time, year-round independent contractor for CSLF, handling PR, marketing, and communications. She studied creative writing at Grand Valley State University and graduated in 2012. She lives in Northern Michigan and works as a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. Her previous position at a non-profit arts organization afforded her the experiences of newsletter editor, PR specialist, press contact, social media writer, coordinator of a grade-school writing competition, and local columnist, among others. Examples of Alex’s work can be found at writingdailey.com.

Zack Smith, Podcast Producer

Zach lives in Northern Michigan with his wife and three kids. His love of film began in 2009 with a mission trip in Africa where he was filming street kids. He then went to Kona’s film school through YWAM in 2010, followed by graduation from Biola University with a Bachelor of Cinema and Media Arts. He worked for the Jesus Film Project as an audio recordist in India for a time. In 2019, he and his wife started their own media company based in Northern Michigan. He began working with the C.S. Lewis Festival in 2020, helping launch the Lewis Festival Scholar Series as a solution to the cancellation of in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board of Directors

David Crouse, President

David is an Emmy Award-winning independent film producer. Before he became an independent producer, David worked in every capacity of broadcasting from on-air, to advertising, sales and promotion, and management. In 1989, he formed Crouse Entertainment Group to capitalize on the explosive growth in media. The company’s original productions focus on religion, politics, biography, and the environment. David, along with his long time producing partner Chip Duncan, has the distinction of being the first producers ever granted interviews with five former U.S. Presidents for a single documentary Positive Thinking: The Norman Vincent Peale Story (Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush).

Brian Wagner, Vice President

Brian’s 30-year professional career as an entrepreneurial business and technical leader spans PTIS (cofounder, and principal), HAVI, Kellogg’s, Sara Lee, Multiform Desiccants, Carton-Craft Corp., Burger King and General Foods. In 2008, he was inducted into the Michigan State University School of Packaging Hall of Fame and was recognized as 2008 Western Michigan Business Review – Thought Leaders. In 2016, Brian received the Reister- Davis- Brody Lifetime Achievement in Food Packaging, and the R. David LeButt Packaging Education award. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Packaging from Michigan State University.

Gayle Harlow, Secretary

With a career dedicated to customer service in the real estate and travel industries and volunteerism, Gayle is the ideal board member to facilitate the Saturday Seminar welcome, providing all attendees with materials that inform and educate on the featured topics and speakers. An avid reader with an impressive personal library, numerous donated works, and a well of author knowledge, she brings ideas and unique perspectives to the Festival and is the keeper of the organization’s history.

Peter Manthei, Treasurer

Peter is a businessman and entrepreneur. He lives with his wife and three cats in Petoskey, Michigan, where he manages various investments, especially commercial real estate, as part of his family business group, The Manthei Group. In addition to his work with his family’s business, he co-founded and manages a local community focused microbrewery, Beards Brewery.

Curt Coffield, Board Member

Curt is the Lead Pastor at North Life Church in beautiful Gaylord, Michigan. Before becoming a lead pastor, Curt served for three decades as a Worship Pastor, Campus Pastor, and Teaching Pastor at several great churches around the country. He has travelled to over thirty nations, touring with various bands leading worship and teaching. Between 2000-2007, Curt lead worship for Promise Keeper events in arenas across the country. From 2000-2004, he toured with Maranatha! Praise Band. As a songwriter, Curt has written over fifty published songs sung by various artists and churches around the world.

Dr. Crystal Downing, Board Member

Formerly Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Crystal is Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and Co-Holder of the Marion E. Wade Chair in Christian Thought at Wheaton College: a position she shares with her husband, C.S. Lewis scholar Dr. David C. Downing. Crystal is also a published author of several books and nearly 100 essays.

Dr. David C. Downing, Board Member

David is the Co-Director, with his wife Dr. Crystal Downing, of the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois. He is a Lewis scholar, a celebrated author of four scholarly books on Lewis’s works, and author of a historical novel.

Tom Rellinger, Board Member

Tom is Executive Vice President – Finance/HR, Operations and Development of Rochester University a private, liberal arts, university located twenty miles north of Detroit. Founded in 1959, this co-educational university cultivates academic excellence, principled character, servant leadership, and global awareness through a rigorous educational experience. Tom splits his time between Rochester, MI and Petoskey, and he was senior pastor of Petoskey Church of Christ for 15 years.

Jerry Root, Board Member

Jerry spent nearly thirty years building an extensive career in the financial sector, and he is currently an Associate Professor Emeritus at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Husband, father, and grandfather, Jerry happily calls Harbor Springs, Michigan, home and enjoys helping bring the Festival to life each year.


Sarah Arthur, Co-Founder & Advisor

Dr. Christopher Mitchell, In Memory

Reverend Dr. Michael Ward, Advisor