By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief
At this year’s American Gem Society (AGS) Conclave, held May 1–3 in Louisville, Ky., Meier Opalek was recognized as a winner of the Sallie Morton Award. Meier is the Retail Membership Coordinator for AGTA. He won this distinction in 2022 but was unable to attend last year’s event, so AGS honored him this year along with the 2023 recipient, William Frost. Those recognized were feted during the annual Titleholders Luncheon, held May 3.
The Sallie Morton Award recognizes individuals who have gone above and beyond in service to the AGS Guilds and is named for the first female president of AGS and the first woman to receive the Robert M. Shipley Award.
Morton was instrumental in developing the AGS National Guilds, a regional framework of members who gather for meetings throughout the year. The purpose of the Guilds is to further education among AGS members and elevate discussions on matters of jewelry or gemological interest.
Opalek, who helped create this award, earned the title for his years of service to the AGS Guilds. The Philadelphia native sold diamonds and jewelry as a road rep for many years. In the mid-1980s, he started volunteering for the GIA Alumni, helping them “break down barriers to build communities,” he explains. His efforts were noticed by many—so much so that when the AGS Guilds, which were similar in structure and purpose to GIA’s Alumni chapters, started to wane, Opalek was one of those tapped to help rebuild them.
In the late 00s, he set to work with gusto, building up Guilds and robust communities for the benefit of AGS members. One-hundred-person meetings—and even one well-documented 270-person meeting in Philadelphia—were not uncommon. Opalek deflects praise, passing it on to those who assisted him. “You can’t build this on your own,” he says.
Amanda Coleman-Phelps, AGS’ International Guilds Council Chair, told the media that Opalek “demonstrated exceptional dedication to the advancement of the American Gem Society and its growth of membership, and has made significant contributions to the gemstone industry through innovation, teaching, and his connections with people.”
Colleague Marc Altman, owner of B&E Jewelers in Southampton, Pa., has worked with Opalek on the Guilds since 2010. He and others affectionately call him the Guild godfather.
“He’s visited 500 member stores across the country and united people from North Dakota to Tennessee,” says Altman. “He told them, ‘You matter, thank you for joining AGS’. He used his combination of charm, salesmanship, and pushiness to gather willing and mostly willing volunteers to become Guild Presidents and reach out to their local communities. He worked tirelessly by making thousands of phone calls, coordinating with Guild officers by helping plan meetings, engaging many speakers, and developed a tremendous relationship with the FBI. He was available to the Guilds 24/7, because that’s when they needed him. His efforts took AGS from four guilds to 42 today. We joke about being ‘voluntold’ by Meier, but the truth is we are grateful and thankful that he made that phone call and got us engaged.”
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