WQA Leadership Awards

The Water Quality Association annually recognizes individuals and companies who have excelled in their commitment or service to the water quality improvement industry.

Any WQA member is eligible for the Leadership awards with a required minimum commitment or service to the water quality industry evidenced by engagement with WQA, a state or regional WQA, or other industry association. In addition to that, each award has requirements described on the individual awards pages: Hall of Fame AwardLifetime Membership AwardKey AwardRay Cross AwardRegents AwardAward of MeritInternational Award of MeritNext Gen Award, or Honorary Membership Award

Nominations are evaluated against each individual award criteria by the Nominating Committee, and recommended award recipients are reviewed and approved by the WQA Board of Governors and announced at the following year's WQA Convention & Exposition.

Nominations for 2023 Leadership Awards will open in Fall 2022.

The new WQA Excellence Award was established in 2017 to honor member companies that demonstrate excellence in customer service, business operations, community service, and innovation. It can be presented in two categories:  Manufacturer/Supplier and Dealer. Companies apply for this honor rather than being nominated; at minimum, the applicant must have been a WQA member for at least three years, sell or manufacture certified products and have at least one certified professional on staff. 

Please note that not all awards are necessarily given each year. 

Applications for the 2023 WQA Excellence Awards will open in Fall 2022.

2022 Honorees




Richard Mest

Master Water Conditioning Corp


Steve Ver Strat
Amway (retired)

  Richard A. Mest is President of Master Water Conditioning Corporation, a manufacturer of water treatment products, services and technical support for residential, commercial and industrial applications.  He served as WQA President in 2013-14 and is completing his second year as Water Quality Research Foundation President. Richard was chair of the task force that launched the WQA Business Operations report last year and serves on the WQA Federal Government Affairs Committee.  He is an avid educator who has led seminars for trade associations, health departments and children’s programs, and he is the author of numerous technical articles on water treatment. He is past recipient of the WQA Award of Merit (2006), the Key Award (2011) and the Lifetime Membership Award (2020).   Steve Ver Strat recently completed a 42-plus-year career with Amway Corporation, where he served as Regulatory Policy Director for home environment category of products that included water and air filtration products.  Steve represented the Corporation in numerous national and international trade associations and served as WQA’s 2019-2020 President.  He also was heavily involved in the development of national and international safety and performance standards including those of NSF International, the International Electrotechnical Commission, AHAM, and Underwriters Laboratory and led or contributed to a countless number of committees and task groups.   

Cindy Gresham
Thermax, Inc.

Bob Maisner
Paragon Water Systems

Mike Heatwole
Water-Right, Inc.
Hon. Tammy Baldwin
U.S. Senator
Cindy Gresham recently retired as Business Development Manager with Thermax, Inc., where she worked for 17 years, serving as National Sales Manager for 13. She served on the WQA Board of Directors from 2012-2018, two of those years on the Board of Governors. She also has been involved with WQA committees including Governance, Membership, Federal Government Affairs and Water Sciences. Cindy holds a BS in Business Management and MBA from Eastern University (St. David’s, PA). She served as a mentor for WQA’s Women in Industry (WIN) Mentoring Program and has been a strong proponent of education through WQA.    Bob Maisner is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Paragon Water based in Tampa, Florida. He has been part of the water treatment industry for 40 years, including 12 years in the bottled water industry.  He has been a member of Water Quality Association for the past 25 years, serving on many committees and task forces and currently serving on the Industry Research Committee. Bob served on the WQA Board of Governors for eight years and was WQA President in 2017-2018. He has a passion for the industry and a desire to see others involved in developing new technologies.  

A self-described “old farm boy who learned to appreciate the importance of water in our daily lives,” Mike Heatwole is a Territory Sales Manager for Water-Right, Inc. For 38 years, he was a partner and Sales Manager for May Supply Company, which was honored with a WQA Excellence Award in 2020. A frequent presenter at the WQA Convention & Exposition, Mike has spoken on water quality and water treatment topics at numerous state associations and other national events. Mike has served on many WQA committees and task forces, including serving as Vice Chair of the Membership Committee and Chair of the Technical Convention Task Force.


The Hon. Tammy Baldwin was born and raised in Wisconsin and earned degrees from Smith College and the University of Wisconsin Law School. She served on the Madison Common Council, then the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the Wisconsin state legislature before being elected Wisconsin’s first female member of Congress in 1998. She served seven terms in the House, serving on the Budget Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Energy and Commerce Committee, before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Sen. Baldwin is sponsoring WQA’s Clean Water for All initiative in the Senate.

Claudia Milliron
Kinetico Incorporated
Candice Wentling, MWS
Certified Action

Trent Jacobi
GE Appliances

Ariane Paris
Ethical H2O

Claudia Milliron, Market Research Manager at Kinetico Incorporated, joined the water treatment industry in 2005 after graduating with an MBA from Case Western Reserve University. Claudia loves playing with numbers and firmly believes in the value of research and data to make educated, logical decisions. Her expertise in quantitative and qualitative research has been put to use when serving as the chair of the WQA Market Research Committee and when leading the Water Quality Association’s RO task force as they and North American RO manufacturers developed an accurate view of the RO Market. She also serves as the chair of the newly created WQA Thrive Advisory Council.

  Candice Wentling, MWS, is Director of Certified Action, a business advisement and training company, and has been conducting sales training, field coaching and leadership accountability seminars for the last 16 years. Her degrees in Business and Social Work lend well to leadership and employee engagement.  Within the water treatment industry, Candice has extensive leadership and field sales experience, has organized training programs, conducted regional workshops, worked directly with on-boarding and training of new sales representatives, and became a Master Water Specialist and active committee member with the Water Quality Association.    Trent Jacobi is Senior Director – Water Treatment for GE Appliance, a Haier company, where he has worked 14 years. Previously he served as GE’s Finance Manager in the Refrigeration & Water Treatment, Dishwashers and Service departments and a Finance Analyst in New Product Development. Trent hold a B.S. in Accounting from Kelly School of Business, Indiana University. He is committed to mentoring the youth within his community through leading several youth sports teams and actively volunteering in youth programming at his church.  He currently serves on the WQA Board of Directors.    Ariane Paris is a 20-year veteran of the water quality industry and Founder and CEO of Ethical H2O in San Diego, a company that was named One of the Top Dealers of 2020 by WQP Magazine. She serves as the Vice Chair of the WQA Women in Industry Advisory Council, mentors for WQA’s LEAD mentoring program. Ariane cites that being in the water quality industry offers her a platform for her passion to educate and support people on their journey to better health and well-being through improved water quality. 

2021 Excellence Awards

Manufacturer/Supplier/Retailer category - Antunes, Carol Stream, IL

Antunes, a water treatment and commercial kitchen appliance manufacturer in Carol Stream, IL, partners with the non-profit organization Splash to bring clean water to children around the world through Splash’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) program.

Antunes’ ultra-filtration technology, designed for the challenges of the food service industry, treats water in public schools, hospitals and other institutions to meet WHO guidelines for drinking water quality. As of 2021, Splash and Antunes have partnered to provide clean water technology to nearly 900,00 children at more than 2,300 schools, hospital, shelters and orphanages. Splash has set a bold goal of reaching children at every orphanage in China, every public school in Kathmandu, Nepal, and every child-serving institution in Kolkata, India.

In addition, Antunes employees raise money to support Splash’s efforts with various companywide events, including the annual golf outing, which in 2021 raised a record $115,000 for Splash.  “The golf outing is an annual highlight for our team members and partners, providing the opportunity to connect outside the office while raising money for an important cause,” said Jane Antunes Bullock, Chief Purpose Officer. “Our partnership with Splash continues to be a source of pride for Antunes.”